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.

Covid-19, a dress rehearsal for the climate emergency

The Covid-19 crisis has created a new world. Old certainties are quickly becoming outdated, while new challenges and possibilities abound.

The response to the pandemic has forced us to reconsider what is essential to keeping economies and societies functioning to save lives. It offers us all an opportunity to rebuild a better, fairer and more sustainable world, one where we take the climate crisis seriously and do not jeopardise the lives of our children and future generations.

Building a More Sustainable World

Moves to address the climate crisis have been lacklustre at best and any sense of urgency to act seems to be pushed further back due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even in times of crisis, our leaders must not lose sight of their duty to uphold environmental protection, as in many ways this pandemic is a dress rehearsal for the climate emergency. Unlike Covid-19, the climate crisis is not an immediate threat to our lives here in Ireland. But we have already seen its effects, and in the longer term, it will pose a much greater threat to our existence. Indeed, for the people Oxfam works with, the climate crisis is not a future threat but something they experience every time extreme and unpredictable weather wreaks havoc on their lives and livelihoods. As with Covid-19, we cannot say we are safe unless we are all safe. Therefore, serious action on climate must be taken now. We must aim to meet our targets as a matter of urgency.

Desert locusts swarms destroyed farmland and livelihoods in 2019 and 2020. Photo: FAO/Sven Torfinn

Climate Crisis

The devastating impacts of climate change are having real consequences on people’s lives right now; from locust swarms devastating crops and increased food and water insecurity, to extreme weather events and bush fires destroying homes and livelihoods. Vulnerability to disaster and climate change matters because it perpetuates and deepens poverty and suffering.

To date, Ireland has been a laggard on climate action. The Programme for Government contains very positive commitments on climate, but the question is – will those commitments be honoured? Past governments have also pledged to reduce emissions but failed to do so.

As well as reducing emissions at home, richer countries like Ireland have committed to providing climate finance to ensure the countries most impacted by climate breakdown have adequate resources for life-saving adaptation measures. While the 2016 Programme for Government had an established target for climate finance supported by specific funds, the current programme instead commits to increasing the percentage of Official Development Assistance (ODA) being counted as climate finance, rather than committing to new or additional funding, as envisioned under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The commitment in the programme to double the percentage of ODA that counts as climate finance, without allocating additional funds, risks re-labelling existing aid as climate finance rather than committing to providing new finance to support climate action in the poorest countries. While there are many positives in the Programme for Government on climate action, the Government needs to do more if Ireland is to fulfil its obligations to provide much-needed finance to help poorer countries adapt to a changing climate – without diverting existing and essential ODA.

Oxfam installed a solar powered water pump in Ghana that allows women to farm vegetables during the dry season. Ireland needs impactful climate action that helps all people. Photo: Oxfam

One in two people struggle daily to survive

Fulfilling these commitments will help the global effort to prevent countries slipping into food insecurity due to climate-related impacts on agricultural production and food prices. One in two people already struggle daily to survive; this is likely to increase dramatically in the wake of Covid-19. Food security must be protected, while policies and programmes that promote climate-resilient agriculture must be implemented and supported.

Rahela trying to catch fish for her family as they have nothing to eat after cyclone Bulbul. Gabura, Shamnagar. Photo: FabehaMonir/Oxfam

Throwaway & Circular Economies

The Government’s new National Waste and Circular Economy Action Plan is also to be welcomed; however, the focus is mainly on packaging even though textiles have been identified as one of the waste streams with the highest untapped potential to implement circular practices.

According to Re-dress, 225,000 tonnes of textiles end up in Irish landfills every year – a huge waste of resources considering it would take 13 years to drink the water needed to make just one t-shirt and one pair of jeans. In a circular economy, these items would be reused or recycled instead of contributing to increased greenhouse gas emissions leeching out into our soil, water and air. Circularity not only benefits the environment and helps fight the climate crisis, it also creates innovative and sustainable economic opportunities.

Moving Forward

The time is now for Ireland to take a leadership role in promoting progressive change needed in the world. We must seize this moment to save lives and repair the systems that have made so many people vulnerable in the first place.

The choices made now will have profound implications for the future. They can lay the foundations for a more equal and sustainable world, or they can accelerate inequality and environmental destruction.

