‘Europe or death’: West Africans risk all to leave Tunisia

‘Europe or death’: West Africans risk all to leave Tunisia
African migrants gather at at home in the Tunisian coastal city of Sfax, about 270km southeast of the capital, on April 22, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 04 May 2021

‘Europe or death’: West Africans risk all to leave Tunisia

‘Europe or death’: West Africans risk all to leave Tunisia
  • So far this year at least 453 migrants have died trying to reach Europe from North Africa, the International Organization for Migration says

SFAX: Aminata Traoure survived a shipwreck in which she lost her baby daughter, her sister and her niece but she is determined to embark again on the illegal crossing to Europe.
For the 28-year-old from Ivory Coast, the perilous Mediterranean crossing from the North African nation of Tunisia is her only way to build a better future.
“Leaving Tunisia could ease my pain,” said Traoure.
Her attempt ended in tragedy on March 9, when the rickety boat she had boarded capsized along with another in the Mediterranean, and she was flung into the waters with around 200 others.
Among the 39 who drowned was Sangare Fatim, her 15-month daughter.
Traoure said she would like to return home to Ivory Coast, 3,000 km southwest across the sands of Sahara, but she can’t afford it.
The price of the ticket — plus a fine for staying three years illegally in Tunisia — costs more than a crossing to Europe.
“I’ll have to try again,” she said.
The number risking the dangerous sea crossing from Tunisia is rising and for the first time the majority on the boats are not Tunisians.
During the first quarter of 2021, more than half of those arriving in Italy from Tunisia were mostly citizens from sub-Saharan African countries, according to the Tunisian rights organization FTDES.
So far this year at least 453 migrants have died trying to reach Europe from North Africa, the International Organization for Migration says.
Around 100 of those had set off from Tunisia’s port of Sfax.
“Despite the shipwrecks, despite our mourning families, we are always ready to risk our lives,” said Prista Kone, 28, also from Ivory Coast.
She attempted the crossing last year, but her boat was intercepted by Tunisian authorities.
Kone arrived in Tunisia in 2014 with a degree in business management and plans to pursue her studies.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The number risking the dangerous sea crossing from Tunisia is rising and for the first time the majority on the boats are not Tunisians. • During the first quarter of 2021, more than half of those arriving in Italy from Tunisia were mostly citizens from sub-Saharan African countries.

But without money, she found work as a housekeeper, she said.
She also discovered “the extent of racism” in Tunisia.
“My boss asked me not to touch her children because I am black!” Kone said.
“When something was missing in the house, she accused me of stealing it.”
On the streets “people called me ‘monkey’ and threw stones at me,” she added.
It is a common story among her compatriots, packed into a small room in a working-class district in Sfax.
“If these people survived a shipwreck at noon, they would be ready to participate in another crossing at 1 p.m.,” said Oumar Coulibaly, head of the association of Ivorians in Sfax.
“For them it is Europe or death!“
Coulibaly believes there are some 20,000 people from sub-Saharan nations in Tunisia, nearly two-thirds from Ivory Coast.
“They represent the hopes of their families,” Coulibaly said.
“Some came to continue their studies, to work, others were promised huge salaries, but ... they were lied to.”
Without employment permits, many work illegally and are grossly underpaid, all while facing regular abuse by police or citizens.
FTDES president Alaa Talbi said migrants who have come for work in Tunisia want to leave, because “neither the legal framework nor the cultural framework favors integration.”
Deals between Italy and Libya — another key jumping off point for Europe — have likewise “complicated departures,” with more migrants trying to leave from Tunisia, he said.
Tunisia’s economy has lurched from crisis to crisis since the country’s 2011 revolution, most recently due to the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown measures.
With seas calmer in the looming summer months, many expect more Tunisians to risk the crossing too.
According to Catholic aid agency Caritas, people smugglers are luring migrants with tales that accommodation and jobs are now easy to find in Europe, claiming the virus has decimated the population.
Sozo Ange, a 22-year-old Ivorian mother, has been in Tunisia for two years.
For her, staying means — at best — life as a cleaning lady, earning enough to share a tiny room with several others and surviving off “soup from out-of-date turkey,” she said.
“I’ll leave here with my family, it is make or break,” she said, breastfeeding her son.
Her husband, Inao Steave, 34, is employed in a bakery — where he is worked harder than his Tunisian colleagues.
“I can’t let my child grow up like this,” he said.
“We are aware of the risks, but we have no choice — we will die or live in Europe!“


US names ambassador Richard Norland as special envoy for Libya

US names ambassador Richard Norland as special envoy for Libya
Updated 14 min ago

US names ambassador Richard Norland as special envoy for Libya

US names ambassador Richard Norland as special envoy for Libya
  • Norland will lead US diplomatic efforts for a negotiated political solution in the North African country

WASHINGTON: The United States on Monday named Richard Norland, US ambassador to Libya, as the US special envoy for the country, the US State Department said, to lead diplomatic efforts for a negotiated political solution in the North African country.
The appointment comes as the Presidency Council, which functions as Libya’s head of state for now, was chosen through a United Nations-facilitated process that also selected a new Government of National Unity that took office in March, replacing rival administrations in east and west.


