For Middle East children, pandemic adds to misery of displacement

For Middle East children, pandemic adds to misery of displacement
Children wake up after spending the night on the road near Mytilene after a fire destroyed Greece's largest Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, early on September 10, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 21 October 2020

For Middle East children, pandemic adds to misery of displacement

For Middle East children, pandemic adds to misery of displacement
  • Coronavirus has created new barriers to education for millions of children displaced by Middle East conflicts
  • Up to 50 percent of refugee girls worldwide are at risk of dropping out of school entirely because of COVID-19

DUBAI/ERBIL: Millions have been displaced by recent wars in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) — a significant number of them children. Cut adrift in an unfamiliar world in search of safe harbor, the trauma of losing their homes is often compounded by the brutalizing experience of displacement.

According to the UN’s World Migration Report 2020, there are an estimated 31 million child migrants worldwide. Roughly 13 million of them are refugees, 936,000 are asylum seekers, and 17 million have been forcibly displaced inside their own country.

Individual tragedies have occasionally drawn the attention of the international community. When photographs emerged of Alan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian toddler lying face down in the Mediterranean surf, the issue of child migration appeared, for a time, to take center stage.




Syrian children displaced by the war gather at a makeshift camp at Idlib football stadium on March 3, 2020 in the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria. (AFP/File Photo)

The world soon moved on, though, and initial pangs of sympathy and charity reverted to earlier anxieties about security. Now the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has left jealously guarded borders bolted tight.

Of course, it is not just war and terror that drives civilians from their homes. Political and cultural persecution, the loss of economic opportunities, and the ravages of climate change have also contributed to this vast nation of stateless people.

But it is the recent spate of conflicts in the Middle East that has specifically fed the phenomenon of child migration. As Ramzy Baroud, author and editor of the Palestine Chronicle, says, the cause of child migration in the Arab region is the direct result of “violent” conflict.




Displaced Syrian children attend a workshop aimed at spreading awareness about COVID-19 coronavirus disease and precautions for its prevention, at a camp near the Syrian town of Atme close to the border with Turkey in Idlib on March 16, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

“Unlike economic hardship, which often evolves over prolonged periods of time, war is decisive and often leaves people with no other option but to flee,” he told Arab News. “We have seen this trend taking place in the early months of upheaval in the Arab world, starting in 2011 in Libya and continuing in Syria as well.”

Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the MENA region, while Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees’ (UNHCR) regional spokesperson, Rula Amin.

“The situation in Syria continues to drive the largest refugee crisis in the world. There remain over 5.5 million registered refugees from Syria in the main hosting countries — Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, and 2.6 million are children,” she told Arab News.

INNUMBERS

Children in the Pandemic

* 31 million - Total child migrants worldwide.

* 48% - Total refugee children out of school.

Syrians are by far the largest forcibly displaced population in the world — 13.2 million of them by late 2019, including 6.6 million refugees and more than six million internally displaced persons, according to the UNHCR.

Bombs and bullets no doubt drive the initial wave of displacement. But Baroud said the waves that follow are the result of the economic deterioration caused by conflict.

“This is important, because quite often war refugees and economic migrants are delinked, while in reality they are escaping the same threat, either that of war or its disastrous outcomes,” he said.

This can be seen in the case of Libyan and Syrian children, who fled the immediate danger with their families to become internally displaced persons — known in the humanitarian glossary as IDPs. It was predominantly the young and physically fit who dared to venture over land and sea to Europe.




Migrants, including women and children, in a dinghy, react as they approach the southern British coastline as they illegally cross the English Channel from France on September 11, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

However, as these conflicts dragged on, families with children increasingly lost hope in ever returning home and began contemplating far riskier options. As of January this year, Mediterranean crossings in rickety boats have killed at least 19,164 migrants since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration.

“With time, whole families were escaping on long and arduous journeys together. In many cases, children were not even accompanied by adults, for their parents might have either been killed or separated from their children during the war,” Baroud said.

This trend was made clear in 2019, when UNICEF reported more than 33,000 child refugees crossed into Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria, most of them from the Middle East and North Africa.

