UNHCR chief calls for ‘dignified return’ of Syrian exiles

UNHCR chief calls for ‘dignified return’ of Syrian exiles
Filippo Grandi addresses a press conference in Beirut on Friday. (AP)
Updated 01 September 2018

UNHCR chief calls for ‘dignified return’ of Syrian exiles

UNHCR chief calls for ‘dignified return’ of Syrian exiles
  • Grandi’s comments follow confirmation by Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun that Lebanon will continue to organize a gradual voluntary return of refugees
  • The UN commissioner cautioned against a hasty solution for the return of refugees

BEIRUT: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on Friday that Syrian refugees in Lebanon need assurances of a “safe and dignified return” to their homeland. 

Grandi’s comments follow confirmation by Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun that Lebanon will continue to organize a gradual voluntary return of refugees in accordance with a Russian initiative.

Mu’in Al-Marabi, Lebanon’s deputy secretary of state, who took part in the meeting between Grandi and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, told Arab News that the UN commissioner had no problem with the Russian initiative, but insisted that conditions should be suitable for repatriation of Syrian refugees.

“Grandi said we must be logical and unbiased when we discuss refugees’ return,” Al-Marabi said.

The UN commissioner cautioned against a hasty solution for the return of refugees, saying this would be counterproductive. 

“At the same time, we are faced with the need to rebuild the infrastructure so that Syrian refugees can live in dignity, which will take an unknown amount of time and require funds — Russia recognizes this and requests the support of international bodies,” Al-Marabi said.

Grandi also called for an end to the Foreign Ministry’s freeze on residency applications by UNHCR staff.

According to the deputy secretary of state, Grandi told Hariri: “We cannot work and help unless our conditions are comfortable and not complicated.” 

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil ordered a freeze on all residency applications by the UN refugee agency in June, saying that the agency had been practicing a “policy of intimidation toward Syrians planning to return.”

Grandi also voiced concern about the worsening situation in Idlib, in northwestern Syria. “This is the next big phase of the war in Syria and it could be devastating, though we hope it is otherwise,” he said.

“We also hope to save the lives of civilians, and the Syrian government said it would try to adopt an approach that saves as many civilians as possible, but you know that the situation is very difficult, complicated, and a cause for concern for everyone, including Lebanon.”

Beirut was Grandi’s third stop on a tour that started from Jordan then Syria, where he met with officials in the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in Damascus and reviewed the measures taken by the Syrian government to facilitate the return of refugees. 

Accompanied by the UNHCR representative in Lebanon, Mireille Girard, Grandi began his visit to Lebanon by meeting Aoun, who demanded that “the UNHCR play a greater role in facilitating the safe return of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to their towns and villages.”

More than 735,000 Syrians in Lebanon had been displaced from Syrian territory that is now safe, Aoun said.

Aoun said that “Lebanon will continue to organize the gradual return of Syrian refugees who wish to return,” and called on international organizations to help those who have returned to their towns, villages or safe areas in Syria.

He denied that Lebanese authorities had pressured groups of refugees to return, explaining that “their return to safe areas in Syria was fully voluntary.” 

After meeting with Hariri, Grandi said: “Things have been terrible in Syria during the past years, but we try to observe people’s concerns about whether to return or not.

“We have openly discussed with the Syrian government how to deal with certain challenges, some of which are financial while others are linked to legal matters, and informed President Aoun and PM Hariri of our discussions’ results.”

Grandi said that he had met with Russian officials in Damascus and Geneva, and confirmed that the UNHCR has a close dialogue with Russia.

“We hope that donors will continue to support Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, which I visited a few days ago,” he said. “We need the support of donor states.”


Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
Updated 35 min 34 sec ago

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
  • Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule

DUBAI: The Philippines and Egypt were the latest inclusion in Oman’s list where travelers from the said countries are banned from entering the Sultanate.

The decision was issued by the Supreme Committee, which takes lead in the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and took effect on Friday, May 7.

Travelers from Egypt and the Philippines, and those who transited in any of the said countries during the 14 days, are particularly affected by the travel restriction a report from Times of Oman said.

Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule but are subject to the procedures adopted upon entering the Sultanate, the report added.

Oman earlier added India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to the travel ban list, joining Sudan, Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom where their residents have been barred from entering since February 24.


UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 08 May 2021

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
  • The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began

DUBAI: UAE health authorities reported 1,766 new coronavirus cases after conducting 211,462 additional COVID-19 tests over the past 24 hours, as well three deaths fatalities from the contagious disease.

The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began, with 1,607 confirmed deaths, a report from state news agency WAM said.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention reiterated its call for residents to adhere coronavirus protocols and maintain social distancing to ensure public health and safety.

Meanwhile, 141,283 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been provided during the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of doses provided to residents and citizens to 11,048,547.

The rate of vaccine distribution now stands at 111.71 doses per 100 people.


