Family desperate as Cambourne father and Mill Road trader is stranded in Gaza
A 16-year-old has issued an emotional plea to the British government to help her father get home from the Middle East.
Mohammed Al Aoor’s mother was very sick and, in February, he made the decision to go to the Gaza Strip for the first time in eight years to visit her for what may be the last time.
Entering through Egypt’s Rafah Border Crossing with an Egyptian pass permit, his stay was due to be for three weeks but the global pandemic led to the borders being shut and the owner of the Rotana Cafe in Mill Road for the past 15 years has been stranded in Gaza for the past four months.
The only route home is by flying out of Israel, but he needs the British embassy’s help to request permission from the Israeli government - something that he has not been able to achieve.
Mohammed, 42, has four children, and his eldest, 16-year-old Toleen, has now made an appeal for assistance in bringing her dad home.
“He has parked his van in front of our house, and every time I go out on walks and come back, I just imagine him there,” says the Cambourne Village College student.
“I’m missing him a lot. It feels really weird because I’ve never been without him this long.
“It gets really lonely. Even though I have three siblings, my mum and my uncle, my dad is normally the one that I go to talk to - laughs, gets all the jokes, he is cool.
“He’s a cool parent, so it’s really lonely without him.”
Toleen would have been doing her GCSEs this summer, and the absence of the exams has heightened the worry.
“I would have been doing my GCSEs but they were called off and now I literally have nothing to do,” she said.
“I think it’s even worse that I have nothing to do as I keep thinking about it, rather than my mind being occupied by doing something.”
Toleen has written letters to South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne, Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner and even to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, but all to no avail.
“It’s really upsetting to feel like we’re the only people in this situation and no-one is willing to help us,” said Toleen.
“I thought people would be more friendly and helpful. I’m really interested in politics and I thought it would be different - I thought they would help us more.”
It is not known when Egypt will ease their border restrictions caused by the coronavirus, but until that happens, Mohammed’s only passage home is through Israel.
He is well aware that the Foreign Office advises against all travel to Gaza, but desperately wanted to see his mother for what could be the last time.
Without the pandemic, then his route home would have been back across the Rafah Border Crossing and out of Cairo but, given the situation, he is desperate for the British Embassy to assist in the same way other nations have done - which is to make a request to Israel.
“It is really hard,” says Mohammed, a British citizen, talking to the Cambridge Independent from Gaza. “I’ve never been in a situation like this, it never even came into my nightmares that it would be like this.
“I have four kids and I’m used to living a very quiet, stable life. I have my own business in Cambridge, and a very happy family.
“My mum was very sick and I hadn’t seen her for eight years, and I had to see her one more time, I had no other options other than coming to see her in Gaza.
“My kids are all young, and all of them need support. To be honest, I don’t know what I have to do or what I can do. It’s really hard. I want to go back to them as soon as possible.
“I’m not asking for much, if the British Embassy over here in Jerusalem or in Israel ask the Israeli authority for permission, they will grant it like the Australians and Canadians, and other citizens.”
He added: “They keep saying to me that travelling to Gaza is against travel advice, but this is a global pandemic - if we were in a normal situation then I wouldn’t need help.
“I would just go back the same way I walked in, through Egypt.”
Mr Browne has taken the issue up on behalf of his constituent with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
He said: “I completely understand that this is a difficult and uncertain time, particularly for those who remain trapped abroad, and I have been in ongoing contact with the Foreign Office for some weeks regarding Mr Al Aoor's repatriation from Gaza.
“I have also raised the wider concern with the Foreign Secretary in the Chamber and I have been assisting with the cases of seventy other constituents who wish to return from all over the world.
“I have been assured that the Government is working around the clock to support all British travellers in their return to the UK, and I will continue to do everything I can to ensure Mr Al Aoor is able to return to his family.”
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office explained that a small number of exemptions have been allowed by Israel for foreign nationals to depart via Erez on humanitarian grounds.
However, it applies only to those who entered Gaza via Israel, but those who entered via Egypt.
It also added that it recommends against all travel in the Northern Sinai, which would be required to travel through to enter Gaza.
An FCO spokesperson told the Cambridge Independent: “We are in contact with Mr Al Aoor, however the consular assistance we can provide in Gaza is limited. We advise against all travel to Gaza, and this has been the case since before the Covid-19 pandemic. Our travel advice is also clear that if you do choose to enter Gaza, you may not be able to leave.”