Emergencies

  • When an emergency hits, Oxfam is there. We work with local partners on the ground so we can save lives during times of crisis and reduce future risks. We help people caught up in natural disasters and conflicts by providing clean water, food, sanitation and protection. At any given time, we’re responding to over 30 emergency situations, giving life-saving support to those most in need.

Searching for safety: lessons from Syria's refugees

What is life like for Syrian refugees in Lebanon? Oxfam conducted research to find out how safe refugees feel and to understand the challenges they face. For Oxfam researcher Nour Shawaf, it was a humbling process.

I thought I knew it all, I thought I had seen it, I thought I had read about it, I thought I had heard all their stories… After all, I am Lebanese, I have Syrian and Palestinian friends, I have been interacting with refugees on a regular basis for the past four years, I speak their language and I follow the news closely! Why would I not know it all?

Well I was definitely wrong. I knew nothing at all.

“Every time we went to a place the war would follow us.” She personified war and it scared me. My imagination took me beyond the discussion. I dropped my papers and just listened to her. The young woman sitting in front of me was my age. She had experienced multiple displacements and the war was following her. This was not just another research exercise, and this young woman talking to me was not just another story.

While carrying out Participatory Protection Research for Oxfam in Lebanon to explore the perceptions and expectations of refugees from Syria over the past, present and future, my own perceptions and expectations were altered. The stories refugees from Syria told left me completely shocked.

Reality struck me hard, especially when people started describing their routes from Syria to Lebanon. I had heard about the “mountain.” It is the word all refugees from Syria use to indicate they have come into the country through unofficial borders. But never had it occurred to me that the ‘mountain’ was a “death plateau.” People talked about walking for hours and days, being left by smugglers in the middle of nowhere, walking in the snow or under the sweltering sun, and having to leave their belongings en route to carry children and elderly on their backs when they could no longer walk.

Bekaa Valley informal refugee settlement in winter. Credit: Sam Tarling/Oxfam 

They went through the “mountain” looking for safety from the bombings, the shelling and the airstrikes. There are neither bombings nor shelling nor airstrikes where they are now… but they have still not found safety!

The rampant fear and the deteriorating living conditions are obstacles that prevent them from feeling safe. Their inability to meet their basic needs, obtain legal statuses and avoid arrests, deprive them from the sense of safety they are longing for.

Though this came as no surprise to me, experiencing it along with the refugees who volunteered to participate in the research shifted my perspective. They explained to me the range of factors they had to worry about. If they leave home, they have to worry about the checkpoints. If they stay home they have to worry about raids. If they find a job they have to worry about inspectors along with different forms of exploitation. If they don’t find a job they have to worry about meeting their families’ basic needs.

In their own words, their quest to find safety is costing them their dignity: “When you are displaced you start ignoring your dignity to find safety”. When an older Lebanese woman made the aforementioned statement, she summarised everything the refugees were trying to tell me in one sentence. The times may have changed, but the experience of displacement remains the same.

A portrait of Jemaa Al Halayal and his two-year-old daughter, Lebanon. Credit: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Despite the dire conditions and the lack of better prospects, Ahmad told me: “We won’t lose hope”. Ahmad is a 22-year-old Syrian refugee from Homs. He fled his hometown at the very beginning of the war. He had always dreamt of becoming a Computer Engineer. Although his dreams have not unfolded so far, he is striving to achieve the best given the current circumstances. He says: “Even if you are a refugee, you must have a message, a mission. I want to serve my country, my people. I hope I can spread a positive message.”

As part of our research we invited participants to take photos. The above photo was taken by Ahmad (of his former home), as it reminds him of his past. I sometimes tend to forget that Ahmad was not a refugee before 2013 and that he led a different life. This photo is my constant reminder.

People like Ahmad are what keeps me going, that much I know!

Posted by Nour Shawaf, Protection Research and Policy Advisor for Oxfam in Lebanon

 

Uganda needs more help in world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis

Thursday 22nd June 2017

Uganda’s “open door” policy toward refugees – now being held up around the world as a gold standard – could quickly buckle and fail unless the international community respond in full to the country’s $673 million UN appeal.

