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In Yemen, my child cries all night from hunger

Written by: Ibrahim Alwazir | Edited by: Lauren Heartnett

Since the war in Yemen escalated in 2015, millions of its people have been displaced – losing their livelihoods and leaving most or all of their belongings behind. Forced from their homes, they have had to flee, resettle and survive.

The small informal settlements, where many now live, lack basic services like clean water, safe sanitation, electricity, schools and more. Oxfam and other organisations, from the UN to small local NGOs, are doing all we can to help these families, but a massive gap in funding and ongoing challenges accessing vulnerable communities continues to put this response at risk.

Cases of COVID-19 were first confirmed in Yemen in early April. It has been spreading throughout the country since, but without sufficient testing, healthcare facilities or other infrastructure, it’s difficult to accurately estimate how many people have been affected.

Hunger has always been an urgent threat, with many areas of Yemen on the brink of famine for years. Cases of malnutrition, particularly among children, are all too commonplace. The price of food has increased and the basics are often difficult to find, putting food out of reach for most Yemenis.  In some cases, families have been forced to have their daughters married at a young age so they have one less mouth to feed, or in the hope that they will have a better chance in another’s care.

Hakeem stands near his tent in the settlement for displaced families, where he lives and also works with Oxfam to promote good health and sanitation, with a focus on how to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Haafedh Almattabi / Oxfam

Oxfam’s Public Health Community Programme

Oxfam’s Public Health Community Volunteer Hakeem Asser is working in one of these small informal settlements in Al-Qaflah district in Amran governorate, where 45 families now live. He also was forced to leave his home and is now living in this community with his family, including his seven children. He is helping to raise awareness in his community about the threat of COVID-19 and educate people on how to protect their families. 

“I am a [paid] volunteer with Oxfam and this helps me provide for my family, help my community and learn,” said Hakeem. “You can’t imagine how desperate people are. I can see them during the night, worried, sad, and totally unready to face another day. I try to calm them down and tell them it will be alright. Even with the payments from Oxfam, I am struggling, too. The other day I couldn’t afford to buy milk for my child. He was malnourished two years ago and I took him to a hospital to receive medical care on credit. I couldn’t pay back until now and I can’t follow up on his condition because of that.”

Hakeem shared that families have lost almost all means of accessing food. Before COVID-19 hit, this was already a major challenge. Oxfam had previously been the sole organisation to provide food vouchers, cash, water and awareness campaigns in the area, but most of this work had to be cut due to a lack of funds and challenges accessing the area regularly due to the conflict and restrictions from authorities.

“Oxfam was providing us with food baskets first and then cash for food, and we were happy and able to provide food and other necessities for our families. But since Oxfam was forced to scale back its support, we have lost a helping hand and people are devastated.”

Now, with COVID-19 looming, even the ways families had adapted to find food to survive are no longer open to them.

“People used to go to markets to get food or find daily-wage work opportunities, beg in the streets or receive leftovers from nearby restaurants, but now they have lost that too.”

Families in this, and other areas, are very afraid to leave their communities to find food or seek medical care, for COVID-19 or any other ailments.

Hakeem conducting a session with the community on what causes Cholera, how to prevent it, identify symptoms and how it can be treated. Photo Credit: Haafedh Almattabi / Oxfam

I can’t eat while others starve

“People here are aware of the virus and how it has been killing many people around the world. They are terrified. They all think they could be infected, and they can’t afford to get sick or die. This means that they now only rely on the generosity of others who provide perhaps some bread.

“Our children are the most affected – they are starving! My child keeps crying all night. He needs milk and I can’t afford it. That breaks my heart. But when I have food, I share it with my neighbours, especially these days. We have bread and when we bake, I make sure I share it all. I can’t eat while others starve. This is what we do – we share what we have!

“All I can say is that we are doing our best and we are confident in God’s mercy. This doesn’t mean we don’t need help. We need it so bad and we need it now. The most urgent thing right now is food. We need water, hygiene kits, cash and awareness campaigns. People are losing hope and with COVID-19 spreading, I can only imagine it will get worse. No one wants that to happen. It’s not fair.”

Oxfam is rehabilitating the water supply to one of the main hospitals in the city of Aden, providing cash assistance to families affected by flooding in the south of the country, and training community health volunteers to provide information about coronavirus and the importance of hygiene and handwashing.

