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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 6:42 pm ar 13 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 6:42, 13 Mai 2024

I entirely agree with what the hon. Member presented. The Gaza Families Reunited campaign has set out the eligibility, saying that it would include an immediate family member, an extended family member or the immediate family of an extended family member. That is so important, because we know that there are people who now have nobody left. There are children who have been orphaned and have not a soul in the world that they can rely on, but they may have somebody they know is here, and they should be allowed to come to safety. It is cruelty beyond measure not to permit that to happen.

A recognised Palestinian refugee won a recent court case on this issue, challenging the Home Office’s refusal to decide the family entrance clearance applications of his wife and children under refugee family reunion rules on account of their inability to enrol their biometrics in Gaza. That was described as being “irrational and unreasonable” by the courts, and it is entirely irrational and unreasonable. People are stuck, as Caroline Lucas said, in a Catch-22 where they need their biometrics to be able to leave, but they cannot get their biometrics because they cannot leave. It is impossible and illogical that that is the position, and it is in the Government’s hands to waive that requirement. It is in nobody else’s hands; it is in the hands of this Government and this Minister to make the decision to waive the requirement for biometrics. He could do it at the stroke of a pen this afternoon if he so wished, and I would like him to explain why he will not. As yet, we have not had an explanation of why, if it was good enough for people in Ukraine to get that biometric requirement waived, it is not good enough for the people of Gaza, whose circumstances are absolutely grim.

The people in Gaza are having to bribe their way across the border and are being smuggled out. This Government are supposed to be against people smuggling, but people have no choice. It costs $5,000 per adult and $2,500 per child, if anybody can even scrape that money together. People are crowdfunding on the internet to pay themselves across the border. What kind of system is that? None whatsoever. And as my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes and my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry mentioned, they then get stuck somewhere else. They get stuck in Cairo waiting for something else to happen because this Government will not move with the paperwork. It is absolutely ridiculous and cruel. People could be here, safe and looked after, but they are not.

Turning back to the court case, disclosures were made that every single entry clearance visa application from Gaza made from 7 October has been refused by the Home Office. If this is about safe and legal routes, why are they automatically being refused? We know from experience that even visitor visas—a third of those last year—were refused because the Government do not believe that people are going to go back to Gaza, and in the circumstances, why would they? But even if someone could get a visitor visa, the Government are quite likely to refuse it.

The right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington mentioned people coming over in small boats, but given the difficulty of even getting out of Gaza, that is not a prospect for most. The House of Commons Library briefing for this debate spoke about the rarity of that. Palestinians accounted for 0.14% of the people on boats, or 53 out of 36,704. They may well be sent to Rwanda after fleeing a war zone, getting across continents, getting in a small boat and getting to safety here. Can the Minister say whether anybody who came in such a way will be removed to Rwanda? Will he at least rule that out for some kindness to the Gazans who have managed to make it to our shores to safety? Again, it is just cruelty.

Hon. Members also raised the issue of people accessing medical treatment here. The Children Not Numbers campaign has done a huge amount of work to evacuate people in the past, including children whose medical needs are absolutely dire. We have all seen on our television screens, at a remove, the horror of children having amputations without anaesthetic, and children whose lives have been devastated at such a young age. They cannot even get those children out for the medical treatment that they so desperately require for their futures.

I am sure that the Minister will come out, as he always does, with how Britain is a welcoming country, how we have done so much to resettle people and how we should look at all these other things we have done in the past. What we are asking is for something now. It has been six months. He has had quite long enough to come to a conclusion. He has had quite long enough to design a scheme.

The Gaza Families Reunited campaign has given the Minister the work on this. It will not be difficult for him to create such a scheme. It was done for the people of Ukraine much more swiftly than this. He is out of excuses. He needs to give the Gazan people some kind of certainty that they can come to safety. Otherwise, we will all know that this Government do not care and are prepared to ignore the people of Gaza. It is despicable.