Trócaire Blogs

 

September 23, 2016

Culture Night 2016

On Friday September 16th, Trócaire marked Culture Night 2016 with two great creative events in Dublin.

Poetry inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis in Dublin Castle

At 6.00pm we gathered in the beautiful Chapel Royal in Dublin castle for a celebration of poetry inspired by the refugee crisis.

The evening started with performance poetry by students from St Aidan's C.S. Tallaght, and Beneavin De La Salle College, Finglas. The students wrote and composed the poetry themselves as part of the WRaPParound schools initiative.

Watch Beneavin College's performance poetry inspired by the plight of people fleeing war in Syria.

This was followed by readings from this year’s Trócaire and Poetry Ireland 'Forced to Flee' competition winners and performances from Poetry Aloud 2015 finalists.

Poetry at Dublin Castle

Poetry performances at Dublin Castle inspired by the Syrian Refugee crisis. Photos and videos by Clare McEvoy/Trócaire. See more photos from Dublin Castle on flickr.

Solidarity with the West Bank and Gaza in the Chocolate Factory, Dublin 1

Meanwhile in the Chocolate Factory, Dublin 1, we held screenings of 'Sumud: Everyday Resistance', a powerful short documentary telling the stories of Palestinian women living under Israeli military occupation.

Highlights from the evening at the Chocolate Factory. Video by Emmet Sheerin/Trócaire

We also teamed up with Taking Flight Aerial and Acrobatics, who gave high flying circus performances throughout the night.

Taking Flight Aerial Flight

Taking Flight Aerial and Acrobatics giving high flying circus performances. Photo credit: Aetherlight Photography.

Taking Flight will be launching an amazing creative project in Gaza at the end of September, teaching aerial flight and acrobatics to the Gaza Circus School (with thanks to Culture Ireland).

September 19, 2016

This week's UN Summit must lead to greater political engagement on the refugee crisis

Éamonn Meehan, Executive Director of Trócaire
 
By nightfall this evening 34,000 people will have fled their homes because of violence and persecution. That is the number of people – equivalent almost to the entire population of Co. Longford - estimated to become displaced on a daily basis around the world.  
 
With 65 million people displaced around the world – the highest numbers since World War Two - there is no debating the fact that this is one of the biggest crises of our time.  
 
Sadly, the political will to prevent further displacement and protect existing refugees fails to match the magnitude of the problem. Displacement is always somebody else’s problem; refugees are regarded as a burden that somebody else should deal with.

No one wants to be a refugee

Today's UN Summit on refugees and migrants

A UN summit is taking place today to address the movement of refugees and migrants. As co-chair of the meeting, along with Jordan, Ireland is in a unique place to contribute to generating the political will that is currently so lacking.  

This summit comes at a time when the approach by many governments to dealing with refugees and large-scale migration is worrying. A year after the EU launched a two-year plan aimed at resettling 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece, only 4,000 have been resettled. 
 
Ireland committed to resettling 4,000 Syrian refugees but so far only 311 have arrived. This country has not prioritised living up to its commitment. 
 
Some EU countries have responded to the needs of the Syrian people by building walls and fences. Many Europeans mock Donald Trump for calling for a wall to stop Mexicans reaching America, yet we seem willing to sit back and watch the very same be done in the EU. 

80% of refugees are hosted in developing countries

Despite a perception promoted in some quarters that Europe is bearing the brunt of the global refugee crisis, the fact remains that eighty per cent of refugees are hosted in the developing world. Lebanon and Turkey host over 3.7 million Syrian refugees between them. The EU is content to ignore the enormous strain that is putting on those countries. A country’s responsibility to provide shelter to people fleeing war should be determined by international law, not geography. 
 
Colleagues who spent time in refugee centres in Greece tell me of the sense of hopelessness facing people there. These are people who have fled from places like Aleppo, whose homes have been bombed and family members killed. They had no choice but to leave, yet they remain trapped in bureaucratic limbo, unwanted by Europe and unable to return home.
 
As world leaders gather in New York for this summit, will they carry with them the needs of these people? Or will they gather with a determination that they should have no role to play in offering safety to people whose lives have been destroyed by war? Sadly, all the evidence points to the latter.

