Asylum seekers in UK ‘ghetto’ accommodation victims of racist abuse

Asylum seekers in UK ‘ghetto’ accommodation victims of racist abuse
At Napier Barracks in Folkstone, Kent, four incidents were recorded in 2020, and 12 so far in 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 August 2021

Asylum seekers in UK ‘ghetto’ accommodation victims of racist abuse

Asylum seekers in UK ‘ghetto’ accommodation victims of racist abuse
  • One Yemeni refugee targeted twice by far-right activists at hotel outside London
  • Asylum seekers claim they were driven at, assaulted with fireworks, and threatened with rape

LONDON: “Ghettoized” asylum seekers in the UK have been the victims of at least 70 racist incidents since the start of last year while in state-provided accommodation, The Guardian reported, with campaigners suggesting that the real figure is much higher.

Data released via a freedom of information request spanning the period from Jan. 1, 2020 until July 13, 2021, included examples of harassment, threats and assault, including at a number of sites highlighted by activists and politicians as potentially unfit for purpose.

One asylum seeker from Yemen was a victim of racist abuse on two separate occasions, when far-right activists targeted him at hotel accommodation near London provided by the UK Home Office.

“They were driving around the hotel recording us on video,” the asylum seeker told The Guardian. “They were insulting us, swearing at us and screaming things like ‘Go out from our country, why are you eating our food? Go away from us, you are strangers here.’ We were too scared to go outside the hotel and felt like it was a prison we had to stay inside.

“We fled countries where there is a lot of torture and persecution and felt safe when we arrived here,” he said, “but when we saw this kind of racist attack, we felt we were not protected.”

The security of asylum seekers in hotels in particular appears to have worsened, with data showing the number of racist incidents rising from 13 across all of 2020 to 40 so far in 2021.

On Aug. 7, the far-right group Britain First uploaded a video saying a number of its members had impersonated journalists to target asylum seekers at hotels in the city of Hull.

Clare Moseley, founder of the refugee support group Care4Calais, called targeting “vulnerable” asylum seekers “extreme cowardice.”

In addition to hotels, a number of former military barracks have also been highlighted as being the sites of racist abuse, having previously been noted for other failings, leading to scrutiny from lawyers, journalists and politicians.

At Penally Barracks in Pembrokeshire, Wales, which was closed in March just six months after it was opened to house refugees, only one incident was recorded across the total period.

But legal challenges and witness statements from former residents claim abuse was frequent, including assaults, rape threats, bottles, fireworks and rocks being thrown, and even an attempt to ram a refugee with a car.

At Napier Barracks in Folkstone, Kent, four incidents were recorded in 2020, and 12 so far in 2021.

The site became the focus of UK media attention after it was temporarily emptied in April amid an outbreak of the coronavirus, with residents claiming they were forced to live in dangerous, unhygienic conditions that prevented social distancing.

Campaigners believe that the true number of cases of racist abuse suffered by asylum seekers over the period is much higher.

“Ghettoizing people seeking safety in large-scale accommodations such as hotels and army barracks exposes them to harm,” said Maddie Harris of the Humans for Rights Network.

“The figures shown here are not an accurate representation of the level of racial abuse endured by the people we support.

“We have had numerous conversations with asylum seekers where they have told us how unsafe they feel due to frequent incidents of racial abuse that they have experienced in and around these accommodations,” she added.

A UK Home Office spokesperson told The Guardian: “It is unacceptable for anyone in asylum accommodation to experience hostile or racist incidents and we ensure each incident is thoroughly investigated.

“We work closely with a range of organizations to ensure immediate support and assistance is provided to people living in the accommodation and if needed escalate to law enforcement,” the spokesperson added.


Michigan city council becomes first all-Muslim led government in US

Amer Ghalib, Hamtramck mayor, leads alongside a majority Arab-American city council. (Screenshot/AN Photo)
Amer Ghalib, Hamtramck mayor, leads alongside a majority Arab-American city council. (Screenshot/AN Photo)
Updated 21 sec ago

Michigan city council becomes first all-Muslim led government in US

Amer Ghalib, Hamtramck mayor, leads alongside a majority Arab-American city council. (Screenshot/AN Photo)
  • Yemeni-born mayor leads Hamtramck alongside elected city council which is made up almost entirely of Arab immigrants

HAMTRAMCK, Michigan: Hamtramck, Michigan is the first city in the US to be led by an all-Muslim government.

