Rights in Crisis

  • We believe that the women, men and children who are affected by conflicts and disasters have a right to live in safety and dignity. Those most at risk – whether because of an earthquake, a drought or civil war – have a right to a life free from violence, and to have clean water, shelter and food. They also have the right to be heard and to take control of their own lives.

World Refugee Day: We can do more for young people seeking refuge on our shores

Photo: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam

New research puts forward recommendations for treatment of unaccompanied minors in Europe

The theme for this years World Refugee day is ‘together we heal, learn and shine’. And we can, but as our new research report reveals – we can definitely improve how we do things to ensure that we strive to achieve these goals for refugee youth in our care.

While for many teenagers around the world, turning 18 is a milestone – a moment of joy and celebration – our new research finds that for young people seeking refuge in Europe, this is a moment of massive anxiety. As turning 18 symbolises losing support due to the sharp nosedive in our protective legal frameworks.

The report has sounded the alarm about the risks young face – and our governments must now heed them.

The research shines a spotlight how unaccompanied minors (young people seeking asylum who under the age of 18 and have either lost or have been separated from their family or legal guardian) across Europe are falling through the gaps and into situations of extreme vulnerability.

The most worrying aspect of the report is the changes in supports once a young person in the asylum process in Ireland reaches their 18th birthday. 

One of the key tenants of EU law is protecting young people regardless of their legal status. This protection helps shield them from the high risk of abuse, homelessness, and exploitation. Turning 18 does not mean these risks disappear overnight, yet the protection they receive dramatically changes.

No longer considered children in the eyes of the law, young unaccompanied minors can find themselves displaced for a second time.

“It’s hard, because you are just learning how to live with your foster family, and then you have to leave.”

*Reuben, who arrived in Ireland as an unaccompanied minor and since been granted status

Photo: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam

European law rightly ensures that unaccompanied minors arriving in Europe are accommodated in child-friendly accommodation and are appointed a social worker to support them with administrative and legal matters. But in Ireland, unaccompanied minors in the asylum process are in many cases removed from foster or residential care once they turn 18 and are sent to Direct Provision - where they find themselves living in the same room as adult strangers and quite often in a different region to where they were first accommodated.  

“You’re not fully an adult at 18, most Irish kids are still living with their parents at 18.” 

Lee*, who arrived in Ireland as an unaccompanied minor and since been granted status

When they were asked what they would like to change about their experience, the young interviewees noted that they would like to see an end to the removal from foster or residential care to Direct Provision.

One young person said that this change would be good for their mental health and would encourage young people to move forward, as it was very stressful to leave their foster family and was a “a very dark time in their life” (Mo*).

Photo: Giorgos Moutafis/ Oxfam

A second worrying issue that came up in focus groups with professionals and guardians was the issue of family reunification law in Ireland, which is restrictive and has time restraints which give little consideration to the complexity of family tracing (locating a family member they may have been separated from when escaping persecution.) This whole process places a massive responsibility on the young person and can cause considerable anxiety.

"We want to shed light on the traumatic and sudden process of turning 18 as an unaccompanied minor in Ireland. You go to sleep a child in the eyes of the law, and the next morning you wake up an adult and find you are stripped of many of the supports and protections you experienced when you first arrived. The security you  were afforded is suddenly toppled."

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland

We have written to the Minister for Children, the Ombudsman for Children and the Chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Children seeking meetings to discuss the findings of the report and to explore how the issues raised can be addressed.

European countries need to step up. They must simplify asylum processes, set up guardianship schemes, create professional training programmes for people engaging with refugee youth, and invest in transitionary social housing with wraparound supports to help young people navigate the extremely complex systems that they find themselves in. 

Surely we can find a better way for refugee youth who have lost, or been separated from, their families. One that better reflects the theme of this year’s World Refugee Day –to heal, learn and shine together.

The research was conducted through interviews with refugees, frontline staff and researchers in Ireland, France, Greece, the Netherlands, and Italy.

* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the young people who contributed to the research report.

