Global Refugee Question

Oxfam’s Global Displacement Response

Stand up for their rights – Refugees and Asylum Seekers

1) Why is Oxfam calling on the international community to stand up for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, and at the same time take a stand against xenophobia and racism?

Refugees and asylum-seekers have the right to protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol – even if they enter a country irregularly.

However, we are seeing more situations where the rights of refugees may be jeopardized, with too many states failing to offer protection and instead increasingly deterring migration through closed borders, large-scale deportation, large-scale detention, and other means. Many states are not providing proper procedures to determine the status of individual migrants and asylum seekers. The right to seek asylum entails, at a minimum, providing a fair, individualized hearing, at which the asylum seeker may provide evidence to prove that s/he is a refugee before an impartial adjudicator with knowledge of refugee law.

Too many politicians have responded to increased migration by stoking public fears of migrants of particular origins, creating and playing on national and racial stereotypes.

Oxfam is calling on states to reaffirm the rights enshrined in international refugee law, particularly the right to seek asylum. We also take a strong stand against xenophobia and racism and demand that public debate on migration take place on the basis of rights, compassion, and a rational approach to maintaining public safety.

2) Is this all about what is happening in Europe?

This is a global displacement crisis – the headlines about Europe can easily make us forget this. The majority of refuges are being hosted within low and middle income countries close to situations of conflict. Many of the big crises around the world can be considered as forgotten crises such as Western Sahara, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Yemen, which have received only a limited response from the outside world, in terms of media coverage or external assistance. In each of these situations, people have been forced to flee their homes and move within their own country or even over borders. In countries around the world, people are being displaced from their homes due to conflict, violence, human rights abuses, instability and inequality,

3) Who is organizing the global refugee and migration summit in September and why?

The UN Secretary-General has called for the UN High Level Meeting on Refugees and Migrants this September in New York to agree a Global Compact for Responsibility Sharing for Refugees and to initiate a process to agree a new Global Compact on Migration by 2018.

In addition to the UN High Level Summit on Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, President Obama has also convened his own Summit in September that will offer opportunities for all countries to step up and welcome more refugees and uphold the principle and standards of the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol.

3) Which countries should be providing the most support for refugees?

Governments must of course not only welcome a fair share of the world’s refugees, but do so in a humane way to the highest standards of international refugee and human rights law. All countries have an obligation to support refugees who are fleeing conflict and trauma. Rich countries have a particular obligation to resettle refugees and to provide aid and support to low and middle income countries which are hosting the overwhelming majority of refugees around the world.

How warm is Oxfam’s welcome?

4)  When Oxfam says “welcome more people seeking refuge”, what do we mean?

We mean that governments and communities must create a positive environment so that people seeking protection are able to realize their rights. Refugees should be welcomed through key policies such as resettlement, reunification of the families of refugees, a proper process for determining refugee status and granting asylum, integrating refugees into host economies and societies, and ensuring respect for human rights to asylum seekers.

5) Why does Oxfam see resettlement as a way for richer countries to share the responsibility?

Resettlement is a durable solution to displacement and a way for wealthy countries to share the responsibility of upholding the rights of refugees with the poor countries that host the vast majority of refugees.

The 21.3 million refugees and asylum seekers around the world vastly exceeds the 107,100 refugees who were resettled in 2015 (with the US accepting the highest number, 66,500).

The average stay in a refugee camp is said to be seventeen years, therefore increased resettlement is needed to stop vulnerable people from spending generations in limbo in refugee camps.

In addition to resettlement there are other ways in which countries can share responsibility and welcome more refugees, for instance by expanding family reunion or introducing humanitarian visas so refugees can travel safely to claim asylum. These are examples of what Oxfam means when it talks about safe and legal routes.

6) What is the difference between resettlement, humanitarian admission and relocation?

Resettlement is an option whereby a third country (i.e. not the one the refugee has fled from, or the country of first asylum/residence) offers refugee status to an individual based on an assessment of their vulnerability. Resettlement is not a right, and there is no obligation on States to accept refugees for resettlement.

Humanitarian admission programmes are much like resettlement, but tend to be limited in length. For example, Germany offered temporary status to hundreds of thousands of Bosnians in the 1990s, who then returned to Bosnia when the war there had finished and it was safe for individuals to do so.

Relocation refers to the transfer of asylum-seekers from one European Union (EU) Member State to another. It is an intra-EU process, in which Member States agree to process some of the people seeking asylum from countries who are receiving a large number of asylum-seekers.

Countries also have the possibility of allowing people in through other forms of admission, such as relaxing requirements for entry visas to work and study for people from certain countries, expanding family reunion and introducing humanitarian visas which are not necessarily based upon their vulnerabilities.

Host countries – a stark inequality

7) Why must richer countries support countries hosting large numbers of IDPs and refugees?

In addition to wealthy countries welcoming refugees and providing aid to developing countries, Oxfam is asking that they ALSO provide more financial and technical support to the countries hosting large numbers of displaced people. This means more focus on sustainable approaches through development funding, predictable and longer-term planning, and involvement of refugee communities.

86 percent of refugees are hosted in low- and middle-income countries close to situations of conflict (with the Least Developed Countries provided asylum to 4.2 million refugees or about 26 per cent of the global total).  The current top five refugee-hosting countries (as calculated by Oxfam to include UNRWA figures and asylum seekers) are Jordan, Turkey, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Pakistan and Lebanon which between them host 44% of refugees.

Rebuilding lives that are worth living – work and education

8) Why is the access to work important for refugees living in host countries?

All refugees need to live in dignity today and tomorrow. That means including access to livelihood and economic opportunities right now. This would allow them to both sustain themselves and make a contribution to the national economy where they are living.

Oxfam is not calling for a right to a job but a right to apply for employment, and to not be discriminated against. (For refugees, under the 1951 Refugee Convention, there is no automatic right to work.)

9) Why is Oxfam calling for the right to education?

Since millions of people, including children, are displaced from their homes for many years, this means whole generations of children are missing out on education. The right to education is a fundamental human right that all children should be able to realize. Enabling displaced children to go to school supports their future prospects, including increasing their income opportunities and chances for employment and makes them less vulnerable to exploitation. Ensuring equal access for boys and girls to schools is important to contribute to empowerment of girls and support their life choices.

10) Why is Oxfam calling for support for host communities?

Many of the developing countries hosting large populations of displaced people struggle to provide basic services to their own citizens and already depend on international aid. It is vital that this continues and international assistance to displaced people must be matched with assistance for host communities

Every person, displaced or not, should have access to health and education, and everything else that enables them to lead a dignified life.

11) Should overseas development aid be used to address migration?

While the effective use of development aid, and therefore development as a whole, reduces poverty and inequality – and so may limit some of the drivers of forced migration – it is totally wrong to see development and development aid as a way to restrict the fundamental rights of people to move. Development aid should never be used to restrict mobility.

The abuse of aid to fund, for example, detention centers should never be confused with the vital role that effective development aid can play to reduce poverty and inequality.

However, this is precisely what seems to be happening with, for instance, the EU’s new €40m for ‘better migration management’ in Sudan and other countries.

Supporting refugees is vital – it forms part of our international responsibilities and human rights obligations – and governments need to find the resources to meet the needs of refugees arriving at their borders. However, some States are also using overseas development aid (ODA) domestically to pay for domestic refugee costs, with Sweden using 30% of its aid domestically to fund refugee resettlement costs. Under the OECD guidelines, states are able to do this for the first 12 months of hosting refugees although states interpret it differently. Oxfam believes that spending on refugees inside donor countries should not be counted as ODA. Indeed, these expenditures provide no resources to developing countries, nor are they linked to development objectives of improving the welfare of poor people in those countries.

