UN says migrants detained in Libya face ‘extremely inhumane’ conditions

Migrants are returned to the shore in Tripoli, Libya, on July 21, 2021 after they were intercepted by Libya's coast guard on four boats in the Mediterranean Sea. (International Organization for Migration photo via AP)
Migrants are returned to the shore in Tripoli, Libya, on July 21, 2021 after they were intercepted by Libya's coast guard on four boats in the Mediterranean Sea. (International Organization for Migration photo via AP)
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Updated 23 July 2021

UN says migrants detained in Libya face ‘extremely inhumane’ conditions

UN says migrants detained in Libya face ‘extremely inhumane’ conditions
  • Humanitarian experts warn that those in detention centers suffer abuse, violence forced labor and lack of food and water
  • Report states that the improved Libyan security situation is encouraging growing numbers of people to try to reach Europe by sea

NEW YORK: A growing number of migrants and refugees attempting to reach Europe from Libya are being intercepted or rescued and returned to the north African country, where they are locked up in overcrowded detention centers.

In these facilities they face abuse, violence, forced labor and are deprived of food, water and sunlight, according to a report published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Some go missing, raising fears that they are being preyed on by human traffickers.

These risks, combined with extreme temperatures during a heatwave in Libya that has caused power outages across the country, mean that more than 6,170 migrants and refugees currently in detention centers are living in “extremely inhumane” conditions, the OCHA said.

Between the start of this year and June 30 more than 14,700 migrants and refugees have been intercepted or rescued at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya, already surpassing the total for the whole of 2020. In June alone, more than 4,500 people were picked up, while hundreds more perished at sea.

The slow pace of Libya’s recovery from years of conflict and political instability, and the effects of the pandemic on the local economy, are also affecting the plight of migrants in Libya.

According to the International Organization for Migration, the majority of migrants in Libya are from Egypt, Sudan, Niger, Chad and Nigeria. All in all, 53 nationalities are represented among the 600,000 migrants currently in Libya. Last year, the largest numbers of migrants arriving in Italy by sea were from Bangladesh, Tunisia and Cote d’Ivoire.

Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and the chaos of the civil war that followed, growing numbers of migrants have used the country as a departure point in their attempts to reach Europe by sea. But with the security of European borders increasingly tight since the 2016 migration crisis, many end up stranded.

While the current number of migrants is still lower than pre-pandemic levels, the increase this year has been fueled by the formation in March of the provisional Libyan Government of National Unity, and the improved security situation as the October 2020 ceasefire agreement in the country continues to hold.

“The continuing departures from Libya highlight the need for a predictable rescue and disembarkation mechanism along the central-Mediterranean route, with immediate effect and in full compliance with international human rights principles and standards,” said OCHA.


How viable is the Kurds’ autonomous territory in northeast Syria?

Members of the Syrian Kurdish internal security services known as “Asayish” march in a procession ahead of the body of their fallen comrade Khalid Hajji. (AFP/File Photo)
Members of the Syrian Kurdish internal security services known as “Asayish” march in a procession ahead of the body of their fallen comrade Khalid Hajji. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 11 min 12 sec ago

How viable is the Kurds’ autonomous territory in northeast Syria?

Members of the Syrian Kurdish internal security services known as “Asayish” march in a procession ahead of the body of their fallen comrade Khalid Hajji. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Bashar Assad appears uninterested in a more decentralized state in which the Kurds have greater autonomy
  • America’s botched Afghanistan exit might work in the Kurds’ favor if Biden wants to avoid similar scenes in Syria

MISSOURI, USA: Ilham Ahmed, head of the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has been lobbying Moscow and Washington to support Kurdish representation in the long-stalled, UN-backed Syrian peace process.

Ahmed, who has visited both capitals in recent weeks, also wants the country’s Kurdish-run region to be exempted from sanctions imposed under the 2019 Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, the US legislation that sanctioned the regime of President Bashar Assad for war crimes against the Syrian people.

