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Allowing children to drown in our seas is an affront to the humanity of the European people

The tragic and profoundly inhumane situation faced by refugees across Europe must end. The Irish and UK Governments must act immediately to meet our obligations under international law and demonstrate humanitarian leadership in Europe. Accepting 600 people into Ireland and only 216 Syrian refugees into the UK while children’s bodies wash up on the shores of the Mediterranean is an absolute affront to the decency and kindness of the public. We cannot stand by and watch this crisis unfold while pictures of such incredible suffering flood our screens. Saving lives must be the first priority for Irish, UK and EU migration policy.

Resettling refugees will not solve this crisis but it could save thousands of lives. We cannot pretend this is not our responsibility – this challenge has to be taken on by everybody, and we can’t wait for Europe – which has abjectly failed to decide on an appropriate, human rights-based response. The governments’ efforts must be increased with urgency. An Taoiseach must immediately convene an emergency meeting of the Dáíl to decide on Ireland’s response. This is a clear time for Ireland to lead by example and not shirk behind excuses such as we have heard from leading politicians across Europe over the last month. We must act now to show our solidarity with people desperately fleeing for their lives – in the same way that solidarity was shown to people from Ireland, north and south, when we fled death and devastation in our own country.”

In Italy, Oxfam is responding to the needs of vulnerable refugees who have been rescued from the waters of the Mediterranean. We also provide immediate and life-saving assistance to those affected by the conflict within Syria and the surrounding region. We have seen first-hand the terrible circumstances which force people to risk their own lives, and the lives of their children, by getting into the water on unsafe boats. The only solution to this appalling situation is political. World leaders, particularly the members of the UN Security Council, must immediately take action to secure peace and end the mass violations of international humanitarian law.”

The consequences of inaction in the face of this crisis will be far reaching and tragic. Europe absolutely has the ability to absorb refugees beyond current levels. This must be the starting point which guides the decisions which will be made at the EU ministerial meeting on September 14th. Europe has a responsibility to protect the vulnerable and respect the rights and human dignity of refugees arriving at its borders. There’s an urgent need for a unified position in Europe, where each member state makes the effort required to provide safe haven. We call on the Irish and UK Governments to increase the numbers of refugees we are accepting, and to join the Common European Asylum Policy as the first step in a credible response to this unprecedented humanitarian emergency.

Europe must offer safe and legal routes for refugees to seek protection rather than fortify our borders, and our governments’ roles will be crucial in ensuring safe passage for desperate people.

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Seven in 10 Irish support overseas humanitarian support

Seven out of 10 Irish people are proud of the country’s generosity in supporting humanitarian relief efforts, according to a recent survey by Oxfam Ireland released as part of World Humanitarian Day, the 19th of August.

To mark this, Oxfam’s Colm Byrne reflects on his trip to CAR and the effect of humanitarian crisis there. 

Where is that?” almost everyone replied when I told them I was going to the Central African Republic (CAR). The clue in the name not being enough, they then searched the web to learn more and if truth be known, so too had I once. Information, at least in the western media, is sparse. It is clearly not without reason that this landlocked country bordered by some of the African continents most conflict affected states - Chad to the north, Sudan to the north east, South Sudan to the east, DRC and Congo to the south – was once referred to as “the Phantom State”. 

In 2012, the country experienced its fifth coup d’état since independence in 1960 sparking extreme violence as Christian self-defense groups (anti-Balaka) fought with the fractured Muslim rebel alliance (Séléka) that had brought a new President to power. The humanitarian consequences were devastating as 6,000 people died and almost a million were displaced within the country and to the surrounding states with only French and UN intervention preventing still greater catastrophe. 

Today CAR is again largely out of sight and out of mind as Communities struggle to recover and reports suggest dangerous food shortages in many parts of the capital Bangui. This is in no small part because the local markets, the lifeline of commercial activity providing both access to food for the city’s inhabitants and a means to earn an income for traders, have been disrupted. Territorial lines drawn between once neighbourly Communities limit the movement of both traders and consumers for fear of violence both within the city and beyond. Trapped, local traders told me “we were like slaves”. Maqil, who buys and sells oxen told me he cannot now travel safely to the countryside to buy them. Even aid convoys are being attacked in CAR as banditry is common. 

Some traders too were robbed or beaten during the fighting and to add to their woes are now left without capital with which to resume or sustain trade and so provide for their families. I met Anna, a member of one of over a hundred local trade groups who are receiving training and cash grants from Oxfam to restart their businesses, who invited me to take a short walk to her stall. It’s meagre stock of just 5 pieces of cloth and 3 handbags said everything. And there are no social protection mechanisms in the form of social welfare or insurance schemes to fall back on here. 

But for Anna and other traders like her, the talk is not now of handouts or more aid as trade group names such Sara Agayé (Do anything to become something) and Wali Guida Loudo (Women of Guida Get Up) serve to prove. These are proud and resilient Communities who despite living in the most difficult of circumstances ask no more than a step back up on the ladder. And the traders, working together as united communities regardless of religious identity, plan to return better than before too. Ali, another trader, tells me that “now we have learnt about marketing, know how to use and save our money effectively and understand better now the importance of quality”. “Before we didn’t save or plan” said Anna “but the training has provided us with habits, taught us how to sell and engage with our customers”. The Sara Agayé group plans to buy tools and higher quality seed e.g. Japanese and Italian cabbage, which will allow them to sell higher quality produce at a higher price. 

Beneath the optimism however, there exists a very real fear of being forgotten again. Conflict affected Communities in the Central African Community have been promised much by the international Community before and remain cautious about whether even committed support might ever materialise. As I leave the city, the market is flooded ….. not with consumers but with seasonal rains. The traders remain steadfast by their stalls and from the comfort of my passing car I try to take a photograph of a committed phone card salesmen standing knee deep in water. These traders will not give up….but they do ask for a step up. 

EU and Oxfam work together to help refugees and other vulnerable groups in humanitarian and conflict situations around the world. Your continued support makes this possible. Read more at eusavelives.org

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Drop and Shop style tips: How to edit your wardrobe

I’ve worked with Oxfam Ireland many times over the years and was thrilled when they asked me to support the new Drop and Shop campaign – which is also a great scheme for you to get involved with.

I’ve always found Oxfam to be a great organisation to work with on shows and shoots – the staff and volunteers really know their stuff about fashion, both current and vintage, and have a great eye for merchandising. These events are the most fun for me to style because you never know what you might find when trawling through the stock.

Working with Oxfam on fashion shows, such as Belfast Fashion Week’s Charity Shop Challenge, always causes quite a stir. Over the years there have been near-riots backstage on more than a few occasions when models spy one-off desirable pieces that they wanted to buy – while at the same time members of the audience mobbed the Oxfam shop manager to buy the pieces straight off the catwalk.

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I recently realised how many clothes I have (a lot), yet I tend to wear so few of them. You know how it is – you throw on whatever is handy, you rely on a certain style formula, a colour palette, a silhouette, a trademark. And there is nothing wrong with that, it’s important to have a personal style that suits you and your lifestyle. Honestly though, it’s easy to go from personal style straight into a style rut. I verge on this sometimes and I’m a stylist! I live and breathe this stuff.

A wardrobe fit to bursting sounds like the ideal scenario for any fashion-conscious person (or in my case, a room overflowing to another room, overflowing to the floor…) but the reality is that we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. This means the majority of our clothes are sitting there, doing nothing. Getting in our way, occasionally sneaking into the laundry. It makes getting ready in the morning more taxing, as you wade through rails of ex-favourites to find the one thing you are looking for.

But these clothes could be doing something. A big something. Did you know that a high quality/one-off piece like a designer dress or a piece of furniture can raise vital funds and make a big impact on Oxfam’s work worldwide? For example, a jumper sold for £6/€8 at your local Oxfam Ireland shop could help purify around 2,000 litres of water, making it safe to drink for families living in makeshift camps in Nepal.

