Palestinians were refused Australian visitor visas due to concerns they would not ‘stay temporarily’

<span>Palestinians taking shelter in a tent camp near the border of Egypt. Earlier in the war, some Palestinians were refused visitor visas to Australia because ‘they did not demonstrate a genuine intention to stay temporarily’.</span><span>Photograph: Mohammed Salem/Reuters</span>
Palestinians taking shelter in a tent camp near the border of Egypt. Earlier in the war, some Palestinians were refused visitor visas to Australia because ‘they did not demonstrate a genuine intention to stay temporarily’.Photograph: Mohammed Salem/Reuters

About 160 Palestinians were refused visitor visas to come to Australia in the first three months of the Israel-Gaza conflict, mostly due to concerns they would not stay temporarily.

According to answers to questions on notice, 150 people with Palestinian citizenship were refused because they “did not demonstrate a genuine intention to stay temporarily in Australia” – a justification labelled “cold-blooded” and “cruel” by crossbench senators. Ten people who applied during the same period were rejected for other reasons.

Adam Aljaro, a civil engineer from Townsville who arrived in Australia in 1996, has two brothers and two sisters in Gaza who applied for visas in mid-November.

Aljaro says one brother, a doctor in central Gaza, “has seen too many people die”.

Related: Palestinian groups ‘relieved’ after Australia reverses visa cancellations for people fleeing Gaza

“His house has been destroyed. Our farm has been destroyed. My own house there has been destroyed.”

“Why are Palestinians being rejected … They think they will stay and not go back. I will support them, I am OK financially, I can look after them.”

“I don’t want to tell them they have been rejected. They have hope. If I tell them they will lose their hope, especially the kids.”

Mohammed Ameen, a construction worker from Maribyrnong, Victoria, who arrived in Australia in 2013, applied for visas for his father, three sisters and their families five months ago.

“The first time I put the full application, they said I did something wrong,” he said. “I filled the application and then I fixed it, but still we are waiting.”

The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network president, Nasser Mashni, said it “beggars belief” that the Australian government is rejecting some visa applications “while implying that it believes people won’t leave Australia because of how unbearably oppressive and dangerous the Israeli government has made life for Palestinians”.

“Ukrainians were told to apply for these same visas when Russia invaded back in 2022, and there were no reports of visas being rejected on these grounds,” he said.

“The government must treat Palestinians with the humanity and compassion it so rightly offered to Ukrainians.”

The Greens’ immigration spokesperson, David Shoebridge, said: “It is beyond cruel to deny people fleeing the onslaught in Gaza the possibility of safety because they might be unable to return to their homes.”

“Let’s be clear, the main reason people would be unable to return to Gaza is because of the Israeli invasion, with 80% of homes in Gaza made uninhabitable.

“Palestinians fleeing that devastation are being denied safety in Australia because their homes have been destroyed, with their lives and the lives of their family threatened.”

Independent senator Lidia Thorpe said “to reject visa applications from people fleeing … a war zone is a cold-blooded act from the Albanese government”.

“We should know if any of the applicants who have been rejected remain in Palestine. The government should review those applications and fast-track the approval of visas for those people to come to Australia as a matter of urgency,” she said.

Related: Meet the Sydney volunteers who are feeding the families fleeing Gaza

Max Kaiser, the co-executive officer of the Jewish Council of Australia, said it is “unconscionable to apply bureaucratic rules to people fleeing war”.

In March Guardian Australia reported on the plight of Palestinians who came to Australia on tourist visas, and were therefore unable to work, relying on the generosity of community organisations.

Charity groups said that at least 70 people who had to cancel or postpone flights due to cancellation of their visas were “collateral damage” for the federal government’s failures on visa processing.

Palestinian groups and refugee advocates said they were “relieved” when the federal government later reversed its visa cancellations for people fleeing Gaza.

According to figures from the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian government granted 2,273 temporary (subclass 600) visas for Palestinians between 7 October and 6 February but only 330 people had arrived in Australia in that period.

In the answers to questions on notice, the department said although “additional resources are applied to assist with processing, in order to be granted a visa, whether in a conflict zone or not, every person must satisfy [requirements] … including health, security and character criteria”.

The department also noted those seeking to flee the conflict in Gaza, which it described as “grave, and remains extremely fluid” are “not limited to one visa pathway”.

People coming from the Occupied Palestinian Territories can apply for a 12-month bridging visa E “as a safety net where they are unable to access standard visa pathways”. The visa grants access to Medicare and work rights.

In November the Albanese government explained Palestinians granted visas have undergone all standard security checks, rebuffing fears raised by the opposition that the cohort carried a terrorism risk.

Guardian Australia contacted the home affairs department, minister and immigration minister for comment.