Palestinian Returnees Grappling with Abject Conditions in Besieged Gaza

Palestinian Returnees Grappling with Abject Conditions in Besieged Gaza

A Palestinian man and children carry bags of cereal outside an aid distribution centre run by UNRWA in the central Gaza Strip refugee camp of Bureij, 31 July 2019 (AFP)

Palestinian refugees from Syria who returned to the blockaded Gaza Strip have appealed to UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to take urgent action in response to the abject humanitarian situation they have been enduring in the Israeli-blockaded enclave.

The refugees said their situation has taken a tragic turn for the worse due to UNRWA’s suspension of cash assistance. They have also been deprived of relief aids provided by other charities due to the registration of their names by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah on the employees’ list.

Member of the Follow-Up Committee of Palestinians from Syria in Gaza, Omar Odeh, said that such measures have overburdened even further the cash-stripped families in Gaza, in light of the swift propagation of the global pandemic COVID-19.

Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip have been enduring dire living conditions due to the 12-year-long Israeli siege and the devastating upshots of the Israeli onslaughts on the coastal enclave.

Civilians continue to launch cries for help over the high rates of unemployment, lack of financial resources, and movement crackdowns, which they said have made life quite unbearable in Gaza.

The offensives launched by the Israeli military on Gaza have turned the enclave into a hell on earth as most families have lost their sources of incomes, homes, and property.

A few days earlier, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern over the alarming situation in the besieged Gaza Strip in light of the propagation of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

"There are dramatic humanitarian needs for these people even without this pandemic. But now, with COVID-19, we need to do everything possible to prevent the disease from coming to these areas," Guterres told James Bays, Al Jazeera's diplomatic editor.

"It is very difficult for these people to be living in self-isolation. There, households often don't have water, no soap, and healthcare facilities are extremely rudimentary. So we need to boost the response capacity in those areas," Guterres said.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 84 Palestinians tested positive for COVID-19, including nine cases in the Gaza enclave.

Last week, activists raised concerns over an imminent coronavirus outbreak in the besieged Gaza Strip and its refugee camps after a number of returnees were allowed access into the enclave through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

According to data by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Gaza is one of the world's most densely populated areas, with more than 5,000 inhabitants per square kilometer. The Gaza Strip is smaller than the city of Oslo but is home to three times as many people. The population is expected to rise to 2.1 million by 2020.

A 2012 UN report predicted the Palestinian enclave would be “unlivable” by 2020 if nothing was done to ease the blockade, but in June 2017 a UN report on living conditions in Gaza stated that all the indicators were going in the wrong direction and that deadline was actually approaching even faster than earlier predicted.

Gaza is described by many Palestinians and humanitarian actors as the world’s largest open-air prison, where nearly 2 million Palestinians live behind a blockade and are refused access to the other occupied Palestinian areas and the rest of the world.

NRC said 7 out of 10 Palestinians in Gaza are registered as refugees, and many of these come from families who were forced to leave their villages in 1948. Many have also been forced to leave their homes due to war, violence, and economic hardship.

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