LONDON: Officials from London and Tirana have given mixed messages on the prospect of Britain establishing a migrant processing center in Albania, after reports emerged Thursday that a deal was close.
British officials are hoping to seal a deal that would see migrants arriving in the UK via the English Channel flown to Albania for offshore processing — though reports that the two countries are close to a deal have been denied by Albania's ambassador to the UK.
Under the proposed plan, people arriving on British shores in small boats would be sent to Albania within seven days of their arrival, The Times has reported.
It is thought that the prospect of a long wait in an Albanian facility will deter people from trying to make the crossing, stemming the flow of migrants and refugees attempting the perilous journey.
One minister told The Times that the chances of reaching an agreement with Albania were “looking good,” while another told The Times: “Offshore processing is our best hope now, as nothing else is working.”
British Home Office sources were more cautious over the propsect of reaching a deal with Albania, describing the discussions as being in the “early days.”
But while British officials appeared to believe a deal was close, Albanians have outright rejected that talks were even taking place.
Albania's UK ambassador, Qirjako Qirko, rejected the report by The Times, telling The Independent that it was false.
He said: “I can firmly confirm that there are no bilateral talks between the Albanian and British government’s officials regarding processing centres for illegal immigrants crossing the English Channel.”
Qirko's comments were echoed on Twitter by Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka, who wrote Thursday that the report was “the same old fake news.”
The proposal is a reaction to the growing number of refugees and migrants that have this year made it to the UK, with record numbers arriving weekly.
On Nov. 11, a record 1,185 people reached Britain in small boats, followed by 1,000 on Tuesday.
The crossings have proved to be a bone of contention between London and Paris, the former of which has accused the latter of not doing enough to prevent the crossings, despite paying France more than £50 million ($67 million) earlier in the year to stop the attempts.
But even if the deal goes ahead, the plan faces significant obstacles.
With an estimated cost of £100,000 per person, sending someone abroad to process their claim comes in at around double what it would cost to keep a prisoner locked up for a year in Britain.
But there are also legal hurdles. It is against international law to detain people against their will, and ministers have not revealed how they plan to work around the problem.
If the plan is implemented, the UK would follow Australia — which holds people offshore in small Pacific countries — and Denmark, which is planning a similar processing operation in Rwanda.
Australia’s policy has come at a cost. At least 10 people have taken their own lives while in detention centers, and another two have been murdered. Some people have been held for up to seven years before a decision on their case was made.
More than 24,000 people have arrived in Britain via the English Channel so far this year — almost triple the 8,420 that arrived in 2020. In the past three weeks alone, at least 10 people have died trying to make the crossing.
The body of four-year-old Dean Verberckmoes was found in the southern Dutch Zeeland province
Updated 11 sec ago
THE HAGUE: Dutch police late Monday discovered the body of a Belgian child, whose disappearance five days ago sparked a massive search spanning two countries.
The body of four-year-old Dean Verberckmoes was found in the southern Dutch Zeeland province after a man was arrested elsewhere in the Netherlands earlier during the day, police said.
“We thank everybody who helped and are sending condolences to his family,” they added.
Police said the body was discovered at Neeltje Jans, an island that forms part of the Oosterschelde flood barrier and is popular with Dutch tourists.
Police earlier on Monday also sent out a so-called Amber Alert — issued in child abduction cases — with the description of the toddler and a picture.
The alert came after police arrested a 34-year-old Belgian man in the town of Meerkerk, south of Utrecht, about 120 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Neeltje Jans.
Verberckmoes was last seen in the Belgian city of Sint Niklaas near Antwerp on Wednesday in the company of the man, only identified as Dave De K., the NOS public broadcaster reported.
De K. regularly minded Dean and his younger sister, the toddler’s mother told the Belga news agency.
The man was supposed to take the child to his grandparents on Thursday and when that did not happen the mother reported him missing.
Dutch police launched a massive search after at became known that De K. and the toddler may be in the Netherlands.
“The police investigation pointed to a possible crime scene on Monday evening... and a police helicopter also joined the search,” Dutch police said.
“Around 10.00 p.m. (2100 GMT) the lifeless body of a child was found,” police said.
‘Serb crimes still fresh in Kosovar memories’ on Recak massacre anniversary
Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Lulzim Mjeku appeals for justice and preservation of peace in the Western Balkans
Comments come as Kosovar Albanians mark 23rd anniversary of 1999 killing that spurred NATO intervention
Updated 42 min 41 sec ago
RIYADH: The people of Kosovo want to see more international involvement in the Western Balkans to stem a rising tide of hate speech and preserve peace in a still tense region, its ambassador to Saudi Arabia has told Arab News.
