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Rohingya refugees: Finding hope amongst the hopelessness

The impending monsoon rains are bearing down on the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh and there's no getting around it - it’s going to be a really tough time.

I've just finished three weeks working for Oxfam's Rohingya crisis response team in Cox’s Bazar and can remember one moment, standing in the pouring rain in the Rohingya refugee ‘mega-camp’.

Everywhere I looked, ramshackle shelters made of bamboo and tarpaulins stretched into the distance.

People old and young were trying to find shelter from the downpour, and large puddles were quickly forming across the narrow brick road, with water running down sandy hillside paths.

As I was trying to take photos of a deep tube well Oxfam was drilling to provide clean water, numerous Rohingya refugees offered to take me into their shelters to stay dry, or brought me umbrellas.

Such was the kindness of people who had endured unspeakable horrors that forced them from Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh.

The camps are in what they call the pre-monsoon rains at the moment, where every couple of days a ferocious storm will hit for an hour or so.

This rain is nothing like I’m used to.

The falling water has an almost physical quality, beating down on you, and the rain can be so heavy you struggle to see the other side of a road.

Trees are often blown over in the wind, and almost immediately, huge puddles form everywhere, slowing cars and trucks on the sandy, brick roads and draining into refugees' flimsy shelters.

It's estimated that more than 600,000 people are living in the Rohingya refugee mega-camp alone - a bigger population than all of county Cork in Ireland.

How the full monsoon is going to impact this many people in such desperate living conditions is what’s top of mind for aid workers.

Yet despite this, I was struck by the way in which Rohingya refugees could find hope in what appeared to be a hopeless situation.

They are denied citizenship in their country – they feel they have nowhere they belong and have nowhere to call home right now. No-one knows what their future holds.

They're awaiting monsoon rains likely to bring floods, landslides and potentially deadly water-borne diseases. The United Nations (UN) estimates up to 200,000 people are living in at-risk areas of the camps.

As much as 2.5 metres of rain could fall on the camps over the next three months.

But, the refugees I met certainly weren't hopeless or despairing.

Parents were working hard to strengthen their shelters or volunteering for charities like Oxfam as community health trainers or with the UN as camp labourers helping prepare the camps for the coming heavy rain.

This included a young woman I met called Ayesha*, who was 18 years old. She fled to Bangladesh with her mother and three siblings after their father was killed in the violence in Myanmar.

Ayesha (pictured left). Photo: Dylan Quinnell/Oxfam

It took them nearly 5 days to get to Bangladesh by boat and foot; others weren’t so lucky and drowned when their boats sank.

Life is tough in the camps without a father or husband - women can get missed or sidelined at aid distributions, and culturally, young women are not supposed to go out alone.

None of this had dampened Ayesha’s spirit. She put up her hand to volunteer, and now runs community health trainings with her neighbours and other women. 

She told me, "Now I work as an Oxfam volunteer, I teach people how to maintain good hygiene and I tell people what to do to have a good life. I feel good about it".

As for the children, they played football wherever they could find space, and ran through the camps in happy bunches and practised English with aid workers - "goodbye, how are you, I am fine."

Oxfam is in Bangladesh, providing food and life-saving clean water to those fleeing Myanmar and the host communities that have opened their doors to them. But we desparately need your support as more and more traumatised men, women and children arrive in Bangladesh every day.

You can support Oxfam’s Rohingya Crisis Appeal at: https://www.oxfamireland.org/bangladesh

Dylan Quinnell was media manager for Oxfam’s Rohingya Crisis Response for three weeks in April/ May. He is senior media coordinator for emergencies at Oxfam Australia.

*not her real name

 

Kutapalong Rohingya refugee camp: preparations for monsoon season

Oxfam fears worsening humanitarian needs in Gaza

 

Oxfam today warned that prolonged closure of crossings into Gaza could cut Palestinians from essential goods such as fuel and food and threatens to further deteriorate what is already a dire humanitarian situation. 

Israel’s 10-year blockade of Gaza has caused infrastructure and services to collapse, provoking a humanitarian crisis for nearly two million people, mostly refugees, who have been effectively trapped inside. 

Some forty percent of Gaza's population struggle to get enough to eat.  Unemployment is over forty percent and over 23,500 have been displaced from their homes due to the aftermath of the last war in 2014.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive, said: 

“The vital Karem Shalom crossing, one of the only entry points for goods in and out of Gaza, was damaged three days ago and is now closed, or opening for limited goods. If this continues, this could spark a further fuel shortage which would hit agricultural irrigation. Oxfam is working to rehabilitate a number of irrigation wells in Gaza but we don’t have a Plan B at this stage. The knock-on inflation on food prices would hit poor families hard and quickly.” 

