Fighting against the discrimination of migrants and refugees around the world

Activists protesting the executive order barring refugees from the US on Sunday, January 29 in Boston's Copley Square. Photo: Lauren Levine / Oxfam

Oxfam is at the forefront of the fight against the discrimination of migrants and refugees around the world.

We are part of a legal challenge against the recent controversial US Executive Order on refugees and immigration.

We are lobbying EU member states and other countries that are equally culpable in fostering coarsening public attitudes and regressive policies against people who need our humanity and assistance.

We are helping displaced children, women and men from Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Iraq and in many other countries with life-saving aid. 

Read our message from Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima and please support our work.

By Winnie Byanyima

I am proud that Oxfam is fighting against the worsening discrimination of migrants and refugees around the world. 

We are determinedly part of a movement of many millions of people who have been shocked into action by the speed of coarsening attitudes and regressive policies in far too many countries around the world. We believe in the decency of human values that run counter to this callousness. 

We ask for your support both to both reject this intolerance and also in practical giving life-saving help to the desperate children, women and men who need it.

A discriminatory Executive Order

I the United States, President Trump’s discriminatory Executive Order bars Syrian refugees from entering the US indefinitely, suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days, imposes restrictions on refugees on the basis of their religion, and blocks citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries – refugees or otherwise – from entering the United States for at least 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

This ban is not only discriminatory but is unlikely to make Americans safer. The US refugee resettlement program already stringent, and includes multiple levels of checks and investigations. Denying admission to visitors and refugees to the US on the basis of religious tests is particularly egregious. This is a blatant discrimination against Muslims who represent nearly a quarter of the world’s population.

In response, my colleague and friend – the Oxfam America President Raymond Offenheiser – stood publicly this past week with leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts to formally join a lawsuit against the order. As Mr. Offenheiser said the “dangerous” order severely jeopardizes Oxfam’s ability to continue work helping people in some of the worst humanitarian crises around the globe. 

Other Oxfam member groups around the world have mounted campaigns to support Oxfam America, asking their own leaders to condemn the US order and ask that it be rescinded. These campaigns range from Holland, Spain, the UK, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia, and more to come. 

Europe has little moral high ground in this matter. The hardening of attitudes and policies toward vulnerable refugees and migrants are as pronounced in many EU member capitals as now out of Washington. Oxfam’s Brussels office just this week warned EU leaders not to be hypocritical by speaking out against the US order on one hand, while on the other striking a deal with Libya with the primary aim of stopping refugees into Europe.

Oxfam needs your help to counter this concerted and wilful degradation of people’s rights and to continue our humanitarian and development programs inside some of those countries that are now in the eye of the storm. Oxfam works in five of the seven countries listed in the Executive Order – Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. As part of this work, Oxfam America (like all Oxfam members) regularly brings staff and partners from the field to speak with policy-makers and donors to give them first-hand insight into the political and humanitarian conditions in there. This important feature of our work will be curtailed.

Thousands of Syrian families are now in limbo

A Syrian refugee family in their home, Zarka, Jordan

Oxfam has reached more than 1.12 million Syrians both inside the country and those who have found themselves in Jordan and Lebanon, with clean drinking water, sanitation and cash or relief supplies. Our staff and partners are helping families get important information about their rights and connecting them to services such as legal aid. Syria’s descent into conflict has caused one of the biggest humanitarian crises in history. Around 4.8 million people have fled and more than 6.3 million people have been displaced internally. 
Today I reached out to my colleagues who have been profoundly shocked by recent events. “The US lifeline for vulnerable Syrian refugees has been withdrawn for good,” Oxfam’s Syria Campaigns and Policy Manager, Daniel Gorevan, told me. “Thousands of families, including children, who were waiting for a chance for a better and safer life, and who were told they were just a few months away from being resettled to the US, are now in limbo. Let's be clear that this was a tiny number of refugees when put in perspective. A total of 17,000 refugees have been so far resettled by the world's most powerful country, compared to tiny Lebanon which is hosting more than one million Syrians. But even that tiny ray of hope for thousands of people is now gone.” 

Oxfam America is one of the few international organizations still allowed to work in Sudan, for instance, bringing much-needed relief to the most vulnerable people displaced by conflict in Darfur and beyond.  Through partners we have helped 400,000 people, mainly with public health services, but also trying to get them back on their feet through small business grants and loans, as well as installing wells, latrines and distributing relief. 

Yemen refugees need safe haven and peace 

A girl peeps out of her family's tent, Yemen

In Yemen, more than 14 million people – half the entire population – don’t have enough to eat and more than 3 million have been forced to leave their homes because of the aerial bombardments and fighting – although just over 180,000 have been able to make it out to neighboring countries. More than 46,000 people have been killed in the past two years. Oxfam has been in Yemen for more than 30 years, working with government authorities and civil society partners to improve water and sanitation services. We’ve reached more than a million people, including with cash assistance and food vouchers.

My colleague Sajjad Mohammad Sajid, Oxfam Yemen’s Country Director, emailed me today: "To Yemenis caught up in this war today, the possibility of finding safe haven anywhere as a refugee is slight, much less anyone finding their way to the US. There are no commercial air routes out of the North and flights are prohibitively expensive from the South. Almost everyone is stuck here anyway. This order banning Yemeni refugees from the US is like an unnecessary insult to their on-going injury. What Yemenis want most of all is peace. What they need from the US and other governments is a concerted effort to stop the war and rebuild their lives. Yemenis don't want to be singled out to be banned from the US but they'd rather that foreign powers concentrate on making their country safe. That must include the US and the UK and other powers to stop selling their arms to Saudi Arabia.”

Meanwhile, in Iraq – where more than 3 million people have been displaced inside the country since 2014 and 220,000 made refugees – Oxfam is working mainly through providing cash or e-vouchers to meet critical household needs. As the frontline recedes, we’ve been able to expand our operations to include new areas in central Iraq. So far we’ve reached 130,000 people and have ambitious plans to increase our presence there. 


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"We ask for your support both to deny this intolerance and in giving life-saving help to the desperate children, women and men who need it."
Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International Executive Director