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WORLD REFUGEE DAY 2018

Today, almost 45,000 people will be forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution. But there is nothing unusual about today – the same thing will happen tomorrow and every day after that.

There is no end in sight to this unprecedented displacement, and unless global political leaders take action, this is a tragedy that will continue to unfold.

To mark World Refugee Day, we meet just some of the 68.5 million refugees and displaced people forced to leave their homes – and the life they once knew – behind.

 

Nur* (35) with her youngest child Sikander* (2) outside their shelter in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Kelsey-Rae Taylor/Oxfam

In Bangladesh, Nur* and her children live in a makeshift camp in Cox’s Bazar. They were forced to flee the violence in Myanmar, which claimed the life of Nur’s husband.

“We had to struggle such a lot for four nights and five days on our way over here,” said Nur*. “We had to starve for four days. We had to crawl over hills.

“My shoulder swelled up to my neck as I had to carry my baby by fastening him with a rope. If he fell, I knew I’d lose him.

“Our tears dried up, we lost our hunger. We had to go through such traumatic circumstances to reach safety.  

“We could not sleep in Myanmar because we were afraid but we can sleep well here in the camp. There, we could not sleep, we were always tense. But here we don’t have that sort of fear.”

Ikhlas and Ali sit with their son Muhamed* inside their container at the Filippiada camp in Greece. Photo: Andy Aitchison/Oxfam

Meanwhile, Ali and Ikhlas and their young son Muhamed* are trying to adjust to their new life after fleeing the war in Syria.

The young family is currently living in a camp on the Greek island of Lesvos after being saved by the coast guard. They had been en route to Italy when the sea conditions deteriorated. “We were at sea on a boat with another 47 people,” said Ali (30). “The sea got very rough. It was terrifying. My wife and my little boy were with me and I cannot swim.

“Thankfully the Greek navy came and helped us… I was looking at my phone every minute, hoping it would end. The whole thing lasted 55 minutes. I still have nightmares because of it.”

Back in Syria, Ali was a farmer and had his own livestock. But he said: “Because of the bombings, we had to leave everything behind. I have seven brothers; only one of them is still in Syria, while the other six are in Germany. We would like to join them and start a new life away from bombs and violence.”

Dieudonné* was forced to flee his home with his wife and four children. Photo: John Wessels/Oxfam

Elsewhere, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dieudonné* describes how he and his family were attacked by their neighbours from a nearby village. Seven people were killed during the violence, forcing the father of four and his family to seek refuge in a camp miles from home.

“When we fled, we would sleep during the day in the bush and carry on the journey at night,” he said. “We had to walk all night because we feared they would spot us and arrest us.”

Dieudonné* said the attackers set fire to his house and his livestock, adding: “That’s all the wealth I had. Now I am left with nothing.”

Oxfam is working in refugee camps worldwide, providing life-saving aid including clean water, sanitation and food to those who have been forced to flee. In addition, we help to protect refugees from violence and abuse, ensure they understand their rights and give them access to free legal aid.

*Names changed

A sea of change in the Philippines: local groups take charge in emergencies

Creating a more just and effective system of humanitarian response means helping local and national organizations step to the forefront.

When armed fighters laid siege to the city of Marawi, the Philippines, in 2017, hundreds of thousands of civilians fled for their lives. Many abandoned everything they owned, and in the clashes that followed, their neighborhoods were reduced to rubble and dust.

It’s been many months since the exodus, but for people displaced by the fighting, the pain is fresh.  When a visitor toured the camps near Marawi, they told stories of their flight and of the precious things they left behind.

“All my memories were left there,” said a young mother who recently delivered a baby in a tent camp. She cried as she talked about leaving home. “My parents were buried there.”

Yet, even as they rushed to safety, some took on a dangerous, life-saving task. “Many Muslims worked hard to protect their Christian friends and neighbors. They gave them places to hide and helped them get through checkpoints so they could escape the city,” said another mother. “For us,” she added, “it’s all the same if people are Muslim or Christian.”

Noraisah Arumpac, who fled Marawi, the Philippines, in 2017 helps her daughter with homework. The plywood that reinforces her family’s tent was provided by Humanitarian Response Consortium. “HRC was a great help. They went from tent to tent to talk to us. They gave us everything we needed.” Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

Giving a boost to local groups

In a crisis, the urge to help your neighbor and your community is a powerful one, which is one reason local aid agencies can be so effective in emergencies. Not only are they often deeply committed to the communities they serve—their proximity enables them to act fast, and their understanding of the context can facilitate aid delivery in countless ways. But NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) in poor countries struggle for resources, and the grants they receive from international sources often consign them to bit parts in emergencies, with little role in shaping the work they’re paid to carry out.

