Syria & Refugee Crisis

Keeping families together

Layla Mohammed* (39) and her family recently returned to their home in Bashir village in Iraq after two years on the move. The family were forced to leave everything behind when ISIS captured their village and fighting broke out.

In Iraq, Oxfam is helping families like Layla’s who have returned to their homes to get back on their feet and rebuild their lives through cash for work programmes and business grants.

We’ve installed water systems and toilets in camps for those forced to flee and distributed other vital supplies such as blankets and heaters. Oxfam has also helped run trauma centres in the eastern part of the besieged city of Mosul and we continue to support health centres with water and sanitation.

Photo: Tegid Cartwright/Oxfam 

Life was good before ISIS came. Layla and her husband had a two-storey house, livestock and a shop – they were able to provide for their children. Initially, they weren’t afraid of ISIS because Bashir was surrounded by police and military, and they thought they would be safe

When ISIS came, Layla’s husband was away working. He had told her to stay safe at home. She didn’t know what to do.

“[My husband] told me to stay but I saw people escaping…My eldest daughter understood what was going on and she was afraid. I was afraid because they were shooting and bombing so I took my children and went to Taza, the next town. My husband called me and told me that I did well to escape. I kept thinking it was the end of our lives and they would kill us.”

Photo: Tegid Cartwright/Oxfam 

The battle for Bashir destroyed Layla’s home and over 100 of her friends and neighbours have never been seen again. Layla fled Taza shortly after arriving as ISIS were en route to claim it too. She lived in a mosque for seven months and then an empty school building for two months. Finally she settled with her family in a cattle shed in another village called Leylan.

“We stayed in the cattle stable for a year. The neighbours helped us and gave us food. We were strangers there but they helped us anyway. The stable was small…dirty and had scorpions. I could only think of my house in Bashir, which was clean.” 

Photo: Tegid Cartwright/Oxfam 

Layla was worried about her family and their future. She had decided not to send her son to the local school because she believed that they were going to return home any day. As a result, he missed out on a year of his education. Worse still, food was very scarce – and her children were starving. 

“We had nothing to feed the children, I only had sugar and water to give them. They were starving. When we were escaping from Taza I found a sack of bread someone had left for their cattle and I took it and gave it to the children to eat.”

Only one thing kept her going: “Every day that I was displaced I was living to come home.”

Photo: Tegid Cartwright/Oxfam 

When Bashir was retaken, Layla told her husband that she wanted to go home. But when the family returned, they couldn’t go near the house because it was littered with mines. The army had to clear the site before she could start rebuilding her home – and her life.

The first time she saw her house, Layla cried for a long time. Then she set her mind to transforming a pile of rubble into a home: “I was waking my husband up at 5am every day and I lifted the concrete blocks myself. People respected me for it in the community…They said I am doing a lot to rebuild my own house. I am happy to be home because it’s my home; even if I only eat bread I am happy to be back. I never thought I would get to come back.”

Layla and her family, who feature in our virtual reality content from Iraq, got to experience a virtual reality trip to Tanzania for themselves when Oxfam brought the head set to their home in Bashir in Iraq. Photo: Tegid Cartwright/Oxfam 

Last year, Oxfam launched the Right to Refuge campaign to put pressure on governments ahead of the first UN summit on refugees and migration. An incredible 32,000 people from across the island of Ireland joined us by signing our petition calling on the Irish and UK governments to do more to protect refugees and migrants.

The summit marked the start of a long process to agree a new global plan for refugees and migrants which will be announced in 2018. And while some progress has been made, it isn’t enough. What we urgently need now is action.

We are expanding our Right to Refuge campaign to call on governments to immediately do more to welcome and protect those seeking safety and to reunite families that have been torn apart as they flee from war, persecution or disaster. As part of this, we have developed a virtual reality environment where you can experience what life is like for Layla for yourself throughout this summer at various shopping centres, festivals and events throughout the island of Ireland. To find out more about our locations, please email info@oxfamireland.org.

Please take a moment to ask your government to protect the right to refuge.

*Name changed to protect identity

The face of famine and hunger: ‘I give them tea and water to fill their stomachs’

At a site for displaced people in Pulka, northeast Nigeria, families arrive daily seeking safety, shelter, food, and clean water. 

Numbers tell only part of the story. Behind the statistics lies the anguish of parents struggling to keep their families alive.

Across Africa and in parts of the southern Arabian Peninsula a massive hunger crisis is threatening the lives of 30 million people. Some of them in an area of South Sudan are already enduring famine conditions.

Photo: Tom Saater/Oxfam

The scale of this disaster is shocking. But numbers have a way of numbing us. They can be too massive to personalise—until you listen to the stark words of a father unable to earn enough to feed his family or hear the anguish of a mother too hungry herself to produce milk for her newborn. With stories, statistics hit home.

In the photo essay below, you’ll meet some of the people struggling to survive the conflicts, drought, and terrible hunger crisis those events have triggered.

Fekri

Photo: Omar Algunaid/Oxfam

Fekri, 40, pictured here with an Oxfam-supplied hygiene kit, is a father of four living in Al-Jalilah, Yemen. “Life is difficult these days,” he says. “We cannot afford all the essential items. More than half of our money is spent on water.” 

Ahmed and Dolah

Photo: Moayed Al Shaibani/Oxfam

Ahmed, 45, and Dolah, 40, live in Khamer City, Yemen, with their eight children. Their sole source of income is Ahmed’s cobbling, but most days, he returns from the market empty-handed. Dolah goes begging at the market, hoping to collect some money or bread for the children, but she’s usually faced with verbal harassment. They hope that the war will end soon so that their children can sleep safely, free of hunger. 

Majok

Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder

Majok is waiting to register for a World Food Programme distribution later in the month. He is one of hundreds of people moving from the islands to the mainland in Nyal, South Sudan, in search of food and safety. Younger family members had to help carry him during the one-and-a-half-hour trek through the swamps to make sure he was physically present for registration. 

