Syria crisis

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There’s no place like home: keeping hope alive for the children of Syria

Above: Oxfam’s Helena O’Donnell with Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. 1 million Syrians have left their home country for Lebanon since the war began.

“Bubbles my dog and my Xbox” was the emphatic response of one young Cork schoolboy when asked what he would miss most from home. 

“Minecraft… my bedroom… my trampoline” and “my football” were the other homely comforts for the boys of Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh in Bishopstown, Cork.

I was speaking to the boys about their homes, what they loved most about being at home and what it must feel like for the Syrian children who have had to leave their homes due to war and conflict.  

It’s a very sad story to speak to young children about. The war in Syria is in its fifth year and much of the country is now in ruins.

Almost 4 million Syrians have had to flee their country, with over 1 million of these moving to live in refugee camps in neighbouring Lebanon.

On an unusually stormy day in May I was welcomed to Cork by the pupils of Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh, who were eager to hear about the Syrian children they had heard about on the news. The heavy hailstones and rushing wind in the deserted school yard set the mood for the sombre discussion ahead of me. 

Loaded with large colour photographs of Syrian children and stories of the families I had met when visiting refugee camps in Lebanon earlier this year, I struggled to think of how I might explain to primary school children the impact of war on boys and girls the same age as themselves.

I shouldn’t have worried. From the moment I arrived, I was greeted with cheers, energy and positivity from the 1st to 6th class boys who were delighted to have the chance to leave their classrooms and convene in their sports hall to talk about soccer, how much they love it, how much Syrian children love soccer and how their pre-loved jerseys would be put to good use by an emerging football team in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.

Above: Oxfam’s Helena O’Donnell with some of the pupils of Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh in Bishopstown, Cork, who organised a shipment of sports gear for Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon after hearing news reports about them.

Earlier this year, the big-hearted pupils had been inspired by news reports about Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon and decided to come together and collect all their pre-loved and unused sports jerseys and soccer boots and send them over on a sponsored shipment to the boys and girls of the Al Jalil children’s centre in Beqaa Valley. 

When I visited the centre in March, the bright-eyed Syrian children I met told me, through a translator, that they were very happy there and loved to play soccer, play group games like musical chairs and take turns in the arts and crafts room. As I laughed and joked with them it had struck me how much they had seen in their short lives and reflected on how serious a conflict it was to have driven them this huge distance from their homes in Syria.

The Oxfam-funded centre tries to give refugee children, frequently homeless, a space to enjoy the pastimes they loved so much back home. It helps Syrian children, traumatised by what they have seen, to restore some normality and fun to their lives. 

Above: Refugee children at the Oxfam-supported Al Jalil children’s centre in Beqaa Valley in Lebanon where activities like soccer and art provide a respite from the day-to-day challenges of being so far from home.

The centre has had huge success forming a mixed gender soccer team. As you can see from my pictures, the boys from Bishopstown, Co Cork are delighted to have the chance to help bring a sense of hope and fun for the refugee children.  

As we mark World Refugee Day this Saturday (July 20th), we would like to say a huge well done to everyone at Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh. They have raised vital awareness in their own community about the situation facing Syrian refugees and shown solidarity with displaced communities who have escaped the violence in Syria.

*Thank you to the EU which funded the media trip to Lebanon which generated the news reports mentioned in this article, part of the EUsaveLives campaign. For more information on the project, click here  and visit www.eusavelives.org

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The land of the invisible: 51 million people fleeing conflict

Every 4 seconds a person in the world is forced to flee their home. People like Martha, who crossed the Nile carrying three children on her back with another three floating alongside, dodging bullets, with nothing to eat for more than five days. Conflict in her country of South Sudan has forced her and many others to leave everything they know behind.

There are now more than 51 million refugees and people displaced by conflict and violence across the world. This is a record-breaking figure, which surpasses even that of the Second World War.

Above: Okach Mabil (10) walks through mud carrying a sack of grain in the Malakal camp for displaced people in South Sudan. Fighting has forced over two million people from their homes. Simon Rawles/Oxfam

The main cause is the intensification of conflicts, particularly in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, which alone have resulted in over 11 million displaced people and refugees in Syria, over 2 million in South Sudan and 860,000 more in the Central African Republic.

