Until there is a ceasefire the Government must support British families who are trying to get their relatives out of Gaza

Seven months on since the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7th the conflict between Israel and Gaza continues to dominate MPs’ mailbags and is a popular choice of topic that members of the public are raising e-petitions on. The most recent e-petition to comfortably surpass the 100,000-signature threshold calls on the UK Government to create a family visa system for Palestinians based on the one created for Ukraine a few years ago.

Family members of British citizens and residents are currently stuck in Gaza facing unimaginable risks and horrors, and yet they are currently unable to access family reunion routes in order to rejoin loved ones and those who could care for them here in the UK.

There was a real cross-party consensus in the contribution MPs made in the debate that the urgent imperative is bringing an end to this war, and to create the conditions needed for an immediate ceasefire that is observed by both sides, with the immediate release of hostages and immediate unimpeded aid to Gaza.

At it stands, many families have been unable to leave Gaza, and even where they should qualify for family reunion under existing UK Immigration Rules, they are currently facing insurmountable barriers. We have heard of long delays in getting decisions or visa issues, and of families being told they cannot apply for visas (even when they are eligible) until they have submitted biometric data, which it is currently completely impossible to do from within Gaza.

Biometrics can be submitted from Egypt, however, most individuals still in Gaza will not be able to get to Egypt without a biometric deferral decision from the Government and assistance to leave, and as a result they remain trapped. When the Minister replied stressing the good availability of appointments in Cairo it was met with audible sighs in Westminster Hall as he failed to grasp the issue was Palestinians exiting Gaza.

British Palestinians have made clear that their families who do come here will want to return home to Gaza when it is safe to do so. For many of those involved in supporting the petition this is an issue that impacts their loved ones, Gaza Families Reunited is made up of 350 Palestinians living in the UK with family in Gaza. They are calling on the UK Government to establish a Gaza Family Scheme to enable Palestinians in the UK to bring their loved ones to safety from Gaza until it is safe to return.

The government position, reiterated by the Home Office Minister in Westminster Hall, 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 is not making plans to create a bespoke pathway for Palestinians, but to continue to prioritise immediate family reunification for British citizens and for people with pre-existing right to live in the UK for over 6 months.

While the government states that Palestinians can come to the UK through currently existing immigration routes, there is no safe routes out of Gaza for Palestinians.
There is an option to apply for deferred biometric enrolment, but since the start of the conflict in October, I understand every single request for deferral in Palestine has been refused by the Home Office. The Minister refused to engage on this issue in the debate which I think will frustrated the petitioners.

It seems clear to me that events in recent years in Ukraine, Gaza, Afghanistan and beyond means that as a country we need to look again at how we support and protect those fleeing conflict. At present there appears to be a grim lottery when it comes to who we are prepared to do everything we can to help.

The UK Government must continue to push for an immediate ceasefire, the immediate release of all hostages, immediate unimpeded aid to Gaza and work towards a two-state solution, with a safe and secure Israel, alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. Until that point, the Government must support British families who are trying to get their relatives to safety in these dark and desperate times.

Cat Smith MP

Cat Smith is the Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, and was elected in 2015.