Deqa

Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam

Eighteen days before this photo of Deqa was taken in Somaliland in northern Somalia, she gave birth to her sixth child, a son who has been experiencing stomach troubles. At the moment, Daqa, who is 26, is on her own: Her husband is away tending to a goat and the single camel they have left from their herd of 200. “We eat once a day—only rice,” she said. It’s not nearly enough to meet the needs of her growing children. “I give them tea and water to fill their stomachs,” Deqa added.

Adan

Photo:Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam

“Water is our main worry,” said Adan, a 58-year-old herder who has resettled in the Garadag district of Somaliland in northern Somalia with his five children. The family has moved many times in the past six months in a constant search for water. “We came here because we wanted to be closer to a water point, but the women have just got back and the water they collected is so hard and salty that we cannot even use it to dissolve milk powder. We cannot give milk to our children,” he said.

Yana

Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

When Boko Haram attacked her village in Nigeria during a wedding—taking the bride and other women—Yana, 27, fled with her four children. She now lives in the Kawar Mali ward in Maidiguiri, once the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency before the army expelled the group. Today, thousands of people displaced by the violence have found refuge in the area.

Bloom 2017 - A World Beyond Walls

Friday, May 26th: In recent years, new border walls and fences have materialised across the world. In total, there are now 63 borders where walls or fences separate neighbouring countries. Most of them have been constructed within the European Union. At this year’s Bloom festival (Thursday June 1st to Monday June 5th in Dublin's Phoenix Park), Oxfam Ireland and GOAL are pushing back against the border wall.

Our joint Bloom garden will open a window into ‘A World Beyond Walls’ highlighting the need for a more inclusive global society, at a time of growing division across the world.

Oxfam GOAL garden at Bloom 2017

Designed by Niall Maxwell, the Oxfam Ireland and GOAL Garden will be a vibrant, community space at the imagined location of a former border wall.

Some of the concrete-like slabs have been removed from the structure and placed in front of the old wall to create the form and function of a garden, or social space, to be enjoyed by all.

What were once parts of an oppressive obstruction will become communal seating areas where the weary can rest, where children can play, where families can picnic, and where artists can perform.

Through a grit-gravel surface, a diverse planting scheme will soften the harsh concrete angles of the garden, and a light airy canopy of trees will provide shelter and shade.

‘The Oxfam Ireland and GOAL Garden – A World Beyond Walls’ will be a space for all members of society to enjoy in a spirit of harmony and unity.

Right to Refuge campaign

We’re inviting visitors to Bloom to support our Right to Refuge campaign – we’re calling upon the Irish government to remove the barriers that tear families seeking refuge apart and to allow families to come safely to this country.

Right now, refugee children over the age of 18 are separated from parents and younger siblings, grandparents are separated from grandchildren and children travelling alone cannot reach extended family settled in Ireland who want to welcome and protect them. If you would like to learn more about this campaign, please talk to the Oxfam Ireland team at the Oxfam and GOAL Garden, or visit the Oxfam Campaigns Tent, which is located in the Conservation Zone. Using virtual reality headsets, visitors to the tent can experience the life of a woman in Iraq forced to flee her home.

To vote for the Oxfam and GOAL garden, text GARDEN8 to 51500 (standard SMS rates apply). Vote before 13:00hrs on Monday, 5th June. Votes after this time will not be counted but text votes may be charged. Please follow the voting instructions exactly or your vote may not come through. ONE vote per person per garden only. SMS Provider: Puca, +353 1 499 5939. Votes open to ROI & NI residents only.

Behind the five million ‘Syrian refugee’ tags are individual stories of love, loss, and hope

A smile lights up her honey-colored eyes. Delicate gold droplets dangle from her small ears. Her name—Warda—means rose in Arabic. She could have been a carefree 18-year-old law student in London, an aspiring actress in Paris, or a trendy blogger in NYC.

Instead, Warda lives in a tent in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. She is pregnant with her second child and lives with her 23-year-old husband Hassan. Warda is dressed in black from head to toe, in mourning for her mother who was killed 10 days ago in Homs when a missile flattened the family home. Her earrings are her last personal belonging.


Behind her smile is a storm of grief, questions and hopes that never let up. The young woman is one of five million Syrians who have fled their war-torn country and are registered as refugees in Syria’s neighboring countries—a number that is more than the population of Ireland. Half of the pre-war population of 22 million has been uprooted. A quarter has crossed borders in search for safety. Warda was 13 when she left her home area in Homs governorate. She has not seen her father since.

“Last time I saw my mother, she came to spend a month. But she left before my first child was born,” says Warda, scrolling through photos on her mobile phone. She shows me a picture of her mother Hanane, beaming as she stands next to her on her wedding day. Warda was dressed in white, her hair in an elaborate up-do, her eyes lined with kohl. “We got married here in the camp. There was dancing and singing. Life has to go on,” she says.

But her life is anything but normal. Her son Jaafar is now 13 months old. Like so many Syrian children born in Lebanon, he has no official papers, and hence no nationality. Jaafar is neither Syrian nor Lebanese. Would his own country even allow him back in after the war?

The lack of documentation for newborns resulting from the amount and cost of red tape is one of many challenges Syrian refugees face in neighboring countries such as Lebanon. They have little-to-no access to the job market, they contract debts to complement the little humanitarian aid they receive, they don’t have full access to education, and they live with the constant fear of deportation.

Yet those who have turned towards rich third countries have either found closed doors when they attempted to travel, or have risked their lives on rickety boats to reach the shores of Europe. Five million refugees now live in limbo, waiting for an elusive peace to go back home or for an improbable plane ticket to Europe or North America. That’s half a million people spread across dozens of cities around the world. In Lebanon, one in five inhabitants is now a refugee.

Not far from Warda’s tent, in another informal settlement built on privately-owned agricultural land, Abou Imad, 53, sips tea while waiting for the young men and women of his family to come back from a day in the fields. Bent in two under the baking sun, they would have harvested onions or planted potatoes for less than $10 per day. Next to him, his two youngest girls sit quietly. Though they had a spot in the local school—the Lebanese government having opened public schools to around half of the Syrian children—they stopped going because their father can’t afford the bus ride. “What will happen to this generation?” he asks. “That’s what worries me most. They are growing up to be illiterate. We, the older generation, have nothing left to lose. But them?”

