Gaza family takes legal action against Home Office over visas

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Children waiting to collect food aid in GazaImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
The family, not pictured, are trapped in Gaza

A Palestinian refugee is taking legal action against the Home Office over what he says is in effect a refusal to grant visas to his family in Gaza.

The Home Office rejected the man's request to allow his wife and four young children to apply for visas without giving fingerprints.

Two of his children caught hepatitis A, which the World Health Organization says is spreading in Gaza.

The Home Office told BBC News it did not comment on individual cases.

"All applications are carefully considered on their individual merits and must meet the requirements of the immigration rules and published guidance," an official said.

'Blame myself'

A court anonymity order means the man and his family cannot be identified, for their own protection.

But in a witness statement to the court, he said he "wanted to die" when he had heard about the Home Office's decision.

"I am so afraid that my family will be killed, they will be killed while I am away from them, and I will blame myself for not being able to bring them here," the man said.

People with refugee status can apply for family-reunion visas for their family members to join them in the UK without going through the asylum system themselves.

Asylum Aid solicitor Anastasia Solopova, who is representing the family, told BBC News they had applied for these in December.

In most circumstances, when someone applies for a long-term British visa outside of the UK, they need to give their biometrics - fingerprints and a photograph - at a visa-application centre (VAC), for security reasons.

But because there are no working VACs in Gaza, the family had applied to either be exempt from having to give their fingerprints or be allowed to travel to Egypt to give them at a centre there.

In a refusal letter seen by BBC News, the Home Office told the man the government was "not able to assist with exit/entry requirements for a third country, where a person needs to travel to that country to... submit biometrics".

Guidance, it adds, "makes it clear that people must only apply for entry clearance if they can travel to the UK".

There was now no way for the family to submit their biometrics, Ms Solopova said.

And they had brought a judicial review, asking a judge to examine the Home Office's decision.

"We are challenging the decision in court - but the truth is that with every day of delay, our client's family's lives are put more in danger," Ms Solopova said.

"The Home Office should never have made this unlawful decision, which could mean that our client's wife and children could possibly die in Gaza without ever seeing our client again."

Even before the current conflict, it was not easy for Palestinians to leave Gaza via the Rafah crossing into Egypt.

They had to register with the local Palestinian authorities two to four weeks in advance and may then have been rejected by either the Palestinian or Egyptian authorities with little warning or explanation.

And since the current war began, Egypt has said it is reluctant to allow an influx of refugees from Gaza.

In November, the Home Office told BBC News it was working with the Foreign Office to help British people and their non-British family members evacuate Gaza through the crossing.

And at the time, a team of Home Office staff was helping visa applicants in Egypt.

Now, people able to leave Gaza through the crossing can receive medical, consular and administrative support from British embassy staff in Cairo.