International donors have pledged only $117 million so far to Uganda out of the $637 million needed for the county’s South Sudan refugee response. So far the $1.38 billion UN appeal for the wider region’s response to the world’s fast-growing refugee crisis – which includes Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo – is only 15% funded.

Almost one million people have fled South Sudan for Uganda since December 2013. So far this year an average of 2,000 people have arrived each day. Uganda is now hosting more than 1.25 million refugees in total, a number which has doubled over the last year. The vast majority – 86% – are women and children who need specific support to keep them safe from rape, beatings, torture, hunger and abandonment.

Peter Kamalingin, Oxfam’s Country Director in Uganda, said: “Uganda hosts the third-largest population of refugees in the world and yet it is one of the most under-funded host nations. This is both highly unfair and highly unsustainable. Uganda must get the support it needs to continue its welcoming policies toward its neighbour.”

Uganda is hosting the first Refugee Solidarity Summit on 22nd and 23rd June. Oxfam is calling on the international community to provide funds, humanitarian aid and, crucially, to pave the way for a peaceful resolution to conflicts in neighbouring countries. 

“Governments urgently need to invest in the Uganda response to ensure that refugees and their host communities are provided with shelter and protection among other urgent needs. Local humanitarian agencies here have a vital understanding of the context of the crisis, so they need to be supported to deal with the needs of refugees in timely and cost-effective ways,” Kamalingin said.

Uganda’s policies provide a basis for refugees to be able to access land, shelter and employment.

Kamalingin continued: “On paper, these policies are laudable and Uganda is rightly being praised – but it needs to be supported too. Host communities also need land, clean water, food and employment opportunities. Uganda is balancing people’s needs as best it can for the moment, but it won’t be able to sustain that over time without proper backing. Most importantly, it should not be lost to regional governments and the International community that the most urgent relief for a refugee is peace at home.”

Speaking on behalf of fifty national and local organisations who were consulted ahead of the summit, Paparu Lilian Obiale, Humanitarian Programme Manager at CEFORD, an Oxfam partner in the West Nile region, said: “Ugandan civil society hopes that the summit will not only raise the profile of refugees in Uganda but also bring much needed funding and encourage real discussion about the root causes of the displacement in the region. There needs to be genuine discussion about how we foster sustainable futures both for refugees and those in hosting communities." 

ENDS

CONTACT:

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson on 00353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

Notes to editors:

Oxfam’s refugee response in Uganda: Oxfam’s response to the refugee crisis in Uganda, alongside partners, is currently reaching over 280,000 refugees across four districts providing life-saving assistance, clean water, sanitation hygiene including construction of pit latrines, sustainable livelihoods and integrating gender and protection work. Oxfam and partners are actively engaged in advocacy for sustainable approaches to the refugee response as well as peace building at local level, national, regional and international levels.

Over the last 4 years, Oxfam in Uganda invested in pilot humanitarian capacity building for over 15 local and national organisations across different parts of Uganda. Those partners, working closely with Oxfam are critical in delivering timely and quality humanitarian services to people in need including during the influx of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012/13 and the influx of South Sudanese refugees since December 2013 to date. 

Cholera killing one person almost every hour in Yemen

08/06/2017

Oxfam calls for massive aid effort and immediate ceasefire.

Yemen is in the grip of a runaway cholera epidemic that is killing one person almost every hour and if not contained will threaten the lives of thousands of people in the coming months, Oxfam warned today. The aid agency is calling for an urgent, largescale aid effort and an immediate ceasefire in Yemen to allow health and aid workers to tackle the outbreak. 

According to the World Health Organisation, in the five weeks between 27 April and 3 June 2017, 676 people died of cholera and over 86,000 were suspected of having the disease. Last week the rate jumped to 2,777 suspected cases a day from 2,529 a day during the previous week. Given Yemen’s neglected medical reporting system and the widespread nature of the epidemic, these official figures are likely to be under reporting the full scale of the crisis. 

In the coming months there could be up to 150,000 cases of cholera, with some predictions as high as 300,000 cases. 