But what are the Syrian Kurds hoping for, precisely, and how viable are their proposals?

Russian jets, Iran-backed fighters, Turkish-supported insurgents, Islamist radicals, US troops and Syrian government forces, as well as the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), operate across the patchwork of territories that constitute northern Syria.

The US views the YPG as a key ally in the fight against Daesh in northeastern Syria while Russia has forces in the area to support President Assad.

While some media outlets reported that Ahmed, as the president of the executive committee of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), was lobbying for American or Russian support for the creation of a breakaway state, the Syrian Kurds are not actually pushing for such a maximalist goal.

The Syrian Kurdish parties are sympathetic to the ideology of jailed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan. They say they reject nationalism, secession and statism in general, in line with Ocalan’s post-2001 writings.

At the same time, however, Syrian Kurdish organizations appear to be establishing all the trappings of their own separate state in the territory they control.

Their military forces — including the SDF, the YPG and the YPJ, the YPG’s all-female militia — are working assiduously to establish and maintain their monopoly on the use of force in the northeast.

They have clashed not only with Turkish forces and various Islamist extremist groups in the area, but also on occasion with Kurdish armed groups, the military forces of the Assad regime, Free Syrian Army rebels and others.

A member of the Kurdish internal security services known as Asayish stands guard during a demonstration by Syrian Kurds against the Turkish assault on northeastern Syria and in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in Syria's northeastern city of Qamishli. (AFP/File Photo)

Competing political parties in the territories under their control have likewise faced pressure, or outright bans, as the SDC and its ally, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), seek to bring everyone under the same institutional and governing structures that they created and dominate.

In some ways the Kurds of the SDC and PYD have proven to be very liberal, happily welcoming Arab tribes, Christians, Yezidis, Armenians, Turkmen and other groups and ethnicities into their ranks and governing structures.

However, they appear much less accepting and tolerant of those who seek to operate outside of the “democratic autonomy” political umbrella they have established.

With their own security forces, political institutions, schools and a variety of party-established civil-society organizations, it does at times look as though the Syrian Kurds are intent on creating their own separate state. But what choice did they have after the outbreak of civil war in Syria in 2011?

The Assad regime had brutally repressed Kurds for decades prior to the war. After Assad withdrew his forces and much of the Syrian government’s personnel from northeast Syria early in the conflict, to focus on the western and southern parts of the country where the rebel threat appeared the greatest, someone had to fill the resultant vacuum.

Syrian Kurdish women carry party flags, as they take part in a rally in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the People's Protection Forces. (AFP/File Photo)

PKK-aligned Syrian Kurdish groups moved in to defend the area against the Daesh and other extremist groups that were trying to take over. They fought extremely hard against the radical Islamists, handing Daesh its first defeat, in Kobani in 2014.

Freed from the regime’s iron grip for the first time in their lives, the Kurds seized the opportunity to establish Kurdish and other minority-language programs, cultural centers, schools and institutions.

Fearing the malign “divide and conquer” tactics of neighboring powers, the new Syrian Kurdish authorities rejected attempts by other Kurdish parties, particularly those under the influence of Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional government, and Arab rebel groups to establish competing parties and militias in their hard-won territory.

Authorities in Turkey, meanwhile, were concerned by what they saw as an emerging PKK-controlled proto-state on their southern border. Through three military incursions in the last five years that displaced hundreds of thousands of ethnic Kurds, Ankara seized hundreds of kilometers of the border strip and pushed around 30 km into northern Syria.

In 2018, Moscow appeared to greenlight the Turkish invasion of Afrin, which at the time was under SDF/YPG/PYD control, withdrawing its troops and allowing Turkish jets to operate in air space previously controlled by Russia.

Woman watch from a rooftop as US troops patrol in 2020 along the streets of the Syrian town of Al-Jawadiyah and meet the inhabitants, in the northeastern Hasakeh province, near the border with Turkey. (AFP/File Photo)

The following year, Washington appeared to do the same, withdrawing US troops from the Tal Abyad area on the border with Turkey just before the Turkish invasion.

