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Mariam, Burkina Faso

The music has stopped in the heart of the desert, the savannahs, and forests of the Sahel and the Central African Republic - taking with it the joy of better days. Fear has spread across the region, and people are facing it on two fronts: firstly, where armed groups devastate villages, driving more than five million people to flee their homes.  Secondly, the rise of COVID-19 is creating additional fear and uncertainty amongst communities.

And for the majority of displaced women, their dance partners have also disappeared. Many men of working age have been killed by armed groups, disappeared or have left in search of a better future. In Burkina Faso, women and children represented 84 per cent of the displaced population. Women find themselves in extremely precarious situations, struggling for their survival and for those depending on them. Many bear the scars – visible and invisible - of acts of violence. In the Central African Republic, a woman is victim of sexual and gender-based violence almost every hour.

These Sahelian and Central African women are hundreds of thousands, survivors and heroes - waiting for music to resume in their lives. Whilst they do not sing, they still have their stories, and hope, to imagine another future.

A team of female humanitarian workers with Oxfam collected the following stories. They are accompanied by illustrations made by the artist Sophie Le Hire, who has lived in Senegal for four years and who, in her artistic approach, proudly carries the voice of women, whom she considers as "giants". By juxtaposing two styles, she illustrates the reality of the present and the dream for the future of these women

Mariam*, Burkina Faso

“We are in the crossfire: behind us there are attacks, in front of us is the disease. How will we cope? I will be so glad when this illness ends.”

My name is Mariam. I am 25 years old, and I come from the Center-Nord region in Burkina, near Dablo.

My dream was to have a high school diploma. I became a mother while still in school but I hung on and continued until 10th grade. However, in April they closed the school - because of insecurity classes stopped completely.

I wanted to be either a teacher – to educate children and to share knowledge with them – or to be a doctor and to save lives. All of this fell apart.

When attacks by armed groups became more and more frequent, I chose to flee my home so that I would not end up like so many other victims of violence or rape.

Everyday life is not easy here. We don't have enough to eat, and I have to ration our lunch if I want something left to eat in the evening. There is no firewood and, as a woman, I am afraid when I have to go and collect it in the bush; I do not feel safe. To survive, I try to do laundry in town for other families, or pound millet or sorghum for 500 CFA [0.83 USD]. At the moment, we need support for everything: water, food, shelter.

With the arrival of COVID-19, our life has changed: markets are closed, and with it any place where we can find work. Preventative measures have changed our daily lives. We can no longer move around when and where we want to. To protect my family, we wash our hands regularly before doing anything else: cooking, eating, going to the toilet.

The disease has made our lives more difficult, especially when it comes to accessing water. So as to avoid finding ourselves in a crowd, we leave at dawn to go to the well. If there are a lot of people, we leave the cans at the well and return to the house.

We urgently need water and hygiene kits - if we were able to get these items, it would improve our daily lives.

Interview by Syntyche Ouedraogo, Oxfam in Burkina Faso.

*Name has been changed to protect identity

Oxfam’s response

In the Sahel and the Central African Republic, Oxfam provides humanitarian aid and carries out advocacy actions for communities affected by large-scale humanitarian crises. Women and girls are the most exposed in crisis and it is fundamental that their specific needs and their protection are at the heart of humanitarian responses. Women also play a major role in developing social cohesion and peacebuilding.

Oxfam and its local partners provide humanitarian aid to more than 400,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) and host communities in the region, in terms of food aid, access to water, hygiene and sanitation and to protect the most vulnerable, especially women and girls. Oxfam also work alongside communities in conflict transformation programs to foster cross-border dialogues and the inclusion of women and young people in peacebuilding processes.

Since the arrival of the COVID-19, Oxfam has adapted its programs to protect the poorest and most vulnerable against this new threat. Oxfam also distribute hygiene kits to schools and health professionals and take action to ensure clean and safe water continues to flow.

