Syria crisis

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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

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Ireland stands with Syrian refugees - 5 years on

“What’s with the shovels?” It was late October and I was standing in the baking heat, surrounded by the makeshift tents that Syrian refugees must call home for now on a dusty stretch of land in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
 
“It’s for the snow,” my Oxfam colleague Mohammed replied, as he distributed water filters with one arm and the shovels with the other. “They’ll need to clear it away from the tents in a few weeks’ time.”
 
I looked over at the boy holding his mother’s hand, not more than two, who was making funny faces at me. I thought about how his parents would try to keep him warm with only plastic sheeting between them and the harsh Lebanese winter. A few weeks later the snow came. I think about that boy all the time. 
 
The cold winter that followed my visit is ebbing away, but, as we mark five years since the conflict in Syria began, the plight of those who remain inside Syria and those who managed to cross into neighbouring countries and further afield is unchanged.
 
 
Sorcha in Lebanon: Oxfam Ireland’s Sorcha Nic Mhathúna with a Syrian refugee who has received a water filter and a shovel from Oxfam. The shovel is vital for clearing away the snow from outside the tents in winter. Lisa Rutherford/Oxfam
 
In a town near the camp, the population was around 6,000 a few years ago, before the war broke out in neighbouring Syria. Now its remarkable citizens have welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees to their district. Throughout Lebanon it’s a similar story – communities who see it as the right thing to do to host those arriving from Syria. 
 
Oxfam supporters across the island of Ireland are also standing in solidarity in the face of adversity,  allowing us to provide over 85,000 people in Lebanon and 46,000 in Jordan with clean drinking water or cash and relief supplies. In Syria, we have reached an estimated 1.5 million in conflict-affected areas with clean water through the rehabilitation of water infrastructure, water trucking and repairing of wells. 
Back to Lebanon’s Bekka valley, where we drive past the municipal waste facility where Syrian refugees and locals work side-by-side in a ‘cash for work’ scheme begun by Oxfam and the local council. With such a massive rise in the local population, it’s vital that rubbish is collected and properly disposed of to prevent the spread of disease. We walk through a new park where another team are building a space for refugees and local people alike to enjoy – a space away from the crowded quarters where refugees like Adnan*(14) live.
 
He had to have his right leg amputated after being wounded when his home was shelled and reduced to rubble. When they first arrived in Lebanon, his family lived in an abandoned garage, where the unhygenic conditions caused some of the family to develop respiratory illnesses before finding this flat. Despite the differences in the Syrian and Lebanese school systems, Adnan has managed to get very high grades. Asked what his hopes are the future, he replies: “I hope to become a doctor some day.” In the meantime, the money earned by his mother Salwa (33) through the Oxfam community ‘cash for work’ scheme is a lifeline.
 
Further down the road Syrian refugee and mum-of-five Sanaa (33) holds her two-month-old baby boy. She and her husband came here from Damascus but have been unable to pay the rent for the past two months. Back in Syria, her husband Rami used to work transporting furniture but then their house was destroyed in the fighting. 
 
 
Clockwise from left: Hussein (20) fills a water tank with water supplied by Oxfam at an informal settlement for Syrian refugees near the town of Zahle in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Hussein, from the outer suburbs of Damascus, lives in the camp. Sam Tarling/Oxfam. Siblings from Raqqa in Syria try to warm themselves in the sun outside their tent at an informal settlement for Syrian refugees near the town of Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Sam Tarling/Oxfam Friends Majida* (7), Aida* (8) and Basma* (8) from Raqqa in Syria, play next to a water tank that was provided by Oxfam at an informal settlement for Syrian refugees near the town of Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. A supply of clean water is essential to prevent the spread of diseases. *Children’s names have been changed to protect their identity. Sam Tarling/Oxfam
 
They have benefitted from the Oxfam scheme, and they need the money to buy nappies and also additional milk for their baby as she is not producing enough milk herself.
 
In recent times the world has been moved by the terrible images of men, women and children risking their lives in unsafe boats or at the hands of smugglers in a bid to reach safer shores. 
 
Oxfam works in the top nine countries of origin for refugees in the world (including Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo) as well as host countries where four-fifths of the world’s total population of refugees have fled (e.g. Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey). In the past year we have provided humanitarian support in the form of water, food and a means to earn a living to more than five million people in areas affected by conflict, helping to reduce the poverty in camps and host communities by informing people of their rights so they can raise their issues and concerns. 
 
