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COVID-19: Stay healthy and, above all, keep calm

Did you know we’re experts at stopping the spread of deadly disease? For nearly 80 years, we’ve been working in communities across the world to promote hygiene training and provide clean water and safe sanitation – things like taps and water tanks as well as loos and showers.

In times of crisis, it’s our priority to ensure that the people we work with – some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable – are kept safe from preventable disease and death.

Our colleague Abdullah is a frontline responder and public health promoter in the countries we work in - here he shares some thoughts on the COVID-19 outbreak:

humanitarian worker public health
Abdullah Ampilan at work in South Sudan. Credit: Oxfam in Asia

Abdullah says:

"Almost two decades ago, I left my comfort zone as a teacher and a nurse to do humanitarian and development work with Oxfam, first in the Philippines, and then in other countries. As a frontline responder and publich health promoter assigned to communities affected by the deadly Ebola virus in Libera and Sierra Leone from 2014 to 2015, I have some insights from the field on the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

First of all, we should not panic. Rather, we should be aware, alert, and exercise the protocols set by our relevant health authorities, including the World Health Organisation (WHO). During the Ebola outbreak, which left at least 11,000 people dead in West Africa in 2014 to 2015, I remember that a strict “No Touch” policy was implemented at work, following the directives of the governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone. It was prohibited to touch anyone, regardless if they were sick or not. Although we were all advised to avoid public contact, local contexts were considered in implementing this protocol.

In both Liberia and Sierra Leone, health authorities banned large gatherings of people and imposed a mandatory curfew. Handwashing stations were installed in doorsteps and gates of offices, restaurants, and homes. In the case of COVID-19, we should heed health warnings, and wash our hands properly and stringently. Where handwashing is not possible, another good strategy is to always have hand sanitiser on the ready. The battle against the virus is not solely solved through treatment. Prevention is also equally essential to break the transmission chain and stop the disease from spreading.

I was part of the team that conducted active case finding for Ebola which means that we detected people who were sick so that they can be referred to health centres and hospitals. This contributed to the whole system of breaking the transmission chain, and it was done alongside other actions like contact tracing and hygiene promotion.

The Ebola response taught me that, whether for health threats or actual outbreaks, engaging with the public and communities by giving out the correct information is a must. This lesson is helpful considering that the WHO already declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. Without meaningful and active community participation, COVD-19 will travel beyond barriers and borders. Preparedness is critical – local government units will have a huge role to play. Mobilised communities will be better equipped to actively participate in containing, controlling, preventing, and managing the disease. On the other hand, the government must ensure that treatment centres are ready with staffing, supplies and facilities, which include safe access to water, sanitation, and hygiene. A contingency plan must be set in place even before the disease reaches other areas.

More than ever, we will need strong measures to reduce, if not completely prevent, affected people and communities from being stigmatised. I have seen and experienced first-hand how these types of negative reactions interfere with the efforts of governments, NGOs, and the international community during health emergencies. I remember experiencing stigma, even if I did not have Ebola, because nobody wanted to touch me or even sit beside me for months after I worked in West Africa.

Now is not the time for fearmongering, racism, and stereotyping. Instead, let us all be informed, stay healthy, and, above all, keep calm."

Rohingya crisis: Support Fashion Relief and make a difference

Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

There's more to Fashion Relief than bagging a bargain or spotting your favourite celeb - it can make a real difference to families bearing the brunt of war and climate change.

Shoppers at Fashion Relief events will be supporting the world's most vulnerable communities - they include thousands of Rohingya people forced to flee Myanmar when conflict broke out in 2017. Around 700,000 people fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, settling in Cox's Bazar. With 1 million people now calling it home, it is the world's largest refugee camp.

Lorraine Keane recently visited Bangladesh to see Oxfam's work on the ground for herself. So far, we've distributed vital aid including clean water and food to 360,000 people in Cox's Bazar.

Fashion Relief at Cox's Bazar | Oxfam Ireland

We’re helping people stay healthy by installing water points, toilets and showers, and distributing soap and other essentials. We’ve recruited more than 600 Rohingya volunteers to help us reach others with hygiene information, we’ve built the biggest-ever sewage plant in a refugee camp on site and our solar-powered water network delivers safe water to families.

