Unaccompanied Afghan evacuee children in Qatar limbo

Evacuees from Afghanistan arrive at Hamad International Airport in Qatar's capital Doha on September 10, 2021. (AFP)
Evacuees from Afghanistan arrive at Hamad International Airport in Qatar's capital Doha on September 10, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 11 September 2021

Unaccompanied Afghan evacuee children in Qatar limbo

Evacuees from Afghanistan arrive at Hamad International Airport in Qatar's capital Doha on September 10, 2021. (AFP)
  • Qatar Charity and other agencies are now taking care of the group who are mostly aged between eight and 17 years old, with the youngest housed at a separate facility

DOHA: The daily life of unaccompanied Afghan refugee children in Qatar is punctuated by recurring questions, “where are we going?” and “can I have some chips.”
About 200 uprooted young Afghans arrived in Doha aboard flights from Kabul in recent weeks and are being hosted at a reception center, where they grapple with the trauma of their ordeals.
They are now being cared for by Qatar Charity, a humanitarian organization that has sought to protect them from prying eyes and keep them out of the reaches of people traffickers.
Officials are picking a path for the future of the children who have adopted new routines, playing football, exercising and enjoying arts and crafts.
“It’s very hard to imagine the trauma that they’ve been through,” said an aid worker based in the Middle East who declined to be named.
“All of them are in a state of shock and trauma, similar to what we’ve seen in places like Iraq or Syria with kids who have lived in (Daesh group) areas.”
The Taliban’s shock takeover rekindled fears among Afghanistan’s people of a return to the hard-line rule between 1996 and 2001 which was marked by public executions, floggings and amputations for misdemeanours.
Many fled, including the youngsters, some of whom cannot recall the circumstances of their abrupt departure from their homeland, while others give contradictory accounts of how they came to be in Qatar.
According to the UN children’s agency UNICEF, around 300 unaccompanied children were evacuated from Afghanistan to Qatar, Germany and other countries after August 14.

Questions are swirling about how they came to be at Kabul’s airport and then embark on planes bound for Qatar, and drastically different lives, but answers are in short supply.
The US Embassy in Doha did not comment on the specifics of the children’s case.
A French police officer who was present at the Kabul airport gates described seeing a woman “desperately throw her baby into the barbed wire toward the French special forces who recovered and handed the child to American medics.”
“The baby was treated and evacuated to Doha. He was really tiny. His mother just disappeared into the crowd,” he added.
The officer witnessed other dramatic scenes.
“One man arrived at the gate with three young children who he passed off as his own. They were orphans, he probably used them to get the gate open, but they were also evacuated.
“Stories like that highlight the chaos. They’ll be part of the history of this fiasco.”
Qatar Charity and other agencies are now taking care of the group who are mostly aged between eight and 17 years old, with the youngest housed at a separate facility.
In Doha, children were settled at accommodations, to which AFP was not granted access, and grouped by age or family group if they arrived together.
As far as possible they were also grouped according to the friendships and bonds forged during their respective journeys.

“They can get attached to other children very quickly. They feel things stronger than anyone,” Fatima-Zahra Bakkari, a Moroccan in charge of international cooperation for Qatar Charity.
She singled out two children aged 12 and 13 who had become inseparable in just over a week.
When the older child learnt that they were soon to move on, he offered to move out of the younger child’s bedroom so they could prepare for possibly never seeing one another again.
“We all cry a lot,” Bakkari said about the aid workers. “We laugh a lot too,” she added recounting the occasional child waking up to “steal” a packet of crisps.
Despite their homely surroundings, the youngsters still face uncertainty.
“We tell them the time will come, we don’t know when but it will come,” for them to move on, said Bakkari.
Children separated from their parents are “among the most vulnerable children in the world,” according to Henrietta Fore, head of UNICEF.
“It is vital that they are quickly identified and kept safe during family tracing and reunification processes.”
Qatar has provided shelter, physical and psychological care, food and emotional attention.
“Then comes the delicate part,” said the humanitarian official who requested anonymity.
“The-best case scenario is we manage to find first-degree relatives, a grandmother, an aunt, an uncle. But in many cases we might not be able to do that.”
Qatar Charity has set up a hotline for the children to call their relatives, but for those with no one to call their carers will need to ensure they are looked after in the long-term.
“Then eventually the child can integrate in a safe community so they are equipped with the things they need to become a normal adult,” the aid worker added.


