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Palestinian medical students in Cuba highlight pain of diaspora

Samar Alghoul lives in a dorm with six other students at the University of Havana, but often dreams of returning to her family's side, even if it means running towards war
Samar Alghoul lives in a dorm with six other students at the University of Havana, but often dreams of returning to her family's side, even if it means running towards war - Copyright AFP ADALBERTO ROQUE
Samar Alghoul lives in a dorm with six other students at the University of Havana, but often dreams of returning to her family's side, even if it means running towards war - Copyright AFP ADALBERTO ROQUE
Leticia PINEDA

Thousands of miles from Gaza, medical student Samar Alghoul is supposed to be living her dream in Cuba, where she and hundreds of other Palestinians have been given the opportunity to study for free.

But, like the Palestinian diaspora all around the world, she is ridden with anxiety watching the decimation of her home from afar.

The 21-year-old lives in a dorm with six other students at the University of Havana, but often dreams of returning to her family’s side, even if it means running towards war.

“It would be easier for me to be with them than to have all these thoughts,” of not knowing “what they drink, what they eat, where they sleep,” Alghoul said of her mother, two brothers and sister who live in the Gaza Strip. 

She said her mother tells her: “We are proud of you, we are proud to have someone outside of Gaza who is studying medicine.”

Alghoul is one of 247 Palestinian students, 75 of them from Gaza, who have received a scholarship from the Cuban government, according to figures from Palestinian ambassador Akram Samhan.

– Watching with horror – 

Cuba has long handed out bursaries to foreign students. Some 1,500 Palestinians, many of them doctors, have studied for free on the island since 1974, said the ambassador.

Whether studying, living abroad, or staying in refugee camps in the Middle East, millions of Palestinians in the diaspora are watching the destruction wrought back home with horror.

The conflict began on October 7 when the Hamas militant group attacked Israel, leaving 1,194 people dead, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, including 41 who the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,396 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to data provided by the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza.

Alghoul says her family, who lived in the north of the Gaza Strip, has had to move multiple times to flee bombing and is currently in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah.

“They open WhatsApp, send me a message, ‘We’re fine,’ and we don’t know when we’ll have more news,” Alghoul said in Spanish. Like all foreign students, she took intensive language classes when she arrived in Cuba in 2022.

– ‘Urgent need for doctors’ –

Motee Almashar, 24, from southern Rafah told AFP that he and his Palestinian friends are trying to get back to normal life “to relieve some stress.”

But it’s not easy. 

“As soon as you pick up your phone, you see the news,” he said. 

Almashar is also too far away to be of much comfort to his mother, devastated after bombing in Rafah last month led to the deaths of his cousins, three uncles, aunt and grandmother.

The conflict has also impacted the students’ ability to make ends meet in Cuba, as they are no longer able to receive money from relatives in Gaza.

Ambassador Samhan said he has launched a drive for donations among Palestinian groups in the United States and elsewhere to help support the students.

Mohammed Refat Almassri, 26, who has lost an uncle and eight cousins in the war, is in his final year of studies and torn over what to do next.

His father is an ambulance driver in the Gaza Strip and he knows there is “an urgent need for doctors,” but cannot afford a flight back home.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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