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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 5:17 pm ar 13 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury) 5:17, 13 Mai 2024

I thank my hon. Friend Cat Smith for leading the debate. She has championed the cause of Palestinian people since we served in Young Labour maybe 20 years ago, and I am really pleased to see that she is still championing this cause in the Chamber—maybe I have given away how old we are.

Before I speak about a specific case that I want to draw to the Minister’s attention, I pay tribute to the bravery of those who have been living in Gaza throughout the conflict. As my hon. Friend Kate Hollern said, everyone has seen the appalling scenes on TV, but whereas we go about our everyday lives, that is the reality for the people who are living there. I hope that, when making policy and speaking in the House, we remember the trauma and conflict that they are going through every day.

Let me turn to a constituent of mine, whose brother’s family have been forced to leave their home in southern Gaza after it was destroyed by aerial bombardment due to the fighting in the area. He moved with his wife and his four children—the youngest is primary school age—because he could not live there any more and it was too dangerous. They arrived in Khan Yunis and were forced to flee once again, with the four small children, to the border in the city of Rafah due to the extension of the aerial bombardment to that area. The family are now living without access to water, food or basic hygiene facilities, and my constituent is receiving regular updates from his brother, who describes bombs landing less than 1 km away from where he is sheltering with his wife and young children. We know that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is catastrophic. My constituent is desperately worried about the safety of his brother and the young family, and he has been doing all he can to try to enable them to move to this country and be with their immediate family members.

I wrote to the Home Office about the situation, and am grateful for the speedy response I received, but the reply made how desperate the situation is even clearer. The Government’s answer was to inform my constituent that the visa application centre in Gaza is closed, and to pass on the opening hours of the centres in Ramallah and Jerusalem. This seems to have been done without any understanding of the complete impossibility of getting out of Gaza, and it is clear that families like the one I am talking about cannot access these centres, meaning that the Government’s advice is completely unrealistic. Although I appreciate the detail of the Government’s answer, it is sadly nothing close to a solution for this family. Does the Minister have any practical advice that desperately worried family members in the UK can pass on to immediate family members who are going through this trauma?

That desperation has led other constituents in similar situations to ask me for advice on paying up to $5,000 per person to a private company in Egypt to get family out of Gaza. The companies have put their prices up fourteenfold since outbreak of the conflict. That is complete exploitation. It is not clear what someone in that position should do. They are ultimately being forced to consider extremely risky and extortionate routes, because there are simply no other options available. There is no way of knowing the legitimacy of such routes, or of guaranteeing that they will get them to safety. Even then, they are an option only for people who can get hold of that extortionate amount of money.

Does the Minister have any information about using such private companies as a route out of Gaza, and can he share the official Foreign Office advice regarding the companies? Can he set out exactly what my constituents—British citizens living in Hampstead and Kilburn who have immediate family in Rafah—should say to their terrified and vulnerable relatives, as well as any Government assessment of what support these immediate family members of British citizens should be entitled to? I am sure that people in the Chamber, which is packed, know that my constituent’s family are not alone.