UN urges Dhaka to relocate Rohingya to island in ‘phased manner’

UN urges Dhaka to relocate Rohingya to island in ‘phased manner’
Image shows a housing complex where Rohingya refugees are being relocated in the Bhashan Char island of Noakhali District. (File/AFP)
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Updated 17 April 2021

UN urges Dhaka to relocate Rohingya to island in ‘phased manner’

UN urges Dhaka to relocate Rohingya to island in ‘phased manner’
  • Report follows a three-day study of remote Bhasan Char by UN experts

DHAKA: The UN has followed up a review of a remote island facility set up by Bangladesh for Rohingya refugees by calling on Dhaka to carry out the relocation process in a “phased manner.”
The recommendation comes despite warnings by rights groups that the site is vulnerable to severe weather and flooding.
A UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesperson in Dhaka, Charlie Goodlake, told Arab News on Saturday that the UN team is recommending that any future relocations “are undertaken in a gradual and phased manner.”
The UN planned to hold “further discussions” with Dhaka on the initiative, he said.
“It would help to ensure that the governance structure, facilities and services on the island meet the needs of Rohingya refugees living there,” Goodlake added.
The UN report released to the media late on Friday comes a month after 18 UN experts conducted their first visit to Bhasan Char island on March 17.
Soon after the UN’s visit, a 10-member team of diplomats — comprising heads of missions of embassies and delegations from Turkey, the EU, US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands — also visited the island on April 3 to review the facilities.
Bangladesh has moved 18,500 Rohingya refugees from crammed camps in its Cox’s Bazar district to Bhasan Char, dubbed Rohingya island, since December last year.
It wants to eventually relocate 100,000 of the more than a million refugees from the overcrowded camps to the remote island, located in the Bay of Bengal and 60 km from the mainland.
Bhasan Char was built by Dhaka in 2006 using Himalayan silt and sediment to ease the overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar district. The project cost more than $360 million.
Each Bhasan Char house has five-square-meter concrete rooms with small windows, and a toilet for 11 people.
However, the UNHCR said it was concerned about the island’s vulnerability to severe weather and flooding, leading to a UN proposal in December 2019 for a “technical assessment” of the site.
The three-day visit in March marked a breakthrough in the proposal and follows attempts by the UN refugee agency to visit the island amid concerns about whether the relocation of the Rohingya refugees to the island was safe.
Similar concerns were raised by several international rights organizations, which urged Bangladesh not to relocate the Rohingya to Bhasan Char, warning that the island was located in an area prone to cyclones and could be submerged during a high tide.
Dhaka said that it had set up 120 cyclone shelters — built more than a meter above ground — which could be used as hospitals, schools and community centers throughout the year.
However, in its latest report, the UN said it “recognizes the prevailing humanitarian and protection needs of the Rohingya refugees already relocated to Bhasan Char” and proposed holding more talks on the process with Dhaka soon.
“We hope the discussions will take place as early as possible. The discussions would be on the UN’s future operational engagement on Bhasan Char, including on the policies that govern the life and wellbeing of Rohingya refugees on the island,” Goodlake told Arab News.
He said the UN team recognizes the extensive investments made by the Bangladesh government in Bhasan Char, “including the facilities and infrastructure and other offshore coastal protection measures.”
However, he said that to further mitigate risks, the UN is calling for an “emergency management plan in the case of severe weather events, including the pre-positioning of essential supplies and goods on the island.”
The UN report also recommended that Bhasan Char be managed by “civilian authorities in an inclusive and consultative manner.”
On Friday, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen said that the UN had made “very good and positive observations” in its latest report.
In previous comments to Arab News, Momen also urged the UN to start its operations on Bhasan Char as it would be a “huge task to manage 100,000 refugees on the island.”
Bangladesh is currently hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya at Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, believed to be the world’s largest refugee settlement.
The Rohingya are members of an ethnic and religious minority group, many of whom fled persecution in Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be “Bengalis” from Bangladesh, even though their families have lived in the country for generations.
Almost all have been denied citizenship for decades, and are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.


Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’
Updated 34 min 6 sec ago

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’
  • Lithuania calls on the EU to take action to halt the growing number of people illegally crossing its border
  • Minister said more than 4,000 migrants have entered Lithuania illegally this year

LONDON: Lithuania accused Belarus on Wednesday of using migrants from the Middle East and Africa as a “political weapon” and urged the EU to intervene.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was allowing flights with what he claims are tourists from Iraq, Syria and African countries who then illegally cross the border into Lithuania in an attempt to seek asylum in the EU.

More than 4,000 migrants have already entered Lithuania in this way so far this year, compared with only about 80 in the whole of 2020, Landsbergis told the website Politico.

“This is not the 2015 migration crisis,” he said. “This is not people fleeing the war in Syria. This is actually a hybrid weapon, a political weapon one might say, that is (being) used to change the European policy.”

