Teenager trapped in Gaza brings legal challenge against UK government

London: A teenager trapped in Gaza and separated from his parents has brought an urgent legal challenge against the UK Home Office and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) after the government refused entry clearance for him to join his family in the UK.

The 18-year-old man, whose life is at imminent risk, has been internally displaced several times and has been homeless. He is now staying with extended family in Gaza in a home subject to heavy bombardment.

His parents were visiting their two older sons in the UK on 7 October, one who arrived in the UK on a scholarship and now has a work visa and another who is a British national astrophysicist, who also arrived in the UK on a scholarship.

Their younger 18-year-old son did not travel with them as he was starting his first year of university in Gaza. He is emotionally, financially and practically dependent on his parents.

“This situation is extremely grave,” his eldest brother said. “It’s a ticking timebomb – he could be killed at any point. The toll on my parents is indescribable. My mother has Parkinson’s, the tremors have worsened now and it is spreading to other parts of her body. Every day, the probability he will be killed gets higher and higher. The anxiety is literally killing my mother, while my brother is alone, desperate and abandoned.”

In December, the teenager made an urgent entry clearance application to the Home Office based on article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which relies on his right to family life, but the Home Office refused, stating that he had not submitted his biometrics at a visa application centre (VAC) in Gaza, or crossed the border to reach a VAC in Egypt. All VACs were, and remain, closed in Gaza.

The man’s brother contacted the FCDO directly to include him on the UK’s evacuation list, but they also refused to assist, arguing that he does not meet the criteria as he does not have a UK visa for six months or more, or a spouse or child under 18 living in the UK.

“Why is bureaucracy – why are these technicalities – being used as an excuse not to help vulnerable people like my brother, who have vulnerable parents already in the UK?” his eldest brother said.

“When this government wants to manage a situation, they have ways to practise discretion in a bold manner. Instead, they are just putting sticks in the wheel so we can’t move forward.”

On Wednesday the teenager’s legal representatives will argue that he had made previous successful entry clearance applications to visit his brothers in the UK alongside his parents, and had provided biometrics as recently as August 2022.

The Home Office has the power to exercise discretion to consider his application without biometrics. If the Home Office grants his application by way of pre-determination – a decision before providing biometrics – the man’s chances of evacuation would be greatly increased. He would then be able to provide fresh biometrics at a VAC in Egypt before onward travel to the UK.

Another option is that the FCDO could put forward his details to the Israeli and Egyptian authorities to be included on the evacuation list.

Roopa Tanna, the solicitor acting on the man’s behalf said: “My client is an 18-year-old who is separated from his parents and closest family at a time when what matters most is for families to be united. His life as at risk and his parents fear losing their son forever if this matter is not swiftly resolved. In my view, he has a very strong case for entry clearance in accordance with the right to family life and in accordance with the immigration rules.”

Palestinians have been petitioning the UK government for safe passage for their family members to join them, but the government has consistently said that there “are no plans to introduce bespoke arrangements for people arriving from the region. Those wishing to come to the UK who currently have no visa can apply under one of the existing visa routes.”

A government spokesperson said: “All applications are carefully considered on their individual merits, and must meet the requirements of the immigration rules and published guidance.”