Bangladesh sends more Rohingya refugees to remote island despite UN concerns

Bangladesh sends more Rohingya refugees to remote island despite UN concerns
Rohingya refugees are seen on a Bangladesh's Navy ship as they are being relocated to Bhashan Char Island in the Bay of Bengal, in Chittagong on January 29, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 29 January 2021

Bangladesh sends more Rohingya refugees to remote island despite UN concerns

Bangladesh sends more Rohingya refugees to remote island despite UN concerns
  • Move to ease pressure off Cox’s Bazar

DHAKA: Almost 1,800 Rohingya refugees were relocated to a remote island in Bangladesh on Friday, despite UN concerns about how safe and voluntary the move is.

The Bangladeshi navy relocated the group from camps in Cox’s Bazar to Bhasan Char, which is in the Bay of Bengal and 30 kilometers from the mainland.

Bangladesh says it has built housing units and infrastructure on Bhasan Char for 100,000 refugees to take the pressure off Cox’s Bazar, which already hosts more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees. The Rohingya are members of an ethnic and religious minority group who fled violence and persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine State during a military crackdown in 2017.

Two similar relocation efforts took more than 3,440 Rohingya Muslims to the island in December. But the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is concerned about the island’s vulnerability to severe weather and flooding.

“A total of 1,776 Rohingyas have been relocated to Bhasan Char,” Rear Admiral Mozammel Haque, Chattogram area commander of the navy, told Arab News. “They were brought to Chattogram from the Cox’s Bazar camp on Thursday and stayed here in the transit camp for one night. At around 9:45 a.m., four ships carrying the Rohingyas started sailing toward the island,” he said, adding that another group of 1,500 refugees would be transported to Bhasan Char on Saturday.

The UNHCR has been voicing its concerns about whether the relocation is not only safe, but voluntary.

“We are aware of reports that the government of Bangladesh may soon relocate another group of refugees to Bhasan Char,” Mostafa Mohammad Sazzad Hossain, UNHCR spokesman in Dhaka, told Arab News. “The UN has not been part of this process.”

He said the UN had asked to conduct an assessment on the safety and sustainability of life on Bhasan Char, but that the agency had still not received government permission to carry out the evaluation.

“We emphasize that all movements to Bhasan Char must be voluntary and based upon full information regarding the conditions of life on the island and the rights and services that refugees will be able to access there,” Hossain added.

Authorities said the Rohingya were happy to start their new lives on the island.

According to Haque, those who left for Bhasan Char on Friday seemed “very excited for having the new home.”

“It was like a picnic to them,” he added. “The newly arrived Rohingyas have already received the keys for their homes in the island. We will provide them with cooked food for the next three days and after that all the families will begin cooking at their home since every family is provided with a cylinder gas stove.”

The Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC), the government body overseeing the wellbeing of Rohingyas at Cox’s Bazar, said refugees had shared their good experiences from the island with others.

“Rohingyas who are already in Bhasan Char have shared their good experiences over living conditions in the island with their relatives at Cox’s Bazar refugee camp,” RRRC additional commissioner Mohammad Shamsuddouza told Arab News. “It inspired the new batches to come up for the relocation and we organized the relocation accordingly,” he said, adding that everything was on a voluntary basis. “With their personal belongings many of them carried chicken and goats to travel with the ship since there are huge scopes of livelihood in the island.”

Some 30 local aid agencies are supporting the refugees on the island.

Dr. Mohammad Arfin Rahman, a medical officer at the NGO Gonoshasthaya Kendra, told Arab News that advanced medical facilities should reach Bhasan Char soon, while a 20-bed government-run health complex was currently available to them on the island.


