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Unaccompanied Minors and the Importance of Family Reunification

There are almost 1,600 unaccompanied minors, the legal term for children seeking asylum without parents or guardians, in refugee camps on the Greek islands. Forced to flee persecution in their country of origin, these children experience untold trauma on their journey to Europe. Many of these children believe that arriving in Greece – their port of entry into Europe – marks an end to their long and dangerous journey. For most unaccompanied minors, sadly, arriving on the Greek islands is just the beginning.

On Lesvos, nearly 18,000 asylum seekers are crammed into one of the most densely crowded and under-resourced camps on the islands. Of those 18,000 people, more than 700 are unaccompanied minors – children without anyone to care for them. Most of these children are detained behind high chain link fences and guarded by the Greek military.

Tragically, the unaccompanied minors held in the so-called “pen” are the lucky ones. Other children, mostly teenage boys who lack the proper documentation proving their age, are left to fend for themselves. These children are at high risk of exploitation and violence. Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and aid workers on Lesvos have reported worrying spikes in self-harm and suicide attempts among children. These already unhygienic and unsafe conditions, coupled with the threat of COVID-19, make the Aegean island camps unacceptable places for unaccompanied minors.

In March, Ireland joined a “coalition of the willing”, a group of EU states which signed up to take a portion of the 1,600 unaccompanied minors being held on the Greek islands. Several European states, and members of this coalition, have relocated children from Greece to their respective countries. Ireland must be next. We ask that the Irish government follows through on its pledge to bring some of these children to Ireland as soon as possible. The unaccompanied minors on the Greek islands, these children who find themselves alone in the world, need a safe haven now more than ever.

Ireland has long served as a place of refuge for some of the most vulnerable. These unaccompanied minors – or any refugees, for that matter – have come to Ireland to start a new life. For many, this is almost impossible without their family by their side. Under the current International Protection Act of 2015, refugees can only apply to be reunited with immediate family members and children under the age of 18. This narrow view of the family does not take into account cultural differences of multi-generational family units, children “ageing out” during the asylum process, or same-sex couples who could not legally be married in their country of origin.

When refugees flee their countries, they are often separated from family members. Yet for asylum seekers granted refugee status in Ireland, the process to reunite with their loved ones becomes a race against the clock. Under the International Protection Act 2015, a person has 12 months to submit an application for family reunification from the date on which they were recognised as a refugee or received subsidiary protection status. While this may seem like sufficient time, in practice, it is often not enough for applicants to find their family and source the necessary documentation. In addition, the current law takes a narrow view of family and disallows dependent parents, siblings or other family members.

In 2017, Oxfam Ireland, the Irish Refugee Council and Nasc put forward the International Protection (Family Reunification) Amendment Bill 2017. This amendment would broaden the definition of eligible family members to include dependent relatives, including elderly parents, brothers, sisters and children over the age of 18. The presence of family members can accelerate the integration of both new arrivals and family members already in Ireland. The nurturing and coping strategies a family unit can provide are broad, ranging from financial and physical support, to emotional support and guardianship. Above all, the family can help anchor a loved one in a new place and contribute to building cohesion, as well as boosting their ability to engage with social institutions outside the family unit.

Oxfam Ireland is asking the new Irish government to uphold its obligation to relocate unaccompanied children from the Greek islands. We also ask that the new government ensures that the International Protection (Family Reunification) Amendment Bill 2017 be resubmitted for attention when the new government is formed, be allowed to pass through the final stages of the Dáil and be enacted into law.

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Dear Silent Ally

Written by Sagal Ali, Oxfam. Sagal Ali grew up in the UK and now works for Oxfam Novib in the Netherlands on the Work in Progress Project. These are her words.

As a typical millennial, the first I heard about the news of George Floyd’s death was on Instagram.

As I was scrolling, I saw a picture of a black man and a police officer and before even clicking play, I knew what was happening. Again.

For a few days, I tried to run away from the matter, and I am sure others were doing the same, trying to mentally protect myself during lockdown from further heartache. But my thoughts would not let me escape it, and as deep as my African roots lie, so do the wounds of racism. Every time the image came to my mind, I had an automatic physical reaction, I wanted to vomit and cry at the same time. I wanted to be in a place of readiness before entering the conversation, but you can never run away from reality.

I could, as many could, predict what would happen next after that video circulated. Because sadly this isn’t the first time, and sadly it will not be the last time.

The old tape started to play: the public outcry, the protests, the famous black American stars speaking out and the woke millennials and liberals showing their solidarity — and of course, let’s not forget the social media trolls. Everything went according to script.

