A little bit less worry, a little bit less fear for Gaza’s displaced
Shukri Ali is a Palestine refugee who was born and lived his whole life in Shujjaiya, a neighbourhood in eastern Gaza city heavily affected during the 2014 conflict. He and his family had to flee their home during the hostilities. When they returned after the ceasefire in August 2016, they found their house totally destroyed and the neighbourhood severely damaged. For two years, the family lived the life of the internally displaced in Gaza, moving from one over-crowded rented home to another. They were only able to pay rent thanks to UNRWA support. A few weeks ago, the family finally completed the reconstruction of their house – also with payments from UNRWA – and moved back to their old, still largely damaged neighbourhood.
Shukri said, “I used to work as a labourer, but since the blockade was imposed [on Gaza], I can barely find work. If UNRWA did not support us through rental subsidies, we would not have known where to go and what to do. Now we are back home, and I feel relieved. But I also see and can barely bear the sadness in the eyes of many of my relatives who are still waiting to rebuild and reconstruct their houses, which they lost in the conflict.”
Over two years after the open-ended ceasefire commenced on 26 August 2014, most people and institutions in the Gaza Strip are still struggling to cope with their immense losses, according to the Gaza: Two Years After report by the UN Country Team in the State of Palestine. Approximately 18,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged during the conflict, affecting over 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza. Another 153,000 homes sustained damage and were categorized as inhabitable – meaning that families continued to live in their homes with broken windows, doors or walls. Around 70 per cent of the affected persons are Palestine refugees. A total of 142,071 Palestine refugee homes were impacted in the hostilities; 9,117 were totally destroyed and 5,417 suffered severe damage.
Etimad Al Ejla, Shukri’s wife, could not hide her smile when she explained how she felt when she could finally move back to her old, now newly reconstructed home. The two-year long displacement had increased her feelings of social and economic insecurity by disrupting her former communal support network. Every month, Etimad’s said, she was worried that the family would not be able to pay the rent and would end up in the street. With the reconstructed house, these fears were replaced by feelings of stability and security in the very unstable, insecure Gaza Strip.
As of beginning of November, UNRWA distributed over US$ 222.4 million to families whose homes were damaged or destroyed. Besides payments for repair and reconstruction works, UNRWA provides displaced refugee families with quarterly rental subsidy payments. With this money they can rent an alternative home while awaiting the reconstruction and repair of their houses.
All eligible refugee families received the third quarter transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA) payments for 2016. Still, UNRWA is in critical need of US$ 5.5 million to provide families with the final payment for this year. Rental subsidy payments are a pivotal coping mechanism for those who are still displaced. Without this assistance, families risk spending the coming winter in damaged half-repaired homes or will have to go deeply into debt to try and pay rent by themselves.