Turkey accelerates security wall construction along Iranian border amid migrants’ flow

So far, 149 km of walls and barriers have been completed, spanning several border cities, including Agri, Hakkari, Igdir and Van. (AFP/File Photo)
So far, 149 km of walls and barriers have been completed, spanning several border cities, including Agri, Hakkari, Igdir and Van. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 29 July 2021

Turkey accelerates security wall construction along Iranian border amid migrants’ flow

So far, 149 km of walls and barriers have been completed, spanning several border cities, including Agri, Hakkari, Igdir and Van. (AFP/File Photo)
  • More safety measures, like watchtowers, wireless sensors and trenches, planned across border

ANKARA: In a bid to stop the flow of migrants, Ankara has decided to expand the construction of a security wall along its border with Iran to cover the entirety of the 295-km frontier amid rising public discontent after an increased number of Afghan migrants entered the country from Iran.

The Turkish government has reportedly been pursuing its wall project since 2017.

So far, 149 km have been completed, spanning several border cities, including Agri, Hakkari, Igdir and Van.

Over the recent weeks, thousands of Afghan migrants, as well as smugglers, have been increasingly using Turkey’s eastern border province of Van to reach Europe, and authorities have now focused their attention on constructing the wall along this city.

“So far, only a 3.5-km section of the structure has been completed,” said Van Gov. Mehmet Emin Bilmez.

More security measures, like watchtowers, wireless sensors and trenches, will also be installed across the length of the Iranian border after the rise in Afghan asylum-seekers fleeing the Taliban amid instability following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. More soldiers have also been deployed for border checks.

Sixty-four km of the wall between Van and Iran are set to be completed by the end of the year.

In the past, Turkey has accused Iran of providing a safe harbor for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members inside its territory and for turning a blind eye to their illegal crossing and smuggling attempts from the land border.

The hi-tech security wall is also related to Turkey’s cooperation with the EU to stifle immigration flows into EU countries under the 2016 EU-Turkey refugee deal.  Brussels agreed last month to allocate €3.5 billion ($4.2 billion) to help refugees in Turkey until 2023.

In a bid to halt new migration flows from Syria, Turkey has already built a land wall along its border with Syria, considered the world’s third-longest wall after the Great Wall of China and the US-Mexico border wall.

Turkey hosts more than 4 million refugees, mostly Syrians, but Afghans comprise the second-largest refugee population.

The new wave of migration from Afghanistan via Iran has triggered reactions from Turkish society’s anti-refugee segments and sparked debate on the effectiveness of border security policies.

Ankara-based Research Center on Asylum and Migration President Metin Corabatir believes that building walls will not solve the problem of illegal immigration.

“It is a disincentive to a certain extent, but it is impossible to cover the entire 295-km border with Iran with walls, considering the physical characteristics of the region. People take all sorts of risks to reach Greece despite the border control mechanisms of the EU,” he told Arab News.

From a humanitarian perspective and considering international refugee rights, Corabatir noted that it is not possible to deny people fleeing repressive regimes a sanctuary, although the international community asserts that they are mainly economic migrants seeking decent living standards.

“In addition to Afghans, Iranians fleeing from their regime, as well as Iraqis, are also attempting to cross the border from Van. We cannot push them back if they have a reasonable asylum request,” he said.

“There is a need for controlled management and identification of those who are escaping security risks. We cannot close our doors to them,” said Corabatir.

Although there are no official statistics regarding Afghan migrants in Turkey, the number is believed to be more than 500,000 with the recent flows, with hundreds more crossing the border each day.

Unlike Syrian refugees, most Afghans are mainly trying to reach European shores rather than settling in Turkey, a fact that concerns the EU. 

“The Turkish government committed to improving conditions in the removal centers for refugees in its latest human rights action plan,” Corabatir said.

“There are also plans to encourage the voluntary return of Afghan refugees by providing them with a certain amount of money to help them establish a life back in their home country,” he added.

Turkish authorities caught over 25,000 Afghan migrants in the first half of this year. The situation is becoming more and more polarized, however, with leaders of the opposition parties urging the government to send them back to their country and blaming the government for “turning Turkey into an open prison for refugees.”

Experts also note that ensuring the security of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul is of key importance in order to be able to deliver humanitarian aid to the country and to prevent Taliban insurgents from expanding their zones of influence as US troops pull out.

