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 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

Gaza is dying in front of everybody

Tim Holmes, Oxfam Program Manager, reports back on his recent visit to Gaza and reflects on the challenges people living there face in their daily lives.

A powerful smell hit me as I entered Gaza a fortnight ago. Not the smell of burning tyres from the ongoing protests, or the tear gas that has been used in response, but the smell of raw sewage. As I walked the few hundred meters through the wire cage corridor from the Israeli border security across the ‘access restricted area’ to the Palestinian border control, I crossed over a small stream of sewage slowly oozing from the Gaza Strip, under the huge turreted border wall, into Israel.

Why is this happening?

Well, a bunch of reasons. Without sufficient electricity or fuel, sewage treatment plants cannot function. What is left of the sanitation infrastructure that wasn’t destroyed by the last Gaza war in 2014, was designed for far fewer people than are now living in this small enclave. Expansion, operation and maintenance is difficult when there are multiple and severe Israeli restrictions on goods, including spare parts, entering Gaza.

The financial resources available for authorities responsible for sanitation in Gaza are woefully inadequate.

If people only had to cope with the smell of sewage and a collapsing sanitation system, perhaps life in Gaza would still be bearable. However, many people I met didn’t even refer to the sewage problem – there were too many other challenges to talk about.

Water is a key issue

More than 96% of water from the coastal aquifer where Gaza gets most of its water is undrinkable due to salinity. To access clean water, people often have to pay private water truckers who distribute water from small desalination plants – this costs six times as much as the regular water supply.  Part of Oxfam’s work in Gaza involves providing safe water by rehabilitating damaged water systems, but the task is ongoing.

Electricity has been a problem in Gaza for many years, but now it is out for 20 hours a day. This could be dismissed as an inconvenience but just imagine the stress and frustration of having to live without lights, refrigeration, access to the internet, or elevators in apartment buildings, let alone the far more serious disruption to hospitals, clinics, schools and water and sanitation services.

I was struck that the streets were so much emptier than when I was last in Gaza five years ago. I was told that this was because those who have cars couldn’t afford fuel and anyway people didn’t have enough money to go out for shopping beyond the basics. The Economist has estimated that people in Gaza are 25 per cent poorer today than they were at the time of the Oslo Accords, 25 years ago. More than 80% of the two million people in Gaza are currently receiving humanitarian assistance.

Staggering unemployment

I spoke to parents whose children are recent university graduates but they are sitting around at home getting more and more frustrated. According to the World Bank, unemployment in Gaza is at 44% – for those below 29 years, it is at a staggering 60%.

Oxfam is working with local partners to help people have better access to livelihoods, and with local farmers and producers to improve the quality of their produce and help them get it to market to improve their incomes. I spoke to the owner of a dairy processing unit that Oxfam has supported as part of its work to improve the dairy sector across Gaza.

I was told that the years of occupation, wars and blockade, combined with a new low in the economic and humanitarian situation in recent months, has meant that this is ‘now the worst time in our history’.

The level of despair and the lack of hope in the future was also striking in many of the conversations I had, and was much more pronounced than on my previous visits. As a result, I wasn’t surprised to learn that United Nations medical staff have recently referred to an ‘epidemic of psycho-social conditions’ in Gaza.

End the blockade

The people I spoke to shared with me their anger that the world is doing nothing to help them. I was told that even when help does come it is only in the form of insufficient albeit needed humanitarian assistance, rather than a resolution to the conflict, the end to the protracted occupation, the end to the illegal blockade of Gaza and having their right to self-determination fulfilled which is what people in Gaza really want.

Human rights organisations in Gaza told me of their exasperation that the Government of Israel and other parties to the conflict are not held to account under international law by the international community.

People I spoke to explained that because of this apparent impunity and the lack of alternative options, and despite the large number of deaths and injuries, they were generally supportive of the current protests continuing.

Some specified that they would only support non-violent demonstrations. I was told that ‘people in Gaza are doing their best to survive’ but that, despite this, ‘Gaza is dying in front of everybody’.

