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.

A Global Perspective on Accommodating Refugees

Photo: JB Russell / Panos / Oxfam

Since February we have been confronted with difficult images of people in Ukraine, victims of devastating violence, and those fleeing the violence. Irish people and the Irish Government have shown commendable solidarity with the people of Ukraine and the other people around the world fleeing war and persecution in the last six months.

The intimacy of seeing people’s everyday lives bundled into suitcases has brought home the importance of the right to refuge, the right to cross a border to seek international protection. When we imagine what would happen if those people holding in one hand a bag and in the other the hand of a family member, having struggled on to a train and arrived at the border of the EU had not been allowed to cross that border to safety, the importance of the 1951 Refugee Convention and it’s 1967 Protocol that together define and lay out the rights of refugees cannot be overstated.

Everyone has the right to look for international protection and a person qualifies for international protection if they can demonstrate that if returned to their country of origin they would be at risk of persecution, torture, or other inhumane treatment. Asylum is given to a person who can prove that they would be persecuted on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion (or a political opinion someone thinks they have), or the fact that they belong to a “particular social group.”  A person can get protection if they are fleeing conflict but also inhumane treatment on more individual grounds. For example, a person could flee a country considered generally ‘safe’ as there is no active conflict but not safe for them because of their sexuality, religion or political beliefs. Whether fleeing war or individual persecution the right to apply for protection is equal. As the Irish government works to source accommodation for people who have come to Ireland looking for protection, whether applying for Temporary Protection as they flee Ukraine, or applying for international protection it is worth bearing in mind their Equal Right to Refuge.

Photo: Tineke Dhaese/Oxfam

The 1951 Refugee Convention was written in the aftermath of the Second World War, an effort to make sure that people would be able to flee when home was no longer safe. Unfortunately, people continue to need to flee when home is no longer safe. Most people (60%) who are forced to move stay within the country, they are ‘internally displaced people’ (IDP). At the end of 2021, Syria, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Ethiopia and Afghanistan continued to host the largest IDP populations in the world.

Of those people forced to flee who do cross into a different country, the overwhelming majority, 74% of the world’s refugees are hosted by low- and middle-income countries. The least developed countries in the world provide protection to 22% of people who have fled. At the end of September, Uganda was hosting over 1.5 million refugees, according to the UNHCR. That means that 1 in 47 people in Uganda is a refugee. Rich countries need to play a fairer role in sharing the responsibility for hosting refugees.  People will need to flee to EU countries, including Ireland, and so we must be prepared to live up to our responsibilities under international law and plan for providing accommodation for people fleeing. The need for accommodation for people who have fled to Ireland must be part of an overarching programme for addressing the housing crisis in Ireland.

Oxfam Ireland recognises the challenges that the Irish government faces in sourcing accommodation during the housing crisis. At the same time, it is important to address the housing crisis for everybody living in Ireland. The fact that as one of the wealthiest countries in the world Ireland is in such a housing crisis, points to the need for change in our economy. Oxfam Ireland has recommended such changes including ways to raise revenue that could be invested in social and affordable housing – wealth tax and windfall tax.

An Irish wealth tax and a broad-based windfall tax

The introduction of an Irish wealth tax as well as a broad-based windfall tax across all industries generating extreme excess profits, not just the energy sector, could generate billions in new revenue.

A wealth tax of 1.5% on wealth over €5 million and 2% above net-wealth of €50 million would generate €5 billion. In addition to a wealth tax, Oxfam Ireland proposes a broad windfall tax on the excess profits of companies in all sectors of the economy, not just the energy sector, that are making record profits from the conditions created by the pandemic and the crises we are in. Corporations and the billionaire dynasties who control so much of our food system are seeing their profits soar. Billionaires involved in the food and agribusiness sector globally have seen their collective wealth increase by $382bn (45%) over the past two years. Moreover, the nine Irish companies on the Forbes 2000 list, which include companies from the agri-food industry and tech sectors, record excess profits of €2 billion Oxfam Ireland propose that the windfall tax would be levied on excess profits at an appropriate rate between 50%-90%.  Some European countries are already leading the way, for example, Greece with a rate of 90 per cent; and Spain, which is planning to capture excess profits made by banks. Remember, the rate for the last major windfall tax introduced in Ireland, on windfall gains from rezoning, was set at 80% in 2010.

