UN plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray

UN plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray
Armed Tigray forces, center, accompany captured Ethiopian government soldiers and allied militia members as they are paraded through the streets in open-top trucks, as are taken to a detention center in Mekele, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (AP Photo)
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Updated 23 October 2021

UN plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray

UN plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray
  • Friday’s strike hits university campus, say humanitarian sources

ADDIS ABABA: An Ethiopian government air strike on the capital of the northern Tigray region on Friday forced a UN flight carrying aid workers to abort a landing there, the United Nations said.
Humanitarian sources and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the area, said a university in Mekelle was hit by the strike.
Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu said a former military base occupied by TPLF fighters was targeted, and he denied the university was hit.
Reuters was not able to independently confirm either account. Tigrai TV, controlled by the TPLF-led regional administration that is not recognized by Addis Ababa, reported that 11 civilians were wounded in the air strike. It was the fourth day this week that Mekelle had been attacked.
The UN suspended all flights to Mekelle after Friday’s incident. UN global aid chief Martin Griffiths said the UN had not received any prior warning of the attacks on Mekelle and had received the necessary clearances for the flight.
The incident raises serious concerns for the safety of aid workers trying to help civilians in need, Griffiths said in a statement, adding that all parties to the conflict should respect international humanitarian law including protecting humanitarian staff and assets from harm.
The 11 passengers on board Friday’s flight were aid workers traveling to a region where some 7 million people, including 5 million in Tigray, need humanitarian help, another UN official told reporters in New York.
TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda accused the government of putting the UN plane in harm’s way. “Our air defense units knew the UN plane was scheduled to land (and) it was due in large measure to their restraint it was not caught in a crossfire,” he said in a tweet.
Legesse, the government spokesperson, rejected the TPLF accusation. “I can assure you that there is no deliberate or intended act that put the efforts of UN humanitarian staff and their plan of delivering aid to the disadvantage (sic) group,” Legesse said in a text message to Reuters.
Ethiopian army spokesperson Col. Getnet Adene did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

PEOPLE FLEEING IN AMHARA
The two sides have been fighting for almost a year in a conflict that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than two million amid a power struggle between the TPLF and the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s central government.
The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s ruling party for decades before Abiy, who is not a Tigrayan, took office in 2018.
The government has stepped up air strikes on the Tigray capital as fighting has escalated in Amhara, a neighboring region where the TPLF has seized territory that the government and allied armed Amhara armed groups are trying to recover.
Residents in Dessie, a city in Amhara, told Reuters people were fleeing, a day after a TPLF spokesperson said its forces were within artillery range of the town.
“The whole city is panicking,” a resident said, adding that people who could were leaving. He said he could hear the sound of heavy gunfire on Thursday night and into the morning, and that the bus fare to the capital Addis Ababa, about 385 km (240 miles) to the south, had increased more than six-fold.
There are now more than 500,000 displaced people in the Amhara region and that number is growing rapidly due to the latest fighting, the National Disaster Risk Management Commission told Reuters.
Seid Assefa, a local official working at a coordination center for displaced people in Dessie, said 250 people had fled there this week from fighting in the Girana area to the north.
“We now have a total of 900 (displaced people) here and we finished our food stocks three days ago.”
Leul Mesfin, medical director of Dessie Hospital, told Reuters that two girls and an adult had died this week at his facility of wounds from artillery fire in the town of Wuchale, which both the government and the TPLF have described as the scene of heavy fighting over the past week.


Migrants jailed in UK for guiding dinghies fight convictions

Migrants jailed in UK for guiding dinghies fight convictions
Updated 28 November 2021

Migrants jailed in UK for guiding dinghies fight convictions

Migrants jailed in UK for guiding dinghies fight convictions
  • Landmark judgment in April saw Iranian asylum seeker freed after steering small vessel

LONDON: A group of migrants who were imprisoned in the UK for steering dinghies across the English Channel are staging a bid to have their convictions overturned, The Independent newspaper has reported.

The group, comprised of 12 people, were labeled people smugglers and were prosecuted for aiding illegal migration.

