Why are thousands of Palestinians fleeing Gaza and heading to Turkey?
Shadi's dream to leave the Israel-besieged Gaza Strip is shared by thousands of other Palestinians who live in the tiny coastal enclave and embarking on the dangerous and illegal migration sea and land route to Europe has become the only option for them to seek a better life elsewhere.
Hundreds of thousands of people have arrived in Europe by sea over the past few years, but much of the focus has been on Syrian refugees fleeing their country's civil war.
The impoverished Strip, which has a population of around two million, has been under a crippling Israeli blockade for more than a decade – around 80 percent of Palestinians are reliant on international aid, according to the United Nations.
Residents receive only four hours of electricity a day on average, while the unemployment rate is one of the world's highest at 54 percent, reaching 70 percent among university graduates.
"In fact, the main reason that has driven me to think about migrating is the overall situation in the Gaza Strip. I constantly feel insecure both physically and economically," he tells The New Arab.
"So far, three major Israeli attacks have occurred and almost frequently the region is hit by violence and counter violence. Amid this unending situation, the fear inside me grows, especially for my children, who like many other children here, are forced into hardship."
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In January this year, taxi driver Shadi decided to take the huge step and apply for travel to
"I had to sell my taxi in order to cover the travel costs from
He would leave Gaza via the recently reopened Rafah crossing terminal, on the Egyptian side of the border, from where he would fly to Turkey.
To co-ordinate the different parts of his travels, Shadi paid a number of people including Palestinians and Egyptians for the first part, and then smugglers on the Turkish side.
After making it to Istanbul via
Shadi tells The New Arab that as he landed in
"Such groups only help in return for large amounts of money, about 1,800 Euros per single migrant. They would offer two ways of being smuggled, either via sea or via land."
The latter would mainly be through large forests that could take up to four or five days worth of walking. As Shadi cannot swim, he opted for land smuggling.
|A rough indication of the journey Shadi would have made
"The smugglers do not do like to make regular phone calls when coordinating an individual's smuggling, they would rather use WhatsApp. I contacted one of them who informed me that I must deposit a sum of 1,800 Euros with an office in the suburb of
"After I deposited that sum, I was informed by the smuggler that I will be leaving that very night."
Shadi says he waited all night but the smuggler did not show up.
"After getting back in touch with them, I was told I will be able to leave the next night instead. At this point, the stress and anxiety was beginning to build up," he says.
"Back in Gaza, my father's health condition was getting worse and the family wanted me to return immediately. So, I chose not to wait for the smuggler and decided to head back home instead," Shadi said.
The Gazan father also revealed that many of those who had been smuggled through large forests had returned back at least once during his stay in
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This increased his fears about what fate was waiting for him, especially since many of the
"While I was in Istanbul I met another family from Gaza, a mother, her 20-year-old son and her four daughters, two of whom were married. I became close to this family.
"I knew that they had also opted for the land smuggling option and I said my goodbyes as they left. Sadly, a few days later they returned to Istanbul with the elderly mother now extremely sick due to the attempted long walk to the Greek port city of Thessaloniki. By then, I had realised how risky and unsafe, the migration journey really is," Shadi told The New Arab.
Shadi still dreams of migrating to Europe from Gaza. He tells The New Arab that his valid Turkish visa could help him go back to Turkey from where he could book a flight to China and then to a European country.
"My friend was able to fly from
According to a recent public opinion poll conducted by Gaza-based Al-Aqsa University with a random sample of 2,800 youngsters in the Gaza Strip, around 51 percent had expressed their wish to migrate, citing economic hardships and a lack of prospects for a better future.
Unconfirmed reports also suggest that around 35,000 Palestinians from
In January this year, a 22-year-old man from Gaza was pronounced dead after drowning off the shores in
"Currently, I am weighing up whether to go back to
He is surrounded by his children who play by the front door of their small home in the Alburaij refugee camp.
He pauses for a while, before asking, "Do you think the situation here will get better any time soon?"
Rami Almeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza.
Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari