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Behind the five million ‘Syrian refugee’ tags are individual stories of love, loss, and hope

A smile lights up her honey-colored eyes. Delicate gold droplets dangle from her small ears. Her name—Warda—means rose in Arabic. She could have been a carefree 18-year-old law student in London, an aspiring actress in Paris, or a trendy blogger in NYC.

Instead, Warda lives in a tent in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. She is pregnant with her second child and lives with her 23-year-old husband Hassan. Warda is dressed in black from head to toe, in mourning for her mother who was killed 10 days ago in Homs when a missile flattened the family home. Her earrings are her last personal belonging.


Behind her smile is a storm of grief, questions and hopes that never let up. The young woman is one of five million Syrians who have fled their war-torn country and are registered as refugees in Syria’s neighboring countries—a number that is more than the population of Ireland. Half of the pre-war population of 22 million has been uprooted. A quarter has crossed borders in search for safety. Warda was 13 when she left her home area in Homs governorate. She has not seen her father since.

“Last time I saw my mother, she came to spend a month. But she left before my first child was born,” says Warda, scrolling through photos on her mobile phone. She shows me a picture of her mother Hanane, beaming as she stands next to her on her wedding day. Warda was dressed in white, her hair in an elaborate up-do, her eyes lined with kohl. “We got married here in the camp. There was dancing and singing. Life has to go on,” she says.

But her life is anything but normal. Her son Jaafar is now 13 months old. Like so many Syrian children born in Lebanon, he has no official papers, and hence no nationality. Jaafar is neither Syrian nor Lebanese. Would his own country even allow him back in after the war?

The lack of documentation for newborns resulting from the amount and cost of red tape is one of many challenges Syrian refugees face in neighboring countries such as Lebanon. They have little-to-no access to the job market, they contract debts to complement the little humanitarian aid they receive, they don’t have full access to education, and they live with the constant fear of deportation.

Yet those who have turned towards rich third countries have either found closed doors when they attempted to travel, or have risked their lives on rickety boats to reach the shores of Europe. Five million refugees now live in limbo, waiting for an elusive peace to go back home or for an improbable plane ticket to Europe or North America. That’s half a million people spread across dozens of cities around the world. In Lebanon, one in five inhabitants is now a refugee.

Not far from Warda’s tent, in another informal settlement built on privately-owned agricultural land, Abou Imad, 53, sips tea while waiting for the young men and women of his family to come back from a day in the fields. Bent in two under the baking sun, they would have harvested onions or planted potatoes for less than $10 per day. Next to him, his two youngest girls sit quietly. Though they had a spot in the local school—the Lebanese government having opened public schools to around half of the Syrian children—they stopped going because their father can’t afford the bus ride. “What will happen to this generation?” he asks. “That’s what worries me most. They are growing up to be illiterate. We, the older generation, have nothing left to lose. But them?”

Abou Imad thought he had seen it all. A soldier in the Syrian army that fought in the Lebanon civil war (1975-1990), he went on to become a truck driver criss-crossing the Middle East and delivering goods to US-occupied Iraq in 2004. In 2010, he settled in his hometown of Raqqa, but little did he know that the terrorist group ISIS would drive him out of what became a few years later the heart of its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria.

“Look at this woman. Dressed like this, she would not have been able to stick her head out of the door. They would have killed her,” he says pointing to his new daughter-in-law, Ahlam, which means dreams in Arabic. A fresh-faced, raven-haired young Syrian woman wearing a red dress, she left Raqqa a few months ago. She took a perilous journey through Iraq and Jordan to reach Lebanon and marry Abou Imad’s son. Now a refugee, she has been embraced by her new family, and can live without the threat of extremism.

But Abou Imad’s heart stayed in Syria and he wants to see his homeland even just one last time. “You see how big the ocean is? Even the smallest fish, after travelling far and wide, will come back to rest under that same rock it was born under.”

The names in this story have been changed to protect the security of the individuals.

