Policy and Advocacy

Pregnant women, children and survivors of torture abandoned in Greek camps

 
New Oxfam report highlights how system is failing to protect the most vulnerable
 
Wednesday 9th January
 
Hundreds of pregnant women, unaccompanied children and survivors of torture are being abandoned in refugee camps on the Greek islands, an Oxfam report revealed today. The report – Vulnerable and abandoned ¬¬– details how the system to identify and protect the most vulnerable people has broken down due to chronic understaffing and flawed processes
 
It includes accounts of mothers being sent away from hospital to live in a tent as early as four days after giving birth by Caesarean section. It tells of survivors of sexual violence and other traumas living in a camp where violence breaks out regularly and where two thirds of residents say they never feel safe. 
 
For much of the last year there has been just one government-appointed doctor in Lesvos who was responsible for screening as many as 2,000 people arriving each month. In November, there was no doctor at all so there were no medical screenings happening to identify those most in need of care. 
 
Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, said: “Winter has brought heavy rain to Lesvos turning the camp that thousands call home into a muddy bog. The temperature is expected to drop below freezing in the next week and it could snow. Meanwhile, Moria camp is severely overcrowded at double its capacity. 
 
“All of these factors compound the many challenges already faced by people living in the camps, making those most vulnerable even more desperate. Pregnant women and mothers with new-born babies are sleeping in tents, without heating, while children who arrived on their own are being placed in detention after being wrongly registered as adults. 
 
“It is absolutely vital that vulnerable people are quickly identified and can access the protection and care they need, including suitable accommodation, medical and psycho-social support and access to other basic services.”
 
Under Greek and EU law, the legal definition of vulnerability specifically includes unaccompanied children, women who are pregnant or with young babies, people with disabilities and survivors of torture, among others. They should have access to the normal Greek asylum process instead of a fast-tracked process designed to send them back to Turkey.
 
The report highlights a particularly worrying trend of authorities detaining teenagers and survivors of torture after failing to recognise them as vulnerable. Legal and social workers told Oxfam they frequently came across detainees who should not have been locked up because of their age or because of poor physical or mental health. Once in detention, it is even more difficult for them to get the medical or psychological help they need.
 
In one case, a 28-year-old asylum seeker from Cameroon was locked up for five months based on his nationality, despite having serious mental health issues. No one checked his physical and mental health before he was detained and it took a month for him to see a psychologist. He said: “We had just two hours a day when we were allowed to get out of the container...The rest of the time you are sitting in a small space with 15 other men who all have their own problems.”
 
Oxfam is calling for the Greek government and EU member states to deploy more expert staff, including doctors and psychologists and to fix the screening system on the Greek islands. It said that more people seeking asylum should be transferred to mainland Greece on a regular basis – particularly the vulnerable. Oxfam is also calling on EU member states to share responsibility for receiving asylum seekers with Greece more fairly by reforming the ‘Dublin Regulation’ in line with the position of the European Parliament.
 
Oxfam has been working in Lesvos since 2015 running a programme to ensure that people seeking asylum are protected. This includes training community focal points to provide information, running workshops at a day centre for women and providing legal aid and social support for people seeking asylum through partners.
 
Full report available on request.
 
ENDS
 
CONTACT: Spokespeople are available for interview. For more, please contact: Alice Dawson-Lyons at alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org or +353 (0) 83 198 1869
 
 
 
Notes to editors:
 
Spokespeople are available in Lesvos and Brussels. 
Recent, high-resolution photos and video footage from around Moria camp are available.
The full transcripts of the interviews of asylum-seekers and volunteers in and around Moria camp, on which parts of the report are based, are available to the media upon request.
According to the UNHCR, the Moria camp in Lesvos was at around double its official capacity of 3,100 places, with just under 5,000 migrants living inside the camp and another 2,000 in an informal camp next to Moria, known as the Olive Grove.
A survey by Refugee Rights Europe in June 2018 found that almost two-thirds (65.7%) of respondents said they ‘never feel safe’ inside Moria, rising to 78% among children living in the camp.
In September 2018, Oxfam published a briefing arguing that the EU’s plans for ‘controlled centers’ for the reception of migrants saved at sea are modelled on the existing ‘hotspots’ described in today’s report and should not be implemented.
 

