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May 28, 2013

May First impressions mask difficult reality of life in a Syrian refugee camp

28
2013

Before I arrived in Jordan, Zaatari Refugee Camp in my mind had taken on almost mythical proportions. I had heard that it was initially constructed to accommodate a population of 35,000 but was now rumoured to have a registered population of more than 130,000. And frighteningly, not the largest refugee camp in the world.

As I approached by car, it seems strange to say but I was disappointed by first impressions. Zaatari refugee camp sits atop a relatively flat landscape not far from the Syrian border and without an aerial view the sense of scale I had imagined was impossible to view.

 

Above: The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan is a sprawling city with rows of tents as far as the eye can see. Anastasia Taylor-Lind/Oxfam

Surrounded by a high wire fence for security, it appears orderly with its seemingly evenly spaced rows of regulation refugee tents. It is solid underfoot too with crushed stone to prevent muddying caused by vehicles and human traffic in winter rain. And either side of the road that leads from the main entrance is a remarkable array of market stalls selling everything from fruit, vegetables and cooked food to clothes and toys and household basics sourced from local traders outside the camp. The refugees from Syria have proven themselves to be remarkably self-reliant and resourceful.

“It doesn’t seem that bad,” a companion commented. Indeed there is much about Zaatari that on first appearances “doesn’t seem that bad”…if the alternative is to be trapped in a bitter conflict that has left an estimated 70,000 dead and forced another 6 million (yes, million) people to flee their homes.

First impressions too of course can be deceptive and as the morning and hours passed, the realities of life in the refugee camp became more apparent…more than anything else the sense of confinement, the restricted space, the lack of opportunity to escape even for just a short time from the heaving bustling hive of activity. 

Clockwise from top:  Clothes drying on a high-wire fence in the camp. Caroline Gluck/Oxfam. Oxfam public health staff put the finishing touches to 95,000 litre water tanks that will considerably increase the water storage capacity in the refugee camp. Karl Schembri/Oxfam. A woman and child gather water in the camp where Oxfam has installed tap stands and towers, latrines, bathing areas, laundry areas, water collection points and wash blocks. Caroline Gluck/Oxfam. Syrian children in the camp share a smile. Karl Schembri/Oxfam. Syrian refugees arrive at the camp, originally built for 35,000 but now accommodating more than 130,000. Caroline Gluck/Oxfam.

And as we moved beyond the road that once formed the main axis of the camp, it is with regret that I say my expectations of scale were finally met. Row upon row upon row of tents dominated the horizon as far as the eye could see. This was no camp. This was a sprawling city, ironically the significance of which is only best understood when you see the enormity of the blank canvas of land that has been cleared to accommodate still more tents and, more recently, prefabs.

Later, faces pressed against the fence outside a health clinic where lines of mothers and young children queued served only again to re-enforce the sense of claustrophobia and suggesting that, despite best efforts, supply of services had outstripped demand. It could hardly be otherwise. 

Organisations like Oxfam are working closely with the refugee population to provide access to the most basic of human needs such as clean water and washing facilities but the scale of need is frankly overwhelming…1,500 people arrive on average each day. I wondered how we in Ireland would cope with such an influx. More importantly still, how do the Syrian refugees cope?

Refugee camps are rarely constructed as homes but places of temporary refuge until it is safe to go home or some alternative option is found. Almost as though lives can be put on hold while diplomats, like economists, trade options...and futures...of those whose recent past, and perhaps even lives, have been comprised of choices few of us could ever even conceive.

As I write now amidst a flurry of international activity to bring about a resolution to the conflict, I hear that the influx of refugees across the border into Jordan has almost ceased. And then the question, why? And quickly the realisation that those in Zaatari are the lucky ones...they were able to flee. And it is then you understand the true meaning of “it doesn’t seem that bad”.

May 21, 2013

May The G8 must take action on tax dodging and tax havens!

21
2013

Shocking new statistics released by Oxfam this week have shown that governments are letting people hide at least $18.5 trillion in offshore tax havens. Yes, you read that right: not $18.5 million, or even $18.5 billion, but $18.5 trillion!

And our research shows that as much as €707 billion owned by wealthy individuals from overseas may be shielded from tax authorities around the world in Irish financial institutions, leaving Ireland open to suggestions that it’s being used as a tax haven.