Take a few hours to go through your wardrobe. I bet you have loads of things you’ve only worn once or twice, or maybe never worn? Try them on. Why did you buy them in the first place? What do they work well with? Do you still like these pieces? Decide what to keep and what to ditch. Get rid of anything you haven’t worn for over 18 months (except occasion clothing and items with sentimental value), anything that no longer fits and anything with the labels still attached.

Bag these items up and drop then to your local Oxfam shop. I now do this regularly and it feels great. The relief of having a nice organised, clear wardrobe is fab. The feel-good factor, knowing that you are doing your bit to help Oxfam fight poverty and save lives in emergencies, is priceless.

There’s an extra pressure in these days of social media and the ever-present camera. With every event and night out charted on our Facebook and Instagram, people are feeling the pressure previously reserved for celebrities – being photographed in the same outfit over and over. It sounds silly but I bet it’s gone through your mind before. What better reason to bag up those old favourites and donate so that someone else has the chance to have a night out in that gorgeous dress and hopefully you can pick up something just as stunning when you #dropandshop – you get 15% discount on the day you drop. Share your experience on social media to be in with the chance of winning a refurbished iPad 2.

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I’ve been a trawler of charity shops since I was a little kid – first of all spending my pocket money on old Enid Blyton books and Judy annuals, then on slip dresses and grandad cardigans during the grunge years of the ’90s. Here are my top tips.

- Don’t take vintage/second-hand items at face value – body shapes have changed over the last century, so clothing may need alterations. Long skirts can be cut short, necklines altered, garments restyled. You should find a good dressmaker or learn how to use a sewing machine.

- Imagine a piece out of context. On a crowded shelf of scary figurines, or a rail of sad-looking frocks, you must try to see each item as an individual. Pick up every piece and imagine it out of context: in Urban Outfitters or Topshop, say or a cool boutique. Things which look tatty and unloved sometimes just need a bit of styling. Stand back, squint, and imagine how it would look somewhere really chic.

Charity shopping does take a certain amount of commitment. You can’t just waltz in twice a year and hope to strike gold. Little and often is the best way, dash around your locals on your lunch break at least once a week. Get to know the volunteers so you can ask about stock that hasn’t been put on the floor yet.

Find out what day your local charity shops receive their deliveries, so you can get first dibs on the good stuff.

Check for any stains or damages to the garment and be sure it can be repaired.

With proper vintage clothing, do try things on, and don’t trust the labels – ‘standard’ sizing has varied greatly since it was introduced in the 1950s – so a modern size 10 may find that a size 14 vintage garment is a perfect fit. On that note, different decades’ styles flatter different body shapes – the fit and flare silhouette and strong shoulders of the 1940s flatters pear shapes. The full skirts and cinched waists of the 1950s were designed for the hourglass figures, while apple shapes suit the empire line and shorter hemlines of the sixties. Slender figures can carry off the bias-cut of the 1930s and the long, lean looks of the ’70s.

- Wearing top-to-toe vintage can create a theatrical, fancy dress look – mix vintage with high-street and designer to create your own style and keep hair and make-up clean and simple.

Don’t forget men’s clothing – the androgynous ‘boy meets girl’ look great. Look for oversized jackets and shirts to wear with slim cropped trousers. Shoulder pads can be removed and shoulders nipped in.

It is more environmentally sound to buy second-hand – it is the most stylish form of recycling.

The ’70s is a big trend this season and next, with suede coats and jackets being one of the key pieces so keep an eye out for those. Leather pieces are also great investments with the bonus of already been worn in. Try something a bit different, charity shopping is a great time to take a risk and nab a bargain.

When you take your new finds home, see where they fit with your newly edited wardrobe. Mix and match to create new outfits and create a new personal and ethical style.

 

Top fashion stylist and designer Sara O’Neill is supporting the Oxfam Ireland Drop and Shop campaign.

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World Refugee Day: The People Behind The Statistics

The number of refugees and people displaced by conflict has surpassed that reached during the Second World War. 