The cholera crisis comes on top of two years of brutal war which has decimated the health, water and sanitation systems, severely restricted the essential imports the country is dependent upon and left millions of people one step away from famine. 

Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager, said: “Yemen is on the edge of an abyss. Two years of war has plunged the country into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, leaving it facing devastating famine. Now it is at the mercy of a deadly and rapidly spreading cholera epidemic. 

“Cholera is simple to prevent and treat but while the fighting continues, that task is made difficult and at times impossible. Lives hang in the balance - a massive aid effort is needed now. Those backing this war in Western and Middle Eastern capitals need to put pressure on all parties to the fighting to agree an immediate ceasefire to allow public health and aid workers to get to work saving lives.”

Oxfam said that the outbreak is set to be one of the worst this century if there is not a massive and immediate effort to bring it under control. It is calling on rich countries and international agencies to generously deliver on promises of $1.2bn of aid they made last month.

Money, essential supplies and technical support are needed to strengthen Yemen's embattled health, water and sanitation services. Health workers and water engineers have not been paid for months while hospitals, health centres, public water systems have been destroyed and starved of key items, such as medical supplies, chlorine and fuel. Even basic supplies such as intravenous fluids, oral rehydration salts and soap are urgently needed to enable an effective, speedy response - some of which will have to be flown into the country. Communities also need to be supported with their efforts to prevent the disease spreading and quickly treat people showing the first signs of infection. 

Oxfam Ireland is appealing to the public to donate to its hunger crisis appeal and support people facing famine in Yemen, as well as in East Africa, South Sudan and Nigeria: oxfamireland.org/hunger  

ENDS

CONTACT: For interviews or more information, contact:

ROI: Alice Dawson on 00353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org  

NI: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

Notes to Editors: 

Stats on cholera outbreak: http://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/yemen-cholera-outbreak-dg-echo-who-ech...

Cholera is easily prevented with simple and affordable efforts at home and in the community, such as disinfection of water with chlorine, safe collection and storage of water, washing hands with soap, and understanding the myths, behaviours associated with cholera. When people suspect they have the symptoms they can drink a mix salt and sugar to rehydrate them while they make their way to the medical centre. 

 

Millions in Yemen knowingly pushed to the brink of famine, warns Oxfam

March 23rd, 2017

Fighters in the Yemen war and their international backers are knowingly pushing the country to the brink of famine, Oxfam warned today, ahead of the two year anniversary of the escalation of the conflict. Nearly 7 million people have been pushed to the brink of starvation and 70 per cent of the population is in need of humanitarian aid.

Oxfam is calling for urgent action on two fronts: an immediate resumption of the peace process and for donors to provide the additional $2.1bn the UN says is needed for the humanitarian response. Currently the appeal is only 7 per cent funded.

Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager, said: “If the parties to the conflict – and those fuelling it with arm sales – continue to ignore Yemen’s food crisis, they will be responsible for a famine.

“The people of Yemen are being starved to death and may not survive the situation much longer. A fully funded humanitarian response is vital to prevent countless people dying needlessly but ultimately what Yemenis need is an end to the fighting.All sides to the conflict need to understand that famine is the real enemy of Yemen. Preventing famine must take priority over any side’s military aims. The world cannot wait for famine to be declared in Yemen or it will be too late.”

Airstrikes and fighting have killed more than 7,600 people, including over 4,600 civilians, forced over 3 million people from their homes and left 18.8 million people – 70 percent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, the greatest number in any country in the world.

Ports, roads and bridges, along with warehouses, farms and markets have been regularly destroyed by the Saudi-led coalition, draining the country’s food stocks. The Houthi led authority is delaying the delivery of life-saving relief, and sometimes detaining aid workers. This, coupled with a flattened economy, has created an abyss of hunger and led 6.8 million people to the brink of famine.

A blockade has been imposed on Yemen, preventing food coming into the country. While this has been partially eased, new restrictions on shipping and the destruction of many port facilities, such as the cranes of Al-Hudaydah port in August 2015, are punishing the Yemeni population and the country’s food supplies are running a critically low.

