Syria and Refugee Crisis

  • Every three seconds, someone flees their home because of violence, poverty or disaster. Millions of refugees – many of them children - are trying to survive on the move. Oxfam is working tirelessly to give vital support to those who’ve lost everything.

It’s time to stand as one with refugees worldwide

Almost a year on from the dramatic images of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe to rebuild their lives and the tragic death of three-year-old Syrian Alan Kurdi, offering safe haven to people on the move remains elusive. With the E.U.-Turkey deal that returns refugees en masse to Turkey, the mood is ever darkening.

The recent deal between European governments and Turkey has left thousands of men, women and children detained in Greece in appalling conditions, in legal limbo and susceptible to abuse. When announcing the closure of the Dadaab refugee camp, the Kenyan government said that if Europe could turn away Syrians, so Kenya could Somalis.

It has been saddening to see the wealthy nations of the world squabble over relatively small numbers of resettlement places, reluctant to welcome more refugees. Governments are backsliding on commitments, leaving people stuck at borders with no prospects of dignified futures.

Europe is but a chapter in a global displacement crisis. More than 65 million people have been forcibly displaced by war, violence, persecution and human rights violations. Turkey alone is hosting 2.5 million people. In Lebanon, one out of every five people is a refugee. Ethiopia and Kenya host more than 1.3 million refugees. Meanwhile, the six richest countries host less than 9% of refugees. 

A NEW WAY FORWARD

Oxfam hopes that September’s twin summits in New York – the U.N.’s first on refugee and migrant issues, coinciding with President Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on refugees – will bring countries together to back a more humane and coordinated approach. These are historic opportunities to draw up a blueprint for more effective international response based on shared responsibilities. We need to see significant new commitments to support and protect refugees.

These summits take place in 50 days’ time. Make sure they count.

SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE

Joseph* (34) from Burundi now lives on Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania. He works as team leader at Oxfam’s tailoring centre and also teached English. Photo: Keith McManus/Oxfam

Oxfam’s latest analysis shows that the six wealthiest countries – which make up more than half the global economy – host less than 9% of the world’s refugees. Meanwhile Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, South Africa as well as the Occupied Palestinian Territory are hosting more than half of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers. Together, they account for under 2 percent of the world’s economy.

The countries that are least equipped are shouldering by far the biggest responsibilities.

One of Oxfam’s key asks is that this complex crisis receives a coordinated global response based on the concept of “responsibility sharing”. Wealthier countries should welcome more refugees. They should substantially increase their support for the low- and middle-income countries to meet the needs of both displaced people and their host communities. All countries should ensure that people who are displaced have a promise-filled future through permits to work and the ability to send their children to school.

ESCALATING CRISES

Around the world, more than 34,000 people a day are forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution. Many of them die in their efforts to reach safety. This is the fifth year in a row that the number of internally displaced people has increased. This has largely been driven by the violence in the Middle East. Yemen, Syria and Iraq account for more than half of all new internally displaced people (IDPs). Despite this shocking trend, neither of these two summits in September will focus on IDPs.

OXFAM’S INITIATIVES

 

Nadi Hassan* (27) from Iraq with her daughter. After fleeing her home due to violence, Nadi has returned home and with Oxfam’s help has restarted a small shop that provides income for her family. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

Oxfam is helping 9 million people in crises around the world. We work in nine of the top 10 countries from which refugees are fleeing. Our programmes in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Myanmar and Colombia are helping those people affected by conflict, working to reduce inequality and poverty, and to support civil society and citizens to claim their rights and be heard.

Oxfam is also working in Italy and Greece, where there have been a high number of refugees and migrants, providing basic support.

STAND AS ONE

Rosa* (3) from Syria waits with her family at a registration centre for migrants and refugees in southern Serbia. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

The U.N. Summit on Refugees and Migrants and the Leaders’ Summit are two big opportunities to find a solution that does not come at the expense of the most vulnerable people in the world. The meetings need to put refugees’ and migrants’ rights at the front and centre of this solution. Oxfam’s global displacement campaign aims to ensure that world leaders guarantee these desperate people more safety, protection and sustainable futures. More than 100,000 supporters have signed our petition demanding exactly this. The world must come together and stand as one with people who have lost everything.

