Australians raise millions of dollars for their families in Gaza

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If his prayers are answered, Sydney man Yousef Sharaf will rescue 75 relatives from Gaza and lay to rest family members still buried under rubble.

Mr Sharaf is one of thousands of Australians who have contributed to and started private fundraising campaigns for besieged Palestinians.

Displacement, death and isolation has surrounded his family since the Israel and Hamas war escalated in October.

On his dad’s side, 40 relatives have died since October 7, and a further 15 on his mother’s side.

The imminent threats in a war zone make burials — if the body is even found — incredibly difficult.

“With war comes a lot of agony. We don’t know if a lot of the bodies are still under the rubble,” Mr Sharaf told NCA NewsWire.

“I know two of my relatives in the north are still under the rubble.

“I couldn’t say if any of them were laid to rest.

“My brothers and sisters haven’t given up, but there’s a sense of succumbing to the fate itself, ‘what else can we do?’”

His family includes nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers and businessmen.

“I just want them to find peace here and contribute to the country like I have,” Mr Sharaf said of his life in Australia, which began more than 20 years ago when he came to study.

“They are the type of people who will contribute to society.”

When Mr Sharaf was last in Gaza in 2019, he heard the buzzing surveillance drones overhead every hour of the day and night, and watched his family search for water, internet and work.

Now six months after Hamas attacked Israel and the situation in Gaza deteriorated further, Mr Sharaf’s family is in Gaza City and the nearby Jabalia Refugee Camp.

“I can’t even fathom what they’re going through and I was born there,” he said.

Mr Sharaf’s brother can feel bombs shaking the ground. They are getting closer.

He is fundraising for the visas, travel and living costs once his family arrive in Australia.

Ten relatives filed applications with the Australian government in November, Mr Sharaf said.

“The Australian government has been generous enough to offer the visas but the process is very slow,” he said.

Between October 7 and February 6, the Australian government granted visitor visas to 2273 Palestinians and 2415 Israelis.

“Exiting Gaza is difficult and unpredictable,” the Australian government said.

“The ability of the Australian government to help is extremely limited.”

Mr Sharaf’s fundraising story is one of many, as fellow Australians face daunting tasks trying to get family to safety.

People fleeing the region need a visa from another country, and permission from the Israeli and Egyptian authorities.

Since October, Australian-based GoFundMe campaigns have raised more than $4m.

Mahmoud Medoukh of Moonee Ponds in Melbourne has raised $15,000 to get his parents out of an “horrific situation” in Gaza.

Abdelwahab and Najat are both science teachers, aged in their 60s.

“I never thought I would see the day when my parents would be displaced from their home with just the clothes on their backs and have little to no access to basic living conditions,” Mr Medoukh said in his fundraising campaign.

“I wish I had the funds to get them out of this horrific situation.”

According to Oxfam Australia, people in northern Gaza are living on the caloric equivalent of less than one can of beans per day.

Mr Medoukh said paying for an exit through Egypt cost USD$15,000 per person, and he was trying to find money for accommodation while in transit and flights to Australia.

“My parents are all I have in this world. I have not seen them physically for the past 14 years. The thought of losing them will break me,” Mr Medoukh said.

Perth man Ayman Qwaider also faced a particularly daunting task of getting a large group of his family out of Palestine.

Mr Qwaider begun a GoFundMe in November to get seven family units of 30 people out.

To date, he’s raised more than $114,000. In an update posted in January, four family members had arrived in Perth.

His mother’s journey to Western Australia was covered in the Wall Street Journal.

Mr Qwaider told the publication he was spending 15 hours per day applying for visas.

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