Uzbekistan not keen to admit Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban

Uzbekistan not keen to admit Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban
On Sunday, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry reported that 84 Afghan servicemen crossed into Uzbekistan on Saturday and asked for assistance. (File/AP)
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Updated 18 August 2021

Uzbekistan not keen to admit Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban

Uzbekistan not keen to admit Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban
  • Thousands of Afghans have been looking for ways to escape
  • Experts note that Uzbek authorities have long maintained a tightly closed border with Afghanistan

TERMEZ: When Sami Elbigi heard about the Taliban’s advance toward Mazar-e-Sharif, a city in northern Afghanistan that has been the main hub of anti-Taliban resistance, he knew it was time to run.

He took his phones, a suit and some clothing and kissed his mother goodbye. A thought crossed his mind that might be the last time he will ever see her.

Elbigi, 30, left his Afghan hometown of Hairatan and rushed to the Uzbek border. He still had a valid business visa due to his profitable cross-border oil company, so entering Uzbekistan wasn’t a problem. But he was one of the lucky few who managed to find refuge in the ex-Soviet republic in recent days — those without visas have not been allowed in.

“The Taliban takeover happened so fast, we have not expected that. I still cannot believe it,” Elbigi told The Associated Press, sitting in a cafe in Termez, an Uzbek city close to the Afghan border, with numb disbelief on his face.

“My visa expires in one month, and I don’t know what I will do next. I have no plan. I left everything behind,” he said.

As the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in a swift power grab, thousands of Afghans have been looking for ways to escape what they see as a return of a ruthless fundamentalist rule. But neighboring Uzbekistan appears wary about a flood of Afghan refugees.

Afghan citizens who applied for Uzbek visas in recent months told The Associated Press that Uzbekistan has been refusing visas to Afghans, citing coronavirus concerns.

Experts note that Uzbek authorities have long maintained a tightly closed border with Afghanistan, fearing an influx of extremists, and have only accepted a handful of asylum-seekers from its unstable neighbor.

Since the Taliban controlled Afghanistan in the 1990s, “the Uzbek government has continually refused to sign and ratify the Refugee Convention — one of the most widely observed treaties in the world — which would require it to provide some type of processing and protection to those seeking asylum out of fear of persecution,” said Steve Swerdlow, a human rights lawyer and associate professor of human rights at the University of Southern California.

The Taliban’s advances in Afghanistan in recent months made several Central Asian nations nervous, prompting authorities in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to ramp up border security. Afghanistan borders Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and a tiny strip along China’s Xinjiang region.

Last week, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Russia finished joint military drills in the Tajik region of Khatlon, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Afghan border. On Tuesday, the Russian military started another exercise in Tajikistan. China and Russia held joint military exercises last week in northwest China.

But the slow vibe of the southern Uzbek city of Termez bears few traces of the unfolding crisis across the border. A few Afghans in traditional two-piece garments walk down the streets but city life continues undisturbed.

Termez, a largely Persian-speaking city, has long been a town of choice for many Afghans moving to Uzbekistan.

Together with the UN Development Program, the Uzbek government in 2019 opened the Termez Center for Education in Afghanistan, a place where Afghan girls facing hurdles in education could continue their studies. Men from northern Afghanistan have also set up businesses in the city.

For the past three years, Fayzad Hasanzoda, 20, and his brother successfully ran a restaurant in Termez. They said they invested $1 million in the venture, which makes their stay in Uzbekistan secure. But despite their high social status in Uzbekistan, they were unable to help their family escape from Afghanistan.

“I applied for a visa for my parents, my brother and sister two months ago. Normally it takes a week to receive it, but we still haven’t gotten any response,” Hasanzoda told the AP. “We want them to join us in Uzbekistan, but it’s not easy.”

Since the fighting in northern Afghanistan intensified, there are regular reports about Afghan soldiers fleeing across the highly guarded border but they are routinely sent back.

The Uzbek Foreign Ministry reported that 84 Afghan servicemen crossed into Uzbekistan on Saturday and asked for assistance. The ministry said it was in touch with Afghan officials regarding their return.