*All names have been changed to protect identities 

Attila Kulcsar is Oxfam International’s Humanitarian Media Officer

Let Me In - Alicia Keys' powerful tribute to the refugee crisis

What would you do if you were forced to flee your home?

Where would you go?

Let Me In - We Are Here

Alicia Keys recently teamed up with Oxfam and other partners to shine a spotlight on the refugee crisis from a unique viewpoint. Let Me In, a short film which features the moving song ‘Hallelujah’ from Alicia’s upcoming album, re-imagines the refugee crisis on American soil, displacing thousands in the Los Angeles area and forcing them to seek refuge by crossing the border into Mexico.

The campaign is in support of Oxfam, Care and War Child’s ongoing work with refugees and people forced to flee their homes as part of the We Are Here campaign.

Please take a moment to view the film, reflect, and then take action with us via the link below.  We don’t have to be silent on this issue. In fact, we can’t be.

No one is illegal

We all deserve to live in safety. And we all have the right to refuge when our safety and dignity is threatened.

MEET NOUR AND ELIAS

Photo: Aubrey Wade/Oxfam

Nour (28) and Elias* (7) from Syria now live in Kara Tepe camp with the rest of their family – Nour’s husband Fayez and Elias’ three siblings, Zeinah*, Firas* and Rasha*.

The family left Syria because of the war. Fayez explained: “It was really bad, on the day we left it was like hell. We didn't have time to pack anything, we left with just the clothes we were wearing.”

Nour said: “The journey was very hard. After we finally reached the coast in Turkey, we had to make the journey by boat at night. It was wooden and leaking water, all of the children were crying. The coastguard rescued us and brought us here.

“We don't have any laughter anymore. Every happiness or joy has disappeared. Our hope for the future is to just be in a safe environment.”

*Names have been changed to protect the person’s identity

MEET FADEH

Photo: Moayed Al-Shaybani / Oxfam

Faedah (35) from Yemen fled with her four children from Taiz city to another village a year ago due to the ongoing conflict in her country. Her husband used to work in a car maintenance workshop. He could not bear the feeling of helplessness so in desperation returned to Taiz to find work. Faedah has not heard from him since.

She explains: “I do not know what happened to my husband and also have no idea what to do. Throughout this period, we have been relying on aid provided from villagers and Oxfam.”

Suffering from hemolytic anemia, Faedah struggles to feed her family and also pay for medicine. She walks for 90 minutes three times a day to bring water from a remote well.

"I hope my kids will lead a secure and easy life. I keep thinking about my four kids and do my best to be strong for their sake."

MEET IRAKUNDA

Photo: Mary Mndeme / Oxfam

Irakunda* is from Burundi and came to Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania with her husband and child last September after seeing someone killed in front of them.

For one month they lived in a mass shelter before receiving the tent that is now their home. This is not the first time Irakunda and her family fled to Tanzania – in 1999 they fled to another camp before returning home.

“Things have changed since I came here,” Irakunda said. “In this camp we receive aid, compared to other camps that we have lived in, but it was difficult living in the mass shelter. In our family tent at least we have more space.”

*Names have been changed to protect the person’s identity

Let’s stand as one – World Refugee Day 2016

I visited some of Europe's refugee camps recently. Oxfam was founded in 1942 to help civilians that were starving in Nazi-occupied Greece, and now, more than 70 years later, we are once again active in Greece. Oxfam is working in camps in Lesvos and the mainland, providing clean water and sanitation, food, and helping people who have fled conflict and hardship to understand their rights.

In mainland Greece, there are around 45,000 people scattered across 40 different refugee camps that are run mainly by the country's military. In the two sites I visited, refugees were living in rows of flimsy tents on hard rocky ground. Conditions were basic, in some instances squalid, and the air was thick with flies. I saw people in obvious need of urgent medical assistance. Greece is experiencing a deep, traumatic economic recession that complicates its efforts to respond to refugee needs - still, I never expected to see such a scene in wealthy Europe.

I spoke to a man from Syria, whose wife and four children were in Germany. Earlier this year, his family had travelled from Turkey to Germany via a combination of train, bus and car - it had taken them around seven days. A few weeks later, he set out to follow them but by then the so-called 'Western Balkans route' had been shut. He has been in the camp in Greece for months now and with the borders closed and uncertainty around how to claim for asylum, he doesn't know when and how he will see his young children and wife again. The unilateral closure of borders in Europe has restricted the movement of people and it has left a thousand cruelties in its wake. Who gains when children are kept apart from their parents?

