26 Jun 2024

First Gazan orphan given visa to live in UK – Amer’s story


Channel 4 News has been given exclusive access to one Gazan teenager’s extraordinary journey to safety here in the UK. We understand he is the first and only orphan to be given a visa to come and live here.

In Gaza, thousands of children are paying with their lives for a war they had no part in starting. And according to UN estimates, as many as 17,000 have been orphaned since the start of the conflict nine months ago.

Channel 4 News has been given exclusive access to one Gazan teenager’s extraordinary journey to safety here in the UK. Now politicians from all parties say more must be done to ensure others are helped in the same way.

Amer Alkhatib is a 13-year-old boy whose bandaged ear is the only hint of the trauma he’s endured.

His uncle Yousef is an NHS radiologist living and working in Liverpool, his aunt Israa a teaching assistant. They are his family now. Because on March 15 this year, an Israeli airstrike in Gaza destroyed Amer’s home, killing his parents, grandparents and five siblings.

We have unearthed pictures of the airstrike showing the family home in ruins. Yet miraculously Amer survived. He suffered a haemorrhage, a skull fracture and serious burns, and was evacuated to Egypt, where he had eight operations.

As his closest surviving adult relative, Yousef and his wife Israa decided they had a “moral obligation” to give the child a home.

An interview about Amer’s plight went viral, and Labour’s Jess Phillips, who quit her party’s frontbench in March over its then stance on a ceasefire in Gaza, contacted a Home Office minister, Tom Pursglove.

Phillips told us: “To his credit, he came back immediately and said, we will get it sorted by the end of the day. And we got his visa into his hand within a day.”

We filmed Amer’s recovery in hospital in Egypt, and were there to witness Yousef’s joy when he and Amer got off the plane from Egypt. Back in Amer’s new family home in Liverpool, he told me he was excited to give his nephew “a second chance in this  life… At the end there is some hope. At least there is one member of my family who has been saved and now he is living with me”.

Conservative peer and former Foreign Office adviser, Baroness Arminka Helic, herself a refugee, and Phillips too have been pressing the government to set up a Ukrainian-style visa scheme for some of the thousands of Gazans orphaned by the war that followed the Hamas attacks on October 7.

Baroness Helic told me: “By closing the door to these wounded children, we have sent the message that their lives do not matter as much as the lives of children from other conflicts. That is both immoral and reveals just how low we have collectively sunk in our humanity.”

In response to her questions in parliament, Lord Ahmad, Foreign Office Minister, told her earlier this year the government was “supporting NGO and UN partners to deliver medical aid and care in the Gaza Strip. This includes support for primary healthcare, trauma and emergency care services, disease surveillance and outbreak response, and deployment of Emergency Medical Teams. We are also exploring further options to help meet the medical needs of Palestinians”.

The past is still very painful for Yousef and Amer. So they busy themselves on the present – and the future. “I wish a brilliant future for him. I believe that I will be like his father…I know his father has left us. But at least we can support him in [a] similar way.”