We are providing lifesaving aid to displaced people in the Middle East, and we’re helping families meet some of their basic needs as they travel beyond the region to seek safety.

The entry posted by Joelle Bassoul (@JoBassoul), Oxfam Media advisor, Syria Response, on 3 April 2017.

Photo: Warda, with her child Jaafar and husband Hassan, lives in a tent in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley after leaving her home in Syria. Credit: Joelle Bassoul/Oxfam

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Celebrating Volunteers: Celine Voiry from Oxfam's shop in Galway

Celine Voiry has just celebrated her one year anniversary as a volunteer at the Oxfam shop in Galway, first volunteering all the way back in March 2016. Here she tells us a bit more about herself and her work with us at Oxfam Ireland.
What does a typical day look like when you’re working in the shop?
I arrive, I open the shop, set up the till, clean up a little – just get ready for the day. I mostly work in the back: sorting and steaming clothes. I do a lot of different things! I like it because I like fashion, especially clothes and shoes.
I am an Oxfam shopper too – for me and my husband – because the shop has beautiful clothes. We get lots of great donations!
 
What’s your favourite things about working in the shop?
Shoes, shoes, shoes! And sorting and looking at the children’s clothes – I have a teenage son. I also really enjoy working with the team – I have a good manager, all the volunteers are lovely and we have a great ambience in the shop.
 
Why did you choose to volunteer with Oxfam Ireland?
I wanted to practise my English - I live in Galway but I’m originally from Paris – so I started to volunteer but now I love what I do so I decided to stay!
 
Tell us about yourself…
My hobbies are fitness and sports as well as reading books, shopping and going to the pub with my friends. I also like walking my dog. I just don’t like sitting on the sofa – I like being active!
 
Next time you’re in Galway why not pop in and say hi?
 
If you would like any further information about volunteering with Oxfam Ireland simply email volunteer@oxfamireland.org
 
Oxfam volunteer Celine Voiry

How pineapples are lifting a community out of poverty in Rwanda

Initiatives like the Tazamurance co-operative in Rwanda give female farmers financial independence and optimism for the future.

There was a time when women in Rwanda reaped few rewards from farming – even though they did most of the work. Over the years, however, your support has lifted some of these women out of poverty and given them the incentive to keep growing.

One Rwandan success story is the Tuzamurane Co-operative, which specialises in pineapple farming. Tuzamurane, which means ‘lift up one another’, was set up ten years ago to give female farmers horticultural skills and access to markets and savings schemes.

Valerie Mukangerero’s life has turned around since she joined the co-operative six years ago. Before that, she couldn’t afford to buy a pineapple. Now, though, Valerie (53, pictured below), is earning enough to support her family.

“I had five children plus my husband and me,” says Valerie. “We had limited resources; it was difficult getting enough food.”

Valerie Mukangerero, Rwanda

Valerie Mukangerero walks to her pineapple farm in Rwamurema village in eastern Rwanda. Photo: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville/Oxfam

All she could buy from the 1,000RWF (€1.15/£0.97) she used to make from selling her old crops (beans, cassava and sweet potatoes) was salt, and kerosene for her lamp. There was nothing left for her family.

“Then I would go back home feeling sad, regretful and saying, ‘I could have bought such and such’, but because of lack of resources, I did not buy it. I wanted to buy fabric, a skirt, shoes; the children at home also needed clothes.

“Then came Mutuelle (health insurance). It was difficult for me to pay for the health insurance. To get treated at the hospital, every child has to pay 3,000 RWF (€3.45/£2.92).”

Paying for healthcare meant Valerie was forced to cut her food bills: “There was a time when they [her family] were hungry. They did not have breakfast and I had to look hard to get lunch for them. I felt sad because when you see a hungry child in your eyes, how can you be happy?”

As soon as she joined the co-operative, however, Valerie realised that things would improve.

“At the first harvest, I earned a little money and I bought small pieces of land. Each time I got 10,000 RWF (€11.45/£9.71), I could buy a few metres and so on. All of my land is a result of the co-operative.”

“I have also built my house. I used to have a small house. After getting money, I added extra rooms and extended it,” says Valerie, who also bought a cow from her earnings.

These days, when Valerie wants to buy something, she does just that: “What makes me proud in life is when I buy clothes or food when my children need it and when I can afford school uniforms without worrying.”

But Valerie’s ambition doesn’t end there – she wants to buy even more land and keep her children in school. With your continued support, she says, life will get even better.

Tuzamurane Co-operative memebers, Rwanda

Theresie Nyirantozi, Valerie Mukangerero, Christine Bangiwiha, Josepha Ayinkamiye and Mukeshimana Leocadie from the Tuzamurane Co-operative. Photo: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville/Oxfam

Thank you for helping initiatives like the Tuzamurane Co-operative which give female farmers like Valerie financial independence and optimism for the future.

Yemen needs both aid and peace to avert famine, warns Oxfam

April 24th 2017

More money is urgently needed to ease the humanitarian suffering in Yemen but aid alone is no substitute for reviving efforts to bring about peace, Oxfam said, as ministers gather in Geneva for a high level pledging event.

The United Nations hopes to raise US$2.1 billion to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to Yemen but the appeal – intended to provide vital help to 12 million people – is only 14 percent funded [as of 18th April]. According to the UN, Yemen has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with nearly seven million people facing starvation.

Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland's Humanitarian Manager, said: “Donors need to put their hands in their pockets and fully fund the appeal to prevent people dying now. But while aid will provide welcome relief it will not heal the wounds of war that are the cause of Yemen’s misery. International backers need to stop fuelling the conflict, make it clear that famine is not an acceptable weapon of war and exert real pressure on both sides to restart peace talks.”

While aid is desperately needed to save lives now, many more people will die unless the de-facto blockade is lifted and major powers stop fuelling the conflict and instead put pressure on all sides to pursue peace. The two-year conflict has so far killed more than 7,800 people, forced over 3 million people from their homes and left 18.8 million people – 70 per cent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance. 

And Yemen's food crisis could become even more severe if the international community does not send a clear message that a possible attack against Al-Hudaydah – the entry point for an estimated 70 per cent of Yemen's food imports – would be totally unacceptable.

Several countries, including the UK, the US, Spain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, and Italy, are attending the event while they continue to sell billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to parties to the conflict. The UK Government has approved arms export licences for £3.3bn worth of military equipment to Saudi Arabia in the past two years. It has also provided military experts to advise the Saudi Arabian armed forces.

Colm Byrne continued: “If the parties to the conflict – and those fuelling it with arm sales – continue to ignore Yemen's food crisis, they will be responsible for a famine.

“Many areas of Yemen are on the brink of famine, and the cause of such extreme starvation is political. That is a damning indictment of world leaders but also a real opportunity – they have the power to bring the suffering to an end.”

Yemen was experiencing a humanitarian crisis even before this latest escalation in the conflict two years ago, but successive appeals for Yemen have been repeatedly underfunded; respectively 58 percent and 62 percent in 2015 and 2016, equivalent to $1.9 billion over the past two years. On the other hand, over $10 billion worth of arms sales were made to warring parties since 2015, five times the amount of the Yemen 2017 UN appeal.

Oxfam is calling on donors and international agencies to return to the country and to increase their efforts, to respond to this massive humanitarian crisis before it is too late.

Oxfam is also calling on the public to donate to its hunger crisis appeal and raise vital funds for people facing famine in Yemen as well as in East Africa, South Sudan and Nigeria: https://www.oxfamireland.org/hunger 

ENDS 

For interviews or more information, contact:

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson on 00353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org  

NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

NOTES TO EDITORS 

The number of people in need as a result of Yemen’s conflict continues to rise, but the international aid response has failed to keep up. For more information on which donor governments are pulling their weight, and which are not, download our Fair Share Analysis, "Yemen on the brink of famine"

Oxfam has reached more than a million people in eight governorates of Yemen with water and sanitation services, cash assistance, food vouchers and other essential aid since July 2015. 