Will 2019 be the year when we see real corporate tax reform?

This month the European Union (EU) put the thorny issue of how to fairly tax the digital economy on the long finger. Attempts to reform digital taxation, like efforts to increase public tax transparency and address profit shifting, have stalled at the EU due to opposition from a small number of countries – including Ireland.

Oxfam International’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, where she debated Ireland’s Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe on the need for fundamental reform of the global tax system. Photo: World Economic Forum

This month the European Union (EU) put the thorny issue of how to fairly tax the digital economy on the long finger. Attempts to reform digital taxation, like efforts to increase public tax transparency and address profit shifting, have stalled at the EU due to opposition from a small number of countries – including Ireland.

The proposed digital services tax was an imperfect solution. Experts and civil society agree that the real solution lies in fundamentally changing our tax system to meet the challenges of a digitalised economy. This is about more than just a handful of big tech firms dominating the market. Technology is fundamentally changing the way that every industry operates and our tax system must adapt to reflect this.

This is worth considering in the context of developing countries in Africa, where Ireland spends most of its overseas development aid. Africa has often been hailed as a technological leapfrogger, particularly in the realm of mobile banking, where Kenya’s M-PESA is leading the way. Sub-Saharan Africa is now a bigger market for mobile phones than North America and it will shortly surpass Europe. Tech companies based in Ireland like Apple are cashing in on this growing market – in 2015, sales of the iPhone grew by 133 percent in the Middle East and Africa. But African tax revenues are not benefitting from this boom because profits from these sales are routed back to Apple in Cork.

EU’s Tax Haven Blacklist

The EU has had more success in tackling tax havens. Last year, in an assertive move against the ever-increasing power of multinationals and private billionaires, it published its first ever blacklist of tax havens. As a result of this pressure, many notorious tax havens committed to reform their tax laws before the end of 2018, and companies started moving away from tropical zero-tax islands.

However, if the blacklist is to remain an important tool in the fight against tax avoidance, the EU must follow up on its initial action. A preliminary analysis by Oxfam shows that, with just one month left to the deadline, at least 20 countries – including heavyweights like Switzerland – have failed to deliver sufficient reforms and could soon be blacklisted.

It is crucial that EU governments help end the era of tax havens to ensure that the billions of dollars currently hidden from public coffers are spent on services which matter to citizens – health, education, infrastructure and development. The economist Gabriel Zucman estimates that multinational companies shift as much as 40 percent of their global profits to tax havens every year. Not only does this affect governments and citizens across the EU, it also hits developing countries who lose $100 billion annually as a result of tax avoidance- fueling inequality and poverty.

So how successful has the EU’s blacklist actually been? Has it helped or hindered the fight against inequality?

The blacklist started last December with 17 tax havens. Since then, the number has dwindled to a mere five countries, all of which are small island states. However, at the same time, a ‘grey list’ of countries that committed to reform their tax systems by the end of 2018 has grown. It features many of the most disreputable tax havens, such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, and has already had some positive results exemplified by the removal of Liechtenstein from the list after it ended its damaging tax practices.

The Tax Haven Shuffle

The blacklisting process has produced changes in the way multinationals are operating. Big companies are beginning to move from tropical islands where they pay no tax, to countries where they pay extremely low tax. As reported in Bloomberg, US multinationals are moving their intellectual property (IP) holdings (patents, trademarks, copyrights etc.) from territories like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands to countries like Ireland and Singapore. This trend is known as “onshoring”, or “the tax haven shuffle”, and it happens when zero-tax islands change their tax regimes in response to external trends – in this case following pressure on tax havens from the EU.

