Trócaire Blogs


October 21, 2016

Burundi: an unreported refugee crisis

Over the last year and a half, some 300,000 Burundians have fled their homeland to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.

So far, this unfolding refugee crisis and the escalating political situation in Burundi have received little attention in the mainstream media. 

mahama refugee camp in rwanda

Mahama camp in Rwanda, where 50,000 Burudians are currently seeking refuge and humanitarian support. Photo by Caritas Rwanda

Violent clashes between protestors and police began in Burundi in April 2015 when incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intension to run for a third term – a move deemed unconstitutional by his opponents.
Nkurunziza stood for presidency again and was re-elected in July 2015, despite opposition parties boycotting the election and the African Union and United States asking him to stand aside. 
At time of writing more than 450 people have been killed in Burundi as a result of the political unrest. 
A report of the United Nations Independent Investigation in Burundi (UNIIB) published last month, describes “abundant evidence of gross human rights violations,” possibly amounting to crimes against humanity, by the Government of Burundi and people associated with it.
In response, Burundi’s government barred UN investigators from the country and this week, it made history by becoming the first government to vote to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC)
In their report, the UN investigators also warned of the danger of genocide from the escalating violence.
It is only ten years since the end of the Burundian Civil War (1993 to 2006) between the Hutu and Tutsi populations, in which an estimated 300,000 people were killed.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is warning that neighbouring countries Tanzania, Rwanda, the DRC, Uganda and Zambia are struggling to host the 300,000 Burundians who have fled the violence. 
UNHCR spokesman William Spindler stated that "the reception capacities of these host countries are severely overstretched and conditions remain dire for many refugees, most of whom are women and children."

Trócaire's support  for Burundian refugees in Rwanda

Pregnant and nursing Burundian Women receive nutritional support in Mahama camp.
Pregnant and nursing Burundian Women receive nutritional support in Mahama camp. Photo by Caritas Rwanda.

UNHCR reports more than 81,000 Burundian refugees now live in Rwanda, with children making up half of the refugees there, many of whom are unaccompanied.

About 50,000 of these people are living in the Mahama refugee camp which lies on the Tanzanian border and was set up to provide emergency shelter, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), health facilities and lifesaving assistance. 

New refugees continue to arrive into Mahama camp every day and the deteriorating situation in Burundi means that Burundian refugees do not want to return home. 

With support from Irish Aid, Trócaire is funding a project at Mahama camp to support pregnant and nursing mothers, people with disabilities and single mothers to meet their essential needs. This includes providing technical support to our partners Caritas Rwanda to ensure the response is carried out in a safe and dignified manner. 

UNHCR is urging the international community to step up efforts to resolve the political unrest in Burundi, and to increase aid contributions to those affected.

As the numbers seeking refuge increase, so must our aid efforts. 

October 14, 2016

'A serene madness': Daily life in Gaza

Trócaire's Eoghan Rice writes about his visit to Gaza with John McColgan earlier this year. John's new exhibition 'This is Palestine' featuring images from that trip, opens at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin today and runs to Tuesday 18 October.

Abed Alla El Gefary on horseback along the beach in Gaza. El Gefary performs acrobatics on horseback to entertain the crowds along Gaza’s beach. (Photo: John McColgan)

Abed Alla El Gefary on horseback along the beach in Gaza. El Gefary performs acrobatics on horseback to entertain the crowds along Gaza’s beach. (Photo: John McColgan)

