Refugee Action stands with all displaced people and victims of violence, and we are appalled at the targeting of civilians in Gaza and Israel.
We are speaking about this because we called for safe routes for people caught up in violence when Russia invaded Ukraine, when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, and when civil war broke out in Sudan. Now we call for safe routes once again.
We, as campaigners for refugee rights, are witnessing collective punishment, destruction and displacement of human lives on a horrific and unprecedented scale in Gaza, an area with a civilian population of 2.2 million people, seven in ten of whom are already refugees.
Ongoing indiscriminate bombing of hospitals, shelters, schools and homes has turned a chronic humanitarian crisis into a catastrophe. This includes the repeated bombing of the Jabalia refugee camp – one of the most densely populated places on earth – that has left hundreds dead or injured, mostly women and children.
Ongoing indiscriminate bombing of hospitals, shelters, schools and homes has turned a chronic humanitarian crisis into a catastrophe. Israel ordered people in northern Gaza and Gaza city to evacuate to the south of the Gaza Strip in 24 hours, an area already densely populated with limited access to food, fuel and electricity. This is collective punishment and forced displacement of civilians, a violation of international humanitarian law.
The UN says about 1 million people are displaced in Gaza. It has shared a warning that the population “is at imminent risk of death or infectious disease outbreak if water and fuel are not immediately allowed to enter”. The World Health organisation called evacuation orders by Israel to 22 hospitals in northern Gaza a death sentence for the sick and injured. At least 70 people were killed during the forced evacuation due to ongoing bombing of “safe routes” by Israel.
Gazans have the right to stay where they belong but even if they wanted to leave, they have nowhere to go. Neighbouring countries are blocking access to their territory and looking at European leaders to offer sanctuary. Due to racialised border systems and the long and extractive colonial history, there are no safe routes for Palestinians to reach sanctuary in the UK; even if they have family here.
- We back Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders’ call that the UK government and all political parties must demand the appalling Gaza “evacuation order” to be rescinded by Israel immediately and for all indiscriminate violence and collective punishment to stop.
- We call on the UK government to not contribute to forced displacement and prioritise Palestinians’ right to stay in all international diplomacy. The UK government must also prioritise The United Nations General Assembly resolution 194 which mandates the Palestinians’ right of return to their home in all ongoing negotiations.
- For those who want to or need to leave Gaza, we call on the UK Government to make sure safe routes for people to travel to the UK are immediately instated, including an ambitious and functioning resettlement scheme.
- The government must make a clear statement on the process to apply for asylum for Palestinians already in the UK (with or without status), and they must be swiftly granted protection status.
- The Government must also ensure that there are routes for people in Gaza to join family members in the UK.
- It must also enable Palestinians to enter the UK to seek medical treatment or to claim asylum on arrival.
The link between UK history and refugee rights today
We at Refugee Action wished our charity did not have to exist, where no person is forcibly displaced, no violence took place, and Governments respected people’s rights.
But people are forced to move, and the actions of UK Governments through time have helped create and sustain a world in which displacement is perpetual.
We know that the global drivers of refugee movement are intrinsically connected to the legacies of colonialism and empire, which live on to this day in the form of government policy that aids conflict and causes humanitarian catastrophes.
The UK bears a particular responsibility to the Palestinian people due to its colonial history. Palestine was a part of the British Mandate, a system of colonial rule created by the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement in which Britain and France carved up the Eastern Mediterranean and West Asia between themselves, with little thought to the people who lived there.
The formation of Britain’s racialised border regime was also intrinsically linked to its colonial interests. The British annexation of Palestine and its support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 occurred soon after racist immigration legislation targeting Jews was introduced in the UK.
The ‘Aliens Act’ of 1905 sought to prevent Jewish refugees fleeing Russia and Eastern Europe from reaching the UK. It was the UK’s first immigration act and sought to restrict entry, regulate borders, and nominate and identify “undesirable” entrants effectively (if not explicitly) on racial grounds. By 1919, it had been extended to cover all foreign nationals.
History teaches us that a people are dehumanised so that they can be imprisoned, killed, and expelled with impunity. It also teaches us that struggles for freedom, justice and rights everywhere are interconnected.
One in six of the world’s refugees is a Palestinian. According to the UN, the plight of Palestinian refugees remains the longest unresolved refugee crisis in the world. We join with NGOs and civil society organisations to stand in solidarity with refugees everywhere including Palestinians and against all forms of racism and discrimination, and demand that our government act now to uphold human rights and international law.