Negotiations over Turkey’s proposal to operate and secure the key international airport in Afghanistan continue.


Geagea says delaying vote would condemn Lebanon to ‘slow death’

Geagea says delaying vote would condemn Lebanon to ‘slow death’
Updated 8 sec ago

Geagea says delaying vote would condemn Lebanon to ‘slow death’

Geagea says delaying vote would condemn Lebanon to ‘slow death’
  • Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces, pointed the finger at Hezbollah and its ally President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement for moves to delay the parliamentary election
  • Asked whether a postponement would lead to more fighting after clashes last month between the Lebanese Forces and Hezbollah, Geagea, said: ‘Not fighting, but to more slow death’
MAARAB, Lebanon: One of Lebanon’s main Christian politicians accused foe Hezbollah and its allies of working to postpone a parliamentary election set for March over fears of electoral losses, warning such a move would condemn Lebanon to a “slow death.”

Western donors that Lebanon is relying on to stem its financial implosion have said the vote must go ahead. Politicians from all sides, including Hezbollah, have repeatedly said it should happen otherwise the country’s standing would be dealt a further blow.

But Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces, pointed the finger at Hezbollah and its ally President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement for moves to delay it “because they are near certain that they will lose their parliamentary majority.”

Aoun said this month he would not sign authorization for the vote, approved by parliament, to be held on March 27 as the date was too early.

Asked whether a postponement would lead to more fighting after clashes last month between the Lebanese Forces and Hezbollah, Geagea, said: “Not fighting, but to more slow death.”

“With the current way things are going, state institutions — and so the state — is dissolving day by day,” he said at his residence in the mountains overlooking the coastal town of Jounieh.

Lebanon has no reliable opinion polling but should the election take place, Geagea’s party is widely expected to make gains, with the Free Patriotic Movement expected to lose seats, potentially robbing Hezbollah of its majority.

Without an election to shake up parliament “you will see more of the same,” Geagea said. The United Nations says the economic meltdown has left nearly 80 percent of people in poverty.

Lebanon’s government, formed from most major political parties in September following a 13-month period of political paralysis, has already not convened in nearly 50 days amid a push by Hezbollah and its allies to remove the judge investigating the deadly August 2020 Beirut port blast.

Geagea’s Lebanese Forces is the second largest Christian party in parliament. It has stayed out of the cabinet since a popular uprising against the sectarian elite in 2019.

But the group was thrust back into the headlines when tensions over the probe erupted into the worst street violence in more than a decade last month, reviving memories of the country’s 1975-90 civil war.

Seven people, all followers of Hezbollah and its ally Amal, were killed.
Hezbollah accused the Lebanese Forces of ambushing its supporters at the protest. Geagea confirmed supporters of his party, along with others, were involved in the clashes, but denied the move was pre-meditated and blamed Hezbollah for entering Beirut’s mostly Christian Ain Al-Remmaneh neighborhood, a strong support base for the Lebanese Forces.

During Lebanon’s civil war, the Lebanese Forces, under Geagea, was a right-wing militia that controlled swathes of territory including eastern Beirut.

Following October’s clashes, Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah accused it of seeking to start a sectarian conflict and warned Hezbollah had 100,000 fighters at his disposal.

Geagea denied Nasrallah’s allegation that the Lebanese Forces had 15,000 fighters, saying the party had 35,000 members of whom only some had personal arms and perhaps more than 10,000 — “the whole old generation” — had military training.

Geagea said the Lebanese Forces did not seek a physical confrontation with Hezbollah and were not concerned about the breakout of sectarian violence due to the role of the Lebanese Army in maintaining civil peace.

However, he said he had limited his movement and was not leaving his mountain residence in Maarab due to security threats, without giving further details.