Development and mobility often go hand-in-hand and increasing human development is generally associated with higher, rather than lower, levels of mobility – both emigration and immigration.

12) There is much debate about Syrian refugees, what should the international community do to help them?

The London Conference on Syria saw a pledge by the international community to commit over US$10 billion to respond to the Syria crisis in the region over the course of the next 4 years. However, disbursement of these funds has been slow with only about 30% of the regional interagency Syria crisis appeal being funded for 2016 so far. London was a major step in the right direction – both on funding and commitments by Syria’s neighbours on refugee rights – but we need to see real action, both from donors and host countries to ensure refugees and poor communities hosting them can live safely and in dignity.

Oxfam’s calculation of rich countries’ fair share of aid has shown that only a handful of names always come on top, such as:

• Germany: 156% in 2013, 111% in 2014, and 152% in 2015

• Netherlands: 133% in 2013, 114% in 2014, and 246% in 2015

• Norway: 332% in 2013, 254% in 2014, 385% in 2015

Oxfam is also calling for rich countries to resettle or offer other forms of admission to 10% of the refugee population in neighbouring countries, equivalent to the number UNHCR have said are particularly vulnerable, by the end of this year. Despite the generosity of some countries such a Germany, Norway and Canada, less than 2% have been resettled to date. Other rich countries must urgently follow the example of those who have committed to resettle their fair share.

Oxfam looked at resettlement of refugees from Syria, with each country’s fair share (ie how many refugees they should offer resettlement to) calculated as a percentage of the total number of refugees based on each country’s share of total, combined gross national income of all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) member states as well as Russia.

Oxfam then looked at how many refugees these countries (signatories of the 1951 Geneva Convention) have resettled since the beginning of the crisis and are planning to resettle by the end of 2016, and compare this with the number of refugees they should offer resettlement to. Canada’s pledge to resettle more than 36,000 refugees by the end of 2016 means it is offering 238% of its fair share in resettlement places. Germany and Norway have also consistently shown generosity in resettling refugees.

Ultimately, however, there must be an end to the massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law which are causing so many people to flee their homes, both inside Syria and across international borders. There must be full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on protection of civilians and humanitarian access, a halt to arms and ammunition supplies flowing into the country, and serious progress made on implementing an internationally backed political resolution of the crisis.

13) How do you ensure that none of the people coming to the EU, US, Canada etc. have links to groups like IS?

Governments of course have security concerns and already take steps to address them, but this should not stop them from keeping their borders open to refugees seeking safe haven. If more legal channels were open to refugees and migrants, they wouldn’t be dependent on smugglers and the authorities would have greater oversight of who was entering, creating a more secure system.

Climate change and migration

14) What’s the link between climate change and migration?

Climate change is exacerbating displacement and migration worldwide – both internally, especially from rural areas to cities, and sometimes across international borders. Droughts, floods and storms are becoming increasingly frequent and severe – destroying livelihoods and forcing people to leave their homes. Further, for people who live in atoll nations and other low-lying areas, rising seas compounded by increased wave action and storm surges, are leading to loss of land and homes.

184 million people were displaced by disasters between 2008 and 2014: that is 1 person per second.  The great majority were displaced because of weather events, not geophysical events such as earthquakes. People decide to move for many and complex reasons but as climate change takes hold, it will become an increasing factor in decision-making about migration.

Rich countries have failed to act fast enough to mitigate climate change – and the pledges made as part of the global Paris agreement, made in December 2015, are still inadequate.

15) How does the current system protect people fleeing climate change?

The international refugee system is not set up to protect forced climate migrants. There has however been an international process, the Nansen Initiative, which led in 2015 to more than 100 governments supporting a ‘toolbox’ to better support people displaced across borders by disasters and the effects of climate change. The Paris Agreement has set the stage for more substantive and focused international dialogue on addressing permanent loss and damage from climate change, such as land lost permanently to rising seas. Among next steps, governments agreed to establish a taskforce that will make recommendations for approaches to addressing human displacement related to climate change.