Fighting on Yemen’s west coast escalated last month, especially around Al-Hudaydah and Mocha ports, which risks cutting off vital supplies to millions of people. In a worst-case scenario where food imports drop substantially or where conflict prevents supplies being moved around the country, famine is possible.

An Oxfam food survey of 2,000 families who have been forced to flee their homes in north-west Yemen, between November and December 2016, found that 85 percent of people were going hungry. The only options they have are to reduce the amount of food they eat or feed what little they have to their children and go hungry themselves. They skip meals and end up buying food of lesser quality, often on credit. Some have no source of food at all and only survive thanks to humanitarian aid and people’s generosity.

In order to save the lives of millions of starving people, Oxfam is urging the United Nations Secretary General to pressure all parties to the conflict to resume peace talks, to reach a negotiated peace agreement and improve the economic situation in the country.

Oxfam is calling for all land, sea and air routes to Yemen to remain open and for attacks targeting military objects related to supply routes and infrastructure to not disproportionately affect civilians in accordance with International Humanitarian Law.

Oxfam is also helping people facing starvation in East Africa, South Sudan and Nigeria. In South Sudan, Oxfam is distributing food to over 415,000 people as well as providing over 140,000 people with clean water and sanitation. The agency is also helping over 300,000 in Nigeria, 255,000 people in the Southern Somali region of Ethiopia and has begun a response to the drought in Somalia with immediate plans to reach a minimum of 10,000 people with clean water, sanitation and cash assistance for food.

The public can support Oxfam Ireland’s Hunger Crisis Appeal at: https://www.oxfamireland.org/hunger

ENDS

 

NOTES TO THE EDITOR

Oxfam spokespeople are available for interview on the ground in the region and also here in Ireland, including Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager.

CONTACT: To arrange an interview or for more information, please contact: Alice Dawson, Oxfam Ireland, on +353 (0) 83 198 1869 or at alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

WHAT OXFAM IS DOING IN YEMEN

  • We have reached more than a million people in eight governorates of Yemen with water and sanitation services, cash assistance, food vouchers and other essential aid since July 2015
  • We have given cash to more 205,000 people so families can buy food or livestock
  • 35,000 have taken part in our cash-for-work programmes

"We fled from our home... there were so many bodies on the streets."

 
Wafaa and her family in the half build house they now call home. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam
 
"We fled from our home; there were so many dead bodies on the streets." Wafaa (name changed to protect identity) sits on the floor in one of three rooms in a small, half-built house her brother rents for their families in Kahlo Bazini, in Kirkuk, northern Iraq. Conditions in the house are basic at best, some of the walls aren't yet finished and until Oxfam intervened they had no facilities to wash, no toilet, and no clean water.
 
"Our living situation is difficult, but we make things work; my brother works cleaning shops so that he can earn money to provide food for us. My children and I all depend on my brother. He goes to clean the shops and then brings home vegetables, things like tomatoes, and shares them between my children and his. We have lived in this same situation for a while," explains Wafaa.
 
Before arriving in Kirkuk, Wafaa and her family moved several times trying to escape ISIS as they took control of large areas of Iraq in 2014. "When we first left out home, we went to my brother's house in Al Eshaqi. We were there for three days and then attacks, bombing and killings started in the streets, so we left to go to my sister's house; she lived far away from the places that had been captured by ISIS. We didn't stay there very long though, about 27 days, and then the fighting started there as well. There were airstrikes, missiles and bombs everywhere."
 
At one point Wafaa and her family were forced to live in an empty school building: 'The school had no appliances; there was no water, toilets or place to wash; the water we were using came directly from the river, it was dirty and polluted. It gave us a lot of infections and allergic reactions. No one came to check if we were okay and the fighting continued to reach us again.
 
"Then my son got ill; he fell on the ground and his face swelled up. My son is only six years old. I had to tell my family that I couldn't stay there any longer." But the area was surrounded from both sides.
 
 
Wafaa Derwesh* (name changed), 39, was displaced with her family when ISIS took control of her village. She now lives in a small village near Kirkuk called Khalo Bazini. Photo: Tommy Trenchard / Oxfam
 
The school where Wafaa and her family were staying was isolated and very far from any roads, "It was like we had escaped to a small empty island far away", Wafaa explains. "There was no water and no electricity. And then ISIS struck. Three ISIS fighters who were carrying guns and firing passed by us; we were so scared we ran away again.
 