But beyond these raw statistics lies an individual human being – like me and you – who has had to flee, leaving behind belongings, a home, friends and often family. It is very difficult to put into words the bleakness and vulnerability they face.

We cannot allow ourselves to get used to these permanent crises which affects a group of people almost more than ten times the population of the island of Ireland.

They are in need of shelter; blankets and clothes; food and water; security and protection; a job and money to survive.

Above: Um Ali (right) and her husband Abu Ali sit on the floor with some of their children in their shelter in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The Jabaa settlement where they live was set up on agricultural land that turns into sludge come the first rain. “In Syria, I had a washing machine. Now it’s all about hand washing, and with this mud, it’s difficult to keep anything clean,” explains Um. Her husband Abu says “In Syria, I had a car and some goats. I sold them all before I left the country and have since spent all the money in Lebanon. Without humanitarian aid, I don’t know how we can survive.” Joelle Bassoul/Oxfam

Through their taxes, European citizens make it possible for humanitarian aid to save lives. We are collaborating with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) with the launch of an innovative communications project – EUsavelives, You Save Lives – in which we highlight the experiences of refugees.

The campaign will give a voice to those affected, showing the human side of these crises so that millions of people across Europe are made aware of the reality of everyday life in refugee camps and host communities.

Since 2008 the world has become a less peaceful place. The increase in terrorist activity and conflicts and the endless rise in the number of refugees and displaced people are the facts that demonstrate this. Unfortunately, this increase in violence will have dramatic consequences for millions of people. And it not only affects those people who are already finding it difficult to survive in this situation; many others will be forced to live in violent situations because it is impossible for them to escape from the instability. It is estimated that 500 million people are currently living in countries at risk of conflict.

Above: Yehia* (51) is a farmer from Idlib in Syria. He has been living in this tent in a coastal area of north Lebanon for the past three years. The strong winds blew away the plastic sheets that were the only means of protection against the rain for Yehia and his family. When their ceiling collapsed the family had to cut the tent’s sides with a knife to be able to get out.  Oriol Andrés Gallart/Oxfam

The question is, if you were in their place? A life erased, all to be built again. It is impossible to fully understand what this must be like. It is a duty to try to. So please help us raise awareness and make the invisible refugees visible by sharing, telling a friend or simply clicking here. You save lives. Together we save lives.

You Save Lives

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Above: Irish Examiner journalist Noel Baker on his trip to Lebanon with Oxfam & ECHO. Originally broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1's World Report.

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Helping refugees stay warm this winter

If there’s one thing that makes winter weather feel even worse, it’s not being properly dressed for the cold. Without our usual winter layers, it’s easy to imagine that we would feel the chill and wind much more acutely. 

Right now, staying warm is essential in in Ireland where we are feeling the grips of January frost and where sub-freezing temperatures are becoming normal. It’s also essential in Lebanon, where nearly one million refugees from the conflict in Syria are facing cold temperatures, rain and even snowstorms. Families are shivering through the winter in tents, unheated shelters, and other tough living conditions. Many fled their homes with little or no possessions, and now lack the means to buy warm clothes to bundle up against the chill.

“The clothes in Lebanon are so expensive I can’t afford to buy them for my children,” said Kawser Silka, 23, whose family of five people shares a single 10-by-13-foot room in a building inhabited by 12 other refugee families. This living situation has become a problem in winter, she explained: “It’s too cold. We don’t have stoves or any heaters and the windows are not fixed.”

Clockwise from top: Leila Silka, 5, holds a bag of winter clothes that were just purchased by her mother, Kawser, with a €30 voucher provided by Oxfam and a local partner organization. Kawser Silka, 23, a mother of three from near Idlib in Syria, holds her son Abdul Brahim, 2. Khaldiyeh Sika, 37, from near Idlib in Syria, looks for clothes for her five children which she will pay for with a €30 voucher supplied by Oxfam, with the assistance of partner agency JAK, in Qalamoun, north Lebanon, on December 26, 2013. Photos: Sam Tarling/Oxfam 

To help some of the most vulnerable families in Lebanon survive the cold, Oxfam is distributing cash and vouchers to 11,900 refugees so they can buy plastic sheeting, heating stoves, fuel, blankets, and warm clothing. The support will benefit about 59,500 people.