Iraqi journalist targeted in shooting undergoes brain surgery

Ahmed Hassan, a journliat who worked for Alforat TV, was shot outside his home in Diwaniya province. (Al-Forat TV)
Ahmed Hassan, a journliat who worked for Alforat TV, was shot outside his home in Diwaniya province. (Al-Forat TV)
Updated 35 min 25 sec ago

Iraqi journalist targeted in shooting undergoes brain surgery

Ahmed Hassan, a journliat who worked for Alforat TV, was shot outside his home in Diwaniya province. (Al-Forat TV)
  • The attack on Ahmed Hassan came exactly 24 hours after anti-government campaigner Ihab Al-Wazni was shot dead

BAGHDAD: A prominent Iraqi journalist, shot by gunmen Monday in southern Iraq, has undergone brain surgery and is in a critical condition, a Baghdad hospital said.

The attack on Ahmed Hassan came exactly 24 hours after anti-government campaigner Ihab al-Wazni was shot dead, also in the south, sending protest movement supporters onto the streets to demand an end to official impunity.

Hassan was shot several times by an assailant as he arrived home at night near Diwaniyah, in images captured on a surveillance camera as in a string of previous attacks.

He had to be transported to a hospital in the capital that specialises in neurological surgery.

"Ahmed Hassan has been operated on and transferred to intensive care where he will be kept under constant surveillance for a critical period of two weeks," hospital spokesman Mohammed Mouyed said.

He said that Hassan, who works for Al-Forat satellite television, underwent several procedures.

On Sunday, Wazni was shot dead in an ambush outside his home in the city of Karbala.

Around 30 activists have died in targeted killings and dozens of others have been abducted or survived attacks since October 2019.

None of these attacks have been claimed but activists have repeatedly blamed armed groups linked to Iran who wield considerable influence in Iraq.

Authorities have consistently failed to publicly identify or charge the perpetrators of these killings.

Al-Forat's owner Ammar al-Hakim, a prominent Shiite politician, Monday urged the government to "protect freedom of speech" and to "urgently" shed light on the assassinations.

After Wazni's murder, Al-Beit Al-Watani (National Bloc), a movement born out of the anti-government protests, said it would boycott parliamentary elections slated for October.


Families of Iran massacre victims urge world leaders to protect graves

Families of Iran massacre victims urge world leaders to protect graves
Updated 55 min 48 sec ago

Families of Iran massacre victims urge world leaders to protect graves

Families of Iran massacre victims urge world leaders to protect graves
  • In 1988, security forces executed tens of thousands of political prisoners
  • ‘It’s time for the UN to hold the regime’s leaders to account,’ opposition figure tells Arab News

LONDON: The families of thousands of Iranians executed and buried in mass graves have written to the UN and world leaders urging them to prevent Tehran’s ongoing destruction of their last resting place.

In 1988, Tehran executed thousands of political prisoners aligned with the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), a political group that had participated in the 1979 revolution but was later targeted by the regime.

At the time, Amnesty International said the executions were “a premeditated and coordinated policy which must have been authorized at the highest level of government.”

Estimates for the exact number of people killed range from 4,500 in just one summer to as many as 30,000.

Now, more than 1,100 families of those executed have petitioned the UN and world leaders as their loved ones’ graves are now being destroyed or used as mass graves for religious minorities.

In a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella opposition group incorporating the PMOI, said: “Most of us have forgotten where exactly our loved ones are buried, many of them in mass graves. Paranoid of the repercussions of international scrutiny into this horrific atrocity, the Iranian regime has embarked on erasing the traces of the evidence on the massacre by destroying the mass graves where they are buried.”

The NCRI has published a list of over 5,000 names of people it says were executed during the 1988 massacre.

It said the ongoing destruction and repurposing of the mass graves represents another abuse against a people already suffering from the loss of loved ones — many of whom were tortured before their death.

“Previously, (Tehran) destroyed or damaged the mass graves of the 1988 victims in Ahvaz, Tabriz, Mashhad, and elsewhere. These actions constitute the collective torture of thousands of survivors and families of martyrs. It is another manifest case of crime against humanity,” the NCRI said.

The letter urged Guterres, relevant UN bodies and international human rights organizations “to prevent the regime from destroying the mass graves, eliminating the evidence of their crime, and inflicting psychological torture upon thousands of families of the victims throughout Iran.”

Ali Safavi, a member of the PMOI and the NCRI’s foreign affairs committee, told Arab News: “The mass executions of tens of thousands of dissidents in the 1980s, in particular the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners … is without doubt one of the greatest crimes against humanity since World War II.” 

