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.

New EU migration plans threaten the rights, safety and dignity of refugees and migrants

24th July 2018
 
Oxfam has condemned today’s suggestion by the European Commission on plans for new ‘controlled centres’ for refugees and migrants inside the EU and its proposed arrangements for disembarking migrants rescued in the Mediterranean in countries outside the EU.
 
Reacting to the news, Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive Jim Clarken said: “What the European Commission calls ‘controlled centres’ are de facto detention camps. This idea has been tried before and only succeeded in leaving vulnerable people in deplorable, inhumane conditions in so-called ‘EU hotspots’ in Italy and Greece. Rather than creating more camps, European governments must reform the European asylum system so that it is based on responsibility sharing between all member states and puts people’s personal safety, needs and rights first.
 
“Refugees in ‘EU hotspots’ regularly wait over two years for authorities to make a decision on their asylum claims, through procedures that are often opaque and unfair. This puts asylum seekers, many of whom are already traumatised or victims of trafficking, in a legal limbo without access to basic services such as healthcare or education for children.
 
“If EU member states are already struggling to provide proper care and a fair process for assessing asylum claims, there is no reason to believe that ‘disembarkation platforms’ outside the EU will be any better. This is just another attempt to offload Europe’s responsibilities onto poorer countries outside of the EU and directly threatens the rights of women, men and children on the move.
 
“Ireland needs to work with other EU member states to find lasting solutions for people seeking safety in Europe that go beyond so-called ‘controlled centres’. One way that Ireland can contribute to a humane European response is by amending its current restrictive policy on refugee family reunification. Right now, Ireland’s rules keep many refugee families apart and make it almost impossible for them to be re-united. Children turned 18 are separated from their parents, grandparents from their grandchildren, and elder brothers and sisters from their younger siblings.
 
 
“Having passed all stages in the Seanad with cross-party support, the International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017 must now be brought before the Dáil as soon as possible so as to enact the urgent change that is needed for families in need of protection.”
 
 
ENDS
 
CONTACT:
 
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson-Lyons, Oxfam Ireland, on +353 (0) 83 198 1869 or at alice.dawsonlyons@oxfamireland.org 
 
NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org
 
Notes to editors:
 
  • European leaders at the EU Summit on 28 June failed to agree on reforms to the common European asylum system, instead allowing internal rows to shape the EU’s migration policy. EU leaders called for the development of “controlled centres” on EU soil, and invited the Council and the Commission to explore the concept of “regional disembarkation platforms” in third countries.
  • According to the Commission, no country will be approached for “regional disembarkation arrangements” until 30 July, when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organisation for Migration and the European Commission meet to discuss the issue.
  • In June 2018, the number of asylum seekers on the Greek islands reached the unprecedented figure of 17,800. In the island’s hotspot, Moria camp and its extension the ‘Olive Grove’ (not including the protected areas and the pre-removal centre in Moria), there are 72 people per functioning toilet and 84 people per functioning shower.
  • People often spend months in the dark waiting for their asylum claims to be processed. Many refugees do not have access to legal aid, either because they are not informed of their right to a lawyer or because there are not enough lawyers available.
  • Children as young as 12 are being abused, detained and illegally returned to Italy by French border guards, according to an Oxfam report published on 15 June.

Ireland must amend restrictions on family reunification to contribute to a humane EU migration policy, says Oxfam

Internal rows at Brussels summit shape EU’s migration policy
 
28th June 2018
 
European leaders at the EU summit in Brussels have failed to agree on reforms to the common European asylum system. Instead, they try to respond to internal rows by reducing the space for asylum seekers even further, and want to offload their responsibilities to countries outside the EU. Oxfam argues that European agreements on migration are welcome, but they should not have a negative impact on the lives of refugees and migrants.
 
Reacting to the news, Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive Jim Clarken, said: “EU leaders’ migration plans should have addressed the flaws of our current asylum system and provide an effective and humane response to migration, not only respond to political problems at home.
 
“At a time when EU leadership on global issues is needed more than ever, European heads of state and government continue to try to offload their responsibilities onto poorer countries outside the EU. They also agree to create even more de facto detention centres, a measure that has evidentially failed with the so-called ‘hotspot’ in Greece and Italy. This approach to migration is a recipe for failure, and directly threatens the rights of women, men and children on the move.
 
“Well-managed migration and an effective asylum system go beyond disembarkation centres, and they are essential parts of a healthy European economy and culture.
 
This week, the Irish government committed to provide humanitarian assistance and support to 25 people who were stranded on the MV Lifeline. While we commend this leadership, we need to go beyond ad hoc responses and instead find lasting solutions for people seeking safety in Europe.
 