Read Victorine and Tedy's reflections.

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Tedy, Mali

The music has stopped in the heart of the desert, the savannahs, and forests of the Sahel and the Central African Republic - taking with it the joy of better days. Fear has spread across the region, and people are facing it on two fronts: firstly, where armed groups devastate villages, driving more than five million people to flee their homes.  Secondly, the rise of COVID-19 is creating additional fear and uncertainty amongst communities.

And for the majority of displaced women, their dance partners have also disappeared. Many men of working age have been killed by armed groups, disappeared or have left in search of a better future. In Burkina Faso, women and children represented 84 per cent of the displaced population. Women find themselves in extremely precarious situations, struggling for their survival and for those depending on them. Many bear the scars – visible and invisible - of acts of violence. In the Central African Republic, a woman is victim of sexual and gender-based violence almost every hour.

These Sahelian and Central African women are hundreds of thousands, survivors and heroes - waiting for music to resume in their lives. Whilst they do not sing, they still have their stories, and hope, to imagine another future.

A team of female humanitarian workers with Oxfam collected the following stories. They are accompanied by illustrations made by the artist Sophie Le Hire, who has lived in Senegal for four years and who, in her artistic approach, proudly carries the voice of women, whom she considers as "giants". By juxtaposing two styles, she illustrates the reality of the present and the dream for the future of these women

Tedy, Mali

"I want my children to get an education worthy of the name, to be one day part of the elite in this country."

My name is Tedy, I am 40 years old, I am Malian, native of the region of Mopti in the Center of Mali.

Because of the violence, I had to flee my village, and I live today with other displaced people who have known the same fate, on a site near the capital.

Before the conflict, I was selling milk and I was also a hairdresser. I took care of my family and even managed to save money.

But one day, as intercommunal violence became more and more serious, we were forced to flee, to leave my house with my children, taking only my phone and the clothes I was wearing. We had to take a very long route to arrive in Bamako, forced to pass through Ouagadougou and stayed more than two days without eating anything. I had no money and without the help of one of my daughters who works in the capital, I don't know what would have become of us.

I haven't had a chance to study and the struggle of my life is to send my children to school. I will do my best to make them the most influential people in our community and even in Mali! Access to education is a right for every child.

Shortly after arriving at the site, I was appointed President of the displaced women because I speak the national Bambara language, so I can easily speak to the authorities. It was a big responsibility. I talked a lot with the other women, and we decided to develop activities to earn a living. I got the necessary support so that we were trained in making soaps and dyes, as well as in the practice of traditional henna and hairdressing. In Bamako, there are really a lot of weddings and we thus had the opportunity to put into practice what we had learned.

Like others, I am a mother and I take care of my children alone. At the beginning, I had started a small condiment business, it worked a little, but alone and with my children to take care of, I did not manage and I had to give it up. Together with the other women, it became possible.

Unfortunately, with Coronavirus disease, all of our activities have stopped. We hope this disease will pass quickly so that we can take control of our lives again. Here on the site, we protect ourselves against the disease by respecting the barrier measures decreed by the health authorities and we have received hand-washing kits.

I can’t imagine the future. We would like to return home, but the conflict persists and we are afraid of endangering the lives of our children. It is for them that every day I find the courage to fight and to encourage other women to do it too, we have a duty to guide our children on the path to a better future. In my dreams, this path is education and I will continue to believe in it and hope for it.

Interview by Sitan Coulibaly, Oxfam in Mali.

Oxfam’s response

In the Sahel and the Central African Republic, Oxfam provides humanitarian aid and carries out advocacy actions for communities affected by large-scale humanitarian crises. Women and girls are the most exposed in crisis and it is fundamental that their specific needs and their protection are at the heart of humanitarian responses. Women also play a major role in developing social cohesion and peacebuilding.