"When ISIS came, there were a lot of other families at the school; many of them left the school with us to escape ISIS. They put their black flag above the school; the same school that had been like a home to us." As Wafaa sits in the dark room of the house she and her family now call home she tells the story of how they escaped from ISIS.
 
"We left the school at around 4.00am and we reached the army controlled area at 12.00pm. ISIS had destroyed all the bridges. It was a cold winter, we had no clothes with us and we were trying to escape from ISIS. We were in bad situation, but there were other families and relatives who couldn't leave because ISIS had already taken control of the area and taken them under siege."
 
Not all of her family had been so fortunate. "My sister was still living at the school. She didn't have a car, and random bombing and air strikes had already begun between the army and ISIS. She was alone in the middle of their battle. She called my mom and told her the battle had begun and that she was about to give birth to her baby.
 
"One of my sister's neighbours was her midwife at the birth. It all happened during these air strikes and bombings. We were having a very cold and rainy spell and my sister was giving birth to her new child. She had been complaining about the pain in her stomach but there was no doctor, no food, and no medicine, and no car for her to get to them."
 
Even though ISIS had surrounded the area, Wafaa and her brothers went back to the school to try and fetch their sister. They wanted to get her the medical help she so badly needed. "She was on the dirty ground that had been polluted and her stomach was too swollen, I can't describe it, we couldn't do anything for her; we were helpless and powerless. It was very difficult to see her like that; she was my sister."
 
 
Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam
 
Wafaa managed to get her sister out of the school but she died soon after that. 'That's how I last saw her; it was very tragic; we all suffered and felt sad about losing her. We had become displaced in one way, and her daughters who are very young became displaced in a different way.' After her sister died, Wafaa took in her nieces and now provides for them as well as her own children.
 
There are currently over 3.2 million people displaced in Iraq, and even after their village or town has been recaptured from ISIS, families like Wafaa's aren't able to go home due to the level of destruction, number of mines left behind and the slow vetting process that ensues. "Our area was liberated a long time ago," Wafaa explains, "but they won't allow us to return because there are mines that have been planted, explosive devices and bombs in our farms and houses. Behind our home ISIS planted many bombs and explosive devices.
 
"I'm not afraid of anything. I'm waiting for the checkpoint at Balad to open and then I'll return to my house. My home was small but nice, and I was living happily in it. We left because ISIS attacked us; missiles were falling everywhere and my children were crying. It was a difficult situation and it was hard on my children. I couldn't make them understand that we had left because of the bombing and the battle between the army and ISIS. My children were afraid of ISIS.
 
"My young children are always saying that they miss their games and our house. They ask me when will we go back? All the displaced people here want to return to our homes because we are exhausted."
 
WHAT OXFAM IS DOING IN IRAQ
 
On Friday October 7th Irish Aid delivered 80 tonnes of aid to Iraq for Oxfam to distribute to vulnerable people fleeing the conflict in Mosul and beyond. Items being sent include blankets, jerry cans, cooking sets, water tanks, tarpaulins and shelter kits.
 
 
Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he is gravely concerned up to 1.5 million people in the city of Mosul have been living under siege for more than two years, with a further 1 million in surrounding areas currently under ISIS control.
 
Oxfam has been working in 50 villages and towns across Diyala and Kirkuk governorates in northern Iraq since 2014. We are providing safe water in camps and in communities where people who have fled the fighting are sheltering, and enabling people to earn a living so that they can support their families. We have also been helping families as they return home once it is safe to do so.
 
We are now scaling up our response in the Mosul Corridor, operating in Salah Al-Din and Ninewa governorates. Oxfam is also working in the key strategic area of Qayyarat, which is 80km south of Mosul and sandwiched between ISIS-controlled territories. We are providing clear water and sanitation and essential items like blankets and hygiene kits.
 
Oxfam works across Iraq including in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
 
As military operations begin to retake the city of Mosul and surrounding areas from ISIS, we are expecting to help 60,000 people.
 

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