A city of mostly Polish-Americans for 99 years, locals say the population has gradually shifted to now be over half Arab-Americans. And in its 100th year, the city’s leaders reflect that change. 

“It was a historic achievement that’s never happened before for the Arabs and immigrants,” Amer Ghalib, Hamtramck mayor, told Arab News.

“And I think it inspired many of the youth to go for this field and made them confident in themselves and of their abilities and that they have become an inseparable part of the fabric of this society,” he added.

The Yemeni-born mayor leads Hamtramck alongside the elected city council which, with the exception of one American-born convert to Islam, is made up entirely of Arab immigrants.

Having moved when he was 17, Ghalib considers the two square miles that make up Hamtramck to be his mother city.

“I feel proud and I feel a big responsibility and this is why we have to work very hard to prove that we, as immigrants, can work and succeed in managerial, public service, and political fields in this country,” he said.

Preempting any Islamaphobic backlash or fear, Ghalib assured citizens that they should not expect any changes from an all-Muslim city government, just efforts to revitalize city infrastructure and a commitment to serve its people. 

“There is no difference, because we are all bound by the city regulations and the country’s constitution, with laws and regulations that we cannot violate,” he said.

“All religions promote virtue and our noble Islam promotes doing good and abandoning evil and respecting others and treating them well.”


Texas terrorist demanded release of Al-Qaeda figure months after similar call by Anjem Choudary

a sign is displayed outside of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Dallas. (AFP)
a sign is displayed outside of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Dallas. (AFP)
Updated 54 min 4 sec ago

Texas terrorist demanded release of Al-Qaeda figure months after similar call by Anjem Choudary

a sign is displayed outside of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Dallas. (AFP)
  • Malik Faisal Akram was shot by police on Saturday after holding four people hostage at a Texas synagogue
  • He called for release of Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year sentence for her part in a 2008 New York terror plot

LONDON: Extremist British cleric Anjem Choudary recently urged his supporters to help free notorious Islamist Aafia Siddiqui “physically or by ransom” — the same person a British terrorist demanded be released while he occupied a synagogue in Texas on Saturday.

Choudary, who was profiled by Arab News in its “Preachers of Hate” series, called in September last year for the release of Siddiqui, known as “Lady Al-Qaeda.” It came three months after his release from a British prison where he had served time for supporting the terrorist group Daesh.

“The obligation upon us is to either free her physically or to ransom her or to exchange her,” Choudary wrote on social media platform Telegram. “However, until such time as we can fulfill one of these obligations the minimum that we can do is to use all that we have to raise awareness about her case, to keep her name in the hearts and in the minds of Muslims.”

His call for action was allegedly echoed by Malik Faisal Akram, the man who held four people hostage for 10 hours at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas on Saturday. It is 25 miles from the federal facility at Fort Worth where Siddiqui is serving an 86-year sentence.

Akram, 44, died during a shootout with law-enforcement officers that ended the synagogue siege.

Choudary is believed to have influenced about 100 British jihadis through his online lectures and videos.

Siddiqui was arrested in Afghanistan in 2008 while carrying 2kg of sodium cyanide and plans for a chemical attack on New York City. During her trial she demanded jurors be subjected to DNA testing to check whether they were Jewish. She also attempted to shoot a guard during interrogation.

A neuroscientist by training who earned a scholarship to study biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1991, Siddiqui attended the same mosque later frequented by the Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. She took part in firearms courses run by the National Rifle Association, was for a time on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted list, and was publicly named by Daesh fighters as a candidate for a prisoner-swap deal for James Foley, the American photojournalist who was murdered in 2014.

A profile of Siddiqui by the Boston Globe in 2014 suggested that she had been radicalized by the outbreak of the war in Bosnia, after which she became a member of Al-Kifah Refugee Center, thought to have been Al-Qaeda’s operational hub in the US at the time.

Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism expert, told the Globe: “Aafia was from a prominent family with connections and a sympathy for jihad. She was just what they needed.”

Waqas Jilani, at the time a graduate student at Clark University, told the Globe that Siddiqui had boasted she would be proud to be on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, and urged fellow Muslims to take up arms and fight.

“She was always mouthing off about the US and the FBI being so bad and all,” he said.

Siddiqui’s former husband, Mohammed Amjad Khan, described how, having married her over the phone from Pakistan, he arrived in the US to discover she would regularly watch videos of Osama bin Laden and spent weekends at training camps with other members of Al-Kifah.

“I discovered that the well-being of our nascent family unit was not her prime goal in life,” he said. “Instead, it was to gain prominence in Muslim circles.”

He added he felt unable to introduce her to professional colleagues because she would “only want to talk about them converting to Islam. Invariably this would lead to unpleasantness.”

He added: “Her focus had shifted to jihad against America, instead of preaching to Americans so that they all become Muslims and America becomes a Muslim land.”

After the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, Siddiqui demanded that the couple return to Pakistan and get divorced. It is thought she later married Ammar Al-Baluchi, the nephew of 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.


Far-right presidential contender convicted of hate speech

Far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour at the Foreign Press Association headquarters, in Paris on Jan. 17, 2022. Zemmour was convicted of inciting racial hatred over 2020 comments he made about unaccompanied migrant children. (AP)
Far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour at the Foreign Press Association headquarters, in Paris on Jan. 17, 2022. Zemmour was convicted of inciting racial hatred over 2020 comments he made about unaccompanied migrant children. (AP)
Updated 17 January 2022

Far-right presidential contender convicted of hate speech

Far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour at the Foreign Press Association headquarters, in Paris on Jan. 17, 2022. Zemmour was convicted of inciting racial hatred over 2020 comments he made about unaccompanied migrant children. (AP)
  • A Paris court ordered Zemmour to pay a fine of €10,000
  • Zemmour said he will appeal the decision

PARIS: French far-right presidential candidate Éric Zemmour was convicted Monday of inciting racial hatred over 2020 comments he made about unaccompanied migrant children.
A Paris court ordered Zemmour to pay a fine of €10,000 (more than $11,000) and several thousand euros in damages to anti-racism groups.
Zemmour said he will appeal the decision.
“I’m one more time the victim of a political justice,” Zemmour told reporters, adding “I absolutely do not regret” the comments.
Zemmour, who has two prior hate speech convictions, went on trial in November on charges of “public insult” and “incitement to hatred or violence” against a group of people because of their ethnic, national, racial or religious origin.
Samuel Thomas, president of Maisons des Potes (“Homes of Friends“), a network of anti-racism associations, said the sentence is “very light.”
“We had hoped for him to be deprived of civic rights,” Thomas said. “So Éric Zemmour will be able to continue his political career.”
He added: “When you’re inciting racial hatred, you’re also responsible for crimes that are committed by far-right thugs.”
Zemmour, a 63-year-old former TV pundit who is running in France’s April 10 presidential election, is drawing fervent audiences with his anti-Islam, anti-immigration invective. He is considered among the major challengers to centrist President Emmanuel Macron, who is seen as the front-runner, according to polls. Macron has yet to confirm he will run for a second term.
The case against Zemmour focused on September 2020 comments that he made on French news broadcaster CNews about children who migrate to France without parents or guardians, calling them thieves, murderers and rapists who cost France money.
Zemmour wasn’t present at court for his trial or the verdict. In a statement in November, he denounced “an attempt to intimidate (him)” from prosecutors and anti-racist groups. He maintained his comments and said the political debate doesn’t take place in courts.
Zemmour also has an appeals trial Thursday on a charge of contesting crimes against humanity — which is illegal in France — for arguing in a 2019 television debate that Marshal Philippe Petain, head of Vichy’s collaborationist government during World War II, saved France’s Jews from the Holocaust.
A court acquitted him last year, saying Zemmour’s comments negated Petain’s role in the extermination, but explained that he wasn’t convicted because he had spoken in the heat of the moment.
Zemmour has repeated similar comments in recent months, and lawyers contesting his acquittal plan to cite that point as evidence in the appeals trial.
Zemmour previously was convicted of incitement to racial hatred after justifying discrimination against Black and Arab people in 2010, and of incitement to religious hatred for anti-Islam comments in 2016. He was sentenced to pay court costs and a 5,000-euro ($5,660) fine.
He has also been tried in other cases where he was acquitted.
Zemmour is a descendant of Berber Jews from Algeria. He was born in France in 1958 to parents who came from the North African country, then a French colony, a few years earlier.