Ireland has incentivised companies to relocate their IP here with reliefs that allow them – in many cases – to reduce their tax liability down to zero percent, replicating what used to happen in Caribbean tax havens. From 1 January 2015 – just after the announcement of the phasing out of the Double Irish arrangement – companies were allowed to offset up to 100 percent of their profits (it was previously capped at 80 percent) against the cost of purchasing IP rights for the relevant period – potentially eliminating any tax bill whatsoever. There has been a sharp uptake in companies availing of this measure, as recognised by the former finance minister Michael Noonan. Deputy Noonan  highlighted “a relocation of intellectual property-related assets or patents to Ireland” as a key reason for Ireland’s massive GDP increase of 26% in 2015. Figures released by Irish revenue authorities show that the use of such allowances for intangible assets went up by a massive 989 percent in 2015. The full extent of these transfers were discussed recently in the Irish parliament where it was disclosed that between 2014 and 2017, intellectual property to the value of approximately €300 billion was onshored to Ireland. The law was changed in 2017 so that companies that transfer IP to Ireland after this date will only be able to claim 80 percent relief against profits in any one year.

In his blog, Chair of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, Seamus Coffey, estimates that significantly more intellectual property could be transferred to Ireland. Based on the current figure of €70 billion of royalties leaving Ireland annually, he estimates that up to €1 trillion in IP assets could be transferred to Ireland in the next few years. For companies that moved IP here between 2015 and 2017, Ireland may be, in effect, a “no-tax jurisdiction”, with potentially hundreds of billions of euros of reliefs still to be used against future profits. Meanwhile, companies that move IP to Ireland in the future will be able to avail of reliefs that could potentially allow them to have an effective tax rate of as low as 2.5 percent.

Could we see real reform in 2019?

It is true that coordinated efforts at EU, OECD, G20 and UN level are making it more difficult for individual countries to continue to facilitate corporate tax avoidance. In response, countries are more likely to compete for foreign investment by offering ever more generous tax incentives – Ireland’s intellectual property relief being one example – and reductions in their corporate tax rates. This competition is creating a race to the bottom, whereby a small number of countries may temporarily gain in the short term. In the long term, however, every country risks losing out as extreme competitive pressures negatively impact their sovereign right to raise fair levels of tax.

So even if we are successful at reducing – or eliminating – corporate tax avoidance, there is a danger that this race to the bottom will lead to a situation where corporations start reporting the correct amount of profits in each country, but still pay very little taxes on these profits. This has serious implications for poorer countries’ ability to mobilise sufficient domestic revenue to fund universal public services to tackle inequality and beat poverty, and to fund the social and physical infrastructure that fosters prosperity. As women and girls living in poverty are disproportionally impacted by the under-resourcing of public services, this has also implications for efforts to address gender inequality because developing countries need to be able to raise the vital resources necessary for the advancement of women’s civil, social and economic rights.

Efforts to reform the global tax system move to the OECD in 2019, a move which Ireland supports.  However, this may be a case of “be careful what you wish for” as it seems that a more fundamental reform of the corporate tax system – including the possible introduction of a minimum effective tax rate – may be on the negotiating table at the OECD next year. In a recent interview, Pascal Saint-Amans, director of the OECD’s Centre for Tax Policy and Administration, indicated that he felt that momentum is building for something big to happen, a kind of BEPS 2.0, which would look at more systematic issues such as the allocation of taxing rights, rather than trying to patch up the existing flawed system, as has happened under the original Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Process (BEPS) process.

The Japanese G20 presidency has also signalled its strong interest in continuing the debate on taxing the digital economy and will hold a tax symposium on the subject in early June 2019 to coincide with the G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Fukuoka. Unlike the original BEPS negotiating agreement, the global south will have some input, albeit limited, into these negotiations through the OECD’s Inclusive Framework. As rising powers like Brazil, India and China have all signalled that more complete reform is necessary, and with the US more open to a global minimum effective tax rate following its recent tax reforms, Ireland’s ability to block reform may be greatly reduced this time around.

 

 

Take Action Now to Keep Families Together

 
Great news - with the help of our supporters - the Family Reunification Bill is one step closer to being enacted into law.
 
 
Last week, alongside our supporters, we asked the Oireachtas Business Committee to make sure a bill that will enable refugees living in Ireland to be reunited with their loved ones progresses to the Dáil – and they listened! 
 
While this is amazing news, we urgently need your help again to make sure this bill becomes law.  
 
