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Palestinian groups ‘relieved’ after Australia reverses visa cancellations for people fleeing Gaza | Australian immigration and asylum

PoliticsPalestinian groups ‘relieved’ after Australia reverses visa cancellations for people fleeing Gaza | Australian immigration and asylum

Palestinian groups and refugee advocates say they are “so relieved” that the federal government has reversed visa cancellations for people fleeing Gaza, after several were stranded on their way out last week.

Some of the visas have been reinstated after further security checks, but advocates have urged the government to provide further clarity on the vetting processes, to give assurance to other Palestinians with Australian visas who manage to get out of Gaza.

“It looks like the government is acting in good faith when people are trying to appeal those cancellations, but clarity is needed for everyone concerned,” said Amnesty International’s national refugee coordinator, Graham Thom.

“People just can’t wait when they’ve got a situation where Israel could move into that part of Gaza at any time. People are trying to flee any way they can.”

Several Palestinians claimed last week that after being granted Australian visas they had escaped Gaza and made it to an airport in Cairo, but were then told their visas were cancelled.

On Sunday, the government said some further security checks had been completed and that some of the visa cancellations had been overturned, allowing some of the affected people to continue travelling to Australia. It’s understood other security checks are still to be completed.

The federal minister for agriculture, fisheries and forestry, Murray Watt, told Radio National that “further information has come to light” on the circumstances of some people, disagreeing that something had gone wrong in the screening process. Other government sources also said further reassessment of the visas had been appropriate.

The advocacy group Palestine Australia Relief and Action said it was “so relieved” at the decision for some people.

“These people followed the process they were told to, and we’re pleased the Australian government has acknowledged that and will enable them to safely reunite with family in Australia,” board director Reem Borrows said in an online statement.

“They’ve experienced unimaginable horrors in Gaza, and we want to continue working with the government to respond to these people with compassion and humanity.”

Jana Favero, director of advocacy at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said advocates understood that several Palestinians had their visas reinstated and others were still under review.

“Turning up at an airport with a valid visa only to have it cancelled was extremely distressing. People have experienced stress and trauma and can now see family and be safe,” she said.

“This is a huge relief and we urge the government to continue to work closely with Palestinian groups to ensure safe passage for as many people as possible.”

Thom, pointing to O’Neil’s office stating visas would be reviewed if people left Gaza without explanation, said the government needed to take urgent circumstances into account.

“The issue is getting across the border … The government needs to deal with people using their own initiative to get across any way they can,” Thom said.

He said other Palestinians with Australian visas leaving Gaza needed more information about the process.

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More than 30,000 Palestinians have reportedly been killed in Israel’s bombing campaign on Gaza, coming after the 7 October terrorist attack by Hamas which killed more than 1,200 Israelis. Aid trucks are struggling to reach people inside the besieged Palestinian territory.

More than 2,000 visas have been issued to Palestinians since the latest conflict began in October last year but fewer than 400 people have arrived in Australia in that period.

Australian-based families of affected Palestinians said they were “heartbroken” at the situation. The General Delegation of Palestine to Australia wrote to the foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, and home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, saying the visa cancellations could “undermine the positive engagement process between the Australian government and the Palestinian community”.

In a statement on Monday, Palestinian delegation head Izzat Abdulhadi welcomed the reinstatement of some visas but said Australia should also restore the remaining ones, branding the government’s justification “neither convincing nor sufficient”.

“The General Delegation further calls on the Australian government [to] provide consular services to assist those still in Gaza holding Australian Visitor Visas to leave and come to Australia,” he said.

O’Neil’s office said last week that visa applicants “are subject to ongoing security assessments” and that the government “reserves the right to cancel any issued visas if circumstances change”.

It’s understood some of the visa cancellations came after people managed to leave Gaza without being catalogued as travelling through Israeli checkpoints.

“If people make it out of Gaza without explanation, or their circumstances change in any meaningful way, we will take the time to understand those changes before proceeding,” O’Neil’s spokesperson said.

“We have made a strong commitment to assisting people who are trying to leave Gaza. But we make no apology for doing everything necessary to maintain our national security.”

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