That’s wrong in every way, and Oxfam is trying to address the problem. We are helping lead a worldwide initiative to shift power, skills, and funds from international to strong local and national actors, and the Philippines has been a particular focus.

In 2015, Oxfam began working with Christian Aid and Tearfund on a three-year pilot project known as Financial Enablers, or FEP, to help Filipino organizations (organized into seven consortia) boost their capacity for humanitarian response and preparedness. The goal was more far-reaching than simply to build on skills: it was to strengthen leadership, so participants were encouraged to take charge from the start. Each consortium took on the responsibility of devising its own capacity-strengthening plan, for example, and the FEP followed its lead, issuing grants to make that plan a reality. Less experienced consortia used the money for basic trainings in emergency response, while a more seasoned group known as the Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC) used it to create a quick-response fund, and to stock three warehouses with equipment and supplies.

A legal aid clinic near Marawi. “People who have lost everything have also lost their legal identities… They can’t access benefits they need, and they can be targeted with harassment and even violence.”-- Norman Golong of IDEALS, HRC’s legal aid organization and an Oxfam partner. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

An important milestone

As Oxfam readied its response to the Marawi crisis, the HRC announced it was launching a needs assessment—the critical first step in humanitarian response—and asked if Oxfam would like to support its intervention. In the effort to strengthen local leadership, it was a milestone: rather than Oxfam asking local groups to participate in our response, a highly capable local organization was taking the lead and inviting Oxfam to join in.

“In the space of six months, HRC twice led the way on emergency response,” said Rhoda Avila, Oxfam’s humanitarian manager in the Philippines. “This represents a significant transition, and we are really pleased.”

With help from its quick-response fund, HRC immediately canvassed the displaced families and learned about their most pressing needs. Once the team had solid information, it was able to cast a wider net for resources, and before long they had distributed essentials like plywood for tent flooring, hygiene kits, and kitchen utensils; set up communal kitchens and water and sanitation facilities; and begun handling sewage sludge disposal. HRC includes a legal aid organization, which hosted a radio show during the emergency to educate people about their rights, and offered clinics to help displaced people secure identification papers.

“HRC was a great help,” said Noraisah Arumpac, a mother who now lives in a tent camp. “They went from tent to tent to talk to us. They gave us everything we needed and made our lives easier.”

The consortium was not only able to move fast and create a comprehensive response; thanks to local staffers, its work built on knowledge of the local culture.

“I’m from Mindanao, so I understand some of the traditions and culture of the communities we’re serving, and I share their religion,” said Zahara Ibrahim, a hygiene promoter for HRC in the camps outside Marawi. “I find that people are more interested in talking about hygiene if I introduce it by reading verses from the Koran about cleanliness.”

Ivanhoe Arcilla, emergencies official in the town of Virac, Catanduanes, worked with HRC on the response to a deadly typhoon in 2016. “When HRC came, it was so timely. They showed up right after the typhoon. They called me and the next day they were here, and they immediately began an assessment and distributions.” Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

“The vision of the FEP is of strong, confident local organizations that work together to carry out effective disaster preparedness and response,” said project manager Jane Bañez-Ockelford, reflecting on the project before it drew to a close at the end of March.

Clearly, the vision has taken hold, and we’re hopeful that the knowledge and networks the FEP helped generate will continue to deepen and grow.

“The traditional way of implementing disaster response in the past has been that people from the outside controlled decisions and controlled the resources. Local communities affected by disasters were involved only marginally in decision-making,” said Milton Amayun, who works with the FEP-supported CHIC consortium (Capacity-building for Humanitarian Initiatives in Capiz). “What the FEP has done is shift decision-making to the local organizations they supported and the leadership of the communities. The results so far have been timely, culturally appropriate responses at very little cost.”

“When it comes to humanitarian response,” he added with a smile, “local leaders can do the job.”

By Elizabeth Stevens

The top 4 questions you asked about the new Oxfam inequality report

Our new report about the state of inequality in the world reveals how our economy is delivering unimaginable rewards for those at the top, while tens of millions of people are still in poverty.

As soon as we published it, we started to receive lots of great comments and questions. Here are some of the most interesting questions we’ve been asked, and our answers to them.

