Those Who Hope for a Better Life from Gaza

"The boat capsized, and two guys got stuck underneath. We were unable to rescue them because everyone was drowning just like them. It was too dark, and I was sure I was going to die. My life flashed before my eyes as I was struggling to keep my head above water," said Yahya Barbakh, a Palestinian who recounted his attempts to flee Gaza by sea.

A Palestinian refugee ship
Illustration. A Palestinian refugee ship sinks while trying to enter Greek territory. (Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis)

ACTNews, GAZA – Israeli Zionist attacks have made Palestinians live in great fear. Since 2014, hundreds of families in Gaza have risked their lives to leave Gaza in hopes of a better life on another continent.

Yahya Barbakh (27) told his story. He is a Palestinian from Khan Younis in South Gaza. Yahya fled to Europe in November of last year. His journey, however, ends with the deaths of his friends.

The young man had returned from Turkey a few days earlier after a failed attempt to migrate to Europe in hopes of a safe place to live and better living conditions. The boat that carried Barbakh and nine other Palestinians from the Gaza Strip capsized on 5 November as it sailed from the Turkish port city of Bodrum to Greece, killing two people and leaving one missing. 

"Two months ago, I decided that I had to do something about the miserable life we are living. I had already done all I could. I have worked as a driver, as a barber, and taken every opportunity to work and live, but, at some point, all of this was just not enough for me and my family to live in dignity," said Barbakh, a father of two.

The 27-year-old said the family had sold his mother's and his wife’s gold and had borrowed money from his sister in preparation for what he had imagined would be the start of a decent life. 

To reach Cairo's airport on the first leg of his journey, Barbakh had to pay around $480 for a visa and ticket, and another $500 for tanseeq, or "coordination," a term for the bribes that ease the crossing from Gaza through Rafah into Egypt. The money is usually collected by mediators, or go-betweens, in Gaza then transferred to Egyptian officers they are in contact with.

When he arrived in the neighborhood, Barbakh found dozens of people, including children, from different nationalities, mostly Syrian and Palestinian, waiting for the traffickers to help them migrate.

According to Barbakh, traffickers usually threaten migrants by calling the police when they refuse to board and force them on boats at gunpoint. 

"Not long after we started sailing, the wind blew the boat, and water started streaming in. We panicked and used everything we had to remove the water. Some of us took off our woolen shirts and jackets to soak the water and wring it out back into the sea."

Barbakh helplessly watched two people, including his friend, Nasrallah al-Farra, who had planned for the journey with him, immediately drown after the boat overturned.

"The boat capsized, and two guys got stuck underneath. We were unable to rescue them because everyone was drowning just like them. It was too dark, and I was sure I was going to die. My life flashed before my eyes as I was struggling to keep my head above water,” he said.

 

About two-and-a-half hours later, Barbakh passed out and woke up on a Turkish coastguard ship.

"I woke up and saw only one man lying beside me. I started shouting and gesturing with my hands at the coastguards, trying to tell them that there were ten people on the boat," he said.

"I only calmed down when I saw them pulling out more people alive from the water. By the end of the day, only seven of us were alive. They pulled out two bodies, and one person remains missing," he added.

Although Barbakh knew that the journey would not be easy, he did not expect that he would end up in Gaza again. "We don't have any future here. My father is dead, and I have to make a living for myself and my family, including my mother and siblings. I thought that, when I arrived in Europe, I would work in any profession and send my family money."

According to the World Bank, the unemployment rate in Gaza is roughly 50 percent, while more than half of its population lives in poverty. Following Israel's military campaign on Gaza in May, 62 percent of Gaza's population are now food insecure.[]