There are exceptions, however. On Aug. 14, Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Afghan army commander, former northern warlord and vice president, crossed into Uzbekistan with a group of followers, which marked his surrender in the fight with the Taliban for control of Afghanistan’s northern districts. His current whereabouts are unclear, but the commander, an ethnic Uzbek, has a house in Termez and has maintained close ties with the Uzbek government.

The Uzbek Foreign Ministry’s news agency, Dunyo, said on Tuesday that media reports about “the alleged presence” of Dostum, as well as another former warlord, Ata Mohammad Noor, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Uzbekistan were, “according to official information, not true.”

On Sunday, an Afghan military plane crashed in Uzbekistan. Two pilots aboard survived and were hospitalized. Official Uzbek reports emerged Monday then were retracted about hundreds of Afghan military troops reaching

Uzbekistan in dozens of aircraft that were forced to land in Termez. The AP could not independently verify those reports.

The “Friendship Bridge” at the Uzbek-Afghan border remains eerily quiet. Local residents say that not even Afghans who live in Uzbekistan are allowed back in these days.

How many Afghan refugees have been taken in by Uzbekistan remains unclear. On Monday, the country’s Prosecutor General’s office said 158 Afghan civilians and soldiers tried to illegally enter Uzbekistan across a river. In the same statement, officials alleged that 22 Afghan warplanes and 24 military helicopters with 585 Afghan troops illegally entered Uzbekistan’s airspace and were forced to land at Termez.

Shortly after, the Prosecutor General’s office withdrew the statement, claiming it wasn’t based on “verified data from relevant authorities.”

On Tuesday, Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry warned that any attempts to violate the border would be “harshly suppressed.” The ministry said Uzbek authorities maintained “close contacts” with the Taliban on border issues.

A drive past the Termez Airport showed locals stopping along the road to look at numerous helicopters that were not there the day before — even though it’s impossible to tell from the distance whether they were Uzbek or Afghan military aircraft.

Swerdlow, the human rights lawyer, thinks Uzbekistan should open its borders to desperate Afghan refugees.

“This unfolding crisis — and Tashkent’s current seat on the UN Human Rights Council — underlines how important it is for the US government and other international partners to urge Uzbekistan to implement the (refugee) convention, provide proper aid, and refrain from pushing persons who fear persecution or torture back into Afghanistan,” he said.


Landslides, floods kill at least 25 in southwest India

Landslides, floods kill at least 25 in southwest India
Updated 9 sec ago

Landslides, floods kill at least 25 in southwest India

Landslides, floods kill at least 25 in southwest India
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India: At least 25 people have died in landslides and floods triggered by heavy rains in southwestern India, officials said Sunday, as rescuers scoured for survivors in muddy debris and the military flew in emergency supplies.
Residents were cut off in parts of the coastal state of Kerala as the rains, which started to intensify from late Friday, swelled rivers and flooded roads.
Some 11 bodies have been found so far in Idukki district and another 14 in Kottayam district, officials told AFP, after the areas were hit by landslides and flash floods.
Thousands of people have been evacuated and at least 100 relief camps have been set up, Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Sunday.
The army, navy and airforce are assisting with flood relief and rescue operations. Officials could not say how many people were missing.
“It was my livelihood. Everything is gone,” a distraught man told Kerala news channel Manorama TV in Koottickal town in Kottayam, which was hit by a landslide.
“The hill broke off near us. There has been a lot of damage and loss. The house has gone. Children have gone,” a woman from Koottickal added.
Video shared on social media showed buses and cars submerged in floodwaters.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences and said authorities were working to help those who were affected or hit by the deluge.
The India Meteorological Department said the heavy rains, caused by a low pressure area over the southeastern Arabian Sea and Kerala, were expected to ease on Monday.
In northern India, some states including the Himalayan regions of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are forecast to experience “heavy to very heavy rainfall” in the next two to three days, the weather bureau said.
The northern weather system would be caused by a low pressure area over Afghanistan and its surroundings interacting with strong winds from the Bay of Bengal, it added.
In 2018, nearly 500 people were killed in Kerala when it was ravaged by the worst floods to hit the state in almost a century.

Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed

Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed
Updated 17 October 2021

Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed

Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed
  • The Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered a triple meltdown in 2011 following a massive earthquake and tsunami
  • The government and TEPCO announced plans in April to start releasing the water into the Pacific Ocean in the spring of 2023 over the span of decades
TOKYO: Japan’s new prime minister on Sunday said the planned mass disposal of wastewater stored at the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant cannot be delayed, despite concerns from local residents.
Speaking at his first visit to the facility since taking office, Fumio Kishida said his government would work to reassure residents nearby the plant about the technical safety of the wastewater disposal project.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered a triple meltdown in 2011 following a massive earthquake and tsunami.
Kishida’s brief tour of the facility by its operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, focused on the ongoing decommissioning of the plant, and the massive amount of treated but still radioactive water stored there.
“I felt strongly that the water issue is a crucial one that should not be pushed back,” Kishida told reporters after the tour.
The government and TEPCO announced plans in April to start releasing the water into the Pacific Ocean in the spring of 2023 over the span of decades.
The plan has been fiercely opposed by fishermen, residents and Japan’s neighbors, including including China and South Korea.
Contaminated cooling water has continued to leak from the damaged reactors since the disaster. The water has been pumped up from basements and stored in about 1,000 tanks which the operator says will reach their capacity late next year.
Japanese officials say disposal of the water is indispensable for the plant cleanup, and that its release into the ocean is the most realistic option.
Kishida said the government will do its utmost to address concerns the water disposal will hurt local fishing and other industries.
“We will provide explanation about the safety (of the disposal) from a scientific viewpoint and transparency in order to dispel various concerns,” Kishida said.
Japan has requested assistance by the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure the discharge meets global safety standards.

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week
Updated 17 October 2021

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week
  • China claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory
  • China sent around 150 aircraft into the zone over a four-day period beginning on Oct. 1

TAIPEI: A US and a Canadian warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait late last week, the American military said on Sunday, at a time of heightened tension between Beijing and Taipei that has sparked concern internationally.
China claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory, and has mounted repeated air force missions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the past year or more, provoking anger in Taipei.
China sent around 150 aircraft into the zone over a four-day period beginning on Oct. 1.
The US military said the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Dewey sailed through the narrow waterway that separates Taiwan from its giant neighbor China along with the Canadian frigate HMCS Winnipeg on Thursday and Friday.
“Dewey’s and Winnipeg’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it added.
American Navy ships have been transiting the strait roughly monthly, to the anger of Beijing, which has accused Washington of stoking regional tensions. US allies occasionally also send ships through the strait, including a British warship last month.
While tensions across the Taiwan Strait have risen, there has been no shooting and Chinese aircraft have not entered Taiwanese air space, concentrating their activity in the southwestern part of the ADIZ.
While including Taiwanese territorial air space, the ADIZ encompasses a broader area that Taiwan monitors and patrols that acts to give it more time to respond to any threats.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Sunday that three Chinese aircraft — two J-16 fighters and an anti-submarine aircraft — flew into the ADIZ again.


British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports
Updated 17 October 2021

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports
  • Ali’s father, a former adviser to the PM of Somalia, confirmed to The Sunday Times that his son was in custody
  • Residents, including members of the Muslim community, heaped bouquets next to the police tape

