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By Katie Scotcher, RNZ News political reporter

The New Zealand government is being urged to create a special humanitarian visa for Palestinians in Gaza with ties to this country.

More than 30 organisations — including World Vision, Save the Children and Greenpeace — have sent an open letter to ministers, calling on them to step up support.

They also want the government to help evacuate Palestinians with ties to New Zealand from Gaza, and provide them with resettlement assistance.

Their appeal is backed by Palestinian New Zealander Muhammad Dahlen, whose family is living in fear in Rafah after being forced to move there from northern Gaza.

His ex-wife and two children (who have had visitor visas since December) were now living in a garage with his mother, sisters and nieces who do not have visas.

“There is no food, there is no power . . .  it is a really hard situation to be living in,” he told RNZ Morning Report.

If his family could receive visas to come to New Zealand “it literally can be the difference between life and death”.

‘Everyone susceptible to death’
With Israel making it clear it still intended to send ground forces into Rafah “everyone is susceptible to death and at least we would be saving some lives”.

Dahlen said New Zealand had a tradition of accepting refugees from areas of conflict, including Sudan, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Syria.

“So why is this not the same?”

He appealed to Immigration Minister Erica Stanford and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters to intervene and approach the Egyptian government.

“We need these people out,” he said.

“Please give them visas; this is a first step. This is something super super difficult and huge and requires ministerial intervention.”

Border permission needed
At the Gaza-Egypt border potential refugees needed to gain the permission of officials from both Israel and Egypt.

Egypt had concerns about taking in too many refugees from Gaza so the New Zealand government would need to provide assurances flights had been organised.

If the government offered a charter flight to bring refugees to this country, “that would be amazing”.

World Vision spokesperson Rebekah Armstrong said the government had responded with immigration support in other humanitarian emergencies.

“We provided humanitarian visas for Ukrainians when their lives were torn apart by war, and we assisted Afghans to leave and resettle in this country when the Taliban returned to power. The situation for vulnerable Palestinians is no different.

“Palestinians are living in a perilous environment, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes; children and families starving with literally nothing to eat; and healthcare and medical treatment nearly impossible to access,” Armstrong said.

Several hundred
The organisations did not know exactly how many people would qualify for such a visa, but estimated it could be several hundred.

“We know there’s around 288 Palestinian New Zealanders in New Zealand, and they have estimated that there would be around 300-400 people that are their family members that they’d like to bring here,” Armstrong said.

“That’s a very small number and as we’ve seen, in the case of Ukraine . . . the actual number of people that have probably come here would be significantly less than that, it’s not like they’re asking for the world. I think it’s quite a conservative number myself.”

She told Morning Report similar visas for Ukrainians and Afghans had been organised within days or weeks.

“It would be New Zealand’s response to this catastrophic situation that is unfolding. We want to be on the right side of history and this is one way we could help.”

She said embassies in the region would need to assist with the logistics of people leaving Gaza.

NZ government ‘monitoring’
Stanford said in a statement the government was monitoring the situation in Gaza.

“The issue in Gaza is primarily a humanitarian and border issue, not a visa issue, as people are unable to leave.

“People who have relatives in Gaza can already apply for temporary or visitors’ visas for them,” Stanford said.

But Armstrong said: “If there is the political will, the government can do this.

“Other countries are doing this . . .  Canada and Australia are getting people out. It’s tricky, but it’s not impossible.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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