These incursions have left the Syrian Kurdish administration in a serious bind. Without American support and the presence of a token US tripwire force, Turkey could well expand its area of control in northern Syria.

Just this week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was determined to eliminate alleged threats originating in northern Syria and that a suspected YPG attack that killed two Turkish police officers in Azaz was “the final straw.”

Meanwhile, the Assad regime appears uninterested in any proposals for a “more decentralized Syrian state” in which parts of the northeast would remain nominally a part of the state but actually fall under Syrian Kurdish control.

Ahmed’s recent diplomatic forays have therefore focused on Moscow and Washington. In the former, the Syrian Kurds hope to convince the Russians to cajole the Assad regime into some sort of a compromise that would safeguard as much autonomy in northeastern Syria as possible. In the latter they aim to secure a US commitment not to abandon them again.

Cars drive past election campaign billboards depicting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, a candidate for the upcoming presidential vote, in the capital Damascus, on May 24, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

Ahmed outlined her hopes during a conference hosted by the Washington Institute on Sept. 29.

“The Syrian Democratic Council seeks a lasting political solution to the conflict, advocating internal dialogue and, ultimately, political and cultural decentralization that respects the country’s diversity and bolsters economic development,” she said.

“Continued support from our partner, the US, is crucial to this mission. The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria faces numerous obstacles, including insecurity, poverty, foreign intervention, and terrorism.

“In addition, the Geneva peace process and constitutional process have stalled. The US could help alleviate these issues in the pursuit of a more stable Syria free of despotism, proxy conflicts and terror.”

America’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan in August undoubtedly will have unnerved Syrian Kurds already apprehensive about their own future. Assad, Turkey and Daesh would all welcome a similar US withdrawal from northeastern Syria.

It is unlikely the “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria,” the governing body of which is the SDC, would be able to hold up against such combined pressures.

US troops patrol along the streets of the Syrian town of Al-Jawadiyah. (AFP/File Photo)

However, the botched American withdrawal from Afghanistan might actually work in Syrian Kurds’ favor, as the Biden administration will probably try to avoid a similar embarrassment in Syria any time soon.

Following meetings in Washington last month with representatives of the White House, State Department and Pentagon, Ahmed seems to have received a reassuring response.

“They (the Americans) promised to do whatever it takes to destroy Islamic State (Daesh) and work to build infrastructure in northeastern Syria,” she told the Reuters news agency. “They said they are going to stay in Syria and will not withdraw — they will keep fighting Islamic State.”

She added: “Before, they were unclear under Trump and during the Afghan withdrawal, but this time they made everything clear.”

With no change of attitudes in Damascus or Ankara, the Syrian Kurds are left with little choice but to continue to rely on the American presence, cooperation and support. At best, they can extend the status quo and the longevity of their precarious autonomy.

If they can convince Washington and Russia to help them reopen the crossings on the border with Iraq, exempt them from the sanctions designed to target the Assad regime, and allow the delivery of international aid directly to their enclave, rather than being routed through Damascus with the result that it rarely reaches the northeast, then the political and economic situation will improve.

Without a more durable political solution on the horizon, this is probably the best the Syrian Kurds can hope for.

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* David Romano is Thomas G. Strong professor of Middle East politics at Missouri State University


Thousands of pro-military protesters rally against Sudan government

Thousands of pro-military protesters rally against Sudan government
Updated 16 October 2021

Thousands of pro-military protesters rally against Sudan government

Thousands of pro-military protesters rally against Sudan government
  • Saturday’s demonstrations were organized by a splinter faction of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC)
  • FFC is a civilian alliance which spearheaded the anti-Bashir protests and became a key plank of the transition

