Saturday, 20 September 2014

Fleeing Gaza, only to face treachery and disaster at sea


ABASSAN, Gaza Strip — Samir Asfour, 57, held a mobile phone that never stopped ringing in one hand, a cigarette in the other. His Palestinian passport was sticking out of the chest pocket of his white jalabiya.

“I will travel whenever I can,” he said, speaking nervously outside his home in Abassan, a small town east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. “I need to go and bring back their bodies from wherever they are.”

Mr. Asfour’s son Ahmed, 24, and three of Ahmed’s cousins, ages 17 to 27, are among dozens of young Gazans missing in the Mediterranean. Mr. Asfour last heard from them on Sept. 6, a week after they left Gaza for Egypt. There, they intended to board an illegal migrant ship bound for Italy. Their final destination was not clear, but relatives said they had been heading to Europe in search of jobs and better medical care.

The ship, with about 500 migrants aboard, sank last week off the coast of Malta after it was rammed by human traffickers on another boat during an argument with the migrants, according to survivors. Nearly all aboard are believed to have died.

Mr. Asfour said he had contacted one survivor who made it to Malta, Mamoun Doghmosh, who confirmed that he had seen Ahmed on the boat. Mr. Asfour said he was sure that his son was dead because he was sick and could not swim.

The recent war between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that dominates Gaza, prompted a wave of attempts by Palestinians to reach Europe with the aid of Egyptian smugglers, despite — or perhaps because of — Israeli and Egyptian restrictions on regular movement in and out of the Palestinian coastal enclave.

Fleeing conflict, unemployment and an outlook that many here described as hopeless, at least 1,000 Palestinians have left Gaza in the past three months seeking passage to Europe, according to Palestinians tracking the migration, joining the increasing flow of asylum seekers and migrants from Syria, and from Egypt, Sudan and other parts of Africa who set out from ports in Egypt and Libya. Facebook posts by those who made it safely to Europe encourage others to attempt the journey. more

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