Senators urge Biden to block Gaza refugees from US as humanitarian crisis mounts

Conservatives from the US, Israel's largest military donor, claim Palestinians from Gaza are a national security risk

Displaced Palestinians carry empty pots and pans as they call for more aid during a demonstration in Deir Al Balah, central Gaza, on April 25. Bloomberg
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

Dozens of US Republican senators urged President Joe Biden on Thursday to halt plans to admit refugees from Gaza into the US, claiming Palestinians from the besieged territory are a national security risk and probably Hamas sympathisers.

The 34 conservative senators who wrote to Mr Biden include minority leader Mitch McConnell and armed services committee member Joni Ernst.

“We are not confident that your administration can adequately vet this high-risk population for terrorist ties and sympathies before admitting them into the United States,” they wrote.

“We must ensure Gazans with terrorist ties or sympathies are denied admission into the United States – no easy feat, given the fact that the Gazans were the ones who voted Hamas into power in 2006.”

US media this week reported that the Biden administration is exploring “different options to resettle Palestinians from Gaza who have immediate family members who are American citizens or permanent residents".

Washington is Israel's top military benefactor and last week passed another $26.4 billion for its ally as it continues the war in Gaza.

The war has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry, and has pushed the enclave to the brink of famine.

Reconstruction of Gaza will cost nearly $40 billion, a senior UN development official told The National.

Ms Ernst pressed US intelligence officials at a Senate armed services committee hearing. They played down concerns that a refugee programme for Palestinians would put Americans at risk.

“I can tell you that the process for bringing individuals in to the United States includes a very significant vetting process … that would mitigate against any concern or risks that we will have,” National Intelligence Director Avril Haines told Ms Ernst.

Meanwhile, Leaders in Congress are also working to defund and shutdown the UNRWA, the UN's Palestinian refugee relief agency.

Jim Risch, the top Republican foreign affairs senator, vowed that US Congress would work to permanently close the agency, adding it is “the majority view in Congress” that Washington needs to “put UNRWA out of business.”

Anti-UNRWA politicians were successful in further blocking Washington's contributions to the agency, passing a recent budget that solidified Mr Biden's pause on the funding until at least 2025.

UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini this week delivered a grim update on the state of Palestinians trapped in the Gaza strip.

“Basically, they came with a new acronym. We are not talking any more about PTSD, but we are talking more about CTSD, which would mean Constant Traumatic Stress Disorder, prevailing in the Gaza Strip,” he told reporters.

Mina Aldroubi contributed to this report

Updated: May 02, 2024, 7:25 PM