Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates reject Gaza refugees

Many Palestinians are already ineligible, but new proposals and pledges from candidates would refuse all

Alex Woodward
Wednesday 18 October 2023 18:19 BST
AOC slams DeSantis for saying all Gaza refugees are antisemitic

House Republicans and GOP candidates for the 2024 presidential nomination want the US to deny entry to Palestinians fleeing the crisis in Gaza, but decades-long international agreements have already complicated the resettlement process for many Palestinians, and the US does not intend to change course.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes and are sheltering in the south of Gaza while others are stranded in its north following a barrage of Israeli strikes and a “complete siege” that has cut off food, water and fuel.

In the middle of the crisis, a group of Republican lawmakers in the US House of Representatives has introduced a bill – named the Guaranteeing Aggressors Zero Admission or GAZA Act – that would block virtually any Palestinian passport holder from admission or receiving a new visa into the US.

“The last thing America ought to do is trust identity documents issued by the radicals that oversee these territories,” Republican US Rep Tom Tiffany said in a statement.

And on the campaign trail, candidates for the GOP nomination including Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis have relied on inflammatory statements to reaffirm their fierce opposition to Gaza refugees.

Palestinians already represent only a small fraction of refugees who are resettled into the US each year, largely because of US adherence to a United Nations convention that blocks Palestinians from the same path to admission as other nationalities.

A 1951 convention under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that defined such criteria left out Palestinians in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria as well as East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. A subsequent agency, the US-supported United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, provides emergency aid and other services but cannot refer people to resettlement in the US or elsewhere.

Within the last fiscal year, the US accepted only 56 Palestinians out of more than 60,000 total refugees it resettled, according to the US Department of State. Over the last decade, the US has admitted fewer than 600 Palestinian refugees.

The process for Palestinian refugees is also densely layered and time consuming, leaving them facing months or years of security screenings, credibility interviews and other background and medical checks.

During a trip to Iowa last week, far-right Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flat out stated that the US “cannot accept people from Gaza into this country as refugees”.

He baselessly asserted Gaza citizens “are all antisemitic” and “none of them believe in Israel’s right to exist”.

When pressed on his statements during an interview with CBS Face the Nation on 15 October, he claimed without evidence that a “toxic culture” in Palestinian schools prepares “young kids to commit terrorist attacks” and that admitting Gaza citizens into the US would “increase anti-Americanism in this country”.

He told right-wing commentator Megyn Kelly on 17 October that “what they seek is the destruction of the Jewish state,” what he claimed is not limited to Hamas but a “widespread, deeply embedded belief amongst Palestinian Arabs in the Gaza Strip”.

In remarks in Iowa on 16 October echoing his offensive rhetoric swiping broadly at majority-Muslim countries, former president Donald Trump claimed “they want to blow up your country” and pledged that the US would not allow “anyone from Gaza, Syria, Somalia, Yemen or Libya, or anywhere else that threatens our security” should he return to the White House.

He also pledged to “revoke the student visas of radical anti-American and antisemitic foreigners at our colleges and universities,” an apparent reference to protests against Israeli military actions and in solidarity with Palestinian citizens wrongfully conflated as antisemitic.

Republican US Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas also has called on US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to “immediately deport any foreign national – including and especially any alien on a student visa – that has expressed support for Hamas and its murderous attacks on Israel”.

On Fox News on 17 October, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said she has “always” rejected the idea that Gaza refugees should be allowed to enter the US, and that “those in the region should take them” instead.

A spokesperson for Ms Haley said: “Hamas-supporting countries like Iran, Qatar and Turkey should take any refugees.”

US Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina also does not support Gaza refugees entering the US.

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, at least one million people were forced from their homes in Gaza within the last week, and more than 500,000 displaced Palestinians in Gaza are taking shelter in the south of Gaza.

“An unknown number of people, whom [the organisation] is no longer able to assist, remain on our premises in the northern part of the Strip,” the agency said on 18 October.

Meanwhile, “not one shipment of aid has been allowed” into Gaza since the start of the siege in the wake of surprise Hamas attacks in Israel, with a blockade putting the region on “the brink of a major health and sanitation crisis,” according to the organisation.

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