KHARTOUM: Thousands of pro-military Sudanese protesters took to the streets Saturday demanding the dissolution of the transitional government, saying it had “failed” them politically and economically.
The protests came as Sudanese politics reels from divisions among the factions steering the rocky transition from two decades of iron-fisted rule by Omar Al-Bashir, who was ousted by the army in April 2019 in the face of mass protests.
Saturday’s demonstrations were organized by a splinter faction of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), a civilian alliance which spearheaded the anti-Bashir protests and became a key plank of the transition.
“We need a military government, the current government has failed to bring us justice and equality,” said Abboud Ahmed, a 50-year-old protester near the presidential palace in central Khartoum.
The official SUNA news agency reported that protesters had traveled in by truck from Khartoum’s outskirts and from neighboring states.
Critics alleged that the protests involved sympathizers of the Bashir regime, which was dominated by Islamists and the military.
Banners called for the “dissolution of the government.” Protesters chanted “one army, one people” and “the army will bring us bread.”
“We are marching in a peaceful protest and we want a military government,” said housewife Enaam Mohamed.
On Friday, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok warned that the transition is facing its “worst and most dangerous” crisis.
The mainstream faction of the FFC said: “The current crisis is not related to dissolution of the government of not.
“It is engineered by some parties to overthrow the revolutionary forces... paving the way for the return of remnants of the previous regime.”
Support for the transitional government has waned in recent months in the face of a tough package of IMF-backed economic reforms, including the slashing of fuel subsidies and a managed float of the Sudanese pound.
Protests have rocked eastern Sudan where demonstrators have blocked trade through the key hub of Port Sudan since September.
On September 21, the government said it thwarted a coup attempt which it blamed on both military officers and civilians linked to Bashir’s regime.


Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure

Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure
Updated 16 October 2021

Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure

Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure
  • The families’ statement was apparently meant to counter a video released by their spokesman on social media Friday in which he calls on Judge Tarek Bitar to step down
  • The spokesman could not be reached for comment and it was unclear if he had made the video under pressure

BEIRUT: Families of the Beirut blast victims on Saturday reaffirmed their support for the judge leading the investigation into the tragedy, days after deadly clashes in the capital between those backing him and those demanding his removal from the case.  

The families’ statement was apparently meant to counter a video released by their spokesman late on Friday in which he called on Judge Tarek Bitar to step down.

The families said the spokesman, Ibrahim Hoteit, had not coordinated with them and that the video had taken them by surprise.

Some of them said the video “may have been filmed under threat” as Hoteit was reading from a written statement.

William Noun, one of the families’ representatives, said: “We do not blame him. This is not his language, but he lives in Hezbollah's security square.”

Thursday saw gun battles erupt on Beirut’s streets between rival camps over Bitar’s role. At least six people were killed and dozens were wounded.  

Lebanese Justice Minister Henry El-Khoury said on Saturday that he stood by Bitar and that the judge had the right to summon whoever he wanted in the case.

The minister also said he did not have the authority to replace Bitar and that he faced no pressure to do so, media reported.

There was a meeting between Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the president of the Supreme Judicial Council, Judge Suhail Abboud, top prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oueidat, and El-Khoury on Saturday to discuss Bitar’s case.

It was decided that Bitar would be invited to a meeting on Tuesday with the Supreme Judicial Council.

A judicial source told Arab News: “Judge Abboud is committed to judicial, not political, approaches to resolving the current problem."

The Council of Ministers cannot dismiss Bitar from the port explosion probe. It requires the minister of justice, along with the Supreme Judicial Council, to remove him and appoint another investigator.

During the meeting, Mikati stressed that “the full file of what happened is with the security services under the supervision of the competent judiciary.”

Mikati, according to his office, also said the government was “keen not to interfere in any file related to the judiciary, and that the judicial authority must take whatever measures it deems appropriate.”

Ministers from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement decided not to attend any Cabinet session unless two demands were resolved. One was the removal of Bitar from the blast probe and the second was arresting those responsible for triggering the deadly fighting on Thursday. They have both accused the Lebanese Forces party of being behind the violence.

