Egypt: Palestinian Children Who Fled Gaza’s War Haunted by Nightmares and Anxiety

Egypt: Palestinian Children Who Fled Gaza’s War Haunted by Nightmares and Anxiety

Egypt: Palestinian Children Who Fled Gaza’s War Haunted by Nightmares and Anxiety

Egypt: Palestinian Children Who Fled Gaza’s War Haunted by Nightmares and Anxiety

Palestinian children who fled to Egypt from the war in Gaza are haunted by the horrors they experienced and are struggling with nightmares, anger, bedwetting and anxiety, with Save the Children calling for an urgent increase in mental health and psychosocial support. 

Since the war started in Gaza on 7 October more than 60,000 Palestinians, including over 5,500 medical evacuees, have crossed the border into Egypt seeking refuge and healthcare. 

In the past three months, Save the Children has received more than 500 requests from Palestinians in Egypt for mental health and psychosocial support. Almost 90% of these requests were for children, with parents concerned that their children are still triggered by loud noises, cannot sleep or even go to the toilet alone or are withdrawn and not showing any signs of emotion.  

Prolonged exposure to war and uncertainty can cause a state of ‘toxic shock’ but children in conflict show remarkable resilience and can recover with appropriate assistance such as mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), child friendly spaces where they can play,  and education programmes.   

Waleed*, 66,  from Gaza,  now lives with his wife and five of their children in Cairo. His children have lost cousins and other loved ones in the war and their mother says they were always asking who was going to be the first one of them to die.  

 Waleed said although he’s tried to help his children, they still need more support to recover:  

[The war has] impacted my children’s mental health. While they were fleeing and being displaced, it was so dangerous, and there were many threats to their lives and a lot of bombs, which made our children anxious and afraid. When they came to Egypt, they were in a very bad state and needed psychological support and I tried to help them out. But it’s really hard.  

Here in Egypt the children in the street play with fireworks, and when my children hear the fireworks, it makes them feel afraid and freak out when they hear the sounds. It triggers them. There are sounds of planes around here and when they hear the plane, they freeze.” 

Heba*, 28, lives in an apartment in Cairo with her husband and three children Rami* (7), Sana* (10) and Samira* (12), who were all severely injured in an airstrike in Gaza. 

Heba* says her son Rami, who suffered injuries to his head as well as his leg, is now scared of everything: 

Rami was actually known for always being really brave and he always used to comfort the family. But ever since he got injured, he’s turned into a child who fears any noise, the darkness, he can’t go to the bathroom alone and he can’t be alone

Ever since the war, the girls have had higher heart rates and are scared and think death is just around the corner. Even when we were driving from the border to Cairo… Samira experienced nightmares and she woke up thinking that we were dead and that everything had been destroyed.”  

The closure of the Rafah crossing with Egypt has completely halted medical evacuation of patients since 7 May. About 600 patients scheduled to be evacuated are currently unable to move. Between October 2023 and 18 May, there has been 12,760 requests for medical evacuations to Egypt and other countries. 

Laila Toema, a psychologist and Save the Children Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Technical Advisor in Egypt, said:  

Children from Gaza have suffered unimaginable mental harm from the violence, serious physical injuries, including the loss of body parts, and the loss of families, homes, and their schools. They are also tortured by the uncertainty of not knowing where their loved ones in Gaza are and what will happen to them. Living under this kind of stress for so long is enough to destroy anyone’s health, both physical and mental. 

“Despite what they have experienced, children are resilient, and we know from experience in Egypt and in many other countries around the world that they can recover when we provide them with support to access medical assistance to treat their physical injuries, and help to regain a sense of stability, normalcy and safety. Save the Children is calling for an urgent increase of international support to address the short and long-term needs for displaced Palestinian children in Egypt, especially for mental health and psychosocial support services.”

”In Gaza, children continue to be maimed and suffer physical injuries, with little option for medical care or treatment, and their mental health is being pushed beyond breaking point. It’s estimated that more than 1 million children are in desperate need of mental health services. We call for an immediate ceasefire to save children’s lives and future.” 

Save the Children is working with Egyptian authorities to provide essential services for displaced Palestinians including cash assistance, support to cover medical costs and mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS). The MHPSS activities include group and one-on-one counselling for children and their caregivers, training Palestinians in Egypt to provide community-based psychosocial support to newly arrived Palestinians from Gaza and providing MHPSS training to Egyptian ambulance staff so they can better support child medical evacuees.  

Save the Children is also supporting the health authorities, including ambulances and public hospitals receiving medical evacuees from Gaza, through providing baby incubators and other essential medical supplies and equipment. It is also preparing to train frontline health workers on responding to paediatric blast injuries and mass casualties. Save the Children’s Gaza response in Egypt is done through partnering with the Egyptian Ministry of Health and with the support of Community Jameel and the Canadian Humanitarian Coalition Fund. 

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Save the Children.