Violence in Gaza: Civilians are not targets - Alaa Aldali's Story

Oxfam’s policy positions on Gaza in general and regarding the recent protests:

•The blockade – now in place for more than a decade – has devastated Gaza’s economy, left most people unable to leave Gaza, restricted people from essential services such as healthcare and education, and cut Palestinians off from each other. Israel must end the blockade on Gaza, which is collectively punishing an entire civilian population.

•There must be a long-term solution to the crisis. The international community needs to redouble efforts to achieve a just and lasting peace based on international law, that brings security and development to all Palestinians and Israelis.

•Oxfam condemns the deaths and injuries of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza. Unarmed Palestinians have the right to make their voices heard and the right to freedom of assembly and expression. Israel must abide by its obligations under international law to protect life and exercise the utmost restraint in accordance with law-enforcement standards on the use of force.

◦According to OCHA, 104 Palestinians, including twelve children, have been killed by Israeli forces during the course of the Gaza demonstrations since March 30. As of May 14, the latest rounds of protests at Gaza border resulted in 60 fatalities (including 8 children) and 2,770 injuries as a result of live fire. The number of injuries since the beginning of the protests has been 12,600. Fifty-five per cent of these have required hospitalisation. One Israeli soldier was also lightly injured. This entry posted by Tim Holmes, Program Portfolio Manager at Oxfam GB, on 23 May 2018.

Photo: Destruction in Gaza. Oxfam and our partners’ humanitarian and development work helps around 350,000 people in Gaza impoverished by the Israeli blockade. Credit: Iyad al Baba/Oxfam

Rohingya refugees: Finding hope amongst the hopelessness

The impending monsoon rains are bearing down on the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh and there's no getting around it - it’s going to be a really tough time.

I've just finished three weeks working for Oxfam's Rohingya crisis response team in Cox’s Bazar and can remember one moment, standing in the pouring rain in the Rohingya refugee ‘mega-camp’.

Everywhere I looked, ramshackle shelters made of bamboo and tarpaulins stretched into the distance.

People old and young were trying to find shelter from the downpour, and large puddles were quickly forming across the narrow brick road, with water running down sandy hillside paths.

As I was trying to take photos of a deep tube well Oxfam was drilling to provide clean water, numerous Rohingya refugees offered to take me into their shelters to stay dry, or brought me umbrellas.

Such was the kindness of people who had endured unspeakable horrors that forced them from Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh.

The camps are in what they call the pre-monsoon rains at the moment, where every couple of days a ferocious storm will hit for an hour or so.

This rain is nothing like I’m used to.

The falling water has an almost physical quality, beating down on you, and the rain can be so heavy you struggle to see the other side of a road.

Trees are often blown over in the wind, and almost immediately, huge puddles form everywhere, slowing cars and trucks on the sandy, brick roads and draining into refugees' flimsy shelters.

It's estimated that more than 600,000 people are living in the Rohingya refugee mega-camp alone - a bigger population than all of county Cork in Ireland.

How the full monsoon is going to impact this many people in such desperate living conditions is what’s top of mind for aid workers.

Yet despite this, I was struck by the way in which Rohingya refugees could find hope in what appeared to be a hopeless situation.

They are denied citizenship in their country – they feel they have nowhere they belong and have nowhere to call home right now. No-one knows what their future holds.

They're awaiting monsoon rains likely to bring floods, landslides and potentially deadly water-borne diseases. The United Nations (UN) estimates up to 200,000 people are living in at-risk areas of the camps.

As much as 2.5 metres of rain could fall on the camps over the next three months.

But, the refugees I met certainly weren't hopeless or despairing.

Parents were working hard to strengthen their shelters or volunteering for charities like Oxfam as community health trainers or with the UN as camp labourers helping prepare the camps for the coming heavy rain.

This included a young woman I met called Ayesha*, who was 18 years old. She fled to Bangladesh with her mother and three siblings after their father was killed in the violence in Myanmar.