Abou Imad thought he had seen it all. A soldier in the Syrian army that fought in the Lebanon civil war (1975-1990), he went on to become a truck driver criss-crossing the Middle East and delivering goods to US-occupied Iraq in 2004. In 2010, he settled in his hometown of Raqqa, but little did he know that the terrorist group ISIS would drive him out of what became a few years later the heart of its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria.

“Look at this woman. Dressed like this, she would not have been able to stick her head out of the door. They would have killed her,” he says pointing to his new daughter-in-law, Ahlam, which means dreams in Arabic. A fresh-faced, raven-haired young Syrian woman wearing a red dress, she left Raqqa a few months ago. She took a perilous journey through Iraq and Jordan to reach Lebanon and marry Abou Imad’s son. Now a refugee, she has been embraced by her new family, and can live without the threat of extremism.

But Abou Imad’s heart stayed in Syria and he wants to see his homeland even just one last time. “You see how big the ocean is? Even the smallest fish, after travelling far and wide, will come back to rest under that same rock it was born under.”

The names in this story have been changed to protect the security of the individuals.

We are providing lifesaving aid to displaced people in the Middle East, and we’re helping families meet some of their basic needs as they travel beyond the region to seek safety.

The entry posted by Joelle Bassoul (@JoBassoul), Oxfam Media advisor, Syria Response, on 3 April 2017.

Photo: Warda, with her child Jaafar and husband Hassan, lives in a tent in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley after leaving her home in Syria. Credit: Joelle Bassoul/Oxfam

Exposed: People seeking safety met with brutality and violence on Europe’s borders

“They put us in a cage and didn’t give us food for three days. They beat us so badly. They even gave us electric shocks.” Isaaq from Afghanistan

These are the words of Isaaq from Afghanistan. After fleeing his home, Isaaq travelled through Iran and Turkey to Bulgaria - in search of safety and dignity. Instead he was met with brutality and violence.

“All the way, we were treated so cruelly. The Bulgarian police treated us so harshly that we will never forget it as long as we live – not only me but also all my brothers standing here faced cruelty in Bulgaria. They crossed the limit of cruelty,” Isaaq said.

This is just one of 140 stories from refugees and migrants using the Western Balkan route to reach Europe which detail violence, brutality and unlawful treatment by authorities. The stories are highlighted in a new report from Oxfam, the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights and the Macedonian Young Lawyers Association. 

People fleeing unimaginable situations in their home countries - violence, persecution, disaster and poverty - described beatings, robbery and inhumane treatment at the hands of police, border guards and other officials.

In many cases, they also described illegal deportations and being denied access to asylum procedures. In Serbia a group of people, including a two-year old child, were told that they were being taken to a refugee reception centre. Instead, police brought them to a forest on the Bulgarian border in the middle of the night in freezing temperatures and left them there. The group survived, but by the time they were found two of them had lost consciousness due to hypothermia.

A man sits amid the chaos in a derelict warehouse behind the main railway station in the Serbian capital of Belgrade. Broken or missing window panes have been plugged by clothes and rags to keep the cold at bay, while firewood has been collected so that those camping inside can light fires when temperatures plunge in the evening. Many people are forced to live in these inhumane and degrading conditions after unsuccessfully attempting to cross the border into Hungary or Croatia. Lack of space in government accommodation, coercion by smugglers and the fear of deportation means this is their only choice of shelter.

Photo: Miodrag Ćakić/Info Park

A solitary figure sits on a piece of rubble in wasteland close to Belgrade train station. The area has become home to migrants and refugees being pushed from one country into another across the western Balkans. Many have suffered physical abuse from the police at the border.

Photo: Miodrag Ćakić/Info Park

Two residents of an empty warehouse in Belgrade city centre eat from a makeshift table. A plank of wood on the floor is used as a table while the pair eat takeaway food with plastic cutlery. This poorly adapted shelter has exposed people forced to live there to freezing temperatures throughout the winter.

Photo: Miodrag Ćakić/Info Park

Keeping clean in these conditions is difficult as there is no running water. Two men wash themselves using water from a large plastic tank outside the warehouse where they are camping.

Photo: Miodrag Ćakić/Info Park

Desperate to keep warm, three people huddle around a fire lit in the centre of the disused warehouse. Conditions are dire in this makeshift camp, with waste strewn around the floor and no proper sanitation or sleeping facilities. The men sleep in tents which have been erected around the building and sit on whatever they can find.

Photo: Miodrag Ćakić/Info Park

What is Oxfam doing in the Balkans?

Oxfam is working with vulnerable refugees and migrants in Serbia as well as in the broader Balkans region. We work with people living outside and inside official accommodation sites in Serbia and work with local organisations to reach people in need across the Balkans regions. We’re providing essentials like food and clothing. We are also providing legal counselling and support for people who have been pushed back across the region’s borders. 

Andrew Trimble meets refugees in Tanzania: ‘They’re focusing on making each day count’

Just over a week after returning home from the Ireland rugby tour in South Africa in the summer I found myself heading back to the same continent but for very different reasons.
 
Most of the people on the flight to Tanzania were heading there to climb Mount Kilimanjaro or go on safari. I was travelling with Oxfam Ireland to meet people affected by a crisis that’s totally off the world’s radar.
 
In the past year, over 130,000 people have fled their homes in Burundi because of unrest and crossed into neighbouring Tanzania.
 
It was my first time in this kind of situation and naturally you feel a bit self conscious – a rugby player walking around a refugee camp.
 
You’re aware of how you stand out. The people in the camp were very welcoming, but probably wondering who this bloke was and why he was having his photo taken beside the water pumps and the sanitation facilities!
 