However, in the wake of a landmark case won by an Iranian asylum seeker in April, the 12 men have decided to fight their convictions through the England and Wales Court of Appeal.

Lawmakers will host special court sessions next month to stage legal arguments over four of the 12 cases. The rulings handed down in the four cases will apply to the remainder of the cases.

Three of the cases involve migrants from Iran, while the fourth relates to a Kuwaiti citizen.

Iranian Samyar Bani, who was prosecuted in June 2019 and jailed for six years, will have his case considered first. His lawyer said: “This is a situation I have never heard of before. He is as much of a victim as others who have found their way to our shores.”

Aiding in an unlawful migration is typically a charge leveled against smugglers who receive substantial payments, including truck drivers.

A Court of Appeal judgment earlier in the year made available a defense for asylum seekers guiding small vessels who were found guilty of the charge.

It came after Fouad Kakaei, an asylum seeker, had his conviction overturned during a retrial.

Kakaei said that he had “taken turns” steering the dinghy with other migrants “because their lives were at risk.”

Following his case, the Crown Prosecution Service issued new rules meaning that asylum seekers would not be charged for steering boats if the “sole intention is to be intercepted and brought into port for asylum claims to be made.”


UK Conservative MPs revolt over home secretary’s migrant ‘failure’

UK Conservative MPs revolt over home secretary’s migrant ‘failure’
Updated 28 November 2021

UK Conservative MPs revolt over home secretary’s migrant ‘failure’

UK Conservative MPs revolt over home secretary’s migrant ‘failure’
  • Inaction placing people at risk, say critics

LONDON: UK Home Secretary Priti Patel is facing new pressure from members of her own party over the failure of an Afghan resettlement program, which has not opened more than three months after being launched.

It comes as debate rages in Britain over the deaths of 27 migrants in the English Channel earlier this week.

Several Conservative MPs privately demanded that Patel take action on the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, The Guardian reported.

They said that UK government inaction was placing Afghans at “deadly risk” and leaving vulnerable targets in the country at the mercy of the Taliban.

Damian Green, the former immigration minister, has called for a new approach to migration that is “realistic and compassionate.” 

In an opinion piece, he criticized the “blame game” between the UK and France over deaths at sea, and called on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron to work together to solve the crisis.

He said: “Now is not the time for displays of wounded amour propre in either language. Careless talk costs lives.”

Afghans are well represented in the body of migrants on the French coast who are attempting to travel to the UK. Government critics in the UK have argued that opening a legal route to entry would help avoid deaths at sea.

Rory Stewart, the former international development secretary, said the problems associated with the Afghan resettlement scheme were “surmountable,” but that the opportunity for helping vulnerable people was slipping away.

“We have a narrow window to get people out. At the moment, very strangely, the Taliban is prepared to permit people out. That won’t be true forever. It’s very likely at some point they’ll start taking more drastic measures.

“We have a deep moral obligation. These people, who are profoundly vulnerable, were told they were going to be helped. It’s just astonishing that they haven’t done so. This sort of program, actually, is the kind of thing that is the good alternative to these dangerous, unplanned routes. It moves people safely, but it’s also the way of ensuring that the most vulnerable are prioritized.”

An opinion poll found that just 18 percent of voters thought Patel was handling the migrant crisis effectively. In the opposite camp, 62 percent believed she was handling it “badly” or “very badly.”

Caroline Nokes, the former Conservative immigration minister, said: “This scheme needs to be up and running. Afghans here with family still in Afghanistan were given hope when the scheme was announced but are desperately worried that time is running out to get their family members to safety.”

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, said: “We’re all supportive of stopping illegal immigration, but these other routes are the key to getting things properly done. This needs to be open and resolved, particularly because of Afghanistan and obligations to the people there. This week illustrates that.”

The Law Society has warned that lawyers and judges who worked to prosecute Taliban members over the past decade “are all targets while still in Afghanistan.”

Marina Brilman,the society’s international human rights adviser, said the scheme might not be ready by the end of the year.