Iceland elects Europe’s first female-majority parliament

Iceland elects Europe’s first female-majority parliament
Updated 10 sec ago

Iceland elects Europe’s first female-majority parliament

Iceland elects Europe’s first female-majority parliament
REYKJAVIK, Iceland: Iceland has elected a female-majority parliament, a landmark for gender equality in the North Atlantic island nation, in a vote that saw centrist parties make the biggest gains.
After all votes were counted Sunday, female candidates held 33 seats in Iceland’s 63-seat parliament, the Althing. The three parties in the outgoing coalition government led by Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir won a total of 37 seats in Saturday’s vote, two more than in the last election, and appeared likely to continue in power.
The election makes Iceland the only country in Europe, and one of a handful in the world, with a majority of female lawmakers. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Rwanda leads the world with women making up 61 percent of its Chamber of Deputies, with Cuba, Nicaragua and Mexico narrowly over the 50 percent mark. Worldwide, the organization says just over a quarter of legislators are women.
The milestone for women comes despite a poor outcome for parties on the left, where female candidates are more often frontrunners.
Politics professor Silja Bara Omarsdottir said the gender quotas implemented by left-leaning parties for the past decade had managed to create a new norm across Iceland’s political spectrum.
“It is no longer acceptable to ignore gender equality when selecting candidates,” she said.
Opinion polls had suggested a victory for left-leaning parties in the unpredictable election, which saw 10 parties competing for seats. But the center-right Independence Party took the largest share of votes, winning 16 seats, seven of them held by women. The centrist Progressive Party celebrated the biggest gain, winning 13 seats, five more than last time.
Before the election, the two parties formed Iceland’s three-party coalition government, together with Jakobsdottir’s Left Green Party. Her party lost several seats, but kept eight, outscoring poll predictions.
The three ruling parties haven’t announced whether they will work together for another term, but given the strong support from voters it appears likely. It will take days, if not weeks, for a new government to be formed and announced.
Climate change had ranked high on the election agenda in Iceland, a glacier-studded volcanic island nation of about 350,000 people in the North Atlantic. An exceptionally warm summer by Icelandic standards — with 59 days of temperatures above 20 C (68 F) — and shrinking glaciers have helped drive global warming up the political agenda.
But that didn’t appear to have translated into increased support for any of the four left-leaning parties that campaigned to cut carbon emissions by more than Iceland is committed to under the Paris Climate Agreement.
Among incoming members of parliament are the oldest and youngest lawmakers ever to take a seat in Iceland: 72-year-old burger joint owner Tomas Tomasson and 21-year-old law student Lenya Run Karim, a daughter of Kurdish immigrants who is from the anti-establishment Pirate Party.
“I want to improve Iceland’s treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers,” she told The Associated Press, vowing to speak up for young people at parliament. “Our ideas need to be heard more.”

UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact

UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact
Updated 26 September 2021

UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact

UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact
  • The Taliban wrote to the UN requesting to address the UNGA that is underway in New York
  • They argue they have all the requirements needed for recognition of a government

