Palestinian expatriates receive Facebook messages every day from relatives and friends in Gaza pleading with them to help one of their young people travel to Egypt or get him a visa to anywhere or buy him a ticket to Latin America or Asia where an entry visa is not required.
Many of the pleas are motivated by heart-wrenching reasons. In Gaza, there are about 200,000 university graduates, in all specialties, who are forced by need to eke out their daily living working as itinerant sellers or doing back-breaking jobs for little money.
Those who thought themselves lucky to have escaped to Egypt or Turkey find themselves piled up in Cairo or Istanbul waiting for their passports to return from Gaza. They sent their passports to Gaza so their families could buy them visas to “friendly” Turkey.
Often, the money for visas is borrowed or raised through contributions by members of the extended family. Once they are in Istanbul, these “lucky” Gazans find themselves stuck, not able to move on to their intended final destinations in Europe. Life then becomes difficult.
Very often they can’t find jobs in the exhausted Turkish job market and they don’t have enough funds to pay for the return trip to Gaza. Those stuck in Egypt are often unable to pay the penalty for overstaying their permit and therefore cannot leave the country.
Young Gazans stuck in Turkey are hoping to make enough money to pay smugglers to get them to the Greek side. Those who can get the funds are surprised to find surviving in the Greek market almost impossible. The Greeks are no angels and often the refugees must pay dearly to get to Europe.
Greece has its own problems and, were it not for the quick reaction of international agencies, which went to the aid of the refugees stuck in Greece, a human disaster would have been inevitable. Amid deadly cold weather, hundreds of Syrian families and other refugees found themselves crammed in small summer tents on top of almost bare and uninhabited islands. As donations and contributions run dry, international relief agencies are finding it extremely hard to continue their humanitarian work.
On his way to Europe, the Gazan refugee often falls victim to unscrupulous schemes and heartless gangs who prey on human misery. Here, Gazans are not alone. They join thousands of other refugees from countries governed by corrupt thieves. The escape routes taken by these poor people are often dangerous, especially when these routes intersect security checkpoints weary of terrorists and their movements.
In the Sahara stretch between Egypt and Libya, human tragedies play out every day. I heard blood-curdling stories of migrants being lost in the desert for days, abandoned by smugglers, and whose only wish is no longer to get to the seacoast but just to get a drop of water.
On the path of tears of illegal migration, there are many service providers. The poor wretches can do nothing but buy these services even when they know that they might lead them to death. The unscrupulous service providers are not always whom you expect.
The Turks, for example, know that buyers in Gaza of entry visas to Turkey intend to migrate and so do the Egyptians and the Greeks and the Malaysians. As soon as a refugee arrives in Kuala Lumpur en route to another destination, he’s asked to pay residency fees or exit and re-entry fees.
What is surprising and sad at the same time is that these markets for refugee traffic are in Muslim countries, not Christian and not Jewish, but Muslim countries of oppression and human ingratitude. It’s a great paradox that Muslim refugees prefer to migrate to democratic countries with Christian majorities because they are sure to be met with kindness and compassion.
It is also painful to note that many of the middlemen in this trafficking in human misery are connected to the official system in their respective countries. To add to the paradoxes, officialdom in those countries is often the loudest in voicing an unwavering devotion to the Palestinian cause and boundless empathy towards Gaza and its inhabitants.
To top everything, it is difficult to ignore that the first guilty parties in this tragedy are Palestinian officials. These people never stop lamenting the fate of Palestine while giving fiery speeches of resistance. In deeds, however, it is a different story.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, for example, is fighting the “deal of the century” by closing more horizons in the face of Palestinians or by announcing that the Palestinian Authority has come to an almost total agreement with the Israeli internal security agency Shabak. It is as if Abbas and the others are doing their best to depopulate Gaza, drive the educated youth out and let families become extinct.
That way, everybody is relieved of the problem and Gaza would be turned into a beach and vacationing spot for the Palestinian officials and their families and friends, as well as for the companies that would be offered the opportunity to exploit the natural gas off Gaza’s coast. Hamas would benefit because it would be spared the embarrassment of admitting its failure in managing Gaza’s affairs and of abandoning its broken dream of establishing a mini-state for the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip.
The more Gazans cry for help, the more they are oppressed politically and ignored by the so-called free world. Their plight will worsen because, in the grand evil schemes of their fate, they must reach a point where any deal with Israel would seem to be the ultimate and only lifebuoy available to them in an angry ocean.
Adly Sadeq is a Palestinian writer and political analyst.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.