Palestinians: Visa Scheme — [Martin Vickers in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 5:07 pm ar 13 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee) 5:07, 13 Mai 2024

I agree with the hon. Lady and particularly her last point about the right of return, but the right of return must not be cynically used by the Government to justify not having a scheme. My constituents come to see me, as they do regularly at my surgery, to talk about the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza, particularly constituents with a connection. I am ashamed that the British Government have not done more to help. They have done so very little to help, and they are not honouring their historic and moral obligations.

I will talk about one constituent in particular; her name is Dr Eman El-Bahnassawy. She is a specialist dentist who managed to evacuate her 79-year-old mother from Gaza to Cairo at huge expense, as hon. Members will know. This old lady witnessed the Nakba as a child, and she has endured all the recent wars on Gaza. She is in very poor health and has already been displaced nine times during the current war. Her home has been destroyed by the bombing, so she has nowhere to go back to. Her daughter and her daughter’s family—I know that my hon. Friend Peter Grant has a relative of my constituent in his constituency—are in a position to support their mother, but they face huge logistical difficulties in getting here. They look at the scheme afforded to Ukrainian refugees and cannot understand why, in all conscience, the British Government cannot replicate that scheme for people like them. I have tried to raise this issue with a number of Ministers on the Floor of the House, and at best I get waffle, but there is really no substantive response. The Government are dodging their responsibilities.

Cat Smith, who opened the debate so ably, explained the Catch-22 situation in which many Gazans find themselves, unable to get out of Gaza. During the passage of the Illegal Migration Act 2023, we were promised an announcement on safe and legal routes to the United Kingdom, but I raised that in the House again last week and was given a vague, equivocal answer. I want more detail and, in particular, I want to know what urgent action will be taken in relation to this situation.

As others have said, the UK Government have introduced bespoke pathways for those fleeing persecution in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong. Where Afghanistan and Hong Kong were concerned, we had particular historic and moral responsibilities. The proposed Gaza family scheme is modelled after the Ukraine family scheme and would enable applicants to apply to temporarily join their families here. That is all we are asking, and it is not much. These people will want to go back to their homeland.

In the absence of a specific family route for people to leave Gaza and join family members in the UK, they can seek to rely only on existing routes such as the family visa or the skilled worker dependant visa, which are extremely limited. In and of themselves, those pathways involve prolonged waits and hefty fees.