Israel Palestine Conflict

Palestinians struggling to survive in overcrowded UN shelter in southern Gaza

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Palestinians are struggling to get through the simplest tasks of their day in the already overcrowded shelter in Mawasi, where more newcomers displaced by the fighting in Gaza keep arriving.

Mawasi, Israel said, is now a safe zone, an enclave along Gaza’s Mediterranean coast where waves of people fleeing the war can find protection from airstrikes and supplies for their families but there, rows of tents are stretched out over farm fields, with people trying to do everything to survive and get protected of the coming rain, the winter and the bombardments.

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The children tell their dad, 'we fled the bombardment to find bombardment.' There is no safety, none whatsoever," said Iman Skaik, a woman sheltering in Mawasi.

Most of Gaza’s population is crowded into southern Gaza, including hundreds of thousands who heeded Israel’s calls to evacuate the north and move to Southern Gaza Strip, to get out of the way of its ground offensive.

Some 1.5 million people driven from their homes have packed into UN shelters, houses with other families or even hospitals seeking a safe place where to stay.

A UN-provided tent camp for Palestinians displaced by the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip is seen in Khan Younis, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023. (AP)
A UN-provided tent camp for Palestinians displaced by the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip is seen in Khan Younis, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023. (AP)

Israel first mentioned Mawasi as a humanitarian zone in late October.

International aid officials have warned that Israel has done nothing to create a true safe zone, and even the US, Israel’s fiercest ally, has indicated Palestinian civilians need more protection.

Risk of ‘additional harm’

A joint statement signed by the leaders of some of the world’s largest humanitarian groups, including the top UN agencies, Care International, Mercy Corps, and the World Health Organization, rejected the idea that Israel could unilaterally set up a safe zone.

A woman looks at Palestinian performers attempting to entertain displaced children sheltering at a UN school in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (AP)
A woman looks at Palestinian performers attempting to entertain displaced children sheltering at a UN school in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (AP)

“Without the right conditions, concentrating civilians in such zones in the context of active hostilities can raise the risk of attack and additional harm,” said the November 16 statement.

“Here in Mawasi, we thought there would be safety but there is no safety. We are still getting bombarded.” commented Skaik.

Poor living conditions

But in addition to the risk of strikes, the displaced living in Mawasi have to deal with the poor living conditions of the overcrowded place.

Nevine al-Kafarna said standing in line to go to the bathroom is in itself a challenge because it comes with a very long wait.

“The children sometimes come back after two or three times without being able to go to the bathroom because there are too many people,” she said.

Displaced Palestinian children sheltering at a UN school, attend an entertainment performance in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (AP)
Displaced Palestinian children sheltering at a UN school, attend an entertainment performance in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (AP)

People in tents also get little shelter during the rainy winter months, when temperatures can dip into the single digits Celsius (mid-40s Fahrenheit).

With the shelter now full, people are fending for themselves. Many sleep in their cars or set up their own tents.

Like nearly everywhere in Gaza, the aid is not enough for everyone and many are forced to buy their own food, water and firewood.

For now, the people living in Mawasi are simply trying to get by.

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