Gaza youth revisit scars of war

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Updated 14 September 2017

Gaza youth revisit scars of war

WASHINGTON/GAZA CITY: “At bedtime, I am afraid to turn the lights off. I am not a coward, it is just that I worry that this bulb hanging from the ceiling is the last light that remains (shining) in my life.”
Soon after he penned these words, Moath Al-Hajj, a young artist from a Gaza refugee camp, passed away in his sleep.
After not hearing from him for two days, his friends broke down the door of his house, and found him huddled with his blanket in a place in which he lived alone for 11 years.
Al-Hajj lived in Nuseirat, one of Gaza’s most crowded refugee camps.
Raised in the UAE, he returned to Gaza to join the Islamic University, but remained there, experiencing three wars and a decade-long blockade.
Somehow, the young man maintained a semblance of hope, as expressed in his many drawings and emotive commentary.
Al-Hajj learned to live in his own world ever since he was young. The outside world to him seemed unpredictable and at times cruel.
When his mother passed away, he was only 1 year old. His father died of cancer in the UAE, so due to circumstances beyond his control, Al-Hajj lived alone.
Keeping him company were his friends in the neighborhood, but mostly his self-effacing yet profound artistic expressions.
“Smile, may the war feel shame,” was one of his cartoons. In it, a little girl with a flowery dress turns her back to the reader.
Al-Hajj’s art characters always had their eyes closed, as if they refuse to see the world around them and insist on imagining a better world inside their own thoughts.
After his body was thoroughly examined, doctors concluded that he died from a stroke.
His heart, heavy with untold personal and collective miseries, had just given in. And just like that, one of Gaza’s finest young men was buried in an ever-crowded graveyard.
Social media buzzed with statements of condolence, mostly by young Palestinians from Gaza devastated to hear that Al-Hajj’s last light had been extinguished, and that the young man’s life had ended while the siege and state of war remain.
In that same week, Palestinians commemorated the three-year anniversary of the end of Israel’s devastating war against Gaza.
The war had killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians, and 71 Israelis, most of them soldiers.
The war left Gaza in ruins, as more than 17,000 homes were completely destroyed and thousands of other structures — including hospitals, schools and factories — were destroyed or severely damaged.
The war shattered whatever semblance of economy Gaza had had. Today, 80 percent of Palestinians there live below the poverty line, most of whom depend on humanitarian aid.
A whole generation of Palestinians in Gaza have grown up knowing nothing but war and siege, and have never seen the world beyond its deadly borders.
Following are the voices of some of these young Gazans, who kindly shared their tragic personal stories, hoping that the world will heed their calls for freedom and justice.

Isra Migdad, an Islamic finance student
“After our house had been partially damaged during the 2014 Israeli war, it took my family about a year and a half to rebuild it, due to the delay in construction material being allowed into Gaza and because of the prohibitive prices of such material, when it’s available.
“I lost my master’s degree scholarship in 2014 due to the closure and my family’s difficult financial situation after the war.
“I’ve spent the last three years applying for scholarships, only to learn that many universities in Europe know nothing, or very little, about the Israeli siege on Gaza and the continued closure of the borders.
“I attained another scholarship, only to lose it again since I didn’t have enough time to complete my travel procedures and negotiate an exit from Gaza.
“I want a better life, but I also love Gaza. Yet the situation is becoming more difficult with each passing day.
“It’s hard to find a stable job, and even if one gets an opportunity elsewhere, it’s nearly impossible to get out.”

Ghada, 23, studied English literature, works as a translator
“Day by day, the situation in Gaza becomes more complicated and even worse than before. Since the last war to this day, nothing seems to get better. Nothing at all.
“During my work at the Palestinian Trade Center (Pal-Trade), which focuses on the Palestinian economy, every day I see people struggling in all economic sectors.
“The electricity crisis is destroying businesses everywhere. The agriculture sector is in ruins as farmers can’t export their products, and can’t even access the Palestinian market in the West Bank.
“Despite substantial donor pledges to support reconstruction following the 2014 conflict, the situation for Palestinians living in Gaza has never been worse.
“Moreover, people in Gaza are facing a dire shortage of drinkable water and an adequate and equitable sanitation system.
“Even the sea has become polluted because of the sewage that’s dumped daily. There’s little hope on the horizon for better conditions.”

