Albanian boy freed from Daesh camp on way home to Italy

Alvin, an 11-year-old Albanian boy who was taken to Syria by his mother when she joined Daesh, is accompanied to Damascus airport by Red Cross and Red Crescent official. (AP)
Updated 07 November 2019

Albanian boy freed from Daesh camp on way home to Italy

  • The story of 11-year-old Alvin has captivated public attention in Italy
  • Some 70,000 people now reside in Al-Hol camp, mostly women and children including about 11,000 foreigners

BEIRUT: An Albanian boy who was taken to Syria by his mother when she joined the Daesh group has been freed from a crowded detention camp in northeastern Syria and is on track to return home with his father in Italy, Red Cross and Red Crescent officials said Thursday.

The story of 11-year-old Alvin, who found himself with no family at the Al-Hol camp after his mother and siblings died amid fighting in northeast Syria, has captivated public attention in Italy after a glitzy TV news show reported on his father’s agonized efforts to bring him home.

The evacuation also comes amid the shifting strategic landscape in Syria’s northeast. The Kurdish-led forces that run Al-Hol camp have recently aligned themselves with the Syrian government, after they were effectively abandoned by the US after years of fighting Daesh together.

The Kurds’ pivot to Damascus paved the way for the boy’s release Wednesday and his flight under Red Crescent escort from the northeastern city of Qamishli to the Syrian capital, Damascus, instead of through northern Iraq. Alvin was crossing into Lebanon on Thursday afternoon.

Some 70,000 people now reside in Al-Hol camp, mostly women and children including about 11,000 foreigners. The site has been the largest holding facility for people linked to Daesh. A few other detainees have been returned home to countries like France, Russia and Australia. But Alvin’s release was the first case to be facilitated by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

“I hope that this will bring some peace and the prospect of healing to his family,” said IFRC President Francesco Rocca, who personally participated in Alvin’s case. “What we can and should be focusing on is the fact that there are still over 68,000 people — two-thirds of which are children — living in the Al-Hol camp.”

“This morning’s news is positive news, but it is barely a drop of relief in an ocean of suffering,” he added.

Five years ago, Alvin’s mother joined Daesh and took him with her into territories that it controlled. After his mother was killed, word got out confidentially through the Red Cross and Red Crescents’ “Restoring Family Links” program.

Through that program, the father, identified as Afrim Berisha on the Italian TV show “Le Iene,” got a message from his son: Alvin was alive, alone at Al-Hol, and asking to be brought home. Today, the only language Alvin can speak fluently is Arabic.

Alvin’s father reached out the Italian Red Cross, and after a negotiation with the Italian and Albanian authorities, the boy now has an Albanian passport and a permit to stay in Italy with his family.

The case got a jolt from the flashy, fast-paced Italian TV news magazine and satire program, which trekked to Al-Hol with the father for a teary-eyed reunion with the boy weeks ago.

However, he wasn’t allowed to leave with his son. According to the report, the Kurdish authorities refused to hand over the boy because no Albanian official was present. So the father returned empty-handed to Italy, where he has permanent residence.

Social media and public opinion then kicked in to shift political will. Mounting pressure in the Lombardy region, where the boy was raised, led the regional council to pass a resolution to bring the boy home.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent opened up a negotiation with Italian and Albanian authorities to arrange the necessary paperwork and authorizations. On Wednesday, the boy spent the night in a room with a psychologist, and was taken to the Syrian Foreign Ministry on Thursday.

The Damascus connection has raised the prospect that Syria’s President Bashar Assad might be trying to get political mileage and reap a public-relations success from the boy’s release.

A number of European countries have been reluctant to let former members of Daesh or their relatives return — but the groundswell of public attention appears to have made an exception of Alvin’s case.

“I fully appreciate that the situation in Al-Hol is complex. There is no simple solution, and there are legitimate concerns that have been raised by governments,” said Rocca, the IFRC president. “But those concerns must be balanced with the need to treat people humanely.”


Cadets among 22 dead in Ukraine military plane crash

Updated 25 September 2020

Cadets among 22 dead in Ukraine military plane crash

  • The transport plane was carrying a total of 28 passengers when it crashed, including 21 military students and seven crew
  • The town of Chuhuiv, where the crash occurred, is 100 kilometers west of the front line with the pro-Russian separatists

KIEV: At least 22 people including military cadets were killed and two others seriously injured Friday when a Ukranian air force plane crashed near Kharkiv in the east of the country, the interior ministry said.
“Twenty-two people died,” Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko told AFP, adding that “the search for two other people is continuing.”
The transport plane was carrying a total of 28 passengers when it crashed, including 21 military students and seven crew, he said.
“It’s a shock,” he added. “At the moment it’s impossible to establish the cause” of the crash.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he would travel to the region on Saturday.
“We are urgently creating a commission to investigate all the circumstances and causes of the tragedy,” he wrote on Facebook.
The Antonov-26 transport aircraft crashed at around 8:50 p.m. local time (17:50 GMT), two kilometers (1 mile) from the Chuhuiv military air base, the emergency services said.
The plane caught fire after the crash and was extingushed after one hour.
The town of Chuhuiv is around 30 kilometers southeast of Kharkiv and 100 kilometers west of the front line with the pro-Russian separatists.