A better planned system

At the moment, the Irish government is struggling to find accommodation but in one of the richest countries in the world there is no reason not to have a better planned accommodation system for international protection applicants. Oxfam echo the calls made by The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission for a system "which is not on a permanent emergency footing" and the Irish Refugee Council’s assertion that a "whole of Government approach" is needed. At this moment, it is challenging to find accommodation for everybody and it is a good time to also think about the broader context. Ireland has not only a legal but also an ethical obligation to plan accommodation for everybody, including refugees given the critical importance of the right to refuge and the fact that the least resourced countries in the world are hosting the most refugees.

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Your Kindness Provides Safety During Conflict: An Update From Jenya, A Ukrainian Refugee

Photo: Tineke Dhaese / Oxfam

Report by: Yevheniia Ivanova (Jenya) - Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) Officer at Oxfam’s reception centre in Poland.

It’s been six months since the conflict started and, at first, there were a lot of people, big waves were coming… and coming, and coming.

Then in May, things became less predictable. Some days over a thousand people pass through, others about 70 or 80 people. Just like the situation in my homeland of Ukraine, every day is unpredictable here. Changeable. The displacement is ongoing, we don’t know how much longer it will last.

Thanks to the generosity of supporters like you and the global community, we’ve been able to put so much in place since the conflict broke out to eliminate the suffering upon arrival.

Now, we’re able to provide families with Oxfam’s WASH services (Water, Sanitation and hygiene), things like laundry, hygiene items and water. They also need information on accommodation and registration, and we see if there are opportunities to provide medical or financial assistance.

I go out to the largest reception centre in the region almost every day. It’s in Tesco in Przemysl. There, we provide showers, portaloos, sinks, handwashing stations, and hygiene points. We also give out hygiene items, clothing, sheets, bedding, and offer laundry services too. The work we’re doing is making a difference – a very real difference – to people’s lives. Particularly those with mobility issues or with special needs.

I moved to Poland because I wanted to help. I want to be useful. I believe that its always best to do something to help, you don’t need to ask other people, you can just do something.

That’s why I like my work with Oxfam. I’ve learned so many things and it’s been hugely rewarding. But life is not easy as a refugee, you leave your whole life behind.

Photo: Tineke Dhaese / Oxfam

I worry about my family. Twice now, I’ve lost contact with them because of poor connections. I didn’t sleep at all on either night.

They are in Ukraine’s Donetsk region and, two months ago, because of the war, Ukrainian companies closed. That’s when my father and my mother lost their work.

They don’t want to leave. Especially my grandparents, they’ve lived there all their lives. More than seventy years. And they have a big house, a big farm, and it’s their whole lives.

Sometimes, I feel guilty to be in a safe place. But my work helped me to overcome this self-blaming.

At one point, I had my future in Ukraine planned out. It was an easy plan. I wanted to work in pharmaceuticals and start a family with my fiancé. But every Ukrainian person had some plans about their career, about their future, and now things have changed. Who knows how long it will be before we can have a normal life in Ukraine?

Photo: Tineke Dhaese / Oxfam

But when we can, I’ll be ready. I finished my masters in May – I am now a Master of Pharmacy. April was a very hard month for me, working for Oxfam and submitting and defending my thesis, but I did it.

And I can use what I know to help people here. I can offer their first medical assistance when they arrive from Ukraine. So, although I no longer know what the future holds, I like what I’m doing now, it's important and it gives me a sense of satisfaction to help my country fellows.

Photo: Tineke Dhaese / Oxfam

About one month ago, I met a volunteer from Ireland in the reception centre in Przemysl. I asked him what he was doing there. He said he just wanted to help. I couldn’t believe that someone could be so kind. I just want to say, and I think that all of my fellow Ukrainians would say the same   -  

”Thank you to everyone who just wants to help, who are not indifferent. “

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Your Kindness Helps Survivors Overcome Trauma: Thank You For Enabling Recovery in Cox’s Bazar

Photo: Maruf Hasan / Oxfam

August 2017 saw over one million Rohingya people flee Myanmar for the relative safety of Bangladesh, during one of the largest exoduses the world has ever seen. Ethnic people were killed. Unspeakable abuses took place. Families were torn apart. Yet, the Rohingya people found strength to carry on. Oxfam’s supporters were there from the start, immediately asked what they could do to help.

Initial projects involved a massive scaling up of infrastructure to accommodate such large crowds. Providing sufficient clean drinking water and hygienic living conditions became a challenge, but one you willingly overcame.

There have been many more helpful endeavours and successes along the way. One year after the initial camp set-up, a survey was taken by Oxfam and our partners to assess if all needs were being met.