Ayesha (pictured left). Photo: Dylan Quinnell/Oxfam

It took them nearly 5 days to get to Bangladesh by boat and foot; others weren’t so lucky and drowned when their boats sank.

Life is tough in the camps without a father or husband - women can get missed or sidelined at aid distributions, and culturally, young women are not supposed to go out alone.

None of this had dampened Ayesha’s spirit. She put up her hand to volunteer, and now runs community health trainings with her neighbours and other women. 

She told me, "Now I work as an Oxfam volunteer, I teach people how to maintain good hygiene and I tell people what to do to have a good life. I feel good about it".

As for the children, they played football wherever they could find space, and ran through the camps in happy bunches and practised English with aid workers - "goodbye, how are you, I am fine."

Oxfam is in Bangladesh, providing food and life-saving clean water to those fleeing Myanmar and the host communities that have opened their doors to them. But we desparately need your support as more and more traumatised men, women and children arrive in Bangladesh every day.

You can support Oxfam’s Rohingya Crisis Appeal at: https://www.oxfamireland.org/bangladesh

Dylan Quinnell was media manager for Oxfam’s Rohingya Crisis Response for three weeks in April/ May. He is senior media coordinator for emergencies at Oxfam Australia.

*not her real name

 

Kutapalong Rohingya refugee camp: preparations for monsoon season

Dear EU Leaders: Look at me

By Amal, Moria hotspot, Lesvos, Greece

 

Dear EU Leaders,

Spring has arrived- warming our bodies and our hearts. However, the refugee camp of Moria on the Greek Island of Lesvos, is still cold and prison-like. I have been in Moria for seven months now since I arrived in Europe, and there is only one thing I can be certain of is that I will be stuck here for a long time. I have requested asylum in Europe, but the next hearing for my case is 18 months away.

I invite all European politicians to visit us, to witness our hardship, and to see what life is like when your fate is in the hands of others – in your hands. Your hands are not tied – more humane migration policies can help us and give people here the protection, support and dignity they need and deserve. We need to #OpenTheIslands.

The EU-Turkey deal

My story is similar to those of millions of refugees from Syria and other countries. Conflict and persecution has torn our families apart, we had to leave our belongings behind, and our beautiful cities are no longer recognizable. We fled to survive and when we reached safety in Greece we were stopped and told to wait in inhumane conditions. That waiting has become living. While asylum seekers like me are waiting for their cases to be heard, our future is slipping away.

I am – we all are – trapped on Lesvos following the EU’s deal with Turkey, which was struck two years ago, in March 2016. As a direct result of the deal, Greece forces asylum seekers to stay on the island instead of being able to request asylum on the mainland or elsewhere in Europe.

The EU-Turkey deal has one main goal: to stop people from seeking asylum in Europe. But the effects of this deal on these people have been overlooked. They overlook the fact that a handful of bathrooms cannot be shared by the thousands who are forced to live in tents. That women and children face a real risk of sexual violence, abuse and harassment when they live in these overcrowded camps.

Lesvos, where Moria is, is a beautiful Greek island, but the camp is hell.

Being a refugee is not a choice

Every day I dream of going back home. But the place I call home is in ruins. When I think of home I think of my daily routine of working in a hospital in the morning and teaching English in the afternoon; I think of picnics in the park with my family over the weekends. Or just walking around Damascus, where I was born and raised.

Being a refugee is not a choice. I am stuck in Lesvos because I left my home when it became unsafe due to years of war.

If politicians came to visit Moria, I would ask them why they believe in policies that lead to overcrowded camps and insecurity for women and children. If European leaders came to visit Moria, I would ask them if they really think Moria is a place for people like me, like them. I would tell them that they have a responsibility to go home and remember us, remember what they see in Moria. I would ask them to let me rebuild my life.

Please send a tweet to Greek Prime Minister Tsipras and European leaders asking them to #OpenTheIslands

Dear EU Leaders: Look at me - Amal's Story

How can we go back to a Syria that no longer exists?

