‘In our hearts’: Radio keeps Syria refugees in Iraq close to home

‘In our hearts’: Radio keeps Syria refugees in Iraq close to home
Gardenya FM radio journalist Sherin Mohammad records a program at the station’s studio at the Arbat refugee camp, 20 km east of Sulaimaniyah, Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region’s second-biggest city. (AFP)
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Updated 13 November 2020

‘In our hearts’: Radio keeps Syria refugees in Iraq close to home

‘In our hearts’: Radio keeps Syria refugees in Iraq close to home
  • Gardenya FM features news programs and talk shows

ARBAT, Iraq: Speaking into a microphone in her modest studio, Sherin Mohammad goes live with the news. But this is no typical radio station: Gardenya FM is run by, and for, Syrian refugees.
Broadcast from the refugee camp of Arbat in northeast Iraq, Gardenya FM features news programs and talk shows, produced by a team far from their native Syria.
Nearly 500 km away from her home town of Qamishli, Sherin concludes her news roundup, waits for the catchy jingle to end and sets down her clunky headphones on a white wooden desk.
The 31-year-old fled Qamishli in 2014 so she could stay with her husband, desperate to avoid the military conscription imposed by the Syrian government.
Their painful displacement came with a silver lining: She could realize her lifelong dream of being a journalist.
“I wanted to be a reporter back in Syria but it wasn’t on offer at my local university, so I became a teacher,” she told AFP.
In 2018, Italian NGO UPP proposed setting up a local radio station in Arbat, and Sherin jumped at the opportunity.
She has dedicated herself since then to providing reliable information to fellow refugees on the Syrian conflict, which erupted in 2011 with protests against the regime Bashar Assad.
The war has profoundly divided communities both inside and outside Syria, with various sides trading accusations of fabricating news.
Sherin wants to be the antidote.
“Everyone has smartphones and they can read any old thing published about Syria,” she said, including “fake news spread by the regime.”
Gardenya broadcasts locally at 101.3 FM, but the team also posts on the station’s Facebook page, which has several thousand likes.
Through it, Sherin said, loved ones still in Syria could see what life is like for Arbat’s 9,056 residents, many of whom sensed their displacement would be long-term and began replacing tarp tents with cinderblock structures in 2017.
“We want to give real information to those still in our homeland through our Facebook page so that people see we don’t live in tents,” she added.
Strolling through these one-room cement homes with a bounce in his step is Khalil, another Gardenya FM reporter.
He is well-known: Fellow refugees greeted him warmly, and someone handed him a flatbread with thyme for breakfast. Youssef, a 19-year-old trainee, trailed behind.
“This is how you build a network,” Khalil explained to him.
“We use our friends, our relatives, our journalist colleagues who are in the country and those on the front” to gather information, said Khalil.
But for the former English teacher from Amuda in northeast Syria, the most interesting people to speak to are the Syrian Kurds who travel back and forth between their homeland and safe haven in Arbat.
One of them, Goran, was Gardenya FM’s latest interview subject.
Covered in flour after a long morning making flatbreads to sell in the camp, Goran answers Khalil’s questions, then has a few of his own: Is the border still open? Could he travel back to check on his wife, still stuck in their Syrian home town?
“With Covid-19, we have little information. The radio can tell us every day what’s going on,” Goran said.
Although Goran misses his family, he said he couldn’t imagine trying to live in Syria again.
“Why move back? There’s no electricity, no salary, the US dollar is so expensive,” he said.
“At least here, there’s work,” he told AFP from his cinderblock bakery.
According to the International Organization for Migration, there are 230,000 Syrian refugees living in northern Iraq, 40 percent of them in camps, with the rest in rented homes or other housing arrangements. Officially, none have permanently returned to Syria.
The Syrian regime is hosting a summit on Wednesday and Thursday to encourage returns, with 5.5 million Syrians still seeking refuge outside their homeland. But infrastructure and public services are lacking across the war-ravaged country and rights defenders warn that some areas are still unsafe for large-scale repatriations.
“Syria remains in our hearts,” said Khalil.
“Building (Arbat) with our own means is our way of saying that we can rebuild a Syria without Assad,” he added.
“That’s what the radio is for, too.”


Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people
Updated 36 min 57 sec ago

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people
  • The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation

DUBAI: Oman has imposed a night-time ban on all commercial activities and movement of people throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

All types of gatherings, including iftars in mosques, tents or public places typical during Ramadan are affected by the prohibition against mass assembly, which starts from 9 p.m. until 4 a.m.

