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It’s not safe and it’s not clean, but people believe they are leaving something worse behind” - Families flee Rafah for areas with no services

Thousands of children and their families are desperately trying to flee Rafah but the so-called expanded ‘humanitarian zones’ to which they are heading have very limited space, water or sanitation, according to Save the Children staff who themselves have been forced to relocate.
10 May 2024

Israeli forces seized the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing on Tuesday as Israeli military operations expanded to include airstrikes and ground operations. Media reported that in the last few days, dozens were injured and killed by heavy shelling on the eastern area of Rafah.

Tens of thousands of people, many of whom have been displaced multiple times since the start of the war, have been forced to leave since 6 May when Israeli forces issued relocation orders demanding civilians in eastern Rafah move to the Israeli-designated ‘humanitarian zone’ in Al-Mawasi and Khan Younis.

Save the Children’s team leader in Gaza Rachael Cummings said: 

“In the outskirts of Rafah, we saw scenes of chaos. Every road was full of cars, people hanging off the back of trucks, children piled high on the top of donkey carts, with all the belongings there, people’s whole lives in the back of food trucks or cars. Those people that did not have vehicles were walking with whatever belongings they could carry.

“There were children everywhere, desperately trying to run along and keep up with the movement of people.” 

UN agencies have reported that the few sites to which people are being forcibly displaced are without adequate latrines, water points, drainage, or shelter, but humanitarian agencies are unable to improve conditions with no fuel or other supplies coming in. 

Save the Children’s teams have relocated from Rafah to Deir Al-Balah where they said there is open sewage in the street. The Al-Mawasi area, south of Deir Al-Balah is ‘absolutely packed’ with no more space for people to put up shelters.  

Rachael Cummings said: 

"Al-Mawasi is absolutely packed, and the streets today are busier than they were yesterday. There's now no more space for people. There are no services, no water, no sanitation. It's hot, there are flies everywhere. It’s not safe, it’s not clean, but people are still coming because they believe that they’re leaving something even worse behind. Children are everywhere. They look lost and upset.” 

Rachael Cummings said that what she saw on the way from Deir Al-Balah to Rafah was "extraordinary” with barefooted children as young as six struggling to carry water bottles and other essentials with them. 

“As we drove through Deir Al-Balah, we saw people trying to find space to set up whatever shelters they could find. Some were made of wood and tarpaulin, while some people had tents, but there’s very little space. People were desperately trying to get something up. We passed children crying, screaming on the side of the road, overwhelmed by the panic and chaos that they were experiencing. It really is a terrifying place for children now. 

“Our intention is to continue operations in Rafah and in Al-Mawasi, including health and nutrition, provision of dignity and shelter kits but that is very difficult, and we have to make sure our staff are not putting themselves at risk in order to provide those services.”  

Save the Children is calling for an immediate, definitive ceasefire to protect the lives of children in Gaza, and for the warring parties to adhere to International Humanitarian Law. All crossings into Gaza – the only lifeline for families – must be reopened, and unimpeded humanitarian access guaranteed across the Strip.  

Save the Children has been providing essential services and support to Palestinian children since 1953. Save the Children is taking steps to support and protect its staff and continue helping children and families across Gaza, constantly monitoring the situation in Rafah to see if and when it will continue its operations. 

ENDS

MEDIA CONTACT: Mala Darmadi on 0425562113 or media.team@savethechildren.org.au.

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