From the field

,

Musical chairs increases the tragedy for vulnerable people in Macedonia

As thousands of people continue arriving in Europe seeking safety and security, Ruth Tanner recently visited the Oxfam programme for people on the move in Macedonia.

Vulnerable people on the move, from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere are facing arbitrary profiling at borders on the basis of nationality. This pushback denies the right to an individual assessment of protection needs and constitutes a violation of international and EU law. Authorities have now closed their borders to all, creating a further humanitarian crisis.

Last week I visited the Tabanovce camp in Macedonia. The camp itself is not very big, given the number of people living there. It consists of two neat rows of white containers, and some larger tents, including a food tent feeding hundreds of people with hot soup as we arrive. The place is designed to be a rest stop for a few hours or a night before people continue their journey, but is now home to over a thousand people.

It has been wet every day for the past week and the damp and cold permeate everything. People are sleeping in the containers, a handful with bunkbeds and heating, home to families with lots of children. Most people are in containers with no heating. Three large tents, originally waiting rooms for those about to cross the border, are now makeshift homes, with benches rearranged to be turned into beds and a chaotic arrangement of mattresses and blankets.

There is also a large cabin for women and children. It has the feel of a nursery with children’s scribbled pictures on the wall. In the corner, a two-week-old baby sleeps peacefully in a crib, his mother lying next to him on a mattress on the floor. At the door two little boys negotiate with us for a ball to play with. “It’s raining, it’s late, rest tonight and I promise to bring you one tomorrow” offers my guide, a lawyer with Oxfam’s partner the Macedonian Young Lawyers Association, working hard to calm and offer advice to the people of the camp.

The camp is full or people who were turned away at the border due to their nationality or for not having papers filled in correctly. The team tell me about a woman from Syria, travelling with her three children. Her husband is waiting for them in Germany. They filled the forms in correctly, are from the country and a city which is on the list approved for transit, yet for some reason she and her children were refused entry. The lawyer doesn’t understand why, so she can’t give the family any answers.

Cases like hers are typical. Over the past few weeks, more and more restrictive and discriminatory rules have been introduced. First, everyone who was registered could travel, then only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, then suddenly only Syrians, but only from certain cities who declared the right destination country. At the borders there are translators whose job it is to determine accents and even ask questions like, “Do you know this restaurant, this shop, are you really from the town you say you’re from?” Arbitrary rules are turned into even more arbitrary decisions by border guards and translators; now even these rules and regulations have ceased to matter, as the borders are closed to everyone.

The border was closed on Monday lunchtime, an hour or so before over 400 Syrians arrived. They had been told they were crossing to Serbia, their papers were approved and they were moved past the camp, a hundred yards up a dirt track to the fields between the two countries. In this game of musical chairs, they were unlucky – the Serbian police refused them entry, and the Macedonian police wouldn’t let them back.

The night they arrived, Oxfam staff along with others from the camp and the police, battled the wind and torrential rain to put up some tents to provide shelter in the dark field for the hundreds of people, mainly women and children, who were now stuck.

When I arrived, 48 hours later, this no man’s land is a sea of mud. A young man comes to talk to us. “Can you help?” he asked our translator. “My baby’s sick.” He went to fetch his wife and baby from a tiny tent nearby. The worried-looking parents held the baby close as they waited in the dark for help to come from the camp. They are not able to walk the 100 yards back to the camp for help, they must wait for it to come to them.

Back at the Tabanovce camp, I notice two young men with rucksacks and rolled up sleeping bags on their backs. For some, like them, the wait and the not knowing is too much. Every night there are fewer people in the camp than the night before. Vulnerable and invisible, with borders closed and hope fading, they’d rather take their chances with the smugglers than risk being sent back.

Border closures, coupled with a stark lack of legal routes, are not the answer to managing the arrival of refugees and migrants in Europe. People, not borders, are in urgent need of protection. Oxfam is calling on governments to end the series of discriminatory and dangerous measures adopted by European countries to deter vulnerable people from seeking safety. Instead they must take action to ensure that the immediate humanitarian needs of people on the move are met, and to live up to their obligations under international law.

