Qatar loses UNESCO bid

French former minister and candidate as UNESCO head Audrey Azoulay addresses journalists as she arrives on October 13, 2017 at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Azoulay was elected by UNESCO’s executive board as director general. (AFP / Thomas Samson)
Updated 13 October 2017

Qatar loses UNESCO bid

PARIS: Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, Qatari candidate in the contest to head the UN’s embattled cultural agency, was beaten by former French Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay on Friday.
Azoulay, 49, came from behind after six rounds of voting to defeat Al-Kawari, also a former culture minister, after he failed to pick up support from other Gulf states. The vote was 30 to 28.
The politically charged contest clouded by accusations of anti-Israel bias follows French media reports that Qatar recently invited several members of the UNESCO executive board on an all-expenses-paid trip to Doha.
Al-Kawari had also been dogged by old allegations of anti-Semitism after the Simon Wiesenthal Center accused him of remaining silent about anti-Semitic books at a fair in Doha when he was culture minister.
Azoulay had edged out Egyptian rights activist Moushira Khattab earlier Friday as the main challenger to Al-Kawari, the frontrunner until the final run-off.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who was in Paris for the vote, “urged all his friends to vote for France” instead of Qatar in the final round, a member of Khattab’s delegation told AFP.
Egypt is part of the Saudi-led Anti-Terror Quartet that severed ties with Doha in June over its support for hard-liners and its ties to Iran.
Shoukry also raised concerns over the integrity of the vote in a meeting with outgoing UNESCO chief Irina Bokova, his spokesman said.
On Thursday, the US and Israel said they plan to pull out of the Paris-based organization over its perceived anti-Israel bias.
Lebanon’s candidate Vera El-Khoury, who bowed out at the fourth round of voting, told AFP that the power game at play in the race had shown UNESCO members “did not give a damn” about the candidates’ programs.
UNESCO is best known for producing a list of World Heritage sites including tourist favorites such as the Grand Canyon or Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, but it also runs science, media training and cultural programs internationally.
The US decision to withdraw, which is to take effect on December 31, 2018, underlined America’s drift away from international institutions under President Donald Trump.
Washington has walked out on UNESCO once before, in 1984, after a row over funding and alleged anti-US bias.
Washington returned to the fold in 2002, seeing UNESCO as a vehicle for combating extremism in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
But in 2011 relations soured again after UNESCO admitted Palestine as a full member, prompting the US to cut its funding to the organization, leaving a gaping hole in its finances.
In just over a year as culture minister under Socialist president Francois Hollande, Azoulay secured a budget increase for her ministry after years of deep cuts.


Migrants hoping to reach EU stranded in Bosnian woods as cold sets in

Updated 30 September 2020

Migrants hoping to reach EU stranded in Bosnian woods as cold sets in

  • As the EU attempts to overhaul its defunct migration policies, thousands of people fleeing Asia, the Middle East and Africa are stranded on the fringe of the wealthy bloc
  • In ethnically-divided Bosnia, the Serb and Croat-dominated regions refuse to accept migrants, and so they concentrate in the Bosniak-dominated Sarajevo and Krajina

VELIKA KLADUSA, Bosnia: Hundreds of migrants hoping to reach the European Union are sheltering in forests and ruined former factory buildings near Bosnia’s border with Croatia, with the cold setting in and conditions becoming more miserable.
On a cold Wednesday morning, migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Morocco and Algiers shivered in their makeshift tent camp high in the woods above the town of Velika Kladusa, built of cardboard and tree branches and covered with nylon sheets.
Some set up fires to warm up and cook modest meals. Others washed themselves and their clothes in a freezing forest stream, and brushed their teeth with ashes.
As the EU attempts to overhaul its defunct migration policies, thousands of people fleeing Asia, the Middle East and Africa are stranded on the fringe of the wealthy bloc, trying and often failing to enter and continue their journey.
Migrants and refugees mostly bypassed impoverished Bosnia during their mass movements across the Balkans in 2015-2016, but in recent years the country has become a key transit route after EU countries closed their borders to new arrivals.
“[There are] many problems here,” said Mahmood Abal from Bangladesh. “No rooms, no water, no medical facilities, no sanitation.”
He is one of about 500 men who were turned away from the Bosnian towns of Bihac and Velika Kladusa. Authorities are refusing to host large groups of migrants any longer and are preparing to close down some reception centers.
Sympathetic at first to the plight of the migrants, similar to their own during the war in the 1990s when they were forced to flee, Bosnians in the Krajina border region have become anxious, demanding that other regions share the burden.
But in ethnically-divided Bosnia, the Serb and Croat-dominated regions refuse to accept migrants, and so they concentrate in the Bosniak-dominated Sarajevo and Krajina.
Most migrants are smuggled to Bosnia in rubber boats over the Drina River, the natural border with Serbia, said Azur Sljivic, a Bosnian border police officer.
“Many of them drown because the Drina River is unpredictable, full of whirlpools,” Sljivic told Reuters while patrolling along the border in the eastern town of Zvornik.
Yet they do not give up.
On Tuesday night, about 50 migrants left their Bosnian forest tents to try cross the Croatian border.
“Italy, see you soon!,” one of them shouted cheerfully.