US: Afghan evacuees who fail initial screening Kosovo-bound

US: Afghan evacuees who fail initial screening Kosovo-bound
Families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, walk past a US Air Force plane that they had arrived on at Pristina International Airport, Kosovo, Aug. 29, 2021. (AP Photo)
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Updated 04 September 2021

US: Afghan evacuees who fail initial screening Kosovo-bound

US: Afghan evacuees who fail initial screening Kosovo-bound
  • The US will use a military camp, Bondsteel, that houses the US army near Pristina for the further screening and processing of evacuees
  • Kosovo considers itself a close ally of the United States since the US spearheaded a 1999 NATO air campaign against Serbian forces

An ardent US ally, Kosovo, has agreed to take in Afghanistan evacuees who fail to clear initial rounds of screening and host them for up to a year, a US official said Saturday, in an intended fix to one of the security problems of the frantic US evacuation from the Kabul airport.
The US plan is likely to face objections from refugee advocates, who already complain of a lack of public disclosure and uncertain legal jurisdiction in the Biden administration’s use of overseas screening sites. Those quickly set-up overseas transit sites are still operating near or at full speed to verify eligibility and look for security issues among thousands of Afghans and smaller numbers of Americans flown out of Taliban-held Afghanistan between Aug. 15 and Aug. 31.
The US official spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the plan. It was the first disclosure of what the US intends to do with Afghans or other evacuees who have failed to clear initial rounds of screening or whose cases otherwise require more processing.
The US Embassy in Kosovo in a statement later Saturday stressed that the arrangement did not mean Kosovo was taking evacuees who had been deemed ineligible for admission to the United States. “Some applicants are still in the process of obtaining needed documents and providing all the information required to qualify under USlaw for immediate entry,” the embassy statement said.
The Biden administration had resisted months of urging from some refugee organizations and veterans groups to bring former Afghan allies or others most vulnerable to targeting by the Taliban to American territory for security screening and other processing.
Several other countries for a time balked at temporarily hosting the United States’ Afghan evacuees, for fear of getting stuck with the Americans’ security problems. That all presented major obstacles in US preparations for evacuation of vulnerable Afghans, even before Kabul fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15.
The Taliban’s lightning conquest of Afghanistan set off the chaotic US-military airlift out of the Kabul airport.
The administration within days of the Taliban takeover mobilized thousands of US troops, diplomats, law enforcement agents, border and transportation workers, volunteers and others for screening, processing and caring for evacuees at more than a half-dozen US naval stations, airfields and army bases in Europe and Asia. Officials and volunteers handed stuffed animals and toys to arriving children at many of the transit sites, and set up play areas.
The aim of the mobilization was to get deserving evacuees through to the United States as quickly as possible, and stop possible security risks among evacuees, and other evacuees who failed to qualify for relocation to the United States, before they touched foot on US soil.
Refugee groups criticize the Biden administration evacuation effort as too late, and too little planned. The hastiness of the airlifts after Kabul fell has led to a minority of people among the evacuees getting thousands of miles from the Kabul airport before Americans detected problems, including some evacuees with security issues.
In one instance, a red flag popped up on an evacuee’s case as he was mid-flight between two of the overseas transit sites, another US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the processing. In a comparatively small number of cases, the US transit sites overseas also are dealing with other evacuees who require further investigation, or who lie or destroy their identification in hopes of qualifying for immigration, that US official said.
Some who managed to get through crushing crowds and US and Taliban controls at the airport got put on planes and made it to transit sites, without any apparent eligibility for US relocation as an at-risk Afghan, the official said.
Most Afghan evacuees are clearing processing in a matter of days at large transit sites that US government employees set up quickly at military bases in Qatar, Germany and Italy, along with smaller sites elsewhere. Those evacuees then fly through Philadelphia or Washington Dulles airports for resettling in the United States.
Other US officials have said they expect most or all Afghans whose cases may initially raise red flags or questions to pass further screening.
Eligible Afghans include those who worked for the US government, or women’s advocates, journalists or others vulnerable because of their role in Afghan civil society.
The US official who disclosed the Kosovo plan said the transit centers “provide a safe place for diverse groups ... to complete their paperwork while we conduct security screenings before they continue to their final destination in the United States or in another country.”
The US will use a military camp, Bondsteel, that houses the US army near the Kosovo capital for the further screening and processing of evacuees intended for resettlement in the United States, the US official said. A site down the road that formerly housed road crews is to temporarily house evacuees bound for other NATO countries, under NATO’s management and care.
Germany and Italy each have set time limits of no more than two weeks for US processing of any one evacuee on their soil.
Kosovo considers itself a close ally of the United States since the US spearheaded a 1999 NATO air campaign against Serbian forces brutalizing Kosovo civilians. The two Afghan evacuee sites sit along a highway named after President Joe Biden’s late son, Beau Biden, who helped train local judges and prosecutors after the Kosovo war.
Kosovo leaders have agreed to one-year stays for the evacuees, with a possibility of extensions. Kosovo’s prime minister and other officials turned out at the airport to welcome the first Afghan evacuees.
The majority of Kosovo’s people are Muslim, like Afghans, although Kosovo’s constitution establishes it as a secular state. Kosovo has a substantial minority of Orthodox Christian Serbs.
Refugee organizations say the US hasn’t been open or efficient in its treatment of evacuees at overseas transit centers.
“There’s just a staggering lack of transparency from the administration about what is happening, who is there ... who to contact if there are issues” for evacuees at the sites, said Adam Bates, an attorney with the International Refugee Assistance Project, one of the main US refugee working with with Afghans seeking escape from the Taliban.
He spoke before the Biden administration disclosed its plans for the Kosovo site.


HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO
Updated 07 December 2021

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO
  • “We must tackle Covid-19 and HIV in parallel," WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said
  • Covid has also slowed HIV screening rates because of restrictions of movements

JOHANNESBURG: HIV infection rates in Africa have decreased markedly, but the continent is still behind set targets, with efforts slowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
“Africa has made significant progress against HIV over the past decade, reducing new infections by 43 percent and nearly halving AIDS-related deaths,” the WHO Africa office said in a statement.
But it warned that Africa was not likely to meet a target to end AIDS as a public health threat by the turn of the decade as Covid has undermined the fight in many countries.
“Covid-19 has made the fight against HIV all the more challenging, but one virus must not win out over another. We must tackle Covid-19 and HIV in parallel,” WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said.
Covid has also slowed HIV screening rates because of restrictions of movements.
UNAIDS last week warned that HIV infection rates were not decreasing fast enough to reach the goal of eradicating AIDS by 2030.
According to data released at the annual International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (ICASA) currently being held in South Africa’s port city of Durban, only nine African countries are on track to meet the target in the next four years.
The countries are Botswana, Cape Verde, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
“This scorecard is a wake-up call for African governments to stay focused on ending AIDS,” Moeti said.
South Africa, the country with the world’s highest HIV prevalence at 20.4 percent, is hosting the week-long annual meeting bringing together scientists, politicians and activists.

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Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
Updated 07 December 2021

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
  • A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against coronavirus had been placed under lockdown
  • Details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces

VIENNA: Unvaccinated individuals will continue to stay in lockdown even after Austria lifts its wider coronavirus measure for the general public on Sunday, Chancellor Karl Nehammer confirmed on Tuesday, a day after he took office.
Austria’s two-week-old lockdown aimed to counter a surge in daily COVID-19 infections to record levels, with restaurants, bars, theaters, museums and non-essential shops shut to all but take-away business. Hotels are closed to tourists.
A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against coronavirus had been placed under lockdown, barring them from roughly the same places that are now shut, and allowed to leave home only for the same few reasons as the public now, such as going to work.
“The lockdown for the unvaccinated is staying,” Nehammer told a news conference, while confirming that the wider curbs would be lifted on Sunday as planned.
However, details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces.
“For all the unvaccinated who are suffering from the fact they are staying in lockdown, there is a clear offer: you can come out of it if you seize the chance to get vaccinated,” Nehammer said, adding that his aim was to encourage as many as possible to get their first dose of vaccine.
Asked if restaurants and hotels would re-open at the weekend, Nehammer said that had already been agreed with provincial governors and the aim was to re-open businesses as broadly as possible.
The question that remained was what safety measures and curbs needed to be adopted, he added.


Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February
Updated 07 December 2021

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February
  • Move follows government ban on all arrivals to combat spread of omicron variant
  • Irish carrier is largest airline in Europe, which is facing severe COVID-19 outbreak

LONDON: Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, has canceled all flights to Morocco until February 2022.