In an interview with Arab News in the run-up to Kosovo’s Independence Day on Feb. 17, Lulzim Mjeku cited a statement issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Jan. 14 as Kosovars were preparing to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the Recak massacre.
The statement said individuals in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Serbia, have glorified atrocities, praised war criminals, targeted communities with hate speech and, in some cases, directly incited violence.
Mejku said that the OHCHR “called upon the international community to intervene and to take concrete action against hate speech. Unfortunately, we have seen denialism in recent times.” Denialism refers to the practice of rewriting the past and pretending that historical events did not happen as they did.
The incidents the OHCHR was referring to involved large groups of people chanting the name of Ratko Mladic, a Serbian war criminal, while holding torchlight processions and singing nationalistic songs urging the takeover of various locations in the former Yugoslavia.
The hate crimes cited by the UN statement occurred in Serbia and in several locations in the Republika Srpska, an entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina northwest of Kosovo. In one incident, shots were fired near a mosque in Janja in northeastern Bosnia, where local Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) were mocked and threatened while returning from prayers.
Muslims populations of the Western Balkans know only too well the ugly history of ethnic hatred. “Forty years ago, the father of Donika Gervalla-Schwarz, Kosovo’s current minister of foreign affairs, was assassinated,” Mejku said, referring to the murders of Jusuf and Bardhosh Gervalla, Kosovar Albanian artists, writers and political activists, allegedly by the Serbian-Yugoslav secret police on January 17, 1982, near Heilbronn, a city in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany.
“The gunmen also killed Kadri Zeka, a friend and collaborator of the Gervalla brothers. As dissidents who opposed Serbia’s oppressive regime in Kosovo and worked for their province’s independence, the three activists had been living in exile since 1980. The assassins have never been brought to justice.”
As a young journalist in 1999, Mjeku covered the massacre which occurred on Jan. 15 in Recak, a village in Kosovo. Forty-five people had been shot and their bodies dumped in a ravine outside Recak, apparently by ethnic Serb policemen and soldiers.
Other massacres of Kosovar Albanians followed, including in Krusha in March 1999, Meja on April 27, 1999, and Dubrava prison on May 22, 1999.
“As we commemorate this month the 23rd anniversary of the Recak massacre, the horrible crime is still fresh in our memories,” Mjeku told Arab News. “As sad as it may sound, the Republic of Kosovo owes its very existence to the crimes that were committed against the Kosovan people.”
Nikola Sainovic, a former deputy prime minister of Serbia, was among those responsible for spreading widespread terror among the Kosovar Albanian population.
In 2009, he was convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against ethnic Albanian civilians during the Kosovo War. Soon after he was granted early release in 2015, Sainovic was appointed to the board of the Socialist Party of Serbia.
Allegations of war crimes have also dogged members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the main ethnic Albanian guerrilla force in Kosovo which fought against the Serbs.
After politicians unsuccessfully waged a years-long peaceful struggle for greater autonomy or independence, the KLA launched an armed uprising against Serbian rule in the mainly Muslim Yugoslav province in March 1998.
This galvanized a disproportionate response from the Serb political establishment, which did not discriminate between Kosovar Albanian fighters and civilians, sending thousands of refugees into neighboring Albania and North Macedonia.
In response to the escalating violence, notably the Recak massacre, NATO launched a 78-day bombing campaign that eventually forced Serb policemen and soldiers to withdraw from Kosovo.
After Yugoslavia accepted a peace proposal in June 1999, NATO ended the bombing campaign and the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1244, suspending Yugoslav rule in Kosovo and forming the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo with a NATO peacekeeping element, KFOR.
The cessation of violence brought hope to Kosovars at a time of great despair, paving the way for a new reality and prompting a return of refugees.
Many KLA leaders subsequently moved into politics. Hashim Thaci, a former president of Kosovo and a commander in the KLA, stands accused by a court in the Netherlands of responsibility for almost 100 murders.
Mjeku believes now is the time for diplomacy to take primacy. “During all these years, Kosovo as a country has voted for stability and security, not only for its own population, but also for the wider Balkan region and Europe,” he told Arab News.
Kosovo, a country of almost 2 million people, is 90 percent ethnic Albanian. After nine years under UN control, Kosovo declared independence through its assembly on February 17, 2008. Since then, more than 100 countries have recognized Kosovo.
The US, several EU member states and the GCC countries recognized Kosovo’s independence early on. Today Saudi Arabia, which was among 35 states that submitted statements supporting Kosovo, covers the country on non-residential basis from its embassy in Tirana, Albania
Mjecku said that with the generous assistance of its friends, Kosovo has made progress in healing the wounds of the past. Sixty percent of the population is under the age of 30, and many have little memory of the years of grief and violence, he said.