Together we can learn from this unprecedented crisis, and build a more human economy and a fairer world.

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Alone in the world, the children of Moria deserve a safe haven

A young boy sitting alongside the road at a makeshift camp. Photo Caption: Yousif Al Shewaili / Oxfam

"Welcome to Prison"

By Erin McKay, Campaigns and Advocacy Executive with Oxfam Ireland

These words, scrawled across a concrete wall at the entrance to the camp, greeted everyone who entered Moria. Moria was a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos, a short distance across the sea from Turkey and served as a main transit route to Europe for people who are seeking asylum from persecution.

On a cold February day in 2018, my colleague and I passed these words as we wandered down the muddy and trash lined lanes of Moria. The camp was densely overcrowded with more than 11,000 people crammed into a space that was only ever meant to accommodate 3,000. We weaved in between makeshift tents cobbled together with tarp and duct tape; covered in the mud that plagued the camp in winter. Little faces poked out from the open flaps of these tents to wave at us as we walked by. We shuffled down a steep incline as water running from the trash heaps on the side of the road threatened to spill into our boots and arrived at a high chain link fence where the guards check our credentials and wave us in. This area, aptly called “the pen” is where unaccompanied minors – children who arrive in Europe without their family or a legal guardian – are held.

Inside this “pen”, a prison within a prison, there were children everywhere. On this winter day, most were not dressed for the cold and all were saturated in mud. I saw children caring for younger siblings, small children playing with trash and no adults in sight. Doctors I worked alongside in the camp would be called into "the pen" and the detention cells holding unaccompanied minors to respond to suicide attempts and self-harm injuries. Unimaginably, the children inside “the pen” are the lucky ones – they were able to prove their age. Other unaccompanied children, mostly teenage boys who do not have documents showing their status as minors, are left to fend for themselves on their own among the general population. These children are at high risk of exploitation and violence.

I left Moria two years ago, heartbroken and terrified. Scared for the young children trapped in unsafe, unhealthy and unfit conditions without their family or someone to care for them.

Children looking at what is left from the former Moria camp. Photo Caption: Yousif Al Shewaili / Oxfam

Moria was a prison and that prison burnt to the ground.

The camp, which was holding 13,000 people, 634 of whom were unaccompanied children, went up in flames on 8 September 2020. This came after a strict lockdown was imposed in response to the camps first recorded case of Covid-19. The competing tragedies of the spreading virus, fire and additional displacement are just the latest heartbreak in the lives of the people living in Moria. Even before the pandemic, the overcrowded conditions on this island were inhumane, unhygienic and unsafe.

The fire was a fully preventable tragedy and is the consequence of years of a misguided response from the EU and its member states to the arrival of people fleeing conflict and persecution. In March 2020, Ireland joined a coalition of the willing – EU member states that signed up to take a portion of the 1,600 unaccompanied minor children being held on the Greek Islands. This welcome initiative further illustrates Ireland’s long history as an island of refuge for the most vulnerable and in need of shelter. To date, Ireland has relocated eight children as a part of this coalition with the relocation of another four young people now in motion. In the wake of this tragedy and the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, we need to relocate the rest of the unaccompanied minors that we have committed to take and bring them safely to Ireland as soon as possible.

The unaccompanied minors at Moria have now fled twice: once from persecution and violence in their home countries and now from the burning camp. These children, alone in the world, are in need of a safe place now more than ever.

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Hearts have broken many times over Beirut but never like this

Communities, young and old, started sweeping the streets, and cleaning up the wreckage caused by the explosion in Beirut.

by Mayssam Zaaroura

For as long as I can remember, Beirut has occupied a part of my heart in a way like no other place on earth. On 4 August, that part shattered into a million tiny shards along with the explosion that levelled the port city. Sharp and painful, I bled as if with a million tiny cuts.

Countless Lebanese networks came alive in shock and horror with those of us trying to understand what happened as we searched frantically for family and friends thousands of kilometres away.

During this time, many of us kept sharing a common phrase – our hearts have broken many times over Beirut but never like this.

