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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 5:24 pm ar 13 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party, Belfast South 5:24, 13 Mai 2024

I do not need to reiterate how dire conditions are for Gazans; other Members have already set that out ably and movingly. There is nowhere for Gazans to go, there is very little medical assistance and there is almost nothing to eat—and ahead of its latest brutalising assault, Israel has designated the desert strip of al-Mawasi as a “humanitarian zone”, although it degrades that word in the same way that it degrades the hundreds of thousands of people who are trying to exist there.

At other times here and in the main Chamber, we have debated the other things that need to happen now—an immediate ceasefire; the release of all hostages; the restoration of aid; the suspension of the sale of arms; hopefully, in time, the recognition of the state of Palestine, which I am pleased to say Ireland is due to do in the coming days; and meaningful progress towards a two-state solution, which is the only way that the people of the region are going to escape these cycles of hell—but this debate is about the small things that we can do to support the small number of Gazan residents seeking to leave, and with direct and established relatives here.

As all Members know and some have set out, the current arrangements are not working and people are literally dying for want of a solution. Members have set out that, of course, Gazans cannot access biometrics. I wrote on behalf of a constituent of mine and was cheerfully pointed to the other centres working throughout the region. We wrote to the British embassy in Jerusalem, which did not reply, and to other centres, and my constituent Ahmed has been advised by immigration lawyers that his application will cost thousands of pounds per person. Of course, there is also an extremely high rejection rate, and that excludes the approximately $5,000 payable to a private company, Hala, which manages the border crossing from Gaza into Egypt.

I will not share the last name of my constituent, Ahmed—he is going through the unimaginable at the moment; we do not need to add the invasion of his privacy to that—but I will say that he has lived in Belfast for many years, working in industry and in academia, and contributing to the economic and civic life of our city and the future of our region. Ahmed told me how the last few months have been for his family: his father lost his hearing in a bombing and his mother sustained an arm injury, which continues to be infected. They were, of course, displaced from their home. They also lost their business—a pharmacy—and Ahmed has just told me about the impossibility of maintaining anything approaching a dignified life.

We can barely comprehend the toll on individual families. Ahmed spoke to me about the loss of his uncle, a blind man, and about his cousin’s niece and nephew, aged five and seven; as so many of us have heard, the old and the young are bearing the brunt. Ahmed has also been telling me about his family’s daily struggle to meet their most basic needs, notably for food, water and sanitation, and even if—please God—this war, or this phase of this war, ends soon, we know that the infrastructure in that part of the world has been devastated.

Not everybody in Gaza is seeking to leave—of course they are not; they just want to live peacefully in their home place. Small numbers will leave and go elsewhere in the region, but some in Gaza have their closest relatives here, with the means to give them comfort and some sort of a future. Who of us in this room would not do exactly that for our parents or other close relatives if they were living in such circumstances?

The current impossible barriers—biometrics, visa fees, high rejection rates, and border crossing fees—effectively mean that we have no scheme. That is not just, it is not proportionate and it is not moral. I say to the Minister that there is a lot we could do that we are not doing and there is a lot that we are still able to do. The creation of a visa scheme is something practical that we can do, but I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reasons why we should not proceed.