Iraq’s finance minister resigns of political crisis

Iraq’s finance minister resigns of political crisis
Updated 8 sec ago

Iraq’s finance minister resigns of political crisis

Iraq’s finance minister resigns of political crisis
BAGHDAD: Iraq’s finance minister resigned Tuesday, two government officials said, over the country’s worst political crisis in years involving an influential Shiite cleric and his Iran-aligned rivals.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said Finance Minister Ali Allawi resigned during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday to protest the political conditions. They said Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar will become acting finance minister.
Allawi’s decision came weeks after members of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr’s parliamentary bloc resigned from parliament and his supporters stormed the parliament building in Baghdad. Al-Sadr later demanded that parliament be dissolved and early elections held.
Al-Sadr won the largest share of seats in the election last October but failed to form a majority government that excluded his Iran-aligned rivals.
Al-Sadr’s political rivals in the Coordination Framework, an alliance of Iran-backed parties, said earlier that parliament would have to convene to dissolve itself. They called the Al-Sadr supporters’ storming of parliament a “coup” and have held demonstrations in support of the government.
Iraq’s political impasse, now in its 10th month, is the longest in the country since the 2003 US-led invasion reset the political order.

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 
Updated 27 min 11 sec ago

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 
  • Lebanon’s Attorney General released the man after the bank dropped the lawsuit against him, Al Arabiya TV reported

Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein, the Lebanese man who was hailed a hero for taking hostages at gunpoint in a Beirut bank while demanding the release of his frozen funds to pay for his father’s medical treatment, has been released, according to TV news channel Al Arabiya. 

Lebanon’s Attorney General released the man after the bank dropped the lawsuit against him, Al Arabiya TV reported on Tuesday. 

Details on charges against him have yet to be released. 

Crowds gathered outside the bank to show their support for Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein. (File/AFP) 

The man – who held eight employees hostage inside the Federal Bank branch in the capital city – was arrested on Thursday, Aug. 11, after a seven-hour standoff, despite the promise that he would be allowed to walk free. 

The 42-year-old surrendered after authorities told his family he would be given $35,000 of his money and would only be held for questioning. The Lebanese central bank had imposed a freeze on all deposits in 2019. 

According to media reports at the time, Al-Sheikh Hussein had been armed with a pump-action shotgun and gasoline, which he said he would use to set himself alight. 

Crowds gathered outside the bank on Thursday to show their support and applauded the man as authorities took him into custody. 
 


Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court
Updated 29 min 59 sec ago

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court
  • Khalil Awawdeh is protesting being held without charge or trial under what Israel refers to as administrative detention
  • Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention

JERUSALEM: The lawyer for a Palestinian prisoner said Tuesday that his client will appeal his case to Israel’s Supreme Court as he continues what his family says is a 165-day hunger strike against his detention.
Also Tuesday, an Israeli military court extended the sentence for a second Palestinian prisoner by six days.
The release of both men — hunger striker Khalil Awawdeh and Bassam Al-Saadi, a West Bank Islamic Jihad leader — was among the demands of the Islamic Jihad militant group for a cease-fire to last week’s intense fighting in the Gaza Strip.
Khalil Awawdeh is protesting being held without charge or trial under what Israel refers to as administrative detention. Ahlam Haddad, Awawdeh’s lawyer, said her client’s health is deteriorating and that they asked that he be released. An Israeli military court on Monday rejected an appeal.
“Justice was not done with that man,” Haddad said. “We turn to ... the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, in order maybe to get the relief requested, which is his release from administrative detention.”
Awawdeh, a 40-year-old father of four, is one of several Palestinian prisoners who have gone on prolonged hunger strikes over the years to protest administrative detention. Israel says the policy helps keep dangerous militants off the streets and allows the government to hold suspects without divulging sensitive intelligence. Critics say the policy denies prisoners due process.
Israel says Awawdeh is a militant, an allegation he has denied through his lawyer.
The Islamic Jihad militant group demanded his release as part of an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire ending three days of heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip earlier this month but did not identify him as its member. Israel arrested Al-Saadi in the days leading up to the Gaza flare-up.
Haddad said her client has not eaten during the strike, except for a 10-day period in which he received vitamin injections, according to his family. Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service has not commented on his case.
Israel is currently holding some 4,400 Palestinian prisoners, including militants who have carried out deadly attacks, as well as people arrested at protests or for throwing stones. Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention, a number that jumped in March as Israel began near-nightly arrest raids in the occupied West Bank following a spate of deadly attacks against Israelis.
Israel says it provides due process and largely imprisons those who threaten its security, though a small number are held for petty crimes.
Palestinians and human rights groups say the system is designed to quash opposition to Israel’s 55-year military occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state, which shows no sign of ending.


Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued
Updated 33 min 27 sec ago

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued
  • The family had sought to expand the lawsuit to also target Lebanon
  • The Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had asked for permission to formally sue Lebanon

CONCORD, New Hampshire: A judge on Monday denied a family’s attempt to sue Lebanon on allegations that the country’s security agency kidnapped and tortured their family member before he died in the US, and that the agency could not intervene in the case.
Amer Fakhoury, a Lebanese American man, died in the US in August 2020 at age 57 from stage 4 lymphoma. His family’s lawsuit, filed in Washington last year against Iran, says he developed the illness and other serious medical issues while imprisoned during a visit to Lebanon over decades-old murder and torture charges that he denied.
The family had sought to expand the lawsuit to also target Lebanon.
Fakhoury’s detention in 2019 and release in 2020 marked another strain in relations between the United States and Lebanon, which finds itself beset by one of the world’s worst economic disasters and squeezed by tensions between Washington and Iran.
Lawyers representing Lebanon’s security agency, the General Directorate of General Security, had first asked to intervene in the Fakhoury family’s wrongful death lawsuit against Iran to have the allegations against Lebanon stricken. That request also was denied by US District Judge John Bates in his order Monday.
The Lebanese security agency had claimed the lawsuit falsely accuses it and its director of “serious crimes of kidnapping, torture and killing at the direction or aid of alleged terrorist organizations.”
In turn, the Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had asked for permission to formally sue Lebanon.
The family’s lawsuit initially argued it was possible to sue Iran under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, as it has been designated as a “state sponsor of terrorism” since 1984. The suit also described Hezbollah, now both a dominant political and militant force in Lebanon, as an “instrument” of Iran.
Tolchin had said the Fakhourys interpreted the Lebanon security agency’s request to intervene as a wavier of sovereign immunity. An attorney for the agency denied that, and the judge agreed.
Bates wrote that there is “insufficient evidence for the court to conclude” that the agency intended to waive its sovereign immunity.
Bates also wrote that the allegations about Fakhoury’s detention in Lebanon that the security agency wishes to strike “are central to this lawsuit.”
Messages seeking comment were sent to the lawyers.
Iran has yet to respond to the lawsuit. It has ignored others filed against it in American courts in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and US Embassy hostage crisis.
Fakhoury’s imprisonment in Lebanon took place in September 2019, not long after he became an American citizen. Fakhoury, a restaurateur in New Hampshire, visited his home country on vacation for the first time in nearly 20 years. A week after he arrived, he was jailed and his passport was seized, his family has said.
The day before he was taken into custody, a newspaper close to the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah published a story accusing him of playing a role in the torture and killing of inmates at a prison run by an Israeli-backed Lebanese militia during Israel’s occupation of Lebanon two decades ago. Fakhoury was a member of the South Lebanon Army.
The article dubbed him the “butcher” of the Khiam Detention Center, which was notorious for human rights abuses. Fakhoury’s family said he had worked at the prison as a member of the militia, but that he was a clerk who had little contact with inmates. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Fakhoury left the country like many other militia members who feared reprisals. He arrived in the US in 2001.
As early as 2018, Fakhoury had sought assurances from the US State Department and the Lebanese government that he could visit Lebanon freely. His family said he was told there were no accusations against him in Lebanon or no legal matters that might interfere with his return.
Upon his return to Lebanon, Fakhoury was held for five months before he was formally charged, his family said. By then, he had dropped more than 60 pounds, was suffering from lymphoma, and had rib fractures, among other serious health problems, they said.
Eventually, the Lebanese Supreme Court dropped the charges against Fakhoury. He was returned to the United States on March 19, 2020, on a US Marine Corps Osprey aircraft. He died five months later.


Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks

Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks
Updated 16 August 2022

Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks

Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks
  • The Bahamas is among the nations forecast to be hit hardest by rising sea levels due to climate change

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry held a video conference call with the Bahamas’ Prime Minister Philip Davis on the occasion of the latter hosting a Caribbean meeting on climate change.

They discussed issues of common interest, including Egypt’s hosting of the 27th UN Climate Change Conference in November.

Shoukry discussed Egypt’s preparations for the conference, the most prominent topics on the agenda, and its desire to enhance international climate action.

Davis gave Shoukry the perspective of island nations on climate change and its consequences.

The Bahamas is among the nations forecast to be hit hardest by rising sea levels due to climate change.

Davis said 15 percent of his country’s gross domestic product is threatened by climate change, and 11 percent of Bahamians are threatened by rising sea levels, Reuters reported.