She added: “Most judges, prosecutors and lawyers who helped to consolidate the rule of law in Afghanistan are Afghan nationals. They never made it on to the UK government’s evacuation list. When the last UK flight left Kabul airport, they were left stranded. Especially women.

“They send us desperate pleas for help and pass on handwritten death threats saying they and their families will be killed. They constantly move houses, and even provinces, to escape the violence. Door-to-door house searches by the Taliban continue, as do extrajudicial killings and public beatings. Of course, establishing this scheme is a huge undertaking. 

“But it should not have to take three and a half months to even open it for applications. It raises the question how much of a priority this is for the UK government.”

However, a government spokesperson defended the scheme’s rollout.

“We undertook the UK’s biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history, helping more than 15,000 people to safety from Afghanistan, who we are continuing to support.

“The ACRS is one of the most generous schemes in our country’s history and will give up to 20,000 further people at risk a new life in the UK. We continue to work at pace to open the scheme amid a complex and changing picture, working across government and with partners such as the UNHCR to design the scheme.”


Father of migrant Channel victim calls on France to stop ‘mafia’ traffickers

Father of migrant Channel victim calls on France to stop ‘mafia’ traffickers
Updated 28 November 2021

Father of migrant Channel victim calls on France to stop ‘mafia’ traffickers

Father of migrant Channel victim calls on France to stop ‘mafia’ traffickers
  • Protests break out in London demanding safer route for migrants following deaths of 27 at sea
  • UK and France war of words escalates over plans to stop flow of migrant dinghies to England

LONDON: The father of an Iraqi Kurdish woman who drowned attempting to cross the English Channel has called for the “mafia” people traffickers responsible to be stopped, amid protests in London demanding safer passage for people attempting to reach the UK.

Maryam Nuri Mohamed Amin, 24, was among 27 people who died on Wednesday. She had been trying to reach her fiance who was already in the UK.

Speaking from Soran in Iraqi Kurdistan, Maryam’s father, Nuri Mohammed Mohammed Amin, called the people smugglers “butchers,” saying the disaster was a tragedy “not only for me but for the whole of Kurdistan and the world.”

He added: “I ask the French government to tighten their borders and stop those butchers. They are not smugglers, they are mafias. This is my only request.

“Those boats that they are using are not made for that purpose. They treat those poor people like animals. Where were her human rights?

“It is the role of the French government to have a strict procedure to stop those butchers to avoid further tragedies, and I hope our people stop even thinking about migrating using similar ways,” he said.

Maryam’s journey to join her fiance, which saw her travel to France via Turkey, Italy and Germany, was meant to be a surprise. Her cousin, Krmanj Ezzat Dargali, told UK radio station LBC that she had been “glowing with hope” to start a new life in the UK.

About 150 people gathered outside Downing Street in London on Saturday to protest the tragedy, which it is thought could have been caused when the dinghy being used — meant to carry 10 people at most — collided with another vessel, possibly a container ship.

Several protesters held banners calling for “safe passage now” for migrants, with others stating “migrants and refugees welcome here,” adding that politicians had blood on their hands.

The protest was in part a response to the proposed nationalities and borders bill, which will include new powers to deport people with no right to remain in the UK.

Lara Bishop, a volunteer for the asylum-seeker support charity Care4Calais said: “No one should have to die on our border. We are a first-world nation.

“We are the sixth biggest economy in the world but we only take 1 percent of refugees and we make it so difficult for people to cross and it’s not OK for people to be dying in the Channel.

“I think the British and the French governments need to remember humanity. At the moment they’re using them as political pawns — throwing them between themselves — but these are humans.”

So far about 25,000 people are thought to have crossed the English Channel via dinghies from Northern France this year, which has led to tensions between London and Paris.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned in a letter that more migrants would die unless France returned to talks over a plan to reduce the number of boats attempting the crossing, which led to an angry response from French President Emmanuel Macron after the letter was posted on social media platform Twitter.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel was subsequently disinvited from talks with her EU counterparts this weekend aimed at finding a joint solution.