Oxfam and its local partners provide humanitarian aid to more than 400,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) and host communities in the region, in terms of food aid, access to water, hygiene and sanitation and to protect the most vulnerable, especially women and girls. Oxfam also work alongside communities in conflict transformation programs to foster cross-border dialogues and the inclusion of women and young people in peacebuilding processes.

Since the arrival of the COVID-19, Oxfam has adapted its programs to protect the poorest and most vulnerable against this new threat. Oxfam also distribute hygiene kits to schools and health professionals and take action to ensure clean and safe water continues to flow.

Read Victorine and Mariam's reflections.

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World Refugee Day: Voices of Women in the Midst of Conflicts

The music has stopped in the heart of the desert, the savannahs, and forests of the Sahel and the Central African Republic - taking with it the joy of better days. Fear has spread across the region, and people are facing it on two fronts: firstly, where armed groups devastate villages, driving more than five million people to flee their homes.  Secondly, the rise of COVID-19 is creating additional fear and uncertainty amongst communities.

And for the majority of displaced women, their dance partners have also disappeared. Many men of working age have been killed by armed groups, disappeared or have left in search of a better future. In Burkina Faso, women and children represented 84 per cent of the displaced population. Women find themselves in extremely precarious situations, struggling for their survival and for those depending on them. Many bear the scars – visible and invisible - of acts of violence. In the Central African Republic, a woman is victim of sexual and gender-based violence almost every hour.

These Sahelian and Central African women are hundreds of thousands, survivors and heroes - waiting for music to resume in their lives. Whilst they do not sing, they still have their stories, and hope, to imagine another future.

A team of female humanitarian workers with Oxfam collected the following stories. They are accompanied by illustrations made by the artist Sophie Le Hire, who has lived in Senegal for four years and who, in her artistic approach, proudly carries the voice of women, whom she considers as "giants". By juxtaposing two styles, she illustrates the reality of the present and the dream for the future of these women

Victorine*, Burkina Faso

“The day I hear that this disease is over, we will dance. The shootings, we were able to flee. But a disease that the wind can bring is very hard.”

My name is Victorine. I come from the Center-North of Burkina, from the village of Dablo. Before, I used to make a traditional millet beer as part of a women's association. It allowed me to support my whole family. I have been the head of my large family since the death of my husband.

The first time that gunmen attacked my village, I lost two of my brothers and my nephew. The second time, I was forced to flee like others had done before me. I left with only the clothes that I was wearing; today I am left with nothing.

We are hosted, like so many others, by a local family. We did not know our host before we arrived. He is our benefactor; without him, I don’t know what we would have done. There’s a huge lack of food; I can't eat every day, and without help I would not make it.

We have been told about coronavirus. It doubled our fear. You know, we fled because of the shootings and now we have more problems. When we arrived here [in Kaya], things seemed to have improved. We were able to go out to find food. Now, with a virus added to the mix? It's a double fear. Can we deny that death is waiting for us now?

We can no longer gather for food distributions. We’re asked to wait for a phone call, but this is very slow. I’ve started to collect gravel, and I sell the heaps of gravel in order to feed my family. My children count on me.

The most difficult thing here is water – we urgently need it. When I get 10 cans of water, they don’t last the day; it's hot, we have to wash, drink and clean. Water is our number one need.

If the disease ends and the attacks end, there will be peace. From childhood, our parents have always taught us that if there is agreement between a man and his wife, they make blessed children. As a woman, I teach my daughters-in-law, my children, my grandchildren, so that they cultivate peace and social cohesion. I would have liked to have been an outreach worker. I would go around to educate young people, and women on the importance of peace.

In the future, I see myself surrounded by my children. They will have succeeded in school, they will take me on trips to visit other countries, and I will breathe the air of peace. My children are my hope because they are the source of my life. And with them I will be happy. They say that a good child is everyone's child, so it all starts with education.

I ask the authorities to find a cure for the disease because we are already bearing the brunt of our other ‘disease’: insecurity.

