Learning about the refugee crisis

UNISON Cymru/Wales women’s group spent time learning about the refugee crisis at their policy weekend recently.

Matt Hemsley, campaigns and advocacy manager for Oxfam Cymru, attended the weekend to tell members what he saw firsthand in Lebanon.

Delegates heard real life stories of families torn apart in the crisis, including a refugee family of three generations who had fled Raqqa in fear of their lives, only for one of the male members of the family – who was a husband, a father and a son – to be arrested en route. They have not been able to locate him or speak to him since.

UNISON members heard about other people who had no choice but to flee, leaving behind homes, jobs, families and friends. The harrowing stories gave UNISON members in Wales an idea of what the millions of refugees in Lebanon are facing, in what amounts to a tented site with no food or water, limited and basic toilet facilities and no bedding or clothing.

Chair of the women’s committee in UNISON Cymru/Wales, Jane Gebbie said: “The crisis has affected whole communities, but we have particular concerns about the impact on women and children, including sexual exploitation, violence towards women and girls and the lack of empowerment for these women to stand up in a system that is being predominantly run by men.

“Safety is a huge issue for women in these tented communities. When toilets are available they are not safe for women to use at night as there is no light. The safety of women hasn’t necessarily been considered because of the lack of engagement of women in the running of the sites. Oxfam has now provided some torches but more assistance is needed to keep women and girls safe.”

A collection was held during the event for Oxfam Cymru. UNISON Cymru/Wales has also pledged to seek donations from each branch across Wales to support their local refugee organisations. They will also raise awareness of the refugee crisis amongst members, work to dispel myths and confusion and help refugees locally by welcoming them and building relations amongst communities.