“These first countries of asylum often serve as a gateway to other destinations in Europe, where refugees hope to reach a different country, which might be Germany, Sweden, or any other,” said Baroud.




Syrian children displaced by the war stand at a makeshift camp at Idlib football stadium on March 3, 2020 in the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria. (AFP/File Photo)

“So quite often, once a refugee arrives in Greece, for example, where he or she is granted some kind of refugee identification, they hope to continue with their journeys past Greece to somewhere else where they can permanently settle.”

Keeping families together is a “concern and a priority” for aid agencies, says Amin. Key to this is obtaining civil documentation, such as birth, marriage and death certificates. With these, refugees and IDPs are able to access services, move freely and have their rights respected.

The COVID-19 has complicated matters. According to the UNHCR, lockdown measures have pushed displaced populations even deeper into poverty and uncertainty, with children bearing the brunt.

“Refugees have lost their incomes and livelihoods, they are suffering from serious historic disruption to the education of their children, deteriorating economies in their host countries add to their challenges and expose them to increased risks of child labor, early marriage and school drop-out,” Amin said.




Children sit on the ground in the burnt camp of Moria on the island of Lesbos after a major fire broke out, on September 9, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

In fact, 50 percent of refugee girls worldwide are at risk of dropping out of school entirely because of COVID-19. With classes moving online, many displaced children simply don’t have access to computers, consistent internet, or a stable learning environment.

“The pandemic is threatening to erase years of progress made to ensure that refugee children get a proper education,” Baroud said.

“Today, 48 percent of all refugee children globally are out of school, 77 percent are enrolled in elementary education, 31 percent are enrolled in schools at secondary education, and only 3 percent get a chance to enroll for higher education.”

And the longer these children are out of school, the harder it will be to go back. Baroud added the economic realities of displacement effectively rob them of their childhoods, pushing them into the world of work.

“Families have to make a choice between turning their children into providers or having them enlist in long-term education,” he said.

“They often choose the former.”

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Twitter: @jumana_khamis


UN urged to act over Iran piracy in the Gulf

UN urged to act over Iran piracy in the Gulf
Updated 05 August 2021

UN urged to act over Iran piracy in the Gulf

UN urged to act over Iran piracy in the Gulf
  • Dramatic audio recording reveals
moment gunmen boarded tanker

JEDDAH: The UN was urged on Wednesday to take action against Tehran after two Iranian attacks on shipping in the Gulf in less than a week.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the UN Security Council “must respond to Iran’s destabilizing actions and lack of respect for international law.”

Raab spoke after Iranian hijackers who seized the Panama-flagged tanker Asphalt Princess off the UAE coast on Tuesday fled the vessel, and it resumed its course toward the port of Sohar in northern Oman.

In a dramatic audio recording of the incident, one of the tanker’s crew tells the UAE coast guard that five or six armed Iranians have boarded the vessel.

“Iranian people are onboard with ammunition,” the crewman member says. “We are … now drifting. We cannot tell you exactly our ETA to Sohar.”

When the Emirati coast guard asks the crewman what the Iranian gunmen are doing onboard, he says he “cannot understand them,” his voice muffled, before trying to hand over the radio to someone else. The call then cuts off.

Satellite tracking data for the Asphalt Princess then showed it gradually heading toward Iranian waters off the port of Jask early on Wednesday. Hours later, it stopped and changed course toward Oman, just before British Navy monitors said the hijackers had left and the vessel was now “safe.”

HIGHLIGHT

Iran has staged a series of attacks on shipping in the region over the past two years, including limpet mine attacks that damaged tankers. 


The maritime intelligence company Dryad Global said the seizure of the Asphalt Princess was the latest Iranian response to outside pressures, economic conflicts and other perceived grievances.

“Iran has consistently shown that in conducting this kind of operation, it is calculated in doing so, both by targeting vessels directly connected with ongoing disputes, and vessels operating within the ‘grey space’ of legitimacy,” which may be involved in illicit trade, it said.

