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

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

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Bell Ribeiro-Addy Bell Ribeiro-Addy Llafur, Streatham 6:13, 13 Mai 2024

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the Government should do a full assessment.

Unfortunately, the Government’s response to the plight of Palestinian refugees has been typical of their punitive approach to people seeking safety. I found this out for myself when a constituent of mine attempted to apply for his family members to join him in February. They were rejected because they could not provide biometric data. I was appalled to find out that the Home Office actually put down in writing that this was because the Government expect Palestinian refugees from Gaza to apply in Ramallah, Jerusalem or a nearby country. They are effectively telling people to travel through an active war zone to submit information.

Besides the current conflict, Gaza has been under blockade for years. People from Gaza do not casually leave and travel to different parts of the country. They simply do not. His Majesty’s Home Office should be embarrassed to send such a ridiculous and ignorant response—if not, I am thoroughly embarrassed for the Home Office. Those seeking to leave Gaza are trapped in a Catch-22 because of this situation. They cannot enrol their biometrics because they cannot leave Gaza, and they cannot leave Gaza because they cannot enrol their biometrics.

According to the Gaza Families Reunited campaign, at least two Palestinians are now known to have died while waiting for the Home Office to decide on their applications. My constituent said:

“I do not think I’m being treated fairly at all. I came to the UK on a work permit and never applied for assistance from the UK Government.”

He just wants the UK Government to help his family. It is hard to argue with what he says, because when millions were displaced by Russia’s appalling invasion of Ukraine in 2021, the Government had the Homes for Ukraine scheme live in a matter of weeks. It is right that that happened, and I believe the Government have not done enough for Ukrainian refugees, but when the conflict began in Gaza and thousands of Palestinians were displaced, and then more than a million, where was the homes for Palestine scheme?

All options are closed to my constituent’s family. It is worth repeating that the Home Office has rejected every single request for biometric deferral and predetermination since 7 October. When I wrote to the Home Office again, the response to my constituent was:

“I have considered whether there are compelling, compassionate circumstances in your case which would warrant a grant of leave outside of the Immigration Rules;
however, based on the information you have provided, I have decided there is no such circumstances in your case.”

We have 35,000 people killed, over 75,000 injured, people starving and 1.5 million people displaced, but our Home Office can see no circumstances for a grant of leave outside the current immigration rules. That is an absolute disgrace.

In comparison, between 15 March 2022 and 7 December 2023 Ukrainian nationals could apply online without the need to enrol their biometrics until after they reached safety in the UK. Again, this was absolutely the right thing to do, but why are Palestinians being denied the same conditions and compassion? When the Minister responds, I want to understand the Government’s justification for these double standards, and I want the Minister to understand why there are so many people right across the country who believe that those reasons revolve around racism and geopolitics.

There is nothing that Palestinians want more than a safe return to their home. However, the inordinate civilian death toll in this conflict sadly means that many Palestinians simply will not be alive to exercise that right. From the Sykes-Picot agreement to the Balfour declaration, the betrayals of McMahon to the invasion of Allenby’s forces, we have to acknowledge that it was long-standing British policy to displace Palestinians from their homes.

Our shared colonial history means that we have a unique responsibility towards Palestinian refugees and a particular responsibility to push for peace in the region, but it is a responsibility that this Government have completely shirked so far. I urge the Minister to listen to the thousands who signed the petition, including hundreds of my constituents, and create a Palestinian family reunion scheme. As well as supporting people displaced by the war in Gaza, we need the Government to do something about the root causes of that displacement, which means suspending arms sales and pushing for an immediate and permanent ceasefire.