Tribal truckers, praying paramedics: mixed bag on last Daesh front

Sahale Eubank, a volunteer with the Free Burma Rangers (FBR), is pictured at a plateau overlooking the embattled Baghouz area in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, on February 15, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 15 February 2019
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Tribal truckers, praying paramedics: mixed bag on last Daesh front

NEAR BAGHOUZ: As destitute civilians stumble out of the Daesh group’s last enclave in east Syria, a mixed bag of unlikely characters are pitching in to help get them to safety.
They include a team of medics led by an American veteran and his children as well as a group of truckers from a remote Syrian town.
Close to 40,000 have fled Daesh’s last Euphrates Valley bastions into territory held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, in pitiful conditions after weeks of bombardment and food shortages.
Citing security concerns, global aid agencies have kept their distance from the town of Baghouz where the jihadists are making a last stand and the SDF’s limited humanitarian capacities cannot cope with the influx.
Enter the Free Burma Rangers (FBR).
Led by a US veteran and passionate Christian, David Eubank, the team of around 25 volunteers — including his wife and three children — is camped out on a plateau overlooking Baghouz that serves as the first stop for fleeing civilians.
“We’re not qualified to be here. I asked God, what would I do here?” Eubank told AFP, dressed in military fatigues and a fishing hat, a pistol holstered on his hip.
“I felt God say: ‘Give up your own way. Just come help,’” he said.
In the distance, about two dozen civilians could be seen shuffling toward the plateau from Baghouz.
Eubank and another volunteer were the first to descend the sandy bank to meet them, hoisting displaced women’s overstuffed bags over their shoulders and helping children scramble up.


One bearded volunteer tended to a thin boy’s chest wound, shouting for antibiotics in English as the child stared at him in confusion.
Eubank established the FBR in Burma in 1997, with a slogan drawn from a Bible verse calling on people to “preach good news to the poor” and “release the oppressed.”
After Daesh swept across the region in 2014, the FBR expanded to Iraq, where Eubank, his wife and their three children became local celebrities for rescuing a young Iraqi girl after her mother was killed in fighting in Mosul.
What brought them to Syria? Another message from God, said Eubank’s eldest daughter, Sahale.
“We feel like God sent us here, otherwise we wouldn’t have wanted to come,” said the 18-year-old blonde, who usually drives wounded people to the main civilian point further on but was using a quiet afternoon to study Thai in the shade of an armored personnel carrier.
When they’re not treating civilians, the rest of the team spends their spare time jogging through the Syrian plain, praying, and doing “camp stuff,” said 24-year-old volunteer Tyler Sheen.
Sheen, from Colorado, said he felt he was in the right place to witness the end of IS.
“It’s the scourge, the most talked about evil in the world so I think it’s a great place to be right now,” he told AFP.
The volunteers inevitably strike an odd figure in the Syrian plain, surrounded by gruff Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters with whom they can only communicate through translators.
When the SDF’s spokesman visited their outpost recently, Eubank grabbed his hands to lead him in prayer as a translator stood between them, as if presiding over a marriage ceremony.


But if the Eubanks are inspired by goodwill, the truckers who form another key link in the evacuation of civilians from Baghouz are motivated by financial rewards.
Once displaced families are taken to a larger collection point further away, they are screened and guided onto the backs of cargo trucks to be driven about six hours north to the Al-Hol displacement camp.
Their 11 drivers are tribesmen from the town of Al-Shuhayl, hired by the SDF at a rate of 75,000 Syrian pounds ($150) for each round-trip, which usually takes two days.
“Wherever there’s a trip we can earn from, we do it,” said one driver in his forties, Farhan Al-Ali.
Some truckers said they rely on pills to stay awake through the 600-kilometer (380-mile) round trip.
“Sometimes we get to Al-Hol at two or three in the morning, then we drive all the way back to Shuhayl,” said Abu Hamud, a 54-year-old driver with a red-and-white scarf draped over his head.
They are used to shuttling cattle or farming equipment, so the dozens of veiled women and children are an unusual — and fragile — load.
The International Rescue Committee, which works in world crisis zones, said Wednesday that 51 people, mostly newborn children, had died after arriving at Al-Hol or during the “precarious journey.”
The United Nations has called on authorities to provide more suitable transportation like buses.
“My heart aches for the kids. They’re tiny and hungry,” said Abu Hamud. “I had a 20-day-old baby die in my truck.”