 
Oxfam Ireland ambassador Andrew Trimble at an Oxfam water treatment tank supported by Irish Aid at the Nduta refugee camp in Tanzania. Photo: Bill Marwa/Oxfam
 
Travelling through the camp, you’re very aware that everybody you see – the adults, the children, even the volunteers working with Oxfam – are refugees.
 
We heard stories of husbands and wives who got separated on the journey to safety, or ended up in different camps hours from each other and unable to reunite.
 
The two camps we visited – Nyarugusu and Nduta in the north west of Tanzania - were different to how I expected. Dry season means red dust was everywhere – and it’s still on my shoes some time later back home in Belfast.
 
There are rows and rows of tents, but there is also shade and vegetation thanks to the trees. Some people have started to plant vegetables near their tents. The trees offer important protection from the sun for the children who study at the camp’s outdoor school.
 
Others are in school buildings and we visited one where the kids seemed to be enjoying school a lot more than I used to! They were full of smiles. You got the sense that going to school was at least providing them with some normality; something familiar, even if just for a few hours each day. Their teachers are also refugees, trying to keep going; knowing that educating these children is key to their future.
 
 
Children enjoying a lesson on rugby by Oxfam Ireland ambassador Andrew Trimble at a school in the Nduta refugee camp in Tanzania. Photo: Bill Marwa/Oxfam Oxfam Ireland ambassador Andrew Trimble with Irakoze* and Zebunissa* during a rugby lesson by Andrew at a school in the Nduta refugee camp in Tanzania. Photo: Bill Marwa/Oxfam
 
With a few rugby balls brought from home, I tried to show them what rugby had to offer. It was a fun afternoon, and one brave girl put up her hand to volunteer to try to tackle me. You could almost forget that these children have witnessed harrowing things. In that moment the kids are like any other group of children – laughing, smiling and simply wanting to play.
 
But children have to grow up quickly here, like the five-year-old girl I saw carrying her baby brother, or the boy – no more than a year and a half – fetching water by himself. And that’s when it struck me, he’s the same age as my wee fella Jack, just out picking up water from the tap by himself. That’s the contrast.
 
This time last year the picture of the body of the Syrian child, Alan Kurdi who was aged three, washed up on a beach in Turkey was something that stuck with anybody who saw it. I became a father myself shortly before that so the impact was increased.
 
More recently we’ve been shocked by the photo of an injured five-year-old boy Omran Daqneesh sitting in an ambulance after an airstrike in Aleppo, Syria. It shows you the level of desperation for people coming from countries where they just need to get out of there.
 
We visited a children’s centre, a place where kids can come and play in safety. They were putting on a play about going to the toilet, as part of an Oxfam project to teach children about staying safe and healthy. It was very funny but with a serious message – diseases like cholera are a real threat in crowded camps so the children need to learn about washing their hands.
 
Their parents welcomed us into the humble tents they call home. They smiled too, but there was a sadness there too.
 
I try to picture what it would be like to leave my house and run for my life, and what I would need to do to keep my family safe.
 
 
Burundian refugees Belange Mugisha* with her one-year-old son Remy Habonimana and husband Habonimana Christophe* meet Oxfam Ireland ambassador Andrew Trimble outside the tent they now call home in the Nduta camp in Tanzania. Asked why they fled Burundi, Habonimana* says: “I was hunted.” The life they had hoped for has not come to pass and it seems like everything is on hold. “Sometimes I feel bad, like crying, when I think of how I couldn’t complete my education,” he says. Yet despite the challenges, they are trying to make the most of their situation. Habonimana* is really passionate about making things better for everyone living in the camp, and has been voted as a community leader for one of the zones. He also works with Oxfam as a community hygiene promoter, while Belange* has a job in one of the camp’s schools.” Photo: Bill Marwa/Oxfam
 
One of the refugees I met was Habonimana Christophe*. He’s 31 like me, and is also married and the proud dad of a one-year-old boy called Remy Habonimana. He showed us inside his tent. He opened up to me about his journey from Burundi and why he had to leave. “I was hunted,” he told me.
 
This is actually his second time living the in the Nduta camp. He arrived here as a child in 1993 with his family and lived there until 2008. Habonimana found himself back in the Nduta camp this time with his wife and child in November 2015.
 
“This is the first time for my wife to be a refugee,” he says. “It wasn’t easy for her.”
 
Habonimana is really passionate about making things better for everyone living in the camp, and has been voted as a community leader for one of the zones, volunteering his time. He also works with Oxfam as a community hygiene promoter, while his wife has a job in one of the camp’s schools.
 
Both Habonimana and his wife have diplomas in language studies. He was planning on graduating with a degree at university in Burundi before life changed so radically. 
 
The life he hoped for has not come to pass. Everything is on hold.
 
“Sometimes I feel bad, like crying, when I think of how I couldn’t complete my education,” he says. Inside his tent are his certificates.
 
“Whenever I chat with relatives and friends that are in other countries and in universities, I feel bad as my life has already bust as I have my certificate that allows me to go to university. But I will live here for the rest of my life.”
 
Yet he’s focusing on making each day count – and I am in awe of how he and his wife have managed – coming here under pressure and raising a child.
 
That spirit and determination to keep going despite the odds was something I felt throughout the camp.
 
I met a group of men and women who had been tailors in Burundi. They got together in the camp with the idea of starting a business together. Oxfam provided them with machinery, equipment and a building.
 
 
Rugby player and Oxfam Ireland ambassador Andrew Trimble tries on a handmade jacket which fits his shoulders but not quite his arms during a visit to a tailors’ workshop set up by Burundian refugees with the support of Oxfam at the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania. Photo: Mary Mndeme/Oxfam
 
With the old school Singer sowing machines and fabrics in almost every colour under the sun, they were so passionate about their work. The tailors told me that they are hoping lights can be installed in their workshop so as they can work even longer hours.
 
They hadn’t heard of rugby – but they all knew about football. One of the tailors asked if I was wealthy like David Beckham, perhaps hoping I might be in the market for a wardrobe like his!
 
