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War and poverty drive Gazans to seek better life in Europe despite dangers

August 29, 2019 at 8:45 pm

Palestinians school children at a refugee camp in Beirut, in Lebanon on 6 March 2012 [Mohammed Asad/Apaimages]

Shaban Khalaf’s advice to any other Gazans thinking of heading to Europe in search of a better life, as he did, is blunt: don’t bother – it’s not worth the danger and the expense, Reuters reports.

Khalaf should know. Despairing of ever finding a decent job in Gaza, where the economy is near collapse, the journalism graduate flew to Turkey via Egypt in June 2018 and tried no fewer than 18 times to cross into Europe, mostly by boat.

“One time a naval boat hit ours, our boat flipped and we almost died,” said Khalaf, 25, adding that each time Turkish or Greek authorities would send them back to Turkey’s shores.

By February this year he had given up and returned home to Gaza, much poorer for his ordeal after having paid off the people smugglers who had tried in vain to get him to Europe.

“I don’t advise people to leave unless a job is waiting for them there. It is better to stay and die with their families in Gaza than to throw themselves into the unknown, or die in the sea,” he said.

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Thousands of other Palestinians have had similar experiences as they try to escape the rampant unemployment, poverty and violence of life in Gaza, a tiny enclave between Israel and Egypt run by the Islamist Hamas group.

Gazans have endured three war with Israel, 12 years of Israeli-led economic sanctions that hamper the movement of people and goods and a protracted power struggle between Palestinian factions.

An unknown number of Gazans have died trying to make the perilous crossing to Europe, leaving families back home unsure about their eventual fate. Some are buried in Turkey or in Greece, or were returned home in coffins.

Human rights activists in Gaza believe around 30,000 of Gaza’s population of two million have tried to leave the 145 sq. mile (375 sq. km) territory in the past decade, with a surge in numbers after a 50-day war in 2014 between Israel and Hamas.

READ: Why do people emigrate from the Gaza Strip?