British-Palestinians call for visa scheme for trapped relatives

Children queuing to receive food in Rafah
Image caption,Children queuing to receive food in Rafah, near the Gaza border with Egypt

By Ashitha Nagesh

Community affairs correspondent

British-Palestinian families have urged the government to create a visa scheme for stranded relatives in Gaza.

A letter, sent to Foreign Secretary David Cameron on behalf of 80 families, calls for a scheme similar to the Ukraine Family Scheme visa.

A petition on Parliament’s website calling for a new visa scheme also has more than 22,700 signatures.

The government said it was “working around the clock” to get those “who want to leave” out of Gaza.

More than 270 British nationals and their dependants have left Gaza so far, it added in a statement to the BBC.

British nationals currently need to apply for visas for their spouses, partners and children who are in Gaza through the existing family visa route, before they come to the UK. British children under the age of 18 can also sponsor their parents for a visa.

This visa route carries fees – someone outside the UK wanting to join their British spouse, for example, generally needs to pay £1,840. There is also a health surcharge to pay on top of that, which is at least £1,560 for adults.

Relatives such as siblings, parents of adult children and extended family, are not eligible in most cases.

The Ukraine Family Scheme was set up in March 2022 after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to allow people fleeing the war in Ukraine to move to the UK to join family members. This can be either an immediate or extended family member, including a parent of an adult child.

It is free to apply to the Ukraine Family Scheme, and additional fees such as the health surcharge are waived. About 71,400 visas have been issued under the scheme so far.

The letter, co-written and signed by British citizens and residents with family members in Gaza, calls for an equivalent scheme to be set up for Palestinians.

“While acknowledging the complexities of each conflict, it is disheartening for us, as British citizens and UK residents, to witness the disparity in our government response,” it said.

Not having a specific visa scheme for Palestinians, the letter said, “stands in stark contrast to the swift and supportive actions taken in similar circumstances, such as in the Ukrainian conflict”.

Palestinians in the UK “are currently feeling a profound sense of abandonment and neglect” as a result, it said.

One of the people who signed the letter, Ibrahim Assaliya, told BBC News that his 71-year-old mother is trapped alone in Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza.


Ibrahim Assaliya and his mother, who is stranded in Gaza

“It’s a horrible situation,” he said. “The shelling and bombardment… she’s been asked two times to leave her house to go to another place. But she can’t do it, because she’s disabled.”

He added that “it’s miserable there – there’s no food, no water. They’re starving”.

Dr Assaliya, his wife and five children – all British nationals – were visiting his mother in Gaza when the war broke out.

They were eventually able to evacuate through the Rafah crossing last month, but this meant leaving Dr Assaliya’s mother behind.

In a statement sent to the BBC, the government said: “We are working at pace to support British families who have crossed the border into Egypt, making sure any dependants who need a visa can apply for one and that appropriate checks are carried out in a timely manner.”

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