This article is part of a developing story.

See latest updates

Thousands forced to flee as Israeli military offensive intensifies and aid is blocked in Rafah

The closure of the Rafah border crossing will have a devastating impact as assistance coming through this crossing is a lifeline for the whole Gaza Strip.

Displaced Palestinians flee Rafah.

Displaced Palestinians leave Rafah after an evacuation order from the Israeli military on May 6, 2024. | Palestine 2024 © MSF

NEW YORK/JERUSALEM, May 8, 2024 — Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls today for the protection of civilians and the reopening of the Rafah border crossing as thousands of Palestinians are being forced to flee eastern Rafah following Israeli forces' recent evacuation orders and ongoing military offensive.

The closure of this key entry point into Gaza is jeopardizing the humanitarian response, leaving fuel, food, medicines, and water dangerously low, and people trapped amid renewed fighting.

“Rafah crossing—a vital humanitarian access point—has been closed completely until further notice,” said Aurelie Godard, medical team leader in Gaza. “This will have a devastating impact as assistance coming through this crossing is a lifeline for the whole Gaza Strip. Everything that is vital for daily life is not entering anymore: no humanitarian aid, no medical supplies, no food, no fuel. After seven months of war, which has forced 1.7 million people to flee their homes, the decision to close this crossing further exacerbates the already dire living conditions for people trapped in Gaza.”

On May 6, Israeli forces ordered 100,000 people east of Rafah to evacuate to Al-Mawasi, a zone between the west of Rafah and Khan Younis, where shelters and resources are extremely scarce. Rafah was previously designated by the Israeli forces as a safe zone for civilians—many of whom have been displaced multiple times throughout the course of the war.

Palestinians fleeing from Rafah drive and take horse carts to go to Khan Younis.
Palestinians line up for water in Khan Younis.

Displaced Palestinians return to Khan Younis (left) and line up for water (right). Palestine 2024 © MSF

“People in Rafah are again forcibly displaced, moving from makeshift tents to another place without adequate shelter, food, water, and medical care,” Godard said. “They are at risk of falling further into the depths of a massive humanitarian disaster that has reached nightmare levels.”

The offensive and the evacuation orders further reduce access to health care in an already decimated health system, leaving people almost no options for even basic medical care. Earlier this week, medical staff and patients had to be evacuated from Al-Najjar Hospital, while the European Gaza Hospital (EGH) is no longer accessible. Though MSF is still running activities at Rafah Indonesian Field Hospital at this stage—where teams have supported the provision of post-operative care—patients have begun to be discharged. MSF is suspending its activities at Al-Shaboura Clinic until further notice. On May 8, MSF is handing over its activities at Emirati Hospital to the ministry of health. Staff will be relocated to Nasser Hospital to continue to support maternity services in a safer area—a decision that was made prior to the evacuation orders.

“Having to suspend activities at a health post where our teams carried out 8,269 consultations in April alone is catastrophic,” said Paulo Milanesio, MSF emergency coordinator in Rafah. “Where are pregnant women, children, and people with chronic diseases going to seek care and continue treatment in a decimated place like Gaza? Not forgetting the impact on mental health; before the closure we offered over 130 individual mental health consultations a week, and this figure has only increased over the past few weeks. This takes the number of health care facilities that we’ve been forced to leave in Gaza to 11 in the space of just seven months, which goes to show the brutality and lawlessness of this war.”

Israel must immediately halt plans for Rafah ground invasion

Read more

Since the beginning of this war, MSF has seen a pattern of systematic attacks against medical facilities and civilian infrastructure. The health system in Gaza is being dismantled just as the needs are exploding, with devastating consequences for Palestinian people. A further escalation of the ongoing military operations in Rafah would be catastrophic. An immediate and sustained ceasefire is critical to prevent more civilian deaths and injuries in Gaza and to enable the urgent scale-up of humanitarian aid.

How MSF is responding to the war in Gaza