A student from Gaza has won a full scholarship to study in the UK. But because of visa issues with the UK and Israeli governments, he has not been able to come here.
The story has created a firestorm with the Israeli government claiming it’s “fake news”. It shows the barriers that Palestinians face in trying to study abroad, and that non-Europeans can face in trying to come to Europe.
‘My dream comes true’
Mohammed Awad lives in the Gaza Strip. He’s one of two Palestinians to win the 2017 Goldsmiths Humanitarian Scholarship to study linguistics in London. He has a first-class degree from Al-Quds Open University and works as a lecturer at the Islamic University of Gaza.
Awad told The Canary that after he won the scholarship:
My words can’t describe my happiness, seeing my dream come true. Studying in the UK has always been a dream for [me] since I graduated in 2013. I worked hard for getting such an opportunity. It took one year of dedicated focus, attention, following and interest… this qualification will enable me to further my career in language teaching, advance my professional standing and realize my ultimate goal of becoming a university professor and an online trainer.
The exit visa
Awad told The Canary that on 12 September he received his student visa from the Home Office. But he had to get to the UK by 13 October:
The next day, on 13 September, he applied to the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) – part of Israel’s Ministry of Defense – for a visa to leave Gaza. He told The Canary it would take 60 days for him to get approval to go to Jordan and fly to the UK. So by that point, his UK visa would have expired.
The Home Office did not respond to The Canary‘s requests for comment.
The Israeli non-governmental organisation (NGO) Gisha, which has been working with Awad, told The Canary on 25 September that Gazans need an Israeli permit to enter and exit Gaza. Shai Grunberg, a Gisha spokesperson, told The Canary that the application process is “lengthy and unpredictable”:
The result of the strict travel restrictions Israel imposes on Gaza residents is that many times approvals of exits, if received at all, are provided late, after the applicants’ visas expired, or after the academic year has already begun… We Maintain [sic] that restricting travel for students is not only a denial of individual rights, but also creates an overall chilling effect in students’ requests for travel and discourages them from seeking opportunities to fulfill their academic and professional aspirations.
And Awad told The Canary that, since 2013, Egypt has put restrictions on Gazans crossing the Gaza-Egypt border.
‘Fake news or sorry excuses?’
Then, after The Independent wrote about Awad’s story, COGAT called it “fake news”. A COGAT spokesperson told The Canary:
What is presented in the article is false and has no connection to the facts. His application was approved in accordance with a request filed by the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee [PCAC], dated 14 November 2017. No request for a different date was submitted, and therefore, approval of the crossing is in line with the date requested by the Palestinian committee.
It should be mention[ed] that in Gaza the terrorist organization Hamas is in control of terrorist attacks against Israel. Hamas is trying to take advantage of Israel’s aid channels to Gaza residents to transfer money to terrorist infrastructure, explosives. Nevertheless, *in order to assist the residents of Gaza*, Israel coordinates their crossings only after a security check in order to protect the security of Israeli citizens.
But Gisha disagreed. It wrote on Facebook:
Mohammed Awad submitted his application for a permit as soon as he received his UK visa. Late by COGAT’s timeframe, but COGAT knows full well he had no other option. Another student we helped just got a permit after waiting 63 days, nearly two weeks to a month longer than COGAT’s standard of 40-50 days processing time. The Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee had to request a date for exit for Mohammed 40 days from submission, on the command of COGAT, which yes, is different to the date Mohammed needs to get to class. Again, COGAT sets all the rules. Fake news or sorry excuses?
Bowing to pressure?
On 29 September, COGAT reportedly told Awad on Facebook that ‘they would look into the possibility of assisting him to exit the Gaza strip next Tuesday’, 3 October.
And Goldsmiths told The Canary that if all goes smoothly and Awad gets to the UK by 1 November, he can start his course.
So hopefully, he will arrive in London in time to join his fellow students in learning about Multilingualism, Linguistics, & Education. And stop learning about the ways that governments block people from learning, exchanging, and moving freely.
– Join The Canary and support our work holding the powerful to account.
– Sign the petition in support of Mohammed Awad.
Featured image via Mohammed Awad/Wikimedia