BAYAN Alhasani spent Eid al-Fitr – a celebration marking the end of Ramadan – trying desperately to call his family in Gaza.

Finally, the 30-year-old civil engineer – who lives in Dundee – got through to them. But whatever relief he had that they were alive, it wasn’t a joyous occasion.

“They started crying. They’re struggling,” Bayan (below) told The National.

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Originally from Gaza City, his parents, three sisters and two brothers now all live in a two-person tent in the southern Gaza city of Rafah – which is filled with around 1.4 million displaced Palestinians amid Israel’s brutal war on Gaza. 

Bayan said that that he feels a "duty of protection" as the oldest of his siblings. But he also feels powerless as he struggles to find a way to get them to safety due to the UK's current visa rules.

The National: Bayan’s siblings: (from the left) Yosuf, Mohammed, and Almaza outside the tent where they are living currentlyBayan’s siblings: (from the left) Yosuf, Mohammed, and Almaza outside the tent where they are living currently (Image: Bayan Alhasani)

“I can’t focus on real life and my studies,” he said.

“My mental health is not good.”

Bayan is one of 350 Palestinian families living, working and studying in the UK who is part of Gaza Families Reunited – a campaign looking to put pressure on the UK Government to create a scheme, building on the Ukraine Family Scheme, that would allow Palestinians affected by the crisis in Gaza to seek refuge and reunite with their families in the UK.

A petition calling for the scheme has already gathered over 83,000 supporters, with only a week left to reach the ultimate goal of 100,000 – which would mean the issue is considered for debate in the House of Commons.

A route to safety fraught with barriers and peril

The path for Palestinians in Gaza to obtain a UK visa is far from simple.

Amid the devastation and risk of death – over 33,000 have been killed so far by Israel according to the Hamas-run health ministry – there is no functioning visa centre.

The Home Office has also repeatedly refused to waive fingerprint rules meaning that many resort, if possible, to making the dangerous and expensive journey over the border to Egypt to the closest UK visa centre in Cairo.

Hala, an Egyptian company, is charging Palestinians as much as £5000 per person to flee – gouging its prices 14-fold since the war began.

READ MORE: Two Palestinians died waiting for Home Office to waive fingerprint rules

“People in Gaza face insurmountable obstacles when trying to evacuate to Egypt and have received minimal - if any - support from the UK Government to do so,” a spokesperson for the Gaza Families Reunited campaign said.

“We are asking for the UK Government to swiftly open safe, viable routes because existing options are limited, costly and are simply not working.”

First Minister Humza Yousaf backed the campaign last month saying that for those who do wish to leave Gaza, Scotland “is open and stands ready to welcome them”.

But the UK Government said in December it has “no plans to introduce bespoke arrangements for people arriving from the region” – with no update since.

"It's a never-ending nightmare"

Ahmed Alagha (to the right below with his two brothers, nieces and nephews) is also part of the campaign. He moved to Scotland on October 2 last year to be a postdoctoral researcher at Dundee University after receiving his PHD from Cambridge.

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All of his immediate 16 family members – his parents and siblings as well as their spouses and children – are living in tents in Al Mawasi, one of the shrinking areas of Gaza that Israel has designated as a “safe zone”.

“I feel I am living in a nightmare, a never ending nightmare. It's a vicious cycle that never ends.

“And sadly, nothing can happen now with the current visa system.”

He added: “I have exhausted all available options that the UK government would allow someone like me to bring family members.”

Ahmed explained that he had enough on February 20 when his cousin was killed by the Israeli forces as he was sheltering in a building.

“He literally was killed in front of his six year old son, in front of his mom, his wife. In front of my nieces and nephews. He was just a meter away from my brother.”

He was a cousin as well as close friend to Ahmed. He told me that upon hearing this tragic news, he decided that enough was enough and set up a fundraiser to raise enough funds to pay to get his family members across the border to Egypt.

He has currently raised £27,000 of the nearly £85,000 to facilitate a secure passage for his family. You can donate to the fundraiser here.

Ahmed said that he hasn’t yet told his family about it, though.

“I don't want to give them hope,” he said.

The academic calls on the UK Government to step in, however.

“The double standard (compared with the Ukraine scheme) is very clear. It is very evident to everyone.

“Why do we need to keep fighting and fighting and fighting for our families to get out?”

Doaa, meanwhile, has lived in Glasgow for five years with her husband and daughter.

She told The National about the horror of the last six months as her entire family – from her mother and her siblings to the whole extended family – are trapped in Rafah with 1.5 million other Palestinians.

“The humanitarian situation is dire. There is no access to any kind of basic needs,” she said.

“Every day, we are hearing of the loss of somebody that we know and we don't want this to affect our families.”

The third sector worker added: “ But it's impossible to get anyone outside of Gaza unless you pay, “I decided not to do a fundraising campaign. My belief is my family deserves protection and respect which is why I'm involved with this campaign.”

“We pay tax, we are contributing to this country. And we deserve for our families to be protected in a similar way to the Ukrainian scheme.”

"These are human beings"

SNP MP Anne McLaughlin previously told The National that public support is needed.

The SNP MP hosted the Gaza Families Reunited campaign in Westminster (above) last month to discuss the difficulties Palestinians from Gaza face when trying to reunite with their families.

“Morally, there is no argument against it. They have no choice. There’s nothing there. There’s no infrastructure, no service. For many people, there’s no food,” she said.

The National: Anne McLaughlin with members of Gaza Families Reunited in WestminsterAnne McLaughlin with members of Gaza Families Reunited in Westminster (Image: Michael Bannister)

“They just want to keep them safe until it's safe to go back and I don't think that's too big an ask.”

McLaughlin added: “The problem is getting this government or potentially the next government to agree to it. That's going to be difficult and it won't happen without public pressure.”

She said that with the Ukraine scheme, there was an “immense flurry” of movement and that the same was needed here.

“But in Westminster, you can say these things to people and it's like there's a brick wall between you.

“They say yes and use these stock responses and you just feel like saying, 'these are human beings'.

“These are human beings and you can do something.”

The National urges its readers to consider signing the petition here to push for a debate at Westminster.