Humanitarian organizations say the Egypt-Gaza border is still effectively closed. (Mohamed Hamouda/APOLLO IMAGES/IRIN)
RAFAH (IRIN) - It is 1pm and the terminal building on the Palestinian side of Gaza's only crossing into Egypt -- Rafah -- is empty. The desks at passport control are not even manned. Outside the terminal, a small group of Palestinians sit on benches shaded by trees waiting for the border to open. They have been waiting for three and a half hours.
Among them is Samer, a pharmacist who works with Medecins Sans Frontieres in Gaza. Her son Anwar, age five, has rickets. He has a referral from Gaza's ministry of health to see an orthopedic surgeon in Cairo. She explains that the restrictions on the health service imposed by Israel's blockade mean they have to travel to receive the treatment he needs.
They arrived early in the morning anticipating crowds but found none. They passed through Palestinian passport control quickly and have been waiting for the Egyptian border to open since 8am.
"It doesn't make any difference that I work for an international health organization or that I have a huge file of papers proving that Anwar has referral for treatment in Egypt. I'm still worried we'll be turned away," Samer said.
According to a deal brokered by the US in 2005 when Israel withdrew its forces and settlers from Gaza, this crossing should only operate when European Union monitors are present. The EU monitors withdrew when Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 and the border was closed to Palestinian travelers.
Following Israel's attack on the Freedom Flotilla and the deaths of Turkish passengers on board the Mavi Marmara in May 2010, the crossing reopened to humanitarian cases on the orders of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Only those with a medical referral outside Gaza, students with places at foreign universities, foreign visa holders and foreign passport holders have permission to pass. Humanitarian organizations, including the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), say the border is still effectively closed.
Hamada al-Bayari, OCHA's humanitarian affairs analyst in Gaza, said "Not all medical cases are allowed to cross the border, only those with a thick wad of documents proving they need treatment outside Gaza. And even if they do have referrals from the ministry of health, they can still be turned away. At least thirty to fifty people are sent back every day."
"The crossing should be open for all civilians to come and go freely -- that is a human right," al-Bayari said.
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