Ruth Tanner is Oxfam’s Advocacy Advisor in South East Europe.

listen

 

Giovanni Riccardi Candiani, Senior Humanitarian Programme Advisor with Oxfam, with an update from Lesbos, Greece, on the refugee crisis, the EU Turkey Deal and how Oxfam is responding.

,

Ireland stands with Syrian refugees - 5 years on

“What’s with the shovels?” It was late October and I was standing in the baking heat, surrounded by the makeshift tents that Syrian refugees must call home for now on a dusty stretch of land in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
 
“It’s for the snow,” my Oxfam colleague Mohammed replied, as he distributed water filters with one arm and the shovels with the other. “They’ll need to clear it away from the tents in a few weeks’ time.”
 
I looked over at the boy holding his mother’s hand, not more than two, who was making funny faces at me. I thought about how his parents would try to keep him warm with only plastic sheeting between them and the harsh Lebanese winter. A few weeks later the snow came. I think about that boy all the time. 
 
The cold winter that followed my visit is ebbing away, but, as we mark five years since the conflict in Syria began, the plight of those who remain inside Syria and those who managed to cross into neighbouring countries and further afield is unchanged.
 
 
Sorcha in Lebanon: Oxfam Ireland’s Sorcha Nic Mhathúna with a Syrian refugee who has received a water filter and a shovel from Oxfam. The shovel is vital for clearing away the snow from outside the tents in winter. Lisa Rutherford/Oxfam
 
In a town near the camp, the population was around 6,000 a few years ago, before the war broke out in neighbouring Syria. Now its remarkable citizens have welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees to their district. Throughout Lebanon it’s a similar story – communities who see it as the right thing to do to host those arriving from Syria. 
 
Oxfam supporters across the island of Ireland are also standing in solidarity in the face of adversity,  allowing us to provide over 85,000 people in Lebanon and 46,000 in Jordan with clean drinking water or cash and relief supplies. In Syria, we have reached an estimated 1.5 million in conflict-affected areas with clean water through the rehabilitation of water infrastructure, water trucking and repairing of wells. 
Back to Lebanon’s Bekka valley, where we drive past the municipal waste facility where Syrian refugees and locals work side-by-side in a ‘cash for work’ scheme begun by Oxfam and the local council. With such a massive rise in the local population, it’s vital that rubbish is collected and properly disposed of to prevent the spread of disease. We walk through a new park where another team are building a space for refugees and local people alike to enjoy – a space away from the crowded quarters where refugees like Adnan*(14) live.
 
He had to have his right leg amputated after being wounded when his home was shelled and reduced to rubble. When they first arrived in Lebanon, his family lived in an abandoned garage, where the unhygenic conditions caused some of the family to develop respiratory illnesses before finding this flat. Despite the differences in the Syrian and Lebanese school systems, Adnan has managed to get very high grades. Asked what his hopes are the future, he replies: “I hope to become a doctor some day.” In the meantime, the money earned by his mother Salwa (33) through the Oxfam community ‘cash for work’ scheme is a lifeline.
 
Further down the road Syrian refugee and mum-of-five Sanaa (33) holds her two-month-old baby boy. She and her husband came here from Damascus but have been unable to pay the rent for the past two months. Back in Syria, her husband Rami used to work transporting furniture but then their house was destroyed in the fighting. 
 
 
Clockwise from left: Hussein (20) fills a water tank with water supplied by Oxfam at an informal settlement for Syrian refugees near the town of Zahle in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Hussein, from the outer suburbs of Damascus, lives in the camp. Sam Tarling/Oxfam. Siblings from Raqqa in Syria try to warm themselves in the sun outside their tent at an informal settlement for Syrian refugees near the town of Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Sam Tarling/Oxfam Friends Majida* (7), Aida* (8) and Basma* (8) from Raqqa in Syria, play next to a water tank that was provided by Oxfam at an informal settlement for Syrian refugees near the town of Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. A supply of clean water is essential to prevent the spread of diseases. *Children’s names have been changed to protect their identity. Sam Tarling/Oxfam
 
They have benefitted from the Oxfam scheme, and they need the money to buy nappies and also additional milk for their baby as she is not producing enough milk herself.
 