Bitar had summoned three ministers for questioning during a period in which they did not enjoy immunity. He issued an arrest warrant in absentia against former Minister Ali Hassan Khalil for not appearing before him.

The Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar reported that some MPs “stayed in their homes based on advice given to them by some security services, and to avoid any dangers they might be exposed to in the street.”

Charles Jabbour, head of the media and communications wing of the Lebanese Forces party, told Arab News: “Yes, this advice was given to the MPs of the Lebanese Forces. There is fear of them being exposed to assassination and murder. Hezbollah previously practiced this method. The solution of the emerging crisis requires that Hezbollah hand over its weapons to the state because it is about time to do that.”

He also commented on the embarrassment facing President Michel Aoun because of his duty to defend Bitar’s work and the independence of the judiciary while approving the demand of his ally Hezbollah to dismiss Bitar from the position of judicial investigator. “The president must bear his responsibility to implement justice. This has been our original demand and we are still insisting on it,” he said.

Free Patriotic Movement MP Asaad Dergham said there was disagreement between the movement and Hezbollah on the issue of the Beirut blast.

He said: “If Hezbollah's goal is to change a specific reality and impose opinion by force, then this has its caveats. If the tensions remain, this will certainly affect the relationship between Hezbollah and the movement, because it is not enough to be strong only in the front line, there is a need for strength in the ranks of the base.”

The blast on Aug. 4, 2020, killed more than 200 people. It wounded thousands more and devastated swathes of the capital.  


Iranian court upholds new 1-year sentence for Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Iranian court upholds new 1-year sentence for Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Updated 16 October 2021

Iranian court upholds new 1-year sentence for Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Iranian court upholds new 1-year sentence for Zaghari-Ratcliffe
  • Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has already served a five-year prison sentence in Iran
  • Her lawyer said the appeals court upheld a verdict issued earlier this year sentencing her to another year

TEHRAN: An Iranian appeals court has upheld a verdict sentencing an Iranian-British woman long held in Tehran to another year in prison, her lawyer said Saturday.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has already served a five-year prison sentence in the Islamic Republic. Her lawyer Hojjat Kermani told The Associated Press that the appeals court upheld a verdict issued earlier this year sentencing her to another year.
The verdict additionally includes a one-year travel ban abroad, meaning she cannot leave Iran to join her family for nearly two years.
In April, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced for allegedly spreading “propaganda against the system” when she participated in a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009.
Kermani said Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “concerned” when he informed her about the appeals court decision. He said his client is in touch with her family.
State media in Iran did not immediately acknowledge the ruling, apparently issued after a closed-door hearing.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny. While employed at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, she was taken into custody at the Tehran airport in April 2016 as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family.
Rights groups accuse Iran of holding dual-nationals as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies. Iran does not recognize dual nationalities, so detainees like Zaghari-Ratcliffe cannot receive consular assistance.
Authorities furloughed Zaghari-Ratcliffe from prison because of the surging coronavirus pandemic and she has been restricted to her parents’ Tehran home since.


Arab coalition says 160 Houthis killed, 11 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia

Arab coalition says 160 Houthis killed, 11 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia
Updated 16 October 2021

Arab coalition says 160 Houthis killed, 11 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia

Arab coalition says 160 Houthis killed, 11 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia
  • Abedia is a district in Yemen’s Marib which has been under a Houthi siege since Sept. 23
  • The coalition added that it continues to support the Yemeni army in its efforts to protect civilians from Houthi violations

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Saturday that 160 Houthis had been killed and 11 military vehicles destroyed in operations in Abedia.

The coalition said it had carried out 32 operations targeting Houthis in Marib’s Abedia district over the past 24 hours.

Abedia is a district in Yemen’s Marib which has been under a Houthi siege since Sept. 23, hindering the movement of civilians and impeding humanitarian aid flows.

The coalition added that it continues to support the Yemeni army in its efforts to protect civilians from Houthi violations.

The coalition announced on Friday that it had killed over 180 Houthis and destroyed ten military vehicles in similar operations in Abedia.