 
Above: Basma* (8), Mohsen* (4), Amal* (3) and Ahmad* (6) pose for a photograph supporting the global #WithSyria campaign to mark the fifth anniversary of the Syrian conflict, at an informal settlement for Syrian refugees near the town of Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. *Children’s names have been changed to protect their identity. Sam Tarling/Oxfam
 
And we are there as people arrive on the borders of Europe – in Serbia and Macedonia and on the trains. This ranges from providing hot meals to those arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos to installing toilets and showers and distributing everything from hygiene and sanitary packs to socks, coats and blankets to about 100,000 people in Serbia and in Macedonia. In Italy we provide asylum seekers with housing, food, psychological support, legal assistance and language classes.
 
What is happening in the world today is a displacement crisis, with almost 60 million people (the highest number since the Second World War) who have been forced to flee their homes. 
 
The world’s poorest countries currently host 86% of the world’s refugees and are stretched to their limits. Countries neighbouring those in crisis host the largest numbers.
 
Lebanon (the size of Munster) alone hosts 1.2 million Syrian refugees within a total population of 4.5 million, which means that about one out of every five people is a refugee from Syria. That is why aid to those countries is so important, as well as ensuring those arriving in Europe get the healthcare, shelter and other vital support they need.
 
Thank you for standing with us. Your support is a beacon of hope in the darkest of hours.
 
*Names of those aged under 18 have been changed.
 
Sorcha Nic Mhathúna is Oxfam Ireland’s Communications and Content Manager.
 
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As winter settles in, refugees from Syria face increasing hardship

Hundreds of thousands of refugees escaping the ongoing conflict in Syria face another winter of dreadful conditions in Lebanon and Jordan.

Above, left: A Syrian boy stands in front of his family’s flooded tent in a settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. As the first winter storm hit the country, thousands of refugees have little means to face the harsh weather. They urgently need warm blankets, stoves, and fuel. Above-right: Syrian refugees inspect the damage inflicted by the first winter storm to their settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Tents were flooded and the agricultural land on which the camp is set up turned into muddy pools. Photos: Joelle Bassoul/Oxfam

It is nearly 5 years since the start of the conflict in Syria, and an unprecedented human tragedy continues to unfold on an unimaginable scale.

After being forced to flee horrors which they would never have imagined, hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria have seen another winter descend on the Middle East – for some this is their fifth away from home in increasingly difficult living conditions.

Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, which hosts the majority of refugees in this small country, is already shrouded in white, while nights in Jordan’s camps are extremely cold with temperatures dropping to zero. Syrian and Palestinian refugees living in camps and improvised shelters are particularly vulnerable to these conditions.

Above: Children in Zaatari – the refugee camp’s transition into a town is presenting huge challenges as the need for infrastructure and access to jobs grows. Photo: Tom White/PA
 

Asma Qasim, a refugee in Jordan’s sprawling Zaatari camp which hosts about 80,000 people, said: “It’s hard enough to be far from home and our family. I have been living in Zaatari with my husband and three children since 2013. Winter used to be my favourite time of the year until I got here. We can’t sleep most nights because water leaks in and makes everything wet. I am very worried for my children. I think of going back to Syria every day.”

It is not unusual for Zaatari, set in Jordan’s Northern desert area, to witness snowfall, strong winds and freezing rain. Oxfam is helping families to dig drainage channels around their households, to ensure they do not flood.

Oxfam teams are also going door-to-door, informing refugees of ways to keep safe and dry. In case of heavy rains, flooding or snow melt, Oxfam’s Zaatari team has a contingency plan that includes installing additional emergency water tanks, and helping refugees whose homes are damaged to reach communal shelters. We have also mapped flood-prone areas to guide our teams when they reach out to the most vulnerable in the camp.

Outside the camp, we are helping about 1,000 vulnerable families (70% of them refugees, the others Jordanian) by providing relief items such as heaters, gas cylinders, warm blankets and cash to pay for gas refills.

In Lebanon, Oxfam is providing cash transfers through ATM cards to hundreds of Palestinian refugees from Syria. About 450 families will receive a total of US$400 for the winter months in North Lebanon, which will enable them to buy much-needed heating fuel, tools for improving their shelter, and other items, such as blankets, children’s clothing, and stoves. They could also spend this cash on rent, as they all pay to have a roof over their heads.