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Climate change, food insecurity and hunger: Three crises, inextricably linked

Sarah has been a subsistence farming taking care of her family for 25 years in Nyanyadzi, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. Sarah accesses the Nyanyadzi Irrigation scheme to water her crops. Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

By Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland and IHREC Commission Member

Two important events took place last week – events that concern some of the most urgent crises facing humanity.   

On Tuesday, hundreds of organisations across the world marked one year since the UN warned of a “famine of biblical proportions” due to deepening crises because of more frequent natural disasters, changing weather patterns, and conflict. Crises only made worse by the global pandemic.

Responding to this grim milestone, they published an open letter calling on world leaders – particularly those from wealthy nations – to urgently increase aid and prevent 34 million people from being pushed to the brink of starvation this year. As despite advances made in recent years, the pandemic, coupled with conflict and climate change, could push millions more into extreme hunger, setting back the fight against poverty by a decade.

On Thursday and Friday, US President Joe Biden hosted 40 world leaders, including Ireland at his virtual Earth Day Summit in an effort to increase global climate ambition, lower emissions, and build resilience. Given the significance of these events, there has never been a more fitting time to talk about climate change, food insecurity and hunger. 

In August 2019, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, published its Special Report on Climate Change and Land. The document looked at the impacts of a changing climate on the land and its ecosystems, focusing on topics like soil degradation and shrinking water supplies, as well as solutions for sustainable land management and food security. The report laid bare the critical issues we are facing as a global community and the life-or-death challenges being faced by the communities with which Oxfam works. 

In fact, more than half of the IPCC document’s authors were from developing countries, reflecting the vital role these nations play in both climate change decision-making and research, particularly when it comes to land and food security. After all, it is the developing world’s communities that are most affected by hunger and food insecurity, both of which are now a greater threat because of climate change. 

Today, our global food system feeds the majority of the world’s population and supports the livelihoods of more than one billion people. Yet tragically, according to the latest Global Hunger Index, some 690 million people remain undernourished while 144 million children under the age of five suffer from stunting – a sign of chronic malnutrition. A further 47 million children are suffering from wasting, severe weight loss that, without the proper treatment, can be fatal. The food system is already feeling the stress of non-climate influences such as conflict, which is the biggest driver of global hunger. The decade-long war in Syria, for example, has led to 12.4 million people – or almost 60 percent of the population – going to bed hungry, while after six years of conflict, 16.2 million Yemenis rely on food aid to survive.

Add temperature increases, unpredictable rainfall patterns and extreme weather events to these non-climate-related pressures and the food system will continue to buckle. Climate change alone will lead to lower crop yields and higher food prices affecting the world’s most vulnerable communities including the 3.1 billion people, or the poorest half of the world’s population, who were responsible for just seven percent of emissions between 1990 and 2015.  

The IPCC report highlights that higher temperatures and more extreme weather events are having a severe impact on food security, particularly in Africa’s drylands, parts of the Mediterranean and mountainous areas of Asia and South America.   

The communities we work with around the world can attest to these changes. In Burkina Faso, for instance, mothers like Ouedraogo Aguiratou have witnessed climate change wreak havoc on the land they rely on for their very survival. The 39-year-old farmer says her land has been getting poorer, and harder to cultivate. When the rains come, they wash away the soil she needs to grow her crops. Widow Aminiata Diallo, also from Burkina Faso, is suffering too as a result of climate change. In her community, water is so scarce that they can only cultivate a third of their land.   

According to the IPCC, adaptation strategies are key to reducing, even avoiding, the negative impacts of climate change on food security. Work is being done by communities with support from organisations like Oxfam to build boreholes and install water pumps in communities struggling with drought as a result of climate change. Farmers are learning adaptation techniques, such as how to fertilise the soil with compost and prevent soil being washed during the rainy season. 

However, the IPCC also warn that there are limits to adaptation if climate change continues unabated. Wealthier countries must play their part in taking action against this deadly threat by urgently cutting their emissions and supporting vulnerable nations with climate finance for new, robust, life-saving adaptation strategies. After all, during a 25-year period of unprecedented emissions growth, it was the richest one percent who were responsible for twice as much pollution as the poorest half of humanity.  