Left: Mawia* (4) and her mother wait to be reunited with Mawia’s father, Mahamoud after getting split up in the crowd at a registration centre for refugees and migrants in southern Serbia. [*Names have been changed to protect identities.] Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam. Right: Washing hangs on the fence at Katsikas camp in northwest Greece. Photo: Aubrey Wade/Oxfam

I walked on through the camp. A little girl ran to me, wanting to be hugged. She wouldn't let me put her down. A volunteer was taking care of her and her baby sister, while her mother tried to find a doctor. I learnt later that their mother is haunted by what happened to her in Syria: her home was pulverised by a bomb, killing her close relatives. She doesn't sleep at night.

In Syria, schools, hospitals and residential areas continue to be hit. Civilians are caught between the bombs from the sky and shells and motors from the ground. Yet, European governments concluded a deal with Turkey in March that is predicated on pushing people fleeing that conflict, and others like it, away from Europe and back to Turkey - a country which is now home to at least two million refugees, more than any other country in the world.

A core tenet of international law - the right to seek protection in another country - is under threat. And it threatens all asylum seekers. Syrians, at least, still benefit from some public sympathy and, when they are able to access a fair asylum processes, the recognition rate is around 90 per cent in most countries (see UNHCR statistical yearbook). Other nationalities, such as Afghans, are being pushed even further to the margins - they've been dubbed the 'The Refugees' Refugees'.

Left: Ibada* (29) with her 16 month old daughter Jana*. They now live in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, home to over 80,000 people. Ibada and her family fled their home in Syria after their house was burned down. [*Names have been changed to protect identities.] Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam. Right: A woman collects buckets and a jerry can from an Oxfam distribution in Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania. Tanzania has welcomed over 130,000 refugees fleeing violence in Burundi since April 2015, now living in Nyarugusu and Nduta camps. Photo: Amy Christian/Oxfam

But it's not all bleak. Around the world, there are countless acts of solidarity.

In Greece, I saw teams of international and national volunteers working in the camps. Oxfam staffers told me about elderly Greek villagers inviting pregnant women into their homes when the women neared term to make sure they were in easy reach of hospital.

In less than 100 days, two major summits on migration, one hosted by the UN and a separate summit hosted by President Obama, will take place in New York on 19 and 20 September. They are a chance for world leaders to show that spirit, put a halt to the race to the bottom and help the millions fleeing conflict, poverty and disaster.

Maya Mailer is Head of Humanitarian Policy & Campaigns at Oxfam International.

Stand as One

We are in the middle of the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. 65 million people have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict and war. Many more are on the move because of natural disasters and entrenched poverty.

Together we can stand as one and help vulnerable families forced to flee for their lives.

“I never thought I’d be a refugee”: From Aleppo to Belfast

“I never thought I’d be a refugee.”
 
So says Ahmad Alissa, a Syrian refugee now living in Belfast who volunteers at Oxfam’s shop on Botanic Avenue. 
 
Born in Aleppo, Ahmad is from a family of four brothers and five sisters who had a comfortable life thanks to their large olive grove farm and also from a business producing materials for the construction industry. 
 
“We had to leave Syria quickly, it took a short time,” he says. Now Syria is empty.” 
 
“When I first left Syria, I thought I’d be a refugee for a maximum of one year… maybe two years,” Ahmad continues. “But that dream is gone now. Now it seems Belfast and Northern Ireland is my home.
 
“When I was first a refugee, I had to learn Turkish, so I learnt Turkish. Then I had to learn Greek. Now I hope English is the last language I will have to learn.” 
 
Ahmad was speaking after the screening of a documentary called District Zero at the Belfast Film Festival’s Better World Fringe section organised by the Coalition of Aid and Development Agencies (CADA NI), an umbrella group of large and small charities based in Northern Ireland, working to tackle poverty and its root causes around the world. 
 