Among them are families in Qalamoun, north Lebanon, including Silka’s, who in late December received €30 vouchers from Oxfam’s local partner organization JAK. Families used the vouchers to buy coats, sweaters, and more to help their children stay warm in the winter months. Silka said this is the first time she has been able to give her three children new clothes since they came to Lebanon a year ago.

Giving people vouchers that they can spend themselves, rather than handing out clothes, empowers families to make their own choices about what to buy—a privilege that many of us sometimes take for granted. Enaam Yousef, 40, told Oxfam that it had been a welcome change to be able to choose the clothes she wanted for once, instead of hoping that relatives in Syria could buy clothes and send them to her.

“I’m a widow of 14 years and my daughter is too young to work,” said Yousef. “If nobody helped me, who could support this family? No one.”

Oxfam is on the ground in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, delivering life-saving essentials, and we’re making great progress thanks to our supporters. Overall, we’re helping a half-million people affected by the Syria crisis across Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Join us today.

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Christmas gifts that will help change lives

Here at Oxfam Ireland, we are already getting excited for Christmas. It’s the time of year when we unveil our latest Oxfam Unwrapped gift range, and show off our great Christmas gifts!  

We have 14 unique gift ideas that will help you get Christmas "in the bag" early this year! The new  Oxfam Unwrapped catalogue is bursting with fantastic gifts like our cute goats, cheerful chicks or knowledge-filled school books.

Unwrapped gifts help change lives. Take our bestselling Clutch of Chicks.  No-one expects to buy a little chick and help local families in Tanzania to feed, thrive and survive. But that’s what makes our unwrapped gifts so special!

Clockwise from top: The gift of a Clutch of Chicks will help people like Liku Simon (36), Maheda Gwisu (42) and their children who live in the Maswa district in Tanzania.After joining an Oxfam-supported project, they learnt about good farming practices including disease control. The family have now managed to increase their number of chickens from five to 70 and have also expanded their crops and livestock, allowing them to diversify the family’s source of income. Photo: Oxfam The gift of Care for a Baby will help families like Adoaga Ousmane and her children. A widow aged 45, the mum of six (pictured) was caught up in the West Africa food crisis that struck Chad in 2012. providing what’s needed most in emergency situations around the world, including water, sanitation, shelter and food. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam The gift of Support for a Woman in Business you could help women like Godelive Nyirabakobwa (58) and 800 others like her in Rwanda who have set themselves up as successful pineapple sucker growers and sellers thanks to an Oxfam-supported project. Photo: Simon Rawles/Oxfam

You see, giving your  loved one the Clutch of chicks gift will help raise money for Oxfam’s Livelihoods fund. This fund supports a wide range of life-changing programmes that help vulnerable communities who depend on healthy animals for their livelihoods.

Your gift could help families like Liku Simon (36) and Maheda Gwisu (42) in Tanzania who can make a living and support their children thanks to the Unwrapped appeal. Liku and Maheda rely on chicken farming for their livelihood and often lost some of their flock to various diseases. 

After joining an Oxfam-supported project, they learnt about good farming practices including disease control. The family have now managed to increase their number of chickens from five to 70 and have also expanded their crops and livestock, allowing them to diversify the family’s source of income.

So now we’re asking you to consider us again this Christmas, to unlock the potential of little chicks or any of our other Oxfam Unwrapped gifts and help a family like Liku’s and Maheda’s thrive. Whatever gift you choose, we guarantee you'll be making your friends and family smile and giving people across the world a happier, brighter future.

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The day our sweet baby was born

Oxfam Campaigner Rachel Edwards meets Liqaa', a 23 year old refugee from Syria, who now lives in Za'atari refugee camp, in Jordan.

