Migrants on new route to Europe get trapped between borders

Migrants on new route to Europe get trapped between borders
After enduring a decade of war in Syria, Boshra Al-Moallem and her two sisters seized their chance to flee, but the journey proved terrifying and nearly deadly. (AP)
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Updated 01 October 2021

Migrants on new route to Europe get trapped between borders

Migrants on new route to Europe get trapped between borders
  • A Syrians woman became trapped at the border of Belarus and Poland for 20 days
  • Boshra Al-Moallem is one of thousands of people who traveled to Belarus in recent weeks and were then pushed across the border by Belarusian guards

BIALYSTOK, Poland: After enduring a decade of war in Syria, Boshra Al-Moallem and her two sisters seized their chance to flee. Her brother, who escaped years earlier to Belgium, had saved enough money for their trip, and word was spreading online that a new migration route into Europe had opened through Belarus.
But the journey proved terrifying and nearly deadly. Al-Moallem became trapped at the border of Belarus and Poland for 20 days and was pushed back and forth between armed guards from each side in an area of swamps. She endured cold nights, mosquitoes, hunger and terrible thirst. Only after she collapsed from exhaustion and dehydration did Polish guards finally take her to a hospital.
“I didn’t expect this to happen to us. They told us it’s really easy to go to Europe, to find your life, to run (from) war,” the 48-year-old said as she recovered this week in a refugee center in eastern Poland. “I didn’t imagine I would live another war between the borders.”
Al-Moallem is one of thousands of people who traveled to Belarus in recent weeks and were then pushed across the border by Belarusian guards. The European Union has condemned the Belarusian actions as a form of “hybrid war” against the bloc.
Originally from Homs, Al-Moallem was displaced to Damascus by the war. She said Belarusian officials tricked her into believing the journey into the EU would be easy and then used her as a “weapon” in a political fight against Poland. But she also says the Polish border guards were excessively harsh, denying her water and using dogs to frighten her and other migrants as the guards pushed them back across to Belarus, over and over again.
For years, people fleeing war in the Middle East have made dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, seeking safety in Western Europe. But after the arrival of more than a million people in 2015, European Union nations put up concrete and razor-wire walls, installed drone surveillance and cut deals with Turkey and Libya to keep migrants away.
The far less protected path into the EU through the forests and swamps of Eastern Europe emerged as a route only after the EU imposed sanctions on the regime of the authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, following a flawed election and a harsh crackdown on protesters.
Suddenly people from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere were flying to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on tourist visas and then traveling by car — many apparently aided by smugglers — to the border.
The three EU countries that border Belarus — Poland, Lithuanian and Latvia — accuse Lukashenko of acting to destabilize their societies.
If that is indeed the aim, it is working. Poland denied entry to thousands of migrants and refused to let them apply for asylum, violating international human rights conventions. The country has had its behavior criticized by human rights groups at home and abroad.
Stanislaw Zaryn, a spokesman for Poland’s special services, told The Associated Press that Polish forces always provide help to migrants if their lives are endangered. In other cases, while it might pain them not to help, Zaryn insisted that Poland must hold its ground and defend its border because it is being targeted in a high-stakes standoff with Belarus, which is backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Poland is of the opinion that only by thoroughly securing our border with Belarus are we able to stop this migration route, which is a route artificially created by Lukashenko with Putin’s support. It was artificially created in order to take revenge on the entire European Union,” Zaryn said.
With six migrants found dead along the border so far and small children returned to Belarus this week, human rights workers are appalled. They insist Poland must respect its obligations under international law to allow the migrants to apply for asylum, and not push them back across the border.
“The fact that these are Lukashenko’s political actions directed against Poland and directed against the European Union is obvious to us,” said Marianna Wartecka with the refugee rights group Fundacja Ocalenie. “But this does not justify the actions of the Polish state.”
Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the head of Poland’s Roman Catholic Church, also weighed in, giving his support to medics seeking access to the border to help. “We should not allow our brethren to suffer and die on our borders,” he said.
Lukashenko denies that his forces are pushing people into Poland, but his state media have seized on Poland’s response to depict the EU as a place where human rights are not respected.
After traveling from Syria to Lebanon, Al-Moallem, who was an English teacher in Syria, flew to Minsk, and from there took a taxi with her sisters and a brother-in-law to the border. Belarusian forces then guided the group to a spot to cross into Poland.
Crying as she told her story in English, Al-Moallem said that Belarusian forces told them: “It’s a really easy way to get to Poland. It’s a swamp. Just go through the swamp and up the hill, and you will be in Poland.”
“And when we were trying to get up the hill, Polish border guards pushed us back. Families, women, men, children. The children were screaming and crying,” she recalled. “I was asking Polish border guards, ‘Please just a drop of water. I’m so thirsty. I’ve been here without a drop of water.’”
But all they would do is snap back: “Go to Belarus. We are not responsible for you.”
That happened repeatedly, with the Belarusian forces taking them back, sometimes giving them nothing more than some bread, and then returning them the next night.
During her ordeal, she took videos of the desperate migrants with her phone and posted some to Facebook. Her videos and her account to the AP provide rare eyewitness evidence of the crisis at the border.
Such scenes unfold largely out of public view because Poland, following Lithuania and Latvia, declared a state of emergency along the border, which prevents journalists and human rights workers from going there.
The Polish government’s measures, which also involve bolstering border defenses with soldiers, are popular with many Poles. The conservative ruling party, which won power in 2015 on a strong anti-migrant platform, has seen its popularity strengthen in opinion polls amid the new crisis.
Despite Poland’s efforts, there are reports that some asylum-seekers have managed to cross into the EU undetected and headed farther west, often to reunite with relatives in Germany.
Al-Moallem says she and her relatives plan to leave the center where they are staying now and travel across the EU’s open borders to their brother in Belgium. They plan to seek asylum there. All she wants, she said, is for her family to be reunited after years of trauma and “to feel safe.”


