Ankara rejects any plans to set up offshore hubs for refugees

A migrant family at a deportation center in Turkish city of Van that borders Iran and Turkey. The country already hosts over 4 million Syrian refugees. (AP)
A migrant family at a deportation center in Turkish city of Van that borders Iran and Turkey. The country already hosts over 4 million Syrian refugees. (AP)
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Updated 24 August 2021

Ankara rejects any plans to set up offshore hubs for refugees

A migrant family at a deportation center in Turkish city of Van that borders Iran and Turkey. The country already hosts over 4 million Syrian refugees. (AP)
  • Turkey should engage with international groups, NATO and EU over needs of refugees, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: The Turkish government reacted angrily to claims made in the UK media about the prospective establishment of an offshore asylum processing center in Turkey, as a third country, for Afghan asylum-seekers.

The reports triggered a new debate about Turkey’s categorical rejection of responsibility for hosting more refugees after the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan.
“The news in the UK press saying there are plans to establish an asylum processing center for Afghan asylum-seekers in Turkey does not reflect the truth,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a written statement on Aug. 22.
“No official request has been conveyed to us from any country up until today. Should there be such a request, we would not accept it anyway,” it added.
Turkey also refused to receive the EU mission in Kabul’s local Afghan staff after they were evacuated from the country, with Ankara insisting Brussels does not assume enough responsibility over housing refugees.
Turkey already hosts over 4 million Syrian refugees, with Afghans the second largest refugee community in the country.
According to the official figures from the end of 2020, before the beginning of the US withdrawal process, there were 116,000 Afghan asylum-seekers and 980 Afghan refugees residing in Turkey.
The controversy was triggered by an article written by British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace in the Mail On Sunday, saying: “A series of ‘processing hubs’ will be set up in countries neighboring Afghanistan for refugees who manage to escape. If they can establish their right to come to the UK, they will be flown to Britain.”

Turkey established new reinforcements to its eastern border with Iran with a high-tech wall in order to boost its border security against new flows of Afghan migrants. 

Cigdem Nas

The article did not mention Turkey by name as a prospective host country, but the Guardian newspaper also claimed that “the names of countries had been briefed out by UK officials as examples of where processing centers might be established.” Turkey and Pakistan are thought to be among the countries in question.
On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also told European Council President Charles Michel that Turkey could not assume the responsibilities of European countries regarding Afghan refugees.
The UK recently agreed to host 20,000 Afghan refugees, with 5,000 coming in the first year.
“There are major problems in terms of the integration capacity of the society both due to the upsurge in the number of migrants and refugees over a comparatively short period of time, lack of an overall migrant integration strategy, and economic and social problems which lead a considerable portion of the population to question the open-door policy toward refugees,” Cigdem Nas, secretary-general of the Economic Development Foundation of Turkey, told Arab News.  
According to Nas, these conditions impede decision-makers and make it politically costly to adopt a humanitarian, open-door approach.
“Turkey should engage with international organizations, NATO partners and the EU in order to organize for the immediate needs of refugees that arrive in Turkey and facilitate their resettlement in developed countries,” she said.
“Turkey established new reinforcements to its eastern border with Iran with a high-tech wall in order to boost its border security against new flows of Afghan migrants.
“In addition, since Afghan refugees are arriving along the route through Iran, coordination and co-regulation with neighboring countries is also vital,” Nas said, and suggested the establishment of an eastern Mediterranean pact over security and refugee issues.
Whether this new refugee inflow could trigger a new refugee deal between Ankara and Brussels including integration-focused projects remains to be seen, with Turkish authorities repeatedly insisting that the country cannot host more refugees, and the political costs of keeping those already in Turkey rising. According to Nas, additional funds will not be sufficient for the government to accept a high number of refugees from Afghanistan, because those fleeing will not be part of a temporary migration.  
“As we have observed in the case of Syrian refugees, at least 80 percent continue to stay in the host country,” she said. “European countries are no longer open to accepting refugees in greater numbers, meaning that those refugees that are able to come to Turkey will find it more difficult to make a transit toward further west and stay permanently in Turkey.
“With the high unemployment percentage and difficult economic conditions, the existence of a higher number of refugees becomes more and more politically costly for any government,” she said.
Erdogan said on Monday that intensive international diplomacy on Afghanistan was being conducted “to ensure stability in the region and to protect Turkey against the pressure of migration.”
Zalmai Nishat, research fellow at the Asia Center at the University of Sussex, however, said claims in the British media should be understood in a wider context.
“Britain, among other countries, is engaged in evacuating large number of citizens of Afghanistan who used to work for them in the past 20 years,” he told Arab News.
“Later it included ‘vulnerable people’ in that category, for those who worked in civil society, media and government, who might be at risk of persecution by the Taliban regime.
“To quickly evacuate the targeted population, they might need assistance of ‘third’ countries for processing purposes, not as a permanent place for the refugees,” he added.
Nishat underlined that, as a similar case, the US was using facilities in Qatar to process those who will be then resettled in the country; and now the UK might need the assistance of Turkey to process those who are going to be resettled in Britain.
Secondly, Nishat added, as Turkey signed a deal with the EU in 2016 to halt the refugee flow into the EU countries, including those from Afghanistan, Turkey started deporting thousands back to Afghanistan without any moral responsibility toward their future.
“This policy has been unsustainable. Turkey needs to find a regional solution with the help and assistance of the EU, UN agencies and regional countries,” he said.