In recent times the world has been moved by the terrible images of men, women and children risking their lives in unsafe boats or at the hands of smugglers in a bid to reach safer shores. 
 
Oxfam works in the top nine countries of origin for refugees in the world (including Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo) as well as host countries where four-fifths of the world’s total population of refugees have fled (e.g. Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey). In the past year we have provided humanitarian support in the form of water, food and a means to earn a living to more than five million people in areas affected by conflict, helping to reduce the poverty in camps and host communities by informing people of their rights so they can raise their issues and concerns. 
 
 
Above: Basma* (8), Mohsen* (4), Amal* (3) and Ahmad* (6) pose for a photograph supporting the global #WithSyria campaign to mark the fifth anniversary of the Syrian conflict, at an informal settlement for Syrian refugees near the town of Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. *Children’s names have been changed to protect their identity. Sam Tarling/Oxfam
 
And we are there as people arrive on the borders of Europe – in Serbia and Macedonia and on the trains. This ranges from providing hot meals to those arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos to installing toilets and showers and distributing everything from hygiene and sanitary packs to socks, coats and blankets to about 100,000 people in Serbia and in Macedonia. In Italy we provide asylum seekers with housing, food, psychological support, legal assistance and language classes.
 
What is happening in the world today is a displacement crisis, with almost 60 million people (the highest number since the Second World War) who have been forced to flee their homes. 
 
The world’s poorest countries currently host 86% of the world’s refugees and are stretched to their limits. Countries neighbouring those in crisis host the largest numbers.
 
Lebanon (the size of Munster) alone hosts 1.2 million Syrian refugees within a total population of 4.5 million, which means that about one out of every five people is a refugee from Syria. That is why aid to those countries is so important, as well as ensuring those arriving in Europe get the healthcare, shelter and other vital support they need.
 
Thank you for standing with us. Your support is a beacon of hope in the darkest of hours.
 
*Names of those aged under 18 have been changed.
 
Sorcha Nic Mhathúna is Oxfam Ireland’s Communications and Content Manager.
 
,

Support women worldwide this International Women’s Day

Above: With your support, we can invest in more life-changing programmes for women like Irene. Once a struggling farm labourer, she has joined a group of women to set up a successful banana farming enterprise supported by Oxfam. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam

If you are born a girl, you’re more likely to be living in poverty, be worst affected when emergency strikes and have fewer resources, rights and opportunities than men.

That is why our programmes support women to claim their rights and make decisions that affect their lives. We also work with communities to break down the long-held prejudices behind domestic violence, e.g. through the ‘We Can’ campaign in Tanzania which has seen over 350,000 men and women pledge to end domestic violence in their communities.

We also address the lack of education and opportunities with loans, seeds, tools, better farming techniques and business training, helping thousands of women in countries like Rwanda to grow more food, set up businesses and make goods that they can market themselves.

This International Women’s Day (Tuesday, March 8th), join Oxfam in celebrating women everywhere. 

Ending poverty starts with women – because their strength, resilience, tenacity and vision are the key to creating lasting change in their communities. For example, if women were given equal access to agricultural resources they could grow enough extra food to feed more than 100 million of the world’s hungriest people.

Yet every day, women’s efforts to escape poverty are blocked by discrimination and inequality. Women routinely face violence, abuse and unequal treatment at home, at work and in their wider communities.

That’s why we need your help to continue to give girls and women greater opportunities so that they can shape their own futures. By supporting our work worldwide, you will enable us to continue to help women and girls fight discrimination and overcome poverty.

IRENE’S STORY

By helping a woman through Oxfam, you help her immediate family and her community, generation after generation.