Greece allows music in bars and restaurants again as COVID cases ease

Greece allows music in bars and restaurants again as COVID cases ease
Updated 27 January 2022

Greece allows music in bars and restaurants again as COVID cases ease

Greece allows music in bars and restaurants again as COVID cases ease
  • The country last month forced bars, nightclubs and restaurants to close at midnight
  • Capacity restrictions will remain in place for sport events, while a double mask is mandatory in supermarkets and transport

ATHENS: Greece will allow music in restaurants and bars again and extend their operating hours as it lifts some of the restrictions imposed last month now that coronavirus infections and the pressure on hospitals are easing, authorities said on Thursday.
The country last month forced bars, nightclubs and restaurants to close at midnight, with no standing customers and no music, following a surge of cases over the Christmas holidays due to the fast-spreading omicron variant.
“We have decided to scale back the restrictions, taking into consideration the course of the pandemic in terms of cases which have been declining in recent weeks,” Health Minister Thanos Plevris said in a televised statement.
He said that despite ongoing pressure on the health system, the rate of hospital admissions and discharges and a shorter duration and less severe illness for the omicron variant compared to Delta allowed authorities to ease the curbs.
Capacity restrictions will remain in place for sport events, while a double mask is mandatory in supermarkets and transport.
Greece reported 19,712 new cases on Thursday. Infections have been easing since a record high of around 50,000 in early January.
A total of 23,083 deaths linked to COVID-19 have been reported since February 2020 and 1,867,935 cases out of a population of 11 million people.


Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release

Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release
Updated 27 January 2022

Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release

Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release
  • ‘Abraham’ ran down attacker in car in ‘heroic’ action but was charged on suspicion of murder
  • London’s Metropolitan Police is facing criticism after it was revealed that it had been warned over McCaskie’s potential for violent behavior

LONDON: A Muslim man who ran over and killed a knifeman who was stabbing his ex-wife to death has urged police to abandon the case against him after he was charged on suspicion of murder.

The 26-year-old Chechen, named Abraham, intervened in the stabbing in West London, and has been labeled a hero for his actions, the Mail Online reported.

On Monday, Leon McCaskie, a 41-year-old who was known to police over abusive and angry behavior, attacked his former wife, Yasmin Wafah Chkaifi, 43, with a knife.

Abraham, who was driving nearby, saw the attack and rammed into McCaskie with his car.

But despite his efforts to save the defenseless woman, Abraham was charged and bailed until next month on a murder charge. It has left him “living in a nightmare,” according to his friends.

Abraham said: “I do not see why I, as the person who tried to assist in the defense of other human beings, remain arrested and on bail under suspicion of murder.”

Anger over his treatment has grown, with more than 20,000 people signing a petition demanding the case against him be dropped.

His lawyer, Mohammed Akunjee, issued a statement on behalf of Abraham. “I witnessed a man repeatedly stabbing a defenseless woman on the pavement a short distance in front of my car,” it said.

“I drove my vehicle toward the attacker in order to get him away from the woman he was attacking. I did not intend to harm the attacker. I only intended to protect those being attacked.

“My vehicle struck the attacker and he was taken under my car, causing it to stall. I could not reverse my car to free him. I and the other passersby attempted to lift the car away from the attacker so we could provide the man with first aid.

“Unfortunately we were unsuccessful with this and I have since learned that both the young lady and her attacker have died. I am deeply sorry that the man I tried to stop from attacking other people has died.

“It was never my intention to harm him, I just wanted to stop him from hurting anybody further. My only regret is that God did not allow me to be present at the scene sooner so that my intervention may have saved the life of the young woman concerned.