Syria seizes amphetamine-based drugs headed for Saudi Arabia

Syria seizes amphetamine-based drugs headed for Saudi Arabia
Updated 2 min 22 sec ago

Syria seizes amphetamine-based drugs headed for Saudi Arabia

Syria seizes amphetamine-based drugs headed for Saudi Arabia
  • US law enforcement officials say smuggling of Captagon from Syria and Lebanon has been on the rise
  • Authorities became suspicious and stopped a van in rural Damascus carrying 525 kilograms of the pills

DAMASCUS: Syrian authorities said Tuesday they seized over 500 kilograms (1,000 pounds) of amphetamine pills known by the brand name Captagon hidden in pasta packages in a van bound for Saudi Arabia.
An investigation was underway to determine who was behind the attempted smuggling, a statement on the official state news agency SANA said. It didn’t offer details on whether anyone has been arrested.
US law enforcement officials say smuggling of the amphetamine-based drug from Syria and Lebanon has been on the rise, with over $3 billion worth of Captagon seized since February 2020.
The amount far exceeds the value of Syrian legal exports, said James Walsh, a high-level official with the State Department’s international narcotics bureau, earlier this month. He had no details on how much goes through Lebanon and how much is from Syria.
The statement carried by SANA said authorities became suspicious and stopped a van in rural Damascus carrying 525 kilograms (1,160 pounds) of the pills hidden in a shipment of pasta heading to Saudi Arabia. The smugglers had sprayed pepper over the pills to distract sniffer dogs, the statement said.
Walsh said the smuggling of amphetamines from Syria has a wide ranging impact on Europe, Africa and Asia and is obstructing efforts to resolve the country’s lengthy civil war, while contributing to deteriorating relations with Gulf states. He spoke at a conference organized by the Washington-based Atlantic Center earlier this month.
The US has imposed various sanctions on Syrian government officials and businesses linked to President Bashar Assad, whom it blames for much of the country’s decade-old conflict.
Arab countries have been making moves to re-engage the Assad government after years of boycott following the war’s outbreak. Experts say a crackdown on drug smuggling would be key for Arab rapprochement with Syria.
Over 5 million Captagon pills hidden in a shipment of pomegranate from Lebanon were seized in Saudi Arabia in April.
In response, the Saudis banned Lebanese produce from going to or even transiting through the Kingdom, a blow to Lebanon’s exporters.
Lebanese farmers denied the pomegranate was Lebanese, saying the shipment came from Syria.
Jordan has also seized drugs smuggled from Syria, including a shipment transported by a drone across the border in October.


Bahrain Catholic cathedral to be consecrated on Dec. 10

Bahrain Catholic cathedral to be consecrated on Dec. 10
Updated 25 min 10 sec ago

Bahrain Catholic cathedral to be consecrated on Dec. 10

Bahrain Catholic cathedral to be consecrated on Dec. 10
  • The ark-shaped structure, which seats 2,300 people, will be the largest Catholic cathedral in the Gulf region
  • It was built on a plot of land that was given eight years ago to the church by Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, who has been king of Bahrain since 2002

VATICAN CITY: A new Catholic cathedral in Bahrain, Our Lady of Arabia, will be consecrated on Dec. 10 by the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

The ark-shaped structure, which seats 2,300 people, will be the largest Catholic cathedral in the Gulf region. 

It was built on a plot of land that was given eight years ago to the church by Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, who has been king of Bahrain since 2002. The king will inaugurate the cathedral on Dec. 9.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only a small number of people will be allowed to attend the inaugural ceremony and consecration.

The cathedral is part of a complex of around 95,000 square feet in Awali, a small municipality in the center of the country, which has a population of 1.7 million people.

Aside from the cathedral, the palm tree-lined complex features a multipurpose building, a courtyard, and a two-story parking area.

The cathedral’s altar, baptistery, pews and other furnishings are crafted in Italy. 

The cathedral is topped with an octagonal dome, a deeply symbolic geometric detail that can be seen in a number of churches around the world such as the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, and Germany’s Aachen Cathedral.

King Hamad personally presented a detailed three-foot-long model of the cathedral to Pope Francis in 2014.

In 2011, the Vatican officially proclaimed Our Lady of Arabia as the Catholic patron saint of the vicariates of Kuwait and Arabia.

Later that year, the Holy See reorganized the Vicariate of Kuwait, giving it the new name of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, and including the territories of Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.

The inauguration of the cathedral follows King Hamad’s official invitation to the pope to visit Bahrain.

Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa, the king’s adviser for diplomatic affairs, personally delivered the invitation when he met Pope Francis and Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin on Nov. 25.

Vatican statistics estimate that there are nearly 80,000 Catholics living in Bahrain, mostly from the Philippines and India.