He warned that a recent decision by Belarus to increase the number flights from Iraq to Minsk could lead to more than 6,000 migrants crossing the border into Lithuania every week.

“There are currently 24 flights to Minsk from Istanbul and eight flights from Baghdad each week,” said Landsbergis. “If you consider that each of these flights can transport up to 170 people, and if you fill all the seats with asylum seekers, the capacity is up to 6,000 people a week — or even more because new flights from Erbil have been announced on Monday. So there is a possibility for Lukashenko to really up the ante.”

The foreign minister called for increased international pressure on Minsk through further sanctions and by lobbying the home countries of migrants to take action.

“The EU could tell countries such as Iraq that there’s a list of instruments — restrictions of visa programs, for example — that we will use if they don’t stop these flights to Minsk,” Landsbergis said.

“We know that these people are not tourists coming to visit Belarus.”

The number of migrants crossing into Lithuania from Belarus could exceed 10,000 by the end of the summer, he warned, and added that this number could dramatically increase as Lukashenko approaches African governments “to build up new routes.”

“So what we are seeing might be just the beginning,” he said.

The foreign minister said he has discussed the issue with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and other EU officials who “understand the situation,” but he stressed that more must be done.

“I think we need to really step up our game,” Landsbergis said. “Because at this point the message that we are sending (is) not sufficient to change the way things are.”

Lithuania has asked for an emergency meeting of EU interior ministers this month to agree assistance for the country, which is on the front line of a new migration crisis in Europe.

On Tuesday, Lithuanian authorities said they reserve the right to use force to prevent illegal immigration, and turned away 180 people attempting to enter the country. However, rights groups said all nations have an obligation to protect vulnerable people.

“Push backs of people seeking asylum are not compatible with the Geneva Convention on Refugee Status, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and other human rights instruments” Egle Samuchovaite, program director for Lithuania's Red Cross, told the Associated Press.

She added that refusing to allow vulnerable people to cross the border leaves them in an unsafe environment, trapped between two countries.

Lithuania has no physical barriers along its almost 700-kilometer border with Belarus.

The row over the latest actions of Belarus’s authoritarian president comes after the EU imposed sanctions on his country over an incident in May that was denounced as “state piracy,” in which a Belarusian warplane was scrambled to intercept an aircraft so that a dissident journalist could be arrested.


Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’

Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’
Updated 04 August 2021

Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’

Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’
  • Youngster stranded on Greek island has reportedly tried to hang himself twice
  • Alleging abuse including sexual assault, he wants to join his brothers in Britain

LONDON: An expert medical report has warned that a young asylum seeker who has been blocked from joining his brothers in Britain is at high risk of suicide.

Samir, whose name has been changed for his safety and security, is stranded in Greece away from his family.

He fled his home country in 2019 after reportedly enduring torture and detention, and has been living alone on the island of Samos.

He was assessed by the Greek authorities last year as being 20 years old but maintained that he was a child.

He is appealing the decision, but was refused access to Britain by the Home Office, which denied him access to the family reunion process to join his two brothers. His brothers are both refugees in Britain, arriving in February this year.

His application was rejected because the Greek authorities determined that he was an adult, but Samir argues that he is 17.

Immigration authorities in Greece also said there was “insufficient” evidence of a close relationship between Samir and his family. His lawyers in Britain are challenging the decision on both grounds.

Samir previously told The Independent newspaper about the horrendous conditions he was facing on the fringe of his refugee camp, saying he was being bullied and abused, and enduring sexual assault from an older man.

Lawyers said he has tried to hang himself twice, and has had no access to any mental health support.

A medical report written by Prof. David Bell, one of the UK’s leading psychiatric experts in asylum and immigration, found that Samir is in a “complex chronic traumatized state.”

Bell assessed Samir via video link, writing that he suffers from a “severe depressive disorder.”

Bell concluded on July 29 that it is “clear” Samir will continue to suffer from his disorder “as long as he remains in this environment, regardless of any treatment he can receive.”

Bell added that Samir is within the worst 5 percent of the approximately 400 refugees he has assessed during his career.

He said in the report submitted to court in Britain that it is “absolutely essential” that Samir is “removed from this environment from a mental point of view as soon as possible” and “transferred to the UK to be with his brothers.”

Rebecca Chapman, Samir’s barrister, argued on Tuesday that the Home Office had failed to adequately consider his situation and vulnerabilities through its denial of his right to family life.

Representing the Home Office, lawyer Simon Murray disputed the accusations, saying the department’s decisions were made lawfully.

The asylum seeker’s UK-based solicitor, Rachel Harger of Bindmans Solicitors, said: “Samir is living out the reality of what it means to rely on so-called legal ‘safe’ pathways before entering the UK: Inordinate delays and relentlessly hostile litigation conduct from the Home Office.”