The draft outcome document for the Summit calls for global approaches and global solutions. However, the outcome will be non-binding. Declarations will be based on laws that already exist but there will be no mechanism to hold any country to account for failure to follow-through on their declarations. This will be a summit of vague promises rather than practical solutions. 

That principle stands for people fleeing the war in Syria but also those fleeing conflict elsewhere. Over half of the world’s refugees come from three countries – Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. Over 340,000 Somali refugees live in Daadab in Kenya. This is the largest refugee camp in the world. 
 
Worryingly, 150,000 Somalis in Daadab face repatriation to Somalia. This is not a straightforward matter of simply packing up and unpacking again. Lives are established, businesses are built and identities are formed. Many ‘Somali’ refugees living in Daadab have never been to Somalia, having been born and raised in the camp.

UN member states must put words into action

Tens of thousands of refugees around the world will spend tonight just as they spend every night: living in a tent, dependent on others for everything. This is a humiliation to people who are seeking safety, security and dignity.

Being a refugee is exhausting. Putting life on hold is devastating. In a time when the human rights of refugees and migrants are being eroded and violated at alarming rates, it is urgent that all UN member states come to New York and turn commitments and words into action.

34,000 people will flee their homes today

As they meet in New York, politicians would do well to remember the 34,000 people who will spend that day fleeing their homes in the hope that they can find safety elsewhere. 

The causes of displacement are political. So are the solutions.  

September 13, 2016

September is Creation month

September is Creation month. It’s a month to respond to Pope Francis’ call for a new way of being, free from the slavery of consumerism and asks that we take good care of Creation, protecting and preserving it for future generations.

In a special video message, Pope Francis highlights the link between poverty and the fragility of the planet

In his landmark encyclical of the same name – ‘Laudato Si, Care for our Common Home’, Pope Francis discusses the grave implications of climate change, one of the most pressing challenges of our time.  

Climate change is having a devastating impact on people in the world’s poorest regions. 

Right now, there are 60 million people around the world experiencing extreme food shortages due to drought. 

This is just the latest example of the increasingly severe impacts of climate change being visited on the women and men in developing countries, a problem created not by them but primarily by consumption and production in rich countries. 

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis highlights the need for lifestyle changes in response to climate change. 

Importantly however, he also emphasises the need for structural changes including the urgent, progressive replacement of fossil fuels and other highly polluting technologies that are major contributors to climate change.  

Pope Francis’ calls to action are at the heart of Trócaire’s climate justice campaigning.  Earlier this year Trócaire joined a movement of more than 500 institutions, with a collective value of around $3.4 trillion across the world committing publically to take their money out of the fossil fuel industry.  

This global fossil fuel divestment movement is capturing the imagination of a diverse range of people from student activists to religious congregations to financiers.  

In a few short years the movement has become the fastest growing divestment campaign in history. 

Divestment has been a tool for social justice campaigning for decades and was a notable strategy employed by people and organisations in efforts to isolate the apartheid regime in South Africa.  

A public commitment to move your money out of fossil fuels – the problem, and into just and accessible renewable energy solutions, is a highly symbolic action.  It sends a clear message to society and importantly to political decision-makers – that the fossil fuel era must end.  

Trócaire’s campaign calls on the Government to divest the Irish Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), formerly the National Pension Reserve Fund, from fossil fuels, and to adopt a 100% renewable energy investment policy instead.

Successive Irish Governments have stated deep concern about the urgent threat of climate change, and yet have persistently failed to act in line with Ireland’s international obligations. 

Ireland’s Green House Gas emissions per person remain one of the highest among industrialised countries. 

To add insult to injury, the Irish government continues to invest public money, via the ISIF, into fossil fuel companies that are directly responsible for the problem.  

The irony is that many financial experts are highlighting that fossil fuel companies are performing poorly and are an increasingly risky investment. 

This Government must divest the ISIF of all fossil fuel investments as part of a substantive and symbolic step change in climate action in Ireland.  

Trócaire itself has committed to divesting its staff pension fund from fossil fuels.  Any divestment commitment requires some time and persistence to deliver. In many cases, and indeed in Trócaire’s experience, this involves engaging with those currently managing your funds to ensure they will support you to achieve this.   

