UK charities call on government to assist refugees fleeing conflict in Gaza and Israel

Organisations say British government must prioritise cases of Israelis and Palestinians already in the UK asylum system

Palestinians inspect the site of Israeli strikes in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters
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British charities have called on the government to assist refugees fleeing the conflict in Israel and Gaza.

Organisations including the Refugee Council, Safe Passage International, Doctors of the World, the Helen Bamber Foundation and the City of Sanctuary urged the government to be ready to put in place a package of measures at short notice.

They have drawn up a list of necessary steps, including the medical evacuation for people in need of specialist care, an emergency family reunion programme, an emergency refugee protection visa and facilitated travel for UK citizens and those with the right to enter the UK.

The groups have also called on the government to prioritise cases of Israelis and Palestinians already in the UK asylum system.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said that the UK must be ready to play a role in the refugee crisis.

“As the conflict worsens the number of Palestinian men, women and children displaced and those facing grave danger will only increase,” he said.

“People who aren't secure and safe in their homes need access to safety and the UK must be ready to play a role by implementing a package of emergency measures at short notice.”

He said that the UK should create a standardised asylum system, instead of the “ad hoc and inconsistent” approach it has applied to refugees from recent major conflicts.

“At the same time it is vital that the right to asylum is up held for those who, through no fault of their own, have to take dangerous journeys to the UK, as well as expanding safe routes including an ambitious multi-year resettlement commitment, wider family reunion pathways and the piloting of a refugee visa,” Mr Solomon said.

The call came after Scotland's First Minister Humza Yousaf recently urged the international community to establish a refugee programme for those fleeing violence in Gaza.

Mr Yousaf, in an address to his party's annual conference, said Scotland would offer sanctuary to people who arrived in the UK as refugees.

The First Minister said there were currently a million people displaced within the Gaza Strip, after Israeli warnings to leave ahead of an expected ground invasion.

He said Scotland was “ready to play her part” and hospitals there would treat the injured and wounded “men, women and children of Gaza, where we can”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak held a call with the leaders of five other western countries on Sunday night, seeking to prevent the Israel-Gaza war from spreading across the region.

Mr Sunak, US leader Joe Biden, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Olaf Scholz, Italy’s Giorgia Meloni and Canada’s Justin Trudeau called for Israel to respect international humanitarian law, demanded the release of the hostages held by Hamas and pushed for aid for Gaza.

The latest from the Israel-Gaza war – in pictures

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The leaders reiterated their support for Israel and its right to defend itself against terrorism and called for adherence to international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians.

“They welcomed the release of two hostages and called for the immediate release of all remaining hostages.”

The first aid convoys reached Gaza through the border with Egypt at the weekend – 20 lorries on Saturday and 14 on Sunday.

But the UN said much more was needed, adding that the Rafah border crossing was still not open for foreigners seeking to flee bombarded and besieged Gaza.

The Downing Street spokeswoman said that the leaders were “committed to close co-ordination to support their nationals in the region, in particular those wishing to leave Gaza”.

“The leaders welcomed the announcement of the first humanitarian convoys to reach Palestinians in need in Gaza and committed to continue co-ordinating with partners in the region to ensure sustained and safe access to food, water, medical care and other assistance required to meet humanitarian needs,” she said.

Updated: October 23, 2023, 9:17 AM