Authored by Shaheen Chughtai, Head of Campaigns, Policy & Communications, Oxfam Syria Crisis Response

Seven long years after the Syria crisis began, the situation remains bleak. Individual children, women and men continue to bear the brunt of a conflict marked by enormous human suffering, relentless destruction and a blatant disregard for human rights.

The harrowing news from Eastern Ghouta – the scene of intensified fighting in Syria’s brutal conflict – has pushed the war into the headlines again. Recent fighting in other areas, including Afrin, Idlib and Deir Ez-Zor continues to claim lives and leave families in desperate need of aid. During this protracted crisis, the broken lives of Syria’s women, men and children have too often been ignored.

Left: Hani*, 16, was displaced from East Ghouta in 2013, and now lives in a tent with his family of 8 in Herjalleh, Rural Damascus. Photo: Dania Kareh / Oxfam. Right: Wael* and Husam* return back from their daily journey to collect drinking water for their family from a nearby water fountain, Herjalleh.

While making a film about Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan for Oxfam, I was truly humbled by the courage and resilience of the people I met. However, many are only just surviving amid harsh conditions.

One mother from Homs, Jawaher, told me: “Our houses are gone, how can I go back to something which doesn’t exist anymore?” Their homes in Syrian cities and towns continue to be pummelled into rubble, or are now occupied by strangers.

After seven years of conflict, the statistics are horrifying: at least 400,000 Syrians have been killed and over 13 million are in desperate need of humanitarian aid, including nearly three million people trapped in besieged and hard to reach areas, such as Eastern Ghouta. More than half of the population – nearly 12 million people – have fled from their homes, many of them several times. More than 5.6 million refugees are living in neighbouring countries, the majority in extreme poverty.

Jawaher, the refugee in Jordan who I interviewed for the film, told me her son had returned recently to Syria. From Idlib, he sends her text messages telling her the situation “is bad, very bad”. He has no heating despite the low temperatures and no aid has reached him yet. Aid agencies say they still cannot reach many people who need help.

Some aid does get through despite the challenges. Over the last year, Oxfam has helped an estimated two million people in Syria as well as refugees and the communities in which they are sheltering in Jordan and Lebanon. This has included providing safe drinking water, sanitation and vital food aid as well as helping refugees make a living.

Being a Syrian refugee is difficult, even if you manage to escape from Syria. Everyone who lives in the Jordanian capital, Amman, knows only too well about its high cost of living. Imagine being a Syrian refugee who needs to live, to eat, and to care for their children there. Despite efforts by the Jordanian authorities, many refugees – as well as members of the overstretched communities hosting them – are still unable to find work and rely on limited aid. This means the reality for many Syrian refugees, particularly the women in the region, is a life without meaningful work. What a terrible waste of talent.

Left: Ahmed, 34, a husband and a father of three children, is one of those who fled their homes fearing for their lives. Photo: Dania Kareh / Oxfam. Right: Layla, 35, is a mother of six little children. Her husband has been missing for about two years. Photo: Dania Kareh / Oxfam

One Syrian young refugee in Za’atari told us she is creating her own luck, developing her writing skills as a reporter for a magazine on the camp. Now 20, Abeer hopes she will return to Syria one day and she has made it her goal to give something back to her country because of the way ‘it has suffered and sacrificed’. She longs to write a story of Syrians rebuilding their country and starting over again. But how much longer will this conflict continue and at what cost? The international community has provided billions of dollars and euros in aid to the region in recent years. That welcome aid has helped to keep millions of Syrian refugees alive and alleviated their suffering – but it has not kept pace with the sheer scale of human need.

The continued violence, bloodshed and suffering in Syria represents a catastrophic failure by the international community. Attempts to reduce civilian loss of life and provide humanitarian aid to people trapped by the fighting have been repeatedly undermined by military operations.

Time is long overdue for world leaders to do more to protect and assist civilians and prioritise a political solution to the conflict. The people of Syria deserve no less.

See also our video ZA'ATARI: THE REFUGEE REPORTER

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

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