Explaining my love of Beirut is equal parts tricky and hard. Since leaving the city, I have spent my life thinking of how and when to return. I was born in Lebanon, left like millions of families, and couldn’t wait to return for a stretch of unforgettable and formative years.

My time there was long enough for me to live a full and rich career as a journalist and end it.

Long enough to find my little streets, shops, and cafes in Gemmayzeh that are now destroyed.

Long enough to build countless traditions with family, friends, and memories with my mom, like finding a hidden gem named Mayrig that served Armenian food. It is also now gone.

Long enough to fall in love, have my heart broken, and then healed.

Long enough to forge lifelong friendships.

Long enough to breathe in the Mediterranean Sea air and have it flow through my veins.

Long enough to live through a war, develop post-traumatic stress disorder, risk my life chasing stories while street bombs were being secretly set for Beirut’s activists and prominent voices, get broken down with anger and long enough to realise I had to leave.

And yet, it turns out it wasn’t long enough.

Lebanon is one of the few countries in the world where the number of diaspora Lebanese outnumber those living there. People of Lebanese origin – whether born there, of Lebanese ancestry, or even those with a tenuous link to the country and more specifically to Beirut – experience an inexplicable link to this country that transcends logic.

In a strange way, Beirut is etched into our psyche in a way that is mythical, magical, and almost whimsical. We all dream of returning one day, but it takes a certain kind of stamina and resilience to make it in Beirut. That’s what the city’s bones are made of – steel, stone and resilience.

Image: The author working as a journalist covering the 2006 war with Israel in which the south of Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut were levelled. Photo: Shawn Jackson

Edward Said, a Palestinian writer, once wrote of Beirut:

“These incomprehensibly brave people are too stubborn, too unwilling to start lives over again, too anchored in the city to leave… their mere survival, in ways we can neither trace nor reconstruct, seems miraculous.”

The magnitude of what has happened is hard to fathom. Not just the size and sheer force of the explosion. It’s also the longer-term impact on a country already struggling with the weight of a broken economy, severe inequalities and the COVID-19 pandemic that had already stretched the country’s resources and health systems to non-existent.

And yet, despite the struggles, the love for this city is something passed down from generation to generation. Whether it’s mornings listening with family to Fairouz and Majida el-Roumi waxing lyrical about the city, or the zaatar and labneh that we were fed throughout childhood, or the endless search for that smell of jasmine that just wafts over your shoulder when you least expect it. It’s rooted in you.

If heart tissue were made of memories, the strongest ones you would find holding it together are the ones that shimmer with memories of Beiruti gold.

Not the first time Beirut has been destroyed. The author as she covered the 2006 war with Israel in which the south of Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut were levelled. Photo: Shawn Jackson

It is as he sat in refuge, in this sanctuary city, that the Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish wrote his book Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut 1982. As he desperately sipped his Beiruti coffee, and listened to the sounds of a city under siege, he wrote, “…we have nothing to lose, so long as Beirut is here and we’re here in Beirut.”

The richness of Beirut is seeded in its history. Revolutions have started in Beirut and feminists like May Ziadeh, Layla Baalbaki, and Laure Moghaizel have forged incredible gains for Arab women, lost them, kept pushing for more, and paved the way for women like my formidably feminist mother, and for me to continue the fight.

I spent year after year as a young girl, surrounded by my mother and aunts, listening to the same stories of how they travelled across the country, in the dead of night, during a brutal civil war, to deliver important strategic documents to fighters in the north. Those are the roots of my career fighting for women’s rights. It is where I forged my beliefs that women are not victims without agency, but strong, brave and heroic in times of greatest need.

I have no doubt that the women of Beirut – the nurses, the doctors, the firefighters, the soldiers, the mothers – will yet again rebuild this city and fight for justice for those who have suffered in this tragedy.

But that fight can sometimes be complicated. Despite being born in Lebanon to a Lebanese mother, I am of Palestinian origin, which makes me ineligible for citizenship. This is an injustice that Lebanese activists and organisations have been fighting for decades – the right for mothers to pass on their citizenship to their children. And yet to date, it’s something I am not able to pass on to my son.

Nevertheless, to me, like many, that piece of paper matters little. In my heart, I will always be Lebanese no matter what passports I hold. My son will always be a descendant of strong, proud, Phoenicians. And someday, I imagine, he will hold the same strident love for Beirut that I do.