  1. “Poverty is going down globally. People are living longer, healthier lives. Why should we care if a few people are also getting really rich?”

It’s absolutely true – and absolutely brilliant – that extreme poverty has declined very significantly over the past 25 years. In fact, the number of people living in extreme poverty – which is defined as anyone living on less than $1.90 a day – has more than halved. However, that doesn’t mean we can now put our feet up, or even carry on along the same path that we’ve been going down.

Over this same time period, inequality has been increasing within most countries, and is now at dangerously high levels. There’s a great deal of evidence to show that extreme inequality leads to very negative social, political and economic impacts and stands in the way of the fight against poverty globally. The majority of extreme poverty is now in middle-income countries.

The rise of extreme economic inequality is also a serious blow to the fight against gender inequality. Women feel the impact of inequality, and are more likely to live in poverty than men.

  1. “Oxfam is a charity – why are you talking about politics?”

Ending poverty is Oxfam’s reason for being – but we know that we can’t achieve our goal unless we work with others to tackle the structural issues that push people into poverty and keep them trapped there. This means addressing really big challenges such as economic inequality, gender discrimination and climate change. And these problems are all fundamentally about power.

To understand their causes and to find solutions, we have to look at who has been making the big decisions, whose interests they have been acting in and whose voices have been excluded. In particular, women’s voices and the perspective of women need to be heard, and acted on. We also have to look at who has the responsibility and the ability to put things right – and very often that means challenging governments to make better decisions.

  1. “Oxfam keeps criticizing big companies. Are you anti-business?”

We’ve been asked this a few times over the years, but it simply isn’t true. Much of Oxfam’s work involves actively supporting and developing enterprises in communities around the world. We have productive partnerships with many companies, large and small.

What we are against is the kind of business model that maximizes profits by paying poverty wages, endangering workers, trashing the planet, or aggressively dodging tax. We are happy to be seen as anti those kinds of business.

We want to see companies showing that there is a different way of doing business – that profit is not the only thing that matters to them. We want to see governments regulating against bad business practices, and actively supporting more positive ones.

  1. “Oxfam talks as though the economic pie cannot grow, and so it’s just a question of sharing that pie out more equally. But that’s obviously not true. If the economy grows, there will be more for everyone. And billionaires are the real wealth creators, driving that economic growth, so why shouldn’t they be rewarded for that?”

Of course, economic growth can bring benefits with it – but at the moment, we see that those benefits are mostly going to those at the top. 82% of the wealth created in the world last year went to the top 1%. We need both governments and businesses to take action to ensure growth benefits everyone – and particularly those at the bottom, of which women make up the largest percentage. Across the world, women consistently earn less than men and are usually in the lowest paid and least secure forms of work.

While inclusive economic growth is going to play a really important role in ending poverty in many countries, we also know that we have to tackle inequality at the same time, or we’ll destroy the planet that we all depend upon. With current levels of inequality, our global economy would need to grow 175 times bigger before everyone was able to earn $5 a day. That’s obviously completely unsustainable. We have to find a different and better route to shared prosperity.

We are asking people to help spread the word and to join the movement to fight inequality and beat poverty.

Watch how kids make things fair

How Kids Make Things Fair - 2 Min

EU must ensure tax haven blacklist is not a whitewash

The EU should resist political pressure and ensure its upcoming blacklist of tax havens objectively reflects the criteria it has itself set if it is serious about fighting tax avoidance, Oxfam said today.

The international organisation said that an honest appraisal of the role that different states play in facilitating tax dodging is crucial if European countries are to effectively tackle a problem that deprives them and poor countries of vital funds that could be used to fight poverty.

Oxfam’s new report, Blacklist or Whitewash?, names the 35 countries that should feature according to the EU’s definition of a tax haven, including six that are linked to the UK: the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Jersey, Gibraltar and Anguilla.

The EU has excluded member states from its blacklist. Oxfam is also urging the EU to act to reform the tax systems of countries like Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Malta, which it found met the criteria for being tax havens.

The EU is expected to publish its blacklist next Tuesday after analysing 92 countries and jurisdictions against criteria including financial secrecy and facilitating profit shifting – but political pressure from inside and outside the EU means some of the world’s most notorious tax havens, such as Switzerland, may be left out.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive, said: “If the EU is serious about preventing tax havens from engaging in harmful practices that affect us all then it should stand up to political and corporate pressure and create a genuine blacklist, not a whitewash.”

