Racism behind go-stop-partly-go visas for Gazans

Protesting for safe haven for Palestinians, Naarm/Melbourne, March. Photo: Chloe DS

The Anthony Albanese government’s treatment of Palestinian refugees escaping the genocide in Gaza presents another blatant example of state-sponsored racism.

In Gaza, 2197 Palestinians (less than 0.1% of the region’s population) who have not yet been killed by the Israeli onslaught, are being granted the 600 class visa for family visits to Australia for up to 12 months.

I write 2197 visas “are being granted” because most of these Gazan Palestinians, whose lives are in great danger and whose family members here fear for their lives, are not in the country yet.

About 400 Gazans had reportedly arrived in Australia by mid-March. This was from the 2200 whom the Australian government had announced would get temporary visit visas.

Eleven more people were then in transit when the government cancelled their visas.

After an outcry, eight visa cancellations were reversed. Three visas less, then, unless the remainder of the cancellations are reversed.

Meanwhile, three Palestinians are apparently left stuck in transit countries, without visas for those countries or Australia.

Unlike any other “tourist”, they can’t return to where they live, because in Israeli-occupied Palestine they lack that basic citizen right.

The Labor government has been using such temporary visas to respond to recent conflict crises.

Many Ukrainians were allowed to come here after the Russian invasion of their country.

Labor has also granted 2400 Israelis entry since the October 7 Hamas attack out of occupied Palestine, even though the likelihood of further attacks across Israel’s borders from Palestinians is small.

A major difference for Palestinians wanting to leave Gaza, however, is that the government controlling their borders, is not theirs.

The Israeli state controls Palestine’s borders and the visas with which they can be crossed.

Robert Wood, from Palestine Australia Relief and Action, told SBS that Israeli authorities have vetted the visas issued by the Australian government. This surely settles the question of whether successful visa applicants can be considered a security risk.

Palestinians have no say, except through protest and resistance, in what Israel does.

This means that the reasons the government has been giving for cancelling the Palestinians’ visas were, first, obscure — that there was no guarantee they only wanted to stay temporarily in Australia — and then ludicrous — that their escape from Gaza was not explained.

The latter only meant the Palestinians, in fleeing the war zone, had got around the Israeli border guards rather than wait for their permission to go.

Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) president Nasser Mashni pointed out this is “particularly cruel and hypocritical”.

“The government seems to be saying these visas should be cancelled for the very same reason they have been offered in the first place, that being the unbearable nature of Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza.”

APAN has urged Australia to immediately reverse the decision to cancel the visas of Palestinians who were en route here and to urgently review its visa allocation process to ensure Palestinians are able to flee Gaza and find safety here.

But we can also recognise that the Palestinians coming here from Gaza do so under duress, terrified by Israel’s assault.

It seems amazing that they (or their Australian sponsors) must pay to get here.

Meanwhile, the government offers eligible Australians who were harmed, or lost a close family member, as a result of the October 7 Hamas attack, financial assistance of up to $75,000.

The Palestinians coming here should not be forced to put their lives on hold and to rely on their family’s charity.

They should have work rights, income support when not working, fee-free education and full access to government services as if they were living here.

Those rights are similar to what we demand for asylum seekers and refugees.

Australia can and should be helping Palestinians seeking asylum and permanent resettlement.

Palestinians are subject to settler-colonial Israeli apartheid and resisting Israel’s genocidal actions, which also means resisting attempts to drive them out of their own country.

All that should have ended long ago, under international law.

It probably would have, except for the political and military support the Israeli regime receives from rich countries, including Australia.

This starts to explain how we have got to this point.

Those in power in Australia, like in the US and Israel, are familiar with being on top in a settler-colonial society.

They are experienced in deploying race and nationality to deny others’ rights and even exclude them from society altogether.

To stop the racism we’ve seen towards Palestinian-descent families in Australia trying to support their kin, we will need to change how society runs here.

[Jonathan Strauss is a member of the Socialist Alliance.]