 
 
The story of a Syrian refugee who begins a new life in Jordan’s Zaatari camp is the focus of District Zero, a documentary film co-produced by Oxfam and the European Commission. The film focuses on Maamun Al-Wadi – one of almost 60 million refugees and displaced people worldwide – who runs a mobile phone shop in Jordan’s Zaatari camp. Maamun fixes mobile phones and helps fellow refugees print off photos of happier times. Photos by Pablo Tosco/Oxfam
 
District Zero – a film co-produced by Oxfam and the European Commission – tells the story of Maamun, a Syrian refugee who begins a new life in fixing mobile phones and helps fellow refugees print off photos of happier times.
 
In almost five years Syria has become the epicentre of a massive humanitarian catastrophe, causing 4.6 million people to flee the country for their lives and 6.8 million more to be displaced internally.
 
While each refugee’s story is different – for example, unlike the film’s protagonist, Ahmad left Syria before the conflict because of political persecution, and was never in a refugee camp – the documentary does reflect some heart-breaking universal truths behind the refugee experience. 
 
“No-one wants to be a refugee,” says Colm Byrne, who as Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager has visited refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. “How desperate do you have to be to get into one of those boats looking to cross the Mediterranean? People want to thrive. In Zaatari camp, the people revert to doing what they do at home. They want to move forward, they want to grow.”
 
Ahmad agreed: “Nobody is happy to leave their home. When I was living in a peaceful Syria, I never imagined I would be a refugee. It’s a reminder that, in the wrong circumstances, anyone could end up as a refugee.
 
“Many of the people shown in the film come from lives not dissimilar to people I have met here in Northern Ireland – with families and friends, jobs and homes,” added Ahmad.
 
While Colm agreed with one of the audience members who suggested that the film depicted the best possible refugee experience – with good conditions and economic opportunities – he said: “District Zero shows the heart-breaking reality of refugees in the world. This is as good as it gets for refugees in terms of facilities. You can meet people’s material needs, but in a crisis people want a human connection and a connection to home.
 
“But this fascinating film does take us into the often invisible world of refugees: a world of chaos and uprootedness. It shows us the complex human realities of people who have been driven to extremes, but who, against many odds, still have hope.” 
 
The film gives a face to the daily drama of millions of people and shows that behind every number and every statistic, there is a story to be told. The title of the film evokes the idea of the lives of Zaatari’s inhabitants being suspended or stuck at a ‘Point Zero’ because of the ongoing war in Syria. 
 
“Conflict has forced people to live in these camps with an uncertain future. They remain stuck in limbo, unsure when they will be able to reunite with their families, or go back to their homeland,” Colm added.
 
Also on the panel discussion, chaired by blogger Alan Meban, was Monica McWilliams, a Professor of Women's Studies at Ulster University of Ulster and a renowned expert on women in conflict. Monica has been involved in capacity building of Syrian women's groups in Geneva to bring women's voices into the negotiation process. 
 
Monica told the audience: “When in conflict woman are thrown into extraordinary circumstances and they do extraordinary things. The courage, resilience and coping skills shown in the film touches your heart.
 
“When I saw the baby in the film I wondered, what life it will have in the next four years or the next eight years? Will it have a better life than its mother? Is its father still alive?”
 
 
Clockwise from top: From left: Blogger and panel chair Alan Meban; Ahmad Alissa, with his daughter Sara; Oxfam Ireland Campaigns and Advocacy Executive Christine McCartney, co-organiser and Chair of CADA NI; Monica McWilliams, an expert on women in conflict; Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager Colm Byrne. Photo by Kevin Doherty. Ahmad Alissa, a Syrian refugee now living in Belfast, spoke as part of the post-screening panel discussion. Photo by Conor Meikleham. Colm Byrne spoke as part of the panel discussion following the film premiere. Photo by Kevin Doherty 
 
 
To wrap up the event each panellist was asked to recommend a course of action for the international community on Syria and what we here in Ireland, north and south, need to do.
 
Colm Byrne said: “The concept of humanitarianism is one we hold dear yet we’re not responding to the crisis correctly. Europe’s response to the refugee crisis does not reflect a focus based on humanity, it’s a security response. The deal between the EU and Turkey deal is ill-thought through and illegal, contrary to the spirit of international and humanitarian law.
 
“Wealthy states only accommodate 10% of refugees. We have to accept our fair share. We need to directly engage with our politicians to find solutions, to physically open our arms. As communities, rights holders and voters we need to put pressure on our leaders to do our fair share.
 
“And we need to build on our experience of conflict here in Ireland and what we’ve learnt from that.”
 
