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.”

Taliban attack Afghan police base, 11 killed

Updated 28 January 2020

Taliban attack Afghan police base, 11 killed

KABUL, Afghanistan: Taliban militants attacked a police base in northern Afghanistan, killing 11, possibly with help from at least one of the policemen inside, local government officials said Tuesday.
The insurgents first overran a checkpoint near the base late Monday, and were apparently able to breach the compound with ease because a sympathetic policeman opened a door for them.
These details were provided by Mabobullah Ghafari, a provincial councilman in Baghlan province where the attack took place. A local police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to brief reporters about the attack, also gave the same account.
Insider attacks have been steady throughout Afghanistan’s 18-year conflict, with US and NATO troops most often targeted. But when Afghan security forces are targeted, the casualty rate is often much higher.
Last July, two US service members were killed by an Afghan soldier in the southern Kandahar province. The shooter was wounded and arrested. In September, three US military personnel were wounded when a member of the Afghan Civil Order Police fired on a military convoy, also in Kandahar.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack on the outskirts of Puli Khumri, Baghlan’s provincial capital. But the Taliban have a strong presence in the province and frequently target Afghan security forces in and around the city.
Last September, the insurgents attacked Puli Khumri and blocked the city’s main highway to the capital Kabul for more than a week.
The Taliban currently control or hold sway over around half the country.
The US and the Taliban are currently attempting to negotiate a reduction in hostilities or a cease-fire. That would allow a peace agreement to be signed that could bring home an estimated 13,000 American troops, and open the way to a broader post-war deal for Afghans.