The United Nations Refugee and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said in a special report that one year after the start of the Great March of Return in Gaza, scores of people, particularly young men, have been killed by Israeli forces and many others injured, some of whom are in need of long term medical and psychosocial assistance.
According to OCHA figures, as of March 22, 2019, 195 Palestinians (including 41 children) have been killed and close to 29,000 people injured. The United Nations has expressed concerns about the excessive use of force deployed by the Israeli forces contrary to applicable standards under international law.
With information collected through its operations and testimonies of staff and beneficiaries, UNRWA said in a special report it was particularly concerned about and deeply affected by the death of 13 of its students, the injury of 227 others, most of them aged between 13 and 15 years, and the likely inability of injured students to keep up with their studies, especially in cases of prolonged absences.
“Since the largely peaceful demonstrations started a year ago, not only did nearly 200 people die, but thousands of others have suffered injuries that will scar them forever,” said UNRWA Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Matthias Schmale. “The tragic and unnecessary loss of lives, the inability of injured people to work or go back to school and the long-term psychological implications of this violence will affect them for many years to come, adding to their despair.”
“The ongoing violence and its tragic effects have put a strain on the entire health and social system in Gaza, including the services provided by UNRWA. The toll on children has been particularly high, with twenty per cent (533) of persons treated for GMR-related injuries in UNRWA health clinics being under 18 years of age, most of them boys (95 per cent),” the report said.
In addition to the physical impact, the GMR-related violence has also had a significant effect on the psychosocial well-being and mental health of Palestine refugees in Gaza, particularly for those who have witnessed the violence and for the families that have experienced casualties as a result of it.
“We are doing all we can to absorb the enormous pressure on our health and other facilities,” says Schmale. “However, we should remember that, although the ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations are occurring within the context of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and over 12 years of an Israeli blockade, the larger context is that of a dire situation for Palestine refugees that needs a just and lasting solution.”