Above: New lives: Syrian refugee children outside an Oxfam facility in the Zaatari camp, where Oxfam is campaigning for a permanent water and sewage system. Photo: Tom White/PA

In both countries, refugees have seen their resources dwindle as the conflict in Syria drags on. With little or no access to work opportunities, they are forced to rely on humanitarian aid to survive.

The Syria crisis is an unprecedented human and humanitarian tragedy. It is time we ask for accountability from world leaders to take action and solve this together.

If you can, please help by donating to Oxfam Ireland’s Syria Crisis Appeal.

In Jordan Oxfam works in both Zaatari refugee camp and in Jordanian communities that are hosting Syrian refugees. Zaatari camp is now the fourth biggest city in Jordan, housing around 80,000 Syrian refugees. Oxfam currently works in three of Zaatari’s 12 districts, supervising water and sanitation, and also co-ordinating hygiene promotion activities. In addition, together with UNICEF and other international actors, Oxfam is installing a water network in the camp, which will ensure refugees have safe access to water.

Above: Born on the run: baby Sham is just a few hours old, the youngest resident of Zaatari, the Syrian refugee camp in Jordan which has become a semi-permanent city for its residents. Photo: Tom White/PA

To date, Oxfam’s response has included:

  • Building 50 water, sanitation and hygiene blocks, including 318 toilets, 288 bathing areas, 72 laundry areas, and 100 water points, serving up to 15,600 people.
  • Maintaining 120 water, sanitation and hygiene blocks in 3 districts benefitting around 25,000 people.
  • Installing 270 portable latrines as a temporary measure.
  • Distributing 75 commodes for disabled users.
  • Provided 19 x 95,000 litre and 378 x 2,000 litre water tanks.
  • Installed 10 hand-washing facilities in the market area.

Syria Crisis: Winter in Zaatari

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The loveliest letter you'll ever read

Video: Brian Malone/Oxfam

Thurs, October 8th, 2015

Dear Oxfam,
I have done a yard-sale to raise funds for Syrian people who are refugees.
It is not nice for anyone to live in tents in cold. I just don’t agree with it.
From Grace (10) and Nina (9),
Cabra, Dublin 7.

Sometimes the most powerful words come from children. The above letter to our Dublin office accompanied a cheque for €32.41 for our Syrian emergency response. This donation is most welcome – it will help provide safe drinking water and other aid to Syrian refugees living in camps and experiencing the most difficult of times. But the letter’s message – about what’s fair and what’s right – is just as powerful.

Forced to leave their homes and everything they know behind, Syrian refugees have had to put normal life on hold indefinitely, living in camps and informal settlements many miles from home where basics like a warm place to sleep, enough food to eat and a school to go to are difficult to come by if not impossible.

Hearing about the challenges faced by the Syrian relatives of a family friend and watching coverage of the crisis on the news made Dubliners and best friends Grace and Nina want to help.

Above: Grace and Nina's letter to Oxfam. Grace and Nina telling us their story. A picture from the  girls' yard sale for Syrian refugees. Grace's mum, Susan.

“It was really sad and kind of scary for me, so I didn’t really want to look at it,” explains Grace. “But I kind of do now because I want to find out more.”

Grace’s mother Susan spoke to them about the situation faced by Syrian refugees.

“We have a friend whose family are living in the refugee camps near Syria who had to flee their homes,” Susan says. “I had an image in my head of children in the camps not wearing shoes around the time of it being winter and it really kind of hit home. They were freezing cold and they didn’t have the comforts of home in addition to all the trauma they were going through.

“So [Grace and Nina] came back then and said, ‘Yes, we’d like to give the money to Oxfam and to the refugees in the camps’.”

But the yard sale and all the work involved was very much Grace and Nina’s doing. As Susan says, “They’re a pair who come up with ideas and they’re always on a project of some kind or other.”

There was lots to do including posters to make and rice crispie buns to bake. The pair also parted with some favourite toys and the event was a big success.

Nina explains: “I didn’t think it was going to be a big yard sale but then when we were getting everything ready, it was like, ‘Oh my God!’”

The girls have been inspired by what they’ve achieved (they raised a total of €64.82 and divided the funds between Dogs for the Disabled and Oxfam Ireland), so watch this space!

