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‘It’s the most inhumane situation’: British-Palestinian doctor fights to get family out of Gaza

‘It’s the most inhumane situation’: British-Palestinian doctor fights to get family out of Gaza

“Imagine phoning your parents, your brothers, sisters, and just wanting to hear they are still alive”, a tearful Dr Salim Ghayyda recalls as he fights to get his family out of the “inhumane” situation in Gaza.

Dr Ghayyda, 51, worries daily for the fate of his elderly parents, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews as they endure the grim conditions in a make-shift refugee camp in the southern Gazan city of Rafah, close to the Egyptian border.

The British-Palestinian, who has lived and worked in the UK for 21 years, has now launched an online fundraiser and is lobbying politicians to get his family to safety over the border.

Dr Ghayyda, who is a paediatric consultant at Raigmore Hospital, in Inverness, said that 31 members of his family are surviving with no running water and little food as raw sewage runs through the streets and they huddle for warmth in tents.

He said: “It’s the most inhumane, dangerous situation that a human being can find themselves in. All of my family’s homes are in the north of Gaza. So all of them had to evacuate due to the bombing and some of them were displaced and uprooted twice, or even three times.

Raw sewage runs through the streets in the southern Gazan city of Rafah (Salim Ghayyda)
Raw sewage runs through the streets in the southern Gazan city of Rafah (Salim Ghayyda)

“Then they’ve all ended up in Rafah, which is as you know the very small town near the Egyptian border. And their living conditions are just unfathomable really.

“Rafah itself is very cold at night because its almost a desert area, its near the Sinai. It’s very cold at night. There is no running water whatsoever, so water is collected in buckets.”

He added: “Food was being grown in Gaza, such as fruits and vegetables, but conditions are very dangerous, so farmers can’t really cultivate the land. Even when my family find food, is it of the poorest ever quality.

Members of Dr Ghayyda’s family huddle for warmth in a tent (Salim Ghayyda)
Members of Dr Ghayyda’s family huddle for warmth in a tent (Salim Ghayyda)

“They said to me, they would never have imagined buying the food they are buying at the moment, but there is no other alternative.”

Israel began its military campaign after the October 7 deadly incursion by Hamas. Since then Israel has launched a ferocious bombing campaign killing more than 25,000 people, mostly women and children.

Just last week, UN judges said that Israel must ensure its forces do not commit genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

Dr Ghayyda’s family don’t have British citizenship so are not permitted to cross Rafah into Egypt, so his father Nabil, in his 80s, mother Dalal, in her 70s, are trapped along with his other family members.

He said: “There have been periods of agonising blackouts when suddenly Israel will just cut communication for a day or two or recently up to a week.

Dr Ghayyda’s father Nabil, in his 80s, is struggling to access medical services (Salim Ghayyda)
Dr Ghayyda’s father Nabil, in his 80s, is struggling to access medical services (Salim Ghayyda)

“I would find myself in such a state that where somebody asks me how I feel and its like somebody has shattered my heart 100 times.

“Of course I am worried about them all the time and every day, every hour, I check on them “are you still alive...are you still alive?”, I couldn’t sleep for weeks and weeks.”

He is desperate to get his family out of the region and wants more support from the government in assisting British citizens who have family trapped in Gaza.

Dr Ghayyda points to refugee schemes for Syrians and Ukrainians escaping conflict, but questions why there has not been a similar push for resettlement of Palestinians from Gaza.

There is no electricity, so any food the family can find it cooked using this small fire (Salim Ghayyda)
There is no electricity, so any food the family can find it cooked using this small fire (Salim Ghayyda)

He said: “For some reason our families do not matter to the British government, almost as if we are ghosts, we are not seen.”

Dr Ghayyda, who was born in Gaza, said another difficult part of the conflict was watching the hospitals he trained and worked in as a young man now be hit by bombs, as his colleagues struggle to treat people.

He added: “I am tortured between me attempting to get them uprotted from their native lands, but also I can’t accept the fate if they stay they will be killed, if not from bombs then from starvation or diseases.

“There is no day I don’t phone them when somebody is not sick...my dad has almost died twice because of a lack of medical care.”

Dr Ghayyda, has worked and lived in Scotland for the past 11 years, with his wife and three children. Coming to the UK in 2003, he previously spent time working at hospitals in England.

He has launched an fundraising appeal on GoFundMe to raise £100,000 to help his family cross the border safely into Egypt. So far just over £15,000 has been pledged.

Click here to contribute to the GoFundMe