Last year more than 300 top economists, including Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton, warned there is no economic justification for tax havens and urged world leaders to take on the powerful vested interests that benefit from the status quo.

Oxfam is calling on the UK government to take responsibility for its own offshore backyard by requiring Britain’s overseas territories and crown dependencies to publish registers revealing the real owner of companies registered there. None has yet complied with the UK government’s request to do this, first made by David Cameron in 2013. Private registers are not an adequate substitute as they would not be open to full scrutiny, especially by authorities in poor countries.

Oxfam’s report highlights how multinationals are able to use the UK’s overseas territories to shift profits through interest payments on artificial loans between their subsidiaries. Income from interest represented 73 percent of GDP in the Cayman Islands and 40 percent of GDP in Bermuda.

Clarken added: "People are fed up with double standards that mean some companies and wealthy individuals can funnel money through tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of tax, while ordinary people in the UK and overseas are struggling to get by. With growing cross party consensus on this, the Government should not delay further action to end tax secrecy in UK-linked tax havens and to require UK-based multinationals to publish their tax payments in every country they operate."

The EU’s tax haven blacklist is being drafted in secret, which makes scrutiny impossible. Malta has publicly lobbied for an empty list and the Swiss government has announced it does not expect Switzerland to be included.

Oxfam believes the EU’s blacklist criteria are a step in the right direction but should be extended to address other harmful tax practices such as the race to the bottom on corporate tax rates.

To learn more about Oxfam Ireland’s tax justice campaign go to https://www.oxfamireland.org/tax

ENDS

For more information or interviews please contact: Phillip Graham, Oxfam Ireland on phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org / 07841 102535.

NOTES TO EDITORS

The report, Blacklist or Whitewash?, is published online.

Oxfam applied the EU’s own criteria to the 92 countries screened by the EU, and the 28 EU member states. According to Oxfam’s analysis, at least 35 non-EU countries should be included in the EU tax haven blacklist: Albania, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bermuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, British Virgin Islands, Cook Islands, Cayman Islands, Curaçao, Faroe Islands, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Gibraltar, Greenland, Guam, Hong Kong, Jersey, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Montenegro, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Oman, Palau, Serbia, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates, US Virgin Islands, Vanuatu. And four EU member states: Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Malta.

Oxfam’s new briefing paper Ending the Tax Scandals sets out five policy measures the UK Government needs to take in order to tackle tax avoidance.

Bermuda topped Oxfam’s list of the world’s 15 worst corporate tax havens, published last year, which also named three other UK-linked territories – the Cayman Islands, Jersey and the British Virgin Islands.

A recent YouGov poll found that almost three quarters of the public think the government should be doing more to tackle corporate tax dodging. There is cross party support for doing more to tackle tax avoidance, including greater transparency for companies and in UK-linked tax havens.

In May 2016, top economists wrote to world leaders to say that tax havens have no economic justification.

EU blacklisting criteria puts Ireland’s tax haven status beyond doubt

·         More royalties sent out of Ireland than rest of EU combined, equivalent to 26% of GDP in 2015

·         New Oxfam report urges EU to tackle tax avoidance within member states

Tuesday, 28th November 2017

A new report published by Oxfam today has identified Ireland as one of four EU countries which would be blacklisted1 as a tax haven if the EU were to apply its own criteria to member states.

The EU is currently drafting a blacklist for tax havens, analysing 92 non–EU countries and jurisdictions against a set of three criteria, which include tax transparency and policies that facilitate large-scale profit shifting. However, this process excludes EU member states, meaning that they will not be assessed.

For the first time, Oxfam has applied the EU’s own criteria to 92 countries worldwide as well as to the 28 EU member states. According to the analysis, at least 35 non-EU countries should be included in the EU tax haven blacklist.

Furthermore, four EU member states: Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Malta also met the criteria for being listed as a tax haven.

Ireland fails to meet the second criterion on fair taxation and the facilitation of tax avoidance. For example, the report establishes that royalties sent out of Ireland were equivalent to 26% of the country’s gross domestic product in 2015. That is more royalties than are sent out of the rest of the EU combined, and makes Ireland the world’s number one royalties provider2.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, said: “As Ireland fails the EU’s blacklisting criteria, it is clear that the Government has questions to answer with regard to its stated commitment to tackling tax avoidance. In the past, the case has been made that because Ireland’s tax arrangements fulfilled OECD standards there was no substantiation that Ireland matched the conditions associated with tax haven status. The OECD’s blacklisting process has been called into question due to the fact that it only listed one country Trinidad and Tobago as a tax haven.