Listening to how people’s lives changed so utterly because of the war made me think about the choices ahead of me when the time comes to retire from rugby. I’m so fortunate to have options. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be stuck on pause, with no idea of if or when your life will begin again.
 
I’m well used to training for the physical strength and stamina needed for rugby, but that’s surpassed by the mental fortitude and resilience shown by the people I met –people just like you and me, but thrown into an extraordinary situation, not of their own making.
 
People with hopes and dreams just like ours, looking for safety and security for their families and kids, a job, a home, a future.
 
It also made me think about our responsibilities towards helping refugees. The one greeting I heard over and over again wherever we went was ‘karibu’, which means welcome. This attitude towards welcoming strangers helps explain why Tanzania has become a safe haven for refugees fleeing Burundi.
 
It’s incredible to think that this developing country, where there is still widespread poverty, has opened its doors to refugees.
 
This is despite the challenges it faces. During the long journey on dirt roads, I saw children walk barefoot, women walking for miles to fetch water and men pushing bicycles up hills laden with heavy loads. Despite this, Tanzania has welcomed refugees for decades – many of the people I met were actually refugees twice over.
 
You hear it time and again, but it’s truly an eye-opening experience to do a trip like this. When you come back home, you think about everything you take for granted. Simple things, like being able to turn on a tap to get clean water or have electricity and heat at the flick of a switch. Also the freedom to move about, to have a home, to work and to be with your loved ones.
 
The work I saw by Oxfam is genuinely saving and changing lives. It is a strange feeling to be temporarily planted into a world so alien; to have strangers who have lost everything smile at you and tell their life story, and young children whose futures are so uncertain put on an incredible performance of song and dance to welcome us visitors from Oxfam Ireland.
 
But perhaps the strangest feeling of all was to stand in a place of such sadness and find myself so inspired.
 
Andrew Trimble is an Oxfam Ireland ambassador.  

 

"We fled from our home... there were so many bodies on the streets."

 
Wafaa and her family in the half build house they now call home. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam
 
"We fled from our home; there were so many dead bodies on the streets." Wafaa (name changed to protect identity) sits on the floor in one of three rooms in a small, half-built house her brother rents for their families in Kahlo Bazini, in Kirkuk, northern Iraq. Conditions in the house are basic at best, some of the walls aren't yet finished and until Oxfam intervened they had no facilities to wash, no toilet, and no clean water.
 
"Our living situation is difficult, but we make things work; my brother works cleaning shops so that he can earn money to provide food for us. My children and I all depend on my brother. He goes to clean the shops and then brings home vegetables, things like tomatoes, and shares them between my children and his. We have lived in this same situation for a while," explains Wafaa.
 
Before arriving in Kirkuk, Wafaa and her family moved several times trying to escape ISIS as they took control of large areas of Iraq in 2014. "When we first left out home, we went to my brother's house in Al Eshaqi. We were there for three days and then attacks, bombing and killings started in the streets, so we left to go to my sister's house; she lived far away from the places that had been captured by ISIS. We didn't stay there very long though, about 27 days, and then the fighting started there as well. There were airstrikes, missiles and bombs everywhere."
 
At one point Wafaa and her family were forced to live in an empty school building: 'The school had no appliances; there was no water, toilets or place to wash; the water we were using came directly from the river, it was dirty and polluted. It gave us a lot of infections and allergic reactions. No one came to check if we were okay and the fighting continued to reach us again.
 
"Then my son got ill; he fell on the ground and his face swelled up. My son is only six years old. I had to tell my family that I couldn't stay there any longer." But the area was surrounded from both sides.
 
 
Wafaa Derwesh* (name changed), 39, was displaced with her family when ISIS took control of her village. She now lives in a small village near Kirkuk called Khalo Bazini. Photo: Tommy Trenchard / Oxfam
 
The school where Wafaa and her family were staying was isolated and very far from any roads, "It was like we had escaped to a small empty island far away", Wafaa explains. "There was no water and no electricity. And then ISIS struck. Three ISIS fighters who were carrying guns and firing passed by us; we were so scared we ran away again.
 
"When ISIS came, there were a lot of other families at the school; many of them left the school with us to escape ISIS. They put their black flag above the school; the same school that had been like a home to us." As Wafaa sits in the dark room of the house she and her family now call home she tells the story of how they escaped from ISIS.
 
"We left the school at around 4.00am and we reached the army controlled area at 12.00pm. ISIS had destroyed all the bridges. It was a cold winter, we had no clothes with us and we were trying to escape from ISIS. We were in bad situation, but there were other families and relatives who couldn't leave because ISIS had already taken control of the area and taken them under siege."
 
Not all of her family had been so fortunate. "My sister was still living at the school. She didn't have a car, and random bombing and air strikes had already begun between the army and ISIS. She was alone in the middle of their battle. She called my mom and told her the battle had begun and that she was about to give birth to her baby.
 
"One of my sister's neighbours was her midwife at the birth. It all happened during these air strikes and bombings. We were having a very cold and rainy spell and my sister was giving birth to her new child. She had been complaining about the pain in her stomach but there was no doctor, no food, and no medicine, and no car for her to get to them."
 
Even though ISIS had surrounded the area, Wafaa and her brothers went back to the school to try and fetch their sister. They wanted to get her the medical help she so badly needed. "She was on the dirty ground that had been polluted and her stomach was too swollen, I can't describe it, we couldn't do anything for her; we were helpless and powerless. It was very difficult to see her like that; she was my sister."
 
 
Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam
 
Wafaa managed to get her sister out of the school but she died soon after that. 'That's how I last saw her; it was very tragic; we all suffered and felt sad about losing her. We had become displaced in one way, and her daughters who are very young became displaced in a different way.' After her sister died, Wafaa took in her nieces and now provides for them as well as her own children.
 
There are currently over 3.2 million people displaced in Iraq, and even after their village or town has been recaptured from ISIS, families like Wafaa's aren't able to go home due to the level of destruction, number of mines left behind and the slow vetting process that ensues. "Our area was liberated a long time ago," Wafaa explains, "but they won't allow us to return because there are mines that have been planted, explosive devices and bombs in our farms and houses. Behind our home ISIS planted many bombs and explosive devices.
 
