Syria & Refugee Crisis

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.

 

 

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.
 

As he meets UN Sec Gen & addresses Assembly, Minister Coveney must prioritise Ireland’s role in international affairs

Monday, September 18th, 2017

Obligations on refugees and development aid must be met

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney’s attendance at the UN this week is the ideal opportunity to reaffirm Ireland’s role in world affairs and to stress Ireland’s commitment to meeting targets on issues like refugees and overseas development aid, Oxfam Ireland has said.

Throughout the week, Minister Coveney will address the General Assembly, meet with the Secretary General, Antonio Guterres; attend a meeting on reform hosted by Donald Trump and hold discussions with foreign ministers from around the world.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive, said: “This week is a huge opportunity for Ireland to reassert its commitment to tackling some of the most pressing issues which affect our country and the world. Global problems are now local problems – issues such as conflict, poverty, migration and gender equality impact on us all.

“Ireland has a proud tradition of multilateral engagement. As a country, we have made our mark through peace keeping operations and our generous response to humanitarian crises. Minister Coveney must use this week to outline some of the specific measures Ireland will progress in areas such as development aid and our role in the ongoing refugee response.

“Despite the welcome recent announcement that Ireland will take 600 refugees next year, which includes an additional 330, overall, our response to refugees has been disappointing. Back in 2015 the Irish Government promised to accept 4,000 people by the end of this year, so far and with just over three months to go, less than a third – just 1,300 – have arrived.

“Our progress in meeting the accepted target of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on overseas development aid has been extremely slow. For instance, last year, we allocated just 0.33% to this sector. While we strongly welcome the commitment made by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar to meet this spending pledge we need to see a clear roadmap and targeted deadlines.

“Over 1.3 billion people worldwide live in extreme poverty, and more than 795 million people – one in nine people globally – do not have enough to eat. Despite significant progress being made since the year 2000, we must continue to work together if we are to be the generation that eradicates extreme poverty for good.”

This week, the UN General Assembly marks one year since the international community, including Ireland, adopted the Declaration for Refugees and Migrants which reaffirmed the responsibility of all nations to refugees and laid out a two-year deadline for countries to save lives, protect rights and share responsibility for the existing crisis.

Over 65.6 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict, persecution and disaster, the highest number ever recorded, and there are now over 22.5 million refugees worldwide, more than half of whom are children.

Oxfam is on the ground in nine out of the 10 main countries of origin for refugees in the world including Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as in neighbouring host countries like Lebanon and Jordan, along with supporting those who have reached Europe in Greece, Italy, Macedonia and Serbia.

ENDS

Interviews available with Oxfam staff in Dublin and New York.

CONTACT: Daniel English

Desk: +353 (0) 1 635 0422

Mobile: +353 (0) 86 3544954

Oxfam to help over 200,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh

September 15th, 2017

Oxfam is now providing clean water, sanitation and tarpaulins for shelter to Rohingya people who have fled to Bangladesh.

Nearly 370,000 people crossed into Bangladesh in the last four weeks, doubling the number of people seeking refuge in the south east of the country.

The existing camps in Bangladesh are ill-equipped to handle the huge numbers of people. People need shelter, clean water, toilets and food urgently. Women, children, older people and those with disabilities are especially vulnerable. Oxfam’s initially plans to help 200,000 people.

M B Akhter, Interim Country Director, Oxfam in Bangladesh, said: “People face a desperate situation. They have no clean drinking water and no food. They are homeless and hungry following a long and treacherous journey across the border. Many are now sleeping under open skies, by roadsides and in forests, with no protection.

“People are physically and emotionally traumatized.”

Notes to editors

Bangladesh has hosted 400,000 Rohingyas since the 1990s. The continuing influx has doubled the number of refugees in the South-Eastern Districts of Cox's Bazar and Bandarban districts.

ENDS

To arrange interview call, Daniel English, Oxfam Ireland, 086 3544954

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