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NGOs sound alarm as Rafah faces intensifying conflict amid new relocation orders

NGOs sound alarm as Rafah faces intensifying conflict amid new relocation orders
7 May 2024 09:14

ISIDORA CIRIC (ABU DHABI)

The humanitarian situation in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, has reached a critical juncture as Israeli forces intensify their military operations. On Monday, civilians in eastern Rafah received relocation orders to move to a designated “humanitarian zone” in Al-Mawasi, an area reportedly under expansion even as other parts of Gaza remain off-limits due to similar orders. This directive came amid a night of severe bombardment that claimed the lives of at least 22 people, including eight children, and disrupted the only operational aid crossing, Kerem Shalom, killing three, Save the Children said on Monday.

Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International, expressed deep concern over the escalating crisis. “We hoped this day would never come. For weeks, we have been warning that there is no feasible evacuation plan that lawfully displaces and protects civilians. The international community has looked away. They cannot look away now,” she said in a statement. Ashing emphasised the dire consequences of these developments not just on the safety of over 600,000 children but also on the humanitarian efforts that are vital for the survival of Gaza’s population.

The relocation orders and ongoing military escalation pose a significant threat to the critical infrastructure and coordination efforts essential for delivering aid, the NGO added. “The aid response is concentrated in Rafah, the only crossing permitted for aid agencies like Save the Children,” Ashing explained. “We now see the coordination system established there being at risk of disruption - the warehouses, the vehicles, the offices, the staff accommodation.”

With the region’s safety nets under threat and no viable safe zones remaining in Gaza, the forced displacement from Rafah coupled with the jeopardised aid response could result in catastrophic outcomes for many vulnerable children and families, sealing a dire fate as the conflict intensifies.

UNICEF joined the calls for a ceasefire on Monday, warning that among the congested streets and makeshift shelters, 600,000 children find themselves on the brink of catastrophe.

Catherine Russell, the Executive Director of UNICEF, said in a statement: “More than 200 days of war have taken an unimaginable toll on the lives of children,” she says. “Rafah is now a city of children, who have nowhere safe to go in Gaza. If large-scale military operations start, not only will children be at risk from the violence, but also from chaos and panic, and at a time where their physical and mental states are already weakened.”

Rafah, originally home to 250,000 people, has seen its numbers swell following evacuation orders directing civilians to move southwards. Now, it houses approximately half of its population in children - many displaced multiple times and sheltering in unstable conditions such as tents, UNICEF said. The potential for violence is alarmingly high, with evacuation corridors likely compromised by mines or unexploded ordnance. Moreover, any relocation areas lack sufficient shelter and essential services, posing additional risks.

The situation for children in Rafah is heart-wrenchingly precarious. Estimates suggest that about 65,000 children live with disabilities, and another 78,000 are infants under two years of age, with almost 8,000 of them acutely malnourished, according to UNICEF. Infectious diseases affect almost nine in ten children under five, and nearly all are in dire need of mental health and psychosocial support, the organisation added.

These children’s vulnerabilities are often compounded, with many experiencing multiple health issues simultaneously, such as being both injured and sick, or malnourished and an infant. Russell emphasised the urgent need for protection: “Hundreds of thousands of children who are now cramped into Rafah are injured, sick, malnourished, traumatised, or living with disabilities,” she stated. “Many have been displaced multiple times, and have lost homes, parents, and loved ones. They need to be protected along with the remaining services that they rely on, including medical facilities and shelter.”

In response to the escalating crisis, UNICEF has joined other humanitarian organisations in calling for immediate actions: an enduring humanitarian ceasefire, the protection of civilians and critical infrastructure like hospitals and shelters, and safe, unrestricted access for aid workers to deliver crucial support.

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