Born in Gaza, Mohammed Alsaqqa (24) is studying a Master’s in Computer Science at UCD under the Ireland Fellows Programme. He started his course in Belfield less than a month before the October 7th attacks.

“When the war erupted, all of my immediate family members were in Gaza. My sister, Nour, was able to escape from this relentless war to Ireland as she already had an Irish residence permit because she did her master’s in DCU. That residence permit was literally a lifeline for her. However, my father (Khalil), mother (Nissreen), brother (Ahmed), and sister (Nada) remain trapped in Gaza.”

Unable to help his family from Ireland, Alsaqqa is holding a GoFundMe to raise money to help his family evacuate from the warzone.

“I was lucky to be able to come to Ireland about five weeks before the eruption of the war. Why is this considered lucky? Simple because it is not easy to travel in and out from Gaza,” he explained exclusively to The College Tribune. “For example, When I finished high school and ranked 5th in Gaza in the Palestinian National General Secondary, I was offered a once-of-a-life-time scholarship from Abdulla Al-Ghurair Foundation for Education to study at Koc University in Turkey, which is the top university in Turkey. However, I could not travel from Gaza at that time because the borders were closed. I had to delay my studies for one semester.”

“Going back to the present time, the situation in Gaza speaks for itself. Each day brings a new set of unimaginable dangers for my family, turning their life into a constant gamble against death. The most immediate and terrifying threat is, obviously, the relentless bombings. Should they miraculously keep surviving these bombings, the harsh realities of their living conditions present yet another life-threatening challenge.”

His family are struck by a lack of food as Israeli blockades stop the flow of emergency humanitarian aid. “They daily face a critical lack of essentials for survival: there’s an acute shortage of food, they endure the bitter cold without the comfort of a proper shelter, and clean water is so scarce that she [his sister] is sometimes forced to drink seawater, a risky and desperate measure that is dangerous even for animals.”

With the horrifying situation for his family getting worse, the biggest threat isn’t always the bombing.

“The most critical and urgent situation faced is that of my father, Khalil. At 62 years old, he suffers from critical health issues, including chronic high blood pressure and diabetes. The lack of essential medications in Gaza puts his life in constant danger.”

“The war has shredded the core of my family, losing almost everything they once had in Gaza, leaving their future very dull. The precariousness extends to all family members, exemplified by my youngest sister, Nada. She was on track to earn her degree in Data Science and AI, a journey halted by the sudden outbreak of war. Her academic and professional advancements are now at risk, her participation in the prestigious fully-funded TechGirls Exchange Program in the USA—a milestone once full of promise—now seems like a distant memory.

All of this compelled me to take urgent action and start a fundraiser campaign to help my family evacuate from Gaza, to save their lives and their future.”

Asked how difficult it was to study in UCD with the situation at home, Mohammed Alsaqqa explained that “It has been a stressful period since the war erupted. It is very difficult to focus on my studies.”

UCDSU Israel Palestine Protest in conjunction with UCD BDS - Photo by Hugh Dooley, The College Tribune
UCDSU Israel Palestine Protest – Photo by Hugh Dooley, The College Tribune

“While my family endures the dire and devastating conditions in Gaza, I find myself
thousands of kilometres away, unable to offer any tangible help or support. The thought of their displacement, the scarcity of essentials, and the unsanitary living conditions weigh heavily on my heart. These ideas haunt me whenever I eat, drink or lie down on my bed.”

“Stress and anxiety consume me also because communicating with my family was often impossible due to the poor state of cellular and internet networks, damaged by bombings. Sometimes, I couldn’t hear from them for a week. When I finally manage to contact them and knew they were still alive, my relief quickly turned to despair as I learned about the severe conditions they were living in.”

Asked what he thinks of Ireland’s response to the crisis, Mohammed Alsaqqa said, “Compared to other countries, Ireland has been calling for an immediate ceasefire since the beginning of the war, providing more aid to Gaza in general and UNRWA in specific. However, I think a more decisive position can be taken to end the war.”

You can donate to Mohammed’s GoFundMe here:

Ons’ Story From Gaza:

Ons Nader (26) graduated from UCD with a Masters in Digital Innovation from the Michael Smurfit Business School (right) and returned to her home in Gaza last year. She was at home on October 7th, the last time she would see it.

“This was the last time I saw home. It was utter chaos and confusion. Rockets were choking the sky and falling like hail. The sound was deafening. We knew we had to leave but we were reluctant. It’s like we knew. We only took the basics. A light change of clothes, important papers, some sentimental stuff. And left behind so much more,” she wrote on her Instagram page.

Image of Palestinian UCD student's house in Gaza

“The next time I saw home was last month in pictures a cousin of dad was kind enough to risk his life for us and head back to the neighbourhood to check the house for us. It was a pile of rocks and cement and broken glass and shards of wood. All of it gone like it never existed. I just wish I had taken more pictures of home before leaving. I wish I had looked at it and memorized its contours and angles. All of it’s cracks and chipped paint. It was never just a house. It was safety and memories and origin. The heart aches.”

This would be the first of 5 displacements she and her family would endure over the next 6 months.

“I’m currently staying in Rafah” she explained to The College Tribune. Her family first moved to Gaza City, where they stayed for a week before evacuation orders forced them further south. Ons and her family made their way to Khan Yunis where they stayed for three months before another evacuation order came into place.

Eventually, they reached Rafah, where they were able to stay with relatives for a time before finding a place to rent. “Before the war, it was in the middle of a renovation so you can imagine the state of the place,” she said, “It’s so crowded, there’s nowhere left, so the prices are so exorbitant, it is crazy. The place we are staying… the plumbing is wrecked, there is no running water, there’s no electricity of course. Electricity went out in the first week but we’ve been grappling with power issues since 2009.”

She explained that there is no food on the shelves of the supermarkets, there is only whatever aid reaches them. People are selling the aid packages and supplies at extremely high prices as there is no police or government officials to regulate the process.

“The last few months I have felt totally hopeless, they have dragged on as we keep hoping a solution might be found – a truce, a ceasefire, whatever you might call it. It’s been more than 6 months now without a solution in sight, so we are feeling hopeless.”

“We can’t even think about leaving Gaza, to do so you have to pay exorbitant fees to the Egyptian officials on the border. We don’t have that money for the 8 members of the family – they are asking for [the equivalent of] $5,000 per person.”

“Egyptian officials are extorting Palestinians fleeing their lives across the borders with a fixed amount of $5k per person. This has made it possible for only Gazans of a certain socio-economic background to save their lives or to sell all they possibly own to make it out. while the rest of us either wait to die, be maimed for life, imprisoned, starved or diseased. There are rumours “they aren’t letting young men leave” she explained to The College Tribune, “I have a brother, are we going to leave him?”

Ons and her family are attempting to fundraise the money needed to secure their evacuation. The QR code above links to the page.

Hugh Dooley – Co-Editor