Difficult journey to the UK for MAP’s Director in Gaza

MAP’s Director of Programmes from Gaza, Fikr Shalltoot, joined us last month in London for our quarterly board meeting. But despite being in the role for over a decade, getting to the UK was very difficult. Fikr told us about her arduous journey from Gaza.

How was your journey to the UK this time around Fikr?

My time in the UK was good, when I eventually got here! But, this was by far the worst and most stressful time to travel to the UK from Gaza. There were many, many problems.

Describe to us the process, and what went wrong.

Firstly, we applied to the Israeli authorities for my permit to travel a long time in advance, on 9 May, as we always do. I was due to travel on Thursday 21 June so plenty of time. But the week before I was due to travel we hadn’t received a response so we were calling to enquire and we kept getting no answer or response. So we had to wait.

When did you find out about your permission to travel?

At 1pm on Thursday 21 June I was told my permit was approved but there was no information about when the start date for my permit was. So I had to make lots of calls and found out the permit was valid from 17 June-24 August and by the time I got it in hand I found that it was valid from 27 May 2018-24 August 2018. However, I had to wait two more days to actually leave Gaza as there was not time in the afternoon for me to travel through Erez crossing, which closes at 3pm and Friday and Saturday is the weekend here and Erez crossing is closed (Friday- Gaza ID holders are not allowed to leave Gaza and Saturday the crossing is closed for everyone).

I also needed a non-objection letter from Jordan to cross to Jordan in order to travel from Amaan airport; as a Palestinian, I cannot use Israel’s airport. Although my non-objection letter was approved on 11 June by Sunday 24 June, when I was due to travel it had still not been printed. In the end I was advised to travel and hope that it would be printed when I arrived in Ramallah, in the West Bank- which thankfully it was.

How was it when you finally left?

I left the office around midday, the process through Erez crossing was straight forward.

At 4pm I was in Ramallah, West Bank, where I collected my non-objection letter to allow me to travel onto Jordan. I also had to change my suitcase and collect my toiletries that I keep at the West Bank office.

Why did you change your suitcase?

The Israeli authorities have stopped allowing Palestinians from Gaza to carry through bags that have wheels on them through Erez crossing, as well as preventing all toiletries. We don’t really know why and international people travelling through Erez crossing continue to be allowed to use bags with wheels and to cross with their laptop and toiletries.

After that could you travel?

Leaving the West Bank we were held up at the border crossing with Jordan but [Fikr laughs] this is usual as I hold a Gaza ID and after all the waiting over the past week I was used to it! I arrived in Amaan at 11pm and finally flew from Amman airport the next day. Even at Heathrow airport in London we waited three hours to go through Passport control , but at least this was for everybody and not just Palestinians!

Even though it was a difficult journey everyone in Gaza would be happy to do this so long as they could leave.

Have any of your staff had difficulty too?

Four of our staff have been denied permits this year to leave Gaza, and they cannot reapply for at least a year. This makes work difficult and means that they cannot access important training opportunitites.

Well, it’s very nice to talk to you in London now!

Yes, it’s good to be here, inshallah next time will be easier!