Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Palestinian refugees from Syria seek solace in Gaza


By The Palestine Monitor - June 26, 2017
TAGS:
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Gaza] [Gaza Blockade] [refugees] [refugee camps] [UNRWA]

They fled a war to find another one. About 200 families came from Syria to the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the war in 2011. Many find themselves in extremely complicated situations.

 
“It’s like being a refugee twice,” said Ratiba Ahel. Ratiba’s father was originally from Umm el Fahem, a town in the north of present-day Israel. She lived as a Palestinian refugee in Yarmouk, in Syria, where she was born.
 
Most of the Syrians living in the Gaza Strip are like Ratiba Ahel. They are Palestinians who lived in one of the 13 refugee camps established in Syria between 1948 and 1962.
 
“We decided to leave Yarmouk because the war was really turning bad. We felt that the situation was becoming highly unpredictable,” Ratiba Ahel recalls. “My husband renewed our passports, and we went to Egypt. We could have settled here but then I did not like the lifestyle we had to have, and my husband suggested we try to see how are things in Palestine, and we ended up here in Gaza,” she explains.
 
“But then we found another war”, Ratiba starts, “I was not expecting to see such a thing in Gaza.” Her neighborhood in Syria had been shelled and so she adapted quickly to the war situation. “I knew everything of it, and I saw Gazans coping with it very quickly as well,” she notes.
 
Even after the war, the ones that Gazans call the “Syrians” are still facing a lot of problems in an enclave that has been under blockade for more than 10 years and that is facing very a very harsh humanitarian crisis. The unemployment rate is one the highest in the world with more than 40% of the working-age population jobless. Child mortality started to rise again. More than 80% of Gazans rely on humanitarian aid for their everyday life. Recently the situation even worsened when a major electricity crisis started for political reasons (a combined effect of the split between the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli occupation).
 
Caught in the middle of the quagmire, the Syrian refugees are in a very tricky place as they cannot access help and relief aid. “Even if we came legally, and my husband did all the paperwork for us –we even have a national number as Palestinian – the UNRWA (the UN agency for Palestinian refugees) does not want to help us because we’re Palestinian refugees from Syria, and so it relies on the branch in Syria,” Ratiba explains. She says she has been receiving aid from time to time, from the UNRWA but not on a regular basis.
 
Various organizations are trying to help the families. An assessment of options for them to be resettled in more welcoming places should be released by international institutions over the summer. Then, the process could take up to two years. “I’m not sure I want to leave again, and take another chance,” Ratiba answers.
 
As she has always been a very talented cook, she was finally able to start her own restaurant and also cooks for people – despite the difficulty of baking without electricity. She is now famous in the whole Gaza Strip for the traditional Syrian food she cooks and delivers. Her son could take over the business and help her to grow the restaurant and the deliveries. “I’ve accepted my fate… There are many things that I don’t like about being here because I don’t have a status, I miss Syria, life is hard in general in the Gaza Strip,” Ratiba concludes, “but as long as I can cook, I’m happy."
 
Photo credit: Mohammad Asad/Middle EastMonitor

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