Home truths: Young Afghans mull migration as Taliban gains ground

Special 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)
Special 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)
Special 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)
Special 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)
Special 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.”


Greek police using migrants in roundup operations, investigation finds

Greek police using migrants in roundup operations, investigation finds
Updated 37 sec ago

Greek police using migrants in roundup operations, investigation finds

Greek police using migrants in roundup operations, investigation finds
  • Asylum seekers promised shelter for taking part in violent deportations, The Guardian reports

LONDON: Greek police are coercing asylum seekers into violently pushing back fellow migrants under the promise of temporary shelter, The Guardian reported.
In a joint investigation by the newspaper, together with Le Monde, Der Spiegel, ARD Report Munchen and Lighthouse Reports, evidence was obtained of operations launched by Greek police to transport migrants back to Turkey using threats and violence.
A group of six migrants hailing from Syria and Morocco said that they were recruited by a Syrian national living in a Greek police station. In return for taking part in anti-migrant operations and moving fellow migrants back to Turkey, they were promised police permission to stay for a month in Greece.
Local residents in Greek border villages confirmed that some migrants in the area work for the police, while two Greek officers confirmed the use of migrants in pushback operations.
One of the migrants used by police as part of the larger operation, Bassel, said that he spent three months in a cell before police used his English language skills to blackmail him.
Police threatened him with human smuggling charges and prison time unless he helped them push back other migrants crossing into Greece from Turkey.
“This work is very dangerous, also because of the enmity between the Greeks and the Turks,” he said.
Bassel has since been released and has left the country.
He described his traumatic ordeal as the “stage of slavery.”
Three other Syrians who were detained at a Greek border town said that they had paid $5,300 to be smuggled into the country from Turkey.
Upon arrival, however, they were threatened by a Syrian national into aiding police with violent roundup operations.
One of the Syrians was warned that he would  “vanish” if he returned to Istanbul.


Russia offensive will end when Ukraine surrenders: Kremlin

Russia offensive will end when Ukraine surrenders: Kremlin
The Kremlin said Tuesday that Russia would halt its offensive as soon as Ukraine surrenders. (AFP)
Updated 30 min 38 sec ago

Russia offensive will end when Ukraine surrenders: Kremlin

Russia offensive will end when Ukraine surrenders: Kremlin
  • “The Ukrainian side can stop everything before the end of today,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters

MOSCOW: The Kremlin said Tuesday that Russia would halt its offensive as soon as Ukraine surrenders, urging Kyiv to order its troops to lay down their arms.
“The Ukrainian side can stop everything before the end of today,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“An order for the nationalist units to lay down their arms is necessary,” he said, adding Kyiv had to fulfil a list of Moscow’s demands.
On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged world powers to do their utmost to help end Russia’s intervention by the end of the year.
He also said the time had not yet come to hold talks with Russia, as Kyiv is seeking to consolidate its positions, France said.
Asked to comment on Zelensky’s statements, Peskov said: “We are guided by the statements of our president — the special military operation is going according to plan and achieving its goals.”


G-7 leaders end summit pledging to hurt Russia economically

G-7 leaders end summit pledging to hurt Russia economically
Updated 19 min 34 sec ago

G-7 leaders end summit pledging to hurt Russia economically

G-7 leaders end summit pledging to hurt Russia economically
  • Leaders also agree on a ban on imports of Russian gold and to step up aid to countries hit with food shortages

ELMAU, Germany: Leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies struck a united stance to support Ukraine for “as long as it takes” as Russia’s invasion grinds on, and said they would explore far-reaching steps to cap Kremlin income from oil sales that are financing the war.

The final statement Tuesday from the Group of Seven summit in Germany underlined their intent to impose “severe and immediate economic costs” on Russia. It left out key details on how the fossil fuel price caps would work in practice, setting up more discussion in the weeks ahead to “explore” measures to bar imports of Russian oil above a certain level.

That would hit a key Russian source of income and, in theory, help relieve the energy price spikes and inflation afflicting the global economy as a result of the war.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to our unprecedented coordination on sanctions for as long as necessary, acting in unison at every stage,” the leaders said.

Leaders also agreed on a ban on imports of Russian gold and to step up aid to countries hit with food shortages by the blockage on Ukraine grain shipments through the Black Sea.

The price cap would in theory work by barring service provides such as shippers or insurers from dealing with oil priced above a fixed level. That could work because the service providers are mostly located in the European Union or the UK and thus within reach of sanctions. To be effective, however, it would have to involve as many consuming countries as possible, in particular India, where refiners have been snapping up cheap Russian oil shunned by Western traders. Details on how the proposal would be implemented were left for continuing talks in coming weeks.

Before the summit’s close, leaders joined in condemning what they called the “abominable” Russian attack on a shopping mall in the town of Kremechuk, calling it a war crime and vowing that President Vladimir Putin and others involved “will be held to account.”