But what I wasn’t ready for was the level of outrage and anger — the days of protests in the US and around the world, which still continue until today.

Like every black person living in a white majority country, I know there are many white friends, colleagues, neighbours that want to help, but just do not know what to do or even say. I know silent ally, you felt the rush of human emotions and pain when you saw another human unjustly killed but do not know how you can help, support or speak about it.

And dear silent ally, I know you have questions about what is happening today that you are too fearful to ask because you’re too fearful to enter the conversation about racism and too scared to be labelled ignorant for a misstep. But this isn’t the time to remain silent, silent ally, this is the time you should reach out to your neighbours, friends, colleagues of color and learn and educate yourself on their lived experiences in your country, because the truth of the matter is that racism is everywhere.

So silent ally, let me give you a glimpse into my experience as a black woman in the UK.

I wasn’t introduced to being different until I was 6 years of age, when a girl I attended primary school with took my best friend and said to me:

“My Dad said that we shouldn’t play with people like you.”

I was sad because a best friend to a six-year-old is your entire life. I didn’t understand what this blonde young girl meant when she said, “people like me.” I wondered what made me different to her and why I couldn’t be their friend, and who I was meant to play with at school. That day I went home, and my mother introduced me to the concept of racism.

And of course, I cannot say that I have experienced the level of racism that many others face in the UK or the US. As a black woman, racism targets you in a different way to your black brothers. You don’t have the same fear because you are not as often the target of police or law enforcement. You are not stopped and searched for no reason. You are not the person who makes women hold their purses that much tighter. You are not that person who makes people walk faster or cross the street if they see you.

As a black woman, however, you are as invisible.

But let’s talk about the black man growing up in white Britain because George Floyd was a black man and cannot be forgotten. Growing up with male black cousins in the UK, I have seen how they were conditioned to assimilate and never stand out, to never talk loudly or walk loud. How my aunts and uncles policed their haircuts and clothes, making sure that there was no reason for them to stand out and no reason for them to miss out on opportunities for being just too different. They all worked hard, got educated and climbed the social ladder in Britain.

And isn’t this the story you want to hear about white Europe or Britain? That if you work hard and get educated that you will escape “poverty” and you will succeed. The capitalist dreams. The Britain we were all led to believe in. But that is not the reality that millions of Black British people live and breathe every day.

So dear silent ally, let’s step away from looking at the US as if it is an anomaly and Europe is any better. We all need to accept the truth — that many black communities in Europe face systems of racism and oppression. That ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected and dying from the Coronavirus in the UK and the US. In moments of crisis, black communities and minorities are ever more so invisible. So dear silent ally, do not forget us, do not ignore us and do not ignore racism.

The protests in the US are not just about police violence but reflect the anger and frustrations that many black people feel in white Europe.

So dear silent ally, feel uncomfortable, educate yourself on the black experience and reach out to the communities of colour. Because, as Lilla Watson said, “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

To find out more about anti-racism work, how to report incidents of racism, and resources about racism in Ireland visit the Irish Network Against Racism (INAR).

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COVID-19 and the New Irish Government

The COVID-19 crisis has changed our world. The new Irish government has the opportunity to change Ireland and help build a fairer, more sustainable world in the wake of the pandemic. While here in Ireland we have successfully flattened the curve and supported those among us affected by the virus, both physically or financially, the situation in poorer countries is dire.

COVID-19 could potentially have a devastating impact on people living in poorer countries, where access to healthcare and social protection mechanisms is already extremely limited. In addition to causing loss of life and unprecedented human suffering, COVID-19 will exacerbate existing inequalities between rich and poor, men and women. To date, Ireland has played an important role in contributing to the international response to COVID-19. We particularly welcome the Irish Government’s announcement of €10 million in funding to the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan to the virus, and are grateful for the ongoing support through Irish Aid in responding to this pandemic.

However, the scale and complexity of this crisis is unprecedented. If we do not take more urgent preventative measures now and on an extraordinary scale, this could easily become the biggest humanitarian crisis the world has seen since World War II. We call on the new government and the Dáil to concentrate on resourcing the development needs of poorer countries, supporting systemic changes in healthcare, food production, and protection of the vulnerable, and building a more sustainable and just world.