Banias Harb, a teacher
“The unprecedented closure and blockade imposed on Gaza have created a feeling of helplessness.
“The most frustrating problem that youths have been suffering from is the closure of the Rafah border crossing.
“Gaza’s youths constitute about a third of the Palestinian population, yet less than 10 percent of all youths have been able to see what’s beyond Gaza. We feel abandoned, alone.”

Kholod Zughbor, has a degree in English literature from Al-Azhar University, Gaza
“The siege on Gaza has been in place since 2006. The situation has been terrible here, even before the wars started. Unemployment among Gaza’s youth is estimated at 60 percent.
“I’ve witnessed three wars. I saw life gradually worsen, especially after the last one. Three years after the 2014 war, the situation is getting harder and more miserable.
“Gaza is still far from full recovery, and what has been built is only a drop in the ocean of destruction.”

Sondos, a social worker, has a degree in English literature
“As a social worker, I’ve visited more than 350 families impacted by the war and its aftermath.
“They’re burdened by deep psychological scars, and are constantly overshadowed by the feeling of impending catastrophe.
“In every house I’ve visited there’s a heartbreaking story of poverty, unemployment, fear of the future, fear of another Israeli war.
“Without outside pressure on Israel, Gazans will continue to relive this nightmare in their open-air prison.
“They can’t reconstruct their demolished homes, import their basic needs, or have access to electricity and clean water on a regular basis.
“But Gaza will continue to hang on to life and won’t fall into despair. Our youths will continue to pursue higher education and will labor to achieve their goals, no matter the odds.
“They’ll continue to use their imagination to overcome all hurdles, as we’ve done for many years. Courage and determination are our most prized qualities.”

— Yousef Aljamal, a writer and Ph.D. student from Gaza, contributed to this feature.

What shapes the Middle East’s migration patterns

Updated 53 min 47 sec ago

What shapes the Middle East’s migration patterns

  • An estimated 29 million people have migrated from Arab countries since 1990, according to UN data
  • Political crises and civil conflicts have blurred the lines between voluntary and forced migration

ABU DHABI: Less than two months since an unhappy year for the Arab region’s migrants and refugees came to an end, the omens of things to come are far from good.

According to the latest “Situation Report on Migration in the Arab Region,” prepared by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in collaboration with various UN agencies, displacement and migration are two prominent trends at the beginning of 2020. Particularly — and unsurprisingly — in countries withongoing wars.

An overwhelming majority of Arab countries endorsed the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) at the UN General Assembly in December 2018, voting to adopt its principles in national legislatures.

Subsequently, the number of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea was found to have plunged in 2018 to almost a tenth of what it was in 2015.

However, the reality of the region’s migrant and refugee situa- tion belies the hopes raised by the adoption of the GCM.

In Libya, for example, there was a steep deterioration last year in the living conditions of migrants and refugees stranded in the unstable North African country.


29m - An estimated 29 million people have migrated from Arab countries since 1990.

1/2 - Almost half of the people who migrated stayed within the Arab region.

9.1m - Refugees who have sought protection in the Arab region include 3.7 million under the mandate of the UN Refugee Agency and 5.4 million registered with UNRWA.

14.5% - The number of migrant workers in 18 Arab countries stood at 23.8 million in 2017, representing 14.5 percent of all migrant workers globally.

?The country’s protracted civil conflict has not only caused massive displacement within its borders, but also means it has become a dangerous place for economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa wishing to travel to Europe. World leaders have just pledged in Berlin not to interfere in Libya’s civil conflict and to uphold a UN arms embargo, but only time will tell if that promise will be honored.

