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When Immigration Is the Solution

By Ashraf K. Shannon | The Media Line

February 9, 2017

Palestinians chant slogans during a protest against the ongoing electricity crisis in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip on January 12, 2017 (Photo: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)
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Gaza youth lose hope and wish to leave their tribulations behind

Gaza City — The youth of Gaza see no hope for a better future. Frustration and dissatisfaction is the mood of the day among young people who have had to contend with living under immense pressure for the past decade.
The territory has been blockaded by both Israel and Egypt and its unemployment rate is among the highest in the world.

“I feel as if I live in a big prison,” Khaled told The Media Line, which spoke to a number of young Gazans about the tribulations of living in the Gaza Strip. They asked not to use their last names, fearing retribution from the Islamist Hamas which controls Gaza.

Israel placed heavy restrictions on the densely populated Strip following the violent takeover by Hamas in 2007 and three devastating military conflicts have erupted since then, sparked by Hamas launching rockets at Israeli population centers.

Egypt has also placed restrictions on the tiny coastal sliver citing security reasons, and has kept the Rafah crossing with Gaza sealed most of the time since 2007.

Some two million Gazans, most under the age of 18, living in area of about 140 square miles, have been grappling with long hours of power outages and lack of potable water, among other shortages.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Gaza could become uninhabitable by the year 2020.

Speaking to The Media Line, Khaled, who is an unemployed mechanical engineer, said he has been trying to leave Gaza since graduation last year. His only escape is connecting with friends over social media.

Thousands of young people, just like Khaled, can’t make sense of their lives in Gaza. Ahmad, an 11th grader, who has just ended his mid-year school vacation, also wants to leave the Strip.

“I have been acquiring friends from Western countries on Facebook hoping that they would help me fulfill my dream and emigrate to a place where I could have a better life. I spend most of my time online, which also helps me improve my English,” Ahmad told The Media Line.

Hanaa, 19, has also been active on social media hoping to find a Palestinian man living in Europe to marry her and get her out of Gaza. She finished high school last year and could not afford to continue to university.

“I have been refusing marriage offers from Gazan men because I don’t want to end up living the rest of my life under these miserable conditions,” Hanaa told The Media Line.

The situation in Gaza is intolerable for most youth. They feel forgotten by the world in a forlorn area plagued by political, economic and environmental problems.

Many Gazan youth are not fond of Hamas’s Islamist rule in Gaza which prohibits many activities especially mixed events between young men and women. Several cultural events were cancelled by the Hamas police in recent years because the Islamic movement considers them un-Islamic.

“I want to live in a place where I can be free to say whatever I want without fearing being arrested by the police.” Sami, 20, who works at a coffee shop, told The Media Line.

Others said they don’t want to live in a land where “bearded men” (referring to Hamas security personnel) control every aspect of their lives. Many young men spend most of their time playing cards at coffee shops until late at night. Smoking water pipes, they bemoan their problems.

Most of their conversations concentrate on how to emigrate and how much it costs to reach Europe.

Atef, a man in his early thirties, was telling a group of young men that it costs about $15,000 to obtain refugee status in a European country. He used to work for the Palestinian Authority before the violent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip.

“I helped dozens of youth to reach Europe in the past few years,” he told The Media Line.

Atef added that it is hard to get out of Gaza, especially with the Rafah crossing being closed most of the time, but that it is not impossible when money is available.

“I have contacts in Europe who get young people to Belgium via Turkey. They get half the money and I get the rest after paying off Egyptian officials to facilitate departure through the Rafah crossing – when it’s open,” Atef related.

Atef claimed to have helped at least 20 Gazans obtain refugee status in Belgium.

Many parents get into debt to help their sons leave Gaza hoping that one day they will in turn help their families.

Feeling trapped in a barricaded backwater and with no hope for a better future, Gaza youth consider immigration as the best solution.

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