This Thursday (6th Dec), the bill will be brought to the Dáil and TDs will vote on whether it should progress to the next stage (this is second stage and there are three more stages to go!). 
 
Please take action today and ensure TDs vote in favour of the Family Reunification Bill this Thursday. 
 
Just click on the link below so that you can email us and give consent to us sending a printed Christmas card to your TD asking them to support the bill. You will also be asked to let us know your constituency so that we know who to contact on your behalf. 
 
Families should always be together, especially at Christmas – together, we can make this happen. 
 
 

Keep Families Together This Christmas

 
Families should always be together, especially at Christmas – but that’s not the case for refugee families living in Ireland right now. 
It is now seven months since the International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017 passed through the Seanad with cross-party support and it is still waiting for a slot in the Dáil. 
 
This Bill aims to undo the unintended consequences of a law brought in 2015 which narrowed the definition of family for refugees to a spouse and any children under 18. This means refugees living in Ireland remain separated from their children over 18, siblings, parents, grandparents and guardians this Christmas. 
 
This causes more pain and trauma for families fleeing conflict, persecution, poverty and disaster – people who have already suffered enough and are now trying to rebuild their lives. 
 
We need to make sure this bill gets the urgent attention it needs to be brought to the Dáil - so that that families can find refuge safely and together. 
 
An important meeting is taking place tomorrow which will decide if this bill will be brought to the Dáil before Christmas. 
 
Please take action today and contact those involved in the meeting, asking them to ensure that this bill progresses now so that families desperate to be reunited with their loved ones can be together as soon as possible.  

Aid and the next EU budget

The development of the next Multiannual Financial Framework is an opportunity for the European Union and its Member States to agree on how to implement a global vision for development cooperation that is rooted in European values. 

Róisín Hinds of Oxfam Ireland appearing before Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade with Suzanne Keatinge of Dóchas and Trócaire’s Niamh Garvey. Photo: Oireachtas TV

Brexit might be dominating headlines across the European Union – but it’s not the only show in town. The EU’s development assistance and humanitarian cooperation instruments will be undergoing a fundamental shift in the coming months, with the development of the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). The MFF will set out the EU’s budget for the seven years from 2021 to 2027. Not only will it lock down the EU’s priorities in terms of financial allocations and the instruments used to implement them, it will help set the EU’s future trajectory in a range of policy areas, including development cooperation, humanitarian assistance, human rights and foreign policy. Last month, Oxfam Ireland appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade with our colleagues in Dóchas to discuss the future of EU aid and Ireland’s role in its development.

Ireland’s aid programme, which is not only an important feature of the country’s foreign policy, also demonstrates its commitment to human rights. During the recent launch of the public consultation for Irish Aid’s new policy, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that Ireland’s “development programme last year reached over 120 countries. It is recognised as one of the best in the world and its good reputation opens doors for Ireland everywhere… The effectiveness of Ireland’s development cooperation programme amplifies Ireland’s voice within the UN. It will be a significant asset in our tough race to win a seat on the UN Security Council for 2021 and 2022”.

Ireland has always been recognised as a donor which “excels” in delivering effective aid. Consecutive OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) peer reviews have praised the quality of Ireland’s aid programme, including its focus on the poorest and most vulnerable countries and the commitment to untied aid. The added value for Ireland working with the EU in development and humanitarian action is clear and acknowledged – cooperation provides economies of scale, efficiency and can enable a stronger impact. With EU aid instruments comprising 46 percent of Ireland’s multilateral aid spend in 2017, it is critical that the Irish government plays a leading role in the development of the new MFF to ensure that EU aid is being used for the intended purposes to alleviate poverty and reduce vulnerability.

A streamlined architecture: flexible but not accountable

In May this year, the European Commission (EC) presented its plans to overhaul the EU’s budget, with the MFF proposal identifying the priorities, budget and architecture for 2021 to 2027. The title of the EU’s budget proposal, “Neighbourhood and the World”, encompasses all EU external actions, including development cooperation. Presenting the proposal, the EU’s High Representative on Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, stated that it is “first and foremost a political statement in favour of a stronger European Union in international affairs”.