Oxfam’s support for refugees, migrants and those displaced by war and conflict

16) How is Oxfam supporting people living in the top source countries of refugees?

More than half (54%) of all refugees worldwide came from just three countries: Syria (4.9 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million), and Somalia (1.1 million).

Oxfam is active in 9 out of the 10 top countries where refugees are coming from –  with programs in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Myanmar and Colombia delivering assistance for those affected by conflict, working to reduce inequality and poverty, and support civil society and citizens to claim their rights and be heard.

[In order of the numbers of refugees fleeing from each country]


Syria’s conflict has led to one of the biggest humanitarian crises of the century. Since January 2014, Oxfam has built and repaired water systems that serve more than 2 million people inside Syria, approximately. Syria’s neighbours are struggling to cope with the influx of refugees and have increasingly restricted or closed their borders. Lebanon now has the highest per capita concentration of refugees worldwide with more than 1 million people making up approximately 25 percent of the population. In 2015, Oxfam reached more than 46,000 people (70% Syrian refugees and 30% Jordanians) in Jordan and over 85,000 people in Lebanon with clean drinking water or cash and relief supplies. We are also helping families get the information they need about their rights, connecting them to services such as legal aid, as well as working on sanitation.


Afghanistan has been in prolonged conflict for decades. Oxfam has established offices in Afghanistan in the early 1990s, thus starting to implement activities directly ever since. It provides aid to families affected by humanitarian crisis, supports rural development and sustainable livelihood programs and helps to raise Afghan voices by focusing on poverty alleviation, strengthening civil society and changing policy.


For over two decades, Somalia has been a country torn by conflict. During that time Oxfam has been working to help poor women and youths thrive and survive in safety and dignity in spite of the stresses and shocks they face, by creating equitable access to and increased control over productive resources, wider access to sustainable livelihoods, improving basic service delivery and granting access to humanitarian aid; Oxfam helped over 650,000 people in the last three years.

South Sudan

Oxfam has a dedicated team working across all regions in South Sudan to rebuild jobs and livelihoods, provide humanitarian assistance and promote active citizenship. We focus on providing food, clean water, public health, education and livelihoods support, and engage with partners on peace building, protection and governance issues. We work to raise the voices of South Sudanese people and to highlight the root causes of the problems they face and ensure the protection of people who are particularly at risk. Since the crisis began in December 2013, Oxfam in South Sudan has scaled up its activities considerably, providing variety of humanitarian and development projects across the country. In 2015 alone, we assisted over 830,000 people affected by the conflict with lifesaving food, water, hygiene and sanitation and provided assistance to over 350,000 people through our agriculture, education, peace building, protection and governance projects.


Oxfam is currently operated in Darfur and in the region of Southern Kordofan, addressing immediate public health needs but also helping those families most affected by the conflict get back on their feet over the long term, through a series of activities involving restoring incomes (offering small businesses grants and loans), supporting women, installing wells and constructing latrines, providing cash grants and distributing relief materials.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Years of conflict in eastern DRC’s have created one of the world’s largest and most complex humanitarian crises. Since 1998, an estimated 5.4 million people have lost their lives, and 1.8 million people remain displaced from their homes. We work with communities that are hosting tens of thousands of displaced people in the east and west of the country. Oxfam is providing clean water to communities, hospitals and schools in the region, and works to provide support to people living with HIV and AIDS. We have expanded our emergency response to deal with the deteriorating situation, providing vital assistance to 800,000 vulnerable people.


