Starting over with nothing in Egypt

People crowd a window at a passport terminal

Thousands of families with dual nationality have fled Gaza and Israel’s genocidal violence. 

Abed Rahim Khatib DPA via ZUMA Press

On 2 July, 2022, Ameer Gendaya celebrated his graduation from the faculty of medicine at al-Azhar University in Gaza (AUG).

Little did he know that his path ahead would be forever marked by war, displacement and a fight for survival.

Ameer, 25, is a junior doctor and the only son in his family. After graduating as a doctor, he was supposed to be the breadwinner for seven sisters and an ailing father.

“I had to plan my future carefully. My father’s health is not good. Leaving Gaza for opportunities abroad wasn’t feasible and I had to build my life in Gaza close to my family,” he told The Electronic Intifada.

During his internship, the year after graduation, Ameer worked hard to settle down and make some money.

“I fostered good relationships with doctors and colleagues at every hospital I trained in. I was volunteering in a center that offers medical courses and earning my pocket money,” he said.

In August 2023, Ameer got a job as an administrative assistant at al-Azhar University, drawing on his experience in similar positions as a member of the student council and the International Federation of Medical Students Association-Gaza.

Despite the struggles, like all graduates in Gaza, he was excited to embrace the future and achieve his dreams.

After getting a job at the university, he decided to marry.

On 6 October, he went with his family to his fiancée’s house and proposed.

“After 8 hours of sleep, I woke up to the news of war. I was so upset with my bad luck. I was optimistic though. I thought it would only last for 10-20 days,” he said.

But from the first day, his sister came to the family house with her daughters, as it was too dangerous in the al-Shujaiya neighborhood where she lived, near the eastern boundary of Gaza.

Ameer’s family thought that their house in western Gaza would be “safer,” like in previous escalations. However, the bombings soon started everywhere.

They left their home a week after 7 October and headed directly to al-Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip.

A family smiles around a table

Happier times in Gaza. Ameer is at the front. 

Photo courtesy of the family.

“We had to move there under fire. Out of the 40 houses in our street, 16 houses were bombed over the heads of their habitants,” he remembered. “We left with summer clothes, and everyone took only one change. We thought it would be only for a few days.”

A “few days” became “75 days of horror,” Ameer said.

Starting from scratch

Daily life became harder and not just because of the comprehensive Israeli bombardment. Ameer would get up early to the sound of rockets and risk his life to look for water, food, flour and firewood for his family. The streets were full of garbage and wastewater. Wherever they went, there was rubble, dead bodies and the smell of death.

“I could not volunteer as a doctor. I had to take care of my family. They have nobody but me. I was lucky that my fiancée’s family also evacuated to Nuseirat. I was taking a donkey cart to check on her every three to four days,” Ameer said.

Eventually, just as they got used to life at Nuseirat, the prospect of having to move again loomed.

“The need to leave al-Nuseirat weighed heavily on my heart and terrified me. When I left our house in Gaza City, I knew I was going to my friend’s house. This time, if we were to leave, we were going to the unknown.”

Israel pushed on with its unhinged violence. Ameer and his family had no choice. They left for Rafah, but they were forced to sleep on the streets for two days before they managed to secure themselves a tent.

“It was cold. There were no toilets. We ate or drank as little as possible so we didn’t need to go to the toilet,” he said. “We were 16 individuals. My fiancée’s family, seven members, evacuated later and stayed with us. All 23 people were in this tent.

Later, a neighbor in a nearby tent offered the family a room with a kitchen and toilet, as well as “a corridor for the men to sleep in.”

They stayed there for six days until their names were listed on the Egyptian evacuees’ list – Ameer’s family all hold Egyptian passports – enabling them to pass through the Rafah crossing.

“The family had to separate again. My two married sisters had to leave their husbands in Rafah, as they did not have Egyptian citizenship. I left my fiancée there for the same reason. To leave, they must pay a huge amount of money that we cannot afford.”

Ameer’s family arrived in Egypt with nothing. All their possessions and sources of livelihood had been lost: the house, the car and the business.

Ameer didn’t bring his medical certificate either.

“I cannot work as a doctor in Egypt. I need money to help my family rent an apartment and afford food, water and clothing for 14. Everything is expensive in Egypt. I must save money to evacuate my sisters’ husbands whose daughters have been crying every day for their fathers.”

They are now navigating the complex process of obtaining new documents for all family members. Money is required at every step. His sister Dana, a fourth-year medical student, needs support to continue her education, and his sister Noor, a first-year student, needs to start again. The paperwork for their certificates also requires money.

With no prospect for work, Ameer started a fundraising campaign to help him support his family.

Thousands of families in Gaza have evacuated to Egypt, mostly dual nationals, but also those who could manage the necessary money for bribes to border officials.

Like Ameer, they all need to start again, building lives destroyed in the genocide Israel is visiting upon Gaza.

Sewar Elejla was formerly a doctor at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza. She is now a Canada-based researcher.