"I'm not afraid of anything. I'm waiting for the checkpoint at Balad to open and then I'll return to my house. My home was small but nice, and I was living happily in it. We left because ISIS attacked us; missiles were falling everywhere and my children were crying. It was a difficult situation and it was hard on my children. I couldn't make them understand that we had left because of the bombing and the battle between the army and ISIS. My children were afraid of ISIS.
 
"My young children are always saying that they miss their games and our house. They ask me when will we go back? All the displaced people here want to return to our homes because we are exhausted."
 
WHAT OXFAM IS DOING IN IRAQ
 
On Friday October 7th Irish Aid delivered 80 tonnes of aid to Iraq for Oxfam to distribute to vulnerable people fleeing the conflict in Mosul and beyond. Items being sent include blankets, jerry cans, cooking sets, water tanks, tarpaulins and shelter kits.
 
 
Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he is gravely concerned up to 1.5 million people in the city of Mosul have been living under siege for more than two years, with a further 1 million in surrounding areas currently under ISIS control.
 
Oxfam has been working in 50 villages and towns across Diyala and Kirkuk governorates in northern Iraq since 2014. We are providing safe water in camps and in communities where people who have fled the fighting are sheltering, and enabling people to earn a living so that they can support their families. We have also been helping families as they return home once it is safe to do so.
 
We are now scaling up our response in the Mosul Corridor, operating in Salah Al-Din and Ninewa governorates. Oxfam is also working in the key strategic area of Qayyarat, which is 80km south of Mosul and sandwiched between ISIS-controlled territories. We are providing clear water and sanitation and essential items like blankets and hygiene kits.
 
Oxfam works across Iraq including in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
 
As military operations begin to retake the city of Mosul and surrounding areas from ISIS, we are expecting to help 60,000 people.
 

Bringing your voice to the UN Summit on migration

Oxfam brought its global call to stand as one with people forced to flee their homes to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

From a sea of life jackets laid beneath the Brooklyn Bridge highlighting the sobering reality of this crisis, to meetings at UN Headquarters, we reminded world leaders that over a quarter of a million people worldwide have joined our movement to support people on the move.

Left: Hundreds of life jackets, collected from the beaches of Chios in Greece, lie on Pebble Beach at Brooklyn Bridge Park, highlighting the desperate plight of children and adults forced to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. Photo: Darren Ornitz Photography; Right: Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima and Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken remind Ireland’s UN Ambassador David Donoghue (centre) that 250,000 people worldwide are standing as one with refugees. Photo: Brian Malone/Oxfam

WATCH: Advocacy and Campaigns Manager Marissa Ryan reacts to the sea of life jackets at Brooklyn Bridge

We were there and made sure your voice continued to be heard

As Irish and UK Government leaders – including an Tánaiste, Frances Fitzgerald, and UK Prime Minster Theresa May - addressed the very first UN Summit on Migration and President Obama’s Leaders’ Summit, they did so knowing that over 25,000 people across the Republic of Ireland and almost 6,500 people from Northern Ireland (over 86,876 from the United Kingdom in total) were demanding they show strong leadership and take action to protect and uphold the rights of refugees and migrants.

Left: Oxfam campaigners Claire Payne, Joanna Sammons, Marissa Ryan and Dan Byrne meet an Tánaiste, Frances Fitzgerald outside Government Buildings ahead of the UN Summit on migration: Photo: Brian Malone/Oxfam; Right: Oxfam campaigners Emma Barronwell, Kelly Fisher and Christine McCartney at Belfast docks to mark the huge support in Northern Ireland for the Right to Refuge campaign. Photo: Alex Clyde/Oxfam

Some UN migration summit highlights

"Refugees are already taking action. We want world leaders to do the same" - Mohammed Badran

Mohammed Badran, a refugee from Syria and Oxfam partner, addressed the opening segment of the UN summit on migration, calling for world leaders to do more to protect and empower refugees everywhere. Mohammed is the Chair of Syrian Volunteers in the Netherlands, a network of over 600 volunteers who work to give back to local communities.

“World leaders need to remember those who are relying on them – the people running for their lives from their homes, trying to keep their children calm as they set off on an inflatable dingy across the Mediterranean sea, or facing barbed wire and check points instead of compassion in their desperate search for safety.” -  Jim Clarken

Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken attended the summits and highlighted our call to stand as one with people forced to flee live from New York.

“I cried my eyes out when I arrived in the UK, a refugee.” -  Winnie Byanyima

Oxfam's Winnie Byanyima shared her experience of being a refugee from Uganda and called on world leaders to make sure these summits amount to more than a half-hearted beginning to help those millions of people forced to flee but are the start of real and lasting solutions. Read Winnie’s article here: 

More needs to be done and we are not giving up

Over 65 million displaced people were counting on the outcome of the summits – an unprecedented opportunity for a bold and fair deal to ensure their safety and dignity. While we welcomed world leaders’ calls for a more equal sharing of responsibility for the refugee crisis, we were disappointed that they failed to make tangible commitments on how they are going to affect real change for refugees and migrants.

We will continue to speak out and ensure that the Irish and UK Government play their part in responding to this global crisis. We will not allow these summits to amount to more meaningless talk but will continue to fight for the political commitments of the summits to be translated into action to ensure the safety and dignity of people on the move.

People from across the island of Ireland continue to show that refugees are welcome here by writing messages of solidarity at Oxfam’s Culture Night events in Dublin and Belfast the weekend before the summits in New York.

Help us to stand as one with children, women and men fleeing conflict, persecution, disaster and poverty.

Forced to flee Boko Haram and facing hunger – crisis in Nigeria and West Africa

Thousands of people are believed to have died due to hunger and malnutrition and experts say that more than 65,000 people are officially classified as suffering from famine in a desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, one of the poorest places on earth.

