Home truths: Young Afghans mull migration as Taliban gains ground

Home truths: Young Afghans mull migration as Taliban gains ground
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Mahnoosh Amiri during a visit to Simple Cafe in uptown Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 10, 2021. (AN photo by Sayed Salahuddin)
Home truths: Young Afghans mull migration as Taliban gains ground
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Feraidoon Hasas, a cafe manager in Kabul, looks on as a young man plays the guitar at the eatery, frequented mainly by young educated Afghans, on July 10, 2021. (AN photo by Sayed Salahuddin)
Home truths: Young Afghans mull migration as Taliban gains ground
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Young men play snooker in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, on July 10, 2021. (AN photo by Sayed Salahuddin)
Home truths: Young Afghans mull migration as Taliban gains ground
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Mina Rezayee, (right), owner of Simple Cafe, a well-known eatery in Kabul, with a friend, on July 10, 2021. (AN photo by Sayed Salahuddin)
Home truths: Young Afghans mull migration as Taliban gains ground
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Amiri said she's worried about the future and was looking to leave Afghanistan if the Taliban return to power. (AN photo by Sayed Salahuddin)
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Updated 14 July 2021

Home truths: Young Afghans mull migration as Taliban gains ground

Home truths: Young Afghans mull migration as Taliban gains ground
  • Many fear freedom and liberties ‘could be undercut’ as Taliban advance and US-led forces leave Afghanistan

KABUL: In a dimly lit basement of a posh cafe in Kabul, a group of well-dressed young men and women break out into laughter while smoking shisha pipes over a warm meal of bread and kebabs, as loud music plays in the background.

They are interrupted by a power cut, a chronic problem in the Afghan capital, before the cafe owner cranks up the generator and the music resumes.

Several said a regular meeting with friends was part of their routine but voiced concern that “the freedom and liberties they currently enjoy could be undercut” as the Taliban gain ground and US-led NATO forces leave Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of occupation.

“The Taliban’s return will mean the end of our freedom,” Shaima Rezayee, a 22-year-old university student and part of the group at the Simple Cafe, told Arab News.

Rezayee said many modern professionals were weighing in on the danger of the Taliban’s rapid advancements while she was looking to “settle elsewhere” if the group returned to power.

“When they would not let us enjoy our rights, I might have to leave this country,” she said.

Rezayee is a part of Afghanistan’s young and highly educated generation that grew up under the shield of the US military – they have travelled the world, earned master’s degrees from acclaimed universities, and are “ambitious for a better and free life in this conservative society.”

Nearly everyone at the cafe said they had heard “stories from their parents and relatives” about the Taliban’s “repressive” government and its harsh policies for women when it ruled Afghanistan for five years until it was toppled from power by Washington in late 2001.

Since then, Afghan women have regained the right to education, to vote, and to work outside their homes. Still, it is not an easy place to be a woman, where forced marriages, domestic violence and maternal mortality continue to be prevalent across the country, particularly in its rural areas.

However, access to public life has improved, especially in Kabul, where thousands of women work, while more than a quarter of Parliament is female.

But fears are mounting over the potential degradation of hard-won rights as the Taliban overrun several areas in northern and northeastern Afghanistan, which was the bastion of the anti-Taliban alliance in the late 1990s.

Last week, State Minister for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Affairs Ghulam Bhauddin Jailani said that “over 32,400 families had been forced to leave their homes in various regions because of the violence in the past one and half month.”

“We have provided some of them some aid but require assistance for a long time,” he told reporters.

According to the government’s Refugee and Repatriations Ministry, more than 5,600 Afghan families had fled to neighboring areas in the past 15 days, as the Taliban seized control of 85 percent of the territory while reassuring the international community that “citizens would be safe under their rule.”

“The Islamic Emirate is against no one and wants to treat everyone with respect,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News.

He added that “young Kabulis who fear a Taliban takeover have been brainwashed by propaganda,” reiterating that the rights of all Afghans, including the youth, “will be preserved under Islamic laws.”

“The young generation is our asset and (we) consider them as our future. They are talented, have earned up-to-date knowledge of the world, they will face no problem of any sort,” Mujahid said.

