Plight of Syria Britons highlighted

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The Government is "actively leaving" relatives of British nationals in danger in Syria by dragging its heels with their visa applications, campaigners have claimed.

Frustrated relatives have started a petition to urge officials to prioritise visa applications by their spouses and family members who are currently trapped in the war-torn country, calling for officials to recognise the "exceptional circumstances" they are facing.

The petition, on campaign website Avaaz, calls for the Government to prioritise applications from people in Syria, so they can join their spouses and relatives in the UK.

Campaigners say officials should apply an " exceptional and compassionate circumstances" clause in Family Migration Rules introduced in July last year, which makes refusal of a visa a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights - which ensures the right to respect for family life.

The petition has so far attracted just over 700 signatures, but anxious families are urging more people to back their campaign to force the Government to take action.

Christine Gilmore said her husband Ziad is stuck in Damascus in "absolutely dire" circumstances, and accused officials of actively leaving him in danger.

Ms Gilmore, 33, met her 50-year-old husband in Damascus, where she spent a year as part of a masters degree in Arabic.

After meeting in May 2010 the couple decide to marry, and underwent a marriage ceremony in Syria in October 2011, she said.

But she claimed their attempts to get him a visa so he could join her in the UK and escape the dangers of Syria have failed, despite meeting income and English language requirements.

They are currently waiting for the results of a latest application, but Ms Gilmore accused the Government of "trying to find every excuse" to prevent her husband from coming to the UK.

"I naively thought that if you are a British citizen and you have your husband or wife or parents or children in a war zone that they would do something to expedite them being able to come and join you. But it seems they are actually doing the complete opposite," she said.

She claimed to know at least a dozen British people in a similar situation, whose visa applications for Syrian spouses or relatives had all been refused.

"How can they get away with that?" she said. " What surprises me is that they ought to be facilitating that, this is an emergency."

She called for more discretion by officials when looking at cases, especially taking account of difficulties in getting all the necessary documents in a country where infrastructure is failing due to ongoing violence, and problems getting to specific English language test centres.

"They are not taking any of that on board and they have the power to do so if they wanted to. It just seems scandalous.

"I can understand that they might not want to take a quota of refugees like some countries, but to actively leave your family members in great danger is so cynical, it's beyond belief.

"The situation out there is absolutely dire, there's no electricity in the whole of southern Syria, t here's attacks constantly, h e nearly got killed by a car bomb, he has been shot at. It destroys your life knowing the person you love is there."

She said she started the petition out of "incredible frustration" over the situation, adding: "I t's far from being just a Syrian issue, it's very widespread."

Shafik Salih, 42, of east London, said he was suffering in the same situation, with an application for his Syrian fiancee Nesrin, 33, refused.

The couple, who met when Mr Salih was visiting Damascus in 2008, got engaged in December 2012 but a visa application for Nesrin was refused earlier this year and they are currently awaiting an appeal, which is due to be heard in April.

Mr Salih said: "I talk to my fiancee every day on Skype, chat and phone. The electricity is available for short periods, the internet connection is very bad.

"My fiancee is ill and she needs medications. The security position is very dangerous up there and I am worried about her.

"My fiancee is in a war zone in Syria. She is in real danger and needs urgent health care."

He said he was not convinced by the reasons given for refusing a visa, which he said included the alleged failure to provide correct documentation, and insisted he and his fiancee met all the requirements for her to come to the UK.

"I think I do not need to explain about her dangerous situation in Syria and my devastating situation here in the UK," he said.

"It is a basic human right to allow reunion of the family members. In our case, the issue is not just a human rights issue, but it is a life issue."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "All visa applications are considered on their individual merits and in line with the immigration rules.

"We have put special arrangements in place for a visa concession, which will allow Syrians already lawfully in the country to extend their permission to stay in the UK without returning home, where appropriate."

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