The horse leaps into the air, obediently following the rider’s command to jump the fence. Every so often the dull thud of his hoofs hitting the ground coincides with an air strike. Nobody beside from me seems to notice when it does, but, then again, nobody else seems to be paying any attention to the air strikes at all, least of all the horse.
Gaza feels normal, and that’s the strangest thing about it. People are going about their days - buying clothes, playing football on the beach, eating ice-cream with friends. Car horns honk relentlessly. At the Faisal Equestrian Centre young girls in jodhpurs ride horses while their parents sip coffee.
In the distance is the war. Mortars, rockets and missiles fly overhead; from Gaza into Israel, from Israel into Gaza. Below, the people get on with their lives. 
The peppering of the afternoon sky with artillery fire is so unremarkable that nobody appears to notice it. The young girl on horseback doesn’t miss a single step. When I ask our driver about it, he appears not yet to have registered that it is happening.
This is just a regular Thursday.
There is a serene madness to Gaza. It is simultaneously the most normal and the most dysfunctional place I’ve ever been. People smile in the streets but I sense that inside they are crying or screaming, or probably both. That is Gaza’s great trick: masking its madness behind a veneer of normality.
There are two realities to Gaza: the one you see, and the one that actually is.
The illusion begins at the Erez border crossing. Erez is spacious, modern and designed to accommodate large volumes of commuter traffic. It’s also completely deserted, because while Erez was built to facilitate large numbers of people, the blockade of Gaza ensures that it does not.
The illusion and the reality.
Inside Gaza, the pretence continues. The streets are vibrant. For a moment you’re embarrassed that you thought they would be anything else. At first, only the little things give it away.
You notice that there are no planes in the sky and you remember that there is a blockade on Gaza’s airspace, as well as its sea and land ports.
You see people sitting on steps staring into the distance and you remember that Gaza has the highest unemployment rate in the world.
You spot the bags of maize resting outside warehouses and you remember that 80 per cent of Gaza’s population receives humanitarian aid.
You realise that in Gaza all is not what it seems.
Under the shade down at the pier a young man sits under a sky where no planes can fly and stares out to a sea where no ships can sail. Behind him, the far side of Gaza’s narrow sliver, stand eight metre high walls that form a semi-circle, locking him and his 1.8 million fellow inhabitants into this tiny parcel of land.
Our presence peeks his interest. He walks over and tells us his story.
He is 22. He has no job, no income and no possibility of leaving. His wife gave birth to twins last year but one of them died. He doesn’t elaborate, although it’s not hard to wonder whether given a functioning health service this would have been the outcome.
“My life here is like a prison,” he says. “There is nothing for me here.”
He says that sometimes he wants to die, and I believe him.
Less than two kilometres away, Sr. Bridget Tighe stands in a narrowly lane. Doorways line her path. Behind each doorway is a family, each one packed into one or two rooms. Sr. Bridget is from Sligo but for the past 18 months has called Gaza home.
She runs a health centre for children. Many young people here are severely traumatised. Any child in Gaza over the age of eight has already survived three major wars. The last one, in 2014, saw 2,200 people killed over the space of 54 days. 
But the trauma here runs deeper than the mental scars of war. This is a trauma borne from being trapped.
Gaza is less than one quarter the size of Leitrim but is home to a population equivalent to that of Northern Ireland. Very few of them are eligible for permits to leave. The vast majority are trapped into a tiny strip of land that is crumbling at the seams.
Sr. Bridget says that people aren’t angry any more, they are just depressed. Speak with people and that becomes evident. You mention that you are returning to Jerusalem in the morning and their eyes fill with sadness. It is an hour up the road but it may as well be another world.
We meet one young man, a Christian, who was granted a temporary visa to visit Bethlehem during Easter. He diverted to Tel Aviv. What did he do there? “Drank beer on the beach,” he says with just about the biggest grin you can imagine.
A black sense of humour prevails. We tell one young man that we hope to meet him again next time we are in Gaza. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m not going anywhere”.
Back on the beach, a group of young people jump from walls, performing elaborate somersaults as they fall into the sand. This is Gaza’s Parkour Club; the strip’s chapter of the urban sport which sees people leap across buildings unaided by safety equipment. During the war they did it from rubble but these days the beach is their playground.
It’s a dangerous hobby – one of their friends was recently evacuated to hospital in Israel after breaking virtually every bone in his body – but it’s not hard to see why they do it. Sport is an escape. Each jump and each twist is cheered by an enthusiastic crowd. For a moment, at least, they are normal teenagers on a regular beach enjoying themselves.
Each time they jump, they leap into the illusion of what Gaza could be. Each time they land, they crash back into the reality of what it is.
Sometimes they land just as the air strikes hit. But they don’t seem to notice. Or perhaps they just no longer care.