Interview by Syntyche Ouedraogo, Oxfam in Burkina Faso.

*Name has been changed to protect identity

Oxfam’s response

In the Sahel and the Central African Republic, Oxfam provides humanitarian aid and carries out advocacy actions for communities affected by large-scale humanitarian crises. Women and girls are the most exposed in crisis and it is fundamental that their specific needs and their protection are at the heart of humanitarian responses. Women also play a major role in developing social cohesion and peacebuilding.

Oxfam and its local partners provide humanitarian aid to more than 400,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) and host communities in the region, in terms of food aid, access to water, hygiene and sanitation and to protect the most vulnerable, especially women and girls. Oxfam also work alongside communities in conflict transformation programs to foster cross-border dialogues and the inclusion of women and young people in peacebuilding processes.

Since the arrival of the COVID-19, Oxfam has adapted its programs to protect the poorest and most vulnerable against this new threat. Oxfam also distribute hygiene kits to schools and health professionals and take action to ensure clean and safe water continues to flow.

Read Tedy and Mariam's reflections.

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World Refugee Day: Life in a pandemic

Women refugees share their stories

The economic and social toll of COVID-19 has been felt across the globe, but the impact of the virus is not equal. People fleeing conflict and persecution are among the worst hit by the consequences of the pandemic. They also frequently lack sufficient access to healthcare and handwashing facilities to protect themselves against the virus.

According to the newly released figures by the UN Refugee Agency, an unprecedented 79.5 million people were displaced – the highest number the UNHCR has ever seen. Oxfam works alongside communities, partner NGOs, women and refugee-led organisations to prevent the spread of the disease in vulnerable communities and to ensure that their basic food and hygiene needs are met.

For World Refugee Day, we spoke to five women in Greece and Italy about how they’ve been coping with the pandemic outbreak and how they manage to find strength even in the face of incredible hardship.

Here’s Sara’s experience on how the Bashira Centre for displaced women helps her stay strong in Moria refugee camp in Greece.

Bashira Centre for displaced women, Moria refugee camp in Greece.

“Bashira is so important to me.”

Sara:

“I had already been waiting in the camp for 4 months. The pandemic measures made me feel abandoned, locked up, dirty. I found myself spending my whole day lying in my narrow, damp tent.

“Before the pandemic, every morning I went to Bashira, a centre that supports women in Lesbos. There, I could take a hot bath, meet people, share a tea, have English and Greek lessons and do what I like most: sports.

“Now, to protect myself against COVID-19, I stay in the tent as much as possible, go out only when necessary and wash my hands each time I come back from a trip to the camp warehouse.

“Bashira is so important to me. I hope that a medicine or vaccine against COVID-19 is found, so that Bashira and the asylum service can reopen.”

Lydia, a woman refugee also trapped in Moria camp in Greece, tells us how she has stayed safe during the pandemic.

Lydia's soap represents the force of hygiene.

“COVID-19 changed everything in my life.”

Lydia: “I am afraid of living freely while people are dying.

“To keep myself and my community safe, I respect the hygiene rules: I use soap and water when I can, I wear my mask, I keep a distance of one metre from others.

“For me, soap represents the force of hygiene.”

Oxfam works with partners on the island of Lesbos in Greece. Our most recent ‘Lesbos Bulletin’ provides an update on the situation in Moria camp, one of the EU sponsored ‘hotspots’ on the Greek islands, and our demands to the EU and Greek authorities.

Helena's vegetable garden

“I went through many difficult things, I can get through this too.”

Helena, a refugee living in Italy, has found strength in some small joys.

Helena:

“I wake up in the morning with the worry of getting sick and infecting my kids. Our lives have suddenly changed. To be healthy and protect my children we follow all the medical recommendations: wash our hands, wear the face mask, keep distance from others.

“Despite this, there are some beautiful moments: after work, I can enjoy all day playing with my two children. In my free time we go for a walk in the countryside where there is no one.

