Syria crisis

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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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World Refugee Day: The People Behind The Statistics

The number of refugees and people displaced by conflict has surpassed that reached during the Second World War. 

Each of the people who comprise the staggering number of 59.5 million has a name but they are often faceless.

Working alongside the European Commission’s Office for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), we want to make them visible.

To mark World Refugee Day (Saturday June 20th), Oxfam Ireland volunteers in Belfast and Dublin have been highlighting the people behind the statistics to #MakeThemVisible.

It’s part of the EUsaveLives campaign to raise awareness of the individual stories of refugees and displaced people from countries like Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Tweet your support on World Refugee Day 2015 with #MakeThemVisible.

For more information on the project, click here and visit www.eusavelives.org

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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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