Call for Ukraine-style visa scheme for Palestinians in Gaza with family in UK

A letter signed by almost 60 charities, law firms and organisations will be sent to the home secretary calling for the creation of a Ukraine-style visa scheme for Palestinians trapped in Gaza who have family in the UK.

The letter, signed by the Refugee Council, Care4Calais and the Helen Bamber Foundation, says “existing immigration routes are insufficient and not working” and describes how a Gaza family scheme would “enable Palestinians in Gaza to reunite with their immediate and extended family members in the UK”.

More than 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the 7 October attack on Israeli civilians, when 1,200 people were killed and about 250 people taken hostage by Hamas militants.

The letter addressed to the home secretary, James Cleverly, will be sent on Tuesday. It calls for the Home Office to urgently create a Gaza family scheme “to protect human life and the right to family unity until it is safe for Palestinians to return”, especially as fears grow of an impending Israeli ground assault in Rafah.

The Home Office has said it does not have plans to establish a separate route for Palestinians to come to the UK.

Last week, Scotland’s first minister, Humza Yousaf, backed the Gaza Families Reunited campaign calling for a family reunion scheme.

The letter, whose signatories include the law firms Birnberg Peirce and Duncan Lewis, says eligible Palestinians have been unable to apply for family reunion visas due to the Home Office’s requirement to enrol biometric data, including fingerprints.

Although the Home Office does offer the ability to defer the requirement of biometrics, the letter says most of these applications have been rejected and two people have been killed in Gaza while waiting for a decision.

The letter reads: “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 … It is in this context that Palestinian families in the UK have called for a Gaza family scheme alongside a permanent and immediate ceasefire.”

The home secretary’s refusal to make decisions on the reunion applications of three families who were trapped in Gaza, due to their inability to provide biometrics, was found to be unlawful and breached their rights under article 8 of the European convention on human rights, in an upper tribunal in early March.

Hundreds of Palestinian families in the UK have resorted to raising tens of thousands of pounds via fundraisers to facilitate the evacuation of their families through a private company in Egypt.

Since the October attack, 55,000 donations have been made and 430 funds set up in the UK mentioning “evacuate” or “evacuation” in relation to the crisis in Gaza, according to exclusive figures shared with the Guardian by GoFundMe.

A petition calling for a Palestinian family visa scheme has been signed by more than 54,000 people so far. It requires 100,000 signatures in order to be considered for debate in parliament.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are working around the clock to get British nationals who want to leave out of Gaza. We have a team on the ground in Cairo and at the Rafah crossing providing consular assistance. Any dependents of British citizens who need a visa can apply for one.”

The Guardian