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.

Cabinet’s plan for refugee reunifications welcome but inclusive scheme needed

Proposals brought to cabinet today to make 530 places available to allow refugees to apply to be reunited with family members living in Ireland are a positive development. 
 
However, according to Oxfam Ireland, a system for family reunification which puts the rights of refugee families on a statutory footing and which expands the current definition of the family is urgently needed. 
 
Last week in Seanad Éireann the Family Reunification Bill passed Committee stage despite Government opposition, with cross-party support from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour and Independents. The Bill seeks to undo the unintended consequences of the International Protection Act 2015 which narrowed the definition of the family for refugees to include only a spouse and children under 18. 
 
This has had a devastating impact on the lives of refugees settled in Ireland. It has separated children aged 18 and over from their parents, divided siblings and destroyed the bonds between grandparents and grandchildren. 
 
Under the 2015 Irish Refugee Protection Programme, Ireland committed to accept 4,000 refugees by the end of 2017. However, currently, less than half of this number have arrived. 
 
Oxfam Ireland said today; “We welcome the proposals by the Minster for Justice. Any development which enables refugees already settled in Ireland to be reunited with their family members is a positive one. There are too many people in Ireland who are currently separated from parents or older children. They long to be have them join them, to be able to provide for them and to live together in safety and dignity, but they haven’t even been able to apply to do this. 
 
The best way for the government to meet its international obligations and demonstrate Ireland’s commitment to those fleeing war and persecution is to drop its obstruction of the Family Reunification Bill. This legislation simply seeks to restore the definition of family which stood from 1996 – 2015, which is more in tune with an Irish understanding of the innate value of the family. Any discretionary scheme which enhances family reunion, but which restricts the numbers of people eligible and their countries of origin should be a complementary mechanism only. It does not duplicate or replace the provisions sought through the Family Reunification Bill. 
 
It is important to note that the bill is not pushing for anything radical or new. It is simply seeking a return to the family reunification system that operated in this country for the past 20 years, and the numbers of people granted reunification in Ireland are low – last year it was approximately 400.” 
 
The Bill was introduced by the Seanad Civil Engagement Group; Senators Colette Kelleher, Frances Black, Alice-Mary Higgins, Lynn Ruane, Grace O'Sullivan and John Dolan, who worked with Oxfam Ireland, Nasc and the Irish Refugee Council on the new legislation. 
 
Worldwide, 65 million people are on the move, trying to escape conflict, persecution and disaster. This is the highest number ever recorded in human history. 
 
ENDS
 

Family reunification bill advances through Seanad despite Government attempts to derail

8 November 2017
 
The Government today attempted to derail the passage of a bill aimed at enabling refugees living in Ireland to be reunited with family members. Following a vote, the bill passed committee stage in the Seanad despite the government voting against it.
 
However, although having majority backing from across the political spectrum, Minister David Stanton, speaking against the bill, indicated that Government are planning to block further progress when it reaches the Dáil via invoking a controversial, little-known technical power which denies a “money message”1 for the Bill.
 
The Family Reunification Bill seeks to undo the unintended consequences of the International Protection Act 2015 which narrowed the definition of the family for refugees to include only a spouse and children under 18. 
 
This has had a devastating impact on the lives of refugees settled in Ireland. It has separated children aged 18 and over from their parents, divided siblings and destroyed extended family networks. 
 
The Bill was introduced by the Seanad Civil Engagement Group; Senators Colette Kelleher, Frances Black, Alice-Mary Higgins, Lynn Ruane, Grace O'Sullivan and John Dolan, who worked with Oxfam Ireland, Nasc and the Irish Refugee Council on the new legislation. 
 
Senator Colette Kelleher said; 
“We were happy to win the vote in the Seanad today however the government’s stated intention to use an obscure technicality to block the Bill’s passage in the Dáil is a devastating blow to those refugees who have already been recognised and settled in Ireland. This Bill would make it more straightforward for siblings over 18 and other immediate family dependents to apply to join those already granted asylum in Ireland.
 
This legislation simply seeks to restore the definition of family which stood from 1996 - 2015 and one which is more in tune with an Irish understanding of a wider, more inclusive one.
 
