When a nightmare becomes the reality

This is a summary of what was said by UNICEF Spokesperson James Elder – to whom quoted text may be attributed - at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva

09 May 2024
Gaza Strip. Children look out from a tent in Rafah.
UNICEF/UNI521730/El Baba
Children stand in front of the tent where they are staying with their families in Rafah, the Gaza Strip.

GENEVA, 7 May 2024 – “Every warning. Every story of children killed and wounded. Every image of heartbreak and bloodshed. Every mind-boggling piece of data on the number of children and mothers killed; of homes and hospitals destroyed. All Ignored.

“Our worst fear - Gazans’ nightmare - appears to be a reality. A reality that those holding power have the ability to prevent.

“This is why UNICEF and all humanitarian agencies have been calling for a ceasefire, and for an offensive in Rafah not to take place.

“Rafah is a city of children. More than half of every single girl and boy in Gaza live in Rafah.

“If we define safety – as International Humanitarian Law says we must – as freedom from bombardment, as well as access to safe water, sufficient food, shelter and medicine – then there is nowhere safe on the Gaza strip to go to.

“In Rafah there is approximately one toilet for every 850 people. The situation is four times worse for showers. That is, around one shower for every 3,500 people. In the zones families have been told to move to, the situation is, staggeringly, much worse.

“Rafah is home to what is now Gaza’s largest remaining hospital - the “European hospital”– named as such to honour the European Union that paid for its construction. Amid the systematic devastation of Gaza’s health system, Rafah’s European Hospital is one of civilians’ last lifelines.

“The South of the Gaza Strip is also the entry point for most of the aid that enters Gaza. A military assault will, at best, greatly complicate aid delivery. If Rafah gate closes for an extended period, it’s hard to see how famine in Gaza can be averted.

“Families coping capacity has been smashed. They are hanging on – physically and psychologically – by a thread. I don’t recall meeting anyone in Rafah who hadn’t lost a loved one, or their home; mostly both. People are exhausted. They are malnourished. Children are sick.

“In fact, hundreds of thousands of children in Rafah have a disability, medical condition or vulnerability that puts them in even greater jeopardy, and makes it that much more difficult for them to relocate, even if there was somewhere left to go.

“In Rafah I saw children who had amputations, but were living in tents because hospitals are full. Those children – and many, many more – are now being told to go to zones such as Al Mawasi.  The so called “safe zone” of Al Mawasi: where UNICEF reported on a little boy, Mustafa, who went to get some parsley for the family dinner. Mustafa was shot in the head, and killed … in the “safe zone” of Al Mawasi … the zone where children and families from Rafah are now supposed to flee to.

“This past weekend’s events in Gaza - the continued killing of children, more attacks from the warring parties, and now evacuation orders – yet again expose how parties to this conflict continue to utterly disregard the lives and protection of children and civilians.

“That has to change. Indeed, this is the last chance for this to change.

“Aid must flow. Hostages must be freed. Rafah must not be invaded. And children must no longer be killed.

“We have pleaded and implored countless times; we do so once more. For the children of Rafah. We need a ceasefire, now.”

# # #

Media contacts

Tess Ingram
Tel: +1 347 593 2593
Ammar Ammar
Regional Chief of Advocacy and Communication
UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office
Tel: 00962791837388


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/mena

Follow UNICEF on  Twitter   Facebook   Instagram   LinkedIn   Youtube


Join our UNICEF MENA WhatsApp group to get the latest news. Send us a text message at the following number and we'll add you to our list: 00962790082531