The move follows a total ban by the Moroccan government on flights arriving in the North African country until Dec. 13 to combat the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

It is not yet clear whether the ban will extend beyond the initial December deadline.

Other countries, including Japan and Israel, have also implemented stringent flight bans in an attempt to prevent the spread of the new variant.

Irish carrier Ryanair usually flies thousands of flights a day across Europe and beyond. The continent’s COVID-19 outbreak is far worse than many other places in the world, including Morocco, which recorded just 90 cases in the last 24 hours compared with 50,000 in Britain.


One dead, two missing after building collapses in France

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France
Updated 07 December 2021

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France
  • Two adjacent buildings were also heavily damaged in the blast that occurred in the port at Sanary

SANARY-SUR-MER,France: French rescue workers on Tuesday recovered a man’s body from the rubble of a residential building destroyed overnight in a suspected gas explosion, and were scrambling to find two other people still missing after extracting a woman and a baby alive.
The woman and baby as well as three others were injured in the blast in the Mediterranean coastal city of Sanary-sur-Mer, which was heard from as far as eight kilometers (five miles) away.
“It’s very likely that the victim is the father of the baby,” Houda Vernhet, director of the government’s regional authority for the Var region, told AFP.
He was unconscious when located and declared dead after rescue workers spent more than two hours removing him from the unsteady wreckage of the three-story building.
The two people still missing “are a mother, an elderly woman, and her son” who lived on the ground floor, Vernhet said.
“For now, we haven’t yet found any signs of life from the rubble, but we didn’t hear the baby right away, either,” said Col. Eric Grohin, director of the fire service for the Var department.
Authorities said rescue workers smelled gas when they arrived at the site.
“The causes aren’t known for now. There was smell of gas, but we can’t say anything more while the police inquiry is underway,” the regional authorities said in a statement.
Two adjacent buildings were also heavily damaged in the blast that occurred in the port at Sanary, a city of around 15,000 people southeast of Marseille.


Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities
Updated 07 December 2021

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities
  • Among the billionaire's collection were items from Egypt, Turkey and Iraq

NEW YORK: Billionaire hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt has agreed to turn over $70 million worth of stolen antiquities and will be subject to an unprecedented lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities, the Manhattan district attorney announced Monday.
In return, Steinhardt, a philanthropist who is chair of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and co-founder of Birthright Israel, an organization that sends young Jews on free trips to Israel, will not face criminal charges for acquiring pieces that were illegally smuggled out of 11 countries including Iraq, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Syria and Turkey, prosecutors said.
“For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artifacts without concern for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold, or the grievous cultural damage he wrought across the globe,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a news release. “His pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and sell knew no geographic or moral boundaries, as reflected in the sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers, and tomb raiders he relied upon to expand his collection."
Steinhardt said in a prepared statement issued by his attorneys that he was "pleased that the District Attorney’s years-long investigation has concluded without any charges, and that items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries.”
Attorneys Andrew J. Levander and Theodore V. Wells Jr. said that many of the dealers from whom Steinhardt bought the items “made specific representations as to the dealers’ lawful title to the items, and to their alleged provenance.”
According to prosecutors, while complaining about a subpoena requesting documentation for an antiquity in May 2017, Steinhardt pointed to a small chest from Greece and said to an investigator, “You see this piece? There’s no provenance for it. If I see a piece and I like it, then I buy it.”
Many of the pieces Steinhardt acquired were removed from their countries of origin during times of war or civil unrest, prosecutors said.
Steinhardt, who turns 81 on Tuesday, founded the hedge fund Steinhardt Partners in 1967 and closed it in 1995. He came out of retirement in 2004 to head Wisdom Tree Investments.
New York University named its Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development after Steinhardt in recognition of two $10 million donations.
Manhattan prosecutors began investigating Steinhardt's collection of ancient artifacts in 2017 and raided his office and his Manhattan home in 2018, seizing several artworks that investigators said had been looted.
The items surrendered by Steinhardt include a stag’s head in the form of a ceremonial vessel for libations, dating from to 400 B.C., which prosecutors say appeared without provenance on the international market after rampant looting in Milas, Turkey. The stag's head is valued at $3.5 million, the district attorney said.
There was also the chest for human remains from the Greek Island of Crete, called a larnax and dating from around 1300 B.C., which prosecutors said was purchased from a known antiquities trafficker.