Extremists emerge from tunnels to surrender after ‘caliphate’ falls

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) checks a militants group’s tunnel in the village of Baghouz on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 25 March 2019
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Extremists emerge from tunnels to surrender after ‘caliphate’ falls

  • The coalition must remain firm in its determination to counter Daesh: Ghika

BAGHOUZ: Daesh group extremists emerged from tunnels to surrender to US-backed forces in eastern Syria on Sunday, a Kurdish spokesman said, a day after their “caliphate” was declared defeated.
An AFP reporter saw dozens of people — mostly men — file out of the battered Daesh encampment in the remote village of Baghouz to board pickup trucks.
“They are Daesh militants who came out of tunnels and surrendered today,” said Jiaker Amed, a spokesman for the Kurdish units spearheading the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
Plodding out of their defeated bastion on the banks of the Euphrates near the Iraqi border, some sported thick beards.
Some wore long woollen kaftan tunics over their dark-colored robes, others a checkered scarf wrapped around their heads.
“Some others could still be hiding inside,” added Amed.
A months-long offensive by the SDF was declared victorious Saturday, after multiple pauses to allow out civilians and surrendering terrorists from the crumbling Daesh pocket.
Surrendering or suspected extremists are detained, while their relatives are trucked up north to camps for the displaced.
Daesh declared a cross-border “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq in 2014, imposing its brutal rule on millions.
Also Sunday, US-supported Syrian fighters were clearing explosives in the last area retaken from the Daesh group a day after declaring military victory over the extremists.
A spokesman for the Kurdish-led SDF who goes by the nom de guerre Mervan the Brave said Baghouz, the village where the militants made their final stand, is “full of all kinds of explosives.” He said SDF forces were clearing the area and have detonated land mines and suicide belts the militants left behind.
A Syrian driver working with NBC News reporters was killed Saturday by an explosive device that went off in a house used as an SDF command post and a media center for journalists covering the fighting in Baghouz.
Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, said in a statement that network employees escaped unharmed. He expressed “deepest sympathies” to the driver’s family and loved ones.
“We are still gathering information from today’s events, and are in touch with the driver’s family to support them however we can,” he said. It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion.
The victory announced in Baghouz on Saturday marks the end of a devastating five-year campaign by an array of forces to retake territories held by Daesh in Syria and Iraq. At its height, Daesh controlled a sprawling self-declared caliphate the size of Britain that was home to some 8 million people. It is not known whether the group’s leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is still alive or where he might be hiding.
“This is a historic moment, but we cannot be complacent,” tweeted Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, the deputy commander of the US-led coalition against Daesh.
“Even without territory, Daesh will continue to pose a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, as well as to the wider world. The coalition must remain firm in its determination to counter Daesh,” he said.
Thousands of people, including Daesh fighters and their family members, left Baghouz in recent weeks and were taken to detention centers and camps for the displaced elsewhere in eastern Syria. The militants were holding hostages and had detained civilians, whose fate remains unknown.


Amnesty urges Lebanon to help end domestic worker abuse

An Asian domestic worker walks her employer's dog in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, on April 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 24 April 2019
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Amnesty urges Lebanon to help end domestic worker abuse

  • Ethiopia and the Philippines have banned their citizens from domestic work in Lebanon, but still their citizens find ways to come

BEIRUT: Amnesty International on Wednesday urged Lebanon to end what it described as an “inherently abusive” migration sponsorship system governing the lives of tens of thousands of foreigners working in private homes.
Domestic workers in Lebanon are excluded from the labor law, and instead obtain legal residency though their employers’ sponsorship under the so-called “kafala” system.
But activists say this leaves the maids, nannies and carers at the mercy of their employers and unable to leave without their permission, including in numerous documented cases of abuse.
“Amnesty International is calling on the Lebanese authorities to end the kafala system and extend labor protections to migrant domestic workers,” the London-based rights group said.
“The Lebanese parliament should amend the labor law to include domestic workers under its protection,” including to allow them to join unions, the group said.
Lebanon hosts more than 250,000 registered domestic workers from countries in Africa and Asia, the vast majority of them women.
In a report released Wednesday titled “Their house is my prison,” Amnesty surveyed 32 domestic workers employed mostly in and around Beirut, revealing “alarming patterns of abuse.”
Among them, 10 women said they were not allowed to leave their employer’s house, with some saying they were locked in.
Twenty-seven said their employers had confiscated their passports.
Many worked overtime, 14 were not allowed a single day off each week, and several had their monthly salaries revoked or decreased, despite it being a breach of their contracts.
The labor ministry introduced a standard contract for domestic workers in 2009, but the forms are often written in Arabic, a language they cannot read.
The government in late 2018 said it had translated the contracts into several other languages.
Amnesty registered eight cases of forced labor and four of human trafficking, the report said.
Six reported severe physical abuse, while almost all had been subjected to humiliating treatment and several were deprived of food.
“Sometimes I would get so hungry... I used to mix water with sugar when I was hungry and drink it,” one worker said.
With the abuse taking a toll on their mental health, six said they had contemplated or attempted suicide.
Only four of those interviewed had private rooms, while the rest were relegated to living rooms, storage rooms, kitchens or balconies.
“There is a man in the house who can enter the living room any time he wants,” said one worker who was forced to sleep in the living room.
Activists accuse the Lebanese authorities of being lax in bringing abusive employers to account.
Ethiopia and the Philippines have banned their citizens from domestic work in Lebanon, but still their citizens find ways to come.
In 2008, Human Rights Watch found that migrant domestic workers in Lebanon were dying at a rate of more than one per week from suicide or in failed escapes.
Many other countries in the Arab world also follow the “kafala” system for household workers.