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Reasons to volunteer with your local Oxfam shop

Countless businesses across the country faced the sad reality of having to close their doors due to COVID-19. But what if your business is also a home away from home for people from all walks of life?

At the heart of Oxfam Ireland Shops, there is a network of dedicated staff and volunteers – all working together to beat poverty. They play a vital role in supporting Oxfam’s global work - and now our global response to COVID-19 – while also providing a solution to throwaway fashion by saving items from ending up in landfills here in Ireland. They are planet and people protectors.

I had a chat with my colleague Tina, Shop Manager, about reopening for business and what she missed the most during lockdown.

Q: How long have you worked with Oxfam Ireland?

A: I have worked in Oxfam for two years.

Q: What was your motivation for applying for the job?

A: My motivation in applying for the job was to work for a charity who’s aim was to alleviate poverty. I also wanted to challenge myself in a shop environment after acquiring my qualification in speech and language and special needs. I looked forward to working with volunteers and those who are on schemes such as CE and Tus. I hoped I could help teach them new skills, which may help them in the future. Another reason I applied for the job was to work somewhere that I could create a happy, inclusive environment for all my team members who I could not be without as they are all fantastic!

Q: How did it feel to have to close your shop?

A: I felt so disappointed but it was something that was out of my control and it was of course for the best to protect everyone. I felt guilty telling my volunteers that we had to close as I knew some would be upset but from a health and safety point of view it was the right thing to do.

Q: What did you miss the most?

A: I missed my routine every day. Most of all I missed my team and all their little stories and chats that we would have as we went about our work. It was difficult having less communication with my colleagues in other shops too as we often share ideas on how to layout our shops or promotions. That’s really important to me as I pride myself in doing the very best I can to make as much money as possible for those who are in need and the project work Oxfam carries out. I missed the smiles and waves from customers and volunteers in my store as that makes my day.

Q: What were you looking forward to when you reopened your doors?

A: I looked forward to seeing my volunteers and customers again. They always have a smile and bring happiness into the store, which makes me feel very lucky to work with Oxfam. I know there will be new challenges now but I hope to have a beautiful, bright, summer store and that we can bring some nice summer bargains to everyone in Kilkenny.

Q: What is the best thing about working in a charity shop?

A: Its great to work with a diverse group of people who all have particular skills, which help the store to do really well. I have those who look after individual areas and I would be lost without them as they help me everyday and they make the store really! I am only with Oxfam two years but I have seen my store get better all the time all thanks my volunteers, scheme workers and the support of our donors who give us great quality clothing, books and bric-a-brac. We also have lots of regular customers who we cherish as they keep our store alive and successful too.

Q: What has been your best moment in the shop?

A: Celebrating Oxfam Kilkenny’s 20th anniversary was the best moment. Many of my volunteers who have been here since we opened were acknowledged for all their hard work, dedication and support down through the years. We had a little party with cake, flowers and plenty of tea! Everyone had a great time!

Q: How can people help your business bounce back?

A: My store can’t survive without our community. We depend on donors for stock and customers to buy it so I would encourage everyone to try visit our store to support in anyway you can. For others who wish to give their time, we always welcome new volunteers to our store. We have a really lovely team here. You’re guaranteed to meet lovely, friendly people and you can help in a variety of ways within the store!

Q: Is there anything you would like to say to your customers and/or volunteers?

A: I would like to say a huge thank you for all your support over the past number of years. Thank you to all my team for being such a lovely crew to work with. I also want to thank all the customers that donated and continue to donate clothes bric-a-brac etc. We are open for business now and all are very welcome.

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Diminished, Derogated, Denied: Asylum in Greece under the new International Protection Act

One of the most devastating human rights disasters happening on European soil is taking place in the refugee camp ‘hotspots’ on the Greek islands. These overcrowded, unhygienic and under-resourced camps have only worsened since the EU-Turkey deal was implemented in 2016.

Increased pressure on the Greek authorities as a result of dire conditions in the camps led to the creation of the International Protection Act (IPA), which was implemented in January. Instead of improving conditions, however, the IPA restricts the rights of the most vulnerable, establishes unfair asylum timelines, increases administrative detention and negative decisions, limits asylum appeals, and highlights an alarming pattern of an EU-wide effort to deter and reduce the number of people seeking asylum in Europe.