The hijacking followed an attack last Thursday by Iranian explosives-laden drones on the MT Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned petroleum product tanker operated by an Israeli company based in the UK. The ship’s Romanian captain and a British security guard were killed in the attack, prompting international outrage.

Iran has staged a series of attacks on shipping in the region over the past two years, including limpet mine attacks that damaged tankers.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero in the summer of 2019, and in January this year they stormed a South Korean tanker and forced it to change course and head for Iran.


How the coronavirus’ delta variant disrupted Middle East’s ‘return to normal’ plans

How the coronavirus’ delta variant disrupted Middle East’s ‘return to normal’ plans
Updated 05 August 2021

How the coronavirus’ delta variant disrupted Middle East’s ‘return to normal’ plans

How the coronavirus’ delta variant disrupted Middle East’s ‘return to normal’ plans
  • Several MENA countries have experienced an explosion of infections linked to the highly transmissible strain
  • Travel restrictions had to be reimposed once the severity of the threat posed by the spread of delta became clear

DUBAI: Countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region with low rates of vaccination against COVID-19 have been experiencing an explosion of new cases and fatalities linked to the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant.

The variant has been detected in at least 132 countries, prompting new waves of infection, the resumption of travel restrictions, and mounting concern over the availability and effectiveness of vaccines.

In the Gulf and eastern Mediterranean region, the variant has been found in more than a dozen countries including Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar. Although Saudi Arabia has not yet reported any cases, it has reimposed a raft of travel curbs in additions to bans and penalties for violators.

Also known by its scientific name B.1.617.2, the delta variant of the coronavirus was first detected in the Indian state of Maharashtra in October but was only labeled a variant of concern by the WHO on May 11.

Dr. Abdinasir Abubakar, head of the infectious hazards management unit at the WHO’s Middle East and eastern Mediterranean regional office in Cairo, told Arab News: “It was very easy for delta to spread throughout the region due to the many migrant workers from South Asia living in the Gulf and North Africa.”

The strain, itself the product of multiple mutations, is thought to be 60 percent more infectious than the alpha (or Kent) variant, an earlier mutation that emerged in southern England in November, and as contagious as chickenpox.

 

 

According to a confidential CDC document, picked up by US media in late July, delta is more transmissible than the common cold, the 1918 Spanish flu, smallpox, Ebola, MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), has a longer transmission window than the original strain, and may make older people more ill — even those fully vaccinated.

US health officials said people infected with the delta variant could carry up to 1,000 times more virus in their nasal passages than other strains, resulting in higher transmissibility. The WHO predicted there could be at least 200 million new cases worldwide in a matter of weeks.

In many countries, including the UK, the delta variant has now become the dominant strain. In Israel, which has a very high rate of vaccination, delta makes up 90 percent of new infections.

What is perhaps most alarming for health professionals is the number of young people, many of them unvaccinated, who are becoming seriously ill with the variant.

Earlier iterations of the virus were considered more harmful to older demographics and people with underlying health conditions, groups that governments have tended to prioritize in vaccination drives.

Although it appears to cause more severe symptoms than its forerunners, there was currently not enough data to suggest delta was any more deadly.

More encouraging was the data on the effectiveness of vaccines. A study by Public Health England found that the Pfizer vaccine was 94 percent effective against hospitalization after one dose and 96 percent effective after two doses, while AstraZeneca was 71 percent effective after one dose and 92 percent effective after two.

On Sunday, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that New York-based Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech “have tweaked their mRNA vaccine to target the delta variant and will begin testing it on humans” this month.

 

 

The global market for COVID-19 vaccines, valued at $70 billion this year, could grow bigger as scientists debate whether people will need booster shots for the delta variant.

Owing to the slow rollout of vaccines in large parts of the developing world, there is limited protection for their populations against COVID-19.

In MENA countries, outbreaks of the delta variant of the coronavirus are adding to the pressure on hospitals, life-saving equipment, and even mortuaries.

Tunisia has been gripped by social unrest, attributable to a mix of political dysfunction, stretched healthcare systems, and mounting economic hardship.

FASTFACTS

Delta was labeled a variant of concern by WHO on May 11.

Most new cases in eastern Mediterranean are delta variant.

