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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also our video ZA'ATARI: THE REFUGEE REPORTER

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

Rohingya Crisis

As the year draws to a close, the traumatic events of 2017 are still very raw for the Rohingya people. Hundreds and thousands of them have fled to Bangladesh since the summer, many wearing nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Their journeys from Myanmar were laden with misery and terror. Refugees witnessed pain and suffering on a massive scale – nightmares they will relive for many years to come. They spoke of rape and sexual violence, of young children being maimed and abused. They fled landmines and bullets and saw their loved ones die in cold blood.

By the end of November, the number of refugees in the Cox’s Bazaar district of Bangladesh had passed 836,000. Living in overcrowded camps with overflowing latrines and contaminated water, they face heavy rains and the 2018 cyclone season which threatens to wash away shelters and spread water-borne diseases.

Oxfam is on the ground providing safe drinking water, food and other essentials, and is ramping up its work before cyclone season hits.

In the meantime, the voices of those who have fled Myanmar are being heard – and their stories are harrowing.

Razida* (35) carries her 10-month-old son Anisul* through Unchiprang Camp in Bangladesh. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

“They burned my home and shot my husband dead,” said Razida* who spent six days walking to Bangladesh with her eight children. “The women and children ran away – we were safe, but the attackers surrounded the men and killed them so they couldn’t bring us anything. We had to even borrow money to cross the border.

"I left with all my children, I had to leave. How can I feel anything at all now? I’ve got shelter but no clean water and nowhere to shower. My children are sick and I am sick from worrying."

Fatima takes a rest in Dhokin Para school in Shah Puri Dwip after crossing over from Myanmar by boat two nights ago with her husband and young son. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

When Fatima’s house was burned down, she, her husband and their young son fled for their lives. Fatima was heavily pregnant when the family made their escape – but the lengthy journey was an ordeal for the expectant mother.

“Our house was burned down so we ran and we hid from village to village,” she explained. “I’m eight months pregnant and my feet are swollen. Yesterday when I arrived, I was in a bad condition. The locals fed me and gave me a wash.”

Elsewhere, others spoke of the horrific scenes they witnessed while fleeing to Bangladesh.

Setara* (47) with her daughter Nur*. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

Setara (47), who made the journey with her parents and seven of her children, said: “We had to walk for three days without food. My girl was almost dying, I thought she would die on the way. We passed so many dead bodies on the way.”

“When I left I only had my children and the clothes on my back,” added Setara, who also revealed how her eldest son had been beaten and had disappeared.

These are the voices of just some of the Rohingya people who have had to flee unimaginable violence in recent months. This new year must offer these refugees a sense of security and hope for the future.

Please give what you can to help mothers like Razida*, Fatima* and Setara* and the families they will do anything to protect.

Thank you.

We must act to protect thousands from the freezing winter on the Greek Islands

As December arrives, more than 15,000 refugees – both young and old – are facing into a cold and uncertain winter on the Greek islands. Inadequate shelter, water, sanitation and medical access has led to a humanitarian crisis within the EU’s borders. This will only worsen over the coming months unless 7,500 people are transferred from the islands to the Greek mainland immediately.

Greek Prime Minister Tsipras and the EU could end this suffering, and ensure vulnerable women, children and men are warm and safe over the winter period.

Tell the Greek Prime Minister Tsipras and your government to protect those fleeing from war torn conditions in search of safety and #OpenTheIslands

The reason these refugees are not being allowed onto the mainland is as a direct result of the EU-Turkey deal. Under the deal, the Turkish government are taking refugees to Turkey, but only those people who land on the islands. Therefore refugees are being kept on the islands at all costs. While the Greek people have shown enormous solidarity and welcome to those fleeing persecution, the Greek Government now needs to play a stronger role.

EU member states should immediately and publicly call on the Greek government to transfer at least 7,500 people from the islands to the mainland. No one should be kept on the islands without accommodation or access to services, especially when there is space for them elsewhere.

Since the EU-Turkey deal came into effect, the Greek islands have been transformed into places of indefinite confinement. Thousands of refugees have been trapped in abysmal conditions, some for almost two years.

Asylum seekers live in abysmal conditions in Moria Reception and Identification Center (RIC) on the Greek island of Lesvos. Photo Credit: Giorgos Moutafis/Oxfam 

A number of hotspots have emerged – the worst being Moria refugee camp on Lesvos, which is home to more than 6,500 people, of whom 1,000 or more are children. Conditions are unhygienic and dangerous and the mental health of these people  is deteriorating.  

Poor lighting in the camp means that women are scared to go to the bathroom at night, and there aren’t enough police to protect them. A lack of sanitation also poses major health risks to thousands of people, with toilets overflowing with faeces and urine. 

With the arrival of rain and plummeting temperatures, thousands of refugees, including children, are still living in tents. Some could freeze to death this year if they are not immediately moved to proper accommodation.

This is not an unavoidable crisis. These refugees are being kept in inhumane conditions when there are alternatives. The Greek government must transfer these people to the mainland and allow them to live with dignity.

