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Victims of deadly shipwreck driven out of Gaza by war, unemployment

Al-Akhbar | September 18, 2014

Unemployed and shattered by the 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza, Yasser decided to seek a better life elsewhere, boarding a boat to Europe that sank off Malta last week.

In one of the deadliest migrant shipwrecks on record, the boat, with 500 people on board, was intentionally capsized by traffickers as it made its way from Egypt to Italy.

Only 10 people are known to have survived, among them four Palestinians from the 100 Gazans believed to have been on board. Yasser, a 23-year-old unemployed graduate, was not one of them.

Yasser’s story is far from unusual and explains why some Palestinians in Gaza are ready to risk everything to flee war and poverty in the coastal enclave, which was battered by a devastating seven-week Israeli aggression that ended late last month.

His brother Osama told AFP by telephone from his home in the United Arab Emirates that Yasser had graduated from university in Gaza but struggled to find work.

“He graduated last year and since then, like all young people, he has been unemployed. There is no future for them in Gaza,” Osama told AFP, asking that his family’s name not be published.

The crippling blockade of Gaza by Israel – and more recently Egypt – and Israeli restrictions in the occupied West Bank limit Palestinians’ ability to compete in export markets and contribute to an unemployment rate of almost 25 percent, the World Bank said in 2013.

“I tried to bring him to the Emirates but after seeing several of his friends reach Europe by boat, he decided to leave too,” he said.

Yasser crossed from Gaza into the Sinai Peninsula via the Rafah crossing, paying some local Egyptians nearly $3,000 (2,300 euros) to fix his passage to Europe.

“You never know who you’re giving the money too,” Osama said.

The last time the brothers spoke was on September 5, the day before the boat carrying Yasser set sail from the port of Damietta in Egypt.

“Now I’m waiting to receive the list of survivors to know if he might still be alive,” Osama said.

Escape through the tunnels

Exact numbers of those leaving Gaza and making their way to Europe are hard to come by.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), some 2,890 people who declared themselves to be Palestinians have reached Italy so far this year.

But even that number may not be credible as some migrants falsely identify themselves as Palestinians to avoid being repatriated to home countries that have extradition agreements with the European Union.

“We estimate that thousands of people have left the Gaza Strip clandestinely over the past two months, especially during the war,” a local human rights worker told AFP.

“Due to the fact they left through tunnels to Egypt — an illegal, secret way to leave — we have no precise figure,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

With Gaza’s own access to the Mediterranean tightly closed by Israel’s naval blockade, those wanting to go to Europe would be forced to travel through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Rafah is Gaza’s only gateway to the world that is not occupied by Israel, but it has been kept largely closed by Egypt for more than a year, with the only other way across via the handful of precarious cross-border smuggling tunnels.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

September 18, 2014 - Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , ,

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