We call on all members of the new Oireachtas, but especially party leaders and the new Government, to use their position to ensure that Ireland’s contribution to the international response to COVID-19 continues to extend to the most vulnerable countries. A key lever for Ireland to help address the COVID-19 crisis and contribute to a fairer, more peaceful and sustainable world is its Overseas Development Aid (ODA) programme. Ireland committed to spend 0.7 percent of national income on ODA for a number of decades. However, given the scale of the challenges facing low-income countries, we are calling on the next government to reach this commitment within its lifetime, in 2025.

While there has been increased ODA spending in recent years, Ireland’s current contribution still leaves the country far short of its 0.7 percent pledge. In the face of COVID-19, reducing aid budgets would be not only be inexcusable, but also self-defeating. If poorer countries cannot control the spread of the virus, it could return to wealthier nations. At a minimum, Ireland should maintain, preferably increase, its existing aid investment in the short term.

Most importantly, Ireland’s funding response to the pandemic must be additional, so as not to divert existing aid budgets away from other pressing humanitarian and development needs. As well as increasing ODA budgets, cancelling debt payments is the fastest way to keep money in countries and to free up resources to tackle the urgent health, social and economic crises resulting from the global pandemic.

To be effective in the short and long term, the response to the health crisis as a result of the spread of COVID-19 will need to be globally coordinated and locally led. There is an obvious need to prioritise prevention measures, health, social protection and food security to save lives and limit the outbreak and its economic impacts. Health systems in poor countries are unable to cope with COVID- 19; therefore, urgent action is needed to save lives. This includes doubling health spending through a global public health plan and emergency response. A coordinated and massive investment in public health is desperately needed now if we are to stop the spread of this deadly virus and prevent millions of deaths.

Countries must also be protected from slipping into food insecurity as a result of reduced income, agricultural production and increases in food prices. Today, 113 million people across 53 countries are already suffering from acute hunger. Ireland should support efforts to maintain food availability by ensuring food can move from rural areas and ports to urban centres, and avoid harmful actions such as export restrictions or tying food to national food producers. In addition, donors including Ireland must protect humanitarian access, and work to ensure that governments do not use emergency measures and special legislation as a tactic to criminalise civil society organisations, humanitarian actors and human rights defenders, and obstruct their legitimate work.

A better future must be guided by universality, collaboration, human rights, interconnectedness and leaving no one behind. It must be based on the international framework of human rights and intergenerational cohesion to deliver income security, the best possible health, decent housing, safety, and enjoyment of rights for all. We need a major economic stimulus that underpins a new social contract between people, governments and the market, that radically reduces inequality, gender inequalities and lays the foundations for a just, equal and sustainable human economy that works for all throughout their lives. We must seize this moment to save lives and repair the systems that made so many people vulnerable in the first place.

For example, the current scale of corporate tax avoidance continues to drain financial resources from low-income countries – resources which should be used to provide essential services such as health and education. Oxfam Ireland recognises that Ireland has made some reforms to address corporate tax avoidance; however, these reforms have not gone far enough to address the scale of tax avoidance that is facilitated by Ireland’s current corporate tax regime.

Additionally, the climate crisis is the most pressing issue that facing us today. It is affecting many of the communities with which Oxfam works, undermining their livelihoods through gradual, insidious changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, and increasing the frequency and/or intensity of hazards such as floods and droughts. In many ways COVID-19 is a dress rehearsal for climate breakdown. Ireland has been a laggard on climate action, with the government dragging its heels and missing key targets.

According to the UN, Ireland must reduce emissions by 7.6 percent a year, year-on-year, from now to 2030. To achieve this, it is important that Ireland implements faster and fair climate action as set out by the One Future Campaign. As well as reducing carbon emissions at home, wealthier countries like Ireland must provide sufficient climate finance to ensure that countries most impacted by climate breakdown have adequate resources to implement necessary adaption measures. Along with much needed reform in the care system, Ireland must support the development of a circular economy, which brings a holistic perspective to the lifespan of a product from design, material choice, sustainable production processes, product use, reuse and recycling.

The time is now for Ireland to cement its place in the world as a country at the forefront of combatting this pandemic, caring for the most vulnerable, and ensuring human rights across the world. With COVID-19 threatening to set the fight against poverty back by decades, we must seize this moment to save lives and repair the systems that made so many people vulnerable in the first place – and create a new and better world that is just, sustainable and feminist.

To read more about Oxfam Ireland’s recommendations to the new Irish Government, read our briefing Responding to New Global Realities: An Agenda for the New Irish Government and Oireachtas.

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Oxfam Ireland calls on decluttering public to do the #JoeyChallenge4Oxfam – a donation drive with a twist!