Please also join us in asking Greek President Tsipras to lift the containment policy and move 7,500 people off the islands before the official start of winter on the 21st of December. 

 

Digging in the dust

The soft soil falls away easily as the sharp metal hits the ground. Again and again Falah Abiya raises the axe above his head and brings it down on the compacted earth. Two of his colleagues stand waiting beside him, stepping in with shovels to remove the soil he has loosened.

The blue skies, dotted with clouds and the mid morning autumn sun do not match the tough work that Falah and his team have to do in Mosul today. They are digging graves in a large cemetery in the west of the city. “We have twenty-two to dig today”, Falah comments in between swinging his pick Axe.

Falah’s team work for the department of Forensic Pathology, which is being supported by Mosul General Hospital. Although they usually spend their days digging graves for people who have just died, today their work is of a different kind. They are working on a special programme to help the state identify bodies that have already been buried.

“The work we are doing here is very sensitive but very necessary”, says Dr Aziz, who works at Mosul General Hospital. “It’s important we know who has died and why. We must make sure the people buried in those graves are the people we have been told they are. Once we have recovered a body we run DNA tests to check.”

Today Hamid Hassan Jassim stands watching Falah’s team at work; the grave belongs to his brother Mahmud. “He died in a suicide bombing at a checkpoint. His head was missing when we buried him,” he says. Suddenly Falah’s axe hits something hard and he uses his hands to expose a wooden plank which he then pulls from the hole. Three of the team carefully lower themselves into the hole and slowly pull out a black plastic body bag.

Everyone is quiet as the team unzip the plastic bag and reveal what is left of Mahmud’s body, wrapped in a red blanket. The forensic examiner pulls on rubber gloves and carefully opens the blanket before inspecting its contents. He immediately confirms the head is missing and through his examination he also suggests that the man did in fact die in an explosion. He takes samples and zips the bag back up.

“Oxfam has supported the hospital in a lot of ways since Mosul was retaken.” Says Dr Aziz. The axes Falah and the team are using were donated to Oxfam and then the hospital by Irish Aid. As were other essential items such as mosquito nets which are being used to keep the flies off of burns patients and those with extensive wounds. “We hope we will continue to receive support from Oxfam so that we can keep doing this essential work and taking care of people who need urgent medical care.”

Mosul General Hospital sees an estimated 800 patients a day. As well as providing the pick axes, Oxfam has supported the hospital with essential items such as water tanks, bottled water, emergency food rations, blankets and mosquito nets.

Hamid stands and watches Falah and his colleague Sadam Hamadi carefully lower his brother Mahmud’s newly wrapped body back into the ground, re-covering it with the soft soil. They then throw their shovels and pick axes over their shoulders and make a move to the next grave. They have twenty one more to dig today.

 

 

Two weeks into the Yemen blockade – Fuel, Food and Medicines Running Out

19 November 2017 

Two weeks since land, air and seaports in Yemen were closed, aid agencies are appalled by the complacency and indifference of the international community regarding the historic humanitarian disaster now unfolding.

Aid agencies are gravely concerned about a new outbreak of cholera and other water borne diseases. UNICEF warns that they only have 15 days’ left of diphtheria vaccines. They are due to receive a new shipment late November but still have not received clearance. If this vaccine is not brought in, one million children will be at risk of preventable diseases.

The fuel shortage in Yemen means clean water in the country is more and more scarce. Water networks are closing by the day as fuel for the pumps runs out and pipes run dry. The lack of water poses grave risks to young children most of all. Schools will become centres of disease rather than centres of knowledge.

With no fuel, hospitals are closing wards and struggling to operate intensive care units and surgical operation theatres. Refrigeration units for essential medicines are being turned off for periods of time to save fuel. Doctors, some of whom have not been paid for ten months, are asking INGOs and UN to share their small supplies of fuel to run their life-saving generators; INGOs are citing one month fuel supply only.

Agencies are starting to double the value of the cash distributions to the most vulnerable people. This will enable people to buy and stock food for the coming cold winter months before prices rise beyond their means. This means agencies will exhaust their funds allocated for next year. Additionally, aid agencies have grave concerns for wellbeing of people that are currently inaccessible.

The country’s stocks of wheat and sugar will not last for longer than three months if cargo vessels are not allowed to discharge in Hodeidah, the country’s only deep water seaport, in the next few days. Even if they are allowed, food distribution systems have been severely disrupted and may collapse within weeks. Moreover, having incurred so many additional costs and in a highly volatile environment, international traders may decide that importing to Yemen is too risky a proposition to continue.

The international community must break its shameful silence and use all possible means to lift the blockade on Yemen immediately. Hodeidah port, that serviced 80% of all imports, and Sana’a airport, needs to be reopened to let in urgently needed shipments of food, fuel, and medicines. Every day the blockade lasts means thousands of Yemenis will suffer from hunger and preventable diseases. Millions could die in a historic famine if the blockade continues indefinitely. This is not the time for carefully balanced statements. The choice is between resolution, or complicity in the suffering; there is no third option.

 

Daniel English

Oxfam Ireland

086 3544954 

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