Ripped at the seams: A refugee’s struggle through six years of blockade
21 June 2013
21 June 2013
When Iyad Farahat was 7 years old, his father died. Like many Palestine refugee children growing up in difficult circumstances, he was soon forced to leave school. At 19, Iyad entered the textile industry, and quickly opened a small sewing factory in Rafah. By 1996, at 32, he was able to move his business to the Karni Industrial Zone in northern Gaza, where he had 50 sewing machines and around 60 employees.
For over ten years, the business was successful. He cultivated a strong relationship with a partner in Israel, who worked with him to export textiles to Israel and the United States. Iyad and his wife, Aida, raised three boys, and used their success to help their community. Iyad joined the Sultan Club, which supports youth sport programmes and activities.
Blockade brings misery
In 2004, however, everything began to change. Restrictions on export from Gaza increased; movement within the Strip became more difficult because of checkpoints established around Israeli settlements. When his partner in Israel went bankrupt because of delays and penalties incurred on contracts, Iyad struggled to pay his workers; soon, he was bouncing checks.
By 2006, with the blockade on Gaza in full effect and export stopped completely, he was forced to liquidate his assets to pay his employees.
UNRWA offers relief through work
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has been an important source of support in Gaza, where today, after six years of blockade, unemployment hovers around 30 per cent and over 70 per cent of the population depends on assistance.
Iyad currently works as a guard at an UNRWA school through the Agency’s Job Creation Programme (JCP), which provides short-term contracts to beneficiaries from poverty-stricken households. He earns US$ 277 per month for three months. “I receive the same amount in three months on the JCP contract as I did in three and a half years on cash assistance,” Iyad said proudly. Along with over 826,000 other Palestine refugees in Gaza, his family also receives crucial food assistance from the Agency.
Still, Iyad is frustrated. He has US$ 15,000 in debt from his business, and the change in his situation has been dramatic. “Our life is now based on aid we receive,” he said. “I used to provide support to others when I had my own business. Now we’re all waiting in line for our assistance together.” His son Mohammed, who is 25 and recently engaged, has only been able to find temporary work, despite holding a nursing degree.
Despite their circumstances, Iyad and Aida still have hope that things will improve. They try to make light of their situation, lovingly joking about Aida leaving Iyad for a rich man. They hope for a peaceful, more prosperous future, with open borders and economic opportunities that will enable their sons to build homes and raise families. “Peace is the source of every good thing,” Iyad said. “With peace we could do so much more.”