“The analysis in this report uses the very measurements the EU is currently applying to 92 non-EU states to assess whether they should be blacklisted as tax havens. Sadly, this analysis places Ireland in an elite club with four other EU countries; Malta, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.”

The report, Blacklist or Whitewash: What a real EU blacklist of tax havens should look like, shows how financial flows are often completely out of proportion with the tax havens’ real economic activity. In the British Virgin Islands, foreign direct investment amounts to 90,000% of the country’s GDP. For the Cayman Islands, it represents 5,400% of the GDP, for Malta 650% and for Luxembourg approximately 400%.

Oxfam is concerned that, regardless of these clear findings, EU governments will come up with a weak or even empty blacklist. The blacklist is being drafted in secret, which makes public scrutiny impossible. The Maltese EU presidency has publicly advocated for an empty blacklist. Also, following a meeting with EU finance ministers, the Swiss government has openly declared it does not expect the country to be blacklisted.

Oxfam is also urging the EU to put rules in place to reform the tax systems of EU countries like Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Malta which meet the EU’s criteria for being listed as a tax haven.

Mr Clarken continued: “An ambitious and objective list of tax havens with strong countermeasures is a concrete and powerful way to clamp down on tax avoidance which deprives countries of hundreds of billions of dollars, fueling poverty and inequality. If the EU is serious about preventing tax havens from engaging in harmful practices that affect us all then it should stand up to political and corporate pressure and create a genuine blacklist, not a whitewash.”

ENDS

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

1.     Blacklist: Establish a “blacklist” of countries that refuse to adhere to international taxation rules. Listed countries should face stiff penalties.

Oxfam applied the EU’s own criteria to the 92 countries screened by the EU, and the 28 EU member states. According to Oxfam’s analysis, at least 35 non-EU countries should be included in the EU tax haven blacklist: Albania, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bermuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, British Virgin Islands, Cook Islands, Cayman Islands, Curaçao, Faroe Islands, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Gibraltar, Greenland, Guam, Hong Kong, Jersey, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Montenegro, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Oman, Palau, Serbia, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates, US Virgin Islands, Vanuatu. And four EU member states, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Malta

2.     Passive income such as royalties for Intellectual Property (IP), which companies are known to use to avoid tax. High levels of these payments far above normal economic activity indicates that the jurisdiction is facilitating tax avoidance.

Notes to editors:

·          Read the full Oxfam report: https://oxfam.box.com/v/EUBlacklistReport

·          An interactive map shows the 39 countries listed in the report and explains why they fail to meet the EU’s blacklisting criteria: https://public.tableau.com/profile/oxfam.eu.office#!/vizhome/ShadowEUtaxhavenblacklist_0/ShadowEUtaxhavenblacklist-map

·          The EU committed to a blacklist process in the wake of scandals like the Panama Papers and Lux Leaks that showed how tax havens let the super-rich get away with billions in unpaid taxes. EU finance ministers are expected to publish the EU blacklist on 5 December at their meeting in Brussels.

·          The EU’s listing process uses three sets of criteria to identify tax havens: transparency, fair taxation, and participation in international fora on tax.

·          The EU’s blacklisting negotiations have taken place behind closed doors and countries participating in the talks have refused to answer questions. The process has been in the hands of one of Brussels’ most secretive working bodies, the so-called Code of Conduct Group, which insists on its work being confidential.

·          Last June the OECD released its own backlist, but the result was farcical and ended up naming only one country, Trinidad and Tobago.

·          Tax dodging costs developing countries $170 billion a year: $70 billion through tax dodging by super-rich individuals and $100 billion through corporate tax dodging. $100 billion is enough money to provide an education for 124 million children and prevent the deaths of almost eight million mothers, babies and children a year.

·          Switzerland, which fails the EU’s criteria on fair taxation according to Oxfam’s analysis, has already declared they expect not to appear on the EU blacklist. This illustrates the risk that major tax havens might escape blacklisting due to political and economic pressure.

·          Following the Paradise Papers, Oxfam released a 5-point plan outlining steps governments should take to prevent further scandals on a global scale. This includes establishing a global blacklist of tax havens that naming countries such as Ireland and the Netherlands that have been key players in the Paradise Papers scandal. 

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