 


Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19
Updated 07 December 2021

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19
  • Lebanon’s MPs ratify new law to punish country’s anti-vaxxers
  • Citizens criticize, ridicule lawmakers over ‘purposeless, late’ legislation

BEIRUT: Unvaccinated individuals who spread the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lebanon could be fined 250,000 Lebanese pounds ($165, or a black-market rate of around $10) under a new law ratified by the country’s parliamentarians on Tuesday.

The penalty charge sees an increase on the previous fee of 50,000 Lebanese pounds imposed on people who had not been jabbed but had passed on the virus, the National News Agency reported.

However, the updated legislation did not make vaccination against COVID-19 obligatory.

Lebanese health officials have been urging the public to get inoculated amid a surge in daily infections with 1,707 new cases and 10 virus-related deaths recorded on Tuesday.

On whether citizens would take notice of the fine, Health Minister Dr. Firas Abiad told Arab News: “Within the economic financial situation in Lebanon, and the poverty level, it will certainly have an impact.”

However, Lebanese business manager, Hania Michele, criticized lawmakers for what she described as a “purposeless and meaningless law.”

She told Arab News: “It is not my fault if someone contaminates me with COVID-19 which will keep on spreading anyway. I don’t know if they are doing it purposely, to indirectly force the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.

“Even those who are vaccinated, they could still get infected and spread the virus. That’s why it’s impractical.”

Barber Yousef said less than 40 percent of Lebanon’s population had been vaccinated. “I am unsure if people, who are already bankrupt, would be able to afford paying 250,000 Lebanese pounds. So, why are people not getting vaccinated?

“It is not wrong to fine those who spread the virus, but people are broke and don’t have the money to pay for PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests,” he said.

Banker, Ghalia Khalil, said that due to the country’s economic crisis the majority of people living in Lebanon could not afford to buy a facemask, never mind pay a hefty fine.

“Many parents and children aren’t complying with health restrictions and remain unmasked … they think if they’re vaccinated, they won’t get infected. The challenge will be in the implementation of the law rather than the stipulation.”

Shop owner, Mohammed Itani, said the lawmakers’ move was inefficient and too late.

“Increasing the fine from 50,000 to 250,000 pounds came very late. We are facing a fourth wave of COVID-19 and the daily infections are scary. Fines should have been made high to force citizens to wear masks and get vaccinated when the outbreak started,” he added.

One Lebanese educational consultant, who would only give her name as Nisreen C., said she would not be getting vaccinated and would rather protect herself by wearing a mask. “I am not getting vaccinated no matter how much it costs or what it takes,” she added. 

Schoolteacher, Marwa E., said: “This is a good step, though late. I believe that this steep fine, no matter how harsh it may sound amid our financial downfall, will eventually encourage people to getting vaccinated and wear masks.”


US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria
Updated 07 December 2021

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

WASHINGTON: The US on Tuesday imposed sanctions on more than a dozen people and entities in Iran, Syria and Uganda, accusing them of being connected to serious human rights abuses and repressive acts.

In an action marking the week of the US Summit for Democracy, the Treasury Department said in a statement it was targeting repression and the undermining of democracy, designating individuals and entities tied to the violent suppression of peaceful protesters in Iran and deadly chemical weapons attacks against civilians in Syria, among others.

“Treasury will continue to defend against authoritarianism, promoting accountability for violent repression of people seeking to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.

Washington blacklisted two senior Syrian Air Force officers it accused of being responsible for chemical weapon attacks on civilians and three senior officers in Syria's security and intelligence apparatus, according to the statement.

In Iran, the US designated the Special Units of Iran's Law Enforcement Forces and Counter-Terror Special Forces, as well as several of their officials, and Gholamreza Soleimani, who commands Iran's hardline Basij militia. Two prisons and a prison director were also blacklisted over events that reportedly took place in them.

Tuesday's action freezes any US assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.


Despite no advances, France expects Iran nuclear talks to resume Thursday

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (Reuters/File Photo)
Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 07 December 2021

Despite no advances, France expects Iran nuclear talks to resume Thursday

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (Reuters/File Photo)

DOHA: France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday he expected nuclear talks between Iran and world powers to resume on Thursday, but after last week he had not been encouraged and feared Iran’s new negotiating was trying to gain time.