Those experiencing the most extreme form of hunger are in pockets of north east Nigeria, mainly in Borno state, only recently accessible to humanitarian agencies following protracted military action to secure areas formerly under the control of Boko Haram. They are part of a humanitarian crisis largely ignored by the international community which is also affecting people in Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

 

Unless there is a rapid scale up in the provision of assistance, there will be many more deaths. Estimates suggest that as many as 67,000 children aged under 5 could die by the end of September in Nigeria’s Borno and Yobe states alone – that’s 184 every day – due to lack of nutritious food.

Oxfam is providing life-saving support in Nigeria, Niger and Chad to people who have been forced to flee their homes as well as the already impoverished communities in which they are taking shelter. We are providing people with desperately needed food as well as clean drinking water and sanitation to protect health and prevent the spread of disease. And we are also calling on donors and governments to act now to support humanitarian efforts.

BACKGROUND TO THE CRISIS

The present crisis across the Lake Chad basin began seven years ago as a result of the emergence of the group Boko Haram in Nigeria and military operations against it. Violence has escalated further in recent weeks exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation. It has forced 2.7 million people to flee their homes, including 1.9 million Nigerians alone, and left over 9 million people in need of help.

Unable to grow or buy food, or access humanitarian aid, millions are going hungry. 3.8 million people across the Lake Chad Basin region as a whole face severe hunger. Over 20,000 people have been killed and thousands of girls and boys are thought to have been abducted. There have been alarming levels of sexual violence, violations of international humanitarian law (the law of armed conflict) and human rights law including the forced recruitment of civilians, even children, as combatants.

Fatima Mohammed* (35) from Nigeria’s Borno State is living among the Kabbar Maila host community. Boko Haram forced their way in to her home and cut her husband’s throat in front of her and her children. She is struggling and is not sure where her children’s next meal is coming from. *Name has been changed. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

AFRICA'S FASTEST GROWING DISPLACEMENT CRISIS

The Lake Chad Basin crisis now represents Africa’s fastest growing displacement crisis and is the seventh largest internally displaced population in the world. The conflict has caused widespread destruction of vital but already limited infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools, roads, markets and farmland.

Across the region, people are on the move trying to escape threats to their lives, liberty and other human rights in search of safety and protection. Since the start of the conflict in 2009, more than 20,000 people have been killed as a direct result of the violence. In 2015, around one in every 15 people who died throughout the world as a direct result of violent conflict died in Nigeria. Countless more are dying or face permanent disability as a result of hunger, disease and a lack of healthcare, the secondary impacts of war.

Children at the government-run Farm Centre camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. It is a camp established by displaced people themselves when they moved into empty unfinished buildings the government was building for government workers. There are also people living in makeshift shelters, especially those who have arrived more recently. Oxfam is providing water, latrines and sanitation in the camp. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

ZAHRA'S STORY

Zarah Isa* (50) is from Borno State in Nigeria. She and her husband were farmers and grew vegetables. She also collected firewood which she would sell and their children used to go to school.

Caption info: Zarah Isa* (50) is from Borno State in Nigeria, one of the worst affected regions. She was forced to flee her village during a Boko Haram attack which saw her husband killed. *Name has been changed. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

But three years ago Boko Haram attacked her village and killed her husband. Unable to bury his body, Zarah was forced to flee with her six children. The oldest child was 12, the rest were aged under 10. They spent one month in the forest. To survive they drank water from open sources such as streams. Often the water was dirty. For food they relied on leftovers from communities they passed along the way, as well as scavenging for food that had been thrown away. It took them one week of walking through the forest on foot to reach the Kabbar Maila host community in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, where they now live.

Once in Maiduguri they asked around for people who came from their community. For two weeks they lived in a makeshift tent with 10 other internally displaced families and then through local community leaders she was able to find accommodation to rent with a local landlord. Zarah now lives with her children in a crowded room with a leaking roof. She pays her landlord with money her children bring back from begging but for the last three months she’s hasn’t had enough to cover the rent.

To feed the family, Zarah’s eldest daughter buys sachets of water from a vendor and hawks them on the streets. If her daughter is unable to make money from selling the water, the family goes hungry. When this happens she sends her daughter and some of her other children to beg for money. Zarah is unable to find work as people do not want to give jobs to someone her age as they are looking for younger people to do menial jobs. The family is barely able to eat two meals a day. Their meal usually consists of corn flour or maize and they are unable to afford vegetables or meat.

The local host community have opened their arms and have been very welcoming. They share the little they have but people are poor.

Her biggest need currently is food. When her children go hungry, it causes her pain. Zarah is unable to go back to her village and home because there is a lack of security there. She heard that people had gone back and had been killed. Her hope is to one day return home so that she and her children can grow food on their land and sustain themselves.

Zarah says: “I don’t like seeing my children go hungry, all I want is food. I am ready to go back home today if the government assures us on security, we can farm our food because we have our farms there.”

Read other stories and find more information in the new Oxfam report, Lake Chad’s Unseen Crisis.

A child outside a makeshift shelter at the Farm Centre camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria where 13,000 internally displaced families now live after fleeing their homes. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Oxfam has supported over 250,000 people so far in Nigeria since we began responding to the crisis in May 2014 but we urgently need your support.

We are providing people with desperately needed food as well as clean drinking water and sanitation to prevent the spread of disease.

An Oxfam water tank in the Kabbar Maila community which is hosting displaced people forced to flee their homes. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

We work in Adamawa, Borno and Gombe states, providing people with emergency food support, clean water and better sanitation, including constructing showers and repairing toilets, and making sure people have areas to wash their hands. We have set up community protection groups for women to give them information about access to support facilities if they have suffered from sexual violence and exploitation. We are distributing food and cooking equipment, as well as providing seeds and tools to help traders and farmers get back on their feet.

In Niger, Oxfam has helped over 31,400 people since our emergency response began there in 2015. We are installing water systems to make sure people have clean water to drink, as well as distributing essential items such as cooking pots, buckets and water purifying tablets. Elsewhere in Niger there has been massive flooding, and in some regions where the lean season – the time when people are at the end of their food until the next harvest comes – there is desperate hunger.

