British nationals ‘being used as bargaining chips’ as Rafah crossing temporarily closed

BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE Undated family handout of Zaynab Wandawi, a British national born in Salford, who was turned away again at the Rafah border crossing into Egypt on Saturday. Issue date: Saturday November 4, 2023.
Zaynab Wandawi, born in Salford, was turned away again at the Rafah border crossing. Credit: PA

A British woman has been denied passage from Gaza to Egypt via the Rafah crossing for a second time, with her mother claiming foreign nationals are being "used as bargaining chips".

Zaynab Wandawi, 29, from Salford, Greater Manchester, travelled to Gaza in early October with her British-Palestinian husband and his relatives for a wedding before the Israel-Hamas war began.

Ms Wandawi, an English language teacher, and a group of 12 family members – 10 of whom are British nationals – attempted to cross the border into Egypt on Wednesday, but were told their names were not on the list.

The group were told their names were on the list on Saturday, but were turned away again amid disagreement between the Palestinian and Israeli authorities in control of the crossing, according to her mother, Lalah Ali-Faten.

The UK Government is “hopeful” that the Rafah crossing will reopen on Sunday to allow more British nationals to leave Gaza, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said.

Palestinians with dual nationality register to cross into Egypt from the Rafah border crossing on Thursday. Credit: AP

It comes as some British citizens have said their dependants without British passports have not been included on the safe passage list.

The FCDO policy is in “stark contrast” to the decisions made during the evacuation of Ukraine, where any family member of a British citizen would be provided with a visa, the group said.

The policy also differs from those set by other countries, with British families reporting that the US is allowing anybody with an American family to leave, the group claims.

Ms Ali-Faten, 52, from Prestwich, north Manchester said: “It seems now that they’re being used as a bargaining chip, the foreign nationals.”

She said she received a voice note from her daughter and a “one-minute phone call” explaining that foreign nationals trapped in Gaza would not be leaving until the ambulances carrying the sick and injured left first.

Ms Ali-Faten said she was told Israeli authorities said ambulances could leave but would not be permitted back into Gaza to prevent them from being targeted.

Palestinians loot a truck with humanitarian aid near the Rafah border crossing Credit: AP

Meanwhile Palestinian authorities said no foreign nationals would be allowed to leave on Saturday if the ambulances were not permitted to return.

“I know the Israelis want the foreign nationals out so it doesn’t get too messy for them and they don’t have any international entanglements and complaints from other countries,” she said.

“And the Palestinians are saying, ‘no, we want the ambulances to leave, deliver the sick and injured to the hospital and return to the other civilians’.

“But Israelis don’t want the ambulances to return, so I think the foreign nationals are kind of stuck in the middle of this disagreement.”

Ms Ali-Faten said “every single day has been a living nightmare” and her daughter sounded “so deflated” upon hearing the news they would not be able to leave Gaza.

“When I saw that her name on the list this morning I was absolutely ecstatic. I thought, this is the end of the nightmare, I’m reaching the end of this chapter," she added.

The UK's Foreign Office said the temporary closure of the Rafah crossing was 'disappointing' Credit: AP

However, she says her daughter later sent a voice note to let her know that nightmare still wasn't over.

"It just continues the turmoil and the horror that we’re facing," Ms Ali-Faten said, adding that it is "very painful" to see footage emerging from Gaza.

“I look at the screen, I see the loss of life and it’s so many children and families just losing their lives indiscriminately,” she said.

“My daughter and her family are in that location so it’s very painful to watch because you kind of feel it. As a parent, you know your child is amongst those that are being bombed.

“And it’s very frustrating that they’re kind of caught in the middle. They’re kind of pawns now really, aren’t they?”

Ms Ali-Faten said she believes the Foreign Office is “not doing enough to advocate for the citizens trapped in Gaza” and needs to “do more to be a part of the discussion and the mediation”.

“It’s not good enough for them to say, ‘oh we’ve just passed their names on, there’s nothing further we can do’, which is what I’m told every time I call the FCDO,” she said.

“I don’t believe that, I think there is a way they can be more instrumental in getting the citizens out. Just passing the list of names, I’m sorry, that doesn’t cut it as a government."

Ms Ali-Faten said if anything happens to her family members, the government would “carry that responsibility”.

“Further than passing on their names, they are doing nothing for the British nationals that are getting bombed every single day, it’s not acceptable,” she said.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that the Rafah crossing has been temporarily closed today.

“This continues to be a complex and challenging situation and we are using all diplomatic channels to press for its reopening in coordination with our international partners.

“We remain in contact with British Nationals in the region to provide them with the latest information.

“It is vital that the safe passage of people, including all foreign nationals, and humanitarian aid can continue.”

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