As the threat of an Israeli ground attack in Rafah grows, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is gravely concerned about the impact another mass displacement will have on Gaza’s already overcrowded shelters. With their homes destroyed and Gaza’s shelters packed to the brim, more than 1.3 million Palestinians, six times the number pre-October 7, are now sheltering in the area. Elsewhere in North Gaza, hundreds of thousands find themselves in a critical situation given significant restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian assistance. In response, the IRC is partnering with Palestinian NGO Juzoor to provide basic services in more than 20 shelters throughout Gaza, including healthcare, infection prevention, cash assistance and mental health services.

Recent Israeli airstrikes on Rafah are forcing people to flee yet again, pushing people to seek refuge in Deir Al-Balah and nearby areas, which are not equipped to handle large numbers of displaced people. These movements are happening amid growing food insecurity and hunger, tight restrictions on aid entry and the looming threat of a ground assault in Rafah that would prove catastrophic.

The situation for displaced Palestinians has reached a breaking point. Overcrowded shelters now far exceed their capacity as they deal with critical shortages of shelter, clean water, food, and medicine. Women and girls are also facing a severe shortage of menstrual hygiene supplies putting them at risk of infection and further mental stress.

Arvind Das, Team Lead for the Gaza crisis at the IRC, says,

“Overcrowding, lack of privacy and inadequate access to basic services are increasing levels of anxiety, fear and distress amongst the more than 1 million people now kettled into Rafah. We have seen reports of up to 15 people sharing a single tent. The living conditions are simply unimaginable. Makeshift shelters, cobbled together from whatever materials can be found, old cloth, plastic and wood fall short of offering protection against the current weather conditions. 

"In some shelters there is only one toilet for every 700 people. Meaning women, children and the elderly have to wait in line for hours on end, use buckets or practice open defecation. For those who are sick the situation is dire with the vast majority having no access to critical medical services.”

In response to the crisis the IRC has recently partnered with Palestinian NGO Juzoor for Health and Social Development, in order to address health and mental health needs of those displaced, and to provide access to basic services for children and families inside shelters across Gaza. Through this project, IRC and Juzoor will deploy mobile health teams to provide comprehensive primary healthcare and psychosocial support, including disease management, maternal and child care, along with building the capacities of health teams on infection prevention during emergencies. The project will also offer cash assistance and winterisation kits to improve living and health conditions of families and provide children with the care and support they need to overcome trauma. This partnership will also provide training and joint activities to extend our reach to more shelters and displaced individuals in Gaza.