26 Jun 2024

‘There are double standards here’ – Conservative Peer on visas not being offered to Gaza’s orphans


We spoke to Conservative peer and former Foreign Office adviser, Baroness Arminka Helic, herself a refugee, who’s been pushing the government to set up a Ukraine-style visa scheme for Gazans orphaned by the war.

Cathy Newman: Baroness Helic, your response first to our story there?

Arminka Helic: It’s a heartwarming story, just to hear how well we have worked, from both sides of the aisle. Great to see Jess Phillips taking this up as an issue that she wants to pursue because she’s very, very effective and amazing to hear that the immigration minister responded so quickly. However, this is just one case. And as you have just mentioned, there are many, many, many more. There are 17,000 children who are unaccompanied minors. There are children who are wounded, there are children who are in daily suffering.

Yesterday there was a report of ten child amputees, amputations that are done every single day and we are talking about losing one or both legs. And I think we ought to find and check our humanity and find how we can best help, in particular, because we have the expertise. And I have been working since November with a group in the UK here, Project Pure Hope, trying to bring the injured children, limited number of injured children for a limited period, so they can be helped. So far I have not been successful, but it is something I’m not going to give up on.

Cathy Newman: Why do you think you haven’t been successful in that? Why should it be that it has to be, an MP sort of randomly texting a minister, that allows someone like Amer to come here?

Arminka Helic: This is obviously a very relatable case. That may be the case, but it also is, I have been asking for a scheme to be set up. Something similar that’s been set up for the children of Ukraine, rightly, and I’m very proud of that. But something similar where children who have the blast injuries, where we can help and as I say, not in massive numbers, but with limited emergency care, that where we can ensure that children do not lose their limbs, where we can ensure that they do not die unnecessarily, we could have and we should pursue that. And I don’t know, you will have to ask that question of a minister if you get a chance.

Cathy Newman: We will be asking the Home Secretary, James Cleverly, later in the programme. But what does it say about us as a country and about your party, which used to call itself the ‘compassionate Conservatives?’ What does it say about the two of those that we don’t seem able to find it in our hearts to make room for more of those 17,000 orphans?

Arminka Helic: I think it’s not a problem with a country. I think the British people have big hearts. They have always tried to help but it needs to come from the top. We really need a government to find its humanity, if you want. This government, or any government, on the 5th of July, next week, to find and check its humanity and try to help where we can. And again, I just want to repeat, for limited numbers of children, for a limited period, so that we can show that we can help them because we have that capability. We have shown that in other cases.

Cathy Newman: Is it inhumanity at the heart of government, or is it a concern about public reaction to high levels of immigration?

Arminka Helic: These children are not migrants. They are not coming on boats. They would not increase the number of people who come to this country. These children are in cases that need immediate and urgent care. We are lucky to live in a country that has that possibility, that has the capability, and we should extend that.

Cathy Newman: And the fact that it’s been done for Ukraine and not for the orphans of Gaza, Jess Phillips suggested to me there was a racial dimension there. Do you agree with that?

Arminka Helic: I would say there are double standards here and we ought to go back and look at this because it doesn’t really speak well of us collectively if we treat some children with compassion and other children with lack of compassion.