“I give myself strength. I say to myself: I went through many difficult things, I can get through this too! I have a vegetable garden with plants and flowers. It makes me happy – there I find my paradise.

“My hope is that this virus goes away forever. I would like to go back to a normal life: that my children go back to school and we can see friends again. I really would like to go to work without being afraid.”

Mariama's Koran - her source of strenght

“The Koran gives me strength.”

Mariama is a refugee from Guinea living in Italy. For World Refugee Day, she describes the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on her life.

Mariama:

“Staying home every day without anything to do is the most difficult thing. When the pandemic started, I had just finished my training course and I was going to look for a job and get my driver’s licence. The lockdown made this impossible.

“It is important to respect hygiene recommendations to contain the disease. I already knew a little about these rules because I had seen the Ebola epidemic in Guinea. I avoid contact with people, I wear a mask when I go out and I wash my hands when I get home.

“I hope to find a job and an apartment. In the meantime, I find strength in praying to God. The Koran gives me strength.”

Wafaa repairing doctors’ coats and nurses’ uniforms

“I hope that my friends and family stay safe.”

Wafaa, who fled from Syria and now lives in Italy, is repairing the uniforms of nurses and doctors during this pandemic. For World Refugee Day, she talks about the personal impact of the corona crisis.

An Oxfam hygiene kit

Wafaa:

“Until March, I had a weekly routine: working in the tailor shop, Italian classes, visiting family, and walking along the Arno river.

“The first days of lockdown were hard. I stayed home and sewed face masks for me and my family. I avoid going out often. Oxfam provided hygiene supplies which helped us contain the risk of infection.

“Now, twice a week, I go to work. I repair doctors’ coats, nurses’ uniforms, and other textiles for the local hospitals. I am happy to make this small contribution to my new community in a difficult moment.

“My job helps me stay strong, as does my faith. I hope one day to resume my previous life and that my friends and family stay safe.”

 

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Media Reactive: UNHCR Global Trends Report - Forced Displacement 2019

  • UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, published its annual Global Trends report today showing an increase in the number of forcibly displaced people in the world.
  • By the end of 2019, an unprecedented 79.5 million were displaced – the highest number the UNHCR has ever seen and an increase of almost 9 million since the end of 2018.

Responding to the report, Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said:

“It’s deeply concerning that the number of forcibly displaced people has increased for the eighth year in a row to yet another record level.

“The starkest figure released by far is the high percentage of children, who make up 40 per cent of the total number of forcibly displaced people in 2019.

“In addition to the violence, persecution and hardship that people are fleeing, many are now also facing the threat of the global coronavirus pandemic in overcrowded camps without enough clean water or access to health care, alongside additional climate related threats.

“Many people are also stranded at shut borders, or denied asylum because of the pandemic. It’s important that measures to curb the spread of the disease don’t make it harder for people who are forced to flee their homes.

“With the vast majority of the world’s refugees in developing countries, often struggling themselves with hunger and weak infrastructure, it’s time for the international community to step up and fully recognise asylum as fundamental right, invest in peacebuilding and support the call for a global ceasefire.

“UNHCR’s report coincides with Ireland’s successful tenure to the UN Security Council yesterday. Ireland, through its diplomatic representation, now has a window of opportunity - a platform and space among nations with extraordinary power - to be a global voice for peace, and a vocal advocate for the rights of communities affected by conflict.

“This is more important now than ever, with the UNHCR citing one of the two main reasons for the significant increase in people on the move is new displacement - particularly in Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Sahel, Yemen and Syria – all engulfed in protracted conflict, with the latter now in its tenth year of conflict and accounting for a sixth of the world’s total of forcibly displaced people.

“Ireland’s position on the UN Security Council is an opportunity to positively affect the lives of millions of people living under the threat of violence and instability due to conflict."

ENDS

Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165

Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 83 198 1869

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