Palestinian refugees from Yarmouk continue to suffer in Gaza

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Palestinians carry containers filled with water from standpipes provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) headquarters in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on April 5, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Said Khatib)

By: Amjad Yaghi

Published Monday, April 14, 2014

“What is happening? When we first came, everyone said don’t worry about anything…But when we got here, we found the complete opposite,” said the refugees who came from the camps in Syria to “a part” of their homeland in in the Gaza Strip. When they first fled, they were showered with promises, but as soon as they began to settle down they found themselves to be little more than strangers and refugees in their ancestral home.

Gaza – “At first, they told us: ‘We will provide you with an education and we will be with you every step of the way.’ But today none of this has happened. Imagine, they tell the displaced students: ‘Pay first before you enter the exam, even if you are a Syrian refugee.’ We can’t do anything! We have to pay the university fees to keep studying,” says one displaced refugee from a Palestinian camp in Syria.

From the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus to the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip, the displaced are going through harsh times, from unemployment and poverty, to difficulty in continuing their education. Each story is a tragedy.

This is what Sameh Salman, from the Yarmouk camp, tells us, after his family chose to flee to Gaza. He lives today in the Beit Lahiya refugee camp in a small rented home. Salman enrolled at the Islamic University to continue his studies.

His first semester was covered by a scholarship given to refugees from Syria, and he was promised that the university would help him with the rest of the semesters exceptionally. So Salman was surprised when the university started asking him to pay his fees of 400 Jordanian dinars ($565) the second semester.

Salman was in shock. How could he secure such a sum so close to the exams? “The government in Gaza promised to help us. Senior figures even told us: ‘We will provide you with an education and we will help you’…But the university told me otherwise asking me to pay before the exams. “I had to pay 400 Jordanian dinars,” the young man explains.

“My family in Gaza could not secure this sum. I tried to get the dean to exempt me from registration fees, as they do this from time to time, but to no avail. All requests for a meeting were dismissed with or without an excuse. I had no choice but to do everything I could to get the money,” he adds.

Mohammed Yousef also hails from the Yarmouk camp. Like many families fleeing from Syria, he and his family are waiting for the Hamas government in Gaza to assist them. They called a conference with the prime minister and his cabinet at a hotel in Gaza.

Yousef said, “Regarding the Syrian students, [Hamas Prime Minister Ismail] Haniyeh told us that they can study free of charge in Gaza, as per a personal decision he had issued. He also asked the minister of education, who was sitting by his side, to note down the decision.” He continued, “He told us, word for word, ‘I brought the ministers to note down your demands and to fulfill them all.’ We went home feeling happy. But when we went to enroll at the universities, they told us, to our surprise, that they had no knowledge of any such decision by any side.”

Yousef is in charge of student affairs in the Committee for Refugees from Syria to Gaza. He studies at the Islamic University in Gaza and he and his family have many stories to tell about their plight.

He said, “[…] Since we came to Gaza, I do not recall that we ever had fruits, meats, or sweets in our home. We received an unemployment allowance as a grant from Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, but it is not enough for anything. It is around $200, but we‘re all adults in the family, and the sum paid by the Social Affairs Ministry is barely enough to cover rent. I don’t know how the days will pass and how we will pay to study and eat.”

In turn, Ibrahim al-Ghandour, the coordinator of a the national campaign lobbying for a reduction in Palestinian university tuition fees, called on universities to fulfill their national and moral responsibility vis-à-vis the Palestinian student refugees who came from Syria to Gaza.

He said, “We reached out to several Palestinian universities to assist the Syrian families that have fled to Gaza, and they promised us that they would consider this, but to no avail. To date, we have not seen any real moves in this regard. We at the national campaign appeal to universities and the Ministry of Higher Education to make an immediate decision to waive fees for those students, who will not in any way be a burden on their budget.”

However, the Islamic University, which is affiliated to Hamas, rejected a similar request made by the head of the Committee for Refugees from Syria to Gaza Atef al-Aimawi. The university claimed that financial circumstances do not currently allow it to exempt any new beneficiaries from fees, citing the crippling blockade imposed on Gaza and the harsh financial crisis in the Strip. The University proposed that the students displaced from Syria apply with the Deanship of Student Affairs to take advantage of some loans and grants it provides.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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