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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 6:29 pm ar 13 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Llafur, Bolton South East 6:29, 13 Mai 2024

Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for calling me to speak. I also thank my hon. Friend Cat Smith for securing this debate today.

We have heard from many colleagues who have stated what is happening in Gaza; indeed, we see what is happening in Gaza on our screens every day. It is not that what is happening is being done in secrecy; it is being done very openly and the whole world is watching it happen. Indeed, the whole world has been watching it happen for months and months and months.

The whole world has heard the comments of the various leaders of the Israeli Government, such as saying that the Palestinians or Gazans are the Amalekites, or the fact that leaders, defence Ministers and generals are saying, “They are not human beings; they should be in the Sinai desert.” They heard the Minister who looked at the complete devastation of Gaza and said, “This is such a beautiful site. We are looking forward to building our homes there.”

We have seen the relentless bombing—bombing and bombing and bombing. We are seeing children with their limbs blown off, and women and other adults damaged. We have heard of people’s skin peeling off. We have seen real crimes being committed in front of our eyes, yet all we have are platitudes from world leaders. They say, “Well, Israel is going to abide by international law,” or, “The IDF is the most moral army in the world.” I do not know whether it is a moral army or not; all I am saying to people is that people should see what is actually happening in Gaza and draw their own conclusions.

We now have a situation where water, food, clothes, medicine and generators are available and we can help the people in Gaza, who are now stuck in a tiny space—1.5 million of them are displaced. However, it is not a natural famine or disaster; it is purely and simply because the Israeli Government will not let aid in, with the illegal Israeli settlers playing their part to stop aid getting in. What are our moral international Governments doing about that? We can see it, so why is it that no one seems to be taking real steps to help the Palestinian people and to get food in? We have had some food aid drops, but they are nothing compared with what is needed.

I will come on to the topic of this debate. It is only a small number of people who are able to leave Gaza and join their families in the United Kingdom; why is that not happening? We see the destruction, and as many colleagues have said, those people are not going to be a burden on the taxpayer or the state, because their family and friends will look after and pay for them. I know that those people will go back to their homeland. One of the reasons why so many Palestinians are stuck where they are in Rafah is that they know that if they left Palestine the chances of them being able to return are virtually negligible.

We saw what happened in the 1940s with the Nakba, where 700,000 people were expelled forcibly and not any have been able to come back. Now their families and children are languishing in tents in Lebanon, Jordan and the rest of the surrounding countries. There are now approaching 4 million or 5 million of those displaced people. For 75 years, everybody in the international community has talked about how the Palestinians would be able to come back, or about a homeland for the Palestinians. Nothing has happened. That is how I know that of those people who will leave Gaza, virtually all of them will want to go back—although, as someone has said, the level of devastation in Gaza is absolutely horrendous.

I am sorry to say that the Home Office’s attitude to Palestinian refugees—or even Palestinian visitors—over the years has been incredibly harsh. I thank Julia Simpkins, who is a teacher in Bolton. Every year, she gets young Palestinian students to come over from the West Bank, Gaza and other places, to Bolton and Manchester and they are taken around for about a week. Last time she tried to do that, a few years back, visas were declined without any reason whatever given. These are children, but no explanation was given—that is the complete high-and-mightiness of the Home Office.

With Ukraine and other places, we rightly intervened to help people, yet we do not seem to be able to offer the same degree of courtesy or help to the Palestinian people. What is it about the Palestinians that is so different from the Ukrainians? I can assure the House, their perils and suffering are as great, if not greater—not that one should be comparing the sufferings of any one group of victims with those of another.

I say to the Government, this will not cost money. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood and other colleagues have said, the scheme already exists. It is literally copy and paste to apply it to the circumstances in Gaza and to make the rules easy as well, so that people can get out.

I have a final thing to ask of the Government while they are looking at this whole issue of Gaza, which we know is a big issue. In Ukraine, many children were severely injured and had amputations, and about 150 of them were accepted in British hospitals by the British Government, who paid for them to have limb reconstruction and other surgeries, or chemotherapy to treat cancer patients, yet not a single Palestinian child has been accepted. Not a single Palestinian child has been offered that service, despite the fact that in hospitals, such as Great Ormond Street Hospital management, are happy to take the children. None, however, has been taken. I ask the Government to examine their conscience—why? What is the difference between a Palestinian child and a Ukrainian child?