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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 4:30 pm ar 13 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee 4:30, 13 Mai 2024

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; once again, I find myself in agreement. I will make a little bit more progress with my speech, Mr Vickers, and not try your patience too much.

The Government’s position, outlined in their response to the petition in December, is that the UK recognises that there are people impacted by the war who may wish to join family in the UK. However, the Government are not making plans to create a bespoke pathway for Palestinians, but continue to prioritise immediate family reunification for British citizens and for people with a pre-existing right to live in the UK for over six months. The Government state that Palestinians can come to the UK through existing immigration routes, but the petitioners wished me to draw particular attention to the lack of safe routes out of Gaza for Palestinians, and indeed for anyone in a conflict zone.

For their application even to be considered by the Home Office, people must attend visa application centres to give their biometric data, but there is no VAC in Gaza—it has closed—and they cannot get through to Jerusalem or Ramallah. Until recently, of course, people could pay thousands of US dollars to get out via a private company, over the Rafah border to Egypt, but that is now impossible due to the situation at the Rafah border. That is another option that has been closed off; Gazans are now effectively trapped with no way of giving their biometrics. There is an option to apply for a deferred biometric enrolment, but I understand that since the start of the conflict in October every single request for deferral in Palestine has been refused by the Home Office.

People living in the UK who have families in Gaza that they have not managed to get out can do nothing but watch their families suffer daily. One petitioner, Ghassan, whom I met last week, said that his family had been displaced and evacuated within Gaza many times before he managed to get them across the border to Egypt. He said that

“there is no safe place in Gaza.”

That is the tragic reality on the ground today.