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‘The Opposite of War’: Calls for a Palestinian Visa Initiative in the UK

British-Palestinian families are appealing to the Home Office to institute visa programs for relatives stranded in war torn Gaza

Natalie Bennett speaking at the protest at Downing St calling for an end to Israel’s almost ten year siege on Gaza in 2016. Photo: Peter Marshall/Alamy

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What’s happened with the Palestinian visa scheme? In response to the parliamentary petition last December, the Home Office declared that “there are no plans to introduce bespoke arrangements for people arriving from the region“. But it also added that “those wishing to come to the UK who currently have no visa can apply under one of the existing visa routes”.

Advocates for the dedicated Palestinian visa are still pressing the Government to address the challenges faced by those caught in the Israel-Hamas war, amidst the mounting humanitarian concerns as individuals in Gaza are left without viable options for travel. At least 300 British-Palestinian families are grappling with their inability to provide immediate assistance to relatives.

A fresh initiative – the Palestinian Visa Scheme Campaign – has emerged to help families in their efforts to lobby the Government to implement a visa program allowing for the safe relocation of their Gaza-based relatives. 

Speaking at the launch of the project in Westminster on Wednesday, former leader of the Green Party and current Green Party peer, Natalie Bennett said “From an obvious humanitarian point, there are people in desperate need who require refuge”. 

“Given that a century of foreign policy has helped to create this situation, we have a real responsibility to take action’” Bennett told Byline Times. She added that ‘‘Everyone who needs refuge should be able to get refuge, whether that includes the Ukrainian, Hong Kong or a Palestinian visa scheme. This is not an either-or”.

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The Ukrainian Precedent

Since 7 October and the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, approximately 2,000,000 Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza, which accounts for 85% of the population. Amongst those affected are over 300 UK families waiting to be reunited. A parliamentary petition racked up over 30,000 signatures in support of a scheme supporting these families since its creation in October.

The appeal advocates for the waiver of fees, salary thresholds and testing requirements for Palestinians displaced by Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza. Inspired by schemes to support refugees in previous conflicts, it would allow UK residents to offer a home to people fleeing Palestine by becoming a sponsor.

Addressing the committee room on Wednesday, Hamza Elbuhaisi, a British Palestinian whose wife currently lives in the UK through a spouse visa, spoke out against the current issues faced by Palestinian families waiting to be rescued from Gaza.

“Both myself and my wife waited two months to be evacuated by the British foreign office’, Hamza revealed.  “My life was in danger during this time. Israeli airstrikes killed my friends and neighbours, most of them women and children”.

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Under the current system, the Home Office requires Palestinians seeking refuge in the UK to apply via the established visa channels. Such systems require complicated and costly provisions, such as additional health charges amounting to at least £1,500 per person, as well as the refusal to consider individuals unless they are parents of young UK nationals, spouses, or children of UK citizens. 

Supporters of the scheme point out the contradictory responses of the Government in addressing the needs of displaced populations. Under the Ukrainian visa initiative, Ukrainian refugees seeking residence in the United Kingdom benefit from empathetic provisions, including waived fees and relaxed eligibility criteria. 

Drawing upon the positive implications of the Ukraine visa scheme, Joy Rider from LoveBristol, a church and charity working on the border of Ukraine since March 2022, said that such a scheme “sets a precedent for the British public to actually be able to do something and to be able to make a change”.

“Through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, it created a framework that has been overwhelmingly positive”, Rider told Byline Times. “Comparing all the other options available, a visa scheme is one thing we can offer that goes in the opposite spirit of war.”

Planning to draft an open letter for MPs, Lords and Life Peers, Natalie Bennett emphasised the need for a bipartisan approach: “It’s essential now to seek cross-party support, seeking allies where we find them.”

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