The efforts needed to deliver on a divestment commitment are no reason to shy away from making one.  Indeed, they are part and parcel of the transformative conversations, decisions and actions that are needed to respond to Pope Francis’ call for us to create an entirely new way of being.  

In his reflections on climate change, Pope Francis describes the weakness of political responses to date as ‘remarkable’, and the need for pressure from the public and civic institutions in order to challenge the entrenched mindset of short-term gain and results which dominates present-day economics and politics. 

Pope Francis describes every act of purchase as ‘a moral – and not simply economic – act’.  

As we respond to the Pope’s plea for this Creation Time in various ways, we invite reflection on how we spend and invest our money, and how it is invested on our behalf by our Government.  

By pursuing one’s own divestment and or supporting Trócaire’s campaign calling on the Government to divest the ISIF, everyone can play a part in creating a new way of being, one that is both just and sustainable. 

September 13, 2016

Gaza: Reconstruction slow in highly pressurised environment

A Trócaire programme officer reports on a recent trip to Gaza where she met with partner organisations and programme participants who are working to rebuild and improve living conditions in the aftermath of the 2014 offensive which killed 2251 Palestinians. 

Child going to school in Gaza

Photo: A girl walks past a school which was destroyed during Operation Protective Edge in 2014​

It is hard to imagine, when passing through the 1km tunnel which leads from the Erez crossing to Gaza that Tel Aviv is only an hour away. 

Walking through the tunnel itself is a surreal experience. The wall spreads out on either side behind you, as you are guided through empty land towards more checkpoints. 

Our walk was briefly interrupted by the sound of warning shots being fired from an Israeli watchtower at a Palestinian who had gotten too close to the fence.

crossing into gaza

Photo: The 1km long walkway at Erez checkpoint, leading into Gaza​

Once through all of the checkpoints Gaza itself is full of life, and life for the 1.8 million inhabitants must go on despite the delayed recovery following the 2014 Israeli offensive, which saw 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians, lose their lives, of which 299 were women and 551 children. 

During my time in Gaza, the youth of the population made the biggest impression on me. Around 60 percent of the population is under 25. 

Each child aged eight and over has now been through three wars. I wondered if any of them understood what life is like for people outside the fence. 

Trócaire’s partner, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, took us on a tour of Shija'ia, one of areas worst hit during the 2014 offensive. 

Shija'ia

Photo: House in Shija'ia

Signs of reconstruction are now visible, most of the rubble has been removed, but there was also obvious frustration with the speed that work is taking place. 

Many still live in metal container-like caravans, which are unsuitable for the seasonal temperature fluctuations. 

The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, which was set up in the wake of the 2014 offensive, to which USD 3.5 billion was pledged, has been criticised as being too slow, due to the restrictions imposed by Israel on certain goods transported into Gaza. 

This has resulted in some residents of Gaza undertaking the arduous labour themselves - breaking down the remains of shelled buildings, turning the former concrete homes back into gravel to be made into cement, and straightening out the iron bars to be reused in reconstruction. 

Although the visual signs of reconstruction are welcome, the psychological damage remains. 

The highly pressured environment in which people live has resulted in increasingly worrying trends in Gaza, such as a rise in gender-based violence. 

Furthermore, the economic situation has put intense pressure on families. Gaza has the highest unemployment rate in the world at 43 percent. More alarming is the situation of youth unemployment which soared to more than 60 percent by the end of 2014.  

Bringing an end to the ongoing siege, now in its tenth year, would contribute to the economic recovery of Gaza, and would help to relieve some of the daily stresses which are associated with higher levels of violence against women. 

Since the 2014 offensive, Trócaire has looked to increase its work with women in Gaza. 

It has just completed a project with its partner the Women’s Affairs Center which promotes women's rights and combats gender-based violence in the Gaza Strip. 

One of their activities to achieve this is training young graduate women in women's rights, gender, and violence against women. 

We met with some of these women during the trip, and their passion, enthusiasm and desire to change the context in which they live was very inspiring. 

