Canada will open a temporary residence pathway for 1,000 Gazans

UK charities urge government to welcome Gazans with family ties in Britain

Tens of thousands of Gazans who manage to leave the Strip linger in limbo, with very few countries – none in the Arab world – willing to take them in as refugees

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Illustrative -- Palestinians cross to the Egyptian side of the border crossing with the Gaza Strip in Rafah, Nov. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)
Illustrative -- Palestinians cross to the Egyptian side of the border crossing with the Gaza Strip in Rafah, Nov. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Sixty British organizations and law firms that have coalesced under the “Gaza Families Reunited” initiative addressed a letter to the UK Home Secretary James Cleverly on Tuesday to call for the creation of a visa program for Gazans with family in the United Kingdom.

The program would be similar to one created for Ukrainian refugees, and it is based on the premise that “existing immigration routes are insufficient and not working,” the letter reads. It would “enable family members of Palestinians in the UK to reunite with their loved ones and offer temporary sanctuary until it is safe to return.”

The initiative comes in light of the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which has seen the death of more than 32,000 people so far according to Hamas’s Health Ministry, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle.

The war against Hamas was launched after the terrorist army infiltrated southern Israel on October 7 in a brutal massacre of 1,200 in which it also took 253 hostages to the Gaza Strip, where some have been reportedly tortured and sexually assaulted.

The letter to Cleverly points out that the crisis may become exacerbated if Israel proceeds with its “threatened ground assault on Rafah – formerly claimed as a ‘safe zone’ for civilians – in spite of widespread international outcry, including on the part of the British government.”

Under the current system, Palestinians need to submit their biometric data to file an immigration application to the UK, but the only visa application centers are in neighboring Egypt, which charges exorbitant fees to allow Palestinians to exit the Strip.

The letter charges that in light of this difficulty, “two people have been killed while waiting for a decision on their family reunion visa under existing routes.”

The “Gaza Families Reunited” campaign was recently backed by Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf, whose wife’s family was trapped in Gaza at the outbreak of the war and was only able to leave in January thanks to Turkey’s intervention.

Many Gazans in the diaspora have resorted to online crowdfunding to raise the sums needed to evacuate their families to Egypt, which can reach up to $10,000 per adult. Fundraisers on GoFundMe have raised tens of thousands of dollars in donations from around the world so that Gazan expatriates can have their relatives’ names inserted in the daily lists of 300 people approved for travel outside the Strip by Egyptian authorities.

Screengrab from the GoFundMe crowdfunding page with campaigns to collect money for Gazan families, March 6, 2024

While tens of thousands of Gazans have managed to cross the Rafah border into Sinai, the vast majority of them are stranded in Egypt, and very few have been given asylum in other countries.

Canada announced in January that it would open a temporary residence pathway for 1,000 Gazans who have family members who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents and will be able to support them for a year.

The US has not announced any measures to resettle Palestinian refugees in the country. Republican lawmakers have even introduced bills to prevent any holder of a Palestinian Authority passports\ from entering the US.

A bipartisan initiative submitted to the US Congress in late November called for conditioning American aid to a number of Arab countries on their willingness to accept refugees from Gaza, according to a report in the Israel Hayom daily.

Gazans transport bags of grain on a cart in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 4, 2024 (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Arab countries have also not shown any willingness to give asylum to desperate people fleeing the war. Leaders of both Egypt and Jordan, two countries that share borders with Israel and the Palestinian territories, have adamantly refused to take any refugees in. Jordan is the only Arab country to have ever given citizenship to Palestinian refugees, who today make up more than half of its population.

Hamas-supporting Muslim countries such as Turkey, Qatar, Algeria and Malaysia have also not shown any intention of opening their doors to Gazans. Turkey is home to a large Palestinian diaspora and thousands more are thought to have reached the country over the past six months.

As for Europe, two Israeli lawmakers have called on countries to accept a limited number of Gazan refugees, citing the examples of past wars in the former Yugoslavia, Syria and Ukraine, during which European countries opened their borders to millions of refugees.

Refugees from Ukraine arrive in Budapest, Hungary on in March 2022. The photo is part of the ‘Am I My Brother’s Keeper’ exhibition curated by Yitzhak Mais. (courtesy)

Since the outbreak of the war against Hamas, asylum applications by Palestinians (including from the West Bank) in EU countries have surged, reaching a peak of 1,700 in November, according to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency. For comparison, in September, before the October 7 onslaught, the monthly figure stood at 1,175.

The country that has registered the highest number of asylum applications from Palestinians is Greece (1,340 in November, 945 in December and 605 in January), representing the bulk of the applications, followed by Belgium (230 in November, 360 in December, 345 in January). France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Romania only received asylum requests in the dozens.

Asylum applications by Palestinians have among the highest rates of acceptance, at 96.8%, according to the EU Agency for Asylum.

Illustrative: A dinghy carrying refugees arrives at a beach on the island of Lesbos in northern Greece, November 1, 2015 (Facebook/Erin Schrode)

But some European countries with right-wing anti-immigration governments have expressed outright disdain for the idea of accepting Gazans. At a European Union summit in Brussels in October, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban warned that “those who support migration also support terrorism,” and shortly after, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni announced that her country would be tightening its border control policies.

In addition, Haaretz reported in January that since October 7, at least 71 Gazans with family ties to Israeli citizens have found shelter inside the Jewish state.

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