Greece culls migrant support groups in ‘transparency’ overhaul

Greece culls migrant support groups in ‘transparency’ overhaul
Members of an NGO share handmade protective face masks to migrants and refugees in Lesbos on March 28, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 20 June 2020

Greece culls migrant support groups in ‘transparency’ overhaul

Greece culls migrant support groups in ‘transparency’ overhaul
  • Greece’s conservative government says that new NGO registration rules are needed
  • Some locals claim that NGOs have a vested interest in seeing the migration crisis drag on

ATHENS: Dozens of groups helping asylum seekers in Greece risk being edged out in a government move to tighten what it calls “opaque” rules overseeing charities, sparking concern that crucial support will be cut.
Critics warn that the new registration regulations will downgrade services to thousands of vulnerable and traumatized people that were, in many cases, already barely adequate.
“We seek as much transparency as possible in the operation of NGOs, and of people working for, or cooperating, with them,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said in April.
Greece’s conservative government, which was voted in nearly a year ago and whose policy is to make the country a “less attractive” destination to migrants, says that new NGO registration rules are needed because the groups have run projects in the last four years “in their own way” under an “opaque” framework.
But Minos Mouzourakis, legal officer for Refugee Support Aegean, is worried that the change could hamper the independent oversight role often played by NGOs.
It is often support groups that highlight alleged abuses by coast guards or police and take legal action against the Greek state on behalf of asylum seekers, he noted.
“The ministry evaluates independent organizations that often criticize it... it should not have such (powers) ... it’s a question of impartiality,” he said.
Mitarachi has complained that out of $1.7 billion in EU support funds for Greek migration projects between 2015 and 2019, the Greek state managed just 1.9 percent.
“Do you want to hand over the keys to NGOs? I don’t want that,” he told parliament this month.
The new registration process includes budget scrutiny and criminal background checks for workers and volunteers.
Each group’s field performance in the last two years is also probed.
“This essentially helps NGOs themselves to know who is working for them,” the ministry’s asylum secretary Manos Logothetis said.
“Shouldn’t they know if, for instance, there is a pedophile working with minors?” he said.
On Wednesday, 22 out of 40 groups active in Greek camps were eliminated from a first approval phase.
Elected officials acknowledge that support groups were key at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis, especially after other EU states shut their borders in 2016 and tens of thousands of asylum seekers were trapped in Greek camps.
More than a million migrants and refugees arrived in Greece in 2015 and 2016, according to the UN refugee agency. There are now around 120,000 in the country.
Yiorgos Kaminis, Athens mayor in 2011-2019, has noted that “without (NGO) contribution, the incompetent Greek state would have been overwhelmed.”
But, insiders have noted, there was also significant overlap.
“Early on, you might have had five different groups running education programs,” one organization member said.
According to an internal document seen by AFP, earlier this year there were more than 20 support groups in the largest Greek camp of Moria on Lesbos island.
Beyond medical and legal assistance, the help offered included laundry services, self-defense and yoga, classes in Greek, English, music and IT, and pregnancy health care.
One group handled plumbing for the heavily overcrowded camp of more than 16,000 people.
It was not immediately clear how many of these organizations have been allowed to stay on.
“The Greek government leads the refugee response, and the expertise and strengths of civil society and NGOs is still crucial,” the UN refugee agency’s spokesman in Greece Boris Cheshirkov said in a statement.
In frontline Greek areas bearing the brunt of migration management, some locals claim that NGOs have a vested interest in seeing the migration crisis drag on.
In March, refugee support groups on Lesbos were targeted in the worst surge of violence since mass arrivals began in 2015.
Angry mobs attacked cars with NGO markings after a new wave of migration encouraged by Turkey saw hundreds of asylum seekers arrive on Lesbos.
“We can understand that the new government wants to establish a register for NGOs, if this is to gain greater control over who is actually working with these vulnerable people,” said Caroline Hervik, of Reaching, a small volunteer group of mainly Norwegian students working on the island of Chios.
But because the registration process is “complex” and requires a Greek representative, Reaching’s work is currently on hold, she said.


Germany slams ‘anti-Semitic’ demos and Hamas ‘terrorist attacks’

Germany slams ‘anti-Semitic’ demos and Hamas ‘terrorist attacks’
Updated 14 May 2021

Germany slams ‘anti-Semitic’ demos and Hamas ‘terrorist attacks’

Germany slams ‘anti-Semitic’ demos and Hamas ‘terrorist attacks’
  • Merkel’s government stressed “Israel’s right to self-defense against these attacks”
  • Germany has seen scattered demonstrations this week over the escalating conflict