NEW YORK: It’s been little more than a month since Kalashnikov-toting Taliban fighters in their signature heavy beards, hightop sneakers and shalwar kameezes descended on the Afghan capital and cemented their takeover. Now they’re vying for a seat in the club of nations and seeking what no country has given them as they attempt to govern for a second time: international recognition of their rule.
The Taliban wrote to the United Nations requesting to address the UN General Assembly meeting of leaders that is underway in New York. They argue they have all the requirements needed for recognition of a government. The UN has effectively responded to the Taliban’s request by signaling: Not so fast.
Afghanistan, which joined the UN in 1946 as an early member state, is scheduled to speak last at the General Assembly leaders’ session on Monday. With no meeting yet held by the UN committee that decides challenges to credentials, it appears almost certain that Afghanistan’s current ambassador will give the address this year — or that no one will at all.
The UN can withhold or bestow formal acknowledgement on the Taliban, and use this as crucial leverage to exact assurances on human rights, girls’ access to education and political concessions. This is where the power — and relevance, even — of the 76-year-old world body still holds.
Afghanistan is a good, and perhaps extreme, representative case study of precisely why the United Nations was founded in the aftermath of World War II, said Rohinton Medhora, president of the Center for International Governance Innovation in Canada.
“If you’re the UN and you want to represent the family of nations, then you want absolutely everyone of the family there — even you know, the distant cousin that not everyone’s proud of,” he said. “So the UN needs Afghanistan and countries to demonstrate the value of many of its operations.”
In Afghanistan, the United Nations can deploy the weight of its vast aid and development programs to show just how crucial its often underfunded agencies are in providing stability and security. The country is facing multiple humanitarian crises and near-total poverty due to fallout from the political situation.
There are already growing calls for aid to be contingent on ensuring girls’ access to education. Despite promises to be inclusive and open, the Taliban have yet to allow older girls back to school, have curtailed local media freedoms and returned to brutal practices like publicly hanging dead bodies in city squares.
“Taliban does not represent the will of the Afghan people,” Afghanistan’s currently accredited ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Nasir Andisha, told The Associated Press.
If the United Nations recognizes the Taliban’s claim to power, Andisha said, then it sends a corrosive message to others — be it in Yemen or in Myanmar — that they can take up guns, create violence, join with US-designated terrorist groups.
“I think for the world, for the United Nations, it’s time to use this as a leverage,” Andisha said.
The Taliban’s appointed UN representative, Suhail Shaheen, a former negotiator and political spokesman, told The Associated Press that his government should be admitted into the club of nations and that “all borders, territory and major cities of Afghanistan are in our control.”
“We have support of our people and because of their support, we were able to continue a successful struggle for independence of our country which culminated in our independence,” he said. “We have all the requirements needed for recognition of a government. So we hope the UN as an neutral World Body recognize the current government of Afghanistan.”
More than a dozen ministers in the all-Taliban Cabinet are on a UN blacklist, including the group’s foreign minister, whom Andisha and other Afghan diplomats abroad are refusing to speak to.
Andisha was serving in Geneva under the US-backed government of Ashraf Ghani when the president fled Afghanistan Aug. 15 to seek refuge in the United Arab Emirates as the Taliban encircled the capital. Ghani’s government swiftly fell thereafter.
Andisha is still holding meetings with representatives from countries around the world, imploring them to push for the resuscitation of intra-Afghan peace talks. He wants the United Nations to make clear that joining its ranks is not only about “holding a country under the barrels of your guns and having enough population taken hostage.”
Meanwhile, Qatar has urged countries not to boycott the Taliban, and Pakistan called on nations to avoid isolating the Taliban, and to incentivize them to hold to their promises of renouncing terrorism and being inclusive.
The United States, which withdrew all its forces from the country last month in a chaotic airlift that ended America’s “forever war,” says it is critical that the international community remains united in ensuring the Taliban meets a range of commitments before granting legitimacy or support beyond humanitarian aid.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this is the message he delivered to the UN Security Council and others on the sidelines of the General Assembly this week.
The US has “significant leverage when it comes to the Taliban,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Friday. “But we have all the more leverage when we work in coordination and in harmony with our allies and partners around the globe,” he added.
Medhora, of the Center for International Governance Innovation, said the UN has levers it can use through its various agencies, such as UNICEF, which focuses on children, UNHCR, which assists refugees, and the World Food Program, all “where the actual work of the UN gets done.” This is another area where the United States has major sway as the the largest donor to the United Nations, contributing nearly one-fifth of funding for the body’s collective budget in 2019, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
In multiple UN speeches this past week, a number of world leaders mentioned Afghanistan, including US President Joe Biden and Afghanistan’s neighbors, such as Pakistan, Iran and Uzbekistan.
Enayat Najafizada, who runs an independent think tank in Kabul that monitors security issues in Afghanistan’s provinces, said the UN should also facilitate negotiations between Afghan groups and bring the various countries with a history of meddling in the nation on board for the sake of regional security.
“Without forming an inclusive government, the country will move to a civil war,” said Najafizada, founder of The Institute of War and Peace Studies.
Although what comes next for Afghanistan is far from certain, it is clear the Taliban do not want to be seen as global pariahs, said Kamal Alam, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
“They want a seat at the UN They want to go to Davos. They like the private jet lifestyle,” he said, referring to the group’s political elite who reside in exile in Qatar.
“But that’s only the political leaders. The foot soldiers on the ground, there’s no such thing as ‘the new Taliban’,” he said. “There is no new Taliban. Everything they’re doing is a tactic to get recognition as well as not be isolated.”


British police make ‘significant’ arrest over Muslim teacher’s death

British police make ‘significant’ arrest over Muslim teacher’s death
Updated 26 September 2021

British police make ‘significant’ arrest over Muslim teacher’s death

British police make ‘significant’ arrest over Muslim teacher’s death
  • Nessa, 28, was found dead in Kidbrooke, southeast London, on Sept. 17
  • The Metropolitan Police force said a 36-year-old man was arrested overnight in southern England