In addition to tackling the climate crisis head-on, as was done for the pandemic, global leaders must fund the UN food security appeal to help those most at risk now, and work to end conflict and achieve a global ceasefire. 

Without these interventions, millions more will be pushed to the brink of starvation. 

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More talk, still not enough real action on climate change

By Joanne O’Connor, Content Executive with Oxfam Ireland and MSc in Climate Change student 

22 April 2021

For anyone with even a passing interest in the biggest threat facing our planet, this week is big.

Today, US President Joe Biden will host world leaders for the first of a two-day virtual Earth Day Summit, during which countries will be expected to make new commitments on emissions reductions. Ireland, which was not on the original guest list, has since made the cut because of its scaled-up climate targets and support of developing countries with their resilience efforts.

The optimist in me hopes we’re at a turning point. The cynic in me has seen all this before. After all, it seems like only a couple of glaciers ago that we witnessed the fanfare the 2015 Paris Agreement and the countries of the world uniting to address one common problem.

What’s happened since? Well, recent news from the UN makes for depressing reading. It reported that new or updated Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs (countries’ efforts to reduce their emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change) for 75 of the Agreement’s signatories found that the changes in their actual emissions would be small, despite their pledges.

Not small – tiny. The changes made by these countries would result in less than a one percent emissions reduction in 2030 compared to 2010. To meet the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Agreement, they should be around 45 percent lower in 2030. Just a 44 percent shortfall, then. (To clarify, the NDCs in this report account for 30 percent of emissions worldwide. So, not all emissions but the findings are still significant.)

Photo: Marcin Jozwiak/Unsplash

Forgive the cliché but we really are at a crossroads now.

Take it from someone who remembers all the panic about the hole in the ozone layer back in the 1980s. The damage to the layer, which protects us from harmful UV radiation, was caused by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – chemicals used in aerosol cans and fridges. As a result, the threat of skin cancer was never far away, albeit never quite close enough to make us wear sunscreen.

In 1987, world leaders did something quite shocking – they acted. They signed the Montreal Protocol, uniting to reduce the use of CFCs. Just three years later, they agreed that CFCs would be phased out completely by 2000.

And the commitments made in 1987 and 1990 weren’t meaningless – they actually worked. In 2019, NASA reported that the “ozone hole” had shrunk to a record low.

I was naïve enough to think that world leaders would do something similar about global warming. Act, not just talk. Because there’s been a lot of talk – at hearings, conferences and summits. Now, more than 30 years since climate scientist James Hansen told a US congressional hearing that he could say “with 99% confidence” that global temperature rise was due to human activity, politicians are still talking.

Even as President Biden meets with other world leaders over the next two days, greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise, contributing to the rise in the average global temperature. If they don’t take radical, drastic action now, the consequences will be dire.

Coincidentally, it was British scientist James Lovelock who first noticed high levels of CFCs in the atmosphere in the 1960s. The father of the Gaia Theory, the concept that life on Earth is a self-regulating community of organisms interacting with each other and their surroundings, has a worrying take on where we’re all headed.

In his 2009 book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, Lovelock writes that ‘global heating’, as he calls it, doesn’t mean linear changes in temperature, but sudden abrupt shifts. These abrupt changes alongside an increasing global population, Lovelock says, will do irreversible damage to large swathes of the planet. Only a few ‘lifeboats for humanity’ would survive, including countries like Ireland, the UK, Japan, Tasmania and New Zealand. Scandinavia will also be spared. Lovelock believes that while we should do what we can to cut emissions, it’s time to think about adaptation.

Others, however, argue that it’s not too late to turn this ship around. One of those people is climate scientist Michael E. Mann, the co-author of the “hockey-stick graph” in 1999, which showed the sharp rise in global temperatures since the industrial age – and the clearest evidence of the link between human emissions and global warming. Mann insists that doom-mongering, which has overtaken denial as a threat and as a tactic, poses a major threat to climate action.

Fatalism, therefore, is not the answer. We just have to take urgent action to protect our planet – and ourselves.

Now, could somebody please talk to the politicians?

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