Irene Muzukira (42), once a struggling farm labourer in Zambia, has turned her life around. An Oxfam training programme gave her and other members of the Kabwadu Women’s Farming Group a life-changing opportunity to grow their own bananas.

Investment in a hydro-powered pump, solar-powered fencing and training means that their banana plantation is thriving in this hot climate.

The days when Irene and her two children went to sleep hungry are gone and, unlike Irene’s own parents, she can invest in their education. And the project’s success is felt in the wider community; 80 women and their families reap the benefits of this fruitful initiative.

“I feel it’s changing my life,” Irene says. “But I am mindful of others who don’t have what they need. I think change is possible but we need to invest in our children.”

Female heroes like Irene are working tirelessly every day to care for their families and improve their communities.

Please support them to change their world by lifting them out of extreme poverty.

,

The migrants' winter walk: Oxfam calls for safe passage of refugees to Europe

Nearly 60 million people around the world are now officially “displaced” from their homes – the highest figure recorded by the United Nations since the Second World War.

Millions of these refugees are fleeing poverty and conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of them are making the difficult journey to Europe in the hope of a better life for them and their children.

In January 2016, the total number of arrivals of refugees to Europe reached 1,167,475 but at least 3,810 women, men and children are dead or missing, lost during the journey at sea or over land.

These are not just numbers, they are real people.

“People are arriving here exhausted, hungry and thirsty and often in need of urgent medical attention.” Riccardo Sansone Oxfam’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Serbia.
 
 
Fatheh, 45, (pictured above) is travelling alone with her 4 children. She had to flee Syria, but her husband stayed to take care of his mother who is too old for such a long and difficult journey. “Mine and my relatives’ homes were totally destroyed. There are no buildings left in my neighbourhood. We started going from one place to another. We were refugees inside our own country until we had nowhere to go. At that point, we had no other option but to leave Syria and become refugees. Even if the war ended, I don‘t think we’d ever come back home”.
 
 
Smart phones are a life-line to migrants and refugees. They help them to plan their journeys and stay in touch with their families. 
 
At Oxfam we recognise the importance of information sharing. We are working on the ground to provide refugees with information on safe roads, places, and their human and asylum rights.
 
 
Between October 2015 and January 2016, 985,600 arrivals were documented in Serbia and Macedonia. Many of the refugees along this route come from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
 
To cross Serbia refugees must be granted a travel pass which gives them 72 hours to cross the border out of the country. Most refugees, who are mostly women, children and elderly people, make this journey on buses, trains and on foot.
 
For most of the route there are no, or inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.
 
We believe that everyone has a right to safe water, sanitation and hygiene as a basic essential service.
 
So far we have supplied vulnerable people with portable latrines, sanitary and waste containers and sanitation equipment such as soap and toilet paper in three areas of Serbia.
 
 
Khalid (pictured above) has wrapped his children in a blanket to protect them from the cold as he carries them towards the Serbian border. He and his family, like millions of others, have fled the ongoing war in Syria.
 
People are only able to take the possessions that they can carry and are not prepared for the winter conditions that they face along the Balkans route, where temperatures drop below -16°C (3°F). 
 
Oxfam has supplied around 100,000 refugees and migrants with urgently needed winter items (such as jackets, underwear, gloves, cups, blankets and scarves) during the cold winter months in Dimitrovgrad, Sid, Preševo (Serbia).
 
 
The opening and closing of borders only adds to the challenges that refugees face. As routes change so do the needs in each location, even the train stations become temporary camps.
 
The Serbian government and NGOs on the ground are warning that the situation will only get worse throughout winter as the heavy snow will make the journey harder and more dangerous.

 

What Oxfam is doing

Working with local organisations in Serbia and Macedonia to protect new arrivals
 
 
Many of the migrants and refugees arriving in Europe along the Balkan route face daily uncertainty and practical challenges such as the route to take on their journey, from basic information about aid points and available services to the increasing risk posed by human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Most of them are women, children and elderly people. Through close interaction and monitoring of local authorities we support them, by ensuring that local organisations can provide adequate assistance and protection to new arrivals.
 
