UK urged to create Gaza family reunification scheme as offered to Ukrainians

UK urged to create Gaza family reunification scheme as offered to Ukrainians
Refugee Action and Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights were among 75 groups that signed a letter to UK Home Secretary James Cleverly.
4 min read
04 April, 2024
A letter sent to sent to UK Home Secretary James Cleverly said a Gaza family visa scheme was 'long overdue' [Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu/Getty-archive]

The British government has been urged to create a scheme enabling Palestinians in Gaza to reunite with family in the UK after a similar programme benefitted Ukrainians.

A letter sent to Home Secretary James Cleverly on Tuesday said a Gaza family visa scheme was "long overdue" and warned Palestinians were being denied a viable means of meeting biometric requirements under existing immigration routes.

Refugee Action, the Council for Arab-British Understanding, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, and Care4Calais were among 75 groups that signed the letter.

"Existing immigration routes are insufficient and not working," read the letter, seen by The New Arab.

The letter stated that Palestinians currently eligible to enter the UK cannot apply to be cleared for entry unless they have submitted biometrics, adding that the only visa application centres where this can be done are in neighbouring Egypt.

"Unlike in the case of British nationals, for whom the British government has facilitated evacuation to Egypt, the British government is not facilitating safe passage for Palestinians in Gaza seeking to reunite with their family members in the UK," the letter added.

"Palestinians in Gaza are thus trapped in a catch-22: the British government is demanding that they register biometrics, but it is denying them a viable way of doing so."

The letter said that while it was possible to apply to defer or waive biometric requirements, nearly all such requests were denied.

The Gaza Families Reunited campaign, a group of Palestinians from Gaza and migrants' rights advocates, organised the letter.

A petition on the UK parliament's website calling for the government to create a family visa scheme for Palestinians affected by war has so far attracted more than 60,000 signatures.

The Home Office, Cleverly's ministry, responded to the petition in December, saying there were "currently no plans to introduce bespoke arrangements for people arriving from the region who do not hold permission to come to the UK".

However, if the petition surpasses 100,000 signatures by the 18 April deadline, it will be considered for parliamentary debate.

'Moral responsibility'

A Gaza Families Reunited spokesperson said the British government had a "moral responsibility" to create a Gaza family scheme enabling Palestinians in the territory to reunite with their loved ones in the UK until it is safe to return.

"What Palestinian families are asking for is simply that the government match the generosity that it afforded Ukrainian families fleeing persecution," the spokesperson told The New Arab on Tuesday.

"That it has not already done so demonstrates a clear double standard when it comes to Palestinian lives."

The Ukrainian family visa scheme that was mentioned in the letter to Cleverly closed on 19 February, almost two years after Russia invaded its eastern European neighbour.

Israel's brutal war on Gaza, which started on 7 October, has so far killed over 33,000 people, according to the enclave's health ministry.

The military campaign has severely damaged the strip's infrastructure and plunged the enclave into a deep humanitarian crisis.

The International Court of Justice found in January that it was "plausible" Israel was breaching the Genocide Convention in Gaza.

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The danger and devastation have led many Palestinians in Gaza to want to exit into Egypt, but acquiring authorisation through private brokers is very expensive.

"The [UK] government's failure to defer biometric requirements and facilitate the evacuation of Palestinians from Gaza means that families are being forced to crowdfund tens of thousands of pounds to escape starvation, bombardment, and death," the Gaza Families Reunited spokesperson said.

"Two people have already died while waiting for the Home Office to waive or defer its cruel biometric conditions. This is wholly unacceptable."

The deaths were reported by Scottish pro-independence newspaper the Sunday National in March.

"Once Palestinians manage to evacuate to Egypt, they are being left in limbo, with neither the ability to access state support nor the possibility of reuniting with their loved ones here in the UK," the Gaza Families Reunited spokesperson added.

'No plans'

A British government spokesperson told The New Arab that there are currently "no plans" to create a separate route for Palestinians to come to the UK.

"However, any dependants of British citizens who need a visa can apply for one," the spokesperson added.

Dependants without permission (known as 'leave') to enter Britain must apply for a visa prior to travelling to the UK, requiring them to submit biometrics at an application centre.

The UK government's website says people in Palestine should apply at their "nearest accessible" centre.

There are centres in Cairo and Alexandria, though the letter organised by Gaza Families Reunited said registering biometrics in Egypt involves a "clearly dangerous" and in some cases "virtually impossible" journey.

"We are working around the clock to get British nationals who want to leave out of Gaza," the British government spokesperson said.

A team is in Cairo and at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza providing consular assistance, the spokesperson added.