Monica McWilliams added: “In the future my grandchildren may ask me, ‘Where were you when they were using chemical weapons in Syria? What did the world stand up and say?’
 
“So we need to keep working on a humanitarian and political response using the 1325 National Consultative Group implementing the UN Security Council Resolutions on women, peace and security. And we need to keep Syria high up on the media’s agenda.”
 
Addressing the audience, Ahmad said: “All of you here have seen now what’s happening in Syria. You need to tell your friends and family, everybody must know.”
 
Phillip Graham is a Media and Communications Executive with Oxfam Ireland.
 
The District Zero film is part of the ‘EUsaveLIVES – You Save Lives’ campaign by Oxfam and the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), which aims to raise awareness on the lives of almost 60 million refugees and displaced people worldwide.
 
 

District Zero trailer

District Zero - Trailer

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Europe’s shame: Hundreds more lives lost at sea exactly 1 year on from Lampedusa tragedy

One year to the day after 800 people drowned off the Italian island Lampedusa, news of another awful tragedy in the Mediterranean has emerged.

Reports of hundreds dead after four boats capsized underline how Europe is still failing to deal effectively with the migration crisis in a way that puts human lives first.

Today Oxfam published a new report ('EU hotspots spread fear and doubt’) which found that vulnerable people seeking safety and dignity remain at risk of death, torture and exploitation as they try to reach and cross the Mediterranean.

The EU’s response to the Lampedusa drownings this day last year and the Mediterranean crisis as a whole has yielded successive emergency summits, beefing up Europe’s border security and bringing in a ‘hotspot’ plan for Italy and Greece where asylum claims are expedited with a focus on swift rejections. 

Three hotspots have been functioning in Sicily since September 2015, but the European and Italian authorities in charge of them have yet to agree a clear legal framework for how they are to operate. This leaves a serious gap in clarity on how this system is ensuring respect for Italian, European and international law. The Italian parliament was challenged on this – with no response forthcoming.

Meanwhile, the system has failed to protect the numbers of people willing to go to extraordinary lengths to protect themselves and their families. Desperate and often already traumatised by what they are leaving behind, they face further anguish, fear and brutality on their journey to safety.

According to the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, migrants detained in the country face torture, beatings and forced labour. Recently four migrants were shot dead and 20 wounded while trying to escape a detention centre. These are innocent civilians – mothers, grandparents and teenagers who simply want a better life, free from conflict and poverty.

Filsim, a 22-year-old woman who travelled alone from Somalia to Italy, said: “I spent eight months in Libya. We were imprisoned by a gang of traffickers when we arrived in the country. They would leave us for two or three days without food and water, and they beat us for fun. I have so many scars on my breast.”

Filsim was finally released when her family managed to pay an US$800 (approx. €710/£560) ransom to the traffickers. She then had to pay US$1,000 (approx. €885/£700) for the trip to Italy.

The crossing between Libya and Italy is the deadliest sea route in the world and the death toll for 2016 had before today already reached 219 people with nearly 10,000 people attempting to use this route to reach Europe in March alone. Total arrivals to Italy in the first quarter of 2016 are almost double the number of arrivals in the same period in 2015. This proves that the policies of deterrence adopted by the EU do not work.

A woman and child arrive in Lesbos, Greece. Desperately seeking safety and refuge in a new country, some are lucky enough to get to beaches where they face volunteer groups across Europe, others are not so lucky. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Many of those who survive the journey face a legal limbo once in Europe. The expedited approach of the hotspots is yielding faster decisions and more expulsions, but as a result many people are being shut out of the asylum system, left stranded and even more vulnerable.

Bakari, from Gambia, said: “After two days, they gave us the paper [the expulsion order to return] and they put us out on the street without any explanation. There were seven of us, and we slept at the train station in Catania for three months.”

According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, fear often prevents migrants from seeking help and means that those responsible for exploiting migrants can act with impunity – with women left particularly vulnerable to abuse – while people who seek to assist undocumented migrants can face criminal charges.

By failing to provide safe and legal passage, Europe has acted shamefully – putting political interests before human beings. 

Only by providing routes for people to reach Europe that are safe, legal and humane can we prevent further loss of life like today’s tragedy. 

Jim Clarken is CEO of Oxfam Ireland.

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