“Let us work together to replace despair with HOPE, fear with human SECURITY and humiliation with DIGNITY”

UNRWA: ‘There are not enough body bags for the dead in Gaza’

Aid groups warn an Israeli ground offensive could hasten an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza as Israeli forces, supported by U.S. warships, positioned themselves along the enclave’s border on Monday and drilled for what Israel said would be a broad campaign to dismantle the militant group.

A week of relentless airstrikes has demolished neighbourhoods in Gaza City and elsewhere in the Strip but failed to stop militant rocket fire into Israel. The conflict has so far killed over 4,000 people on both sides and injured many more. Trapped Gaza residents say there is no safe place to go.

As Antonino Brusa, the Human Resources director of UNRWA told Vatican Radio, at least 14 UNRWA employees in Gaza have lost their lives, UN shelters have been bombarded and at the moment, at the Jordan headquarters of the United Nations Agency for Relief and Works for Palestine refugees in the Near East, all they know about their Gaza office is that it has been destroyed and its archives have been burnt to the ground.

Like over a million other Gaza residents, Brusa said UNRWA’s Human Resources staff have relocated to the south. “We are aware that some of them are safe,” he says but contact is very difficult.

Confirming it has been over a week that there is no electricity, no water, no fuel, he said it is difficult for them to recharge their telephone and too risky to go out during the bombings.

He noted that 12 international staff members in Gaza have managed to relocate to the south where UMRWA has two operations and points out the infrastructures are overwhelmed with thousands and thousands of people who have sought shelter there.

“At the moment our international staff have one litre of water per person per day,” he said, pointing out they are lucky because most displaced persons don’t even have that.

Describing a situation in which people are deprived of their basic needs, Brusa said currently the most urgent one is drinking water. He also highlighted the fact that for the first time, UN buildings are being hit by airstrikes.

Unprecedented situation

“It is unprecedented in the history of UNRWA, that buildings that have the UN flag and where many people are sheltering to seek protection from the bombardments, have had to evacuate and have been hit,” he said.

What we find very disturbing now, he continued, “is that even hospitals have been asked to evacuate and that equates to a death sentence because we know very well that a patient cannot leave the hospital. There are pregnant women about to deliver, there are very sick people who have been injured in the bombardments, and they cannot move.”

And the doctors, Brusa continued, say “We are not going to move. We are not going to leave our patients, we will die with them.”

Messages from Gaza

The HR manager was visibly moved as he told us of the dramatic messages received from UNRWA’s local staff in Gaza. 

“She was in the middle of Gaza and she said ‘I cannot relocate, first of all, because I’m not going to leave behind my elderly parents, I cannot move with young children and my extended family, but also because this is the eighth emergency in the last seven years: we are tired of all of this!’”, she wrote.

“We prefer to die with dignity rather than, again, seeking to escape to the south.”

The messages we are receiving, Brusa added, speak of exhaustion, fear and resignation. They ask for prayers in the knowledge that none of us will “succeed in stopping the bombing.”  

“You’re not even succeeding in getting us the water we need, the food and the medical supplies,” the messages say, so “at least pray that this is over for us, that we die as soon as possible, that we are not subject to this prolonged torture.”

Confirming that there is no safe place to go in Gaza at the moment, Brusa said that since last Thursday, 14 UNRWA staff members have been killed and he suspects that number could be much higher. Unfortunately, he added it is impossible to verify whatever information.

“What we do know is that several of our installations, including a medical centre, schools, relief and social service centres have been hit, they are destroyed, they no longer exist.”

Brusa confirmed that almost half of Gaza’s entire population – about 1 million people – is now displaced. He explained that some 600,000 internally displaced persons are currently in Khan Younis and Rafah in the middle and the south of the Gaza Strip. Of these, about 400,000 are in UN facilities that are struggling to meet their needs.

They are so crowded, he said, it’s not even thinkable we can provide any psychological support or assistance, and he expressed sorrow and frustration for not being able to assist or protect so many others in need.

He revealed that at the time of the evacuation orders, there were 160,000 internally displaced persons sheltered in 57 UNRWA premises – including some designated emergency shelters. Now the deadline has passed, he continued: “We don’t know what has happened to them.”

Not enough body bags for the dead in Gaza

What we do know, Busa said, is  “that there are not enough body bags for the dead in Gaza at the moment. They don’t even know how to bury these people, so diseases will spread rapidly.”

This of course, he added, will be compounded by the lack of clean water.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health and other sources, in nine days 2,329 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, Brusa said, but it is impossible to verify these figures which are certainly much higher.

Also, he continued “Our appeal is to respect hospitals.”

Pointing out that humanitarian law should be respected in times of war, Brusa said “You cannot ask patients to evacuate the hospital because they cannot.”

That’s why doctors are describing evacuation orders as “a death sentence for these people; this is why we are getting the messages that say ‘please finish us soon; let’s get it over as soon as possible, but don’t prolong the suffering.’”

By Linda Bordoni
2023-10-17T10:11:45+00:00 October 17th, 2023|Categories: News|