He will visit his ancestors, listen to Fairouz sing her love for the city, eat zaatar and labneh and continue the endless search for that elusive scent of jasmine. He will walk through streets rebuilt for the hundredth time.

For they will be rebuilt. Make no mistake. Each time with more grandeur, and even more steel and resilience.

Because Lebanon, after all, is home to some of the oldest cities in the world and if there is another thing that the Lebanese are known for – apart from their stubborn spirit – is their endless love for their Beirut.

Mayssam Zaaroura was a former journalist in Lebanon and now is Oxfam Canada’s Women’s Rights Knowledge Specialist for Ending Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG).

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BEIRUT: One month since the blast and thousands can’t afford a front door

On August 6, 2020 communities, young and old, started sweeping the streets, and cleaning up the wreckage caused by the explosion in Beirut.

By Sahar Elbachir, Senior Media and Communications Officer, and Bachir Ayoub, Policy Lead - Oxfam in Lebanon

One month since the massive explosion in Beirut, tens of thousands of vulnerable people are unable to rebuild their homes — with a front door costing two months’ minimum-wage salary.

Longstanding inequality, massive inflation and COVID-19 have compounded this humanitarian disaster for tens of thousands, making it almost impossible for them to recover.

Huge inflation has meant the cost of basic materials needed to rebuild homes and businesses is out of reach for thousands of people who were already struggling to get by before the explosion sent shockwaves through the city. While the minimum wage is just under €380 a month, the cost of replacing one window is now nearly €420 and a door is up to €845.

The blast came at a time when thousands of people were already on the brink. An estimated 50 percent of the population was living under the poverty line, the Lira’s value had dropped 80 percent since October, migrant workers were being abandoned and forced out on the streets, cash was almost impossible to access, and restrictive measures to contain the pandemic prevented casual workers from getting to their jobs.

Following the blast, approximately 70,000 additional workers are now jobless and half of all wholesale, retail and hospitality establishments near the blast site have been destroyed.

In the most affected areas, the majority of people are low- and middle-income workers who earn the minimum wage or less. Most of them have lost their jobs in the port or businesses in the devastated areas and many people are struggling to put food on the table.

A team of volunteers with Oxfam partner, Lebanese Centre for Human Rights (CLDH), visit the neighbourhood of Geitawi to assess the psychosocial support needed for people affected by the explosion.

Oxfam’s Response

Oxfam is working with Lebanese organisations to ensure that Beirut’s most marginalised people are not left behind and instead have the support they need to recover from the explosion.

Oxfam’s joint response with partners will focus on supporting local leadership, and will prioritise reaching people with disabilities, the elderly, women and girls, migrant workers, refugees (Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world – one out of every four people) and the LGBTQ+ community.

Oxfam’s partner-led response is providing over 9,000 people with support including distribution of food parcels and the provision of emergency and temporary cash assistance, legal assistance and consultation, psycho-social support and medication, and help to repair and rebuild their homes and businesses.

Celine, 37, a social worker & support centre supervisor working with Oxfam Partner Kafa KAFA, is photographed by boxes of food packed by staff and volunteers, that will be distributed to help vulnerable families.

Trauma

But there is still so much that needs to be done for Beirut to begin to recover. Celine El Kik, a social worker from Oxfam partner KAFA, says the mental scars of the blast will linger long after the physical damage has been repaired.

“The port explosion affected all of us, but especially women who were already vulnerable. We're providing social and legal support, as well as cash assistance for people who lost their jobs or their houses.”

Hanaa uses plastic to cover her windows which were shattered in the explosion.

Hanaa, her two daughters and her son, have been living in her small house in Karantina – one of the neighborhoods closest to the port – for decades. The family was inside their house when the blast went off.

“We were standing in the house,” Hanaa explains from her home. “At first they said it was fireworks. The first explosion went off, and the kids started screaming. I told them it was only the fireworks factory. And then the huge blast went off, it threw my kids and me across the room.”

Hanaa’s house was cracked, pieces of actual concrete fell off, and the windows exploded, sending glass raining across the room.

“Everything was full of smoke, it was indescribable,” Hanaa recounts.