Vatican nuncio in Syria urges international community to lift sanctions

Vatican nuncio in Syria urges international community to lift sanctions
Updated 30 November 2021

Vatican nuncio in Syria urges international community to lift sanctions

Vatican nuncio in Syria urges international community to lift sanctions
  • Zenari called on the EU, the US, and Syrian government, to “take a step of good faith” and remove sanctions
  • He has convened a conference of the Syrian Catholic Church and charities, to be held in March next year

VATICAN CITY: The Vatican nuncio in Syria called on the international community to lift economic sanctions, and lamented the Syrians’ loss of hope as the world forgot their suffering. 

Cardinal Mario Zenari has been the apostolic nuncio to Syria for over 13 years and has lived in Damascus throughout the war. 

He has convened a conference of the Syrian Catholic Church and charitable agencies working in the country, to be held in March next year.

“I am extremely sorry to see that, in Syria, hope is dying,” Zenari told Vatican Radio. “I was greatly pained to watch people, especially children, die during the war. But, beyond this suffering, people nourished glimmers of hope. At that stage they said that eventually the war would end, and people would be able to go back to work, make a little money, and perhaps repair their homes and return to a normal life.”

He said this dream was far from the reality that faced Syrians today, which was one filled with poverty.

“Bombs are no longer falling in many parts of Syria, but another terrible bomb has exploded which has silently opened a gaping wound.”

Syria faced continuing economic uncertainty, largely as a consequence of the international sanctions against the government, and he believed that these, combined with growing corruption, the pandemic, and the economic and political crisis in Lebanon were placing a heavy economic burden on the Syrian population.

Zenari called on the EU and the US, along with the Syrian government, to “take a step of good faith and remove the sanctions regime, so that Syria can begin to rebuild and restart its economy.”

Referring to a recent report by the World Food Programme that said 12 million Syrians, 60 percent of the population, were living in food insecurity, he said: “It is the people, the poor people, who are suffering.”

Zenari also said there was a general lack of interest from the international media about the situation in Syria.

The conference will be held on 15-17 March, 2022, and aims to coordinate charitable activities in Syria to better serve those in need there and increase the necessary coordination to better help the Syrian people “who are living this extremely difficult moment.”


Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr's bloc declared biggest election winner

Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr's bloc declared biggest election winner
Updated 19 min 28 sec ago

Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr's bloc declared biggest election winner

Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr's bloc declared biggest election winner
  • Sadr’s movement won 73 out of the assembly’s 329 seats, the election commission said
  • Second with 17 seats was the Fatah Alliance, political arm of the pro-Iran Hashed Al-Shaabi former paramilitary force

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr was Tuesday confirmed the biggest winner of last month’s parliamentary election that had sparked charges of voter fraud from pro-Iranian factions.
Sadr’s movement won 73 out of the assembly’s 329 seats, the election commission said, after a lengthy manual recount of hundreds of ballot boxes.
A distant second with 17 seats was the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance, the political arm of the pro-Iran Hashed Al-Shaabi former paramilitary force, which is now integrated into Iraq’s state security apparatus.
Hashed leaders had rejected the preliminary result, which was sharply down from their 48 seats in the outgoing assembly, as a “scam,” and their supporters have held street protests chanting “No to fraud.”
Their activists have staged sit-in protests outside Baghdad’s ultra-secure Green Zone district, where the government, the assembly and many foreign embassies are located.
Analysts have warned that — in a country still recovering from decades of war and chaos, and where most parties have armed wings — political disputes could spark a dangerous escalation.
On November 7, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi — leader of the outgoing government — escaped unhurt when an explosive-packed drone hit his Baghdad residence. The attack was not claimed by any group.
The final results must now be sent to the federal court for ratification.
The formation of Iraqi governments has involved complex negotiations in the multi-confessional and multi-ethnic country ever since a US-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Posts and ministries have typically been handed out according to compromises reached by the main blocs in backroom talks, rather than to reflect the numbers of seats parties have won.
Sadr, a former leader of an anti-US militia who has often surprised observers with his political maneuvers, has called for a “majority” government which, analysts say, could include Sunni and Kurdish parties.
Iraq, an oil-rich country of 40 million, is still recovering from years of conflict and turmoil.
Major fighting has stopped since a military alliance including the Hashed defeated Daesh in 2017, but sporadic violence continues.
Military bases housing US troops have been targeted with dozens of missile and drone strikes which Washington blames on pro-Iran factions.
Tensions culminated weeks after the election with the unclaimed drone attack against Kadhemi.