Any sudden fuel shortage would also hit Gaza’s vital desalination plants which ninety percent of the people of Gaza depend on. 

Mr Clarken said: "Oxfam condemns the killings of at least 58 demonstrators in Gaza. The international community must take strong and urgent action to end the violence and ensure restraint from all sides.  The killings should be investigated – independently and immediately – for any breach of international law and those found guilty be brought to justice. " 

Oxfam is currently helping 258,000 people in Gaza providing food and vital water and sanitation. 

-ends-

 

For more information or interviews, please contact Phillip Graham, Oxfam Ireland, on +44 (0) 7841 102535 or at phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org 

Fashion Relief’s online auction offers amazing treasures from legends of entertainment, sport and style

Public bids for items from BonoCillian Murphy and Rob Kearney to tackle hunger crisis.
 
 
Anyone who missed the fantastic FASHION RELIEF extravaganza in Dublin’s RDS last weekend still has the chance to grab some unique and iconic items donated by stars from the world of Irish fashion, rugby and entertainment. 
 
U2’s Bono, Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy, rugby legends Rob Kearney and Andrew Trimble, broadcaster and Fashion Relief founder Lorraine Keane and leading artist Orla Walsh made special donations. 
 
The online auction, which runs until Sunday [May 20th], offers the public an opportunity to bid on some truly amazing treasures, while raising vital funds for Oxfam Ireland’s hunger crisis appeal.
 
Items include:
international rock star Bono’s iconic sunglasses
an original Peaky Blinders cap signed by Cillian Murphy
an Alexander McQueen Limited Edition Blue Clutch Purse With Skull, valued at €2,000; donated by Lorraine Keane
a sophisticated Alexander McQueen Leather Shoulder Bag, valued at €1600; 
rugby jersey and ball signed by Ireland and Leinster rugby icon and Six Nations winner Rob Kearney
rugby jersey signed by Ireland and Ulster rugby player Andrew Trimble; and
a large framed pop art Tayto painting, valued at €950, by the mistress of Irish pop art Orla Walsh.
 
 
Lorraine Keane said: “Thank you to all those who attended for making the first year of Fashion Relief an amazing success! And in case you missed the big day, there's still a selection of amazing items on sale via the online auction – from rock star royalty to movie stars and sporting legends, and an iconic artefact from a major TV show.”
 
For more information on the online auction, visit www.fashionrelief.ie, call +353 (0) 1 672 7662 or email info@oxfamireland.org.
 
 
 
ENDS
 
CONTACT: For more information or interviews, please contact Phillip Graham, Oxfam Ireland, on +44 (0) 7841 102535 or at phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org  
 
NOTES TO THE EDITOR: 
 
About FASHION RELIEF: 
 
FASHION RELIEF is raising funds to help some of the 20 million men, women and children affected by the hunger crisis and in need of urgent help in South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Yemen.
 
The online auction follows the FASHION RELIEF event in the RDS in Dublin on Sunday May 13. The fundraising event showcased rail after rail of designer and pre-loved clothes donated by the public and also by stars, including host Lorraine Keane, Oxfam Ireland ambassadors Andrew Trimble and Lorna Weightman as well as Miriam O’Callaghan, Brent Pope, Roseanna Davison, Mary Kennedy, James Patrice, Rob Kearney, Guggi, Noel Cunningham, Glenda Gilson, Joe Conlan, Laura Woods, Colette Fitzpatrick, Helen Steele, Deborah Veale, Melissa Curry, Liam Cunningham, Aisling O’Loughlin and more.
 
About the hunger crisis: 
 
Right now, the world is facing unprecedented levels of hunger as drought, disaster, famine and conflict threaten the lives of millions of people. 20 million people across East Africa – more than three times the population of the island of Ireland – are facing severe hunger, surviving only on what they can find to eat.
 
Oxfam is on the ground, providing those suffering with life-saving aid including clean water, food and other essentials. The profits raised from Fashion Relief will go towards Oxfam Ireland’s hunger crisis appeal, supporting those in need in East Africa, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. 
 
About the items for online auction:
 
Bono’s sunglasses
Here’s your chance to bag a piece of rock music history as iconic U2 frontman Bono has donated a pair of his trademark stylish sunglasses for Fashion Relief. A genuine slice of rock ‘n’ roll cool, whatever the weather.
 
Peaky Blinders Flat Cap signed by Cillian Murphy 
TV show Peaky Blinders is a major success – mainly because of its Irish star, Cillian Murphy, who plays Tommy Shelby, everyone’s favourite bad boy, and his gang of Birmingham hard men in their peaked caps. Now’s your chance to nab an original Peaky Blinders cap signed by the star himself! 
 