The most prominent issues noted were that:

  • ⅓ of women did not feel safe or comfortable going to collect water or using toilets and shower cubicles – many of which lack a roof and a lockable door.
  • ½ of women and ¾ of adolescent girls surveyed said they didn’t have what they needed to manage their periods, including a female-only place to wash sanitary cloths without embarrassment.
Photo: Maruf Hasan / Oxfam

In order to help tackle these issues, Oxfam worked with Bangladeshi architect Nuha Anoor Pabony, 24, from Dhaka. Nuha engaged Rohingya women and girls in design workshops, to incorporate their feedback directly. Her final plans included the use of screens to increase privacy, storage areas for menstruation products and the construction of additional single sex toilet facilities.

Getting feedback on the designs, Nuha said: “I was nervous when we went to show the community the design.  When I showed the women the model, the oldest lady in the room took it in her hand and took a close look for a few seconds. Then she looked at me and nodded her head positively and with a big smile. That’s when I got my answer that I might have done something right! That moment will stay with me for a long time.

Now five years on, the work isn’t over. People have been displaced and lacked certainty for so long. There is no end in sight, and times are tense. There is a huge need for emotional support. Most notably for women and adolescent girls.

Alongside more female-centric camp facilities. Two specialised women’s centre have been created by Razia Sultana, an international human-rights activist, lawyer, teacher, and researcher. But your generosity is what supports one of these essential centres.

Photos: Fabeha Monir / Oxfam

At the centres, women like Sofika can learn to read and write and make items like clothing and fishing nets to sell.  They also engage in trauma-recovery activities, get medical care and learn about their rights. Perhaps most importantly, these centres give women a chance to break out of the relative isolation of their homes and make friends.

This gift of friendship is so precious for these women who have endured so much – and it is these friendships that help them cope with the struggle of daily life. Five years after her trauma, and one year after joining programmes at the centre and forming friendships - Sofika has recovered from anxiety and depression. She has managed to heal, to create friendships and to find joy at the world’s largest refugee camp.

Photo: Mutasim Billah / Oxfam

There have been many troubles along the way in the camp – from monsoon rains causing flooding and mudslides, to the deadly fires that swept through four of the camps in 2021.

But again, our supporters have always been there to provide emergency supplies, to support essential projects and after all that, to ask what more can be done. Your steadfast commitment to provide aid during crises is inspirational.

Your Kindness Rebuilds Lives: How Families Are Surviving Conflict in Yemen

Since March 2015, Yemen has been in the grip of conflict. More than four million people have been forced to run from their homes, their jobs, and the comfort of their everyday lives. Seven out of 10 people now rely on humanitarian aid. And two thirds of Yemen’s population don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Today, Yemen remains one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises of our time. But on the ground, in villages, towns and communities across the country, because of generous supporters like you, parents are rebuilding their lives.


Through sheer strength, determination, and your support, they can bring home food for their hungry children.

Beehive by beehive – Nazrah tells us how she is building a home and a future for her children.

Nazrah is a mother of five living in Abyan. She received a grant from Oxfam to support her beehive building business which she runs alongside her husband. Photo: VFX Aden / Oxfam

35-year-old Nazrah from the Abyan governorate has two sons, three daughters and an encouraging and cooperative husband.

Two years ago, she began building beehives, to earn an income and improve her family’s living conditions. But without the right tools for the job, she could only do so much.

When Nazrah heard Oxfam had arrived in her area, she didn’t hesitate in registering her business with us. Thanks to your support, we were able to offer her a grant to buy an electric chainsaw and all the other equipment she needed. Thinking back to that time, Nazrah says: “At first, I built a few beehives, not more than four or five. Over time, people began coming in crowds to buy from us, and the sales increased. Some of our clients sell these beehives at the market, while others keep them in their homes to breed bees.

Nazrah is a mother of five living in Abyan. She received a grant from Oxfam to support her beehive building business which she runs alongside her husband. Photo: VFX Aden / Oxfam
My living conditions improved, and I was able to register my kids at school, I renovated my house and saved a small amount of cash in case of sudden illness. I bought a cow and a small TV for the children. Honestly, this project improved my living conditions and covered all my household expenses. - Nazrah

Your support of families in Yemen is truly life changing.

From beehives to grocery stores, you are creating livelihoods throughout Yemen. Across trades such as tailors, mechanics, and farmers, you are improving skills and increasing incomes.