He lamented the international community’s “appeasement” of the regime. Whenever countries ignore Tehran’s human rights abuses, it only serves to embolden the regime, said Safavi.

“It’s time for the UN, as the highest world authority entrusted with upholding human rights, to break its silence, launch an international inquiry into this heinous crime and hold the regime’s leaders to account,” he added.


EU’s Borell says Iran nuclear talks moving to crucial stage

Josep Borrell is chairing the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna. (AFP/File Photo)
Josep Borrell is chairing the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 10 May 2021

EU’s Borell says Iran nuclear talks moving to crucial stage

Josep Borrell is chairing the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna. (AFP/File Photo)
  • “I am optimistic,” EU foreign affairs chief said

VIENNA: Negotiations in Vienna between world powers and Iran are moving into a crucial stage and the next few weeks will be critical to saving their 2015 nuclear deal, the European Union's top diplomat said on Monday.

US officials returned to Vienna last week for a fourth round of indirect talks with Iran on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its limits on uranium enrichment about a year later.

“I am optimistic, there is a window of opportunity that will stay open for a couple of weeks, (until) end of the month,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who is chairing the talks, told a news conference in Brussels.

“But a lot of work is needed, time is limited and I hope that the negotiations will enter into a phase of nonstop (talks) in Vienna,” he said following a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

The crux of the 2015 agreement was that Iran committed to rein in its uranium enrichment program to make it harder to obtain the fissile material for a nuclear weapon, in return for relief from US, EU and UN sanctions.

Tehran denies having nuclear weapons ambitions.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described the negotiations as tough and laborious, but added that all participants were conducting them in a constructive atmosphere.

“However, time is running out. We aim for the full restoration of the Iran nuclear deal as this is the only way to guarantee that Iran will not be able to come into possession of nuclear weapons,” Maas said in Brussels. 


Gaza explosion kills 9 Palestinians as Hamas and Israel exchange fire

Gaza explosion kills 9 Palestinians as Hamas and Israel exchange fire
Updated 10 May 2021

Gaza explosion kills 9 Palestinians as Hamas and Israel exchange fire

Gaza explosion kills 9 Palestinians as Hamas and Israel exchange fire

JERUSALEM: Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired rockets toward the Jerusalem area and southern Israel on Monday, carrying out a threat to punish Israel for violent confrontations with Palestinians in Jerusalem.
The Gaza health ministry said nine Palestinians were killed in Israeli air strikes in the Palestinian territory after the barrages against Israel. The Israeli military issued no immediate comment on any action it had taken in the enclave.
Rocket sirens sounded in Jerusalem, in nearby towns and in communities near the Gaza minutes after an ultimatum from the enclave’s ruling Islamist Hamas group demanding Israel stand down forces in the al Aqsa mosque compound and another flashpoint in the holy city expired.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from the rocket fire in Israel, but local media reported that a house in the Jerusalem hills had been damaged, in the most serious outbreak of hostilities with Hamas in months.
Along the fortified Gaza-Israeli border, a Palestinian anti-tank missile fired from the tiny coastal territory struck a civilian vehicle, injuring one Israeli, the military said.
Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant grup claimed responsibilty for the rocket attacks. Israeli media reports said more than 30 rockets were fired.
“This is a message the enemy should understand well,” said Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing.
As Israel celebrated “Jerusalem Day” earlier on Monday, marking its capture of eastern sections of the holy city in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, violence erupted at the al Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third most sacred site.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said more than 300 Palestinians were injured in clashes with police who fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas in the compound, which is also revered by Jews at the site of biblical temples.
The skirmishes, in which police said 21 officers were also hurt, at al Aqsa had died down by the time Hamas issued the 6 p.m. (1500 GMT) ultimatum.
The hostilities caught Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an awkward time, as opponents negotiate the formation of a governing coalition to unseat him after an inconclusive March 23 election.
For Hamas, some commentators said, its challenge to Israel was a sign to Palestinians, whose own elections have been postponed by President Mahmoud Abbas, that it was now calling the shots in holding Israel accountable for events in Jerusalem.
Recent clashes in Jerusalem have raised international concern about wider conflict, and the White House called on Israel to ensure calm during “Jerusalem Day.”
The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem has also been a focal point of Palestinian protests during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Several Palestinian families face eviction, under Israeli court order, from homes claimed by Jewish settlers in a long-running legal case.
In an effort to defuse tensions, police changed the route of a traditional Jerusalem Day march, in which thousands of Israeli flag-waving Jewish youth walk through the Old City. They entered through Jaffa Gate, bypassing the Damascus Gate outside the Muslim quarter, which has been a flashpoint in recent weeks.
Police rushed the marchers to cover at Jaffa Gate after the sirens went off.
Israel views all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the eastern part that it annexed after the 1967 war in a move that has not won international recognition. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a state they seek in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.