Despite escaping war, Palestinians in Egypt face dire conditions

According to official data issued by the Palestinian embassy in Egypt, about 100,000 Palestinians have arrived via the Rafah crossing before it was seized by Israel last month. [Getty]

After eight months of Israel’s war on Gaza, Mariam Kamal, a displaced Palestinian, managed to escape the spectre of death and destruction to Egypt, hoping to find the safety, food, and water.

“At first, I wanted to get some rest and sleep, eat food, drink clean water, and take a shower without facing any problems,” the 25-year-old who was an accountant at an advertising company in Gaza before the war, remarked to The New Arab

Once Mariam arrived with three members of her family last April, she felt safe and reassured since there was no bombing, killing, or destruction around, but her feelings and thoughts were with the rest of her 21-member family who remain in the besieged coastal enclave.

“My family and I had a lot of difficulty adapting to the new situation […] For two weeks we couldn’t eat normally, and later we started eating gradually […] Even when our bodies started to adapt to the new situation, we felt sad that our family in Gaza couldn’t find food,” she recalled. “We thank God that we escaped death and are no longer in a dangerous place so that we can help the rest of our family escape Gaza soon.”

But things don’t always go as planned. “Life in Egypt is not as easy as we thought […] Everything here requires a lot of effort, time and expenses that we can barely handle, especially since we escaped death without being able to secure enough money to live here,” she said. 

Expensive Rent

To secure a home for her family, Mariam contacted a friend who own a flat in Egypt and agreed with her on a monthly rent of US$300 (which is somewhat reasonable for her) as soon as she arrived in Egypt.

However, after a month in Egypt that the owner of the flat doubled the price to US$600 under the pretext that summer in Egypt prices double due to the arrival of foreign and Arab tourists in Egypt, “and this is an opportunity that cannot be compensated for,” Mariam said.

Mariam decided to rent another flat; it took weeks before she was able to find one in a suitable area and at a reasonable price.

“But it didn’t end there,” Mariam says, “even the flat has many shortcomings, most notably air conditioning and the basic tools needed for decent living.”

“Life is much more difficult than we imagined […] We thought that life here was easier than in Gaza, but compared to what we lived before 7 October, our life there (in Gaza) seemed easier, less expensive, less exhausting and more productive,” she added. 

No residency for Palestinians in Egypt

Iyad Abdul Jawad, a Palestinian who managed to flee to Egypt with his five members of family, can barely secure his family’s daily needs.

“We were shocked by the high prices in Egypt (…) In the past, conditions and life here were easier, but even Egyptian citizens suffer from the exorbitant prices that prevent them from living normally,” the 45-year-old engineer remarked to TNA.  “Currently, I support my family from my savings, but I fear that they will soon run out without me finding a suitable job that will enable me to earn money to support my family.”

Abdel Jawad and other Palestinians in Egypt cannot work without first obtaining an official residency permit from the Egyptian authorities.

“I arrived in Egypt four months ago, but I have not been able to obtain a residency that would allow me to work, and this threatens my fate and that of my family, especially since we are considered violators according to Egyptian law,” Abdel Jawad said.

The Egyptian authorities usually grant Palestinians only 45 days to reside in Egypt, and if that period expires, they must return to their place of residence (meaning the Gaza Strip). But because of the war, Palestinians are not able to return to Gaza, and they do not even know if they will return anytime soon.

The Palestinian embassy in Egypt is seeking to issue temporary residency permits for tens of thousands of Palestinians who arrived from Gaza during the war, according to Diab al-Louh, the Palestinian ambassador in Egypt. “These permits will ease the situation until the conflict ends,” he said, stressing that the residency permits will only be for legal and humanitarian purposes. 

So far, there has been no official news or development for granting residency to Palestinians in Egypt. 

On the other hand, Egypt’s former Assistant Foreign Minister Ambassador Salah Halima says that the demands of some displaced Palestinians for the Egyptian government to issue temporary residency permits are “illogical” and “aim to liquidate the Palestinian issue rather than settle it.” 

He claimed that the idea of ​​displacement of Gazans, whether inside or outside the Strip, is a type of coercive measure according to international law, which is not in the interest of the Palestinian state and negatively impacts the issue and contradicts international law.

He further said that the Egyptian government takes into account the humanitarian conditions of displaced Palestinians, especially since many of them fled the war without identification papers. 

Hopes for return

Meanwhile, because she did not have residency, Ibtisam Al-Alami, a Palestinian who arrived in Egypt five months ago, was unable to register her three children at an Egyptian public school. She was forced her to register them in private international schools with very high fees exceeding US$5,000 per semester.

“I fled Gaza for the sake of my children’s future. I do not want them to live in a destroyed place with no life, and I do not want them to lose their education because of the war,” the 39-year-old mother of four told TNA

“I thought that we would be able to live here in peace and security and be able to arrange our lives, but unfortunately all our dreams went in vain in light of the difficulty of life in general in Egypt, not only for foreigners but also for Egyptian citizens,” she said. 

Making matters worse for Al-Alami now are the ongoing power outages, which average for three consecutive hours for her. “It seems that Palestinians from the Gaza Strip will not enjoy electricity anywhere, even if we go to the North Pole,” she said, flashing a sad smile. 

Ultimately, all those who spoke to TNA hope to return to the Gaza Strip once the war ends, but articulated fears that there is an Israeli-US plot to prevent them from returning to their homeland soon.

According to official data issued by the Palestinian embassy in Egypt, about 100,000 Palestinians have arrived via the Rafah crossing before it was seized by Israel last month. The majority of Palestinians who escaped Israel’s war currently reside in the country.

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