Palestinians Outraged as Egyptian Firm ‘Makes Millions’ Getting Refugees Out of Gaza

Reports that Palestinians are being charged at least $5,000 to flee Gaza has led to accusations of Egypt profiting from their plight. ‘Has the Rafah border crossing turned into the second Suez Canal?’ asks one Gazan

One of the recurring stories of the Israel-Gaza war has been the exorbitant fees being charged by Egyptian fixers to get Palestinians through the Rafah border crossing into Sinai.

A report last month claimed that one Egyptian travel company has generated nearly $90 million in a few weeks by charging the desperate over $5,000 to leave the Strip.

Gazans on social media have grown increasingly critical of the practice, which shows no sign of abating for those able to raise the hefty fees required to leave the war behind.

One of the first outlets to report on the practice was the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which in January highlighted the plight of those looking to flee Gaza and the Israeli bombardment.

The OCCRP, a global network of investigative journalists, said its reporters were given quotes on the spot to secure exits from Gaza. One Egyptian agency quoted $7,000 for Palestinians, $1,200 for Egyptians and $3,000 for other foreign passport holders.

The organization also spoke with an Egyptian citizen, Rasha, 31, who was trapped in Gaza with her Palestinian husband and their three children. Despite holding Egyptian citizenship, Rasha said she had not received any response from Cairo concerning a repatriation request and had been quoted $40,000 by an Egyptian firm for passage through the Rafah crossing – the only one in the enclave that isn’t controlled by Israel. “No way we can afford that,” she told the OCCRP.

Three months later, with humanitarian conditions in Gaza even worse and as human rights organizations warn of genuine famine there, The Times of London revealed how one private Egyptian company has made a reported $88 million by facilitating the evacuation of Palestinians from Gaza.

The Times reported that the company, reportedly affiliated with the Egyptian government and staffed by former Egyptian soldiers, is known as Hala Consulting and Tourism. It is part of the Al-Arjani group of companies owned by Ibrahim Al-Arjani – a prominent businessman from Sinai dubbed the “King of the Crossing,” a title reflecting his significant influence over the border at Rafah.

According to the Arabi21 website, Hala was established in 2019 to provide “VIP travel services” from Gaza to Egypt, at a price ranging from $350 to $1,200 depending on the season.

Those who took advantage of the service avoided the long wait for official approval and an exhausting three-day stopover journey through Sinai to Cairo. Typically, the well-to-do in Gaza used the service to facilitate their travel, and it was also used to ensure that Gazan students arrived in time when studying in Egyptian universities.

Services at the crossing stopped after October 7 when the war erupted, but returned in January with high fees, according to the OCCRP.

The Times, meanwhile, reported that testimonials obtained by Britain’s Sky News TV channel and the BBC in February supported allegations that travelers paid a $5,000 fee to exit Gaza. The newspaper contacted Hala for comment but did not receive a response.

In a separate investigation published last week, the Middle East Eye website analyzed the daily lists of clients’ names being published by the Hala company, revealing its significant revenues generated in April.

That month, approximately $58 million was amassed from the passage of 10,136 adults and 2,910 children exiting the Rafah crossing using the company’s VIP list, the website reported. This reflected an average daily income of $2 million – nearly double the firm’s estimated earnings from March.

The highest recorded single-day profits occurred on the final day of April, last Tuesday, with Hala reportedly earning at least $2.3 million from people fleeing Gaza.

The newspaper reports have not gone unnoticed on Gazan social media. Quoting the headlines, Palestinian writer Yahya Basheer tweeted to his 4,000 followers on X: “Has the Rafah border crossing turned into the second Suez Canal? Why must Palestinians bear excessive costs while Israelis freely enter Egypt?”

He continued: “Shall we disregard the countless individuals queuing up since dawn outside the Hala company? Can I turn a blind eye to my friends? What about the young ones who paid hefty sums to leave Gaza? Should I discredit all the reports covering this issue, revealing the staggering profits being made?”

An Egyptian lawyer, Hasan, challenged statements that downplayed the expenses Gazans were being forced to pay when crossing into Egypt.

Another user on X, Farag, expressed frustration not only toward the Hala company but also Egyptian citizens, claiming that Palestinian refugees, seeking shelter in Egypt, have paid substantial sums equivalent to housing costs for the next decade.

Egyptian political analyst Maged Mandour, writing on the Al Quds website, pointed out that Egypt’s diminished influence on Gaza can be attributed to the country’s economic crisis, a military elite focused on self-preservation and a network of cronies pursuing their own financial interests.

Regime elites “are using the war in Gaza to enrich themselves at the expense of desperate Palestinians,” he opined. And addressing the accusations against Hala owner Al-Arjani, he wrote that the practice of charging exorbitant fees “is not only inhumane, but it is also damaging to the domestic credibility of the regime” of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi.

Some Palestinians accused Hala of complicity, while others said they hoped Al-Arjani might experience similar financial burdens or health issues.

Following the Times’ report, Arabi21 spoke to Palestinians in Gaza about their plight. “Time is of the essence,” said one, Karim. “It’s like choosing between the lesser of two evils: do I prioritize adults, children or the wounded?”

He also commented on speculation that the Egyptian government is using Hala to address its own financial woes. “If the intention was genuinely to aid the people of Gaza, why impose such high fees [to exit Rafah]? Why not simply open the crossing?”