BERLIN: Germany on Friday said rockets fired by Hamas at Israel amount to “terrorist attacks” and warned it would not tolerate “anti-Semitic” demonstrations on its own soil as the conflict intensified in the Middle East.
“These are terrorist attacks that have only one goal: to kill people indiscriminately and arbitrarily and to spread fear,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told a government press conference.
Merkel’s government stressed “Israel’s right to self-defense against these attacks,” he added.
Palestinian militants have fired some 1,800 rockets, and the Israeli military has launched more than 600 airstrikes, toppling at least three high-rise apartment buildings, and has shelled some areas with tanks stationed near the frontier.
The Gaza Health Ministry says the toll from the fighting has risen to 119 killed, including 31 children and 19 women, with 830 wounded. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel says that number is much higher. Seven people have been killed in Israel, including a 6-year-old boy and a soldier.
The most intense hostilities in seven years were triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
Germany has seen scattered demonstrations this week over the escalating conflict, with protesters shouting anti-Semitic slogans and burning Israeli flags.
Flags were burned outside synagogues in Muenster and Bonn, with 16 people arrested.
On Wednesday evening, around 180 people shouted anti-Jewish slogans at a march in Gelsenkirchen, also in the west.
On Thursday around 1,500 people gathered in the northern city of Bremen calling for “freedom for Palestine” in a protest which proceeded without incident, according to local police.
Seibert said Friday that Germany would not tolerate “anti-Semitic” demonstrations.
“Anyone who attacks a synagogue or defiles Jewish symbols shows that for them it is not about criticizing a state or the policies of a government, but about aggression and hate toward a religion and the people who belong to it,” he said.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had on Thursday also condemned the protests.
“Those who burn Star of David flags in our streets and shout anti-Semitic slogans not only abuse the freedom to demonstrate, but are committing crimes,” he told the popular Bild daily.
“Nothing justifies threats against Jews in Germany or attacks on synagogues in German towns,” he said.


12 killed in mosque blast near Afghan capital, shattering cease-fire calm: police

12 killed in mosque blast near Afghan capital, shattering cease-fire calm: police
Updated 14 May 2021

12 killed in mosque blast near Afghan capital, shattering cease-fire calm: police

12 killed in mosque blast near Afghan capital, shattering cease-fire calm: police
  • Kabul police spokesman says explosives had been placed inside the mosques
  • No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion

KABUL: A blast at a mosque on the outskirts of the Afghan capital during Friday prayers killed at least 12 worshippers, police said, shattering the relative calm of a three-day cease-fire.
“The death toll has jumped to 12 killed including the imam of the mosque and 15 others are wounded,” Ferdaws Framurz, the spokesman for Kabul police said, updating an earlier toll.
He said the explosion happened inside a mosque in Shakar Darah district of Kabul province.
The blast is the first major incident since a temporary truce between the Taliban and government troops came into force on Thursday.
The warring sides agreed on the truce to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Fitr, only the fourth such halt in fighting in the nearly two-decades old conflict.
Deadly violence has rocked the country in recent weeks after the US military began formally withdrawing its remaining 2,500 troops from Afghanistan on May 1.
Last week, a series of blasts outside a girls’ school in the capital killed more than 50 people, most of them teenage girl students.


US pulls out of major Kandahar base in southern Afghanistan

US pulls out of major Kandahar base in southern Afghanistan
Updated 14 May 2021

US pulls out of major Kandahar base in southern Afghanistan

US pulls out of major Kandahar base in southern Afghanistan

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: The United States has completed its withdrawal from Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan, once the second largest military base in the country for US forces, officials said Friday.
“They have not officially handed over the base to us but I can confirm they left the base on Wednesday,” said Khoja Yaya Alawi, a spokesman for the Afghan army in Kandahar.


Diplomats, donors concerned about sex abuse reports at WHO

Diplomats, donors concerned about sex abuse reports at WHO
Updated 14 May 2021

Diplomats, donors concerned about sex abuse reports at WHO

Diplomats, donors concerned about sex abuse reports at WHO
  • Senior WHO management was informed of multiple sex abuse allegations involving at least 2 of its doctors in the Ebola epidemic in 2018
  • The US State Department had no immediate comment

