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By A Firenze in Gadigal/Sydney

Palestinians fleeing war-ravaged Gaza for safety in Australia were left stranded when the Labor government abruptly cancelled their visas.

The “subclass 600” temporary visas were approved between last November and February for Palestinians with close and immediate family connections.

Families of those fleeing Gaza, and organisations assisting Palestinians to leave Gaza, began to receive news of the visa cancellations on March 13.

The number of people affected by the sudden visa cancellations was unclear, however there were at least 12 individuals who had had visas cancelled while in transit.

The stories of those affected have been shared over social media. They included the 23-year-old nephew of a Palestinian-Australian, stranded in Istanbul airport for four nights after having his visa cancelled mid-transit, unable to return to Gaza and unable to legally stay in Istanbul.

A mother and her four young children were turned around in Egypt, when their visas were cancelled, meaning they were unable to board an onwards flight to Australia.

A family of six were separated, with three of the children allowed to board flights, while the mother and youngest child were left behind.

2200 temporary visas
The Department of Home Affairs said the government had issued around 2200 temporary subclass 600 visas for Palestinians fleeing Gaza since October 2023.

Subclass 600 visas are temporary and do not permit the person work or education rights, or access to Medicare-funded health services.

Israelis have been granted 2400 visitor visas during the same time period.

The visa cancellations for Palestinians have been condemned by the Palestinian community, Palestinian organisations and rights’ supporters.

The Palestine Australia Relief and Action (PARA) started an email campaign which generated more than 6000 letters to government ministers within 72 hours.

Nasser Mashni, president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN), called on Labor to “follow through on its moral obligation to offer safety and certainty” to those fleeing, pointing to Australia’s more humane treatment of Ukrainian refugees.

The Refugee Action Collective Victoria (RAC Vic) called a snap action on March 15, supported by Socialist Alliance and PARA.

‘Shame on Labor’
David Glanz, on behalf of RAC Vic, said the cancellations had effectively marooned Palestinians in transit countries to the “shame of the Labor government which has supported Israel in its genocide”.

Samah Sabawi, co-founder of PARA, is currently in Cairo assisting families trying to leave Gaza.

She told ABC Radio National on March 14 about the obstacles Palestinians face trying to leave via the Rafah crossing, including the lack of travel documents for those living under Israeli occupation, family separations and heavy-handed vetting by the Israeli and Egyptian authorities.

Sabawi said the extreme difficulties faced by Palestinians fleeing Rafah were compounded by Australia’s visa cancellations and its withdrawal of consular support.

She also said Opposition leader Peter Dutton had “demonised” Palestinians and pressured Labor into rescinding the visas on the basis of “security concerns”.

Labor said there were no security concerns with the individuals whose visas had been cancelled. It has since been suggested by those working closely with the affected Palestinians that their visas were cancelled due to the legitimacy of their crossing through Rafah.

PARA said the government had said it had extremely limited capacity to assist.

Some visas reinstated
It is believed that some 1.5 million Palestinians are increasingly desperate to escape the genocide and are waiting in Rafah. Many have no choice but to pay brokers to help them leave.

Some of those whose visas had been cancelled received news on March 18 that their visas had been reinstated.

A Palestinian journalist and his family were among those whose visas were reinstated and are currently on route to Australia.

Graham Thom, Amnesty International’s national refugee coordinator, told The Guardian that urgent circumstances needed to be taken 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.”

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

It is not known how many other Palestinians are waiting for their visas to be reinstated.

Republished from Green Left magazine with permission.

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