Schoolchildren from Palestine who had been hoping for a brief taste of freedom have been banned from visiting Bolton.

The youngsters, from the Askar refugee camp near Nablus, have been regular visitors to the town in recent years thanks to the efforts of local people.

But this time,  Julia Simpkins, who helps organise the visit, says they have been refused visas, meaning they cannot enter the UK.

She said: “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.

“But the idea that an 11-year-old would stay in England and not return to their parents seems pretty crazy to me.”

She added: “Nobody bothered to get in touch with me and check this.”

Asian Image: The children had previously visited the beach at Blackpool and were meant to go againThe children had previously visited the beach at Blackpool and were meant to go again (Image: Public)

According to the United Nations, the Askar camp is one of the most densely populated on Palestine’s West Bank, with poor shelters, cramped living conditions and overcrowding all a blight on the lives of those living there.

The camp has long been subject to regular attacks from the Israeli army, with a 22-year-old man having been killed only last May.

The children from Askar, who range between the ages of 11 and 17, have been regular visitors to Bolton and the North West in recent years, with their trips having been organised primarily by Ms Simpkins, a qualified teacher and a Bolton NEU official

She said: “Another reason was that a teacher they were meant to be coming with had his visa refused and the children couldn’t come without him.

“But this was for the same reason, they said they couldn’t be sure that he could go back.”

Previous visits have involved staying with local families across the borough, opportunities to meet the town’s MPs and trips to the beach at Blackpool all of which is aimed at giving them a break from the harsh conditions of the West Bank.

This year’s event, which was meant to have been already taking place, was supposed to include the same kinds of activities.

Ms Simpkins said: “We were planning for them to meet the MPs and the mayor and to speak in some of the schools, mosques and one of the churches.

“And then I was going to take them to the seaside.”

Bolton South East MP Yasmin Qureshi, who had been one of the members of parliament due to meet the children, has condemned the decision to refuse the children visas.

She said: “This is a highly regrettable situation.

“It is clearly unfair as I understand that all but one of the children had visas granted to visit the UK previously.”

The Home Office has been contacted for a response.