And for families struggling to survive in displacement camps – ‘survival kits’ containing clean water, food, emergency cash and hygiene supplies are saving lives.

So far, together, we’ve helped more than three million people.

Just like the parents of Yemen, we won’t ever give up. We’re in it for the long haul. And with you by our side, we’ll keep going until stories of hope – like Nazrah’s – overtake stories of hunger and heartbreak.

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Climate and Economic Shocks Create Crisis in East Africa

Abdulahi in front of his homestead in the Puntland region of Somalia where he raises cattle. He says his livestock is heavily affected by the drought and lack of pasture, and he is worried about the future of his family. Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam Novib

Oxfam is responding in four countries and urging more international assistance to help people facing severe hunger.

In the northern Somali state of Puntland, pervasive drought is endangering the lives of people and their livestock. “Within my lifetime, this is the worst drought I have ever experienced,” says Abdulahi Farah Isse, 27, who has lost nearly 40 of his 100 cows in the last few months. He says that it is not unusual for dry conditions in some years to kill livestock, “but it’s never been like this.”

“I am very much worried for this drought and the near future,” Isse says abut the hunger crisis in Puntland. “If these cattle all die, the people will be at risk. Our children need milk from the cows, which is a challenge now but we are trying to do our best so our people will survive.”

The problem people like Isse are facing in Puntland is not just a lack of rain, but a combination of prolonged climate-induced drought, conflict, the economic fallout from COVID-19, and the war in Ukraine that has caused a spike in grain prices across the world.

Ahmed, who works for Oxfam in Somalia, checks a completely empty water storage facility built by Oxfam & KAALO Aid & Development in Puntland. Lack of rain for nearly four years has dried up water resources across the region. Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam Novib

These factors are affecting people across Somalia, where 90 percent of the country is experiencing drought, as well as other parts of East Africa. One person is likely dying of hunger every 48 seconds in drought-ravaged Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, according to estimates by Oxfam and Save the Children in a report highlighting the world’s repeated failure to stave off preventable disasters. The report, titled Dangerous Delays 2: The Cost of Inaction, published 10 years after famine in Somalia killed more than 260,000, says that nearly half a million people across parts of Somalia and Ethiopia are facing extreme hunger and famine-like conditions. In Kenya, 3.5 million people are suffering extreme hunger.

What Oxfam is doing to prevent extreme hunger

Oxfam is working with local organisations to reach more than two million people across four countries: Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and in South Sudan, where five years of seasonal flooding has displaced 350,000 people.

In Somalia, Oxfam is working with local organisations, such as KAALO Aid and Development, to provide lifesaving water, sanitation, and health support. Together, we are drilling wells, distributing hygiene kits (to help protect communities from water-borne diseases), distributing cash, seeds, tools, and training farmers in small-scale greenhouse farming.

Oxfam is working with a network of organisations in northern Kenya’s arid zones. These organisations are providing cash to help people buy food and other essential items. So far we have distributed cash to 40,000 people. We are repairing wells and other water systems, and promoting good hygiene to help people prevent COVID-19 and other diseases in eight of the most hard-to-reach, and worst-affected, counties.

To respond to the severe drought in Ethiopia, Oxfam is scaling up our work in the southern Somali region to reach 180,000 people with support for small businesses, vaccination and veterinary treatment of livestock, agricultural support, and cash-for-work projects.

Oxfam’s work with partners in South Sudan is helping people in five states and aims to reach 383,000 people with safe water, resources for sanitation and hygiene, cash grants for families to buy food and other essentials, and support for people to build their incomes, such as seeds, tools, and fishing kits.

Oxfam is also advocating for governments and others to respond to the immediate crisis with humanitarian assistance, while also investing in programs and services that fight inequality and help people improve their lives over the long term and reduce their vulnerability to climate change.

“We must respond now, at scale, to avert further tragedy,” the Dangerous Delays 2 report concludes. “But we must also learn the lessons of the past decade to ensure that next time we act pre-emptively to avoid the crisis. As climate catastrophe threatens a future of increased crises, we dare not fail that promise again.”

“We used to have more than 150 goats, all of them but two have died because of the drought. Which is devastating…goats generate milk, meat, and money if we sell them.” Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam Novib

A Dangerous Delay

The climate crisis is devastating lives and livelihoods. And it is the people least responsible who are paying the heaviest price.

Across East Africa alone, millions of people are suffering severe hunger because of a deadly combination of conflict, extreme weather – flooding in some countries, drought in others — and the economic fallout of COVID-19. It’s time to act.