These women take the skills they learn home to try to raise awareness of women’s rights and change perspectives in their own communities. 

Meeting at Women's Affairs Center

Photo: Meeting at the Women’s Affairs Center

Trócaire is also working with the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme on a confidential phone service for women. 

This phone service is particularly important in a very conservative society. 

An Action Aid report from October 2015, which examined  violence against women in the Gaza Strip after Operation Protective Edge in 2014, found that the most frequent coping strategy used by women is to try to solve the problem by themselves, for example by asking perpetrators to stop, or by asking family for help. 

Around 28 percent of abused women do not speak to anyone about it.  

This phone service will hopefully provide an important, and private, channel by which women will be able to receive psychosocial support, and get referred to other services if needed. 

I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to go to Gaza, to meet the people living there, to see their resilience and experience their generosity, but also, I feel privileged to have been able to leave, which is not the case for many Palestinians living there. 

When asking the people that we met there the question, ‘Have you ever left Gaza?’, the answer is invariably ‘No’.

Each person has a story of an opportunity to leave: a visa interview, a university place, a conference, but due to the ever increasing requirements to be able to leave the Strip they have been unable to go. 

Trócaire works with Gisha, an Israeli NGO, to increase support for greater access to and from Gaza and to raise awareness of the restrictions of freedom of movement for those living in Gaza.

We at Trócaire are lucky to work with amazing partners on the ground, who work under such difficult and adverse conditions, but who continue to persevere and fight for justice.

Learn more about the work of Trócaire and its partners in Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

September 09, 2016

4000 promises: One year on

Only 311 Syrian refugees have been taken in by Ireland, despite Government promise last year to welcome 4000.

On September 10th 2015, following the public outcry emanating from the drowning of three-year-old Syrian refugee, Alan Kurdi, the Irish Government promised 4000 refugees would be offered safety in Ireland.

Exactly one year on, just one unaccompanied child, and a total of 311 Syrian refugees have been taken in by Ireland.

#4000promises: The photos and footage in this video were taken by Trócaire's Meabh Smith in Serbia, September 2016, where thousands of refugees are stranded in camps and shelters.

 

Just one unaccompanied child

In the year since Alan Kurdi’s death, Ireland has taken in just one unaccompanied child. This is unacceptable.

In Italy, more than 90 per cent of all refugee and migrant children are on their own. These children are extremely vunerable and in danger of exploitation. The Irish Government must respond to this and protect children in line with international law.

"Children seeking safety and protection who are separated from their families are languishing in squalid camps, suffering abuse and exploitation and falling prey to human traffickers because of the failure of EU leaders to manage this crisis effectively and humanely." Edel McGinley, Director of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI).

 

Stranded in Europe

Under the much-criticised EU-Turkey deal, Europe has closed the main refugee route to northern Europe, leaving thousands of people stranded in refugee camps across Greece and the Balkans. These people, most of whom have fled active conflict, are essentially trapped.

They have nowhere to go and feel abandoned by the international community.

So far this year, 268,602 people have entered Europe by sea, with 3,166 dead or missing, including children.

Behind these numbers are human lives, innocent people with broken hearts whose lives have been irrevocably changed. Many families have travelled with their house keys even though their homes have disappeared and their countries are destroyed. 

 

The Irish Response
 

The Irish Navy should be commended for making an heroic contribution to the search and rescue operation across the Mediterranean Sea. According to Commander Patrick Burke of Irish Naval Services, they have saved over 10,000 lives to date. However, EU members are failing in their commitments to relocate refugees with sufficient speed or to ensure the safe passage of refugees taking perilous smugger routes.  
 
It is imperative that the EU, including Ireland, accelerates the pace of relocation for refugees and upholds basic humanitarian values that protect unaccompanied minors and reunite loved ones.

This is not a crisis for Europe, but a crisis for the millions of people forced from their homes by war in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, to name a few.

One year on, the Irish government must meet its commitment to take in 4,000 refugees.

#4000promises, 3688 not met.

Young refugee in Serbia. 4000 Promises.

 

Learn how we are responding to the growing needs of extremely vulnerable refugees: www.trocaire.org/refugeecrisis

Pages