Policies implemented by the Egyptian government at the Rafah border crossing to Gaza have “exacerbated” human rights conditions, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.
Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at HRW, says that Egypt has helped Israel turn Gaza into “an open-air prison.”
Whilst many start travelling again after two years of the global coronavirus pandemic, Gaza’s population remains under a 15-year lockdown.
Israeli authorities have blockaded Gaza since 2007, banning Palestinians from travelling through the Erez crossing, which is controlled by the Israeli army, and from operating a seaport or airport in the Strip.
Egypt has exacerbated this blockade by restricting and sometimes fully closing the Rafah Crossing into the Sinai Peninsula, which has become the only route for Palestinians in Gaza to travel in and out.
Following the 2013 toppling of the late President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt exerted control over the Rafah Crossing and kept it closed for five years.
In 2018 restrictions eased, but the crossing remains more tightly sealed than it was before the coup.
According to the watchdog’s statistics, pre-2013 an average of 40,000 people crossed every month whilst in 2021 an average of 15,077 crossed.
If Palestinians are allowed to travel through the Rafah Crossing and onwards through Egypt, they must pay high fees and bribes to try and ease their passage.
Five Palestinians interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they suffered intrusive searches at the crossing and that Egyptian officers had confiscated their belongings.
The seven-hour journey from Rafah to Cairo airport can take up to three days due to the checkpoints and other delays and passengers are often prevented from using their phones.
“Egypt authorities should lift unreasonable obstacles that restrict Palestinians’ rights and allow transit via its territory, subject to security considerations,” said the HRW report.
“And ensure that their decisions are transparent and not arbitrary and take into consideration the human rights of those affected.”
Because of the blockade, unemployment levels in Gaza are among the highest in the world and there is a severe shortage of medical equipment and medicine.