“One way that Ireland can contribute to a humane European response is by amending its current restrictive policy on refugee family reunification. Right now, Ireland’s rules keep many refugee families apart and make it almost impossible for them to be re-united. Children turned 18 are separated from their parents, grandparents from their grandchildren, and elder brothers and sisters from their younger siblings.
 
“Having passed all stages in the Seanad with cross-party support, the International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017 must now be brought before the Dáil as soon as possible so as to enact the urgent change that is needed for families in need of protection.”
 
ENDS
 
Oxfam spokespeople are available for interviews.
 
Contact information:
For interviews or more information, contact:
Phillip Graham on 00 44 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org
 
NOTES TO EDITORS:
 
·         Research from Oxfam Ireland, Nasc and Irish Refugee Council has shown that the International Protection Act 2015 has had a devastating impact on individuals and on their ability to rebuild their lives as part of the community, by making it effectively impossible for anyone outside of the immediate family to be reunited in Ireland.
·         The International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017 seeks to amend the International Protection Act 2015, which makes it overly restrictive for refugees in Ireland to reunite with loved ones outside the nuclear family. The Amendment would enable a wider range of family members to apply for family reunification, including a grandparent, parent, sibling, grandchild or guardian. The Bill was first proposed by the Civil Engagement Group of Senators in July 2017 and completed the Final Stage in the Seanad in March 2018. Amending the legislation restores and strengthens the provisions of the 1996 Irish Refugee Act, and offers Ireland an opportunity to show leadership by upholding fundamental rights.
 
 
 

The world has turned its back on South Sudan

Oxfam has been working in South Sudan for over 30 years. Since 2017, we have been responding to a deepening emergency, reaching over 500,000 people across South Sudan with life-saving aid. We also implement long-term development projects to advance gender justice and support people to build resilient livelihoods to help beat poverty now and into the future. In this blog, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland, Jim Clarken, reflects on his recent trip there.

South Sudan - A Country in Crisis

South Sudan is a country in crisis – a country on the brink of what could well become the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Yet tragically, for the people of this young nation, their ongoing plight has failed to make the headlines.

For more than four years, the people of South Sudan have been caught up in a brutal civil war. The violence has had a devastating impact on the country’s citizens, millions of whom are suffering from extreme hunger as a result.

More than 4 million people have fled their homes since war broke out in December 2013. And last year alone, some 700,000 people fled South Sudan to neighbouring countries – that means that in 2017, more than one person fled the country every minute.

When I visited South Sudan earlier this month, I met many people whose lives have been turned upside down by the ongoing conflict. I spoke to women grieving for their dead children, families who have had to flee their homes and farmers forced to abandon their land – ordinary people, who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves caught up in the crisis.

Oxfam Ireland CEO Jim Clarken speaks with local fisherman in Nyal, South Sudan. Credit: Ben Clancy/Oxfam Ireland

People can no longer protect themselves and their families from the destabilising impact of war. There are battles on every front. Inflation rates are so high that the price of even basic foodstuffs is beyond the reach of families. Meanwhile, farmers who have had no choice but to leave their land are missing out on harvests – leaving the country’s food stocks at dangerously low levels.

In February of last year, famine was declared in two counties – Leer and Mayendit. At that time, 100,000 people were facing famine, and one million more were on the brink. A strong humanitarian response has undoubtedly kept famine at bay but the need for aid is more urgent than ever. In fact, an estimated 1.6 million more people are now more at risk than when famine was declared in 2017. And while the United Nations World Food Programme has been carrying out food drops in South Sudan, the supplies aren’t enough for the population which finds itself in a race against time.

During my visit I travelled to the islands around Nyal in Unity State, which have seen a large influx of people fleeing the violence. There I met many people who have been displaced and are now in a dire situation. Many arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs, joining countless others with shared experiences. It had taken one group of women I spoke to seven days to reach safety. Having endured the harrowing and terrifying journey, they finally got the chance to grieve the children they had lost along the way.

With the support of Irish Aid, Oxfam Ireland is on the ground in Nyal, providing canoes to bring the sick and vulnerable from the islands to access life-saving aid and health care. We have also set up community gardens in the region, which enable people to grow their own food, or sell it to earn an income. And our protection teams are working with girls and women to ensure their safety in a new and unfamiliar environment.

Villagers of RAFONE island gather to meet Oxfam staff and discuss the progress they’ve made since receiving aid. Credit: Ben Clancy/Oxfam Ireland

Yet, despite our best efforts, the humanitarian situation remains dire – and it’s getting worse by the day. With other stories dominating the global headlines, I fear that South Sudan will be forgotten.

There is an onus on all of us to make sure the plight of this young nation is no longer ignored.

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

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