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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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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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