Charity shops call for donations ahead of June 8th reopening

 

Oxfam Ireland has launched a fun challenge – the #JoeyChallenge4Oxfam - to encourage people to declutter and save their donations for when the charity’s shops in the Republic of Ireland reopen on June 8th. The Joey Challenge encourages people to showcase their unwanted items by re-creating the infamous scene from popular television when Joey Tribbiani puts on as many layers of clothes as possible.

At the start of April, along with many other businesses, Oxfam Ireland made the difficult decision to close its network of shops – to protect staff, volunteers and customers – and to play its part in the country’s response to COVID-19.

Trevor Anderson, Director of Trading with Oxfam Ireland said: “Our shops play a vital role in raising much-needed funds for our work globally – they are central to ensuring we can continue to protect and support some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

“Today, we are calling on people to drop their donations of clothes, accessories and bric-a-brac to their local Oxfam. Ahead of opening our doors on June 8th, our staff and volunteers will be in the shops getting them safety-ready to recommence business and they will gladly accept your pre-loved items.

“The reality is, after more than two months of closure – your donations are needed more than ever – especially as we respond to the threat of COVID-19 in some of the most fragile places on earth.”

So, how does Oxfam’s Joey Challenge work?

 

First things first, if you haven’t already, get decluttering! Oxfam shops accept clothes, shoes, accessories, bric-a-brac, books, DVDs and more. Once you have gathered your items for donation show Oxfam what you’ve got – Joey style! Take a photo of you and your donations and post it on Instagram or Facebook with the hashtag #JoeyChallenge4Oxfam, making sure to nominate a friend. You can go original by putting on as many layers of clothing as possible, or try one of Oxfam’s alternative (and fun) Joey Challenges:

  • The Joey Original: Layer on as many of the clothes and accessories you are going to donate as possible.
  • The Joey Fresh: Hang all the clothes you are going to donate on your washing line or over your staircase’s bannister or over your arms!
  • The Joey Traditional: Simply fold and pile the clothes you are doing to donate – let’s see how high you can go!
  • The Showy Joey: Put on a fashion show and model some of the items you are going to donate.
  • The Novel Joey: Just donating books?! Stack ‘em up – or build something with them!
  • The Joey Mishmash: Gather the bric-a-brac you are going to donate.
  • The Joey Freestyle: Show us what you got in your own unique way!

Once you have completed your Joey Challenge box or bag up your unwanted items and drop them to your nearest Oxfam shop. While our doors don’t open until June 8th, staff will be in store from June 2nd, ready to accept your donations.

Next step? Feel good about this. Your pre-loved items are a lifeline. By donating to your local Oxfam, you are playing a part in Oxfam’s global work to beat poverty and fight inequality – which is now more urgent than ever as COVID-19 reaches vulnerable and at-risk populations. Lastly, you’ll also be reducing the amount of textiles that ends up in Irish landfills every year – helping our planet and people.

To find out more about the #JoeyChallenge4Oxfam visit: https://stories.oxfamireland.org/joeychallenge4oxfam/

Shop opening hours may vary in the initial weeks after re-opening - so please bear with us as we restart business.

Ends

Contact

Caroline Reid, External Communications Coordinator |caroline.reid@oxfam.org| 087 912 3165

Notes to the editor

*We are hoping to officially reopen our shops in the Republic of Ireland from June 8th / Phase two of Ireland's roadmap – however this is dependent on Friday's announcement and whether the government green light the next phase of reopening.

We are still waiting on government recommendations on reopening in Northern Ireland.

Find your local Oxfam shop: https://www.oxfamireland.org/shops

What can I donate? https://www.oxfamireland.org/shop/donate-to-shops

Safety measures Oxfam Ireland Shops will be taking:

  •  All shops will have a suite of PPE: sneeze screens in front of the tills, social distancing measures and messaging throughout the store  and a sanitation station at the entrance.
  • Staff and volunteers will wear masks and they will have an infrared thermometer in each shop to ensure regular check-ups - as well plenty of handwashing - throughout the day.
  • We do expect a surge in donations and have put guidelines and processes in place to manage this eventuality.
  • As part of the overall ‘Covid Compliant Reopening Plan’ which focuses on the Health & Safety of our Staff, Volunteers, Customers and Donors all stock donations will be quarantined for 72 hours before going on sale.
  • All shops have had a risk assessment carried out and all staff and volunteers will be taken through COVID-19 Compliant Health & Safety training before they start their shift.

 

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