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Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo is declared an international health emergency

News broke yesterday of the first confirmed case of the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD) in the heavily populated city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), located on the Rwandan border.

Serious concerns are being expressed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the safety of the one million residents in this large urban area and about the spread of the virus beyond, as Goma serves as a major gateway for transport to and from the DRC.

The WHO has now declared the Ebola outbreak in the DRC a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. This declaration will mean a greater response from the rest of the world on the plight of the Congolese people.

Oxfam has been providing assistance in the Goma region with public awareness and education on how to keep safe and stop the spread of the disease and is ready to respond further if this first confirmed case leads to more.

It is important that travel in this area is unrestricted until we have further information about Ebola in Goma because millions of people depend on cross border trade to make a living in this already extremely poor part of the world.

In the rest of the DRC, we have helped hundreds of thousands of people by providing clean, safe water and working with local community leaders and volunteers to increase understanding of how to prevent Ebola.

Louise is a community leader in a district within Mangina, the most affected area by the Ebola virus. Copyright: John Wessels/Oxfam

Three hundred kilometres north of Goma in Mangina, a community leader, Louise, told us about her experience in this heavily impacted part of the DRC:

“At first we thought Ebola was witchcraft. We thought it was a spell cast on women because they are the one who are most affected. But since we received an explanation, we have understood that it is a very serious disease that strikes us.

“From the beginning of the outbreak, we called a community meeting and we decided to isolate any dead bodies. It was not easy because we do not have a mortuary in Mangina and people usually stay with the body for several days.

“Since the Ebola outbreak many people have died, others are in the hospital.  Many children are without their mothers. These children live with difficulty and the community has few means to help them.

“Here in Mangina, even finding food for your household is difficult. Sometimes you can spend the day without eating. We have seen families flee from here, one after the other. They may come back at the end of the epidemic.”

We urgently need your help to continue to play a vital role in preventing the disease from spreading. Oxfam is providing clean, safe water and hygiene kits and working closely wih community leaders and volunteers to raise awareness and increase understanding of how to take preventative measures against the disease.

Please, donate now to help meet the most critical needs. 100% of your donation will go to our Ebola response in DRC.

Oxfam - Response to Ebola outbreak

Government should support recommendation on family reunification says Justice Committee

  • Senator Colette Kelleher, Oxfam, Irish Refugee Council and Nasc welcome report by Joint Committee on Justice and Equality.
  • Committee finds that a broader definition of family would be fairer to those fleeing from conflict situations.

 

A group calling for a fairer system to reunify refugee families in Ireland who have been separated by persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations, has welcomed a report by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. The report recommends that the Government should allow legislation broadening the current definition of family contained in the International Protection Act to progress through the Dáil. 

Senator Colette Kelleher, who initiated the legislation, Oxfam, Irish Refugee Council and Nasc fully endorse the findings, which state that the current regime is too restrictive and that it needs to better reflect the realities of refugee familial relationships.

Currently in Ireland, refugees can only apply to be reunited with immediate family members and children under the age of 18. The proposed amendment would broaden the definition of eligible family members to include; elderly parents, who are often too old and vulnerable to make the arduous journey to flee brothers, sisters, and  children over the age of 18. This would allow families an opportunity to apply to reunite in a place of safety and peace help them to rebuild their lives and fully integrate into their communities in Ireland.

The implications of the current restrictions were recently presented by students from Largy College in Clones, Monaghan, who visited Leinster House to tell the House about the real challenges faced by refugees on their journey to safety. Whilst there, the transition year class took the opportunity to advocate on behalf of fellow Largy College student Lilav, a Syrian teenager who was separated from her sister during the conflict.

In an open letter to officials, Lilav said: "My family and I left Aleppo eight years ago because of the war. We spent two and a half years in Turkey. While in Turkey, my older sister Jihan, married Gmo, who is also from Syria. Jihan followed her husband’s wishes and stayed in Turkey while the rest of my family moved to Greece.  We spent two years living in Greece before moving to Ireland. Jihan and Gmo stayed in Turkey until 2015 before returning to Syria following the death of Gmo’s brother. They had only planned to return to Syria for a few weeks”.

Liav continued “Due to the war, they have been unable to leave. Jihan and Gmo now have two young daughters. Elena aged one and a half and Lilav who is five months old. Syria is not a safe place for my two beautiful nieces to grow up.  Life is extremely difficult for my sister and her young family in Syria. There is no guarantee that Jihan or her family will survive. They are in a lot of danger.”

The narrowing of access to family reunification for people granted international protection under changes to the legislation made in 2015 was recently highlighted by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to mark World Refugee Day, stating that the International Protection Act 2015 should be amended to widen the definition of family members to recognise the diversity of family forms in compliance with international human rights obligations.

Senator Colette Kelleher said: “I welcome the Detailed Scrutiny Report by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality published today. It shows that the ‘Family Reunification’ Bill is an important, humane proposal, deserving of a money message by Government. It is in line with IHREC’s recent recommendations on refugee family reunification. My Bill returns to a more compassionate system in place for nearly two decades and gives desperate families torn apart by war and conflict, the chance to apply to be reunited in safety, puts the process on a firmer footing and within reasonable timescales. The ‘Family Reunification’ Bill recognises the diversity of family forms in compliance with international human rights obligations.”

The ‘Family Reunification’ Bill was initiated to address the restriction introduced by the International Protection Act 2015 and it has passed through all stages of the Seanad with a majority and through the Dáil Second Stage with a large majority of 78-39 in December 2018. However, it was determined that a money message from Government would be required for this Bill to proceed to formal committee stage. Today’s report by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality recommends that the money message is granted.

 

ENDS

 

CONTACT: Interviews, images and more information available on request contact Nyle Lennon on nyle.lennon@oxfam.org  083 197 5107.

 

Notes to the Editor:

The report by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality can be downloaded and viewed here: http://bit.ly/2LyGIBj

International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017:  The Bill gives persons who have been granted international protection under the International Protection Act 2015 a statutory entitlement to apply for family reunification in respect of dependent members of the wider family, in addition to their current automatic right of family reunification in respect of the nuclear family.

Money message: In order for Private Members’ Bills, which are deemed by the Ceann Comhairle to involve a charge on the State, to progress to committee stage in the Dáil, they need a ‘money message’ from the government. Historically, this mechanism has rarely been used. However, the denial of a money message has recently been used to block a number of Private Members’ Bills from reaching Committee stage in the Dáil.

 

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Refugees deserve to rebuild their lives

They have lost so much, the millions of people who have been forced to flee due to war and natural disasters.

They have lost their homes. They have lost their loved ones. They have lost their livelihoods.

But their hopes and dreams can never be lost.

On World Refugee Day, we meet just three of the 70.8 million people displaced around the world and pay tribute to their determination and creativity.

In Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp, 12-year-old Muna* from Eastern Ghouta, Syria, is taking part in an art project run by Oxfam.

Muna*, who wants to become a fashion designer, engineer or journalist, can’t remember much about her life in Syria because she was just six years old when she and her family had to flee.

 

“I didn’t go to school in Syria; it was the beginning of the war and there was a lot of bombings,” she says.

Despite the trauma she has already experienced in her short life, Muna* is full of confidence and hope for the future.

“If you have a dream don’t give it up, it is nice to have a dream and work towards achieving it,” she says. “We as kids need to draw our dreams with our hands so we can achieve them one day.”

 

When Mosees, Christine and their three children were threatened with a weapon one night, they fled their home in Juba, South Sudan, and made their way to Impevi camp in Uganda.

Despite only being residents of the camp for a few months, they have already built their own house. Christine (24), who is a member of a group called Ask & Try, was also trained by Oxfam on how to make eco-stoves from clay, which must be moulded to a fixed shape so that they burn briquettes properly.

Christine, who has perfected the art, also made her own stove: “I light it in the morning and if it burns well it will do it all day. I don't have to look for firewood anymore and that saves a lot of time and stress, because it is not safe to leave the camp.”

Although she would like to go home to South Sudan someday, she will only do so if the violence ends.  In the meantime, Christine says: “We will stay here, and we can build a good life.”

Meanwhile, in Zambia’s Kenani refugee camp, Falia loves hairdressing and happily spends her days braiding, weaving and cutting the residents’ hair. She used to have a hair salon in the Democratic Republic of Congo before the conflict forced her to flee with her husband and three children.

 

“We left because we saw people breaking into people’s homes, killing people and stealing stuff – we realised it was time to go,” she says. “I was scared of getting killed. I have lost too many people in this war.”

Falia is part of Oxfam’s livelihoods programme and received tools and equipment to open a salon in the camp. Unfortunately, heavy rains destroyed the salon, but she continues to work under a tree.

“The salon is important because some people come to rest and relax, even if they are not having their hair done and others come to forget their problems or to learn how to do hair,” she says. “I just want to keep being a hairdresser and I want to grow. I want my children to be able to go to school and have a better life, I want to keep working in the salon so that everything is great.”

Oxfam is working in refugee camps around the world, providing life-saving aid such as clean water, sanitation and food to those who have been forced to flee.

We also help to protect refugees from violence and abuse, ensure they understand their rights and give them access to free legal aid.

 

*Name changed to protect identity

“It is not easy to live in isolation” – the women caught up in DRC’s Ebola crisis

Ebola has claimed more than 1,400 lives across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since August of last year. The most recent figures from the World Health Organisation show the total number of cases at almost 2,100, while the outbreak – the second largest in history – has also spread to neighbouring Uganda.