However, residents such as university student Mahnoosh Amiri are not convinced.

“If the situation changes (leading to the Taliban’s return), the educated people of my generation will leave,” Amiri told Arab News, adding that her father, a Russian technocrat, was more worried about her future.

“He is keen that at least me, my two sisters, and two brothers should leave now before it becomes difficult to do so,” she said, before returning to her meal at the Simple Cafe, regularly frequented by young Afghans.

The eatery is located in Kabul’s upmarket area of Karte Char, also known as Afghanistan’s “little Europe,” due to its affluent residents and surroundings.

Mina Rezayee, 32, who set up the cafe four years ago, lamented that business has been slow, partly due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, rising insecurity across the country, the exit of US-led troops and speculations about the Taliban returning.

Mina, who has a degree in economics, lived as a refugee in Iran for a few years, and “despite knowing how tough it would be to migrate and leave the business behind,” she hasn’t ruled out migrating again.

“If I cannot study, work and be here in my cafe, then this place will be like a prison to me. It is not an easy decision to leave, and I have bitter memories and experiences from migration, but we will have no other option,” she told Arab News.

Long before US President Joe Biden announced the exit of foreign forces in April, tens of thousands of Afghans had fled to Europe, Australia, Turkey and the US in search of a better future, prompted by a surge in violence in Afghanistan.

Even though Washington had said for years it would withdraw its troops, Biden’s no-strings-attached announcement caught many Afghans by surprise, mainly because a peace deal between the Taliban and Kabul government had yet to be signed, despite the ongoing intra-Afghan talks in Doha, Qatar.

Afghan soldiers have surrendered en masse since the start of the drawdown of foreign troops on May 1, handing over weapons and armored vehicles to the Taliban, while the insurgents consolidate their positions near provincial capitals, including Kabul.

A recent US intelligence assessment said that Kabul could fall to the Taliban within six months after Washington exited the country.

These warnings have led to a spike in the prices of passports and visas for certain countries as more affluent Afghans rush to leave.

Fatema Saadat, 30, who runs a private cleaning company with women workers, said the Taliban’s gains “would mean Afghanistan would become like a cage for us to breathe and work.”

“To live under such circumstances would be unbearable; I will leave too.”

Young model Nigara Sadaat, who was crowned Miss Afghanistan in 2020, said that an uptick in violence had already impacted the fashion and modelling industry and that she was “personally concerned” about the future of “artists” once the Taliban take over.

Fatema and Nigara’s views are a stark contrast from the sentiments expressed by women in the deeper pockets of Afghanistan.

Often dismissed as representing “only a small and privileged subset” of Afghanistan’s population of over 36 million, a July 6 study by the Afghanistan Analysts Network found that rural women were more concerned about sustainable peace, political stability and a reduction in violence in Afghanistan.

Amid the Taliban’s rapid territorial gains in recent weeks, Haroun Rahimi, a professor at the American University in Afghanistan, said hundreds had launched the Afghan Youth Movement for Peace to voice fears over the “loss of freedom.”

“Women, in particular, are afraid they won’t be able to go to school or work. This fear manifests itself in different forms: Some feel helpless, they are in despair, they don’t want to do anything, they just want to leave the country,” he told Arab News.

Others are more optimistic.

Feraidoon Hasas, a 23-year-old manager of Turk Cafe, said his business would “possibly be shut under the Taliban’s rule,” but prayed for the restoration of peace, recalling how his father would “praise the Taliban’s ability to implement the rule of law and uproot corruption to a large extent.”


Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case

Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case
Updated 10 sec ago

Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case

Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case
  • Prosecutors had sought a life sentence on nine charges
  • Rusesabagina’s trial began in February, six months after he arrived in Kigali on a flight from Dubai

KIGALI: A Rwandan court on Monday found Paul Rusesabagina, a one-time hotel manager portrayed as a hero in a Hollywood film about the 1994 genocide, guilty of being part of a group responsible for terrorist attacks.

“They should be found guilty for being part of this terror group — MRCD-FLN,” judge Beatrice Mukamurenzi said of 20 defendants including Rusesabagina. “They attacked people in their homes, or even in their cars on the road traveling.”