Variant is especially transmissible among the unvaccinated.

Delta may be 60% more infectious than alpha variant.

Surge poses serious challenge to MENA health systems.

Best protection is to receive two doses of the vaccine.

In Iran, a country which has vaccinated just 3 percent of its population, around 35,000 new infections and 357 deaths were recorded on July 27 alone.

In conflict-ridden areas of the Middle East, namely Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, where immunization rates remain low, the surge in delta cases poses a serious challenge to already ailing health systems and fragile government structures.

Abubakar said: “We are extremely concerned about what will happen when the delta variant spreads to emergency countries like Syria and Yemen. Delta will reach all countries in the region. The WHO is trying to work with nations to prepare for the worst, like having more ICU (intensive care unit) beds, oxygen, vaccines, and amplifying our social messaging.

 

 

“No country is immune from delta. We cannot afford for other countries in the region to go through what Tunisia is going through right now,” he added.

In Lebanon, for instance, a rise in COVID-19 cases would place an even greater burden on a cash-strapped country already blighted by electricity and fuel shortages.

Pierre Abi Hanna, head of the infectious disease division at Rafik Hariri University Hospital, told Arab News: “The numbers in Lebanon are increasing exponentially, and the majority of coronavirus cases circulating in Lebanon, from the samples taken, are from the delta strain.

“Over the last few weeks, we have also seen an increase in the number of hospitalized patients, all of whom are unvaccinated, as well as a small increase in the number of patients in ICU as well as those requiring mechanical ventilation.”

Patients were being hospitalized because they could not take oxygen at home due to Lebanon’s electricity shortages. Those hospitalized had tended to be younger than before and mostly unvaccinated.

“Some of them have received one shot, but the majority have received none. We are now seeing a higher number of cases in the younger population, aged 20 to 49. In the last three days, we have had an increase in the number of people needing ICU beds,” Abi Hanna said.

GCC countries have coped well with the delta wave  largely because of high rates of vaccination and high levels of compliance with public health measures. (AFP)

On a brighter side of the battle, GCC countries have coped well with the delta wave thanks to high rates of vaccination, high levels of compliance with public health measures, and timely travel restrictions.

At the end of June, the UAE announced it was suspending flights from India after recording its first cases of the delta variant. Emirati authorities said the strain now accounted for around one-third of all new infections in the country.

Although it has not recorded any cases of its own, Saudi Arabia unveiled a raft of new measures on July 3 — including a ban on travel to and from the UAE, the world’s top international-transport hub.

Saudi citizens who visit countries on its red list – the UAE, Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Lebanon, and Turkey – now face a three-year travel ban either directly or indirectly through states on the green list.

In addition to urging its citizens to continue wearing face masks and maintaining a safe social distance in public places, the Kingdom stressed that the best protection against the delta variant was to receive a second dose of vaccine.

Dr. Wail Bajhmoum, an infectious disease consultant and head of the internal medicine department at King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah, told Arab News: “Citizens should have the vaccines which have been provided by the government and the Ministry of Health free of charge and have been available for everyone in more than 587 centers all over the Kingdom.

“Researchers have shown that two doses of the vaccine will provide very good immunity against all variants of coronavirus, including delta.”

The UAE, which has implemented one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns, has issued a delta-detecting PCR test to help isolate the new outbreak. Cases rose at the end of June to more than 2,000 per day, contributing to a daily average of 10 deaths – the country’s highest toll in a single day since March, according to Reuter’s COVID-19 tracker.

The UAE’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority said the increase in deaths was due to the spread of the alpha, beta, and delta variants. Since then, cases have fallen, with 1,536 recorded infections and two deaths on July 27.

“Some countries are better prepared than others. Delta was confirmed earlier in the Gulf countries, but they have a better system in place to handle the variant. This helped limit the spread of the variant, supplemented by the high vaccination rate in Gulf countries.

“We have found that the impact of delta on Gulf countries is low compared with countries with low vaccination rates, notably Tunisia, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq,” Abubakar added.

The delta variant is only one of several mutations since the coronavirus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 — and it will not be the final iteration.