I know of refugee families in Ireland who are separated from their parents or older children. They long to have them join them in Ireland but haven’t been allowed due to the existing legislation. Sadly, the government isn't listening and has decided to thwart our attempts to change this. We plan to continue to advocate on behalf of refugees and push to change the law to make it simpler for family members to join their loved ones.”
 
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins said; 
“The small number of refugees settled in Ireland have often fled traumatic situations and endured distressing journeys to arrive here. Anyone starting a new life in a different country needs support and integration and the best way to do this is with your family beside you.
 
It is disappointing that rather than address this Bill on its merits, the government are planning to block its future progress via the controversial and rarely-used denial of a money message. This is not in the true spirit of democracy and could be seen as showing a disregard for the legislative process.
 
Ireland was co-chair the 2016 UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants and should be showing global leadership rather than indulging in evasions and excuses which damage people's lives. We urge the government to reconsider their position and face up to their moral responsibilities on family reunification."
 
ENDS
 
Daniel English 
Oxfam Ireland
086 3544954 
 
1. Money message: In order for Private Members’ Bills which are deemed by the Ceann Comhairle to involve a charge on the State to progress to committee stage in the Dáil, they need a ‘money message’ from the government. Historically, this mechanism has rarely been used. However, the denial of a money message has recently been used to block a number of opposition Bills from reaching Committee stage in the Dáil.
 

Irish Aid’s €2 million pledge to Rohingya crisis welcome - Oxfam Ireland

The decision by Ireland to pledge €2 million in aid to the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh is a welcome development Oxfam Ireland has said. The announcement was made at a special donor conference held in Geneva today.

Over half a million Rohingya refugees have crossed over to Bangladesh from Northern Rakhine State in Myanmar since August, and 2,000 more are arriving every day. This is a large scale and escalating humanitarian crisis.

Oxfam Ireland, CEO Jim Clarken said; “This announcement today by Irish Aid is extremely welcome and will help contribute towards the response to this unfolding humanitarian disaster. The Rohingya refugees are living in terrible conditions and need life-saving assistance now, including clean drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene, essential food and emergency supplies. More than 70% of the newly arrived have no shelter, and only 50% have access to safe drinking water.

Both refugees and communities hosting them need urgent support and Oxfam Ireland has been encouraging donors and governments to act immediately. Existing camps and the ones newly being set up are inadequate to deal with the massive influx resulting in many seeking shelter under open skies, roadsides, and in forest areas with little or no protection.”

Oxfam is responding now and has reached 180,000 people by providing clean drinking water, portable toilets and sanitation facilities, plastic sheets, and other essential supplies. In total, we are planning to reach more than 200,000 people.

To help Oxfam’s response go to https://www.oxfamireland.org/bangladesh

Ends

Daniel English
 
Desk: +353 (0) 1 635 0422
 
Mobile: +353 (0) 86 3544954

 

Uganda needs more help in world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis

Thursday 22nd June 2017

Uganda’s “open door” policy toward refugees – now being held up around the world as a gold standard – could quickly buckle and fail unless the international community respond in full to the country’s $673 million UN appeal.

International donors have pledged only $117 million so far to Uganda out of the $637 million needed for the county’s South Sudan refugee response. So far the $1.38 billion UN appeal for the wider region’s response to the world’s fast-growing refugee crisis – which includes Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo – is only 15% funded.

Almost one million people have fled South Sudan for Uganda since December 2013. So far this year an average of 2,000 people have arrived each day. Uganda is now hosting more than 1.25 million refugees in total, a number which has doubled over the last year. The vast majority – 86% – are women and children who need specific support to keep them safe from rape, beatings, torture, hunger and abandonment.

Peter Kamalingin, Oxfam’s Country Director in Uganda, said: “Uganda hosts the third-largest population of refugees in the world and yet it is one of the most under-funded host nations. This is both highly unfair and highly unsustainable. Uganda must get the support it needs to continue its welcoming policies toward its neighbour.”

Uganda is hosting the first Refugee Solidarity Summit on 22nd and 23rd June. Oxfam is calling on the international community to provide funds, humanitarian aid and, crucially, to pave the way for a peaceful resolution to conflicts in neighbouring countries. 