“I have asked my solicitor to contact the Metropolitan Police to request that they consider de-arresting me and begin treating me as a witness to a tragic event rather than as a criminal as they currently are.”

Abraham’s friends said he was in shock over the incident.

One said: “If he ever sees anyone in trouble he will always try to help. He’s a good Muslim man and couldn’t bear to see the woman being attacked.

“He was on his way to a job and stopped to do the right thing. He’s in shock about what happened. It’s been a nightmare for him.”

Another said: “This guy is a family man with children and was just doing the right thing. It was instinct and an act of human kindness.

“He is one of the most peaceful and good people I’ve ever met. He would never walk away when somebody needs help.

“He risked his life to save this poor woman. Police should praise him and let him go to his little children and wife.”

London’s Metropolitan Police said Abraham had been “fully cooperative” after being arrested following the incident.

The force is also facing criticism after it was revealed that it had been warned over McCaskie’s potential for violent behavior.

Chkaifi was increasingly concerned that McCaskie would try to kill her after learning that he had planted secret cameras in her home.

“He’s had cameras in my house recording me for months. He’s stolen my mail, my phone and has access to all my personal data. I think he will kill me.”

Chkaifi had filed a police report over the stalking allegations.

McCaskie was also convicted of obstructing a police officer and driving without insurance in 2017.

Chkaifi was a qualified childminder and was studying for a master’s degree.

A friend said of the slain mother: “She was a good soul. It’s very rare in life you come across a good soul. She always had a happy disposition. She was just a lovely person.”

Another said: “She was incredibly kind, hospitable and an amazing cook and dancer. She had a bubbly personality and a confidence about her that was so attractive.

“She was proud of her Moroccan heritage and a spiritual woman. We spoke about Islam, identity and social justice. She was a good person.”


Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon

Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon
Updated 27 January 2022

Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon

Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon
  • Renewed interest caused by socioeconomic crisis, Port of Beirut blast
  • Embassy urging Lebanese citizens living in Brazil to register to vote in upcoming elections

SAO PAULO: The ongoing Lebanese socioeconomic crisis, and the devastating explosion at the Port of Beirut in August 2020, have led many Lebanese Brazilians to show greater interest in the Arab country’s affairs.

Over the past couple of years, Lebanese Brazilians — whose numbers are estimated at between 3 million and 10 million — have promoted drives to assist Lebanon’s people, and have become more involved in its politics.   

This trend was intensified by a campaign launched in 2021 by the Lebanese Embassy in Brasilia to encourage Lebanese citizens living in Brazil to register to vote in elections scheduled for May.

“Many Lebanese Brazilians know very little about Lebanon. But now I think people are more conscious and trying to be informed,” said trader Nagib Makhlouf, 69, who was born in Brazil but has Lebanese citizenship.

He has already taken part in three Lebanese elections: Two in the country — he used to visit to see his mother, who lived there — and one from Brazil.  

“Lebanon is in such bad shape that many people in Brazil are outraged with the situation. I know a group of 10 Lebanese Jews who decided to register and vote for the first time,” Makhlouf said.

Lebanese-born Lody Brais, a community leader who helped publicize the embassy’s campaign, said more and more young Lebanese Brazilians have been manifesting their wish to get involved with Lebanon and help it overcome its crises.

“The diaspora’s vote may help change Lebanese politics. People have lost confidence in politicians,” added Brais, who helped collect food and medicines to be donated to Beirut after the explosion.

“Many descendants who have relatives there sent them money. Everybody was concerned for the victims.”

At the time, lawyer Hanna Mtanios Hanna Jr., honorary consul of Lebanon in the Brazilian city of Goiania, received dozens of calls during his COVID-19 confinement from people who wanted to do something to help Beirut.

“Grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Lebanese immigrants would call me saying they had a family connection with the country and wanted to help. Since then, their ties with Lebanon have been growing,” he said.

Lawyer Maggie Chidiac, 58, who has family in Lebanon, told Arab News that it is perceptible how living conditions in the country have declined in recent years.

“We’ve been sending them food and medicines. Community associations and churches usually coordinate donations,” she said.

“The people are facing terrible challenges. We know it because we’re always in touch with them through the internet.”

Communication between Lebanese and their Brazilian relatives have served to inform the latter about Lebanon’s politics, Chidiac said.

“Their reports and opinions are very important for us because they help us understand their situation,” she added.

One of the institutions that coordinated the donations campaign in 2020, the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce — known by the Portuguese acronym CCAB — not only funded healthcare items that were sent by Brazil’s government to Beirut, but also launched money-donation drives.

“The Lebanese consulate in Rio de Janeiro organized a music concert in which Brazilian musicians played with the Beirut orchestra,” said Mohamad Orra Mourad, CCAB’s vice president of international affairs.

