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UNICEF: ‘Nowhere safe to go’ for Rafa’s 600,000 children

Children among the rubble of a house that was destroyed by a bombardment in Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip.© UNICEF/UNI571264/El Baba

A military invasion by Israel into Rafah would pose ‘catastrophic risks’ to the 600,000 children currently taking shelter there, says the UN children’s charity UNICEF. 

The charity estimates there are now around 1.2 million people sheltering in an area that was originally home to some 250,000.

And with what it calls ‘the unfolding humanitarian crisis’ continuing to deteriorate, it says that half the current population are children, many of whom have had had to move several times and are taking shelter in unsafe conditions.

UNICEF adds that given the high concentration of children in Rafah, many of whom are ‘highly vulnerable and at the edge of survival’, with potential evacuation corridors likely mined or littered with unexploded ordnance; and shelter and services in areas for relocation very likely to be limited, there is a high chance of ‘further catastrophe’ for children.

Military operations would result in very high civilian casualties and the few remaining basic services and infrastructure that children and their families need to survive are being totally destroyed.

Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director, said: “More than 200 days of war have taken an unimaginable toll on the lives of children. 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.”

Children, says the charity, are ‘especially vulnerable’ to the devastating impacts of the war in the Gaza Strip, as they are being disproportionately killed and injured, and suffering more acutely from disruptions to healthcare and education and a lack of access to sufficient food and water.

More than 14,000 children have been reportedly killed in this current conflict, according to recent estimates by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Hundreds of thousands of children in Rafah are estimated to have a disability, medical condition or other vulnerability that puts them in even greater jeopardy from the looming military operations in the city. Many of these vulnerabilities, says UNICEF are not mutually exclusive, meaning that the same child could be both injured and sick, or malnourished and an infant.

‘They need to be protected’

“Hundreds of thousands of children who are now cramped into Rafah are injured, sick, malnourished, traumatized, or living with disabilities,” said Russell. “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.”

UNICEF is calling for an immediate and long-lasting humanitarian ceasefire, the immediate release of hostages, and an end to any grave violations against all children.

It is also demanding the continued protection of children and their families if they are unable or unwilling to move following an evacuation order, adding that ‘people should be allowed to move freely to safer areas, but they should never be forced to do so’.

It also wants safe and consistent access for humanitarian organisations and personnel to reach children and their families with life-saving aid, wherever they are in the Gaza Strip.

Author: Simon Weedy

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