“Governments urgently need to invest in the Uganda response to ensure that refugees and their host communities are provided with shelter and protection among other urgent needs. Local humanitarian agencies here have a vital understanding of the context of the crisis, so they need to be supported to deal with the needs of refugees in timely and cost-effective ways,” Kamalingin said.

Uganda’s policies provide a basis for refugees to be able to access land, shelter and employment.

Kamalingin continued: “On paper, these policies are laudable and Uganda is rightly being praised – but it needs to be supported too. Host communities also need land, clean water, food and employment opportunities. Uganda is balancing people’s needs as best it can for the moment, but it won’t be able to sustain that over time without proper backing. Most importantly, it should not be lost to regional governments and the International community that the most urgent relief for a refugee is peace at home.”

Speaking on behalf of fifty national and local organisations who were consulted ahead of the summit, Paparu Lilian Obiale, Humanitarian Programme Manager at CEFORD, an Oxfam partner in the West Nile region, said: “Ugandan civil society hopes that the summit will not only raise the profile of refugees in Uganda but also bring much needed funding and encourage real discussion about the root causes of the displacement in the region. There needs to be genuine discussion about how we foster sustainable futures both for refugees and those in hosting communities." 

ENDS

CONTACT:

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson on 00353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

Notes to editors:

Oxfam’s refugee response in Uganda: Oxfam’s response to the refugee crisis in Uganda, alongside partners, is currently reaching over 280,000 refugees across four districts providing life-saving assistance, clean water, sanitation hygiene including construction of pit latrines, sustainable livelihoods and integrating gender and protection work. Oxfam and partners are actively engaged in advocacy for sustainable approaches to the refugee response as well as peace building at local level, national, regional and international levels.

Over the last 4 years, Oxfam in Uganda invested in pilot humanitarian capacity building for over 15 local and national organisations across different parts of Uganda. Those partners, working closely with Oxfam are critical in delivering timely and quality humanitarian services to people in need including during the influx of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012/13 and the influx of South Sudanese refugees since December 2013 to date. 

"We fled from our home... there were so many bodies on the streets."

 
Wafaa and her family in the half build house they now call home. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam
 
"We fled from our home; there were so many dead bodies on the streets." Wafaa (name changed to protect identity) sits on the floor in one of three rooms in a small, half-built house her brother rents for their families in Kahlo Bazini, in Kirkuk, northern Iraq. Conditions in the house are basic at best, some of the walls aren't yet finished and until Oxfam intervened they had no facilities to wash, no toilet, and no clean water.
 
"Our living situation is difficult, but we make things work; my brother works cleaning shops so that he can earn money to provide food for us. My children and I all depend on my brother. He goes to clean the shops and then brings home vegetables, things like tomatoes, and shares them between my children and his. We have lived in this same situation for a while," explains Wafaa.
 
Before arriving in Kirkuk, Wafaa and her family moved several times trying to escape ISIS as they took control of large areas of Iraq in 2014. "When we first left out home, we went to my brother's house in Al Eshaqi. We were there for three days and then attacks, bombing and killings started in the streets, so we left to go to my sister's house; she lived far away from the places that had been captured by ISIS. We didn't stay there very long though, about 27 days, and then the fighting started there as well. There were airstrikes, missiles and bombs everywhere."
 
At one point Wafaa and her family were forced to live in an empty school building: 'The school had no appliances; there was no water, toilets or place to wash; the water we were using came directly from the river, it was dirty and polluted. It gave us a lot of infections and allergic reactions. No one came to check if we were okay and the fighting continued to reach us again.
 
"Then my son got ill; he fell on the ground and his face swelled up. My son is only six years old. I had to tell my family that I couldn't stay there any longer." But the area was surrounded from both sides.
 
 
Wafaa Derwesh* (name changed), 39, was displaced with her family when ISIS took control of her village. She now lives in a small village near Kirkuk called Khalo Bazini. Photo: Tommy Trenchard / Oxfam
 
The school where Wafaa and her family were staying was isolated and very far from any roads, "It was like we had escaped to a small empty island far away", Wafaa explains. "There was no water and no electricity. And then ISIS struck. Three ISIS fighters who were carrying guns and firing passed by us; we were so scared we ran away again.
 
