A group of Palestinian students from Gaza has issued a desperate plea for help as they face the prospect of losing their scholarships in Europe due to a long waiting list for leaving the besieged enclave.
The 14 students successfully obtained European visas to study at various universities in Hungary, but have not been able to receive exit permits to leave the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing.
If the permits are not issued by the end of the week, they face the likelihood of joining the 56 percent of graduates who are currently unemployed in Gaza.
Yussef, 25, who did not want his full name published, lives in Rafah, home to Gaza’s border crossing with Egypt.
He has been offered the chance to pursue a master’s degree in biology at the University of Szeged but fears he will never make it there.
“Many friends my age are university graduates with no future… The restriction on our movement is really killing our spirit,” Yussef, who aspires to be a biotechnologist, said.
Since 2007, a land, air and sea blockade has been enforced on Gaza by Israeli and, partially, by Egyptian authorities in response to Hamas coming to power – imposing strict limitations on the movement of both people and goods.
Patients are often denied medical treatment in hospitals outside Gaza and hundreds of Palestinian students are prevented from pursuing education abroad.
Yussef describes the scholarship as a life-changing opportunity.
“I was so excited at first to find a full scholarship that covers the area I’m interested in,” he said.
“But now, I feel sad, frustrated and anxious. I have just one week to be in attendance before I lose my place and that is a scenario I just can’t bear to think about.”
The Rafah crossing has been open since May – the longest period of time Egyptian authorities have allowed it to remain open from both sides in recent years.
However, due to thousands of Palestinians trying to make the crossing, the students face several months’ wait.
In December 2017, authorities in Gaza announced a registration system to apply for exit permits through Rafah, citing “increasing numbers of people wishing or expected to travel”.
“The system aims to regulate the movement of travel of citizens and foreigners through the Rafah crossing under the crisis … and provides equal opportunities for registration of travel,” Gaza authorities stated on a website.
Also anxiously awaiting his fate is Mohamed Alhayek, 24, who published the group’s plea for help on social media.
A Gaza City resident, he has been offered a place at the University of Debrecen to pursue a master’s degree in Computer Science.
“One of the biggest hardships we face is getting out of Gaza,” said Mohamed, who hopes to one day launch his own Gaza-based company specialising in data science services.
“I want to make a change in the place where I live. We are occupied by Israeli forces and I believe education is the most powerful and effective weapon we can use to defend our country.”
This sentiment was shared by his brother Mahmoud, who was lucky enough to leave Gaza four years ago at the age of 18 to study civil engineering in Turkey, where he also works to pay for his education.
“I feel free here. I’m not faced with the daily challenges I experienced in Gaza. When I first arrived, having access to electricity 24 hours a day was a real novelty,” said Mahmoud.
However, his freedom comes at a price. He has not been able to visit his family since moving to Turkey because the risk of being unable to return to his studies is too high.
His goal is to return to Gaza as a university lecturer to help others continue their education.
A future offering little hope has led to a disenchanted youth, believes journalist and political analyst Saud Aburamadan, who was born and still lives in Gaza.
“I have watched young children grow into adults who have never left the Strip and it is hugely problematic for their mental wellbeing.
“It is why hundreds of young people protest each Friday – because they have lost all hope for a better future and this is the only thing they can do,” he said, referring to the Great March of Return protests.
The weekly protests, in which more than 170 Palestinians have been killed since they began at the end of March, aim to highlight Palestinians’ right of return to their villages from which they were expelled to make way for the foundation of Israel. This right is enshrined in United Nations Resolution 194 adopted in December 1948.
“We are not just talking about 14 students, we are talking about hundreds. They must go, it’s their right, and as soon as possible, otherwise they will lose their future and their hope.”