“It was televised, and people could donate money to one of our accounts during the show. It all was sent to the Lebanese Red Cross.”

A Brazilian plane carried 6 tons of food, medicines and healthcare items, including mechanical ventilators.

CCAB was awarded a medal by Brazil’s government in December due its efforts in that campaign.

Mourad said the Lebanese Embassy met with Lebanese-Brazilian business leaders in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro last year, and asked them to find a way of contributing to the Lebanese economy.

“We’ve been organizing informal gatherings and discussing forms of answering that request, which can include an investment fund, for instance,” Mourad said.

CCAB will establish a juridical entity that can centralize donations for Lebanon and plans to launch different initiatives, including a program to train businesspeople in the country. Mourad said it also intends to connect Lebanese and Brazilian startups.

“We’ve been pushing for ratification of a commercial agreement between Lebanon and Mercosur,” he added, referring to the South American trade bloc. With ratification, “the commercial exchange could rapidly increase.”

Mourad believes that if more Lebanese Brazilians obtain Lebanese citizenship, they will feel more connected to the country and may decide to invest in it.

“The revived interest among Lebanese Brazilians can certainly lead businessmen to invest in Lebanon,” he said.

“But that will only happen if Lebanon can demonstrate that it will work to overcome instability.”


Royal Navy cannot solve English Channel migrant crisis, veteran tells MPs

Royal Navy cannot solve English Channel migrant crisis, veteran tells MPs
Updated 27 January 2022

Royal Navy cannot solve English Channel migrant crisis, veteran tells MPs

Royal Navy cannot solve English Channel migrant crisis, veteran tells MPs
  • Tom Sharpe: ‘We have to acknowledge … where the solution to this lies, and it’s not at sea’
  • Over 28,000 people made perilous crossing in 2021, many from Middle East, North Africa

LONDON: The British Royal Navy is incapable of patroling the English Channel to prevent further migrant crossings, and increased ships in the area could encourage more to attempt the perilous journey, a former patrol boat commander has warned MPs.

Tom Sharpe, who served in the navy for 27 years, made his comments as Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to it taking over the Channel patrols operation from the Border Force.

A record 28,381 migrants arrived on British shores on dinghies or other small vessels last year, triple the number for 2020. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel last week told Parliament that she had “commissioned the Ministry of Defense as a crucial operational partner to protect our Channel against illegal migration.” 

On Wednesday, Sharpe told the House of Commons defense committee: “We have to acknowledge right at the start, in terms of context, about where the solution to this lies, and it’s not at sea.”

He added: “If you fill the Channel with ships you could make this problem worse because you’re now making the crossing safer, and therefore more attractive.

“In terms of what the navy’s got right now, as I say they could use anything, but there is no fat, there is no spare capacity.

“The person in the planning board ... is going to be hoping desperately that naval vessels aren’t requisitioned for this task because they’re all in use on other things.”

John Spellar, acting chairman of the defense committee, said it is “unfortunate that the Ministry of Defense has declined to provide either a minister or an official or a senior navy officer” to respond to queries. 

Sharpe said the navy could assist with intelligence collection and resource organization, suggesting that ministers could spend on 10 surveillance nodes to track attempted crossings. 

Under this approach, he said, “you’re not playing ‘whack-a-mole’ any more, to use that expression, which is what I think is happening now.”

The veteran sailor said he could not “conceive a situation where you’re physically turning these ships back that’s either legal, or perhaps more importantly, safe.”

His comments against more confrontational tactics come as Border Force workers this month threatened to strike over Patel’s “pushback” tactics, which were passed in September but are currently under judicial review. 

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “We cannot have a situation where our members could be open to potential civil and criminal action for implementing a policy that they do not agree with and know is not safe.”


Violence erupts at rally in Pakistan’s port city, killing 1

Violence erupts at rally in Pakistan’s port city, killing 1
Updated 27 January 2022

Violence erupts at rally in Pakistan’s port city, killing 1

Violence erupts at rally in Pakistan’s port city, killing 1
  • MQM mainly represents ethnic MoHajjirs, who fled to Pakistan from India during 1947′s partition

KARACHI: Police in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi clashed overnight with activists demanding the repeal of a law to limit powers of local mayors, killing one, officials said Thursday.
The violence erupted when police swung batons and fired tear gas to prevent rallygoers from marching toward government offices in the southern port city, drawing nationwide condemnation across the political spectrum.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or MQM, told reporters that party member Mohammad Aslam died at a hospital after being injured in the ensuing crush with police. Women and children were also among the dozens of injured.
MQM mainly represents ethnic MoHajjirs, who fled to Pakistan from India during 1947′s partition, and it dominates politics in Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province. It is an ally in the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Thousands are expected to attend the activist’s funeral on Thursday, and the MQM has called for another day of protests.

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