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– I’m quite shaky now

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– I’m quite shaky now

SHOCKED: Jan Egeland says he has not experienced anywhere else in the world where it is more difficult to carry out aid work. Photo: The Norwegian Refugee Council / The Norwegian Refugee Council

The Norwegian Refugee Council’s secretary-general traveled to Gaza on Tuesday. He says people are fighting over the food and that hundreds of people desperately grabbed hold of the team to ask for help to get out.

Tuesday 27 February at 20:42

– I am quite shaken now, after the meeting with these people. They have desperate appeals to help them out and protect them. We can’t do that, says Jan Egeland on the phone to VG from Gaza.

He has just visited a school where the Norwegian Refugee Council carries out aid work.

Before that, on his way across the border from Egypt into Rafah, he says he witnessed a convoy of trucks being looted before his team’s eyes.

– I am completely shocked by the conditions here. People fight like crazy over mattresses and sacks of food. There is no doubt that it feels like you are in free fall. There are one and a half million people in Rafah, and very little aid is now coming in.

Palestinians in a food queue in Rafah Photo: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters / NTB

Palestinians in a food queue in Rafah Photo: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters / NTB

Palestinians in a food queue in Rafah Photo: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters / NTB

Internally displacing Palestinians in the tent camps in Rafah. Photo: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters / NTB

Tent camp for internally displaced Palestinians in Rafah. Photo: Hatem Ali / AP / NTB

– Have crossed a line

In the past, the Norwegian Refugee Council has managed to get aid shipments into closed trucks, so they will not be looted, he says.

– They are looted by desperate people – young boys jump on in a hurry and take off to friends and acquaintances, he says.

– Law and order have broken down in a population that is now so far past the breaking point. A limit has been crossed here with how much a population under siege and bombardment can withstand.

In RAFAH: Jan Egeland visits the refugee aid team and internally displaced Palestinians. Photo: The Norwegian Refugee Council / The Norwegian Refugee Council

In RAFAH: Jan Egeland visits the refugee aid team and internally displaced Palestinians. Photo: The Norwegian Refugee Council / The Norwegian Refugee Council

In RAFAH: Jan Egeland visits the refugee aid team and internally displaced Palestinians. Photo: The Norwegian Refugee Council / The Norwegian Refugee Council

Egeland has been secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council since 2013. Before that, he was, among other things, deputy secretary-general of the UN, secretary-general of the Norwegian Red Cross, and diplomat at the Foreign Ministry – where he was central to the negotiation of the Oslo agreement.

But he says the situation in Gaza now is unlike anything else he has seen:

– It is extreme. I have not experienced anywhere else in the world where it is so difficult to carry out aid work. Our business here is much more difficult to run than in Ukraine.

Also read: Biden: Hoping for a ceasefire by next Monday

Difficult to reach

The Norwegian Refugee Council is one of the largest aid programmes, beyond the UN program UNRWA.

It has been hit hard after several of the biggest donor countries put aid on hold after Israel accused twelve of UNRWA’s 13,000 staff in the Gaza Strip of taking part in the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October.

Palestinians outside their destroyed home in Rafah, on 27 February. Photo: SAID KHATIB / AFP / NTB

Palestinians search through the ruins of a bombed home in Rafah, on February 27. Photo: SAID KHATIB / AFP / NTB

Palestinians search through the ruins of a bombed home in Rafah, on February 27. Photo: SAID KHATIB / AFP / NTB

– There is no doubt that there is now a complete breakdown of trust between Israel and UNRWA, which is the most important logistics arm for Gaza, says Egeland.

That makes the situation in southern Gaza increasingly desperate, he says.

In the north, he says it is absolutely terrible.

– In the north, our own remaining employed aid workers have not even managed to feed their families with the little help that has come.

Food distribution in Beit Lahia, north of the Gaza Strip, on 26 February. Photo: – / AFP / NTB

Food distribution in Beit Lahia, north of the Gaza Strip, on 26 February. Photo: – / AFP / NTB

Food distribution in Beit Lahia, north of the Gaza Strip, on 26 February. Photo: – / AFP / NTB

Food distribution in Beit Lahia, north of the Gaza Strip, on 26 February. Photo: – / AFP / NTB

Food distribution in Beit Lahia, north of the Gaza Strip, on 26 February. Photo: – / AFP / NTB

150 per latrine without water

At the school Egeland visited on Tuesday, he says almost 3,000 people live squeezed together in two school buildings.

– Over 50 adults and children sleep on the floor in a small classroom. There are newborn children, pregnant women, severely disabled people and the elderly. There are approximately 150 people per latrine, without water. People should try to take a small water bottle with them if they go to the toilet.

He describes how hundreds of desperate people tried to grab hold of him and his team to ask for help.

– They say “you have to help us out, we can’t be here, we want to die here”. It is utter madness that the world has allowed a population of largely innocent women and children to be subjected to bombardment and starvation since mid-October.

– Not giving up

Egeland says the Norwegian Refugee Council is desperately working to expand its operations, but that getting things through Rafah is a bottleneck.

– Jordan has managed to send in some airdrops of food, but the Israelis do not accept it from anyone else. We are not giving up, we have 60 heroes and refugee helpers here. They help people every day

He does not believe the ground invasion Israel has said it is planning for in Rafah will become a reality.

– Rafah is the size of a tenth of Oslo, and there are 1.5 million people here. I really don’t think the Americans and the rest of the world can allow you to plow through with a military force, it would be a chaotic bloodbath.

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