Oxfam helps refugees to find safety without risking their lives at sea

Oxfam helps refugees to find safety without risking their lives at sea

Last year’s Mediterranean death toll equivalent to nearly 3 Irish Ferries’ Ulysses boats sinking

First families arrive in Italy to seek asylum under new safe and regular routes programme

Monday May 1st, 2017

With an average of nine people dying each day so far this year trying to cross the Mediterranean, Oxfam has joined an innovative new programme which provides an alternative and safer route.

The ‘Humanitarian Corridors’ initiative aims to reduce the number of people forced to risk their lives in perilous sea crossings or endure long and dangerous journeys over land in order to reach safety. It supports people to reach Europe via safe and regular routes in order to claim asylum.

Over 60 people from Syria, including many families, arrived in Italy last week to seek asylum as part of a humanitarian visa programme approved by the Italian government. These people will be hosted by Oxfam in the Italian region of Tuscany for the duration of this process.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, said: “In 2016 over 5,000 people lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean – the same as almost three Irish Ferries’ Ulysses boats sinking in the sea. We cannot grow immune to these numbers and we cannot allow this year to be the same as the last.

Many of those 5,000 people were fleeing unimaginable situations – conflict that robbed them of their homes, livelihoods and loved ones, persecution, poverty and disaster. Getting into an unseaworthy boat is a last resort, a desperate attempt to reach safety and dignity. Through the ‘Humanitarian Corridors’ programme, we are now offering people in need an alternative to the last resort so that they can reach Europe safely.”

‘Humanitarian Corridors’ is the first project of its kind and a good example of how civil society and EU governments can work together to effectively protect and integrate refugees. It aims to support 500 people from different regions in 2017 that are currently located in three transit countries – Lebanon, Morocco and Ethiopia. 

Oxfam in Italy has now joined and will host Syrian refugees in reception facilities. Oxfam will also provide legal assistance and help people to access cultural mediation services and Italian language courses, as well as work and education mentorship for up to 250 people.

Fatem, a 28-year-old mother of two from Syria, part of the first group hosted by Oxfam in Italy, said: “We just want to be happy. We don’t want to live in constant fear that we will not be able to make it through the day. My children deserve a chance at a better future.”

Mr Clarken continued: “This programme shows that it is possible to provide more humane routes to Europe with government support. The alternative leaves people no choice but to turn to smugglers and use increasingly dangerous routes that risk their lives. Too often, in the desperate search for safety, families are torn apart and there is no guarantee they will be reunited again. Safe and legal routes are essential to keeping people safe and families together.

“In 2015, the Irish government committed to receiving 4,000 refugees through the Irish Refugee Protection Programme by the end of 2017. However, less than 900 people have arrived so far. We urgently need to find ways to overcome obstacles and stay on track to meet this commitment. If we cannot bring 4,000 people to safety in Ireland through the current mechanisms, Ireland must consider alternative schemes such as the Humanitarian Corridors project. The last time countries turned away refugees en masse was during the Second World War. We must act urgently to help people who need protection.”

Oxfam is calling on the Irish government to improve access to protection for those in need by taking concrete action to ensure that its commitments under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme are met, including through tackling barriers to relocation from Greece and Italy and increasing the use of humanitarian visas as a safe route to seeking asylum in Ireland. In addition, Oxfam is calling on the Government to expand opportunities for family reunification to ensure that families can stay together in their time of need.

Oxfam is also calling on European governments to urgently improve access to international protection for those fleeing conflict and persecution, including through humanitarian visas. In addition, more flexible family reunification policies and more resettlement programmes are needed. The agency has called on rich countries, including European nations, to resettle or offer other forms of admission to 10 percent of the Syrian refugee population by the end of 2017.


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

Oxfam spokespeople are available, including from Brussels and in Florence, Italy. Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, visited Oxfam’s programme with unaccompanied minors in Italy last year and is available for interview

Photos of the Syrians arriving in Italy are available here: https://oxfam.box.com/v/corridors

Notes to editors:

  • 1,089 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in the first four months of this year, the equivalent of nine people per day.
  • During the first four months of 2016 – the deadliest year so far for refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe – 1,266 people died, 177 more than in 2017. Statistics re the number of lives lost in the Mediterranean were taken from http://migration.iom.int/europe/
  • The Humanitarian Corridors programme was conceived by three faith-based organisations – the Sant’Egidio Community, the Union of Methodist Churches and the Waldensian Church – with Italian government permission.
  •  The programme selects people who are either likely to be recognised as refugees in Italy according to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, or particularly vulnerable people, for example those who have been abused, unaccompanied minors, women on their own, families with children and elderly or ill people
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