Relatives ‘surprised and shocked’ after 68-year-old Gaza woman’s Australian visa cancelled on security grounds

<span>Fatma Almassri is one of several Gazan residents whose visas have been cancelled on national security grounds; she is now alone in Rafah, her son says.</span><span>Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images</span>
Fatma Almassri is one of several Gazan residents whose visas have been cancelled on national security grounds; she is now alone in Rafah, her son says.Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

A 68-year-old Palestinian woman with ill health has had her temporary visa cancelled on the grounds that she poses a risk to Australia’s national security.

Fatma Almassri, whose 27 children and grandchildren live in Australia, was granted a visitor visa in November. It was cancelled last week without warning, with the Department of Home Affairs stating “that the holder of the visa has been assessed by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation to be directly or indirectly a risk to security” and that “her presence in Australia poses a risk to the Australian community”.

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She is one of a number of Gazan residents whose visas have been cancelled for the same reason, including an elderly man, advocates said.

Almassri’s three Australian grandchildren fled from Gaza in March after waiting for assistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for four months. While Dfat helped evacuate her grandchildren and Palestinian daughter-in-law, Almassri, a widow who lives with diabetes and blood pressure issues, was left behind.

The family had been living together in a tent in Rafah after their home in Khan Younis was destroyed under Israeli bombardment. Almassri is now living alone in a displaced persons’ camp in Rafah, her son, Mohammed Almassri, said.

“I’m so surprised and shocked about what’s happened. I’m really confused – for what [reason did] they refuse an old lady? It’s really very bad,” the Australian citizen said.

“I don’t know what she can do, she just wants to come to her kids,” he said.

The architectural engineer, who moved to Sydney in 2008, was given the news by email on 15 April. He said his family did not have ties to a political organisation and had no reason to suspect his mother may pose a risk to Australia’s security – today or when the visa was authorised.

He said he paid a broker US$5,300 last month to escort her across the border from Gaza to Egypt, but that she had not yet received any help.

“She was waiting a long time to evacuate with my family, but unfortunately no one helped her,” he said. “She is very sad and disappointed.”

The Department of Home Affairs would not comment on the case for privacy reasons and did not respond to questions about the process of determining visa holders’ security risk.

Rasha Abbas of Palestine Australia Relief and Action said the woman was not alone in being classed as a threat to national security with no explanation and despite her age and circumstances. Other cases include an elderly man, she said.

Almassri’s cancellation notice states that individuals are able to comment and give reasons as to why their visa should not have been cancelled, but it is not legally possible for the government to revoke the cancellation.

“Everybody’s in the dark. Being a security risk blocks you from being able to further inquire,” Abbas said.

“We all share the objective of being focused on security and that is not something we would ever compromise on, but given the situation, having transparency and being able to understand how we work better with [the government] is important,” she said.

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“We are dealing with real families and real people who are already suffering a lot. Ensuring that extra care is taken with cases, particularly the elderly or sick or broken families, is really important.”

Nasser Mashni of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network said: “What risk does an 68-year-old Palestinian woman with diabetes, reliant on the care of others, pose to our national security?

“This is such a heartbreaking blow to Mr Almassri, who followed every process and protocol dictated to him by our government, and has already endured so much bureaucratic frustration in trying to secure the evacuation of his Australian children, who only made it home to Australia last month.”

He said the “unjust decisions, discrimination and poor communication when it comes to the visa process” were “deeply hurtful” for the Palestinian community.

In March, valid visa holders had their visas revoked while en route from Gaza to Australia, with those affected including the elderly and sick. Many were reinstated within days.

At least 160 visitor visa applications have been rejected on the grounds that the holders would not stay temporarily.

As of March, more than 2,000 visas had been issued to Palestinians since the conflict began in October but fewer than 400 of those visa holders had arrived in Australia.