Dina, Hanaa’s second daughter, was mildly injured during the explosion. Although she has almost completely recovered, the invisible scars the blast left aren’t about to disappear. For Hanaa’s youngest son, every loud noise is a reminder of the blast.

“Until now, he doesn’t sleep at night, he asks me to talk to him all throughout the night,” says Hanaa.

Although her family is safe and suffered only minor injuries, Hanaa still fears that her home is unsafe – that it now barely stands on its own.

“We still are afraid that the wall might collapse on us.”

For now, the family uses plastic to cover the windows or pieces of wood to create a makeshift door, but they fear that once winter, with its cold weather and harsh rains sets in, they might not even have a house anymore.

Staff and volunteers at Oxfam partner KAFA pack boxes of food that will be distributed to help vulnerable families affected by the explosion, which killed over 180 people, injured more than 6,500 and displaced some 300,000 residents.

Oxfam is calling for fair and just distribution of aid to provide critical support to vulnerable communities and people who will be unable to rebuild their lives without targeted and transparent aid.

Our worry is that the growing inequality and suffering we were already seeing in some of Lebanon’s most vulnerable communities – like refugees and migrant workers, the elderly and LGBTQ+ community – will only get worse, and they will fall even farther behind.

These communities need urgent assistance to recover from this disaster and rebuild their lives.

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What makes humanitarians special is the choice they make – the choice to help others even when the risks are great

By Nigel Timmins, Humanitarian Director for Oxfam

Reading the latest reports of aid workers killed, kidnapped and attacked, or reading personal, human stories of loss can be crushing. COVID-19 has added to the threats faced by humanitarians but also the needs of so many from whom the pandemic, and its economic fallout, has taken everything.  On this World Humanitarian Day, we pause to remember the colleagues, workers, and community members who are our inspiration as they risk their lives in the service of others.  

It has become depressingly familiar to hear of colleagues that have been targeted by violence, sometimes killed, while doing their jobs. The Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD) of Humanitarian Outcomes recorded 277 incidents against aid workers last year, the highest number in 10 years.   We were deeply saddened to read of a recent attack, which killed eight people including ACTED colleagues in Niger, while Oxfam is still mourning the loss of two of our colleagues in Syria earlier this year.  

In addition to the threat of violence has come the risk of infection from COVID-19.  Humanitarians in the health sector are knowingly putting themselves at greater risk of disease to help others, but additionally, according to Geneva-based Insecurity Insight, more than 265 violent incidents related to COVID-19 have been reported, with some attacks on health workers driven by fears they could spread the virus. This is not unique; during the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo, aid workers trying to slow the spread of the disease became targets of attacks from fearful communities.

We have also seen health workers and human rights activists become the target of attacks by governments for protesting and challenging official infection figures, or Government’s responses to the pandemic.  At a time when transparency, communication and sharing data is an essential means of overcoming communicable disease, we have seen the politicisation of information and the rise of “fake news”, which creates confusion and means that many citizens are not sure who can be trusted.

The act of caring is not free, but costly. That is what makes carers special – we recognise in them the willingness to give of themselves with no consideration of receiving. The highest example of this is the work undertaken by local humanitarians; the great majority of humanitarian assistance and caring is provided by local people in local communities, and by women in particular. 

So, on this day, we honour Oxfam colleagues, the staff of local and national organisations and the countless unsung community members on the frontline of humanitarian action and the COVID-19 response, and acknowledge their commitment and bravery in the face of tremendous challenges. 

Every day, in countless situations, people undertake extraordinary tasks to help their fellow humans. Those that rushed to help dig others out of the unstable rubble in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion; the women calling for peace and freedom in protests from Sudan to Belarus, or the people who wash and feed the sick in their community. The doctors and nurses who risk infection daily to treat patients, or the human rights activists who stand up in public, aware of the retaliation that may come, to push for change where change is needed. Acts of costly caring like this inspire and galvanise the rest of us to action.  

On this World Humanitarian Day, let us take a moment to pause and acknowledge the pain and loss of so many in the service of others. Then, while we work for things to be different, let us go forward with humility and determination inspired by the price our colleagues and fellow people have paid. 

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