US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions

US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions
Updated 1 min 46 sec ago

US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions

US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions
  • US State Department: Palestinian families targeted for eviction have "lived in their home for generations"

WASHINGTON: The United States called Friday for de-escalation in annexed east Jerusalem, and warned against carrying out a threatened eviction of Palestinian families that has sent tensions soaring.
“The United States is extremely concerned about ongoing confrontations in Jerusalem ... which have reportedly resulted in scores of injured people,” a statement from State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
“There is no excuse for violence, but such bloodshed is especially disturbing now, coming as it does on the last days of Ramadan.”
He said Washington was calling on Israeli and Palestinian officials to “act decisively to deescalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence.”
And he warned it was “critical” to avoid any steps that could worsen the situation — such as “evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”
An earlier State Department statement said Washington was concerned in particular about the “potential eviction of Palestinian families in Silwan neighborhood and Sheikh Jarrah,” two areas of east Jerusalem where tensions have been running high.
It noted that some Palestinian families targeted for eviction have “lived in their home for generations.”
The comments came as more than 160 people were wounded after Israeli riot police clashed with Palestinians at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound late Friday, capping a week of violence in the Holy City and the occupied West Bank.
Earlier Friday, Israeli security forces killed two Palestinians and wounded a third after the trio opened fire on a base in the occupied West Bank, police said.
The unrest came on Al-Quds Day – named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem – an annual day of pro-Palestinian rallies held by Iran, the arch-enemy of Israel.
The nation’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel “not a country, but a terrorist base,” and in a televised speech said that fighting the Jewish state was “everyone’s duty.”


Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes

Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes
Somali opposition soldiers pose for a photograph in Mogadishu as they move to their barracks after reaching an agreement with the prime minister. (Reuters)
Updated 08 May 2021

Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes

Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes
  • Soldiers loyal to influential opposition leaders began pouring into the capital, where clashes broke out with pro-government troops, killing three

MOGADISHU: Opposition fighters withdrew from the Somali capital on Friday, ending a tense standoff with pro-government troops after a dispute over delayed elections triggered the country’s worst political violence in years.
Hundreds of heavily armed gunmen pulled out of strongholds in Mogadishu they had occupied since late April, when a long-running political crisis turned deadly with clashes erupting between rival factions of the security forces.
Under a deal reached by the warring sides this week, opposition troops began leaving their positions in the capital, and key roads sealed off with sandbags and machine guns were opened once more.
“We are sending our forces back to the frontline position to defend the country and its people,” said Mahad Salad, an opposition lawmaker, at a camp outside Mogadishu where troops assembled after pulling out of the city.
Mogadishu had been on edge since February, when President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed’s term ended before elections were held, and protesters took to the streets against his rule.
But a resolution in April to extend his mandate by two years split the country’s fragile security forces along all-important clan lines.
Soldiers loyal to influential opposition leaders began pouring into the capital, where clashes broke out with pro-government troops, killing three.
The fighting drove tens of thousands of civilians from their homes and divided the city, with government forces losing some key neighborhoods to opposition units.
Under pressure to ease the tension, Mohammed abandoned his mandate extension and instructed his prime minister to arrange fresh elections and bring together rivals for talks.
“These forces came to the rescue of the people, and have taught a new lesson which will be remembered in future. They refused a dictatorship, and have forced the democratic governance process to continue,” opposition lawmaker Salad said.

FASTFACT

Hundreds of heavily armed gunmen pulled out of strongholds in Mogadishu they had occupied since late April, when a long-running political crisis turned deadly with clashes erupting between rival factions of the security forces.

Indirect elections were supposed to have been held by February under a deal reached between the government and Somalia’s five regional states the previous September.
But that agreement collapsed as the president and the leaders of two states, Puntland and Jubaland, squabbled over the terms.
Months of UN-backed talks failed to broker consensus between the feuding sides.
In early May, Mohammed relaunched talks with his opponents over the holding of fresh elections, and agreed to return to the terms of the September accord.
Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble has invited the regional leaders to a round of negotiations on May 20 in the hope of resolving the protracted feud and charting a path to a vote.
The international community has threatened sanctions if elections are not held soon, and warned the political infighting distracted from the fight against Al-Shabab, the militants who control swathes of countryside.
Maj.-Gen. Ali Araye Osoble told opposition troops outside the capital that it was time to return to duty.
“I order that you return to your positions and fulfil your commitments in the fight against Al-Shabab,” the opposition commander said.


Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis

Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis
People wearing protective face masks walk in Tunis, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Tunisia, April 29, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 08 May 2021

Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis

Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis
  • Under new rules, travel will be banned between regions, gatherings and celebrations prohibited, and a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew imposed

TUNIS: Tunisia ordered a partial lockdown from Sunday for the week-long Eid Al-Fitr holidays, warning that any further increase in coronavirus infections could overwhelm specialist care facilities.
Announcing the measure on Friday, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi said Tunisia was going through “the worst health crisis in its history.”
Mosques, markets and nonessential businesses will be closed under the new restrictions, which come as Muslims mark the end of the month of Ramadan, said Mechichi.
“Health institutions are at risk of collapse,” Mechichi said, adding that medics were stretched to the limit, with around 100 people a day dying of COVID-19.
More than 500 people are currently in intensive care, an unprecedented number that has required medics to set up field hospitals, and the North African country is struggling to meet the demand for oxygen.
Under new rules, travel will be banned between regions, gatherings and celebrations prohibited, and a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew imposed.
Tunisians are encouraged to leave their homes only for what is strictly necessary, government spokeswoman Hasna Ben Slimane said.
The Mediterranean country, with a population of around 12 million, has recorded more than 300,000 coronavirus cases and over 11,200 deaths.
Tunisia’s economy has lurched from one crisis to another since the country’s 2011 revolution, with GDP estimated to have contracted by a record 8.2 percent last year.
Mechichi had said several times in recent weeks that Tunisia is unable to afford to repeat the restrictions put in place in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic.