Optimism fades for HK student in Gaza

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 September, 2007, 12:00am

Time is running out for a Palestinian student who remains trapped in the Gaza Strip over a month after the beginning of term.

Ibrahim Abusudaih, 18, should have started his second year at Li Po Chun United World College last month but was unable to return from a trip home visiting family because the borders were closed.

Principal Stephen Codrington said that despite repeated assurances from Ibrahim that he would be able to return soon, no-one had heard from him for more than two weeks and it was now unlikely he would make it to the school this year.

'Even if he manages to get out of Gaza, he will need to start the visa process again as his previous visa has expired. That is likely to take at least two months,' Dr Codrington said. 'Realistically, I can't see him coming back to Hong Kong in December and doing his International Baccalaureate exams next year.'

Dr Codrington said Ibrahim had previously been in regular contact with the school and his classmates via e-mail, but that had ceased recently. 'We have heard nothing,' Dr Codrington said. 'It is about two weeks since anyone heard from him, including his friends.'

Ibrahim 'kept saying he was about to leave Gaza', Dr Codrington said, but it appeared his plans had failed.

'Every message we have had suggests that everything is in had and the problems are solved,' he said. 'It is always good news: 'I'm getting out tomorrow'. But that just hasn't happened.

'You have to give him 10 out of 10 for optimism, but it seems even that has worn off now.'

One of the last people at Li Po Chun to hear from Ibrahim was his close friend and classmate Yeelen Merhi, but that was in the first half of this month.

Yeelen, 17, had traveled back to the Middle East with Ibrahim at the beginning of the summer holidays, parting company in Doha. Ibrahim then entered Gaza through Egypt while Yeelen returned to his home in the Lebanon.

They had remained in regular e-mail contact over the summer following the closing of Gaza's borders.

He said Ibrahim had been hopeful all along, but reflected on the uncertainty of the situation.

'We're never going to find out when he's actually going to leave until he actually leaves,' Yeelen said earlier this month.

However, Dr Codrington said the school had not yet made a final decision about closing off Ibrahim's place

'I don't want to completely close off any doors at this time,' he said. 'It is one of those rubbery decisions that just morphs its way day by day.'

Although Ibrahim was unlikely to make it back to the Hong Kong school, it might be possible for him to transfer to one of the group's 11 other colleges worldwide.

'One of the options is that I might contact some of the heads of the other United World Colleges in countries where the visa process is a bit quicker,' he said.

But he ruled out the possibility of Ibrahim returning to Li Po Chun next year to repeat the two-year course.