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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 6:00 pm ar 13 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East 6:00, 13 Mai 2024

I congratulate everybody who has been involved in supporting the e-petition and the Committee Chair, Cat Smith, for her excellent introduction to the debate. I proudly put on the record my full support for a Gaza family scheme.

It is impossible to imagine the fear and terror that every single morning must bring to people who have loved ones living in the midst of the utter carnage in Gaza. In the face of this humanitarian catastrophe, is it really the Home Office’s response to do nothing and change nothing? That cannot seriously be an acceptable response. The Minister in his reply will almost certainly point to how the Home Office responded and engaged positively in light of the horrors unfolding in Ukraine or, indeed, Hong Kong. However, as others have pointed out, those welcome measures simply prompt the question: why on earth not Gaza as well? It is really not a big ask; in fact, it is the very least we could do.

The existing rules are simply not working and are not sufficient. Whether a person can join family members here depends first on the category of leave or visa that the family member has—whether that is as a refugee or with humanitarian protection, whether it is as a UK citizen or with settled status, or whether it is with some form of temporary leave such as for study or work. Given the hellish circumstances in Gaza, the right to be joined by family fleeing catastrophe should not depend on the type of leave that a person has. We must be much more generous about the category of family members who can apply to join so that it is not just immediate family members, but parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, and so on. We in this room would all want—indeed, we would all demand—precisely the same if it was our relatives in the same situation.

Similarly, the fees and charges that generally apply to many applications, often amounting to several thousands of pounds when the immigration health surcharge is included, should be waived. In the face of such untold horrors, we cannot make family unity dependent on a person’s wealth.

Regardless of what changes the Home Office makes, or even if it refuses to make any changes at all, the practical processes for dealing with the applications must be fixed and improved. Even for those fortunate enough to qualify for family reunion or another visa that enables them to get here, the applications take far too long, with many being left in destitution and in limbo, usually in Egypt, where resident rights are often quick to expire, along with any access to education for kids or to healthcare or housing. That is of course if people are lucky enough to get as far as Egypt—as we have already heard, the closure of the Rafah crossing makes that almost impossible.

Even while the crossing was open, while the UK Government would provide lists of British citizens who were thereby entitled to cross at Rafah into Egypt, no such facility was granted to many Palestinians, even if they were, or could have been, able to join family here in the United Kingdom. Instead, they were left to be subject to essentially extortion by an Egyptian company called Hala and forced to pay $5,000 per adult or $2,500 per child in cash to cross, and only first-degree relatives of people physically present in Egypt could even do that.

The cost meant that people were having to make absolutely impossible choices. They were having to start their journeys with a crowdfunder, and then ask themselves, “Well, we’ve got enough to bring a parent, but perhaps we should take a niece instead.” What a choice to leave folk to make. The ability to reunite with family in safety should not be open to such extortion, and people should not be left to face such choices. We call on the Government to work with counterparts to secure an evacuation from Gaza of individuals with UK family members, without them being subject to that additional worry, just like the Canadians have managed, as we have heard.