Oxfam is also calling on the public to donate to its hunger crisis appeal and raise vital funds for people facing famine in Yemen as well as in East Africa, South Sudan and Nigeria: https://www.oxfamireland.org/hunger 

 

 

 

 
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Famine in South Sudan: communities at breaking point

In South Sudan, the violent and brutal war has put millions at risk. Women, men and children who have fled their homes in search of safety are now facing a new threat - hunger. With harvests still months away, the famine already declared in parts of the country will spread across the rest of the country, unless we act now.

Majok at the WFP registration site in Nyal. He had to make a one and half hours trek, helped by family members, from his home to Nyal to ensure he was physically present for the registration. Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

In South Sudan, the violent and brutal war has put millions at risk. Women, men and children who have fled their homes in search of safety are now facing a new threat - hunger. With harvests still months away, the famine already declared in parts of the country will spread across the rest of the country, unless we act now.

When the rains begin in late April or May, conditions will become even more difficult for the people in need and for the humanitarian groups trying to reach them. Flooding makes roads and airstrips impassable and can cause a rise in cholera and other water-borne diseases.

George* sits on his mother’s lap as health personnel takes his measurements to determine his nutrition level. There are 208 malnutrition cases in this hospital in Nyal, Unity State. These don't include the many adults facing extreme hunger in the area.

Nearly 5 million people - 40 percent of the population - are facing extreme hunger. "We are seeing communities now at breaking point. In the swamps between the famine-affected areas and where Oxfam is working, we know that there are thousands of people going desperately hungry,” says Dorothy Sang, Oxfam's Humanitarian Campaign Manager in South Sudan.

Panjiyar County, in southern Unity State, sits next to the frontline of some of the heaviest fighting we are seeing in South Sudan today. It is no coincidence that this frontline is also home to the 100,000 people who have been hit by deadly famine. Many have traveled for days on foot to reach generous host communities, who themselves are now sharing what little food they have with their neighbours and are waiting for that next food aid delivery in order to survive.

An elderly woman at the registration site in Nyal Catholic church, South Sudan. She came from Nyandong Payam with the help of family members. Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

So far, Oxfam and other humanitarian organisations have been able to help to keep famine from spreading with food distributions, clean water and other vital aid. So far, we have been distributing food to more than 415,000 people as well as providing more than 140,000 people with clean water and sanitation services.

Oxfam staff Pedro Marial Rock takes the fingerprint signatures of Nyabiey (left) and Nyakonga (right) to verify they are receiving food at a distribution in Nyal on March 20, 2017. Photo: Lauren Hartnett/Oxfam

In Nyal, Panyijar County, some of the most vulnerable people from surrounding islands arrive exhausted after hours on Oxfam canoes. They are here to register for a World Food Programme food distribution. We are using canoes and paying canoe operators to make sure that the most vulnerable do not miss out on access to food.

 

Marissa and her family fled from famine and conflict-hit Mayendit, where all of their food had been burnt and their home burnt down. They brought what they still had to Nyal, pulling their possessions along the swamps in large tarpaulins. They're now hoping to register for a food drop. Photo: Dorothy Sang/Oxfam

Besides providing clean water and toilets on some of the islands closest to Nyal, we are also helping both its island and mainland communities to set up vegetable gardens to boost their own diets and to build up their livelihoods.

“What concerns us most are the people we have yet to reach. The fighting means no one is able to work on the remote islands, and we are only able to send canoes up the river to help the people when we can ensure the safety of our staff,” says Sang.

 You can help

The people of South Sudan are doing all they can to help themselves. Where the newly displaced have arrived, families are generously offering what little they have. But this is not enough. We need to get more food, clean water and other vital support to the most vulnerable people.

We are calling for more funding to help reach people before it’s too late. You can help. Donate now.

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