Each of the people who comprise the staggering number of 59.5 million has a name but they are often faceless.

Working alongside the European Commission’s Office for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), we want to make them visible.

To mark World Refugee Day (Saturday June 20th), Oxfam Ireland volunteers in Belfast and Dublin have been highlighting the people behind the statistics to #MakeThemVisible.

It’s part of the EUsaveLives campaign to raise awareness of the individual stories of refugees and displaced people from countries like Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Tweet your support on World Refugee Day 2015 with #MakeThemVisible.

For more information on the project, click here and visit www.eusavelives.org

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There’s no place like home: keeping hope alive for the children of Syria

Above: Oxfam’s Helena O’Donnell with Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. 1 million Syrians have left their home country for Lebanon since the war began.

“Bubbles my dog and my Xbox” was the emphatic response of one young Cork schoolboy when asked what he would miss most from home. 

“Minecraft… my bedroom… my trampoline” and “my football” were the other homely comforts for the boys of Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh in Bishopstown, Cork.

I was speaking to the boys about their homes, what they loved most about being at home and what it must feel like for the Syrian children who have had to leave their homes due to war and conflict.  

It’s a very sad story to speak to young children about. The war in Syria is in its fifth year and much of the country is now in ruins.

Almost 4 million Syrians have had to flee their country, with over 1 million of these moving to live in refugee camps in neighbouring Lebanon.

On an unusually stormy day in May I was welcomed to Cork by the pupils of Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh, who were eager to hear about the Syrian children they had heard about on the news. The heavy hailstones and rushing wind in the deserted school yard set the mood for the sombre discussion ahead of me. 

Loaded with large colour photographs of Syrian children and stories of the families I had met when visiting refugee camps in Lebanon earlier this year, I struggled to think of how I might explain to primary school children the impact of war on boys and girls the same age as themselves.

I shouldn’t have worried. From the moment I arrived, I was greeted with cheers, energy and positivity from the 1st to 6th class boys who were delighted to have the chance to leave their classrooms and convene in their sports hall to talk about soccer, how much they love it, how much Syrian children love soccer and how their pre-loved jerseys would be put to good use by an emerging football team in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.

Above: Oxfam’s Helena O’Donnell with some of the pupils of Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh in Bishopstown, Cork, who organised a shipment of sports gear for Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon after hearing news reports about them.

Earlier this year, the big-hearted pupils had been inspired by news reports about Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon and decided to come together and collect all their pre-loved and unused sports jerseys and soccer boots and send them over on a sponsored shipment to the boys and girls of the Al Jalil children’s centre in Beqaa Valley. 

When I visited the centre in March, the bright-eyed Syrian children I met told me, through a translator, that they were very happy there and loved to play soccer, play group games like musical chairs and take turns in the arts and crafts room. As I laughed and joked with them it had struck me how much they had seen in their short lives and reflected on how serious a conflict it was to have driven them this huge distance from their homes in Syria.

The Oxfam-funded centre tries to give refugee children, frequently homeless, a space to enjoy the pastimes they loved so much back home. It helps Syrian children, traumatised by what they have seen, to restore some normality and fun to their lives. 

Above: Refugee children at the Oxfam-supported Al Jalil children’s centre in Beqaa Valley in Lebanon where activities like soccer and art provide a respite from the day-to-day challenges of being so far from home.

The centre has had huge success forming a mixed gender soccer team. As you can see from my pictures, the boys from Bishopstown, Co Cork are delighted to have the chance to help bring a sense of hope and fun for the refugee children.  

As we mark World Refugee Day this Saturday (July 20th), we would like to say a huge well done to everyone at Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh. They have raised vital awareness in their own community about the situation facing Syrian refugees and shown solidarity with displaced communities who have escaped the violence in Syria.

*Thank you to the EU which funded the media trip to Lebanon which generated the news reports mentioned in this article, part of the EUsaveLives campaign. For more information on the project, click here  and visit www.eusavelives.org

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