Gaza: Humanitarian Aid and Children — [Valerie Vaz in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 1:30 pm ar 8 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Llafur, Poplar and Limehouse 1:30, 8 Chwefror 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered humanitarian aid and children in Gaza.

I begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for enabling this debate. I am grateful for the cross-party support that I had when seeking to secure it.

Before the war began, Gaza’s streets were alive with the sound of children. Roughly half the population are under 18, but unlike children in the UK, Gaza’s children have had to endure so much in their short lives. A 15-year-old will have lived through five wars, including the current conflict. Many have been displaced several times. Even so, they have never experienced destruction and death like this.

Since October, it has been clear that children have been affected by the conflict on an unprecedented and unparalleled scale. We know that the Hamas attacks involved the killing of Israeli children, and that an estimated 40 Israeli children were taken captive in Gaza. Nevertheless, more than 11,500 children have since been killed in Gaza by Israeli airstrikes and ground operations. The phrase “war on children” is echoing across the international community. Lost in the numbers are the faces, the names, the lives and the moments of joy that those children brought—children like six-year-old Hind Rajab, whose fate is reported to be still unknown after the car in which she was fleeing to safety with her uncle, his wife and their four children came under Israeli fire. More than 24,000 children have lost one or both parents.

Gaza’s hospitals have treated so many wounded children arriving alone for treatment after Israeli airstrikes that, chillingly, medical workers have coined a new abbreviation —WCNSF: “wounded child, no surviving family”. Obviously, unaccompanied and separated children require urgent protection and the provision of essentials. Given that these children need refuge and compassion, will the Minister clarify whether the Government have considered allowing children into the UK for their safety and wellbeing during this conflict, as per the petition which has been signed by over 17,000 people? For the children who have survived the bombardment, a slow and painful death looms due to the denial of essentials, the destruction of infrastructure and the lack of aid.

The healthcare system in Gaza is in crisis due to major shortages of doctors and nurses, the lack of medical supplies and the destruction of hospitals. Small children caught up in explosions are particularly vulnerable to major life-changing injuries, and more than 1,000 children have had one or both legs amputated. According to the World Health Organisation, many of these operations on children were done without anaesthetic. Such horrors are virtually unimaginable for us in the UK, but it does not stop there. Many children are accessing well below the recommended water requirements for survival, and those under five are at high risk of severe malnutrition and preventable death due to famine. According to Islamic Relief, Gaza is now the world’s worst hunger crisis.

As I have laid out, the situation for children in Gaza is catastrophic. Unfettered access for humanitarian aid is needed urgently, but the conditions on the ground, the bombardment, the siege and the destruction of infra- structure do not allow it to reach children and families in need. It brings to mind Israel’s Minister of Defence’s announcement on 9 October:

“We are putting a complete siege on Gaza…No electricity, no food, no water, no gas—it’s all closed.”

Can the Minister update us on the Government’s understanding of the legality of what many are arguing is the collective punishment of civilians and how this has affected children?

Save the Children International’s chief executive officer’s harrowing plea demonstrates the significance of what people all over the world are bearing witness to:

“We are running out of words to describe the horror unfolding for Gaza’s children. Most of them have been forcibly displaced, squeezed into a tiny sliver of land that cannot accommodate them. Those who haven’t been forced from their homes are cut-off from the basics needed for survival, far away from the little amount of humanitarian assistance that can be delivered.”