Eight-year-old Aseel Al Ashqar fiddles quietly with a worn, pink blanket she has laid on the floor of the empty new bedroom in downtown Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip; the room she now shares with her four siblings. The holes in the blanket, she explains, are a consequence of a bomb that also wiped out her family home during the 50-day summer conflict last year. She found the blanket buried in the rubble.
According to UNRWA assessments, at least 100,000 Palestine refugee family homes were damaged or destroyed during last summer’s conflict. Finding adequate shelter amidst a crippling housing shortage in the Gaza Strip has put enormous stress on refugee families such as Aseel’s.
During the war, Aseel and her family took refuge at the UNRWA Abu Husein school in Jabalia, in the north of Gaza. They stayed there for several days before renting a cramped flat far away from their home, in the unfamiliar al-Saftawi area of Gaza City.
The movement of Aseel and her family into a new home on January 21 represents hope for many.
They are one of 10 families benefitting from an innovative UNRWA pilot housing project that encourages landowners to complete partially-finished dwellings to increase the stock of housing units in Gaza. Under the project, landowners with unfinished buildings receive financial support to complete construction, so the new buildings can house internally-displaced families.
“We are very glad to move to Beit Hanoun after we spent five months out. Now, my children will go to their original school in Beit Hanoun, which is only 300 metres away from the rented flat,” said Aseel’s mother, Maysa.
It has also proven a win for the landowner. “This is very fruitful project; I managed to finish two flats after receiving US$ 6,000 for each. Moreover, it created jobs for labourers and skilled labourers,” said the Ashqar’s new landlord, Hasan Al Za’anin.
As for Aseel’s response to her new home: “This flat is very beautiful, it is more beautiful than the previous rented one. I returned to my hometown to play with my cousins and meet my friends at my original school.”