"When ISIS came, there were a lot of other families at the school; many of them left the school with us to escape ISIS. They put their black flag above the school; the same school that had been like a home to us." As Wafaa sits in the dark room of the house she and her family now call home she tells the story of how they escaped from ISIS.
 
"We left the school at around 4.00am and we reached the army controlled area at 12.00pm. ISIS had destroyed all the bridges. It was a cold winter, we had no clothes with us and we were trying to escape from ISIS. We were in bad situation, but there were other families and relatives who couldn't leave because ISIS had already taken control of the area and taken them under siege."
 
Not all of her family had been so fortunate. "My sister was still living at the school. She didn't have a car, and random bombing and air strikes had already begun between the army and ISIS. She was alone in the middle of their battle. She called my mom and told her the battle had begun and that she was about to give birth to her baby.
 
"One of my sister's neighbours was her midwife at the birth. It all happened during these air strikes and bombings. We were having a very cold and rainy spell and my sister was giving birth to her new child. She had been complaining about the pain in her stomach but there was no doctor, no food, and no medicine, and no car for her to get to them."
 
Even though ISIS had surrounded the area, Wafaa and her brothers went back to the school to try and fetch their sister. They wanted to get her the medical help she so badly needed. "She was on the dirty ground that had been polluted and her stomach was too swollen, I can't describe it, we couldn't do anything for her; we were helpless and powerless. It was very difficult to see her like that; she was my sister."
 
 
Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam
 
Wafaa managed to get her sister out of the school but she died soon after that. 'That's how I last saw her; it was very tragic; we all suffered and felt sad about losing her. We had become displaced in one way, and her daughters who are very young became displaced in a different way.' After her sister died, Wafaa took in her nieces and now provides for them as well as her own children.
 
There are currently over 3.2 million people displaced in Iraq, and even after their village or town has been recaptured from ISIS, families like Wafaa's aren't able to go home due to the level of destruction, number of mines left behind and the slow vetting process that ensues. "Our area was liberated a long time ago," Wafaa explains, "but they won't allow us to return because there are mines that have been planted, explosive devices and bombs in our farms and houses. Behind our home ISIS planted many bombs and explosive devices.
 
"I'm not afraid of anything. I'm waiting for the checkpoint at Balad to open and then I'll return to my house. My home was small but nice, and I was living happily in it. We left because ISIS attacked us; missiles were falling everywhere and my children were crying. It was a difficult situation and it was hard on my children. I couldn't make them understand that we had left because of the bombing and the battle between the army and ISIS. My children were afraid of ISIS.
 
"My young children are always saying that they miss their games and our house. They ask me when will we go back? All the displaced people here want to return to our homes because we are exhausted."
 
WHAT OXFAM IS DOING IN IRAQ
 
On Friday October 7th Irish Aid delivered 80 tonnes of aid to Iraq for Oxfam to distribute to vulnerable people fleeing the conflict in Mosul and beyond. Items being sent include blankets, jerry cans, cooking sets, water tanks, tarpaulins and shelter kits.
 
 
Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he is gravely concerned up to 1.5 million people in the city of Mosul have been living under siege for more than two years, with a further 1 million in surrounding areas currently under ISIS control.
 
Oxfam has been working in 50 villages and towns across Diyala and Kirkuk governorates in northern Iraq since 2014. We are providing safe water in camps and in communities where people who have fled the fighting are sheltering, and enabling people to earn a living so that they can support their families. We have also been helping families as they return home once it is safe to do so.
 
We are now scaling up our response in the Mosul Corridor, operating in Salah Al-Din and Ninewa governorates. Oxfam is also working in the key strategic area of Qayyarat, which is 80km south of Mosul and sandwiched between ISIS-controlled territories. We are providing clear water and sanitation and essential items like blankets and hygiene kits.
 
Oxfam works across Iraq including in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
 
As military operations begin to retake the city of Mosul and surrounding areas from ISIS, we are expecting to help 60,000 people.
 

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