The most substantial change in the proposal is the creation of a broad single instrument, the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), which merges 12 external funding instruments – including the European Development Fund – into one. Civil society has long advocated for the simplification of EU funding instruments to avoid fragmentation and support flexibility. However, the EC’s proposal puts varied development and foreign policy objectives under the same umbrella and fails to achieve balance by reconciling different policy areas. As Europe’s political environment becomes increasingly insular, oversimplification risks promoting short-term EU domestic interests – particularly on migration and security – at the expense of international cooperation and development.  

As it currently stands, the NDICI’s objectives are overwhelmingly focused on foreign and security policy. Poverty eradication, which should be the primary focus of the instrument, is not explicitly mentioned in its aims (Article 3). The policy framework (Article 7) and the general principles (Article 8) of the regulation are vague and would benefit from strengthened language and an increased focus on alleviating poverty and reducing vulnerability. 

The commitment to spend 0.7 percent of collective EU Gross National Income (GNI) on Official Development Assistance (ODA), as well as the benchmarking of 0.2 percent to the least developed countries, are welcome and should be defended. However, Oxfam would like to see these commitments included in the main body of regulation text – and not just in the introduction, which is not legally binding. While we welcome the Commission’s proposal to keep a separate humanitarian instrument, we recommend that the budget is increased by a further €2 billion annually to address and complexity and scale of humanitarian need. The MFF will not only determine the role the EU can play as a leading humanitarian aid donor, it will also shape the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of the aid that humanitarian partners are able to deliver.

Migration, aid and short-sighted priorities

While the Commission’s proposal includes several positive elements on migration and displacement, such as focusing support on “human rights-based migration policies, including protection programmes” [Annex II, section 3(f)], and “development-based solutions for forcibly displaced persons and their host communities” [Annex II, section 3(i)], the overall approach to migration is not in line with the EU’s global strategy or OECD DAC definitions of Official Development Assistance. The proposed regulation includes an ambition to stem irregular migration to Europe, with references to “fighting”, “mitigating” or “tackling” the root causes of irregular migration. There is also a 10 percent financial envelope set aside for partner countries based on their performance in several areas, including cooperation on migration. This raises series concerns around the conditionality of aid. In addition, the budget includes a €10.2 billion “emerging challenges and priorities cushion”, with little detail on what this is for, how it will be spent and how it will be governed. In the current political context, the risk is that it will be used for short-term EU political interests, rather than long-term development which is based on development effectiveness principles.

Migration has been well-established as a powerful poverty reduction tool for migrants, their families and wider communities, and as having an important role in contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While several SDGs recognise the economic value of migration, Target 10.7 specifically calls for the facilitation of “safe, regular and responsible migration” and the implementation of “well-managed policies”. The use of NDICI funds to stem irregular migration puts the EU’s long-term objectives of building resilience and sustainable development at risk and may even lead to a destabilisation in conflict-affected regions.

Analysis of the EU Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) and other programmes designed to prevent migration reveals that efforts to reduce cross-border movement between African countries has resulted in some communities losing access to livelihoods, for example, by restricting access to local markets across the nearest border or by reducing intra-continental migration. Oxfam analysis of the EUTF’s migration management projects also finds that 97 percent of the budget has gone to containment and deterrence and only 3 percent has been allocated to making migration routes safer and cheaper. This illustrates donors’ disproportionate focus on reinforcing borders and blocking mobility over long-term development and human rights-based solutions.

 

Maintaining the integrity of aid

As Ireland looks to expand global presence and meet the international commitment to 0.7 percent spending, it is critical that we play an active role in the development of the new MFF. Ireland must stand against the instrumentalisation of aid for migration control, ensure respect for development effectiveness principles and preserve development objectives, which by their nature, should remain autonomous from foreign policy interests. In the next MFF, aid must only be used for its intended purposes of alleviating poverty and reducing vulnerability; for programmes that address the needs of displaced people and host communities and to increase the development benefits of migration – not to contribute to the EU’s short-term foreign policy ambitions to prevent migration.

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