Despite Greek shelter, Yazidis struggle to integrate

Yazidi refugees have a discussion as they sit outside at the Serres refugee camp, northern Greece, on November 24, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 02 December 2017

Despite Greek shelter, Yazidis struggle to integrate

SERRES, Greece: Although Ibrahim Hondeta’s Yazidi family reached Greece a year ago after fleeing persecution, they still fear being the target of violence and are fighting to keep their community together.
Having run the gauntlet of invasion, combat, killings and enslavement by Daesh terrorists in Iraq, the members of this religious minority have found temporary shelter in the largely agricultural region of Serres in northern Greece.
The camp they have been allocated to is one of the best in the country — their prefabricated homes have air conditioning and solar panels to heat water. The grounds are clean and there is a playground for the children.
Many hope to be reunited with other Yazidis stranded in Greece, but with the country struggling to manage more than 50,000 refugees and migrants stranded on its territory, that is not always an option.
“Creating a camp just for Yazidis is neither possible nor viable,” said a Greek official with knowledge of refugee management efforts.
The camp can normally accommodate 700 people. At the moment there are some 350 Yazidis, most of them women and children, waiting for EU-sponsored relocation to other parts of Europe.
Greece’s policy is to move eligible refugees from overcrowded island camps — where they undergo identity checks upon arrival from Turkey — to the mainland, where more comfortable accommodation is available in better camps, UN-funded flats and hotels.
But the Yazidis, who have already faced an ordeal keeping their dwindling community together thus far, oppose this policy.
This is partly down to fear of other communities. They had a scare earlier this year, when a Yazidi celebration in Kilkis, another part of northern Greece, descended into violence between Arabs and Kurds.
“(The Arabs) threatened to kill us. They hunted us down with knives and clubs. We had to hide in a forest to save our lives,” says 55-year-old Hondeta, sitting on a bench outside the camp.
“After that, we asked to be given a safe place for our families and we ended up here together.”
Since that time, they have frustrated the Greek government’s attempts to bring in non-Yazidis.
They recently blocked the transfer of 60 Congolese and Senegalese mothers and their children to the Serres camp, the government official said.
All of them were Catholic.
In Athens, a migration ministry source said every effort is being made to facilitate and protect the Yazidis from possible harm.
“To my knowledge, there hasn’t been an incident in 10 months,” the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“But there are some people who chafe toward any attempt at integration,” the official said.
“Respecting one’s religious convictions, and using this issue to create sub-groups among the refugee population are two totally different things,” the government official in Athens said.
“Suppose Syrian Christians demand four camps for themselves? It’s not something that can be managed,” he added.
Rooted in Zoroastrianism, the Yazidis adhere to a faith that emerged in Mesopotamia more than 4,000 years ago but that has over time integrated elements of Islam and Christianity.
Of the world’s 1.5 million Yazidis, about 550,000 lived in Iraqi Kurdistan but some 400,000 have been displaced by fighting due to Daesh.
Around 1,500 have been killed and more than 3,000 are believed to remain in captivity, the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN rights office said in an August report.
In areas controlled by Daesh, thousands of women and girls from the Yazidi minority were used as sex slaves and suffered horrific abuse, including rape, abduction, slavery and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.
The suffering the Yazidis have endured explains why community elders in Serres have written to the migration ministry to officially request that the camp be assigned to Yazidis alone.
“We ask for our community not to be disturbed and to live here in safety until we depart,” says Hajjdar Hamat, a self-styled spokesman for the Yazidis at the camp.
“Everybody knows about our peoples’ genocide. We did not come from Sinjar to Greece for fun. Europe must protect us,” says Hamat.


Kim Jong Un invites Trump to Pyongyang

Updated 16 September 2019

Kim Jong Un invites Trump to Pyongyang

  • Invitation extended in an undisclosed personal letter sent to Trump on Aug. 15

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has invited US President Donald Trump to Pyongyang in his latest letter to the American head of state,  South Korea’s top diplomat said on Monday.

“I heard detailed explanations from US officials that there was such a letter a while ago,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa told a  parliamentary session. “But I’m not in a position to confirm what’s in the letter or when it was delivered.”

The foreign minister’s remarks followed reports by a local newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo, which said that Kim’s invitation was extended in an undisclosed personal letter sent to Trump on Aug. 15.

If true, the invitation was made as diplomats of the two governments were in a tug-of-war over the resumption of working-level talks for the North’s denuclearization efforts.

During a surprise meeting at the Korean border village of Panmunjom on June 30, Trump and Kim pledged that working-level nuclear disarmament talks would resume within a month, but no such talks have been held,  with both sides indulging in a blame game instead.

“We are very curious about the background of the American top  diplomat’s thoughtless remarks and we will watch what calculations he has,” North Korea’s first vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui said on Aug. 30 in a statement carried by the North’s official Central News Agency (KCNA). He was referring to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments terming Pyongyang’s rocket launches as “rogue.”

However, the tone has changed significantly with the communist state recently offering to return to dialogue with Washington “at a time and place agreed late in September.”

“I want to believe that the US side would come out with an alternative based on a calculation method that serves both sides’ interests and is acceptable to us,” Choe said on Aug. 30.

On Monday, the director-general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s department of American affairs said working-level denuclearization talks will likely take place “in a few weeks” but demanded security guarantees and sanctions’ relief as prerequisites.

“The discussion of denuclearization may be possible when threats and hurdles endangering our system security and obstructing our  development are clearly removed beyond all doubt,” the statement said. 

HIGHLIGHT

It’s not clear whether the US president has responded to the invitation, thought he has touted his personal relationship with the young North Korean dictator.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in was upbeat about the early resumption of nuclear talks.

“North Korea-US working-level dialogue will resume soon,” he said, citing an “unchanged commitment” to trust and peace by the leaders of both Koreas and the US. 

The working-level meeting will serve as a “force to advance the peace process on the Korean Peninsula,” he added.

Moon is scheduled to meet Trump on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly session in New York next week.

“It will be an opportunity to share opinions and gather wisdom with Trump on the direction of further development of South Korea-US  relations,” he said.

The White House offered no immediate comment.

It’s not clear whether Trump responded to Kim’s invitation to Pyongyang, but the US commander-in-chief has touted his personal relationship with the young North Korean dictator, who oversaw the test-firings of short-range ballistic missiles and multiple launch rockets more than half a dozen times since late July.

While none of the projectiles are a direct threat to the US continent they still pose threats to US and its allied forces in South Korea and Japan.

“Kim Jong-un has been, you know, pretty straight with me, I think,” Trump told reporters on August 24 before flying off to meet with world leaders at the G7 in France. “And we’re going to see what’s going on. We’re going to see what’s happening. He likes testing missiles.”

Experts say the apparent firing of US National Security Adviser John Bolton has also boosted chances of fresh negotiations with the North, which had long criticized him for his hawkish approach toward the regime.

“The displacement of a ‘bad guy’ could be construed as a negotiating tactic to seek a breakthrough in the stalemate of nuclear talks. It’s a show of a will to engage the counterpart in a friendlier manner from the perspective of negotiation science,” Park Sang-ki, an adjunct professor at the department of business management at Sejong University in Seoul, told Arab News.