Oxfam staff hears Rohingya refugee opinions on new latrines
The women’s social architecture latrine user group talks to Iffat (Oxfam Senior Innovation Officer in Public Health Promotion & Community Engagement) about their first experiences using the latrine and bathing facilities. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed

We've also provided 25,000 refugee households with vouchers that can be exchanged at local markets for fresh vegetables and ingredients. We’ve hired over 1,800 Bangladeshi locals to work on construction projects including road repairs, schools and water sources and provided almost 400 people with grants to start or expand their small businesses.

new Oxfam food voucher system for refugees
An efficient new e-voucher system enables refugees to make their purchase by simply scanning a card pre-charged with credit. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

To help women feel safer after dark, we’ve installed more than 350 solar-powered streetlights around the camp and provided 20,000 torches and portable solar lanterns. We’ve also worked with women refugees to design more secure toilets and supplied them with fabric and vouchers so they can make or order clothes they feel more comfortable wearing in public.

Oxfam bought light to parts of Cox's Bazar
Oxfam has brought light to parts of the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

Sustainability in action

Fashion Relief is a key part of our work to increase sustainability across the fashion industry and support fair pay for garment workers. According to the UN, the textile industry generates more emissions than the aviation and shipping industries combined!

That's no surprise when 225,000 tonnes of clothes end up in landfill in Ireland each year. That's 225,000 tonnes of clothes not getting a second chance at life.

On top of that, cheap production and plummeting prices means the items we buy often end up in landfill before they should, while garment workers survive on low wages and more often than not experience poor working conditions [Source: Irish Tech News].

Join us on a journey to a more sustainable lifestyle, starting with the clothes you wear. We're proud to be a solution to "throwaway fashion" by reducing the amount of clothes and textiles that end up in landfill and giving pre-loved clothes a longer life. We also work with retailers, encouraging them to donate their end-of-line or excess stock to us instead of sending it to landfill. That's a more sustainable solution for people and planet!

Get ready for Fashion Relief 2020: Sustainable fashion extravaganza

Attend in style, Get your tickets today

Fashion Relief was a big hit Sunday 1 March and we couldn't be more delighted with its success! Thank you so much to everyone who came out and shopped bargains, volunteered, spread the word and partnered with us to make this event as amazing as it was!

Fashion Relief Dublin is back on 28 & 29 March offering you a unique opportunity to bag a bargain from the wardrobe of your favourite style icon or brand, boutique or designer, all while raising crucial funds for Oxfam's work worldwide.

Don't want to wait in long agonizing queues away from the buzz of fun and fashion? Then get your gal pals together and skip the queues on the day by grabbing your tickets now!

HINT: The earlier you get inside, the more amazing bargains you could find!

Fashion Relief 2020 Galway and Dublin | Oxfam Ireland

When & Where

RDS Dublin – 28 & 29 March


Who & Why

You! You’ll grab unbelievable bargains on the latest styles and trends while helping raise vital funds for communities at the sharp end of climate emergencies and major conflict in places like Yemen, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

Join Lorraine Keane and other big stars showcasing rail after rail of premium pre-loved clothes and accessories starting at just €5, with donations from the stars and the public as well as brand-new items from high street designers and retailers across the island.

HINT: Don’t miss the free fashion show and fashion advice and styling tips from leading Irish stylists and social influencers on the day!

Lorraine Keane invites you to join her!

“We’re so excited to bring Fashion Relief back to fashion-savvy shoppers in Galway and Dublin this year. Over the last few weeks, items have been pouring in from a host of amazing designers, retailers and the public, as well as of course, celebrities and influencers.  

“This year, we have a particular focus on sustainability and we’re inviting people to join us on a journey to a more sustainable lifestyle, starting with the clothes we wear. We’re proud to be a solution to ‘throwaway fashion’ by reducing the amount of clothes and textiles that end up in landfill and giving pre-loved clothes a second lease of life.

“In December, I visited the world’s largest refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, home to almost one million Rohingya refugees who fled unimaginable violence in Myanmar. While safe from the conflict that took the lives of many of their loved ones, they now face new threats and challenges in their makeshift home.  

