As families welcomed back loved ones from abroad for Christmas, with more arriving over the past few week to celebrate the New Year, excitement levels in homes all over Ireland reached a fever pitch. The arrivals halls in airports around the country have been the scenes of heart-warming reunions with mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers and friends waiting expectantly for the sliding doors to part to get that first glimpse of a loved one. As somebody who lived abroad for over 20 years, I was that daughter who experienced a special heartwarming greeting every Christmas from my parents.
Siobhan Walsh, CEO GOAL
I am acutely struck by the chasm of contrast between such joy, and the plight of so many people around the world who were not ‘home’ this Christmas. According to the United Nations there are currently over 70 million people across the world forcibly displaced, far from home, due to war and conflict. And more than half are children.
Often, at only a moment’s notice, and amid the impending threat of violence, families under threat must grab what they can. Akin to abandoning a rapidly sinking ship, and with little more than the basics assembled in a hurry, they embark on arduous journeys, often traversing punishing terrain, borders and even continents as their homelands are overrun by malign forces.
For others climate change, bringing with it extreme weather including drought and economic dislocation and destitution, fuels a burning need to make it to more prosperous locations to call home.
Over a third (36%) of global refugees come from Syria and South Sudan, countries where GOAL plays a vital role supporting displaced communities in a host of refugee camps in the respective regions. Our programmes in Ethiopia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Honduras, Turkey and Niger also support families who have been uprooted from their homes.
Over this Christmas period mass displacement tragically continued as another devastating chapter in the tragic story of Syria’s protracted and brutal nine-year-long conflict was written, with new bombardments striking terror into the lives of thousands of men, women and children in the country’s northwest. In the last two weeks alone, more than 100,000 newly displaced arrived in GOALs areas of operation in northwest Idleb. GOALs team in Syria have been busy assessing the needs of newly displaced households who have taken refuge in our areas of operation. 93% reported they don’t have access to adequate food or have any fuel for heating ans over 50% reported not having access to water.
GOAL chose the theme Far from Home for its Christmas and New Year appeal, to highlight that millions of people grappling with the reality of “home” no longer being a physical place, but rather a vision in the far distance, fraught with the perils of the journey in between.
As part of the appeal we highlighted the story of two displaced mothers. Nietche, a mother of four, was forced to flee conflict in South Sudan five years ago, making her way to a refugee camp in Gambella, Western Ethiopia. Nietche lost two of her children to malnutrition and disease, or the “emergency disease” as she called it, encompassing a pain just too vivid for her to talk about.
Humaira is a mother was forced to flee her village in Syria due to shelling and bombardments. Tragically her daughter-in-law, who stayed in the house, died during the bombing. It took a week to find her body under the rubble. She was six months pregnant and her baby also died.
Nicha and Humaira are messengers for the tragedy of the migrant crisis; from the profound trauma imposed upon them, to the now ingrained sense of uncertainty they face. Yet somehow, they manage to go about daily tasks and continue to show strength for their families and remaining children. Extraordinary examples of the courage and resilience of the human spirit.
Irish people have never forgotten their own deep history and experience of poverty and famine. That generosity of spirit is part of Ireland’s DNA. GOAL is deeply grateful to them for their continued support, and in particular to the thousands who came out in the last week to take part in GOAL Miles all over the country. The fact that so many took time out to remember the most vulnerable in the world at a time of joyous celebration is testament to the people we are.
We remember the importance of supporting others in need today because, while on the surface as individuals we are all different, the world is made up of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, all with similar needs.
I would like to pay tribute to all of GOAL’s generous supporters who make our work possible. And to the courage and commitment of GOAL staff in 13 countries on the front line, our partners, and indeed all humanitarian aid workers around the globe.
As we step onto the 2020 train which will take all of us on a new unknown journey, let us remember the mothers such as Nicha and Humaira. And lets act as one global human family, because every single person has an important role to play in creating a better world.