The leaders of the US, Germany, France, Italy, the UK, Canada and Japan on Monday pledged to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes” after conferring by video link with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The summit host, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said he “once again very emphatically set out the situation as Ukraine currently sees it.” Zelensky’s address came hours before Ukrainian officials reported a deadly Russian missile strike on a crowded shopping mall in the central city of Kremenchuk.

From the secluded Schloss Elmau hotel in the Bavarian Alps, the G-7 leaders will move to Madrid for a summit of NATO leaders, where fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will again dominate the agenda. All G-7 members other than Japan are NATO members, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has been invited to Madrid.

Zelensky has openly worried that the West has become fatigued by the cost of a war that is contributing to soaring energy costs and price hikes on essential goods around the globe. The G-7 has sought to assuage those concerns.

While the group’s annual gathering has been dominated by Ukraine and by the war’s knock-on effects, such as the challenge to food supplies in parts of the world caused by the interruption of Ukrainian grain exports, Scholz has been keen to show that the G-7 also can move ahead on pre-war priorities.

Members of the Group of Seven major economies pledged Tuesday to create a new ‘climate club’ for nations that want to take more ambitious action to tackle global warming.

The move, championed by Scholz, will see countries that join the club agree on tougher measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the aim of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) this century compared with pre-industrial times.

Countries that are part of the club will try to harmonize their measures in such a way that they are comparable and avoid members imposing climate-related tariffs on each others’ imports.

Speaking at the end of the three-day summit in Elmau, Germany, Scholz said the aim was to “ensure that protecting the climate is a competitive advantage, not a disadvantage.”

He said details of the planned climate club would be finalized this year.


Erdogan says will meet Biden on sidelines of NATO summit

Erdogan says will meet Biden on sidelines of NATO summit
Turkey is a NATO member and could veto both countries’ applications at the summit. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 June 2022

Erdogan says will meet Biden on sidelines of NATO summit

Erdogan says will meet Biden on sidelines of NATO summit
  • Analysts believe the meeting could play a crucial role in lifting Turkey’s resistance to bids by Sweden and Finland to join the Western defense alliance

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he would meet US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid for talks on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Analysts believe the meeting could play a crucial role in lifting Turkey’s resistance to bids by Sweden and Finland to join the Western defense alliance in response to the war.
The two leaders have had a chilly relationship since Biden’s election because of US concerns about human rights under Erdogan.
“We spoke with Mr.Biden this morning and he expressed his desire to get together tonight or tomorrow. We said it was possible,” Erdogan said.
He was speaking to reporters before flying to Madrid for talks that will start with his meeting with the leaders of the two Nordic countries and the NATO secretary general.
Erdogan said he wanted to see the results of preparatory talks held on Monday in Brussels before deciding whether Sweden and Finland had done enough to lift his objection to their membership of the military alliance.
Turkey is a NATO member and could veto both countries’ applications at the summit.
“We are a 70-year-old member of NATO. Turkey is not a country that randomly joined NATO,” Erdogan said.
“We will see what point they (Finland and Sweden) have reached,” he added. “We do not want empty words. We want results.”
Ankara has accused Finland and more particularly Sweden of providing a safe haven for outlawed Kurdish militants, whose decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state has resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of lives.
The Turkish leader has also called on Sweden and Finland to lift arms embargoes imposed on Turkey in 2019 over Ankara’s military offensive in Syria.


China halves quarantine time for overseas travelers

China halves quarantine time for overseas travelers
Updated 28 June 2022

China halves quarantine time for overseas travelers

China halves quarantine time for overseas travelers
  • New guideline is drastic reduction from 21 days of quarantine and home monitoring combined

BEIJING: China on Tuesday reduced the length of mandatory quarantine for inbound travelers, in the biggest relaxation of entry restrictions after sticking to a rigid zero Covid policy throughout the pandemic.
The new guideline cuts the length of mandatory quarantine for overseas travelers to seven days plus three more of home monitoring — a drastic drop from about 21 days of quarantine and home monitoring combined.
China closed off its international borders at the beginning of the pandemic and the number of international flights is still tightly restricted in an effort to tamp down “imported” virus cases as the pandemic rages elsewhere.
Since then overseas arrivals have faced weeks of strict monitoring and costly quarantine in hotels and designated centers.
Under the latest Covid prevention and control policy guidelines announced by the National Heath Commission and the State Council, inbound travelers entering China will now be required to quarantine centrally for just seven days.
Starting from April, a growing number of “pilot” cities have already slashed mandatory centralized quarantine for overseas travelers to 10 days, with Beijing reducing quarantine as well last month.
However, scarce international flights are frequently subject to cancelations, as Beijing operates a “circuit breaker” system where routes are temporarily canceled if enough positive passengers are discovered on board.
According to the latest guidelines, the new quarantine requirement also applies to people identified as close contacts inside China, where strict quarantine is imposed on communities with positive cases.