Asylum seekers in a new country are extremely vulnerable, and as such, are afforded special protections. As well as the inherent vulnerability of being an asylum seeker, many groups – such as unaccompanied children, survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and torture, and those with mental health disorders – need additional support. Under Greek law, these vulnerable populations can access medical treatment and specialised reception conditions – but in practice, this is rarely done due to the shortage of healthcare professionals to identify and help those who need it.

The IPA has further contributed to the suffering of vulnerable people by reversing this practice and no longer prioritising or fast tracking their asylum applications. This disregard for the vulnerability of specific populations, such as single women or survivors of SGBV, is especially dangerous during the pandemic and while incidents of rape and assault have risen dramatically due to a decrease in security in the camps.

The IPA was implemented following months of groundwork laid by the Greek government to paint people seeking asylum  as “fake refugees” and normalise refoulement and deportations. The government is using the new law as a deterrent by speeding up returns of those deemed ineligible for protection. To that end, the new law fast tracks asylum seekers who have arrived throughout this year, with the aim of illustrating to people in Turkey – who are hoping to make the crossing to Greece – that their stay will be short.

In practice, fast tracking denies people seeking asylum the opportunity to prepare for their interview, attain counsel or even understand the complex process. Another disastrous consequence is that people who arrived in Greece last year – and endured months in horrendous conditions in Greek ‘hotspot’ centres – are now seeing their long-awaited first asylum interviews being rescheduled for 2021.

Under EU law, administrative detention is the exception for managing migration, but the IPA has laid the groundwork to make it the default. The IPA allows for indiscriminate detention of all people seeking asylum until a judge recognises that they are eligible for international protection. This practice has resulted in a massive increase in detention centre capacity – a deadly and dangerous reality in the midst of a pandemic.

The reckless decision to detain asylum seekers does not just apply to adults; the number of unaccompanied children in detention reached a record high in March. This arbitrary detention of minors violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other legal mechanisms which stipulate that the detention of children should only be used as a measure of last resort.

The new measures enacted by the IPA earlier this year severely diminish the safeguard of the asylum process and do not allow for redress of administrative mistakes. Asylum claims are now being refused as ‘unfounded’ and viewed as implicitly withdrawn if a person fails to attend an interview. These refusals do not take into account administrative errors – which are a major issue in camps like Moria – or dense overcrowding, which makes making appointments difficult and dangerous.

Additionally, the IPA allows for Greek asylum services to refuse applications as unfounded if they cannot provide an interpreter for the applicant. This is a violation of EU law. In May, amendments were added to the IPA which allowed people seeking asylum to apply for a continuation of the examination of their application. While this amendment was welcome, it did not address the errors made between January and May and those people who had their applications for asylum refused.

Accessing legal assistance and the right to appeal was severely impacted with the implementation of the IPA. People are allowed to apply for State-funded legal aid, but this is severely limited. This means that most asylum seekers rely on legal assistance from under-resourced and overstretched NGOs. The inaccessibility of legal aid along with the convoluted system for notification of decisions means an increase in negative decisions for people seeking asylum.

Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees have released a report on this issue, which highlights the changes needed to improve the situation on the Greek islands.

The European Commission and (when relevant) the European Parliament should:

  • Review Greece’s compliance in both law and practice with European directives pertinent to international protection. The findings should be published, and the situation closely monitored.
  • Promote respect for fundamental rights and the rights of refugees. This includes ensuring all communications avoid inflammatory language and war-like terminology. Countries which instrumentalise the plight of people seeking asylum for political gain end up demonising vulnerable people.
  • Ensure that all vulnerable asylum seekers are explicitly exempt from expedited border procedures. The use of expedited procedures, which are more prone to errors in judgment, should be restricted to the absolutely necessary minimum. Access to safe accommodation, healthcare and legal assistance should always be guaranteed.
  • End the administrative detention of children and their families by explicitly prohibiting it in legislation.
  • Establish mandatory responsibility-sharing mechanisms for asylum seekers that enhance their protection – this is the only effective and long-term solution to reducing the pressure on asylum services and social support in Greece.

