The dangerous road to emigration from the Gaza Strip

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This handout picture taken on September 8, 2014 and release on September 9, 2014 by the MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) shows rescuers of the MOAS' ship Phoenix (in front), helping refugees to climb on their boat at the Mediterranean sea. Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) provided several hours of intense assistance to Italy’s Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) today, conducting the rescue of approximately 700 migrants.The migrants were mostly Syrians, Palestinians and Eritreans, among them a two-day old infant. (Photo: AFP-MOAS)

By: Amjad Yaghi

Published Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Escaping death only to find death. That is what Gazans have become good at in the past few years. Few decided to emigrate during the war but the Rafah crossing was closed in the face of anyone who does not hold a foreign passport that could save them. Some adventurers packed their small suitcases and headed to a tunnel in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. It is one of the lucky tunnels that have not been destroyed by the Egyptian or Israeli armies.

Gaza – After making their passage underground and under bombs, those escaping death have to make it through the security checkpoints in Egypt’s Sinai. The function of these checkpoints is to capture someone coming from the tunnels to prove the claim that there are Hamas members fighting in Egypt. They need a few days to reach the shores of Alexandria safely. There, they are met by an Egyptian middleman who puts them on a boat in which their dream of immigrating to Europe begins, far away from the political reality and successive wars in Gaza.

A man from the city of Khan Younes who helps young men flee Gaza says that after smuggling them through the tunnels, an Egyptian officer who had been bribed, comes to sign their Palestinian passport with a forged stamp to make it look as though they entered legally. In Rafah, they are met by a car that takes them to Alexandria where they stay in an apartment without ever going out for 10 days as they wait for a night suitable for sailing.

The boat that the young men board sails five days a week. It takes them on a very dangerous trip to another ship until they get to Italy where they stay another 10 days. There, another man shows up to ask each of them where they want to go and gives them a list of countries that host refugees such as Sweden, Norway and Belgium.

The young man, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of getting arrested in Gaza or Egypt, said that the cost of the journey to Italy is $4,000 paid in two installments. To gain the trust of the young men, they do not require them to pay until halfway through the trip, that is in Alexandria. But the paid sum does not cover the cost of the food and the car. It only covers the forged stamp and the ship that takes them. One of the men said there wasn’t enough food or water on the ship sailing across the Mediterranean Sea. They were piled up on top of each other in a small place and completely neglected by the crew.

Al-Akhbar talked to one of the refugees living currently in Italy through Skype. He said they all suffered a severe case of seasickness and they did not get any kind of medical attention even when they started having skin rashes. They had been isolated for a week in an extremely unhygienic place before boarding the ship. He said: “The crew treated us as though we were merchandise to be transported and nothing more.”

We met Taha R. He said a number of his friends and maternal uncle emigrated lately – without specifying the date – through the tunnels. After making sure that their journey was successful, he is now waiting for his turn. Twenty eight-year-old Jamil Anwar (a pseudonym) told us on a smuggled phone that he was in Alexandria – until the writing of this article – waiting for a middleman from the city to take them to a ship that will carry them to Europe. He said: “My future was destroyed in Gaza and with the war, I lost everything,” adding: “I saw during the war many young men escape through the tunnels despite the dangerous conditions. But now they are in Italy.” According to his calculations, Anwar said 60 young men went through the tunnels but the Egyptian security forces captured them which made them more nervous and worried about completing their trip.

Gazans might not find an excuse for what these people are doing, even though those escaping the war did not say it was fear that prompted them to leave, because they had already lived through two wars. They said lack of hope of a decent future and of finding work inside Gaza is the main reason for emigrating. They said the war made some Egyptians more sympathetic to them and more willing to help them get out of Gaza in return for money.

Official numbers indicate that there are more than 200,000 unemployed people in Gaza. During the war, an additional 700,000 people lost their daily income. The data from the second quarter of 2014 indicated that the rate of unemployment had reached 45 percent and warned that the poverty rate could rise to 60 percent, especially that the phenomenon of child labor and the latest salary crisis has greatly impacted Gaza.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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