LEIGH-ON-SEA: The attacker who fatally stabbed British lawmaker David Amess was referred to an official counter-terrorist scheme for those thought to be at risk of radicalization, according to media reports.
Police said late Saturday that detectives had until Friday, October 22, to question the suspect after he was detained under the Terrorism Act, which allowed them to extend his detention.
Veteran Conservative MP David Amess, 69, was talking with voters at a church in the small town of Leigh-on-Sea east of London when he was stabbed to death on Friday.
Police have said they are investigating “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.” The investigation is being led by Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command.
The BBC said it had received confirmation from Whitehall officials that the man’s name is Ali Harbi Ali.
Ali, a British citizen of Somali heritage, had been referred to Prevent, the UK’s scheme for those thought at risk of radicalization a few years ago, the BBC reported.
Ali is believed not have spent long on the program, which is voluntary, and was never formally a “subject of interest” to MI5, the domestic security agency, said the BBC.
Police and security services believe the attacker acted alone and was “self-radicalized,” The Sunday Times reported, while he may have been inspired by Al-Shabab, Al-Qaeda-linked extremists in Somalia.
Ali’s father Harbi Ali Kullane, a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia, confirmed to The Sunday Times that his son was in custody, adding: “I’m feeling very traumatized.”
Police said they have been carrying out searches at three addresses in the London area in a “fast-paced investigation.”
The Sun tabloid reported that the attacker stabbed Amess multiple times in the presence of two women staff, before sitting down and waiting for police to arrive.
The Daily Mail newspaper reported that he had booked an appointment a week ahead.
On Saturday evening, hundreds of mourners attended a candle-lit vigil at a sports field near the scene of the crime, holding a minute’s silence in the MP’s memory.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier visited the crime scene to pay his respects on Saturday, laying floral wreaths outside the church with the leader of the opposition, Labour leader Keir Starmer in a rare show of unity.
Residents, including members of the Muslim community, also heaped bouquets next to the police tape.
Britain’s politicians were stunned by the highly public attack, which recalled the murder of a pro-EU lawmaker ahead of the Brexit referendum.
In June 2016, Labour MP Jo Cox was killed by a far-right extremist, prompting demands for action against what lawmakers said was “a rising tide” of public abuse and threats against elected representatives.
Home Secretary Priti Patel on Friday ordered police to review security arrangements for all 650 MPs and The Sunday Times reported that every MP could be granted security protection when meeting the public.
“We will carry on... We live in an open society, a democracy. We cannot be cowed by any individual,” Patel told journalists after laying a wreath for her fellow Essex MP.
Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP who tried to save a stabbed police officer during a 2017 terror attack near the Houses of Parliament, on Twitter urged a temporary pause in surgeries, or face-to-face meetings with constituents, until the security review is complete.
House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle in The Observer wrote that “we need to take stock” and review whether security measures introduced after Cox’s murder are “adequate to safeguard members, staff and constituents, especially during surgeries.”
MPs and their staff have been attacked before, although it is rare.
But their safety was thrown into sharp focus by Brexit, which stoked deep political divisions and has led to outburts of angry, partisan rhetoric.
Cox’s killer repeatedly shouted “Britain first” before shooting and stabbing the 41-year-old MP outside her constituency meeting near Leeds, northern England.
A specialist police unit set up to investigate threats against MPs in the aftermath of Cox’s murder said 678 crimes against lawmakers were reported between 2016 and 2020.
Amess, a Brexit backer, had written about public harassment and online abuse in his book “Ayes & Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster,” published last year.
“These increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians,” he said.
MPs have had to install security cameras and only meet constituents by appointment, he added.
Unlike some MPs, Amess publicized meeting times for constituents on Twitter and held them in public places, while asking people to book ahead.


Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England

Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England
Updated 17 October 2021

Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England

Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England
  • ‘I implore you, please, to abandon the path of violence, which is always a losing one’
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday decried recent deadly attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and Britain, expressing closeness to the families of victims and calling violence “a defeat for everyone.”
“Last week various attacks were carried out, for example in Norway, Afghanistan, England, which caused many deaths and injuries,” the pope said, after greeting the public in St. Peter’s Square for his customary Sunday remarks and blessings delivered from a window of the Apostolic Palace.
“I express my closeness to the families of the victims,” Francis said.
In Norway, a bow-and-arrow attack claimed five lives and left three persons wounded.
In southern Afghanistan, a suicide bombing at a mosque killed 47 people and wounded scores more. The Daesh group claimed responsibility.
In England, a British lawmaker who was meeting at a church with some of his constituents was fatally stabbed, and police are investigating the slaying as a terrorist act.
“I implore you, please, to abandon the path of violence, which is always a losing one, is a defeat for all,” Francis said. ”Let’s remember that violence generates violence.”
Norwegian police have been criticized for reacting too slowly to contain the massacre in the town of Kongsberg, acknowledging that the five deaths occurred after police first encountered the attacker, a 37-year-old local resident whom authorities say has admitted to the slayings and is undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
In Afghanistan, relatives of those killed by the bombing at a Shiite mosque in the Kandahar province in the south of the country called on the ruling Taliban to protect them.
British authorities haven’t publicly identified the suspect in the slaying of Conservative lawmaker David Amess in the town of Leigh-On-Sea.