Refugees face eviction in Greece as thousands more wait for homes

A police officer kicks a protesting migrant during clashes outside a refugee camp in the village of Diavata, west of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Saturday, April 6, 2019. (AP)
Updated 22 April 2019
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Refugees face eviction in Greece as thousands more wait for homes

  • Greece currently hosts over 70,000 refugees, including nearly 15,000 in overcrowded Aegean island camps

ATHENS: Abdullah Ahmadi, an Afghan living with his wife and five children in an apartment in the Athens suburbs allocated by the UN refugee agency, is about to lose his home for the past three years.
“In two months I have to leave. I have been looking for work in Greece and have only found random jobs that are not enough to support my family,” says Ahmadi, who spent a year on the island of Lesbos before being able to reach the Greek capital.
“I do not know how I’m going to get along, and I’m scared that I will end up on the street with my family,” he says, distraught.
Thousands of refugees like Ahmadi are facing possible eviction from EU-paid homes in Greece this year as more await to take their place to manage a slow but steady flow of new arrivals from Turkey, support groups have warned.
Nearly 6,800 people currently hosted in rooms and flats around the country under a program funded by the European Union and run by UNHCR in cooperation with local non-governmental groups could be affected.
Ahmadi took part in a demonstration last week by refugees in central Athens to protest against the evictions, supported by far-left activists, NGO workers, and students.
Following a controversial EU deal with Turkey in 2016 the flow of migrants and refugees to Greece has slowed to a few dozen daily.
But even these numbers are enough to overwhelm limited facilities on several Aegean islands opposite Turkey, which are already crammed many times over their nominal capacity.
With nearly 9,000 arrivals since the beginning of this year, the situation on the islands is explosive — especially on Lesbos and Samos — and the ministry of migration is desperate to remove as many people from the camps as possible.
As of March 31, the first 160 refugees who were granted asylum before August 2017 had to give up their homes on the mainland to other asylum seekers, with another round of evictions expected in the next two months.

“(This) will free up spaces for those in Lesbos and Samos who live in difficult conditions,” immigration minister Dimitris Vitzas told Radio News 247 last month.
According to UNHCR spokesperson in Greece Boris Cheshirkov, the Estia program designed to help asylum-seekers “will continue to operate with three components: financial assistance, accommodation and administrative support.”
But he adds that “after securing asylum, they would theoretically have to leave the dwellings in the next six months, but so far the Greek government had not applied this principle.”
The immigration ministry notes that recognized refugees can now draw on state benefits normally allocated to poverty-stricken Greeks, such as rent subsidies.
In addition, for three months after leaving Estia homes, “the refugees will retain the economic aid they receive, and will be helped to obtain a tax number, open a bank account, register at jobs centers,” a migration ministry official said.
They are also to receive vocational training.

Ahmadi, however, seems to be completely unaware of the procedure for obtaining benefits: “I have never heard of this!,” he sighs.
NGO worker Christina Svana, who was part of the Athens protest, says the decision to evict was “taken hastily.”
“The first expulsions took place a few days ago and the next will take place on June 30. The movement will accelerate and we are afraid that among the evicted people, a large majority cannot fend for themselves and find an apartment,” she warns.
“There are no realistic solutions for refugees who will leave their homes or lose their economic aid,” medical charity Doctors Without Borders said in a statement last month.
“Theoretically, it is good to say that refugees must integrate and no longer depend on aid provided by the associations and the UNHCR, but for that it was necessary to plan an integration program,” adds Svana.
Over 22,000 people were accommodated thanks to the Estia program last year.
Greece currently hosts over 70,000 refugees, including nearly 15,000 in overcrowded Aegean island camps.


Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

Updated 19 July 2019
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Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

  • Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds
  • Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was remanded in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for 13 days, a day after he was arrested in a case involving a multibillion-rupee liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract to Qatar.
Abbasi, who is also the vice president of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) party, was presented before Judge Bashir Ahmed of an accountability court on Friday morning. The case has been adjourned until Aug. 1.
Speaking to journalists before his appearance at the court, Abbasi called his arrest “an attack on democracy.”
Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds in the import of LNG that the agency says caused a loss of about $2 billion to the national exchequer. He is also being investigated for allegedly granting a 15-year contract for an LNG terminal to a “favored” company. Abbasi rejects the allegations.
PML-N Sen. Mushahid Ullah Khan said Pakistan was facing “the worst energy crisis of its kind” when his party came to power after the 2013 general election, and the LNG deal was quickly finalized with Qatar to overcome it.
“The industry was shutting down with thousands of people getting unemployed, but this LNG supply helped us reverse the tide,” he told Arab News.
Khan said Pakistan’s LNG contract with Qatar was “the cheapest possible deal” the country could have gotten, and rubbished allegations of corruption and kickbacks.
“If there is something wrong in the contract, why is this government not reviewing it?” Khan asked.
Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar under a 15-year agreement at 13.37 percent of Brent crude price. It is a government-to-government agreement and the price can only be reviewed after 10 years of the contract.
“It is the worst example of political victimization by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government,” PML-N Chairman Raja Zafrul Haq said on Friday after the accountability court remanded Abbasi in NAB custody. “Shahid Khaqan served the nation with dignity and did not commit any wrongdoings,” Haq added.
Abbasi was arrested on his way to Lahore to address a news conference along with PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday.
He served as federal minister for petroleum in the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he finalized an LNG import deal with Qatar. Abbasi then served for less than a year as prime minister following the resignation of Sharif in 2017.
On Thursday, Pakistan opened technical bids of four international companies for the supply of 400 million cubic feet per day of LNG for a period of 10 years to fulfil the country’s rising energy requirements.
Officials told Arab News that a Qatari delegation, led by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in June, resented that Islamabad had ignored its lowest offer of 11.05 percent of Brent for the fresh deal, and instead floated tenders seeking provision of LNG for 10 years from international companies.
The secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Energy said: “Yes, this is true. Qatar expressed its annoyance, but we are following our rules. Qatar has not submitted its bid to participate in the process.”
Khan won power last year vowing to root out corruption among what he describes as a venal political elite, and views the probes into veteran politicians — including Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari — as long overdue.
The NAB’s campaign has become a topic of fierce political debate in Pakistan, and its focus on the new government’s political foes has prompted accusations of a one-sided purge. The government denies targeting political opponents.
Commenting on Abbasi’s case, former NAB prosecutor Munir Sadiq said the anti-corruption watchdog would file a reference against Abbasi in an accountability court for prosecution, but only if it found irrefutable evidence against him.
“This case is now at the evidence-collection stage, and the NAB will file a reference in the court if it finds irrefutable corruption evidence against Abbasi during the investigation,” Sadiq said.
He added that any inquiry against Abbasi would be shelved after 90 days if corroborating evidence of corruption was not found.
“If a weak case will be filed against the accused, then he will surely receive support from the court,” Sadiq said.