Childhood displaced in Gaza
As the conflict continues, displaced children and families face increasingly dire conditions.
Months of escalating conflict have turned the Gaza Strip into the most dangerous place in the world to be a child.
Every child across Gaza has been exposed to deeply distressing events, witnessing horrors that no child should. Around 1.7 million people are estimated to have been internally displaced by the violence, half of them children. Families desperately searching for shelter are being pushed into tiny, overcrowded areas without adequate water, food, or protection. Wet winter weather has flooded tents and other shelters, creating rivers of waste in some areas. The little food that is available isn’t enough to meet children’s nutritional needs. As a result, thousands of children are malnourished and sick.
The lasting impact of this violence will be felt for generations to come: By children such as Mohammed, whose home was destroyed in the conflict.
And Aya, who is staying at a shelter at Al-Aqsa University in the Gaza Strip.
“It’s very difficult to go to the bathroom. There’s a long line – two hours maybe. So, a lot of the time we just find somewhere else to do it.”
Aya says before the escalation that she enjoyed spending time with her friends. “Suddenly the war started,” she says, and her family were told they needed to flee their home. They had no choice but to sleep in the street.
“We didn’t have any blankets or mattresses. Everything you see we borrowed from other families here. Everyone living here shares the blankets and mattresses…We go two to a mattress and blanket,” she says. “When I don’t have anything to do, I get depressed from sitting alone. Sometimes I help my mum and then just come back and sit on my mattress.”
But despite the almost unimaginable challenges of daily life right now, Aya still has hope for a brighter future. “I’ll go back to my home, work hard and then try and go abroad to study. I don’t know what I want to do yet. I’ll decide after the war is finished.”
Kareem also thinks about going home one day. But for now, he lives in constant fear of losing his family.
“I love my family very much and I’m afraid that I will lose them because of the war or that they’ll be killed one day. I think about that all the time.”
Even though his family’s home was destroyed during the bombardments, Kareem hopes he can go home soon and play football.
Hadeel also knows the uncertainty and distress that come with losing a home.
“I miss my school and my friends. I wish to hear good news from my neighbours and friends.”
Hadeel’s family was forced to evacuate their home in Gaza city early in the war. After arriving in Rafah City, the family had nowhere to go and were forced to sleep on the streets. But a few days later they met a local fisherman who took them to a dock with somewhere to shelter.
“I hope the war ends and by next summer I can come with my family to enjoy the sea and relax on the beach,” Hadeel says.
Hadeel’s mother, Hanadi, says she is extremely worried about her children.
“This is completely unacceptable. I never imagined it would happen to us.”
“We don’t have a bathroom or basic hygiene materials. I try my best to keep my children clean, but it’s very difficult,” Hanadi says, adding that the family now has to bathe in the sea.
Mays used to spend time in the sea when she lived near the beach in Jabalia. “I’d go there every morning,” she says. “I used to spend time on the shore, looking at the waves. It was my favourite thing to do. I also loved using my phone, talking to my friends and playing games.”
“I’m not OK living here. It’s terrible. But it’s better than living in a building – that scares me because of what happened...I was pulled out from under the rubble. This feels safer, however bad the living conditions are.”
Mays is staying at a shelter in Khan Yunis’s industrial zone, in southern Gaza. She uses a wheelchair because of a leg injury.
“Now, I don’t do much. Chatting with friends is the way I try to find happiness now. There’s no space to do anything else.”
For many displaced families, just finding shelter amidst the destruction is physically and emotionally exhausting. Communications blackouts, entire communities uprooted, buildings and roads damaged or destroyed, unexploded ordnance – all combine to create journeys fraught with danger and almost unimaginable stress.
Seba, a mother of two young girls, says she used to own a beautiful house filled with flowers in Khuza’a village, near Khan Younis City in southern Gaza. But “with the start of the war, I was forced to leave my home because of the bombings, destruction, and the lack of water and food in the area where I used to live," she says.
“The displacement was difficult and physically tiring. We walked for long hours. But it was also scary. I was very worried about my daughters.”
Seba then headed to one of the shelters in Khan Younis city. “I went to the school and stayed there for two weeks, but the overcrowding and lack of hygiene posed a lot of risks to my daughters. They constantly suffer from diarrhoea and fever.”
The threat to children’s health is growing. The lack of safe water and sanitation has left displaced children and their families unable to maintain the hygiene levels needed to prevent disease. Cases of diarrhoea in children under five years of age have soared.
Meanwhile, the very few functioning hospitals are so focused on responding to the high number of patients injured in the conflict that they are unable to adequately treat disease outbreaks.
Since the outset of the current conflict, UNICEF has been delivering vital supplies to the Gaza Strip, including vaccines, medical supplies, hygiene kits, and nutrient supplements. UNICEF is also providing tents, tarpaulins, blankets and winter clothes to displaced people, as well as psychosocial support services. In response to the deteriorating sanitation services for the internally displaced persons in overcrowded shelters, UNICEF and partners have constructed 70 sanitation facilities in Khan Younis and Rafah.
But this is still not enough, and access is extremely challenging. UNICEF needs safe and predictable access to reach the most vulnerable children, including the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced. And these children need a lasting humanitarian ceasefire, now.