LONDON: British, European and American diplomats and donors have voiced serious concerns about how the World Health Organization handled sex abuse allegations involving its own staff during an outbreak of Ebola in Congo, as reported this week by The Associated Press.
On Tuesday, the AP published an investigation documenting that senior WHO management was informed of multiple sex abuse allegations involving at least two of its doctors during the epidemic in 2018.
A notarized contract obtained by the AP showed that two WHO staffers signed off on an agreement between WHO’s Dr. Jean-Paul Ngandu and a young woman he allegedly impregnated in Congo. In it, Ngandu promised to pay the young woman money, cover her pregnancy costs and buy her a plot of land. The contract was made “to protect the integrity and reputation of the organization,” Ngandu said.
“The UK has a zero tolerance approach when it comes to sexual exploitation and harassment — and that extends to all international organizations that we fund,” said Simon Manley, the UK’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva. “We are speaking with WHO and other major donors as a matter of urgency to establish the facts.” Britain is WHO’s second biggest donor, after the US
The US State Department had no immediate comment.
WHO has declined to comment on the specific allegations reported by the AP and said it is waiting for the results of a panel created last October to investigate sexual abuse during the Congo outbreak involving WHO staffers.
“What’s alarming is that WHO seems to be keeping this abuse quiet and not publicly condemning these allegations,” said Clare Wenham, an assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, who has studied gender and funding issues at WHO. “There’s a lot of talk about giving WHO more money but I don’t think any government should be committing to that until we know it’s an organization we can trust.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the agency’s third-largest funder, said it expects UN agencies to conduct thorough investigations into sexual abuse as quickly as possible.
“Our role as a funder is to hold organizations that receive grants from the foundation to the highest standards of transparency and accountability, and to insist that they take steps to prevent misconduct in the future,” the foundation said.
Lawrence Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Center on Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said the ultimate responsibility for WHO’s Ebola response lies with director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The AP found that one of the doctors accused of sexual harassment, Boubacar Diallo, bragged about his relationship to Tedros, who mentioned Diallo during a speech in January 2019. The AP spoke with three women who said Diallo offered them WHO jobs in exchange for sex; Diallo denied the claims.
“I find it hard to believe Tedros would have known about these allegations and done nothing,” Gostin said. “The (director-general) must meet the highest ethical standards so we must understand what he knew and when he knew it. ... Dr. Diallo may have used his relationship with Tedros as leverage in sexual exploitation, but it would not be Tedros’ fault if he wasn’t aware of it.”
Gostin said WHO staffers who were aware of sexual misconduct claims but failed to act should be punished.
Balazs Ujvari, a spokesman for the European Commission, said it would “thoroughly monitor the investigations” by the AP. He said the commission is ready to review or suspend funding “for any partner who is not living up to the required high ethical and professional rules and standards.” Last year, the European Commission gave WHO about 114 million euros ($138 million).
The World Bank said it is “deeply concerned” about the new sex abuse allegations at WHO. The bank paused its negotiations with Congolese authorities for new financing to agencies, including WHO, last year when reports of general sex abuse during the Ebola outbreak surfaced.
“We review our relationship with any organization whose standards are in question,” the World Bank said in an email.


Muslims around world add subtle local twists to Eid celebrations

Muslims around world add subtle local twists to Eid celebrations
Updated 14 May 2021

Muslims around world add subtle local twists to Eid celebrations

Muslims around world add subtle local twists to Eid celebrations
  • Ramadan ended on Wednesday evening marking the start of Eid Al-Fitr celebrations by Muslims around the world
  • The holiday signals the end of the important month-long period of Islamic fasting and religious reflection

CHICAGO: Arab News reporter Kateryna Kadabashy has noted that while more than 1.8 billion Muslims around the world commemorate Ramadan and celebrate Eid in similar ways, subtle differences still exist based on local and regional traditions and cultures.

Ramadan ended on Wednesday evening marking the start of Eid Al-Fitr celebrations by Muslims around the world.

The holiday signals the end of the important month-long period of Islamic fasting and religious reflection, with many worshippers adopting different ways to enjoy the festival based on their national origins.

A Ukrainian-Palestinian journalist who reports on varied topics including Crimea, Palestine, and women’s rights, Kadabashy detailed in her story how Ukrainian Muslims in the Crimea region celebrate Eid with slightly nuanced differences reflecting local culture.

She said: “One of the stories I wrote, was about how Ukrainian Muslims celebrate Eid. And I tried to focus on Islam in general because in Ukraine it is not a very widespread religion.

“There are not a lot of Muslims, and a lot of people that are Muslims – unless they are Tartar Ukrainians or from the Crimea region – are most likely to be people that have converted to Islam or people that have become Ukrainian.

“I was wondering how they celebrated Eid, because for me all of the Eid celebrations done at home were very Levant oriented.”

Kadabashy explained how Ukrainians celebrated Eid in a slightly different way to the rest of the Islamic world.

“The way Ukrainian Muslims celebrate Eid is kind of very similar, more similar to how Ukrainians celebrate anything rather than how we celebrate Eid at home.

“I asked a (Ukrainian) woman how she celebrated Eid at home, and she liked the usual things that we do. Baking a cake, going for a picnic. Ukrainians like to celebrate anything and everything, such as having a barbecue in the park. So, they do the same things for Eid that any other Ukrainian would do for any other celebrations,” she added.

Kadabashy noted that Muslims everywhere practiced certain basic traditions of Ramadan, such as donating money and food to charitable organizations and those in need.

But she also pointed out that the types of food eaten during iftar and Eid varied, with many preferring Levant foods over traditional regional dishes.

“They also try to give a dua, or an amount of money for their children or other children on Eid,” she said.

“They still try to gather with family, loved ones, and friends. These things are kind of similar. But then all cultures gather around the holidays and all religions are not exclusive to Eid.”

In addition, she noted that Muslims around the globe sacrificed lambs or other animals during Eid and gave the meat to needy families.

  • The Ray Hanania Radio Show is broadcast every Wednesday live on WNZK AM 690 in Greater Detroit and WDMV AM 700 in Greater Washington, DC at 8 AM EST, and streamed live on Facebook.com/ArabNews.