“It’s time to take the side of ordinary people, rather than the privileged few. These figures put Ireland at the centre of a global tax system that is a colossal betrayal of people here and abroad” says Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland. “Now is the time to take action.”

By holding their money in offshore tax havens like San Marino and Monaco, the owners of these $18.5 trillion worth of riches pay little or no tax - while hard working people in the world's poorest countries strive to make a living and 1 in 8 go to bed hungry.

 

If companies and individuals paid their dues, it would total more than $150 billion - money which could be spent on schools, hospitals and libraries. As austerity bites and budgets are slashed, ordinary people across the world are losing out on billions of unpaid tax.

And these figures are just the tip of the iceberg: tax evasion by big corporations prevents hundreds of billions of dollars being paid every year. The vast majority of ordinary people pay their taxes every year, so why should the world’s richest individuals and corporations get away with dodging tax?

Now is the time to take a stand. This year's G8 takes place in June in Northern Ireland, and David Cameron has committed his G8 Presidency towards ‘getting our own house in order and helping developing countries to prosper”, while yesterday European leaders met to discuss tax.

But unless European and G8 countries follow their fine words with action, this could be a lot of hot air – or result in a deal that shuts out developing countries.

Oxfam is calling for G8 leaders to;

  1. Get their own tax havens to join a global deal to share tax information, so that all countries – especially the poorest – can tax companies and individuals fairly.
  2. Commit to making ownership of companies and other assets public, so that nobody can avoid paying tax by hiding their money or setting up phantom firms.
  3. Agree to get tough with tax havens when they won’t play ball.

Please share this blog post on social media to spread the word and ensure that political leaders play their part at this year's G8 Summit in Co. Fermanagh on June 17th and 18th.

Tell them that you won’t stand for the unjust tax dodging practices of the global elite.

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May 15, 2013

May Let’s make some noise on hunger at Big IF Belfast event when G8 comes to town!

15
2013

Oxfam has always been about campaigning for change, because we tackle the root causes of poverty to really change things for the world’s poorest people.

Often, we have to live with the fact that change can take a long time! But then, once in a generation, once in a lifetime, circumstances come together to create a moment where all our campaigning can have a really big impact. That moment is now.

World leaders have been preparing and planning for the G8 summit which will be held in Fermanagh in just five weeks’ time and we know that they are already talking about what they can do to tackle the causes of hunger. 

Top: Oxfam Ireland Campaigns and Advocacy Officer Christine McCartney (left), Jim Wells MLA (centre) and (right) Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken at the recent Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign’s ‘Road to the G8’ event in Parliament Buildings in Stormont. Northern Irish politicians were briefed on the IF campaign which is pressing for world leaders to act on hunger at next month’s G8 summit in Fermanagh. Photo: Neil Harrison / Oxfam. Middle: Rita Ora, One Direction, Orlando Boom and Erin O'Connor are showing their support by wearing the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign wristband. You pick one up in any Oxfam shop across the island of Ireland. Bottom: Pictured at the launch of the 'Big IF Belfast' event at Botanic Gardens today (14 May) are members of the Ulster Orchestra members Steve Irvine (tuba), Neil Gallie (trombone) and Richard Guthrie (viola) join the chorus calling for action on hunger at the launch of the Big IF Belfast event which will take place on Saturday June 15th. Photo: Neil Harrison / Oxfam.

We need to make sure they hear loud and clear that we, their citizens, want and expect them to do more than talk – we need them to act. 

Plans are being unveiled today for a very special event to get that message across. The BIG IF Belfast on Saturday 15 June will include a fantastic two-hour stage show, with top music and famous names calling for action on hunger, plus the BIG IF art installation, interactive activities and the chance to send your message to G8 leaders. It’s organised by Oxfam Ireland and our partners in the Enough Food For Everyone IF campaign. 

This is the moment. We can get the attention of world leaders and get them to act on hunger – IF we come together on the eve of the G8 and make some noise.  

So let’s grasp this chance to make sure hunger is on the table when leaders meet in Fermanagh next month.

May 10, 2013

May A powerful impact when you buy a Born Again refurbished computer

10
2013

We don’t just use digital technology to talk about what we’re doing – it’s part of how we’re doing things in our projects around the world.

From providing cash transfers in emergencies like the Haiti earthquake to the innovative Pink Phones Project in Cambodia which gives women farmers the latest farming information using mobile phones, technology enhances our work and empowers people living in poverty to build a brighter future.

Now we’re using technology to raise vital funds for initiatives like these with the introduction of our new Born Again range of refurbished computers.

Available online and in selected Oxfam shops, prices start at just €120/£99 for a desktop and €180/£150 for a laptop.

Clockwise from top: Yoshi Nolan (17) bought her Born Again laptop in our Tullamore shop. She uses it to surf the internet, type up notes and save her photos. James Flynn/APX. Mobile phone technology has allowed women like Vansy, who lives in a rural community in Cambodia, to access the latest farming information such as weather patterns and crop prices. Oxfam’s Pink Phones Project has transformed women’s lives by enabling them to buy bigger plots of land, sell more vegetables and build a sustainable livelihood. Simon Rawles/Oxfam Cathy Hackett (5), Ella Sharkey (5) and Chloe Sharkey (8) demonstrate how we give computers a new lease of life. Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland. 

Excellent quality, great value, environmentally friendly and helping to end poverty – these are pretty amazing computers!

Sourced from companies who are changing over to new hardware, each one has been lovingly restored, tested and supplied with a fresh operating system and applications, plus comes with a 6-month warranty. 

To make it easier to pick your perfect computer, the range is divided into three specs/usage categories, including student-friendly Surfer, family-orientated Plus and the powerful Pro which is ideal for small businesses. 

Yoshi Nolan, a student from Tullamore, Co. Offaly, recently bought a computer from her local Oxfam shop. “I am absolutely delighted with my new computer,” she says. “It’s great to get a good laptop at a reasonable price and it’s also nice to know that the money is going somewhere good.” 

May 2, 2013

May Before and after: The ultimate upcycle!

2
2013
Our Oxfam Home stores are a treasure trove of vintage furniture. Most pieces fly out the door, but others stay a little longer as they wait for a customer who can see past first appearances. 
 
With a little imagination and a bit of elbow grease, you can transform furniture that has seen better days into a one-of-a-kind piece by upcycling.
 
Not only will you have helped the planet by recycling, you’ll also be helping to fund Oxfam Ireland’s vital work with communities around the world.
 
 
Above: The Little Museum of Dublin on St. Stephen’s Green was packed full of would-be upcyclers to hear tips from Neville Knott (top-centre) and other experts. Photos: Paul Sherwood.
 
We recently teamed up with Crown Paints and House and Home magazine to showcase just what can be done! 
 
The creative geniuses at Galerie Lisette, Quirkistuff and Upside Design worked their magic on furniture from Oxfam Home shops and unveiled the results at the recent Ultimate Upcycle event in Dublin hosted by TV presenter and interior guru Neville Knott. 
 
For more about the event plus tips from the designers, click here. A big thanks to everyone involved!
 

BEFORE

 

AFTER

 
Left to right: Once a computer desk, mum and daughter team Aida and Lucina Lennon at Galerie Lisette have turned this into a pretty dressing table. Husband and wife Les and Sue Corbett of Quirkistuff have given this tired cabinet a vibrant yellow and purple makeover complete with tassle. Upside Design’s Al Birbeck and Nawel Kouadri found the name of a previous owner inside this wardrobe, a young girl. This inspired the feminine look, complete with collage-style wallpaper.Photos: Paul Sherwood.
 
These stunning pieces are now on sale – Galerie Lisette’s floral-inspired  computer desk turned  dressing table (€195 - pictured left) and Upside Design’s gorgeous girlie wardrobe (€695 - pictured right) are at Oxfam Home, Francis Street, Dublin 2 (01-478 0777), while QuirkiStuff’s vibrant cabinet (€245 - pictured centre) can be yours by dropping into Oxfam Home on King’s Inn Street, Dublin 1 (01-874 8175).
 
The proceeds will help to change lives around the world, such as our emergency response for refugees fleeing Syria.
 
And if you’re feeling inspired, we’d love to help you pick out a piece of furniture for your upcycling project at our Oxfam Home shops (we’re also on the Dublin Road in Belfast). Drop in and get creative!

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