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Gaza becoming unexpected destination for Egyptian jobseekers

After the pound's depreciation against the US dollar, some Egyptian workers are fleeing the difficult economic conditions in their country to work in the Gaza Strip so they can send money to their families back home.
Palestinian labourers work at the construction site of a house, that witnesses said was destroyed by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer, in Johr El-Deek village near the central Gaza Strip July 26, 2015.  The house is rebuilt as part of a Qatari-funded project aimed at reconstructing housing units destroyed during the war. Palestinian Minister of Housing and Public Works Mufeed Al-Hassayna said that the reconstruction process in Gaza has started, almost a year since the 2014 war. More than 100

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Egyptian construction workers often do not earn enough to cover the basic expenses for themselves and their families, such as food, medicine and clothing.

The value of the Egyptian pound fell in half following the government’s decision to float the Egyptian currency in November and stands at about 18 Egyptian pounds to the US dollar. 

This has forced many construction workers to work extra hours; some of them even sought to migrate or obtain a work visa abroad.

Strangely, however, some found jobs in the Gaza Strip, which is reeling under its own massive unemployment and harsh economic conditions due to the Israeli siege.

Since the beginning of the year, some employers, including contractors, in the Gaza Strip have noticed that Egyptian construction workers have been applying for jobs there.

At first this seemed quite odd. Many wondered how these Egyptian men crossed into Gaza and started searching for jobs there.

Contractor Mohammed Younis of the southern Gaza town of Rafah, who employs 10 construction workers, hired two Egyptians in early April.

In order to be allowed to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing, these Egyptian workers usually invoke their kinship relationship to Egyptian women who are living in Gaza and married to a Palestinian national. Egyptians, however, have to be first- or second-degree relatives of these women in Gaza to get a tourist visa to Palestine.

After getting the visa, these Egyptians are forced to wait for long periods to enter Gaza, in light of the repeated closure of the Rafah Crossing. Once in Gaza, they start their job hunt through their relatives and Egyptian connections there.

Al-Monitor met with four Egyptians working in different areas in the Gaza Strip. Moamen Hosni, 34, is from Dakahlia governorate in northeast Egypt. He is the father of three, and his sister Gamila has been married to a Gazan citizen for 15 years and lives in al-Sabra neighborhood, east of Gaza City.

He traveled to Gaza at the beginning of March and is now working as a construction worker with a contractor related to his brother-in-law.

Hosni told Al-Monitor, “At the beginning of this year, I was evicted from an apartment I had rented in Dakahlia because I was unable to pay the monthly rent. I had been working extra hours and taking on multiple odd jobs for two years in a crumbling Egyptian economy.”

He continued, “Then one day my sister who lives in Gaza suggested I move to the Gaza Strip despite the difficult conditions there and even though it was unlikely for me to find a job. But given the currency exchange difference between the Egyptian pound and the shekel, if I did ever find a job there, I would be able to send money to my family back home and pay the monthly rent.”

Hosni works from the early morning hours until the sun sets. He said that in the month of Ramadan he works from midnight until the time of the Suhoor (the meal consumed early in the morning by Muslims before fasting).

“I have been getting a monthly salary of about 1,300 shekels ($368) since I started working in the Gaza Strip. I transfer half of this amount to my wife through money transfer offices in Gaza to pay the rent and cover other bills.”

Mutawaa Dahlouki, 42, and Ayad Bashir, 39, told Al-Monitor that they worked in Libya from September 2014 until August 2016, but they left their jobs there for fear of terrorist groups, especially after the killing of a number of Egyptian workers in Libya and the abduction of others, whose fate is yet to be known. When Dahlouki and Bashir came back home, they found their financial situation to be much worse than when they left.

Dahlouki and Bashir entered the Gaza Strip in February. Bashir’s mother is Palestinian. She lives in the Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip with her husband, whom she had married after his father's death in the 1990s. The two men were able to work as construction workers and as porters with a local house furniture transport company.

Dahlouki told Al-Monitor, “It is currently very difficult for an Egyptian to obtain a visa for Arab countries. Illegal migration to European countries has proved to be deadly and frightening. Moving to a European country is not as easy as it may seem. Bashir and I never thought about coming to Gaza, which has been ravaged by wars. But our search for means of a livelihood brought us here, and we found it safer than Libya.”

Dahlouki and Bashir earn a monthly salary ranging between 1,200 shekels ($340) and 1,500 shekels ($425) each for working for about 12 hours a day. They send money to their families in Minya governorate in Upper Egypt. Dahlouki has a family of six and Bashir of five.

Ahmad Mustafa, 44, traveled to Gaza to stay with his daughter, who is married to a Palestinian. Mustafa works as a home electricity maintenance technician and at night he sells cellphone accessories on a cart, on Omar al-Mukhtar Street in Gaza.

Mustafa is the father of seven children living in Hadaiq al-Qubbah neighborhood in central Cairo. He is working two jobs to be able to provide for the needs of his family, not to mention the tuition fees of three of his children,

He told Al-Monitor that an electrician in Egypt often does not make more than 50 Egyptian pounds ($2.75) a day, which is not enough to cover household expenses.

Salama Abu Zaiter, a member of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, told Al-Monitor, “Egyptians who come to the Gaza Strip at the present time are very few. There are no exact statistics on their number. Official authorities and bodies concerned with workers’ affairs do not provide them with social or legal protection or privileges. There are no labor agreements between the Egyptian and Palestinian sides. They come to Gaza on their own responsibility.”

He added that between 2011 and 2013, dozens of Egyptian workers entered the Gaza Strip through the crossings and tunnels and would sell their goods in Gaza City.

“Egyptians heading today to Gaza have friends or relatives living in the Gaza Strip. They come to work here because of the currency exchange difference between the Israeli shekel and the Egyptian pound. Egyptians are better paid in shekels, despite the higher unemployment rate in Gaza compared with Egypt. However, Egyptian workers have better chances to find work in Gaza if they have good personal and family relations,” Abu Zaiter said.

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