Imagine waking up in a makeshift tent on the side of a road, the clothes you usually wear gone, worn rags are in their place. You don’t feel safe, you’re fleeing persecution, running from war and conflict – your home has been reduced to rubble.

What happens when you become a war refugee?

You walk. You walk away from your home, your family and your friends. You walk long distances in searing heat- staying in squalid camps or out in the open – and you carry everything you own in one small rucksack.Walking beside you are thousands – babies, grandmothers, children, girls – trying to escape unimaginable horrors.

According to the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR, the world is facing the biggest refugee crisis since WWII, having surpassed 50 million people who have been forced to leave their homes as refugees and asylum seekers.And there seems to be no end to the tide of human misery flooding out of countries like Syria.

A young mother crosses the border from Syria and becomes a refugee. She carries her one-month-old son, Hamid. “Since he was born there has been non-stop bombing every day.” UNHCR / S. Rich / Photo unit @ Flickr

A SAFE PASSAGE?

Just last month up to 126 refugees and migrants were feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean after Libyan smugglers stole their engine from their dinghy. They were headed to Italy when the attack occurred and with the engine gone the waves engulfed the vessel and it sank.

There were four survivors in total but a huge loss of life occurred, what we have to be mindful of here though is the reason they were on the boat in the first place: “As one Somali poet puts it, ‘why does a mother put her children at risk in a flimsy dinghy on the open sea? It is because she believes the sea is safer than the land’.

Picture credit :Aisling Eyre

CONDITIONS IN THE CAMPS

In Lesvos, Greece, refugees continue to arrive following perilous sea crossings. Families seeking help have left one hell and are now enduring another in  massive cvercrowded camps that still don’t meet basic humanitarian standards.

Moria camp – a former prison surrounded by fences and barbed wire, was supposed to be a registration centre for refugees but it has evolved into a long term housing facility and up to 7 families at a time can be sharing a room there; tensions are currently at boiling point.

Suicides and self-harm have also risen significantly in these centres, among adults and children; According to one British aid worker, who had previously worked in the refugee camps in Afghanistan, conditions in Greece are worse.

And while there needs to be an international effort to protect and provide for the world’s most vulnerable people by providing adequate food, shelter and medical care – the most human needs need to be addressed also.

Washing line in refugee camp:Mustafa Khayat | Karkosik Erbil at Flickr

SEPARATION FROM FAMILIES

Because the men stay behind to fight or protect property, women and children often become destitute wanderers- falling pray to rape , abuse and sex trafficking. The UNHCR states that more than 70,000 Syrian refugee families live without their fathers, and thousands of refugee children are separated from both parents – making them particularly vulnerable

In Ireland, many asylum seekers have been housed by the state in makeshift accommodation, such as the old Butlin’s holiday park, in Mosney (Just 10 per cent of those who stay in Mosney are granted refugee status). And while the Irish state provides them with the basics for survival – many of them are deeply traumatised.

Under the International Protection Act, 2015 refugees have to prove that they can financially support any dependants whom they apply to bring into the State. As a result, many struggle to reunite with families and they’re not permitted to offer those in terrible peril any sort of sanctuary here in Ireland.

Girl Sitting on Plastic chair Mustafa Khayat Flickr

NEW BILL

The recent introduction of the International Protection |Family Reunification (Amendment) Bill, which passed the second stage in the Seanad on Wednesday 19th July – attempts to rectify this situation. While this is only the beginning, it’s an exciting and important first step.

Frances Black, Independent Senator has said “ The bill is about treating the small number of refugees who arrive here with compassion. These people have lost so much and are attempting to build a new life, the best way to do that is with your family beside you.”

Members of Oxfam Ireland, Nasc and the Irish refugee council worked with the Civil Engagement Group to develop this new act and many are hopeful that the bill will pass. It will now return to the Seanas for comittee stage in the Autumn before prooceesing to the Dail.

If passed in the Dail, the Bill will ammend the Internation Protection Act 2015 and enable refugee famlies in Ireland to be reunited with their love ones outside the nuclear family

Syrian refugee Mahmoud, in the underground shelter where he lives with his family in El Akbiya, Lebanon. He shares a tiny room measuring 2.5m x 3.5 metres with his parents and eight siblings. Photo Unit at Flickr| Baldwin

ARE WE DOING ENOUGH?

It’s a start – but the Family Reunification (Amendment) Bill is just the tip of the iceberg.

Under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, the Government promised to welcome 4000 refugees to Ireland by the end of 2017, less than a third have arrived so far.No wonder this country has been called ‘a laughing stock’ in dealing with migrants.

Whatever our problems in Ireland, we do not live in terror of bullets and knives, war has not uprooted us, our homes have not been destroyed. Our children don’t tremble with fear and our family members are not slaughtered on the streets.

If war, in all its blood-soaked terror, was our reality, would we not take our children and run? If we found ourselves displaced and terrified – would we not hope for some human kindness? If we’d been separated from our family, would someone hear our cry for help?

We can no longer turn our back on this tide of human misery and ignore the needs of the most vulnerable.We can’t stand back while Syria’s humanitarian crisis continues to deepen, or history will damn us for it.

We should do everything in our power to support this important piece of legistlation.  

Photo: Aisling Eyre

HUMAN COST

– Over 12,000 children have died among the 240,000 people killed in the conflict, with a million people wounded and disabled. Fighters have coerced or forced children to participate in the conflict itself.

– More than 152 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance globally — and at least 64 million have been forced to flee their homes.

– 115 million people lack basic health services, 94 million lack water and sanitation services, and 34 million lack access to education

– Of the 65+ million people that have been forcibly displaced from their homes, 60% of them are hosted in world’s most fragile states.

Top Image Credit: DKhamissy / UNCHR @ Flickr

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