“The elements today of the discussion that re-started are not very encouraging because we have the feeling the Iranians want to make it last and the longer the talks last, the more they go back on their commitments ... and get closer to capacity to get a nuclear weapon.”

He said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week, but he hoped things would take a positive turn otherwise it could lead to a “serious situation.”


Iranian warship capsizes in Bandar Abbas dry dock

In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media. (Screenshot)
In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media. (Screenshot)
Updated 07 December 2021

Iranian warship capsizes in Bandar Abbas dry dock

In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media. (Screenshot)
  • It is the latest in a series of accidents involving Iranian naval vessels

LONDON: An Iranian warship due to launch next year has capsized before leaving its dry dock at Bandar Abbas port, according to a video and imagery published online at the weekend.

Satellite images appeared to confirm that the naval vessel Talayieh, which was going through the final stages of construction before its launch, was lying on its side and partially flooded. It is not clear how the ship had toppled over.

In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media.

The Planetscope satellite image, taken on Dec. 4, was tweeted by Chris Biggers, the mission applications director at HawkEye 360.

The photo shows the ship on its side in the same location as where the Talayieh was pictured being built in an image published by Iranian media in August.

Iranian naval officials said the Talayieh would be an “intelligence reconnaissance” vessel specializing in electronic warfare, while also providing assistance to other Iranian ships.  

According to experts, if a ship of the size of the Talayieh lies in the water for an extended period of time, it can lead to a number of issues that would require considerable time and energy to rectify.

It is the latest in a series of accidents involving Iranian naval vessels. In June, the Kharg — one of Iran’s largest naval vessels — caught fire and sunk in the Gulf of Oman.

In May 2020, 19 naval servicemen died and another 15 were injured when an Iranian warship accidentally opened fire on one of its own support vessels during a training exercise in the same body of water.


Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse

Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse
Updated 07 December 2021

Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse

Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse
  • Razan Al-Mubarak wants to ‘debunk myth’ that fighting climate change automatically preserves biodiversity
  • She hopes to see more regional cooperation on protection of indigenous wildlife

LONDON: The managing director of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency on Tuesday urged the international community to take action to prevent global biodiversity loss, which she said often “plays second fiddle” to the issue of climate change in international agreements.

Speaking at an online event hosted by the Emirates Society and attended by Arab News, Razan Khalifa Al-Mubarak said: “Often we link biodiversity and climate change as one and the same … But what’s important for us to understand and recognize is that addressing the issue of climate change won’t necessarily address the issue of biodiversity loss … because the drivers are different.”

She added that the disconnect between addressing climate change, which is caused largely by excess greenhouse gas emissions, and tackling biodiversity loss, which has an array of localized causes, became abundantly clear during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The economic slowdown, particularly in aviation and transportation, reduced global greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent — the greatest decrease in 100 years. But if you look at what happened in the biodiversity agenda, it actually increased,” said Al-Mubarak.

This was partly because urban-to-rural population flows increased, but global lockdowns also meant that conservation workers were prevented from carrying out their essential duties that preserve biodiverse systems.

The Zoological Society of London’s Director General Dominic Jermey told participants that a key indicator of global biodiversity change that his organization produces, the Living Planet Index, shows that land use for products such as palm oil or cotton is “one of the critical killers of wildlife.”

Al-Mubarak, who was recently appointed as president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said biodiversity, and nature more broadly, are essential to human survival, but the “myth” that addressing climate change will also protect diverse biological systems needs to be “debunked.”

In her home country of the UAE, her work has already proved successful in protecting or rejuvenating ecosystems, while also building relationships with international partners.

One of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency’s crowning successes was the re-introduction of the scimitar-horned oryx, which is extinct in the wild, back into its native Saharan habitat, an initiative carried out jointly with Chadian environmental officials, the ZSL and others.

In Europe, too, Al-Mubarak’s team has made inroads to protect endangered species. The UK and the UAE are signatories to the Raptors Memorandum of Understanding, an international agreement that protects the migration routes of birds of prey such as falcons.

And Abu Dhabi is host to the only office dedicated to the administration of the UN’s Bonn Convention on Migratory Species.

Al-Mubarak said: “What spurred the Raptors MoU between the UK and the UAE is the story of falconry. If you trace the story of falconry and falcon conservation in the UAE context … it was this fantastic bird, the fastest animal on the planet, that spurred the imagination of the leadership of institutions in the UAE to protect it.”

This went “beyond borders,” she added, explaining that their work to protect falcons and other migratory birds now extends to cooperation with Kazakhstan, China and Kyrgyzstan. 

She said cooperation with the UAE’s neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia and Oman, could also improve conservation efforts.

Responding to a question by Arab News, she said: “In our region we share species, and we need to be able to share and work on cross-boundary protected areas, which we really haven’t exploited yet. It’s something that we really need to do more of.”

Adding to the point, Jermey said: “Wild animals don’t have passports. It’s news to them that there are borders between countries, and we do need to think in a trans-border, trans-boundary way.”