“We want to help refugees even more,” says Grace, while Nina adds: “And doing the yard sale was really fun.”

Out of a total of 22 million people living in Syria before the crisis, more than half the population has been forced to flee their homes, including more than 4 million who have fled to neighbouring countries.

Above: Syrian refugee Ahmad carries his daughter Nour as they walk towards a registration centre for migrants and refugees in Presevo, in southern Serbia. He and the group he's walking with had already travelled for 20 kilometres that day. We have begun a new emergency programme in Serbia to help the thousands like Ahmad and Nour who are fleeing to safety. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Along with providing Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon with clean drinking water and relief supplies like blankets and stoves, we are also helping families get the information they need about their rights and connecting them to medical, legal and support services. Other work includes building shower and toilet blocks in camps. We are also providing clean water in Syria itself.

We have also begun an emergency programme in Serbia providing clean water and sanitation to help some of the thousands fleeing to safety, including many Syrians, who will soon face a harsh Balkans winter. Meanwhile in Italy we have programmes providing asylum seekers who have been saved from the Mediterranean Sea with housing, food, psychological support, legal assistance and language classes. We continue to campaign and advocate for an immediate ceasefire and a sustainable and inclusive political solution to the conflict in Syria.

We are also highlighting the individual stories of refugees to make them more visible through the EUsaveLIVES joint campaign with the European Commission.

When we shared Grace and Nina’s letter with colleagues working on the Syria crisis emergency response, the message of support made their day.

To know that people like Grace and Nina care about what’s happening to Syrian refugees and want to help, inspires us all.

By highlighting unfairness and how to do something about it, as they have, the future can be better place.

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“Not in my name…”

Dr. Enida Friel is Oxfam Ireland’s Programme Quality Manager.

The images of three-year-old Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on Turkish shores have shocked me to the core.

The images of asylum seekers walking along Hungarian railway lines to reach places of safety in Germany and parents holding scared children behind barbed wire across the Macedonian Greek border have brought back memories of refugee crises I worked in many years ago in Kosovo and West Africa.

As a medical doctor on the frontline, I saw malnourished and unvaccinated children dying of preventable diseases; their mothers holding them in their arms with incredible dignity. I saw fathers feeling hopeless that they could not protect their families from danger.

But I also saw failure of governments to act and vested interests – political and economic – taking precedence over humanity.

All of this eventually became too much to bear, so after six years of this kind of work, I decided to move to Ireland and help in a different way: I joined Oxfam Ireland.

As a non-Irish national, I experienced the warmest welcome by Irish people. Over the ten years I have been living here, I have learned about the plight of Irish immigrants throughout the decades and the wonderful Irish tradition of solidarity with people in need, like the people I’d served overseas.

I became a proud Irish citizen seven years ago.
It is therefore with regret, as an Irish citizen, that I observed our government’s reluctance at first to take on more refugees in Ireland following the crisis unfolding in the Mediterranean.

Each time confusing messages were being given by our Taoiseach, Tánaiste and other ministers, I kept thinking, “this is not the Irish people I know, and not what the Irish people want: this is not in my name…”

However, today, when I spoke to Oxfam colleagues in Italy who are on the frontline providing life-saving support to refugees like the children, women and men that have flooded our screens and newspapers, I was proud to say that Oxfam Ireland and its Irish supporters are here to help.

During my time in the field, I sometimes had the chance to chat with children coming to our clinics and I would ask them what they would like to become when they grow up. I remember the very first time I asked this question and the little boy, the same age then as my own son is now, said a doctor.

I flattered myself thinking that I was his inspiration. But with time I realised that, despite circumstances, they were people with the same hope and dreams as me. Mothers and fathers who wanted the same things that I want for my children.

Ireland can and must help. Irish people, the people who are donating to Oxfam Ireland and signing our petition, want to see an end to this unnecessary and yet preventable human suffering. They don’t want what’s happening now – in the Mediterranean shores, across Europe, in Syria or beyond.

This is not in their name. This is not in my name.

If you can, please help by donating to Oxfam Ireland’s Refugee Crisis Appeal.

If you live in the Republic of Ireland, please sign Oxfam Ireland’s petition and send an email to An Taoiseach Enda Kenny demanding that Ireland increases the number of refugees we accept and leads by example at the upcoming emergency EU Ministerial meeting on September 14th.

This will send a strong message to our government that this is not in in our name.

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