‘Irrational’ Home Office demanded fingerprint proof from people fleeing Gaza trying to reunite with UK family

Home Office demands for families living in war-torn Gaza to provide fingerprints and photographs before they can relocate to the UK have been condemned as “irrational and unreasonable” by an immigration tribunal.

Legal challenges were brought against the goverment after the Home Office told Gazans that they would not decide on their applications to be reunited with family members in the UK unless they provided biometric data.

This is despite the visa application centre inside Gaza being closed and families struggling for survival amid dwindling food aid and bombardment from Israeli troops.

In a ruling published on Monday, Judge Jackson said the Home Office had failed to consider the families’ situations “in a rational manner” when demanding biometric data. The judge also said that asking the families to prove that they were more at risk than other Gazans was “irrational and unreasonable”.

The Home Office’s decisions were “a disproportionate interference with the applicants’ and sponsors’ rights to respect for private and family life”, the judgement found.

The cases of two Palestinian families were heard together at the Upper Tier Immigration Tribunal. One of the families, referred to as RM and others, is made up of parents and two children, aged 13 and 17, who are trying to reunite with their daughter/sister, a student in the UK. The second family, known as WM and others, is a Palestinian mother with four children, who wants to join her British brother in the UK.

Palestinians line up for a meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024 (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Palestinians line up for a meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024 (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

They are both living in the south of Gaza after being forced to flee their homes. The Islington Law Centre and Asylum Aid supported the families to bring the legal challenges.

Family RM fled their home in Rimal, Gaza City, at the beginning of the conflict after the building in front of theirs was destroyed and their home damaged, the immigration tribunal judgement detailed.

They are currently staying in an overcrowded apartment with other relatives in Deir al-Balah, southern Gaza, which was described in the judgement as “an area heavily targeted by tanks and airstrikes and where there is a lack of food, clean water and access to medical treatment”. Close friends and family of the couple have been killed and injured and the couple are suffering from “acute mental stress”, documents said.

The Home Office had argued that “although there are difficulties in obtaining food and water it is not suggested that they have been unable to do so. Their position is not therefore materially different to other people in Gaza”.

Referring to the daughter who is in the UK, Home Office lawyers said: “As for the sponsor I note that she has support in the UK by way of friendship groups and can access medical treatment if this is needed.”

In the case of WM, a mother with four minor children, aged between three and nine, the court heard that they were living in a container in Rafah. The Home Office argued that “there is nothing to suggest that they are of a targeted interest from those directly involved in the fighting”, adding: “It was not accepted therefore that they would be personally at risk of harm.”

In light of the judgement, Anastasia Solopova, solicitor at Asylum Aid, said:”The Home Office must now comply with this judgement, amend its policies and approach and adopt a lawful approach to the biometric enrolment requirement, so that more families from Gaza and elsewhere are not unlawfully deprived of decisions on their entry clearance applications.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have received the outcome of the judicial review proceedings and are considering the impact. It would be inappropriate to comment further.”