She added: “Notwithstanding the very real risk of physical harm Samir continues to face, there is likely to be a long term impact to his mental health as a consequence of living in a chronically traumatised state whilst in perpetual fear for over a year and a half. This cannot be considered a ‘safe’ route for Samir.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Protecting vulnerable children is an absolute priority for the government and in 2019, the UK received more asylum claims from unaccompanied children than any other European country, including Greece.

“As part of our New Plan for Immigration to fix the UK’s broken asylum system, we will continue to welcome people through safe and legal routes and prioritise those most in need.”


7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK

7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK
Updated 04 August 2021

7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK

7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK
  • Aya Hachem was ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ amid dispute between businesses
  • Family: ‘Words can’t describe the pain we’ve had to go through’

LONDON: Seven men have been convicted of murdering a Lebanese law student in Britain after she was shot in a drive-by shooting amid a dispute between rival tyre firms.

Aya Hachem, 19, was shot dead from a car in Blackburn, northern England, on May 17 last year while walking to collect groceries. 

The court heard that she was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” when Feroz Suleman, 40, was orchestrating an attempt to assassinate a rival businessman.

Law student Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020 in Blackburn, a town in northern England. (Lancashire Police)

Suleman was captured on CCTV cameras loitering outside RI Tyres to watch the shooting of Pachah Khan, who headed the neighboring Quickshine Tyres business.

Anthony Ennis, 31, drove past Khan’s premises three times with 33-year-old gunman Zamir Raja.

Their Toyota passed Quickshine Tyres for a fourth time at 3 p.m. when Raja opened fire at Khan, missing his first shot — which struck the window behind him — before firing a second round that hit Hachem.

The jury at Preston Crown Court found Suleman guilty of her murder and of the attempted murder of Khan. 

Raja and Ennis were also convicted of murder and attempted murder, alongside their accomplices Kashif Manzoor, 26, Ayaz Hussain, 35, Abubakr Satia, 32, and his brother Uthman Satia, 29.

The jury found 26-year-old Judy Chapman, Uthman’s girlfriend, guilty of manslaughter, but not guilty of Khan’s attempted murder.

 

Hachem had recently finished her second-year law exams at the University of Salford when she was murdered. She had planned to train as a barrister after completing her studies.

Her father Ismail emigrated to Britain 10 years ago. Hachem was one of four children, and was described by her parents as “the most loyal, devoted daughter.”

Her older brother Ibrahim said her death felt like “a piece of your soul that got taken away” as he heard of the court’s decisions. 

“After nearly a year and a half, they’ve got what they deserve,” he said. “They can’t hurt anyone any more. But my sister isn’t coming back. Words can’t describe the pain we’ve had to go through.”

A statement from the family welcoming the verdict said: “To our dear beautiful angel in heaven, we know you are in a better and more beautiful place.”

Hachem’s murderers will be sentenced on Thursday. Chapman is expected to be sentenced in October.


WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots
Updated 04 August 2021

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots
  • WHO chief called on countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change gear and ensure more vaccines to less wealthy states.
  • More than 4.25 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally

GENEVA: The WHO on Wednesday called for a moratorium on Covid-19 vaccine booster shots until at least the end of September to address the drastic inequity in dose distribution between rich and poor nations.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change gear and ensure more vaccines to less wealthy states.
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected,” Tedros told a press conference.
“We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries.”
More than 4.25 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally, according to an AFP count.
In countries categorized as high income by the World Bank, 101 doses per 100 people have been injected — with the 100 doses mark having been surpassed this week.
That figure drops to 1.7 doses per 100 people in the 29 lowest-income countries.
“Accordingly, WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September, to enable at least 10 percent of the population of every country to be vaccinated,” said Tedros.
“To make that happen, we need everyone’s cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines.”
Tedros said the G20 group of nations had a vital leadership role to play because those countries are the biggest producers, consumers and donors of Covid-19 jabs.
“It’s no understatement to say that the course of the Covid-19 pandemic depends on the leadership of the G20,” he said.


Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria

Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria
Updated 04 August 2021

Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria

Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria
  • At least seven people were killed in the attack and three were injured

BERLIN: German police have detained a Syrian man accused of war crimes for firing a rocket-propelled grenade into a group of civilians in Damascus in 2014, officials said Wednesday.

The suspect, identified only as Mouafak Al D. in line with German privacy laws, was detained in Berlin on Wednesday.

German federal prosecutors said he is suspected of firing an RPG at a group of people lining up for food aid in the Yarmouk district of Damascus, home to a large population of Palestinian refugees.

At least seven people were killed in the attack and three were injured, including a 6-year-old child.

The suspect is alleged to have been a member of the Free Palestine Movement, and previously of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Palestine General Command. Between July 2013 and April 2015 the groups exerted control of the Yarmouk refugee camp on behalf of the Syrian government.

Prosecutors said that in addition to war crimes, the suspect faces being charged with seven counts of murder and three counts of serious bodily harm.

A federal judge is expected to determine Wednesday whether the man shall remain under arrest for the duration of the pre-trial investigation.