EU Member States should:

  • Provide financial and in-kind support for protection work, social services and legal assistance to people seeking asylum in areas that see a large number of arrivals, under an EU-wide responsibility-sharing mechanism. All projects should be gender-sensitive and address the specific needs of women.
  • Pledge to resettle refugees from non-EU countries and commit to creating additional legal pathways for refugees and migrants, in order to gradually reduce the need to resort to dangerous routes.

The Greek government should:

  • Review and amend the International Protection Act based on an impact assessment, so as to ensure respect for the rights of people seeking asylum and compliance with international and EU law.
  • Ensure that all asylum seekers, regardless of nationality, have access to a fair and efficient asylum procedure in a safe environment, as well as the healthcare and services they need.
  • Enhance State-funded legal aid so that, at a minimum, all people are able to receive legal assistance at the second instance of their asylum examination, as mandated by EU law. Guarantee that lawyers and organisations that provide legal assistance have unhindered access to people seeking asylum so as to provide legal assistance and services at first and second instances.
  • Implement alternatives to detention and only ever use administrative detention as a measure of last resort, after a thorough examination and justification of its necessity on a case-by-case basis.  Explicitly prohibit the detention of children and their families by law.
  • Significantly bolster the capacities of the Greek Asylum Service, the Reception and Identification Service and the National Public Health Organisation by increasing staffing and improving training.
  • Take all necessary measures to eliminate all phenomena/instances of xenophobia and racist violence. Promote a facts-based engagement between Greek authorities, Greek nationals, and refugees and migrants to reduce tensions and foster social cohesion between communities on the islands.
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Your local Oxfam shop needs you: All-island call for volunteers

  • Are charity shops your thing? Then why not volunteer in your local Oxfam Ireland shop!

  • Oxfam Shops Across the Island of Ireland seek volunteers


Oxfam Ireland have launched an all island call for volunteers to help their network of shops “bounce back” after the COVID-19 lockdown, which resulted in them closing their doors for the first time in over 60 years.

Trevor Anderson, Director of Trading with Oxfam Ireland said: “Our teams are thankfully back doing what they do best and our shops are now open after months of closure. Sadly, not all of our volunteers are in a position to return to the shops at the moment, this, coupled with the incredibly generous volume of donations dropped off to shops already, means we are currently in desperate need of people power.

“I would encourage anyone interested in lending some time to pop into their local Oxfam shop and let the manager know - people can give as little or as much time as they like. Oxfam shops are a hive of activity with lots of opportunities to meet new people, learn new skills, and of course, have plenty of fun along the way.

“Our volunteers are the backbone of our network of shops and by giving a little of their time and creativity, each person makes a huge difference in support of some of the most at-risk communities in the world.

“It is because of the commitment and enthusiasm of our amazing volunteers that Oxfam can change lives and work toward building a fairer and more sustainable world for everyone.”

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

Oxfam Ireland’s network of shops play a vital role in supporting their work in some of the world’s poorest countries, helping people to lift themselves out of poverty and thrive as well as saving lives when disaster strikes. The loss of income during this period dealt a massive blow to the capacity of Oxfam and their global mission to beat poverty and fight inequality.

To find your nearest Oxfam Ireland shop visit: https://www.oxfamireland.org/shop/oxfam-shops

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Contact

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

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


Notes to the Editor

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New asylum system in Greece designed to deport, not protect, warns Greek Council for Refugees and Oxfam

Oxfam Ireland call on Irish Government to honour commitment made on unaccompanied minors

A briefing paper released by the Greek Council of Refugees (GCR) and Oxfam today, reveals how the newly reformed Greek asylum system is designed to deport people rather than offer them safety and protection. The joint report, Diminished, Derogated, Denied, shows that people who have fled violence and persecution have little chance of a fair asylum procedure, and how the new reforms make it possible to expose people to abuse and exploitation – including the detention of particularly vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women and people with disabilities.

Evelien van Roemburg, Oxfam’s Europe Migration Campaign Manager, said: “Greece’s new law is a blatant attack on Europe’s humanitarian commitment to protect people fleeing conflict and persecution. The European Union is complicit in this abuse, because for years it has been using Greece as a test ground for new migration policies. We are extremely worried that the EU will now use Greece’s asylum system as a blueprint for Europe’s upcoming asylum reform.