Alexander McQueen Limited Edition Blue Clutch Purse With Skull
Alexander McQueen skull clutch in midnight blue epitomises decadent romance and modern energy – donated by Lorraine Keane to Fashion Relief, one of the last bags designed by McQueen before his death. Valued at €2,000. 
 
Alexander McQueen Leather Shoulder Bag
Sophisticated and effortless, this brown leather handbag from Alexander McQueen, known for his mix of couture and energy, is the ultimate style item. It features a front flap closure, round top handles and is valued at €1600. 
 
Rob Kearney signed Leinster Rugby Jersey and signed Leinster Rugby Ball
Ireland and Leinster rugby icon and Six Nations winner Rob Kearney has signed an original rugby jersey and ball for Fashion Relief – the supreme memento of a legendary player in a legendary season.
 
Andrew Trimble signed rugby jersey 
Ireland and Ulster rugby player Andrew Trimble, Ulster’s most capped player who retired this year following a stellar career, has signed an original rugby jersey for Fashion Relief – the supreme memento of a legendary player and his legendary career.
www.fashionrelief.ie for auction details
 
Orla Walsh large framed pop art Tayto painting 
The mistress of Irish pop art Orla Walsh’s depiction of iconic brands such as Tayto, Guinness and Heinz have attracted international attention as they evoke “a sense of nostalgia.” This magnificent framed original Tayto canvas, measuring 840mm 594 mm, is valued at €950.
 
Some items are yet to be added to the site.
 
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I’m thrilled at the support for Fashion Relief, says Lorraine Keane

The countdown has officially started – and I’ve been blown away by the support I’ve received from friends in the industry. So many well-known faces from the world of television, rugby, entertainment and fashion volunteered their time to join me at the launch of FASHION RELIEF – Ireland’s biggest fashion fundraiser in aid of the hunger crisis overseas.
 
Glenda Gilson and Sarah Morrissey joined me for the launch of Fashion Relief 
 
I returned from a visit to East Africa last November and quickly realised that very little was being reported on the region’s hunger crisis. How can 20 million people facing starvation not be big news? I also thought about the amount of stuff I have. So many of us have too much while others have nothing. 
 
So I decided to organise an event that I would enjoy – a fun day out of fashion shows and shopping where everyone could bag a designer bargain, and celebrities could sell their unwanted clothes and accessories to help others. I approached Oxfam Ireland and FASHION RELIEF was born! 
 
Oxfam Ireland is the perfect charity to work with, because not only do they work in these areas, they also have 48 shops nationwide where the public can drop off their donated items. Together, we knew we could make a difference.
 
I’m really excited to be hosting such a unique event for such a great cause – and looking forward to seeing you in the RDS on Sunday 13th May for what promises to be a day of designer bargains from the wardrobes of both the public and the stars.
 
There’ll be something for everyone, with clothes and accessories starting at just €5. We’ll also be showcasing new pieces from designers and retailers as well as lots of pre-loved donations – not just mine, but from people like Oxfam Ireland ambassadors Andrew Trimble and Lorna Weightman, and celebrities like Cillian Murphy, Miriam O’Callaghan, Brent Pope, Rozanna Purcell, Liam Cunningham, Yvonne Connolly and Kathryn Thomas. The list is endless!
 
 Rob Kearney, Miriam O'Callaghan and Brent Pope also lent a hand
 
Some of my friends in the industry have kindly offered to staff stalls on the day, while others will be modelling their designer donations during two fashion shows – at 1pm and 3pm. Everyone I know is eager to do their bit. So please, come and join us – you could be making a world of difference.
Tickets for FASHION RELIEF are just €5 – and are on sale now.
 
 
Even if you’ve already got your ticket in the bag, there are lots of other ways to get involved.
 
Donate your pre-loved clothes and accessories
  1. Bag up any pre-loved or new clothes, accessories or handbags – just make sure they’re in good condition and ready for the sale rail.
  2. Clearly label the bag/box FASHION RELIEF.
  3. Drop the bag/box to the nearest Oxfam Ireland shop. Find out where at oxfamireland.org/shops
Or you can organise a workplace clothing collection (men’s and women’s clothes and accessories) and Oxfam Ireland will pick it up directly from you. Just click here for more.
 
Volunteer on the day
Become part of the action by volunteering at FASHION RELIEF. You could even staff your own stall, joining some of the stars who have generously pledged their clothes and time. Click here to find out more.
 
Unwind at a VIP after-party at the InterContinental Hotel
Come and join me for a glass of champers from 5pm that evening. The InterContinental is inviting anyone attending FASHION RELIEF to an exclusive VIP after-party from 5pm in its gorgeously chic ICE Bar. Thanks to our sponsors, the InterContinental Hotel and Marks & Spencer Ireland, you can enjoy a glass of champagne and nibbles and relax after a day’s shopping for just €20. All proceeds go to FASHION RELIEF. Places are limited so booking is essential.
 
