Despite escaping Israel's brutal war, for Gaza's Palestinians in Egypt the misery continues

Despite escaping Israel's brutal war, for Gaza's Palestinians in Egypt the misery continues
While Palestinians were conditionally allowed to cross into Egypt, many already living in the country had been struggling against dire conditions.
5 min read
Egypt - Cairo
05 March, 2024
Egypt has, so far, only received a limited portion of Gaza's Palestinians who fled the deadly Israeli war on the strip. [Getty]]

As the Israeli ongoing onslaught on Gaza entered its fifth consecutive month, Egypt has so far only allowed a small number of Palestinians who fled the besieged coastal enclave into the country.

North Sinai Governor Mohamed Abdel-Fadeel Shousha declared in February that only about 10,000 Palestinians had fled the besieged enclave through the Rafah Border crossing.

Most of those who crossed into Egypt were either critically injured, seeking treatment in Egypt, dual nationals, stranded Egyptians, or Palestinians leaving for other countries via Egypt. Yet while Palestinians were conditionally allowed to cross into Egypt, many already living in the country had been struggling against increasingly dire conditions.

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Ordeal persists

The New Arab spoke with several Palestinians living in Egypt, who mostly preferred to remain anonymous.

One student at an Egyptian university outside the capital, Cairo, told TNA that he could no longer secure about US$1,500 needed for tuition fees per term, in addition funds needed for rent and other living expenses after he lost contact with his family in Gaza.

"My family used to transfer me what I needed, but now many have been killed or displaced, and we lost contact with each other," he said.

With the ongoing pressure from Egypt's public figures and parliamentarians, Egyptian universities have postponed the payment of fees until the situation is resolved.

Palestinian students in Egypt remain concerned, however, because they have no idea how they will even cover their basic needs, previously paid for by their families, who are now under indiscriminate Israeli fire.

Many Palestinian students were evicted after they had failed to pay the rent for months.

"We received no support from the Egyptian government or any Arab state and were left to stay on the street without shelter or food," the Palestinian student told TNA.

Even the Palestinian embassy in Cairo, according to several students from Gaza, has not played a key role in easing their ordeal.

"Public pressure in Egypt has partially paid off for some individual initiatives raised funds for Palestinians in the country. But what they have collected only covered basic needs only, not tuition fees," the same student said.

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Outcry ignored

Several Egyptian MPs recently presented motions before the lower house of the parliament, calling on the government to help Palestinian students in the country. But so far, all promises made have not materialised into action except for the Cairo-based Al-Azhar institution, the highest Sunni Muslim authority in the region, independent of the state.

Earlier in December last year, Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb exempted Palestinian Azhar University students from fees and offered them a monthly allowance.

Not only were Palestinian students let down by the Egyptian government, but hundreds of dual citizens or Palestinians married to Egyptian spouses faced disappointment as well.

"We saw death every moment in northern Gaza. And when the war intensified and the Israelis bombarded our houses, we fled the strip. We were granted access provided that Egypt was a transit country through which we would leave for Morocco, without putting into consideration that we owned no money to travel or even feed our kids," a Moroccan-Palestinian told TNA.

"We crossed into Egypt through the Rafah Border Crossing with the help of an Egyptian driver who volunteered to drive us, as we hoped for the support of the country or the Moroccan embassy in Cairo. But we were totally ignored, spending two days on the street accompanied by old people and children," she added.

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"Some Egyptians sympathised with us and reached out to public figures and journalists who could eventually help us get a humble accommodation and offered us basic needs," noted the Moroccan-Palestinian lady.

"It remained tough to stay in Egypt, though, which made me and my family get back to Gaza after a ceasefire was briefly imposed, thinking the war would come to an end," she further said. 

The Egyptian authorities had previously opened sporadically the Rafah border crossing, Gaza's only access to the outside world, for pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia, students, or patients seeking healthcare services at the country's medical facilities.

No official statistics have been made public about the exact number of Palestinians who crossed into Egypt since the war or others who have been living in the country before the Israeli offensive on Gaza.

But unofficial sources told TNA that only a few hundred Palestinians are currently receiving treatment at Egyptian hospitals in North Sinai and elsewhere in the country. Meanwhile, the Palestinian health ministry has urged Egypt to treat about 7,000 critical cases.

Since the Israeli war on Gaza erupted on 7 October, Egypt has been criticised for only allowing critically injured Palestinians and dual nationals to enter the country from the besieged coastal enclave.

In the meantime, journalists have reportedly been denied access to Palestinian patients or their accompanying relatives.

"About 70 reporters have over the past months asked their union to facilitate for them to do their job and interview Palestinian victims or their relatives, but they were faced with intransigence on the part of Egypt," a local reporter told TNA on condition of anonymity. 

Head of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, Khaled El-Balshy was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

Since 2007, Egypt and Israel have imposed a strict blockade on Gaza after Hamas assumed power following clashes with the rival Fatah faction that rules the occupied West Bank.

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It was nearly a decade later, when Hamas dropped its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, an outlawed group in Egypt since 2014, that the Egyptian regime softened its stance towards the Palestinian faction.

Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, is currently among the few parties talking to both sides as a critical mediator.

Such efforts have become more urgent as Israel has frequently threatened to launch a major ground offensive on Gaza's southern Rafah city, currently harbouring over 1.5 million displaced Palestinians of a population of almost 2.2 million.