“While Greece has a sovereign right to manage its borders, it must protect the fundamental principle of non-refoulement. The EU and Greece have made a political choice to jeopardise the lives and futures of people it has a responsibility to protect.”

This situation is further aggravated by the inhumane living conditions in Greece’s refugee camps where people are now at risk of a devastating health crisis should COVID-19 hit. Moria camp, for example, is currently at six times its capacity and people have insufficient access to basic healthcare, clean toilets or handwashing facilities, while overcrowding makes social distancing - critical to prevent COVID-19 spreading - next to impossible.

Testimonies gathered by the Greek Council for Refugees expose the harrowing living conditions for people seeking asylum in Moria camp. Rawan*, from Afghanistan, came to Greece with her two children to seek safety in Europe. A single mother, and also a survivor of gender-based violence, Rawan was forced to live for six months in a tent, in the overspill area of the Moria camp, where basic facilities such as toilets are not always accessible.

Rawan, from Afghanistan said: “The situation in Moria was scary. During the pandemic, everybody was afraid that if the virus gets to us, then they will dig a mass grave to bury us. They only gave us two masks and soap. But how are we supposed to wash our hands without water? In the food line, it was so packed, we couldn’t keep a distance. We were not protected.”

The reformed asylum law effectively bars people who don’t have legal support from appealing a negative asylum decision. Deadlines have been shortened drastically and, in many cases, expire before people are even informed that their application for asylum was refused. People seeking asylum are only able to submit an appeal through a lawyer – but, on Lesbos, there is only one state-sponsored lawyer. The asylum system also makes it extremely difficult for people seeking asylum to have the authorities properly review the reasons why they have fled conflict or persecution in their home countries.

Spyros-Vlad Oikonomou, advocacy officer at GCR said: “When the Greek authorities refuse an asylum application, it does not necessarily mean people are not in need of international protection. It is often a consequence of the accelerated asylum procedure applied in the context of border procedures. Short deadlines increase the possibility of errors. In addition, people don’t have the time or a suitable environment that allows them to prepare for the asylum interview, in which they have to speak about the horrors from which they have fled.

“This puts people’s lives at risk.

“The Greek government must restore a fair asylum system, which fully respects human rights. The European Commission must review Greece’s asylum practices and assess their compliance with EU law.”

Oxfam and GCR call on the Greek government and the EU to immediately review the new Greek asylum law and give everyone seeking asylum in Greece access to a fair and effective asylum procedure. They also call on EU member states to honour the principle of solidarity underlying the very fabric of the EU, and share responsibility with Greece in protecting people fleeing persecution.

In March, Ireland joined a coalition of willing EU member states who agreed to take a portion of the 1,600 unaccompanied refugee children being held on the Greek Islands. Several countries have already relocated children to their respective states. Ireland, by fulfilling this commitment, can demonstrate an important first step to responsibility sharing and an immediate show of solidarity in these challenging and unprecedented times. The unaccompanied minors on the Greek Islands, children alone in the world, are in need of a safe place now more than ever.

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Contact:

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

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

Notes to editors:

* Names have been changed to protect identities.

  • Spokespeople are available in Athens, Lesbos and Brussels for interview
  • Full report: Diminished, Derogated, Denied
  • The Greek government also illegally suspended asylum applications for the month of March.
  • While the authorities sometimes decide within days on the asylum requests of people who arrived in 2020, those who have arrived in 2019 have to wait for months or even years for their first interview to take place. During this period, most are not allowed to leave the inhuman EU-sponsored camps on the Greek islands.
  • The Greek authorities are required to offer legal support to people seeking asylum in the appeals stage. This is to ensure that any mistakes in the first instance can be corrected and people entitled to international protection are not returned to potentially dangerous places. However, state-funded lawyers is very limited and in 2019, only 33% of appeals benefited from the state-funded legal support scheme. The majority of people are directed to NGO-funded lawyers, but NGOs have limited capacity and the restricted movement in the camps also prevents people from easily finding a lawyer at an NGO.
  • The European Commission will soon release a new Migration and Asylum Pact, which will lay out the direction for the EU and member states to reform the EU asylum system and the bloc’s migration policies. The new Pact will most likely suggest to use more development aid to curb migration, and it risks perpetuating the humanitarian catastrophe that has been unfolding in Greece over the past years.
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