Besides our protection programme, we are also installing toilets, showers and water points and will be distributing hygiene and sanitary packs, as well as socks, coats and blankets to about 100,000 people in Serbia and in Macedonia. With the Balkan winter here, refugees not only face dropping temperatures, but food and water shortages, poor sanitation, and few winter clothes. The opening and closing of borders only adds to their struggle as routes change and so do the needs in each location. The Serbian government and NGOs on the ground are warning that the situation will only get worse in the coming months: the heavy snow will make the journey harder and more dangerous and people may be unable to continue.
 
We have been working in partnership with UN women to support the distribution of urgently needed items in Serbia and Macedonia following a UN Women gender assessment that shows women and girls' specific needs and vulnerabilities are not being adequately addressed. In partnership, we are also poised to deliver a targeted information campaign to women, capacity-building training to local counterparts and advocacy activities raising the voice of women migrants and refugees.
 
Providing emergency, legal and psychological support in Italy
 
We are helping those arriving in Italy by providing food, clothes, shoes, and personal hygiene kits as well as longer term psychological and legal support. We are supporting asylum seekers to find accommodation, and with cash so that they can meet their basic needs in Sicily and around Florence.
 
Distributing hot meals and winter kits in Lesbos, Greece
 
 
Above: Sanitation facilities at Kara Tepe camp, Greece. Photo: Jodi Hilton/Oxfam
 
We are providing hot meals to people on the Greek island of Lesbos.Thanks to the help of volunteers we are distributing meals of rice, lentils and vegetables once a day in co-operation with Save the Children.
 
We are also preparing winter kits and clothes for distribution on Lesbos and Kos and improving water and sanitation facilities in Moria Camp, Lesbos.
 
Border access is restricted between Greece and Macedonia: only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans are allowed to cross, while thousands of asylum seekers from other nationalities are stuck in Greece.
 
Life-saving emergency support for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan
 
More than 4 million people have had to flee Syria to escape its civil war. In 2014 we reached nearly half a million refugees in Jordan and Lebanon with clean drinking water or cash and relief supplies, such as blankets and stoves and vouchers for hygiene supplies. We are helping families get the information they need about their legal and human rights and connecting them to medical, legal and support services.
 
We have built shower and toilet blocks in refugee camps, informal settlements and on deserted routes used by people fleeing Syria and have installed or repaired toilets in communities hosting refugees. Piped water schemes are being developed for Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp and in host communities in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
 
We are also providing clean water to Syrians inside their country through rehabilitation of infrastructure, water trucking and repairing of wells.
 
Calling for safe passage 
 
Many refugees face brutality and poor treatment. Every day, approximately 50 boats with refugees or migrants, fleeing war or poverty, arrive off the coast of the small island of Lesbos, Greece. 
 
Desperately seeking safety in a new country, refugees pay traffickers amounts of around €1,000 per person (€800 if you're over 60 or if the weather is bad), to risk their lives on dangerous journeys.
 
 
Some are lucky enough to get to beaches where they face volunteer groups across Europe, others are not so lucky. More than 4,000 people fleeing for their lives, failed to reach the coast in 2015.
 
Our call for safe passage is founded in the belief that all people have the right to a life of dignity.
 
The EU must urgently provide safe and legal passage for migrants and refugees coming to Europe.
 
Refugees and migrants must not be forced to risk their lives or resort to extremely dangerous measures to continue their journey.
 

All photos by Pablo Tosco/Oxfam.

,

The refugee crisis you won’t have heard about: On the ground in Tanzania

The situation facing refugees from Syria has been one of the big international stories of the past year but another crisis has been less visible.

Tens of thousands of refugees have fled Burundi, a landlocked country in East Africa, into neighbouring Tanzania after election tensions last year led to weeks of violent protests.