Afghan earthquake death toll rises to 26: Provincial spokesman

Afghan earthquake death toll rises to 26: Provincial spokesman
Updated 17 January 2022

Afghan earthquake death toll rises to 26: Provincial spokesman

Afghan earthquake death toll rises to 26: Provincial spokesman

HERAT: The death toll from an earthquake on Monday in western Afghanistan rose to 26, an official told AFP.
"Five women and four children are among the 26 people killed in the earthquake," said Baz Mohammad Sarwary, spokesman for Badghis province that was hit by the earthquake, adding that four more were injured.
Most of the victims died when roofs of their houses collapsed in Qadis district of the province.
Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
Earthquakes can cause significant damage to poorly built homes and buildings in impoverished Afghanistan.


North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions

North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions
Updated 17 January 2022

North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions

North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions
  • Two suspected “short-range ballistic missiles” were fired east from an airport in Pyongyang early Monday

SEOUL: North Korea fired two suspected ballistic missiles Monday, Seoul said, its fourth weapons test this month as Pyongyang flexes its military muscle while ignoring offers of talks from the United States.
Despite biting international sanctions, Pyongyang has conducted a string of weapons tests this year, including of hypersonic missiles, as leader Kim Jong Un pursues his avowed goal of further strengthening the military.
Reeling economically from a self-imposed coronavirus blockade, impoverished North Korea has not responded to Washington’s offers of talks, while doubling down on weapons tests and vowing a “stronger and certain” response to any attempts to rein it in.
The launches come at a delicate time in the region, with North Korea’s sole major ally China set to host the Winter Olympics next month and South Korea gearing up for a presidential election in March.
Two suspected “short-range ballistic missiles” were fired east from an airport in Pyongyang early Monday, the South Korean military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, with Japan also confirming the launch.
Fired just before 9 am (0000 GMT), they flew 380 kilometers (about 240 miles) at an altitude of 42 km, the JCS added.
The frequent and varied tests this year indicate North Korea “is trying to improve its technology and operational capability in terms of covert actions,” Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters.
Pyongyang said it successfully tested hypersonic gliding missiles on January 5 and January 11, with the second launch personally supervised by Kim.
In response, the United States last week imposed fresh sanctions on five North Koreans connected to the country’s ballistic missile programs, prompting an angry reaction from Pyongyang.
A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman described the move as a “provocation,” according to state news agency KCNA.
If “the US adopts such a confrontational stance, the DPRK will be forced to take stronger and certain reaction to it,” the spokesman said hours before Pyongyang fired two train-launched missiles Friday.
Analysts said the Monday test also appeared to be an attempt to send the United States a message.
“It is signalling that it will forge ahead with tests despite criticism,” Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul told AFP.
Hypersonic missiles are a top priority in Pyongyang’s new five-year defense development plan, unveiled in January 2021, which it has pursued while dialogue with the United States remained stalled.
With the country battling major economic hardship domestically after years of Covid-induced isolation, Pyongyang may be looking to offer citizens a military victory ahead of key domestic anniversaries.
“It needs to present something to North Koreans,” said Cheong Seong-chang of the Center for North Korea Studies at the Sejong Institute.
“It now has become clear that it will be difficult for the North to score on the economic side.”
This weekend, a North Korean freight train crossed the Yalu River railroad bridge into China for the first time in over a year, according to the Yonhap news agency.
The move could signal the prospect of resumed China-North Korea land trade, which has been suspended since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.
It is likely the missile launches will ease off ahead of the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics, said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies.
“As stability on the peninsula is a prerequisite for the successful Beijing Olympics, the North will not cross a red line,” Yang said.