The Central African Republic (CAR) is described by UNHCR as one of the world’s poorest. People in the Central African Republic are suffering one of the most neglected crises. Nowadays, 20% of the Central African population is displaced within the country and in neighboring countries. Oxfam’s work, carried out by international staff with the help of technical consultants, includes production and supply of water to internal displacement camps and neighborhoods affected by the crisis, repair and maintenance of sanitation facilities, hygiene promotion activities and access to food and other basics (distribution of food coupons and seeds, support of income-generating activities, vegetable cultivation and promotion of good nutrition practices) as well as protection and advocacy activities to intend to bring change through our programs and presence across the country. Oxfam calls for durable solution for displaced people who are starting to return, through improved conditions in areas of return or relocation through joint actions for security and access to basic social services.


After decades of heavy state control under a military regime, Myanmar’s new government led by the former opposition party swept to power in a largely democratic election –- putting in place a coalition government of elected parties and appointed military representatives: an important milestone in the country’s process of democratization. Oxfam’s goal in Myanmar is to make sure that all people, including women and ethnic nationalities, are able to enjoy their social, cultural, economic, civil and political rights. The focus of its work includes: empowering communities to exercise their own rights; building local government which can respond to the needs of its people; increasing the participation of women in society, helping them to participate in decision-making processes at all levels; and working towards a pro-poor private sector to ensure the government adopts business practices and policies which benefit poor and vulnerable people.


Colombia has the world’s largest internally displaced population of 6.9 million people (at the end of 2015) and is now one of the top ten source countries too. Ongoing armed conflict and high levels of inequality, especially in rural areas, are serious problems – and very closely linked. Oxfam focuses on three areas: humanitarian and human rights crises; gender equality and ending violence against women; and the need to build better opportunities for building peace with inclusive development policies that put women’s voices at the center. Within these areas, our focus is on helping indigenous, Afro-descendant and Campesino women raise their voices. It’s a tough challenge, but we’re determined to succeed. We’ve worked with rural women and grassroots organizations formed by farmers, indigenous communities and African descendants, supporting rural women as they fight to improve their lives and protect their rights

A European perspective

17) What is Oxfam doing to help people arriving in Europe?

Oxfam is working to support in areas where there are a high number of arrivals.

Oxfam is working in Italy and Greece providing life-saving support to people who have fled from some of the worst crises in the world. As well as material support in terms of clean water, food, clothes, and hygiene items, Oxfam also is providing psychological and legal support and women’s safe spaces in these countries, as well as in Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

In addition, Oxfam has been active in lobbying governments and institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations to demand respect for the rights of refugees and migrants, insisting that governments act to address the root causes of conflict and to push for durable solutions that will address the long term needs of people displaced not just by war and persecution but also by climate change and natural disasters.

18) More EU search and rescue missions will just encourage more people to make the journey because they know they’ll be picked up and saved, right?

People fleeing conflict, violence and persecution are willing to risk their lives at sea. Given the threats they are facing in the countries they are fleeing, risking their lives on the way to Europe is for many their only choice.

The lack of legal channels to asylum and other forms of protection in Europe forces them to travel dangerously and irregularly – often with smugglers. European governments should urgently expand safe and legal routes to Europe and within Europe to help save lives.

Focusing exclusively on destroying smuggling networks is flawed. Evidence shows that efforts to dismantle the smuggling networks, without the creation of safe and legal routes to reduce demand, are likely to be ineffective, and simply lead to the creation of new – possibly more dangerous – routes.

19) Won’t providing safe and legal routes be an incentive for people to come to Europe?

Safe and legal routes are not an incentive but a way in which European governments can provide protection for some of the most vulnerable people in the world, so they are not forced to put their lives in the hands of smugglers in order to reach safety.

States should provide sanctuary for people who flee violence, conflict and persecution and uphold people’s right to claim asylum which is at the heart of the international asylum and refugee protection regime.

68 percent of the people arriving in Europe at the moment are from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and in the absence of peace, people will continue to flee conflict and violence.

Closing Europe’s borders

20) What are the EU leaders doing?

Europe is still failing to deal effectively with the migration crisis. Vulnerable people seeking safety and dignity remain at risk of death, torture and exploitation as they try to reach and cross the Mediterranean where they then face a legal limbo once in Europe.