Michael O’Riordan, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Coordinator, took a lead role in organising the humanitarian response.

Having been involved in many humanitarian programmes before ranging from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines to South Sudan, Michael was well prepared for his secondment to Tanzania last year.

Nevertheless, the huge influx of refugees arriving from Burundi meant it was like “setting up a small town from scratch” at the Nyarugusu camp.

Michael first arrived in May last year after approximately 30,000 people crowded onto a rugged beach shore of Kakunga Beach, Lake Tanganyika, on the Burundi and Tanzania border. Many spent up to three weeks here in exposed, cramped conditions with little clean water, food or sanitation.

Watch this video where Michael shares his experiences in Tanzania, responding to the Burundian refugee crisis:

The refugees there were brought to the Nyarugusu camp, where Michael helped set up Oxfam’s emergency programme. Often whatever worldly belongings they brought on their journey had to be left behind to be transported to the camp at a later date, meaning that many refugees arrive in the camp with just the clothes on their back. People are thirsty and tired; many are sick. They’ve gone through so much already just to get to this point, and what they need now is clean water, food and a place to sleep.

One of Michael’s main priorities was to expand the existing water and sanitation network within the Nyarugusu camp to allow for the huge numbers arriving. The original water system was built by Oxfam 20 years ago and was designed to be used by 50,000 people but was already being used by 65,000 mainly Congolese refugees. (Nyarugusu was created in the mid-1990s to house people fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo).

The numbers of people now arriving from Burundi since May 2015 has made Nyarugusu the world’s third largest refugee camp today with a population of 173,000 with the vast majority new arrivals (it was once the ninth largest).

Having so many people living in such close proximity to each other creates conditions ripe for diseases like cholera and typhoid to spread. Access to clean running water, a toilet and a shower is vital.

Above: Michael O'Riordan shares a moment of laughter with refugee children in Tanzania.

“We were dealing with approximately 30,000 of the refugees coming from Burundi’, says Michael. “So many basic services were lacking, and we had to set them up from scratch. This meant the first phase of the trip was very busy, with many 24 hour days and very little sleep. We also had to import some of our equipment due to the lack of services in the area. The only way of importing this was driving from Nairobi in Kenya all the way to northern Tanzania, which was a good four/five days of physical driving.”

The Tanzania Water and Environment Sanitation (TWESA), a local NGO set up by Oxfam, partnered up with Oxfam in dealing with the crisis. Michael describes how TWESA’s local knowledge of the area meant they had the capacity to respond effectively to the crisis. There was also a reunion of old friends, as many of the Oxfam and TWESA staff had previously worked together before.

The long days and limited services were challenges for Michael and his team, but it was easy to be reminded of the importance of a humanitarian presence in the area on his first day meeting refugees. “I was talking to a woman who had been separated from her husband and some of her children, and who had not received food in five days,” he says. “It really brought home to me the desperate situation which many were facing, and the work that needed to be done.’’

Clockwise from top: Boy using Oxfam water station for hygiene at Tanzanian refugee camp. Oxfam workers prepare water supplies at Tanzanian refugee camp. Refugees in Tanzania.

Along with improving water and sanitation systems and providing basic hygiene items like soap, toothpaste and sanitary towels, Michael observed a need for something else basic but equally vital – buckets, cooking pots and kitchen utensils for people to carry, prepare and eat the food being distributed to them, something which Oxfam has since distributed.

People were using any container they could find to collect the nutritious porridge-like food that was being distributed, and Michael watched as a man, who had queued for hours, finished what he had to eat and walked down the length of the queue to pass his precious container onto the first person who had none.

“That generosity, even in their hardship, these people were willing to share with each other to make sure that they could each get food really struck me. I met that man again several weeks later, and he was able to take me to where he was staying now… he had set up a little barber business using a razor powered by solar energy. In so far as you can be in that environment, he was trying to make his life normal again.

This work is made possible by our supporters. Regular donations allow us to be first and fast when emergencies strike. Please consider giving a monthly gift.

Pages