Oxfam condemns staff over sex reports in earthquake-hit Haiti

Resident search for survivors among the debris after an earthquake in Port-au-Prince, in this January 13, 2010 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 10 February 2018

Oxfam condemns staff over sex reports in earthquake-hit Haiti

LONDON: Oxfam, one of Britain’s biggest charities, on Friday condemned the behavior of some former staff in Haiti after a newspaper report said aid workers had paid for sex while on a mission to help those affected by the devastating 2010 earthquake.
“The behavior of some members of Oxfam staff uncovered in Haiti in 2011 was totally unacceptable, contrary to our values and the high standards we expect of our staff,” Oxfam said in a statement.
“As soon as we became aware of the allegations we immediately launched an internal investigation,” Oxfam said when asked to comment on a report in The Times newspaper that aid workers had paid prostitutes for sex.
“Allegations that underage girls may have been involved were not proven,” Oxfam said, adding that four members of staff were dismissed as a result of the investigation and three resigned before the end of the investigation.
Reuters could not independently verify the allegations contained in The Times report and was unable to immediately reach any of the Oxfam staff who worked in Haiti.
Oxfam neither confirmed nor denied The Times newspaper report but said its misconduct findings had “related to offenses including bullying, harassment, intimidation and failure to protect staff as well as sexual misconduct.”
The Times quoted one unidentified source as saying that Oxfam workers had invited groups of young prostitutes to their guesthouse in Delmas, near Port-au-Prince, for sex parties with some of the sex workers wearing Oxfam T-shirts.
The 2010 earthquake in Haiti killed 220,000 people and left millions more homeless. Prostitution is illegal in Haiti.
The Charity Commission said such allegations risked undermining public trust in charities.
“The public expects charities to be safe and trusted environments that safeguard those who come into contact with them,” a Charity Commission spokeswoman said. “Allegations such as those involving Oxfam staff risk undermining public trust.”
“We will expect the charity to provide us with assurance that it has learnt lessons from past incidents and is taking all necessary steps to safeguard all who come into contact with it,” the Charity Commission spokeswoman said.

Rohingya volunteers get UN training to deal with monsoon threat 

Rohingya refugee men make sand bags in preparation for the upcoming monsoon season in Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Bangladesh. (AFP / Munir Uz Zaman)
Updated 40 min 56 sec ago

Rohingya volunteers get UN training to deal with monsoon threat 

  • UNHCR identifies 24,000 Rohingya refugees at ‘high risk’ of landslides and floods as Bangladesh’s monsoon season approaches.
  • Volunteers in refugee camps are being trained as first responders in emergency by the UN agency.

DHAKA, Bangladesh: “Initially we were a bit scared, but after acquiring disaster preparedness skills, we are feeling stronger,” said Nur Mohammad Majhi, a Rohingya community outreach member, in the refugee camp of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. 

Majhi is one of the several Rohingya refugees who have received disaster training from UNHCR to deal with landslides and floods in the approaching monsoon season.

“We want to stand by the people, stand with courage and be ready to rescue if needed,” Majhi told Arab News.

The UNHCR has completed training for 400 Rohingya safety unit volunteers, who will be deployed as first responders in emergency situations such as search-and-rescue activities during floods and landslides. The volunteers will work closely with other government emergency services.

Another 300 Rohingya volunteers will complete their training next week. 

“We are extremely concerned about the physical safety of tens of thousands of Rohingyas who live in overcrowded settlements in Bangladesh and the danger of an ‘emergency within an emergency,’” Caroline Gluck, UNHCR senior spokesperson at Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News.

The emergency response training has changed the mindset of the Rohingya refugees and given them confidence to deal with accidents and large-scale emergencies. 

“We’ve learnt a lot. Most people still don’t know what help is out there and we can help them,” said Ayub Khan, a Rohingya outreach member who recently attended a psychological first-aid training course run by the UNHCR.

“Now we can share the knowledge, the information we have. We can help people to worry less and bring some comfort,” Khan said. 

“I had no clue what to do during landslides. I had sleepless nights during the past few weeks fearing the natural disasters of the rainy season,” said Jamila Khatun, a refugee in Balukhali camp. “Now I feel much better and confident as the volunteers have educated me on how to tackle these emergencies.” 

The UNHCR has adopted an integrated approach to deal with this emergency. Volunteers in different groups have received separate training on basic awareness and mitigation, psychological first aid, and emergency and cyclone preparedness. 

Despite the extensive humanitarian support for Rohingyas, the UN agency has said 200,000 Rohingyas living on hill slopes face risky conditions. “Out of these, 24,000 are at high risk of landslides,” Gluck said. 

Agencies have relocated more than 21,800 refugees to safer locations, according to Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG). The UNHCR is trying to relocate some families inside the existing settlements to lessen the risks. 

The UNHCR is also working to stabilize slopes and improve pathways with sandbags and bamboo. Together with the World Food Program, UNHCR is also improving drainage and widening a canal to improve water flow and avoid flooding. 

“We have been working with the Bangladesh authorities to build and pave the main arterial road from the north to south of the biggest settlement, Kutupalong-Balukhali, which is crucial for access and a lifeline for aid,” said Gluck.

Bangladesh is now home to 1.3 million Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar in the wake of military offensives in Rakhine state last year.

About 100,000 Rohingyas will be moved to the island of Bhashan Char in the Bay of Bengal this summer, authorities said.