LONDON: Police in Britain investigating the murder of Sabina Nessa, a teacher who was found dead in a southeast London park last weekend, said they arrested a 36-year-old man on Sunday.
Primary school teacher Nessa, 28, was killed after leaving her home to go to a bar just a five-minute walk away, in the latest case to galvanise public concern about women's safety in the UK.
Detectives from London's Metropolitan Police took the suspect into custody in the early hours of Sunday at an address in East Sussex, a county southeast of the British capital.
Detective Chief Inspector Neil John, from the Met's specialist crime command, called the arrest a "significant development".
The Met initially said the man was 38 years old, but later clarified that he is 36.
Two other men arrested this week on suspicion of murder have been released pending further investigation.
Hundreds of people held a vigil on Friday evening in the southeast London neighbourhood of Kidbrooke, where Nessa lived and her body was discovered last Saturday.
The murder echoes the high-profile killing in March of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, which focused attention on what is being called an epidemic of violence against women.


UK could be powered by giant Moroccan renewable energy farm

UK could be powered by giant Moroccan renewable energy farm
Updated 26 September 2021

UK could be powered by giant Moroccan renewable energy farm

UK could be powered by giant Moroccan renewable energy farm
  • Xlinks proposal would see solar, wind farm the size of London attached to national grid
  • $22bn scheme would include 3,200 km undersea cable linking Britain to North Africa

LONDON: A plan has emerged to import renewable electricity to the UK from a giant wind and solar farm in Morocco, connected to the British mainland via a giant undersea cable.

Dave Lewis, former CEO of retail giant Tesco, is heading a bid by energy startup Xlinks to provide up to 8 percent of the UK’s power needs from a site in southern Morocco.

The proposed location, in Guelmim-Oued Noun, would cover an area the size of Greater London, and hosts consistently sunny and windy weather, making it optimal to install wind and solar farms.

It would be linked to the UK via a power cable over 3,800 km in length, installed off the coasts of Portugal, Spain and France, with the whole project estimated to cost around £16 billion ($22 billion).

However, Lewis said the plan would only become viable with a guarantee from the British government, which has not yet been forthcoming.

“It’s completely consistent with (Prime Minister) Boris Johnson’s energy strategy,” he told The Times. “It’s renewables, but it’s renewables at a lower cost and more reliable (than current options), so what’s not to like?

“But it will require the government to step forward in a leadership role and engage with an innovative project, because they’ve not seen one like this before.”

The emergence of the plan comes as the UK faces an energy crisis, with prices increasing, difficulties in fuel supply chains, and talks ongoing about approving construction of new nuclear power plants to meet demand.

The UK is also struggling to keep pace with its own commitments to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

On Friday, Johnson addressed the UN in New York where, ahead of the UK’s hosting of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, he said it is “time for humanity to grow up” on energy production and climate change.

The UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy told The Times it is “aware” of the Xlinks proposal and is “keeping the project under review.”


Taliban ask airlines to resume international flights to Afghanistan

Taliban ask airlines to resume international flights to Afghanistan
Updated 26 September 2021

Taliban ask airlines to resume international flights to Afghanistan

Taliban ask airlines to resume international flights to Afghanistan
  • A limited number of aid and passenger flights have been operating from Kabul airport

The Taliban government in Afghanistan appealed on Sunday for international flights to be resumed, promising full cooperation with airlines and saying that problems at Kabul airport had been resolved.
The statement from the foreign affairs ministry comes as the new administration has stepped up efforts to open up the country and gain international acceptance following the collapse of the Western-backed government last month.
A limited number of aid and passenger flights have been operating from the airport. But normal commercial services have yet to resume since it was closed in the wake of the chaotic evacuation of tens of thousands of foreigners and vulnerable Afghans that followed the Taliban’s seizure of the capital.
The airport, which was damaged during the evacuation, has since been reopened with the assistance of technical teams from Qatar and Turkey.
While some airlines including Pakistan International Airlines have been offering limited services and some people have been able to get places on flights, prices have been reported to be many times higher than normal.
Foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi said the suspension of international flights had left many Afghans stranded abroad and also prevented people from traveling for work or study.
“As the problems at Kabul International Airport have been resolved and the airport is fully operational for domestic and international flights, the IEA assures all airlines of its full cooperation,” he said, using an abbreviation for Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban’s term for their new government.
Since taking power, the Taliban have grappled with a severe economic crisis and have faced pressure on issues ranging from girls’ education to allegations of reprisals against former officials and others associated with the previous government.