Greece: Athens mosque likely to open in September

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A general view of the first state-funded mosque in Athens on Friday, June 7, 2019. (AP)
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A boy walks in front of a new mosque in Athens on June 7, 2019, the first official place of worship for Athens Muslims in over a century. (AFP)
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Muslims faithfuls pray in a new mosque in Athens on June 7, 2019, the first official place of worship for Athens Muslims in over a century. (AFP)
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Muslims women take pictures with their smart phones inside the first state-funded mosque in Athens on Friday, June 7, 2019. (AP)
Updated 07 June 2019

Greece: Athens mosque likely to open in September

  • The mosque will provide an official place of worship for the country's Muslim immigrant community and for visitors
  • Tens of thousands of Muslim migrants live in the greater Athens area, and have been using informal prayer rooms around the capital

ATHENS: Greece's education and religion minister says the country's long-delayed first state-sponsored mosque is likely to begin operating in September, about three years after its construction was approved by parliament.
Kostas Gavroglou spoke Friday during a visit to the nearly complete mosque on the outskirts of Athens' city center, accompanied by representatives of the Muslim community. Its construction has been controversial, with some opposing a mosque in the Greek capital.
"It is particularly good that soon there will be the first prayer from the imam of the Athens mosque. We hope this will happen in September at the latest," Gavroglou said.
The mosque, approved by lawmakers in August 2016 and built in a mainly industrial area of the capital, will provide an official place of worship for the country's Muslim immigrant community and for visitors. Tens of thousands of Muslim migrants live in the greater Athens area, and have been using informal prayer rooms in basements and disused stores.
Gavroglou noted the Athens mosque, unlike most in Europe, was a public and not a privately-owned place of worship.
"It doesn't belong to anyone, because it belongs to all of us and all of you," he said. "Here, the owner is not an individual, nor a community, nor a society nor a foreign country."
The near completion of the project has been greeted with relief by members of the capital's Muslim community.
"I would like to start by thanking Allah that we finally have a mosque where we can pray, we can gather, we can talk about out matters," said Zaki Mohamed, the mosque's imam.
Ashir Haidar, a representative of the Shia Muslim community of Greece, described the upcoming opening as "a dream come true."
"It is a great gift from the Greek state to the Muslim community of Athens and it is a symbolic work that shows respect of the Greek state to the religion of Islam," he said.
Having to use informal prayer rooms dotted around the Greek capital often led to problems, with local residents sometimes objecting to some practices, said Alishba Zahra Rizvi, a 19-year-old from Pakistan who has been living in Greece for the past four years and came to view the new facility. "But here it's official, so we can do everything here, we can celebrate our festivals and everything."


No Rohingya turn up for repatriation to Myanmar

Updated 22 August 2019

No Rohingya turn up for repatriation to Myanmar

  • Thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar in 2017
  • The refugees asked Myanmar authorities to guarantee their safety and citizenship
TEKNAF, Bangladesh: A fresh push to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar appeared Thursday to fall flat, with no one turning up to hop on five buses and 10 trucks laid on by Bangladesh.
“We have been waiting since 9:00 am (0300 GMT) to take any willing refugees for repatriation,” Khaled Hossain, a Bangladesh official in charge of the Teknaf refugee camp, told AFP after over an hour of waiting.
“Nobody has yet turned up.”
Some 740,000 of the long-oppressed mostly Muslim Rohingya minority fled a military offensive in 2017 in Myanmar’s Rakhine state that the United Nations has likened to ethnic cleansing, joining 200,000 already in Bangladesh.
Demanding that Buddhist-majority Myanmar guarantee their safety and citizenship, only a handful have returned from the vast camps in southeast Bangladesh where they have now lived for two years.
The latest repatriation attempt — a previous push failed in November — follows a visit last month to the camps by high-ranking officials from Myanmar led by Permanent Foreign Secretary Myint Thu.
Bangladesh’s foreign ministry forwarded a list of more than 22,000 refugees to Myanmar for verification and Naypyidaw cleared 3,450 individuals for “return.”
But on Wednesday, several Rohingya refugees whose names were listed told AFP that said they did not want to return unless their safety was ensured and they were granted citizenship.
“It is not safe to return to Myanmar,” one of them, Nur Islam, told AFP.
Officials from the UN and Bangladesh’s refugee commission have also been interviewing Rohingya families in the settlements to find out if they wanted to return.
“We have yet to get consent from any refugee family,” a UN official said Wednesday.
Rohingya community leader Jafar Alam told AFP the refugees had been gripped by fear since authorities announced the fresh repatriation process.
They also feared being sent to camps for internally displaced people (IDP) if they went back to Myanmar.
Bangladesh refugee commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said they were “fully prepared” for the repatriation with security being tightened across the refugee settlements to prevent any violence or protests.
Officials said they would wait for a few more hours before deciding whether to postpone the repatriation move.
In New York, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday that repatriations had to be “voluntary.”
“Any return should be voluntary and sustainable and in safety and in dignity to their place of origin and choice,” Dujarric told reporters.
The UN Security Council met behind closed doors on the issue on Wednesday.
Sunday will mark the second anniversary of the crackdown that sparked the mass exodus to the Bangladesh camps.
The Rohingya are not recognized as an official minority by the Myanmar government, which considers them Bengali interlopers despite many families having lived in Rakhine for generations.