Social Justice

My family faced hell on earth in Gaza. Leaving was their only option for survival

Roba, who has lived in the UK for nine years, shares her family's story of facing the horrors of war in Gaza. She backs campaigners' calls for a Ukraine-style visa scheme for Palestinians with family in the UK

gaza/ roba

Roba, 31, has lived in the UK for nine years and is now a British citizen. Image: Supplied

As campaigners call on the government to implement a Ukraine-style family visa scheme for Palestinians affected by war, Roba shares her family’s story and why it is so vital the UK government steps up to reunite British residents with their families who face war in Gaza.

My family lives in the north of Gaza. Since day one of the war, they evacuated their house and they were displaced multiple times looking for safety but, of course, there was no safe place in Gaza.

It was hell on earth. There was continuous bombardment everywhere they were displaced. They were facing horrors, continuous bombing and shortage of food, water, medicine, everything. 

In Rafah, they were all crammed in one room. It was a constant struggle. I don’t think words can convey how hard it was for them and how hard it is for everyone there.

I felt a deep sense of helplessness. It was difficult for me to see what was happening to them from afar. There were days where I lost communication with them and I didn’t even know if they were still alive. The intensity of violence and bombing and the fact that anything could happen in any moment made me feel a profound sense of helplessness.

I didn’t know what to do. In the previous warzone, in Gaza, no one thought about leaving. People always wanted to stay in Gaza, but with how violent this war is and the destruction it has caused, leaving is the only option.

In December, we lost my uncle and all of his family. That was devastating. I didn’t want the same thing to happen to my family. The indiscriminate bombing targeted everyone. Most of the people killed are civilians. Leaving was their only option for survival.

The situation was getting worse and worse each day. When there were fears of a possible invasion in Rafah, I started thinking of ways to evacuate them. 

The process was complicated. I started contacting the Home Office and the Foreign Office in the UK to get them to help me in evacuating my family, but their response has always been negative. 

I’m a British Citizen. I have lived here for nine years and I sought asylum in 2016. But because they don’t hold British citizenship, the Home Office told me that they can’t do anything, so I had to look for other ways. 

There is a company in Egypt which is evacuating people from Gaza but only with really a large amount of money. They’re taking $5,000 for anyone who’s above 16 and $2,500 for children.

But of course, I didn’t have this much money. I have 10 members of my family to evacuate. I know that’s so much money, thousands of dollars, which I didn’t have. 

So I opted for a fundraiser campaign as many people from Gaza did. And then, with the help of friends and the wider community, I was able to cover the necessary funds for their evacuation. 

I had to come to Egypt myself to bring the money with me and to register them with the company because they weren’t allowing anyone but immediate relatives to do the registration.

I went to the company and I had to wait because there were so many Gazans there. The treatment was humiliating actually, even though we were paying thousands of dollars to evacuate our families and to ensure their safety. 

They leave you to wait outside the building for hours without giving you any information. And they were shouting at people the whole time. The people in Egypt are sympathetic, but the company itself are profiting off the genocide. They’re just after money. They don’t care about people’s lives.

I managed eventually to give my family’s names and then, four or five days later, their names were on the list at the border for evacuation. And then they eventually came to Cairo. But now there is another complication of what to do next. Going back to Gaza is impossible right now and living there when the war ends is not possible either.

There was a scheme for Ukrainian families to seek safety in the UK two weeks after the Russian invasion. It wasn’t only immediate family members. Extended families were able to come too. I believe there is racism and double standards.

Palestinian lives matter. They deserve to be protected. There is a petition for a family visa scheme. We need to get it to 100,000 signatures. We’re almost there but we’re running out of time. We need it to be publicised so that parliament can debate it.

Thousands of people who are stuck elsewhere, in Egypt or any other country, don’t know what to do. They don’t want to stay illegally and they know that going back to Gaza is impossible.

My siblings need to continue their education and they need to have a future somewhere. For my parents, it’s difficult for them to live elsewhere, especially in a new environment. They really love their life. I’m worried about them feeling depressed or alienated or estranged in a place where you don’t speak the language. But as a temporary solution, I think it’s really important until returning to Gaza becomes a viable and safe option. 

I’m hoping my siblings can establish a future somewhere else and for my parents to be able to go back and rebuild our house and live in Gaza because I think this is what they want. But this will take time. 

The scale of destruction in Gaza will take years to reverse. As a temporary solution, I really want them to be with me in the UK and for everyone to have some stability before they can go back to Gaza and rebuild their life from scratch.

Sign the petition for a Palestinian family visa scheme here.

Response from the Home Office to calls for a Ukraine-style family visa scheme for people trapped in Gaza

A spokesperson from the Home Office said: “We are working around the clock to get British Nationals who want to leave out of Gaza. We have a team on the ground in Cairo and at the Rafah crossing providing consular assistance.

“We currently have no plans to establish a separate route for Palestinians to come to the UK. However, any dependants of British citizens who need a visa can apply for one.”

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