“It is not the last variant that we will see. We have to be prepared for new variants as well,” Abubakar said.

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


Thousands demand justice on anniversary of port blast in Lebanon

Thousands demand justice on anniversary of port blast in Lebanon
Updated 04 August 2021

Thousands demand justice on anniversary of port blast in Lebanon

Thousands demand justice on anniversary of port blast in Lebanon
  • Tensions escalated quickly on the inaugural anniversary of the deadly Beirut port explosion as authorities shot off a water cannon and deployed tear gas at protestors
  • Protesters ​​attempted to storm the parliament building in Beirut as Macron warns about sanctions against corrupted officials within Lebanon

BEIRUT: On a national day of mourning, thousands of Lebanese citizens joined victims’ families and protesters on Wednesday to commemorate the inaugural anniversary of the deadly Beirut port blast.

Tensions escalated quickly as authorities shot off a water cannon and deployed tear gas at protestors who threw stones toward security forces near parliament. Some protestors even attempted to storm the parliament building in the heart of Beirut from the various entrances.

According to the Lebanese Red Cross, more than 50 people were injured in clashes between protesters and the authorities. The army said it arrested a citizen in the Zouk area, who was in possession of a weapon, ammunition, gas masks, and metal chains. They made six more arrests at the Awali checkpoint in Sidon as weapons, ammunition, and military equipment were confiscated. 

The protesters called for justice and a swift investigation into who should be held responsible for the blast while a senior Christian cleric demanded to know why explosive chemicals had been stored in the capital.

On Aug. 4, 2020, a massive explosion — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital, killed at least 215 people, and injured more than 6,500. The blast destroyed entire residential neighborhoods and left at least 300,000 people homeless.

The forensic investigator into the crime has not yet issued an indictment to explain what happened but more details about the explosion continue to emerge. 

The 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, arrived on a Russian-leased cargo ship that made an unscheduled stop in Beirut in 2013.

An FBI report seen by Reuters last week estimated around 552 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the blast, far less than the amount that had originally arrived.

The protesters on Wednesday demanded that the immunities for the defendants, which include acting ministers, representatives, and security officials be lifted so a proper investigation can be conducted. 

“Justice is not just the demand of the families of the victims but of all Lebanese,” Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, Lebanon’s most senior Christian cleric, said during Wednesday’s memorial service. 

“All immunities should be lifted. We want to know who brought in the explosives, who allowed for their unloading and storage, who removed quantities of it, and where it was sent.”

French President Emmanuel Macron accused the entire Lebanese political class of having “contributed to the exacerbation of the crisis when it placed its interests above the interests of the Lebanese people.”

Macron warned that individuals involved in corruption in Lebanon “should not doubt our determination to apply sanctions against them.”

The Lebanese parliament is yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs accused in the Beirut port explosion: former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, and Former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk.

Caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fahmy refused to lift the immunity of the defendant Abbas Ibrahim, director-general of the Lebanese General Security, last week. 

Judge Bitar had previously charged the three MPs, and former minister Youssef Fenianos, with “negligence” and “possible intent to murder” because they were aware of ammonium nitrate “and did not take measures to spare the country the risks of an explosion.”

Security services took strict measures on the roads leading to the heart of Beirut on Wednesday. They allowed only pedestrians to enter the area and prevented motorbikes and cars during the protests.

On Tuesday, civic groups indicated that attempts would be made during the commemorations to storm parliament, homes of ministers, MPs, and public institutions. They said sit-ins would be held until the parliament approved the lifting of immunity.

On the day of national mourning, flags were lowered over the presidential palace and public institutions as all facilities in the capital were closed. 

Thousands of citizens gathered near the port in the afternoon waving Lebanese flags. Protesters came from Baalbek, Tripoli, Tyre, and Matn to express their anger at the authorities’ attempts to put obstacles in the way of knowing the truth. Men and women were dressed in black while children and the elderly carried flags and chanted for justice.

The families of the victims carried pictures of their deceased loved ones as they recalled moments of sorrow and tears. They demanded to know why their relatives died.