The case has had a high profile since Rusesabagina, 67, was arrested last year on arrival from Dubai after what he described as a kidnapping by Rwandan authorities.

Since being portrayed by actor Don Cheadle as the hero of the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” Rusesabagina emerged as a prominent critic of President Paul Kagame, based in the United States. He had denied all the charges against him, while his supporters called the trial a sham and proof of Kagame’s ruthless treatment of political opponents.

Prosecutors had sought a life sentence on nine charges, including terrorism, arson, taking hostages and forming an armed rebel group which he directed from abroad. After the announcement of the initial verdict, one of the defendants became ill, causing a short recess which delayed verdicts on other charges and sentencing.

Rusesabagina became a global celebrity after the film, which depicted him risking his life to shelter hundreds as the boss of a luxury hotel in the Rwandan capital Kigali during the 100-day genocide when Hutu ethnic extremists killed more than 800,000 people, mostly from the Tutsi minority.

Cheadle was nominated for an Oscar for the role. Rusesabagina used his fame to highlight what he described as rights violations by the government of Kagame, a Tutsi rebel commander who took power after his forces captured Kigali and halted the genocide.

Rusesabagina’s trial began in February, six months after he arrived in Kigali on a flight from Dubai. His supporters say he was kidnapped; the Rwandan government suggested he was tricked into boarding a private plane. Human Rights Watch said at the time that his arrest amounted to an enforced disappearance, which it called a serious violation of international law.


Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters

Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters
Updated 20 min 41 sec ago

Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters

Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters
  • Tens of thousands of Algerians fought with the French army in the war from 1954 to 1962
PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday asked for “forgiveness” on behalf of his country for abandoning Algerians who fought alongside France in their country’s war of independence.
Tens of thousands of Algerians fought with the French army in the war that pitted Algerian independence fighters against their French colonial masters from 1954 to 1962.
At the end of the war, the loyalist fighters known as “harkis” were left to fend for themselves, despite earlier promises that France would look after them.

Eight killed in Russian university shooting, gunman ‘liquidated’

Eight killed in Russian university shooting, gunman ‘liquidated’
Updated 20 September 2021

Eight killed in Russian university shooting, gunman ‘liquidated’

Eight killed in Russian university shooting, gunman ‘liquidated’
  • The gunman was identified as a student at the university
  • Gunman’s social media account posting indicated his actions had nothing to do with politics or religion but were motivated by hatred

MOSCOW: A student opened fire at a university in the Russian city of Perm on Monday, killing at least eight people and wounding several, law enforcement said.

The gunman was himself killed after the shootings at Perm State University, around 1,300km east of Moscow, Natalia Pechishcheva, a university spokesperson, said.

“He was liquidated,” she said. Footage from the scene showed his prone body on the ground outside.

Earlier media footage from the scene showed students jumping from first-floor windows to escape the building, landing heavily on the ground before running to safety.

Students built barricades out of chairs to stop the shooter from entering their classrooms, they said.

The gunman was identified as a student at the university, the Investigative Committee, that handles probes into major crimes, said.

“There were about 60 people in the classroom. We closed the door and barricaded it with chairs,” student Semyon Karyakin said.

Local media identified the gunman as an 18-year-old student who had earlier posted a social media photo of himself posing with a rifle, helmet and ammunition.

“I’ve thought about this for a long time, it’s been years and I realized the time had come to do what I dreamt of,” he said on a social media account attributed to him that was later taken down.

He indicated his actions had nothing to do with politics or religion but were motivated by hatred.

Russia has strict restrictions on civilian firearm ownership, but some categories of guns are available for purchase for hunting, self-defense or sport, once would-be owners have passed tests and met other requirements.

The shootings were the latest in a series.

Earlier this year a lone teenage gunman opened fire at a school in the city of Kazan in May, killing nine people and wounding many more.

That was Russia’s deadliest school shooting since 2018 when a student at a college in Russian-annexed Crimea killed 20 people before turning his gun on himself.

Russia raised the legal age for buying firearms from 18 to 21 after the Kazan shooting, but the new law has yet to come into force.


Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes
Updated 20 September 2021

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes
  • Up to a hundred public schools in areas considered ‘minimal risk’ for coronavirus transmission will be allowed to take part in the two-month trial

MANILA: The Philippines will reopen up to 120 schools for limited in-person classes for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in a pilot approved by President Rodrigo Duterte, officials said Monday.
While nearly every country in the world has already partially or fully reopened schools for face-to-face lessons, the Philippines has kept them closed since March 2020.
“We have to pilot face-to-face (classes) because this is not just an issue for education, it’s an issue for the children’s mental health,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told reporters.
“It’s also an issue for the economy because we might lose a generation if we don’t have face-to-face (classes).”
Under guidelines approved by Duterte Monday, up to a hundred public schools in areas considered “minimal risk” for virus transmission will be allowed to take part in the two-month trial.
Twenty private schools can also participate.
Classrooms will be open to children in kindergarten to grade three, and senior high school, but the number of students and hours spent in face-to-face lessons limited.
Schools wanting to take part will be assessed for their preparedness and need approval from local governments to reopen. Written consent from parents will be required.
“If the pilot class is safe, if it is effective, then we will gradually increase it,” said Education Secretary Leonor Briones.
Duterte rejected previous proposals for a pilot reopening of schools for fear children could catch Covid-19 and infect elderly relatives.
But there have been growing calls from the UN’s children fund and many teachers for a return to in-person learning amid concerns the prolonged closure was exacerbating an education crisis in the country.
It is not clear when the pilot will begin or which schools will be included.
A “blended learning” program, which involves online classes, printed materials and lessons broadcast on television and social media, will continue.
France Castro of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers said the decision was “long overdue.”
Fifteen-year-olds in the Philippines were at or near the bottom in reading, mathematics and science, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Most students attend public schools where large class sizes, outdated teaching methods, lack of investment in basic infrastructure such as toilets, and poverty have been blamed for youngsters lagging behind.


Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots

Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots
Updated 20 September 2021

Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots

Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots
  • Nearly half of Australia’s 25 million people is in lockdown after the Delta variant spread rapidly in Sydney and Melbourne

SYDNEY: Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) state on Monday reported its lowest rise in daily COVID-19 cases in more than three weeks as some lockdown restrictions were eased in Sydney, the state capital, amid higher vaccination levels.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said 935 new cases had been detected in the state, the lowest daily tally since Aug. 27, and down from 1,083 on Sunday. The state reported four more deaths.
“We’re feeling more positive than we have in a couple of weeks ... but I don’t want any of us to sit back and think the worst is behind us,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, warning of more deaths in the days ahead.
“Because we have seen the accumulation of so many cases, we know that October is going to be very challenging for our hospital system.”
Nearly half of Australia’s 25 million people is in lockdown after the Delta variant spread rapidly in Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, forcing officials there to abandon a COVID-zero target and shift to rapid vaccinations to ease curbs.
As the vaccine rollout gathers speed, with 53 percent of NSW’s adult population fully vaccinated, some restrictions were relaxed on Monday in 12 of the worst-hit suburbs in Sydney’s west. Time limits for outdoor exercise were lifted, while fully vaccinated people can gather outside in groups of five.
Neighboring Victoria state, which includes Melbourne, logged one new death and 567 new infections, its biggest daily rise this year, a day after revealing its roadmap back to freedom when vaccinations reach 70 percent, expected around Oct. 26.
So far, 44 percent of people in the state have been fully vaccinated, below the national average of 47 percent.
Meanwhile, several workers protested outside a union office in Melbourne against Victoria’s mandatory vaccination rule in the construction sector, local media reported.
The New Zealand Breakers basketball team, which play in Australia’s National Basketball League, released guard Tai Webster on Monday after he decided not to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Australia has largely lived in COVID-zero for much of the pandemic, recording 1,167 deaths and some 87,000 cases. About 56,000 cases have been registered since mid-June when the first Delta infection was detected in Sydney.
While NSW and Victoria bear the brunt of the Delta outbreak, most other states with little or no community transmission fear opening up too soon could overwhelm their hospital systems.