Oman’s Supreme Committee, which was created to deal with all coronavirus pandemic related developments, also imposed a ban on all social, sports and cultural activities and any other group activities throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

Key sectoral workers such as in oil, healthcare, utilities, food supply and media were however exempted from the movement ban, provided they have permissions, as well as three-ton trucks. Pharmacies were also allowed to operate during the night-time commercial ban.

The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation, according to Dr. Abdullah Nasser Al-Harrasi, the minister of Information and a member of the COVID-19 Supreme Committee.


UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
Updated 30 min 29 sec ago

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
  • UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight

DUBAI: The UAE administered 1118,805 more doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight, bringing total jabs given to residents and citizens to 9,156,728 or about 92.58 doses per 100 individuals.

The nationwide inoculation program aims to give the population immunity from coronavirus that will help curb its spread as well as bring down infection cases.

UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight, bringing the country’s caseload to 487,697 since the pandemic began. Four deaths were also confirmed due to COVID-19 complications, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 1,537.

Meanwhile, an additional 1,731 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 471,906.


Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE
Updated 14 April 2021

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden’s administration has told Congress it is proceeding with more than $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, including advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment, congressional aides said on Tuesday.
A State Department spokesperson said the administration would move forward with the proposed sales to the UAE, “even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials” related to the use of the weapons.
The Democratic president’s administration had paused the deals agreed to by former Republican President Donald Trump in order to review them.


Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
An honour guard of Israeli soldiers with their rifles stands to attention during a one minute siren, as they partake in a state ceremony for Memorial Day in Jerusalem on April 13, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2021

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
  • ‘He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,’ his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital

JERUSALEM: Israel was shaken Tuesday after a 26-year-old former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since the 2014 Gaza war set himself on fire, suffering severe injuries.
Itzik Saidian went to a support service for wounded soldiers near Tel Aviv on Monday, doused himself with a flammable liquid and lit it, “due to significant psychological distress,” the army said.
He was rushed to the intensive care unit of Tel Hashomer Hospital near Tel Aviv and was in “critical condition” with “deep burns all over his body,” the hospital said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “very shocked” and “determined to undertake a complete reform of the way we take care of our disabled and wounded veterans.”
The young man had been recognized as partially disabled because he suffered from PTSD related to his service during the 2014 war between Israel and the armed Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Around 2,250 Palestinians were killed in the war, mostly civilians, and 74 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Saidian’s self-immolation came on the eve of Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and attack victims.
It sparked controversy over the support system for wounded or psychologically ill soldiers, which is often deemed inefficient and bureaucratic.
“He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,” his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced a “thorough investigation to find the reasons for this tragic event.” His ministry pledged to “substantially improve the treatment of post-traumatic soldiers.”
Military service is mandatory in Israel for 18-year-olds. Women serve two years and men two years and six months.


Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
Updated 13 April 2021

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
  • Aoun's decision could significantly delay the process
  • Israeli Energy Minister said Monday Lebanon's expanded claim would derail talks

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president said on Tuesday a draft decree expanding its maritime claims in a dispute with Israel must be approved by the caretaker government, rejecting a request to grant it swift presidential approval.
The dispute with Israel over the maritime boundary has held up hydrocarbon exploration in a potentially gas-rich area of the eastern Mediterranean.
The decree, approved by Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, defense minister and minister of public work on Monday, would add around 1,400 square km (540 square miles) to an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean claimed by Lebanon.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s office said the decree should be approved by President Michel Aoun so that the new maritime coordinates setting out Lebanon’s claim could be submitted to the United Nations.
But the presidency said it should be approved by Diab’s full cabinet, even though the government resigned eight months ago following a devastating explosion in Beirut, because of the gravity of the issue.
The draft decree “needs a collective decision from the council of ministers..., even under a caretaker government, due to its importance and the consequences,” a statement from Aoun’s office said.
Aoun’s decision could significantly delay the process. Since the government resigned in August it has referred all issues for exceptional approval by the president, leaving them to get formal endorsement when a new government is finally agreed.
Negotiations were launched in October to try to resolve the dispute with Israel yet the talks, a culmination of three years of diplomacy by the United States, have since stalled.
Israel already pumps gas from offshore fields but Lebanon has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday Lebanon’s expanded claim would derail the talks rather than help work toward a common solution, warning that Israel would implement “parallel measures.”
Lebanon, in the throes of a deep financial meltdown that is threatening its stability, is desperate for cash as it faces the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war. But political leaders have failed to bridge their differences and form a new government.