Following news from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees that the number of registered refugees fleeing Syria has reached 2 million, it would be easy to lose sight of how everyday miracles are still possible amid a crisis of such staggering proportions. 

Liqaa’, 23 year old refugee from Syria, moved to Za’atari refugee camp, heavily pregnant, earlier this year. Last month, she gave birth to a healthy little girl named Limar. 

Above: Limar was born on 3 August the first child of Liqaa’ and Bassel who currently live in Zaatari camp in Jordan. Photos: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

When we went to see her, Liqaa’ told us about Limar’s arrival:

"It was such a beautiful day for me and for my husband [Basel] to see this sweet baby. I was so happy. After giving birth I was tired but after seeing her I forgot about my tiredness. 

But on what was one of the happiest days of her life, she was overcome with the sadness of being unable to share this magical day with the rest of her family back in Syria. 

"I missed my family so much on that day. I was crying, and until now I miss them... and think of going back but it's not safe. I wanted to go to give birth in Syria and be next to my family but it was too dangerous”.

Although Liqaa’ had become accustomed to the way of life in Za’atari refugee camp, after birth she realised how much she had under-estimated the hardship of raising a child in a refugee camp.

"It's so difficult to raise a baby here. The climate is too hot for her during the day, and in the night it's so cold. Hospitals here are not that good to get medicines and medical services. Adults can get by with the services we have here but for children it's much harder."

Liqaa’ and Basel’s story is not unique. With the snail’s pace of progress towards finding a political solution to the conflict, they won’t be the last to become new parents in such circumstances 

Liqaa’ also told us what becoming a new mum meant for her thoughts about the best way forward for Syria now: 

"We need peace in Syria for our children. Now that I've given birth to Limar it's even more important for me and for her to have our country back, for her to grow up there with our family. What I wish from the international community is to help the Syrian people to find a political solution, to help us to go back to our country, to our life, to our future”. 

More than 100,000 lives have been lost in the worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen in a generation. We must now support and give hope back to LIqaa’ and her family, and the millions of Syrians like them, as soon as possible. "I look forward to going back to Syria as soon as possible."

Above: With more than 100,000 people already killed in Syria, and two million people having fled to neighbouring countries, Oxfam Ireland staged media stunts in Dublin and Belfast calling on world leaders at this week’s G20 in St. Petersburg to intensify their efforts for a peaceful, political solution to end the bloodshed and the suffering of the Syrian people. Photos top and lower-right: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland Photo lower-left: Matt Mackey/ Press Eye

A generation of Syrians is paying too high a price in this conflict. Limar is just one of the 2 million refugees who have been seriously let down by the international community, which has failed to prioritise a political solution to the conflict. That must change. World leaders - especially President Obama and President Putin - must ensure the long-promised peace talks take place as soon as possible.

The announcement of the two millionth refugee, and this week’s G20 meeting in St. Petersburg in Russia, prompted Oxfam Ireland to repeat the call for the international community to find an urgently-needed political solution to the crisis. 

Oxfam staged campaign stunts in Dublin and Belfast city centres, with volunteers laying white flowers among rows of white gravestones to mark how more than 100,000 lives have been lost in Syria.  

It is the worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen in a generation, and Oxfam Ireland is warning that the scale of the Syria crisis is rapidly deepening. Every day more refugees cross the borders into neighbouring countries – often traumatised and in need of the basics: food, water and shelter. But the humanitarian response to the crisis is stretched to the limit.

OXFAM’S RESPONSE TO THE CRISIS IN SYRIA

Oxfam has provided humanitarian assistance to more than 200,000 refugees who have fled to Lebanon and Jordan since the start of the year. We're providing water and sanitation facilities in Zaatari refugee camp, in Jordan, and to families living in temporary settlements in both Lebanon and Jordan; as well as providing cash support to families living in rented accommodation and settlements in both countries. 

Funds are short but with more money Oxfam would be able to scale up its response to the crisis. Oxfam hopes to have reached 650,000 people by the end of the year, in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

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