13 cases of omicron variant in Dutch testing of travelers

13 cases of omicron variant in Dutch testing of travelers
Updated 28 November 2021

13 cases of omicron variant in Dutch testing of travelers

13 cases of omicron variant in Dutch testing of travelers
  • The 61 people who tested positive for the virus after arriving on the last two flights to Amsterdam before a flight ban was put in place were immediately put into isolation
  • The public health institute said in a statement that testing was continuing on the samples

THE HAGUE, Netherlands: The Dutch public health authority confirmed Sunday that 13 people who arrived in the Netherlands on flights from South Africa on Friday have so far tested positive for the new omicron coronavirus variant.
The 61 people who tested positive for the virus on Friday after arriving on the last two flights to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport before a flight ban was put in place were immediately put into isolation while sequencing was carried out to establish if they had the new variant.
The public health institute said in a statement that testing was continuing on the samples.
Most of the 61 people who tested positive were put into isolation at a hotel near the airport, while a small number were allowed to sit out their quarantine at home under strict conditions.
Health authorities appealed to all travelers who returned from southern Africa in the past week to get tested, and set up a test center at Schiphol Airport for Dutch citizens returning from the region. The tests are voluntary, and travelers can wait for the results in isolation at home.
 


Ethiopia PM Abiy says military will ‘destroy’ Tigray rebels

Ethiopia PM Abiy says military will ‘destroy’ Tigray rebels
Updated 28 November 2021

Ethiopia PM Abiy says military will ‘destroy’ Tigray rebels

Ethiopia PM Abiy says military will ‘destroy’ Tigray rebels
  • On Friday, state media showed what it described as the first footage of Abiy, a former lieutenant-colonel, in uniform at the front
  • The war erupted in early November 2020 when Abiy deployed troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said his soldiers would “destroy” rebels from the northern Tigray region, in the latest instalment of footage which state media said shows him at the war front.
“You are comprehensively destroying the enemy, there is no going back without winning,” Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, said in the 34-minute clip posted Saturday to his office’s Twitter page, which AFP could not independently verify.
“We will win, the enemy is dispersing, there are areas we have to control,” he added.
“Until we destroy the enemy there is no rest.”
Abiy announced this week he would start leading operations against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which once dominated national politics but has been locked in a war with his government for the past year.
The announcement has spurred new recruitment in Addis Ababa.
The country’s most famous distance runner, Haile Gebreselassie, told AFP he was determined to “sacrifice and stand for Ethiopia.”
The TPLF, he added, “is destabilising our country beyond its region.”
On Wednesday state-affiliated media announced Abiy had handed over regular duties to his deputy.
His move came after the TPLF reported major territorial gains, claiming this week to have seized a town just 220 kilometers (135 miles) from the capital Addis Ababa.
The TPLF has aligned itself with other armed groups including the Oromo Liberation Army, which is active in the Oromia region surrounding the city.

On Friday, state media showed what it described as the first footage of Abiy, a former lieutenant-colonel, in uniform at the front, including an interview in which he vowed to “bury the enemy.”
He also said the military had secured control of Kassagita and planned to recapture Chifra district and Burka town in Afar region, which neighbors Tigray, the TPLF’s stronghold.
The World Food Programme tweeted that 79 trucks carrying food and other lifesaving humanitarian supplies had arrived in Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region this week.
“More are on the way,” the WFP added.
Independent media have largely been denied access to war-affected regions in recent weeks.
On Saturday officials in Addis Ababa held a ceremony for athletes and artists heading north to visit troops.
Among those pledging to fight is Feyisa Lilesa, a distance runner and Olympic silver medallist.
The war erupted in early November 2020 when Abiy deployed troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF, a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.
Though he promised a swift victory, by late June the TPLF had regrouped and retaken most of Tigray, and it has since pushed into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions.

The African Union’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, is leading a diplomatic push for a cease-fire, but there have been few signs of progress so far.
International alarm is growing over a possible rebel assault on the capital, with the US, the UK, Germany and Italy among countries urging their citizens to leave Ethiopia.
France joined the group this week and on Sunday plans to ferry some citizens out on a charter flight.
The government insists rebel gains are overstated, blaming what it describes as sensational media coverage and alarmist security adviseries from embassies for creating panic.