In Syria, meanwhile, the human- itarian situation in Idlib — the last stronghold of opposition forces and a safe haven for millions of internally displaced persons (IDP) — remains shaky as Russian- backed regime forces press on, despite mounting civilian casualties.

In Yemen, a peace opportunity was missed in early 2019, and there has been no let-up since in the fighting between government forces and the Houthi militia, who control the capital Sanaa and the northern highlands. The country currently hosts between 2 million and 3.5 million IDPs and another 1.28 million returnees, in addition to 279,000 migrants and refugees — almost exclusively from Somalia and Ethiopia — for whom the country is a short-term way station, not a final destination.

Lebanon is in the grip of a wide- ranging crisis, too. People at the bottom of the economic ladder, including 1.5 million Syrian refugees and almost 500,000

Palestinian refugees, supple- ment their meager incomes with handouts from aid agencies. Even before the protests erupted in Lebanon in October last year, a UN vulnerability assessment report for refugees in the country, carried out in early 2019, made grim reading.

It said about 73 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon were living below the poverty line — up from 69 percent the year before, and considerably higher than the estimated 28 percent of Lebanese in the same situation.

Of course, migration and displacement have long shaped the Arab region, with countries simultaneously acting as points of origin, transit and destination.

However, in recent years, the distinction between voluntary and forced migration has become blurred as political crises and civil conflicts — viewed as the chief causes of human displace- ment — have proliferated. “The challenge today is to put in place policies that will ensure successful and true integration while benefiting both the countries of residence and origin,” Laura Petrache, a senior adviser at Migrant Integration Lab, told Arab News.

According to UN reports, the number of migrants and refugees originating from the Arab region reached 29 million in 2017. Almost half of them remained in the region. Overall, the number of migrants and refugees as a propor- tion of the total population of the Arab region has risen steadily over the past three decades.

In 2018, around 80 percent of the region’s refugees originated in the Levant, mostly on account of the Syrian conflict.



Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Sudan are among the top 10 Arab destinations for migrants and IDPs owing to conflicts in the neighborhood. Apart from Lebanon, all of those countries have witnessed an increase in the number of refugees and migrants within their borders since 2015.

After Turkey, Jordan was the second-most-popular destination country for refugees and migrants from the region, with Lebanon, 

Saudi Arabia and the UAE also reporting significant numbers. Iraq was the only country that saw its national refugee and migrant population decrease.

What the latest reports confirm is that migration in the Arab world not only has multiple drivers — socio-economic pressures, political instability and environmental degradation — but also complex patterns and trends.

Take the Gulf and the Levant regions. They attract different kinds of migrants because their levels of stability, security and development are not comparable. While Libya, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen are plagued by conflict, violence, corruption and divisions in both society and polity, GCC member countries are leading the way in groundbreaking ideas and investments, building cities of the future and attracting talent from across the world.

The migrant population in the GCC countries swelled from 8.2 million in 1990 to 28.1 million in 2017 — a substantial rise compared with figures for other parts of the Arab region.

Around 27 percent of global remittance outflows in 2017 reportedly came from the Arab region, estimated at $120.6 billion, and almost all of that (98.9 percent or $119.3 billion) came from GCC countries. According to the IOM’s report, the top remittance-sending countries were the UAE (at $44.3 billion) and Saudi Arabia (at $36.1 billion).

Under the circumstances, it is difficult to see meaningful, positive change for migrants happening any time soon in the Arab region, with the possible exception of the GCC.

“Migration policy making should move away from assimila- tionist frameworks,” Petrache, of the Migrant Integration Lab, told Arab News. “Instead, the policy emphasis should be on working with countries of origin to achieve sustainable integration — and re-integration in the case of return immigration.

“The policies should take into consideration the potential for win-win solutions using and developing the capability of the migrants to make a positive contri- bution to local host communities,” Petrache said.