The EU has turned what should have been a manageable surge in numbers of people arriving at Europe’s borders into a humanitarian disaster.

Europe needs a saner and more humane system for managing migration, one that creates opportunities for people rather than for criminal networks of smugglers. European border closures and restrictions have dramatically worsened the humanitarian crisis for refugees and migrants living in desperate conditions from Greece to Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and from Serbia to Sicily.

Europe’s focus so far has been to try and tackle the smuggling gangs. But focusing exclusively on destroying smuggling networks is flawed. Evidence shows that efforts to dismantle the smuggling networks, without the creation of safe and legal routes to reduce demand, are likely to be ineffective, and simply lead to the creation of new – possibly more dangerous – routes.

21) Why should we not leave refugees in the first “safe” country they enter?

It is an accident of geography that some countries have been left relatively unaffected while other countries – for example in Europe, Greece and Italy, are left to take responsibility for many people arriving on Europe’s shores.

A response is required from the international community – including the EU and the UN – to ensure that responsibility for the most vulnerable people is shared. Given that countries where people first arrive to Europe, like Greece, are unable to cope, insisting that people claim asylum there is irresponsible.

22) What is Oxfam’s view about the EU-Turkey refugee deal?

The March 2016 EU-Turkey deal has seen the bloc bargaining away its core values and abandoning fundamental legal obligations. This has set a dangerous precedent that human rights don’t matter anymore.

Under the terms of the deal, from 20 March 2016 onwards, any irregular migrant arriving in Greece is expected to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their asylum claim is deemed inadmissible. The deal says that for every Syrian migrant sent back to Turkey, one Syrian already in Turkey will be resettled in the EU. The deal is the EU’s attempt to shift responsibility for refugees onto Turkey.

Glossary/Definitions (from the Migration Public Engagement core script)

MIGRATION describes a movement of people, or a person, from their original home to another location in search of a place of safety or opportunity where there previously was none. It is a process that has been happening for centuries, upon which the social, political and economic make up of the countries that we live in today is based.

MIGRANT is an overall term used to describe a person who is on the move, between countries, who is seeking to settle elsewhere. It could be an asylum seeker, a refugee, an economic migrant, or a seasonal worker.

While the term ‘migrant’ is technically correct, it is loaded with negative connotations, and by some sectors of the popular media that refer to the influx of refugees into Europe as ‘swarms of migrants’ arriving in the EU to take advantage of social security and benefits. A substitute is to use “people on the move”.

IMMIGRANT is a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country, whether legally or illegally (illegal immigrant). Governments use immigration and emigration figures to determine the movement of people into and from its borders.

DISPLACED PERSON is someone who has fled his or her home, village, or town. This could be nationally, where they become displaced within their own country in which case they are referred to as an IDP (Internally Displaced Person), or internationally, where they often become an asylum seeker if they are escaping conflict or persecution.

People can be displaced by conflicts and disasters, but also by changes in the environment and by development projects.

ASYLUM SEEKER is someone who is on the move because of persecution, violence, or conflict and who is seeking safety and protection in another country. They have often fled for their lives, or lived through imprisonment, abuse or torture. They are going through the process of applying for refugee status (which can be a very lengthy process).

REFUGEE is someone who has been displaced or made a decision to move outside their country because they can no longer stay in their home, village or town. This could be because of war, violence, persecution. Such a person may be called an “asylum seeker” until they are granted asylum or refugee status in another country. All people fleeing across borders can also generally be referred to as “refugees”, but it is important to keep in mind the legal distinctions when speaking of people’s rights (including the right to claim asylum).

REFUGEE CAMPS provide temporary refuge and relief supplies for people on the move (until they can go back home or gain permanent refugee status in another country). However, some camps have been in existence for many years, with families adapting to a transient lifestyle, finding work and educating their children.