 
For more details on FASHION RELIEF, visit fashionrelief.ie 

Mothers of Marawi hopeful after months of fear

Last year, residents of Marawi in the Philippines faced two major disasters: In May, they were uprooted by a violent siege and seven months later, they faced a deadly typhoon. Oxfam is supporting a consortium of local organizations who are helping families stay healthy and safe in the wake of these crises, rebuild their lives and prepare for future disasters. 
 
Nashima Potawan, 47, and her four children were forced to move to Madalum during the Marawi Siege, and months later faced the devastating effects of Typhoon Vinta.
 
Mothers caught in conflict keeping their families safe.
It is difficult for a mother to see her children in any kind of pain. The mothers of Marawi City, Philippines however, have witnessed their children endure crisis, only to be hit by another while still reeling and away from home. 
 
When single mother Nashima Potawan, 47, heard gunshots and bombings during the siege last spring, she immediately hurried each of her four children to different parts of their house. 
 
"I brought one of my children to the bathroom. Then, I held the youngest. I brought the other one to the living room and the other in the bedroom. So if ever a bomb would come, there will be survivors. Not all of us would die,” Nashima said. 
In another part of the city, Bailo Bazar comforted her three children who were shaking in fear. She was struggling to stop the youngest from crying. 
 
“My youngest child was crying, and my uncle said, ‘Stop him from crying. We must pretend that we are not at home so we should not be making noises.” 
 
While the women were struggling to take care of everything and everyone, members of the Maute Group were asking men and boys to come out of their homes and join the fighting.
 
After a grueling day of waiting and hiding, both Nashima’s and Bailo’s families evacuated to Madalum, a nearby municipality, where many families stayed for months to stay safe.
 
Natural disaster strikes 
As they approached their seventh month away from home, Typhoon Vinta struck just days before Christmas, leaving many casualties and millions worth of damage. Madalum, the newfound home of many families, including Nashima’s and Bailo’s, was one of the hardest hit, with landslides and flashfloods wiping out everything in its path.
 
“I saw rocks and high levels of floodwater which were taller than an average person. My son said, “Mother, I am afraid.’ And I said, ‘We should endure this, because the flood will soon subside. Let’s wait until we can get out of here,” Nashima recalled. 
Then they saw just how quickly the water was rising, and she decided to bring her children to the gymnasium, which was later designated as an evacuation center for the typhoon survivors. 
 
“If I did not decide to go to the evacuation center, the floodwater would have risen immensely. It would have killed us,” Nashima said. 
 
Bailo’s family, on the other hand, was trapped on the roof of their house as the waters rose rapidly - She honestly thought that this time, they would not survive. Fortunately, the water did not reach their roof, and a few hours later, rescuers came and brought them to a safe place. 
 
Climate change and poverty add to risks, but local leaders are there to respond.
 
The Humanitarian Response Committee is working with Oxfam and the local government to support disaster-affected communities, and to help create and accurate database which will help future aid distributions. 
 
Even before the disasters struck, Nashima and Bailo belonged to already vulnerable communities, living in one of the poorest provinces in the country. In fact, according to the latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, seven out of ten families in province are poor and that number has been consistently rising. Without the resources to rebuild, Nashima and Bailo’s families were still living in the evacuation center one month after the storm, and eight months after the siege.
 
Along with this growing poverty, climate change is putting island nations like the Philippines at increasing risk of flooding and weather-related crises. This means that there is more need than ever for local and national organizations who can step up and provide vital leadership to respond and prepare for future disasters. 
 
The Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC) is a group of Filipino organizations that Oxfam helped found in 2010 to provide rapid, high-quality and dignified relief to disaster-affected communities. This past year, they supported families forced from their homes by conflict and natural disaster with access to safe water, latrines, shelter materials, communal kitchens, hygiene kits, and more. They also provided legal assistance to help people obtain IDs, which are crucial for safe travel and for accessing government benefits. Oxfam supported the HRC’s distribution of hygiene and kitchen essentials for more than 1,500 families, and emergency financial assistance to about 700 families.
 
At times of disaster, HRC quickly assesses and responds to what communities need most in close coordination with government responders. They are helping local governments compile a complete and accurate database of the affected communities, so they can distribute further assistance for the typhoon survivors. This collaboration between organizations like Oxfam, these local organizations and government is key to provide the best possible resources and response for mothers like Nashima and Bailo, so they can rebuild their lives and feel better prepared to face future disasters as they arise. 
 

The Philippines - The power of local people to save lives

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