Oxfam was one of the first agencies to respond to the crisis in conflict-ridden DRC by providing clean, safe water and working with community leaders and volunteers to increase understanding of how to prevent the virus, and to dispel people’s myths and fears. So far, we’ve reached 138,000 people across the country.

Yvette* carries one of the children on her back. Photo: John Wessels/Oxfam. *Name changed

In Mangina, mother-of-seven Yvette* now cares for 10 children. Ebola claimed the life of her neighbour, so Yvette looks after the three orphaned children as well as her own family.

“She was only 35 and died at the beginning of the outbreak,” says Yvette. “Her children are like mine. The little girl fell sick after the death of her mother, her eyes are inflamed.”

For Yvette, the good news is that the children are on a vaccination list – they are currently waiting for a medical team to visit. In the meantime, she says that she feels isolated, adding: “The community is afraid of us.”

Elsewhere, mother-of-two Judith, who works as a primary school teacher, also found herself isolated as a result of Ebola.

 

Judith in her classroom. Photo: Alain Nking/Oxfam

Judith was quarantined for 21 days after the director of her school died of the virus. She says: “During my isolation, I felt like I was going to die at any moment. It is not easy to live in isolation and to always think that you may be carrying the dangerous and deadly disease that killed my director.”

Even when Judith eventually returned to work, she found a mostly empty classroom.

“Many parents became afraid after the death of the director,” she explains. “They think that their children could be infected by the virus in the school and especially in my contact. Many of them have not passed their final exams.”

Oxfam travelled to Judith’s school to give lessons on hygiene and install water points. Our staff also built an area where pupils and teachers who feel unwell could check their temperature and rest while waiting for transfer to a health centre.

“The Oxfam team came to my house to give me some food,” Judith adds. “The kit really helped my reintegration. When people saw Oxfam vehicles and agents coming to my house, the whole avenue came to see what was going on.

“When Oxfam left, the neighbours stayed at my house all night. It was the first time in a long time that I saw people in my home. It was a real joy for me.”

Ebola has already destroyed lives in DRC and Uganda – and millions more are at risk. Oxfam is working hard to prevent the spread of the virus by distributing clean, safe water and teaching communities about the importance of hygiene. 

*Name changed to protect identity

How we’re working to prevent abuse, protect and empower people

A message from Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, Jim Clarken

In Ghana, mother-of-two Christina grows maize to earn a living. She is one of the many female farmers in her community being trained by Oxfam to overcome challenges such as climate change. Learning new farming techniques ensures that Christina can continue to provide for her children and enable them to live a life free from poverty.Photo: Nana Kofi Acquah/Oxfam 

In my ten years at Oxfam Ireland, I have seen first-hand the incredible impact of our supporter’s generosity. From our live-saving work in times of hunger, drought, disaster and conflict to our long-term development programmes that help people lift themselves out of poverty as well as advocacy that tackles the injustices that keep people poor.  

None of this important work would be possible without a movement of people across the island of Ireland who donate, shop, volunteer and speak out with us. We’re so grateful.

We know that in supporting us, you’re trusting us to deliver programmes that put people’s safety and dignity at its core. We take that seriously and are continually working to strengthen our safeguarding systems, improve our culture and protect and empower people.

To ensure we are the best we can be, we launched a comprehensive action plan in February 2018 to review and update our safeguarding systems across the global confederation.

As part of this, we established an Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct led by international women’s rights experts and asked them to hold us to the highest standards in reviewing all aspects of our safeguarding policies and practices.  

We welcome the findings in their final report and are ready to implement their recommendations, many of which we’ve already acted on. We are galvanised by the Commission’s positive acknowledgement of our progress to date and are more determined than ever to play a leadership role in safeguarding.

We have worked hard to improve our policies and procedures and build a positive culture in a global and diverse organisation.   

In Oxfam Ireland, we have created a designated safeguarding team to support staff and volunteers; completed an all-staff survey on culture and delivered workshops on our values. As part of the international organisation, we have increased budget, resources and staff to drive culture change across the entire confederation; introduced new policies on child safeguarding, protection, sexual diversity, and ethical content gathering and reformed our HR systems to strengthen our referencing processes and better recruit and train staff and volunteers with a greater focus on behaviours, culture and safeguarding.

And we won’t stop there. 

It is our priority to ensure that our staff, volunteers, partners and those we serve are safe and valued and we will not tolerate abuse of any kind in our workplace or programmes. 

We will continue to implement and champion policies and procedures in line with national and international best practice and create a culture where everyone feels safe, respected and empowered.

As always, we remain dedicated to making a positive impact on the lives of millions of people every year. We will not let the deplorable behaviour of a few stand in the way of our work to beat poverty, save lives when disaster strikes and end the injustices that trap people in poverty.

Thank you for standing in solidarity with us. 

To read more about Oxfam’s progress against its comprehensive action plan on safeguarding, visit: oxfamireland.org/impact

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