“I saw first-hand the devasting impact the climate crisis is having on people affected by poverty and disaster right now. Cox’s Bazar is extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather events like cyclones and monsoons - and when you live in a flimsy shelter made of tarpaulin and bamboo that is particularly catastrophic. The Oxfam staff in the camp told me how during storms and flash flooding, homes and even little children are at risk of being washed away.  

“The are many reasons to join me at Fashion Relief in Galway and Dublin, but the most important is that we’ll be raising crucial funds for Oxfam’s work in places like Bangladesh where they are providing life-saving support like shelter, food, water and safe sanitation. Get your ticket today.”

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Increase our aid budget, create a better world

The current Government has committed to spending 0.7 percent of national income on overseas development assistance (ODA) by 2030. Now, in the run-up to General Election 2020, we are calling on the new government to reach this target five years earlier.

Reaching this target sooner rather than later is vital if Ireland wants to maintain its positive reputation as a member of the global donor community and deliver on the ambition of the State’s ODA plan A Better World.

man and young son walk through floodwaters after cyclone
Tawab with his son, two year old Calado*, after carrying him through floodwaters in Mozambique after a devastating cyclone. *Name changed to protect identity. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

In Budget 2020, €837 million was pledged to development aid – an increase of some €21 million on the previous budget. The 2020 funding represented around 0.41 percent of national income (Gross National Income, or GNI, is an improved measure of domestic economic activity), leaving Ireland a long way off its target.

Any increase in development aid should be accompanied by a roadmap and timelines setting out the annual increases to reach the 0.7 percent figure. As well as quantity, the quality of aid is key, and Ireland has been recognised on the international stage as a donor that provides effective aid to tackle poverty and reduce vulnerability.


We are asking the next government to:

  • Increase our development aid budget to 0.7% of national income by 2025
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Protect refugees, keep families together

At an EU level, Ireland has been complicit in a failed migration system which prioritises border security over the needs of vulnerable people. While the numbers crossing the Mediterranean have dropped significantly since the peak in 2015, the situation for many refugees and migrants arriving in Europe has got worse. We have seen first-hand the devastation caused by Europe’s flawed migration policies – and instead want to present positive, alternative solutions.

Rohingya refugee Asia Bibi* cuddling daughter Nur*, 5, (left) and son Anwar*, 8, (right), who has jaundice, in their shelter in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. *Name changed to protect identity. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/ Oxfam

Cooperation with such as Turkey and Libya on migration issues must be based on respect for human rights and international law; promote inclusive, accountable and transparent processes; and work for the benefit of displaced people, migrants, and communities in host and destination countries.

To address these issues, the next government needs to:

  • Support shared responsibility for hosting refugees equally throughout the EU under a proposed new Dublin system.
  • Support the implementation of EU asylum system that is safe, fair and effective and that provides access to basic services to all asylum seekers.
  • Support EU and NGO search-and-rescue operations with the sole objective of saving lives.
  • Only support partner countries’ security systems when it contributes to achieving peace and stability, inclusive and sustainable development, state-building and democracy, rule of law and protection of human rights.
  • Address the specific needs of refugee and migrant women and girls and promote their role as leaders for positive and inclusive change.

In 2018, Oxfam Ireland produced a report A Family Belongs Together which detailed the human consequences of the Irish Government’s policy on refugee family reunification, namely the impact on refugee families and on their ability to integrate into Irish society. The report shows that family separation has a destabilising effect on refugees living in Ireland and contributes to deteriorating mental health and wellbeing.

When families are reunited, the presence of relatives can help speed up integration – not just for the new arrivals, but family members already living in Ireland. A family provides nurturing and coping strategies and helps to anchor a loved one in a new place.

The Irish Government’s current policy on refugee family reunification is too restrictive and only allows a very narrow group of family members to apply to be reunited. Oxfam is calling on the next government to:

· Amend the International Protection Act (2015) to expand the definition of family to include young adults who are dependent on the family unit prior to flight; parents; siblings; in-laws, and any other dependent relative.

 · Introduce legal aid for people seeking refugee family reunion through increased funding to the Legal Aid Board by the Department of Justice.

 · Waive the income requirements for those who have received international protection who apply for family reunification.

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