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UK Home Office denies Palestinian children entry visas for Bolton visit

Palestinian students aged between 11 and 17, many of whom had visited UK before, denied entry to Britain
UK border signage is pictured at the passport control in Arrivals in Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport in London, 16 July 2019 (AFP)

The UK's Home Office has denied a group of Palestinian schoolchildren entry visas to visit the English town of Bolton as part of an initiative led by a local schoolteacher.

The children are from the Askar refugee camp in the north of the occupied West Bank, whose residents' grandparents were expelled or fled in 1948 from towns and villages inside what is now Israel.

The students are aged between 11 and 17 years-old, according to the Bolton News, and some of them had already visited the town and the northwest of England a number of times as part of previous organised trips.

The teacher who helped plan the trip, Julia Simpkins, who is also secretary of the Bolton branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said the Palestinian children were regular visitors to the town.

"The reason they gave for not giving them the visas is that they say they weren’t sure that they would return home at the end of the visit," she told the Bolton News.

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“But the idea that an 11-year-old would stay in England and not return to their parents seems pretty crazy to me... Nobody bothered to get in touch with me and check this.”

'The idea that an 11-year-old would stay in England and not return to their parents seems pretty crazy to me... Nobody bothered to get in touch with me and check this.”

- Julia Simpkins, teacher

The Home Office told Middle East Eye that it did not comment "on individual cases".

There are 31,000 Palestinians living in the Askar refugee camp in the city of Nablus. They rely on educational and health services provided by the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

Israeli forces raid the camp almost daily. This week, an Israeli military jeep rammed a Palestinian in Askar, while residents suffered gas inhalation from the firing of tear gas by security forces. Several Palestinians were also arrested.

In May, the Israeli army killed a 22-year-old Palestinian from Askar, while a 39-year-old man succumbed to his wounds in June.

Simpkins said the children had been scheduled to meet MPs and the mayor of Bolton, and to speak in schools, a church and a mosque. In previous visits, the Palestinians visited British families and went to the beach at the resort town of Blackpool.

Yasmin Qureshi, the MP for Bolton South East and a shadow minister for the opposition Labour Party, said that the decision to deny visas for Palestinian children "is a highly regrettable situation".

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“It is clearly unfair as I understand that all but one of the children had visas granted to visit the UK previously," she told the Bolton News.

Qureshi was one of the MPs who planned to meet the schoolchildren from Askar.

Israelis benefit from visa-free travel to the UK for visits of up to six months, meaning that Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank can travel to Britain and Europe without getting a visa.

Palestinians from East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, some living barely more than a stone's throw from settlements, which are considered illegal under international law, must apply for a visa to visit the UK.

The UN special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories has said in a new report that Israeli occupation has turned the West Bank into an open-air prison for Palestinians.

The report states that since 1967, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli forces, and many have faced long periods of detentions and are "often presumed guilty without evidence".

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