Exhibition: This is Palestine

‘This is Palestine’, an exhibition of photographs by John McColgan, will run in the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) from Friday October 14th until Tuesday October 18th, 2016.

This is Palestine Photo Exhibition from Trocaire on Vimeo.

September 30, 2016

Pray for peace in Syria: a message from Caritas Syria

Please find below urgent message from our partner in Syria, Caritas Syria.

"When we hear the news talking about the truces made between countries about Syria, or the decision of some countries to support some armed groups inside, or the agreements of ceasefire made by foreign governments, or training and sending more fighters to Syria, or the foreign fighting airplanes flying in our sky without permission, we always feel ourselves watching a football game between the big powers of the world on the Syrian land and using the Syrian ball ‘the Syrian people’.

Buildings destroyed in Syria

Caption: Buildings destroyed by war

Unfortunately, what is happening during this game is that the players are destroying with their big shoes while playing the infrastructure, buildings, factories and are crushing the Syrian people, especially the poor ones who became the majority.

Syrian refugees

Caption: Syrian father and son, September 2016. Photo credit: Meabh Smith/Trócaire

After almost six years of war, we as Syrians are exhausted. This war is not only destroying our country, but it is destroying our souls from inside. The war knocked every door in Syria, entered every house, and left behind its traces everywhere, and in every heart…

Message from Caritas Syria

Caption: Message from inside Syria, September 2016

War made most of us displaced in our own country after we lost all our belongings, our childhood memories and our past…

War let us feel insecure all the time even if we are in our own houses…

War made most of us poor, not being able to buy life necessities or bread for children…

War entered our families from inside, splitting them apart, and causing disintegration…

War made education an unreachable dream for our children and youth…

War made our streets full of homeless people, especially the small ones, the children…

War closed the foreign companies, embassies, destroyed our factories and left most of us without work…

War is increasing the prices of goods and the burden of our lives every day…

War deprived us from electricity, medication and clean water, and took us back to the Stone Age…

War made us shrive during winter without being able to heat ourselves or our children…

War is forcing us every day to say goodbye to our beloved ones who decided to immigrate, especially our young people…

War left our elderlies without anyone to take care of, without dignity in their last period of life…

War let the fighting game be the most amusing one for our children; it entered their discussions, their way of thinking, their playing and hurt their innocent childhood…

The list is very long of the war results on us, and our needs are huge now, especially during this time of the year. The winter is coming, and the schools began recently, which press economically on every Syrian family.

Syrian girl

Caption: Young refugee dressed up as an angel, September 2016. Photo credit: Meabh Smith/Trócaire

Unfortunately, without our support as Caritas, and the other active NGOs in Syria, a lot of families cannot survive anymore. A lot of families are depending on us, and we always feel that our support is like a drop of water in front of all this thirst.

We offer food, medication, rent allowance, clothes, education support, elderly support, and psycho-social support through our projects, but when we ask our beneficiaries about their most urgent need, we mostly will hear this word: PEACE!

All of us need peace to be able to rebuild ourselves, our lives, and our country. We all dream of a day when we wake up in the morning to find out that the fighting between us has stopped, and that we don’t need to be afraid anymore from the big shoes of the football players, as the game is over…"


Message from Caritas Syria

Caption: Message from inside Syria, September 2016

Trócaire joins Caritas International and Caritas Syria in its prayers for Peace in Syria.

Thanks all the Caritas Syria team for their strong commitment in order to alleviate the suffering of the people in Syria despite the violence, the danger, all the challenges and the destruction they face in their daily life there.

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.