“What is required is to prosecute all those whom the judiciary accuses of negligence and knowledge of the existence of these tons of deadly materials but did nothing,” Hussein Nassar, a war veteran, told Arab News.

“This includes everyone from the top of the pyramid to the lowest ranking official. The revolutionaries are patient, and we will bring down this parliament in the upcoming elections.”

Nadim Ezz El-Din said he came from Deir Qanoun En Nahr in the south to demand that the ruling authority appears before the judiciary: “I do not want to insult people, but criminals should be behind bars.”

A woman who went by “Lara” went to the Beirut Port to show solidarity with the victims’ families and traveled with her sisters from the Dbayeh area.

“We still believe in the homeland and the revolution, but we hate the parties that took power and brought us to where we are today,” she said. “We will stand in the face of this authority no matter how hard they try to suppress us.”

Elham Awad came with her friends from the Saadiyat region in the south. She said the firing of rockets from the south toward Israel on Wednesday was “an attempt to divert the attention away from the perpetrators of the Aug. 4 massacre.”

A virtual conference to support Lebanon on Wednesday concluded with participants pledging a combined $370 million within the year to support a country ravaged by a failing government, economic collapse, and widespread living crises.


Heroic Beirut nurse reunited with babies she saved from port explosion

Heroic Beirut nurse reunited with babies she saved from port explosion
Updated 05 August 2021

Heroic Beirut nurse reunited with babies she saved from port explosion

Heroic Beirut nurse reunited with babies she saved from port explosion
  • As she hugged them a year later, Pamela Zeinoun said she felt like she gave them the same warmth as when she carried them to safety
  • The nurse said it felt great to see the children are growing up healthily, safely and away from danger

BEIRUT: A nurse hailed as a national hero for rescuing three premature babies from a hospital wrecked by the explosion at Beirut’s port a year ago was reunited with them on Wednesday, the first anniversary of the blast.
Pamela Zeinoun was working at St. George Hospital University Medical Center, less than a kilometer from the port, when the massive explosion sent a devastating shock wave through the city.
Without knowing what had happened, she instinctively scooped up a twin brother and sister and a third baby from their cots in the damaged neonatal intensive care unit on the hospital’s fourth floor and carried them to safety.

 

 

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Zeinoun told Arab News. “The feeling of holding again the babies who I had saved a year ago was indescribable — so warm and empathetic.”
The twins, Ali and Sidra, and the third baby, Noah, were brought by their families to the hospital, which was forced to close because of the damage caused by the explosion but has partly reopened, to meet Zeinoun. Noah’s family left Lebanon after the explosion
A photo of the reunion was taken at the spot where a news photographer captured one of the most enduring images of the disaster: a dust-covered Zeinoun clutching the three babies, cradling a phone with her neck.
“It was so heartwarming and emotional, especially when I tried to carry them in one go,” said Zeinoun who recalled how tiny they were 12 months ago and how they have grown since. “They looked so cute, funny and lovable to play with. I felt I was giving them the same warmness I had given them on Aug. 4 in 2020.”
She said it felt great to see the children are growing up healthily, safely and away from danger.
Zeinoun described the explosion as a “heartbreaking catastrophe” and said she sympathized with all the families and victims who lost loved ones. In her hospital alone, the blast killed 22 people.
“When I see the casualties’ families trying to find answers to what happened, I feel like their daughter … I just wish that justice would prevail and we find out who is behind what happened,” she added.
Describing the scene inside her ward after the explosion, she said the ceiling had collapsed and the room was littered with debris, furniture and toppled medical equipment.
Amid the confusion, as she held the three infants she stopped to answer a ringing telephone in the emergency room, a moment that was captured by Lebanese photojournalist Bilal Jawich. His photo went viral worldwide, appearing on news sites and TV channels and social media platforms.
A new father who was visiting his newborn baby on the day of the explosion, helped Zeinoun by lifting metal shelves that had fallen onto incubators so that she could rescue the infants. Despite all the damage, chaos and broken elevators, the nurse managed to carry the newborns down four floors and out of the hospital to safety.
She then walked with them in her arms for nearly 5km through streets littered with rubble and wreckage before the driver of a car took them to another hospital.
On Wednesday’s anniversary, the people of Lebanon mourned those who were killed and injured in what was one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in history. More than 200 people died, more than 6,500 were injured and an estimated 300,000 were left homeless.

