Imam of attacked New Zealand mosque says ‘we still love this country’

Police escort men from a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP)
Updated 16 March 2019
0

Imam of attacked New Zealand mosque says ‘we still love this country’

  • "We still love this country," said Ibrahim Abdul Halim, imam of Linwood Mosque, vowing that extremists would "never ever touch our confidence"
  • "Everyone laid down on the floor, and some women started crying, some people died immediately," he said

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: An imam who was leading prayers at a Christchurch mosque when a gunman brandishing semi-automatic weapons mowed down his congregation said Saturday that the Muslim community's love for New Zealand would not be shaken by the massacre.
"We still love this country," said Ibrahim Abdul Halim, imam of Linwood Mosque, vowing that extremists would "never ever touch our confidence".
Halim gave a harrowing account of the moment during Friday prayers when gunshots rang out in the mosque, replacing peaceful reflection with screaming, bloodshed and death.
"Everyone laid down on the floor, and some women started crying, some people died immediately," he said.
But, he said, New Zealand Muslims still felt at home in the south Pacific nation.
"My children live here" he said, adding, "we are happy".
He said the majority of New Zealanders "are very keen to support all of us, to give us full solidarity", describing how strangers exchanged hugs with him on Saturday.
"They start to... give me big hug, and give me more solidarity. This is something very important."
The attacks on two mosques by a right-wing extremist left 49 people dead.


‘Results’ needed from Myanmar over Rohingya return: UNHCR head

Updated 5 min ago
0

‘Results’ needed from Myanmar over Rohingya return: UNHCR head

  • A UN fact-finding mission called for Myanmar’s top generals to be prosecuted for “genocide”
  • Myanmar pejoratively labels the Rohingya as “Bengali,” implying they are illegal interlopers

YANGON: Myanmar must “show results” to convince Rohingya refugees to return, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Friday at the end of his first visit to Myanmar since the crackdown against Rohingya Muslims in 2017.
A brutal military campaign in western Rakhine state forced some 740,000 Rohingya over the border into Bangladesh.
Around one million Rohingya now languish in sprawling refugee camps from various waves of persecution.
A UN fact-finding mission called for Myanmar’s top generals to be prosecuted for “genocide” and the International Criminal Court (ICC) has started preliminary investigations.
During his visit Grandi spoke with both Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist communities in Maungdaw and Buthidaung in northern Rakhine, the epicenter of the violence.
He also held discussions with officials in capital Naypyidaw, including civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, describing all talks as “constructive.”
“My message is: ‘please accelerate’, because it has been very slow in the implementation in this first year. We need to show results,” he told AFP in an interview in Yangon.
“This is not enough to convince people to come back,” he said.
Grandi visited the camps in Bangladesh in April.
The two countries have signed a repatriation agreement but so far virtually no refugees have returned, fearing for their safety and unconvinced they will be granted citizenship.
Myanmar pejoratively labels the Rohingya as “Bengali,” implying they are illegal interlopers and the community has had its rights eroded over decades.
Gaining independent access to northern Rakhine is difficult with most journalists, observers and diplomats only allowed on brief chaperoned visits.
Grandi defended the UNHCR’s involvement in a plan by the Bangladeshi government to move some 100,000 refugees onto low-lying island Bhashan Char.
The area in the Bay of Bengal is prone to flooding and cyclones.
Rights groups oppose the scheme that has also so far been universally rejected by the Rohingya themselves.
The refugee agency must be “involved” to have the necessary information in order to take a stance on the issue, Grandi said.
“We’re still at that stage, no more than that.”
He also visited camps near Rakhine’s capital Sittwe, where nearly 130,000 Rohingya have been confined since a previous bout of violence in 2012.
Myanmar has announced it will close the camps but many are skeptical the displaced will enjoy more freedoms.
Grandi said the UNHCR would reconsider its role in providing services if conditions did not substantially improve.
“To simply transform the camps, upgrade the camps, upgrade the houses, for example, but leave them in the same situation will not be a solution,” he said.