Refugee and migrant crisis

Fatem, refugee from Syria, was selected to go to Italy with her family through a humanitarian visas programme. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Border closures and restrictions have dramatically worsened the situation for the most vulnerable people seeking protection and safety in Europe. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Millions of people around the world are being forced from their homes. From the war in Syria to climate change-induced droughts, they are risking everything to escape conflict, disaster, persecution, poverty or hunger.

Migration is not a threat to be stopped, it is a complex phenomenon to be managed. But governments have been failing to meet their legal and moral obligations to provide safety and assistance to vulnerable people in need of protection.

The long search for sanctuary

More than 70 million people around the world are now officially displaced from their homes – the highest figure recorded by the United Nations since the Second World War. Most people are displaced within their country of origin or remain close to it, and some travel further in search of safety and dignity.

In 2018, at least 4,245 people died or went missing worldwide while trying to reach a safe place, in lack of safe and regular migration routes; 2,297 lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea while hoping to find safety in Europe.

Behind these figures – almost too large to comprehend – sit the painful, personal but also resilient stories of individuals and families who have seen their lives destroyed by circumstances beyond their control. They've lost their homes, their jobs and sometimes their loved ones.

Many people who arrive in Europe come from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. Others have crossed Libya, and they tell of rape, torture and slave labor as daily realities that people crossing the North-African country face.

'Olive Grove' camp belongs to the EU refugees 'hotspot' of Moria in Lesvos, Greece. Photo: Giorgos Moutafis/Oxfam

The 'Olive Grove' camp belongs to the EU refugees 'hotspot' of Moria in Lesvos, Greece. People in this camp are living in deplorable and degrading living conditions, which deteriorate their health, safety and wellbeing. Photo: Giorgos Moutafis/Oxfam

Abandoned in Europe

Having made a perilous journey across the Mediterranean, those who arrive in Europe face daily uncertainty and practical challenges, from living in sites that lack food and basic services such as medical care, water and sanitation, to the lack of basic information and the risks posed by human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

European border closures and restrictions, the EU-Turkey deal and Italy’s European Union-backed migration deal with Libya have dramatically worsened the situation for the most vulnerable people trying to reach protection and safety in Europe.

Thousands of them have been left stranded in Greece, most often in abysmal conditions in overcrowded camps on the Greek islands and with no access to family members who reside in other countries.

Others are intercepted at sea and sent back to horrific, dangerous conditions in Libyan detention centers, while others again are stuck in the Balkans, or pushed back from one country to the other.

Oxfam’s work with refugees and migrants

Everyone has the right to be safe and to be treated with dignity. Oxfam works with refugees and migrants to help protect people on the move who, when leaving home, are often in the most vulnerable moment of their lives. Their safety and protection, their need for food, shelter and health care are the responsibility of our governments. We stand in solidarity with refugees, internally displaced people and other migrants, and with host communities.

In Europe, we have helped over 288,000 people since the start of our operations in Greece, Serbia, Macedonia and Italy. The assistance delivered ranges from basic essentials such as food, clothing and hygiene kits, to legal counselling and psychological support. We also work to influence European policies so that Europe lives up to its values as well as responsibilities and is a welcoming place for those in need.

Omar talking to Oxfam staff. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

In Europe, we have helped over 288,000 people since the start of our operations in Greece, Serbia, Macedonia and Italy. The assistance delivered ranges from basic essentials such as food, clothing and hygiene kits, to legal counselling and psychological support. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Helping people maintain their dignity in Greece

In Greece, we work with people arriving from Turkey to maintain their dignity and ensure they get the protection they need. Our partners on the island of Lesvos provide free legal assistance to asylum seekers. Oxfam also has been training a network of focal points in the refugee camps of Lesvos to make sure that everyone receives the information they need, and that people have access to services such as doctors, social workers or lawyers that can help them rebuild their lives.

Defending EU development aid

In recent years, the EU’s commitment to eradicating poverty, assisting people affected by crisis, and promoting sustainable development has been undermined by its short-sighted preoccupation with ‘tackling migration’ to Europe. Therefore, in Brussels and other European capitals, Oxfam works to influence EU and national development policy to make sure it keeps its main objective of eradicating poverty and supports the people most in need – not border guards and security forces. Europe must support efforts to tackle conflict, climate change and other drivers of displacement – but the aim must be to solve these issues, not to stop people from escaping life-threatening circumstances and poverty.