UAE: Filipina mom flees Gaza with 7 children, hopes to reunite with Palestinian husband

Most of her children were born and went to school in the Emirates

by

Angel Tesorero

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Published: Thu 4 Jan 2024, 8:49 AM

Last updated: Sun 7 Jan 2024, 3:08 PM

Palestinian expat Amjad is turning 44 this month and his fervent wish is to bring his wife and seven kids to the UAE.

His Filipina wife, Marlene, 45, and their children aged 15, 13, 11, 9, 7, 5 and 3 years old, most of whom were born in the UAE, are currently in her home country. They were among those who were successfully evacuated by the Philippine government from war-torn Gaza back in November last year.

Like the other families who were evacuated, they also received a cash aid of about $1,400 from the Philippine government. They were temporarily housed in hotels for a couple of days but were required to look for accommodation afterwards.

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Money running out

The mother and her kids are being assisted by members of the Philippine-Palestine Friendship Association (PPFA). They are renting a room in Cavite, outside of Metro Manila, and money is running out, Marlene told Khaleej Times during a Zoom chat.

“Worse, the children are still traumatised by the war,” added Marlene, noting, “Even the sound of the metallic electric fan brought my young sons to tears at night because it sounded like drones. My second child also wakes up in the middle of the night and cries. They are afraid of fireworks and the sound of airplanes.”

The children and their mom were living with Marlene's in-laws in Deir Al Balah (a city in central Gaza Strip) when Israel escalated its attacks. Escaping heavy bombardment, they hurriedly left the house with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, mismatched slippers, and a bag containing their passports.

Emergency kit

“The bag was our emergency kit – I had prepared it a long time ago because, in the past two years, I have experienced four intermittent conflicts and airstrikes, and I was told by neighbours to put all our passports in one bag and run whenever we hear a warning siren,” she added.

No one died in the shelling, but Marlene was hit by a shrapnel near her abdomen. Marlene and the kids sought refuge in Rafah, southern Gaza, on October 15. The in-laws, aged 75 and 73, decided to stay behind.

The situation in Rafah was no different and after two weeks, they moved back to Deir Al Balah, only to experience another airstrike. Marlene and the kids were again lucky and escaped alive. They then moved back to Rafah until the border with Egypt was opened and the first batch of refugees were evacuated.

Marlene and her seven children arrived in the Philippines on November 10 last year. Her in-laws decided to remain in Deir Al Balah because even the 20-km journey to Rafah was too much for them.

Marlene shared: “My in-laws said they were ready to face any fate that befell them. When our house was bombed for the third time, my 73-year-old mother-in-law just lay down on the floor in fear. She could not run, her body was trembling... she lay down and prayed. Thankfully, my father-in-law arrived and dragged her safely out of the house. The five-floor building was leveled to the ground with only one room remaining, where the two of them are now staying.”

Schooling disrupted

The schooling of the six younger children was entirely disrupted by the punitive war, that has so far claimed more than 22,000 lives and displaced 90 per cent of the Palestinian population.

All of the children, except the eldest, were born in the UAE, and have studied in Ajman’s Al Hikmah School (except for the 5-year-old and 3-year-old, who have yet to enter school). The family lived in Sharjah until 2020, when they visited Gaza and got stranded there because of the pandemic. Their UAE residence visas lapsed and only Amjad was able to return after finding work in the country in 2021. Since the kids can only speak Arabic and English, they cannot attend a Philippine school.

However, it was not all bad news for Marlene. Her eldest daughter, who is a very bright student, bagged a scholarship at a university in Switzerland, where she will continue her senior high school education until college.

Return to homeland

“But living in Gaza turned out good for my family, because it was there that my children truly found a home," Marlene said poignantly, adding: “They felt they belonged, they were happy living with their cousins, they went to school and made new friends. They were happy… until the war happened.”

Amjad is now working on bringing his entire family to the UAE. He said he sought assistance from charity organisations and school authorities to help send his children to school.

He is also praying that one day the family will be able to return to their homeland.

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