Asian entertainment industries grappling with #MeToo issues

Updated 17 July 2019
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Asian entertainment industries grappling with #MeToo issues

  • Asia is having its own #MeToo moment, with its homegrown entertainment industries grappling with many of the issues
  • “Nina Wu,” is the story of an actress who, in pursuit of a role that will lead to stardom, is abused and psychologically scarred by a man in power

When Wu Ke-xi was looking for a frightening plotline for her latest film, she didn’t need to look further than her own industry.
The Taiwanese actress and screenwriter’s latest movie, “Nina Wu,” is the story of an actress who, in pursuit of a role that will lead to stardom, is abused and psychologically scarred by a man in power.
Wu found herself closely following the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, and decided to write something for women affected by sexual assaults in the entertainment industry. Directed by Midi Z, it was selected to show at the Cannes Film Festival.
“After 2017, after the year the Harvey Weinstein stuff occurred, I read a lot of documents and interviews. I was so purely curious about what happened,” said Wu. She said she has been threatened in her career, but never sexually assaulted. “It’s still a humiliating experience,” she said.
“So I felt really connected to those women.”
Asia is having its own #MeToo moment, with its homegrown entertainment industries grappling with many of the issues that have upended entertainment careers in the United States and beyond.
Earlier this year, the K-pop scene was shaken when two male stars were accused of sexual misconduct in South Korea. Solo singer Jung Joon-young faced allegations he secretly filmed himself having sex with women and shared the footage on a mobile messenger app; he apologized to the victims. And Seungri, the youngest member of the quintet Big Bang, was accused of trying to steer sex services to business investors. He denied the charges and retired from the group.
Last year, in India, Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta came forward with details of a 2008 complaint she filed against actor Nana Parekar for alleged sexual harassment, which he denied. A flood of stories of sexual harassment and assault followed on social media from Indian actresses and writers.
Indian actor, singer and filmmaker Farhan Akhtar, a United Nations “He For She” ambassador with his own “Men Against Rape and Discrimination” initiative, says there is unease in the industry.
“Fear runs down the spine of everyone, thinking that, ‘Oh my God, maybe I’ve done something in the past that might come back to bite me,’” he said.
He encourages other women to come forward and speak out.
“Nobody can do it for her. Nobody can out her story and put her in a position that maybe she doesn’t want to be in,” he said. “But when she does, then it’s important that people rally around her so that she feels she’s done the right thing. And through her, through that conversation, and through her words she will hopefully inspire, motivate many more people to come out. And that’s the way the system will be cleaned.”
Screenwriter Zhou Xiaoxuan did speak out. She became a central figure in China’s #MeToo movement after an essay she wrote privately, claiming she was sexually assaulted by a TV star, went public on the social media platform Sina Weibo last summer. A prominent television host, Zhu Jun, sued her for defamation and Zhou followed with her own suit, for infringing on her personal rights. Women’s rights advocates in China are following the case.
Zhou says the movement has only reached so far in China, affecting mostly a group of high-profile, well-connected men.
“They were frightened by the #MeToo trend and they stopped. But most people in this society, they’ve never heard of #MeToo,” she said.
“I’ve actually been lucky because Zhu Jun is well-known,” Zhou said. “It’s extremely difficult for women who have been assaulted by their friends, colleagues or partners to seek legal recourse.”
Japanese TV journalist Shiori Ito said she experienced months of trolling and shaming after she revealed in May 2017 that she had been raped. That was before the #MeToo movement got under way in the United States.
“I’m very grateful to all the other women that have spoken up because I felt very lonely,” she said. She said she has felt a change in Japan and in her own family “who were really against me speaking up, and then they started saying, ‘You know what, maybe she’s right.’“
An emotional television interview with South Korean prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun in January 2018, in which she said she had been assaulted eight years earlier, is credited with starting the #MeToo movement there. Seo has since won a court case for abuse of power against her alleged assaulter. She said that watching women reveal their stories in Hollywood helped give her the courage to speak publicly. Supporters marched in the streets with candles and #WithYou banners.
“I told myself that, ‘Yes, this was not my fault and that I should not be ashamed at all,’” she said.
In Pakistan, dancer, theater director and activist Sheema Kermani is campaigning against sexual abuse, trying to make the movement there more than a moment.
“When actresses, big actresses, started calling out big names of actors for sexual harassment, I think it gave Pakistani women and women in media . the courage to speak out,” she said.
In Thailand, model and TV personality Cindy Sirinya Bishop launched the “Don’t Tell Me How To Dress” campaign after receiving a wave of support for a “social media rant” — her response to an article advising women not to wear sexy clothes for the Thai New Year in order to avoid sexual assault.
“It all started when that clip that I posted went viral overnight with the support of many, many women all over Thailand, chiming in, commenting, sharing and saying ‘Yes, this is exactly what we feel.’ Why are we always the ones that have to cover up, or why, when we are harassed or assaulted, is it somehow our fault?” she said.
Bishop also created an exhibition displaying clothing worn by sexual-assault victims. “We have university student outfits to toddler’s clothing to sweatpants and T-shirts,” she said.
She says her movement would have happened regardless of the stories arriving from America. But she adds: “In some way, the #MeToo movement has collectively empowered women without our knowing it, all over the world.”