 

 

 


Turkey refuses to serve as ‘waiting room’ for US-bound Afghan refugees

Turkey refuses to serve as ‘waiting room’ for US-bound Afghan refugees
Updated 04 August 2021

Turkey refuses to serve as ‘waiting room’ for US-bound Afghan refugees

Turkey refuses to serve as ‘waiting room’ for US-bound Afghan refugees

ANKARA: Ankara on Tuesday slammed a US move to offer potential resettlement to Afghan migrants who have US affiliations, saying it would cause another “migration crisis” in the country.

Under the new program announced by the US State Department on Monday, the US will open its doors to thousands of Afghans who are fleeing the Taliban violence, but with certain preconditions.

Ahead of the formal withdrawal of US soldiers at the end of this month, the Priority Two refugee program will cover Afghans who worked for US-funded projects and US-based NGOs and media outlets.

Afghans who do not qualify for the Special Immigration Visa program are among those eligible for this program. However, they should be referred by a US agency or the most senior US citizen employee of an NGO or media outlet that is based in the US.

In the meantime, they must wait in a third country after they leave Afghanistan, and this waiting time can last for 12 to 14 months before their application is processed.

Ankara fears this may trigger potential refugee inflows to the country as Afghans mostly use Turkey as a transit country to reach Europe and the US.

“It is unacceptable to seek a solution in our country without our consent instead of finding a solution among the countries in the region,” Tanju Bilgic, a spokesperson for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, said on Aug. 3, adding that Turkey cannot handle another migration wave on behalf of a third country.

Hundreds of Afghans have recently crossed into Turkey over the passing week, fueling anti-immigrant sentiment in the country and raising concerns about further influx as the country already hosts more than 4 million refugees, mostly Syrians and Afghans.

On Aug. 3, 264 Afghans were held after being found inside a truck in the eastern province of Van, where the country has begun building high walls to stop infiltrators from Iran.

“If the US wants to take these people…it is possible to transfer them directly to their country by planes,” Bilgic said.

Fahrettin Altun, communications chief for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told Bloomberg on Wednesday: “Turkey does not, and will not, serve as any country’s waiting room.”

A great majority of Afghan asylum seekers will probably remain in Turkey because the number of people who are eligible under the US program is limited, while the UN only resettled 20,000 asylum seekers from Turkey this year.

Deniz Senol Sert, a migration expert from Ozyegin University, said the migration wave following the US decision will mainly comprise highly educated Afghans.

“These people will come to Turkey following visa procedures, and they will not cross the border by land but, most likely, by plane. However, Afghanistan’s passport still ranks as the world’s least powerful,” she told Arab News.

According to Sert, Afghan migrants who have already applied for asylum will have to wait at least one year before their procedures finish.

“It is still unknown whether we have the capacity to handle all these migrants. This wave will continue for months depending on the moves of the Taliban, although Turkey has traditionally faced an influx of Afghan migrants in the summer,” she said.

Neva Ovunc Ozturk, a law expert working on transnational migration at Ankara University, said: “The US ranks among the countries that make the most settlements. It is not the first time that the US resettles Afghan migrants under this procedure. This time, it is focusing on Afghans who are affiliated with the US,” she told Arab News.

According to Ozturk, such settlement programs have served as pull factors in the past for immigration waves.

“However, Turkey already has a legal framework for conditional refugee status for those who will be resettled in third countries. Therefore, legally speaking, we have already been serving as a waiting room for some categories of refugees,” she said.

However, experts underline that the latest US decision should accompany diplomacy that promotes fair burden-sharing among countries that are neighboring war-torn Afghanistan.

“The UN High Commissioner for Refugees can encourage states to increase their refugee resettlement quotas. The US may also encourage countries close to Afghanistan, like Pakistan and Bangladesh, to host a certain number of refugees fleeing the Taliban,” Ozturk said.