Oxfam has recently started responding to the crisis in Chad, with the aim to reach over 30,000 people. We will distribute cash and tarpaulins for shelter and provide clean water to people to help prevent the spread of diseases.

Please support our West Africa crisis emergency response. 100% of your donation will go directly to this response.

You can also add your voice to our Right to Refuge campaign which is calling on the Irish and UK governments to ensure that everyone has the right to refuge when their safety and dignity is threatened.

Colm Byrne is Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager.

Aleppo – voices from the ground

Cut off from supplies and heavily bombarded, the people of in the Syrian city of Aleppo have borne the brunt of the fighting and have suffered far too much and too long in this bloody conflict. 
 
Since the end of July, when the fighting intensified in the city, there have been reports of attacks on schools and hospitals from the air and indiscriminate shelling and bombardment of civilian areas. Hundreds of people, including many children, have reportedly been killed. 
 
The city, which is divided in two parts (the West side of the city is under control of the government and the East side is under control of the opposition) has seen its main supply routes blocked by warring parties and thousands of civilians are cut off from food, water, and health care.
 
Since the encirclement of the eastern part of Aleppo by pro-government forces and its allies at the end of July, and the counter-attack by armed opposition groups, little to no aid has reached hundreds of thousands of people in need. The situation is harrowing, with the recent battles pushing already vulnerable people to the brink.
 

DAILY STRUGGLE 

 
“Just when you think the situation might improve, something new happens,” says Amjad*, a 33-year-old taxi driver who lives with his mother in West Aleppo. He spends most of his time driving around the city. 
 
“We got used to the destruction, the scene of people filling in jerry cans, and children carrying jerry cans heavier than them”.
 
Samah*, a 12-year-old girl, recently fled with her family from rural Aleppo, looking for safety and shelter in the city. Samah says: “I used to go to school, but now every day I go to collect water for my family. It’s easy to carry the jerry cans if they are empty, but it’s hard when they are filled with water.”
 
Faisal* (65) lives with his wife in their home in West Aleppo. Faisal has lived in his neighbourhood for more than 30 years, and never had to buy water.
 
He says: “I miss those days when we used to open the tap and get as much water as we wanted. The first thing you lose when you don’t have water is your dignity”. 
 
Faisal has two sons who left Syria. Instead of having water delivered to his home at a cost, Faisal walks two kilometres each day to fill half a jerry can. With his back pain and the distance, he can’t carry more than 10 litres of water.
 
“It is a daily struggle, but I have no other option. Our building is empty, all the neighbours left. I have to make this journey every day.”
 
Nada* (23) has three sons and lives with her relatives in East Aleppo. When her husband died in 2013, she wanted to reduce her expenses and she moved in with her relatives. Now five families share two rooms. 
 
“I am a desperate woman who took a desperate measure, but I had no choice,” says Nada. 
 
Amina* was also displaced inside East Aleppo, and moved with her daughter and two sons to her relatives’ house. 
 
Amina says: “I am tired. The only thing I have is the clothes I am wearing. Everything is expensive, cooking is a struggle, showering is a struggle. Everything is a struggle. There’s no electricity, I have no income, no skills and I can’t support my children and that’s frustrating. I can’t ask my poor relatives for support. We are all waiting for things to get better. We are waiting without hope.”
 
Dibeh* (27) has three children and lives with her family in a in a basement with two other families who have been displaced inside Aleppo. 
 
“I lost hope, and I feel that things will never improve,” says Dibeh. “I don’t have money and I lost everything. I can’t afford a jerry can. I would prefer to pay rent, buy milk and nappies for my two-year-old son. My husband is not working anymore and we have no income at all. We were filling water in old bottles and buckets. We are eating less and less food every day to save some money because things are getting worse.”
 
 
Children in West Aleppo fill jerry cans from a truck. Both sides of the divided city have been suffering from water cuts, since the fighting intensified at the end of July. Power cuts and damage to the infrastructure have meant that more than 1.6 million people have little to no access to the water system. Alternative solutions are local wells, and water trucking. All photos: Oxfam
 
 
Syrians who have been displaced by the fighting in Aleppo camp in a park in the Western side of the city, under government control. Thousands of civilians have taken shelter in parks, mosques, and schools on both sides of the city as the conflict rages on. Their humanitarian needs are increasing as food prices have increased, and access to healthcare and water is becoming more difficult. Photo: Oxfam
 

WHAT OXFAM IS DOING IN ALEPPO

 
Oxfam is helping to provide clean water across battle lines in eastern and western Aleppo as well as elsewhere in Syria. 
 
Oxfam is making available goods such as family hygiene kits, jerry cans, water tanks, water filters, chlorine tablets, and water testing kits for planned UN convoys out of Damascus and we hope that the proposed 48 hour ceasefire will allow delivery into Aleppo. 
 
A generator intended to ensure that water is pumped to the city, even when power supplies are cut off, has only been able to operate irregularly due to fuel shortages and engineers have been unable to carry out essential repairs to the water infrastructure due to the fighting. 
 
We have people on the ground in Aleppo who are trying to assess and meet the needs of water infrastructure and of water, sanitation and hygiene needs for displaced people – but until there is a cessation of fighting in the area, insecurity and lack of access make that very difficult. 
 

CEASEFIRE

 
While a proposed 48 hour ceasefire in Aleppo is welcome, it must not be a one-off. A fully-fledged sustained ceasefire in the conflict is necessary to get desperately-needed humanitarian aid into all areas of Aleppo; to deal with the scale of the suffering, devastation and destruction in the city; to ensure that essential repairs to the water and power supplies can be carried out; and to ensure the protection of civilians. 
 
Such a ceasefire is needed not just in Aleppo but also across all of Syria. Somehow, the conflict needs to be de-escalated by all parties and there must be an end to indiscriminate attacks or deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.
 
* All names have been changed to protect identities.
 

Facebook Live chat with Oxfam's Syria Crisis Response Manager

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