The Western Balkans is calmer than it was 20 years ago, although ethnic tensions are rising again in advance of elections in Serbia in April, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina in October.
UNMIK, which at its peak fielded more than 50,000 soldiers, is now down to 3,500 men, headquartered in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. The mission seeks to support a normalization agreement, better known as the Brussels Agreement, between Belgrade and Pristina brokered by the EU in 2013.
“As a young nation, we have made great progress in rebuilding our lives and healing our wounds,” Mjeku told Arab News.
“In this long-term journey, we have not been alone. We have had the assistance of our friendly countries, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the institutions of our allies, notably the US and the EU.”
Michigan city council becomes first all-Muslim led government in US
Yemeni-born mayor leads Hamtramck alongside elected city council which is made up almost entirely of Arab immigrants
Updated 17 January 2022
HAMTRAMCK, Michigan: Hamtramck, Michigan is the first city in the US to be led by an all-Muslim government.
A city of mostly Polish-Americans for 99 years, locals say the population has gradually shifted to now be over half Arab-Americans. And in its 100th year, the city’s leaders reflect that change.
“It was a historic achievement that’s never happened before for the Arabs and immigrants,” Amer Ghalib, Hamtramck mayor, told Arab News.
“And I think it inspired many of the youth to go for this field and made them confident in themselves and of their abilities and that they have become an inseparable part of the fabric of this society,” he added.
The Yemeni-born mayor leads Hamtramck alongside the elected city council which, with the exception of one American-born convert to Islam, is made up entirely of Arab immigrants.
Having moved when he was 17, Ghalib considers the two square miles that make up Hamtramck to be his mother city.
“I feel proud and I feel a big responsibility and this is why we have to work very hard to prove that we, as immigrants, can work and succeed in managerial, public service, and political fields in this country,” he said.
Preempting any Islamaphobic backlash or fear, Ghalib assured citizens that they should not expect any changes from an all-Muslim city government, just efforts to revitalize city infrastructure and a commitment to serve its people.
“There is no difference, because we are all bound by the city regulations and the country’s constitution, with laws and regulations that we cannot violate,” he said.
“All religions promote virtue and our noble Islam promotes doing good and abandoning evil and respecting others and treating them well.”
Texas terrorist demanded release of Al-Qaeda figure months after similar call by Anjem Choudary
Malik Faisal Akram was shot by police on Saturday after holding four people hostage at a Texas synagogue
He called for release of Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year sentence for her part in a 2008 New York terror plot
Updated 17 January 2022
LONDON: Extremist British cleric Anjem Choudary recently urged his supporters to help free notorious Islamist Aafia Siddiqui “physically or by ransom” — the same person a British terrorist demanded be released while he occupied a synagogue in Texas on Saturday.
Choudary, who was profiled by Arab News in its “Preachers of Hate” series, called in September last year for the release of Siddiqui, known as “Lady Al-Qaeda.” It came three months after his release from a British prison where he had served time for supporting the terrorist group Daesh.
“The obligation upon us is to either free her physically or to ransom her or to exchange her,” Choudary wrote on social media platform Telegram. “However, until such time as we can fulfill one of these obligations the minimum that we can do is to use all that we have to raise awareness about her case, to keep her name in the hearts and in the minds of Muslims.”
His call for action was allegedly echoed by Malik Faisal Akram, the man who held four people hostage for 10 hours at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas on Saturday. It is 25 miles from the federal facility at Fort Worth where Siddiqui is serving an 86-year sentence.
Akram, 44, died during a shootout with law-enforcement officers that ended the synagogue siege.
Choudary is believed to have influenced about 100 British jihadis through his online lectures and videos.
Siddiqui was arrested in Afghanistan in 2008 while carrying 2kg of sodium cyanide and plans for a chemical attack on New York City. During her trial she demanded jurors be subjected to DNA testing to check whether they were Jewish. She also attempted to shoot a guard during interrogation.
A neuroscientist by training who earned a scholarship to study biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1991, Siddiqui attended the same mosque later frequented by the Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. She took part in firearms courses run by the National Rifle Association, was for a time on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted list, and was publicly named by Daesh fighters as a candidate for a prisoner-swap deal for James Foley, the American photojournalist who was murdered in 2014.
A profile of Siddiqui by the Boston Globe in 2014 suggested that she had been radicalized by the outbreak of the war in Bosnia, after which she became a member of Al-Kifah Refugee Center, thought to have been Al-Qaeda’s operational hub in the US at the time.
Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism expert, told the Globe: “Aafia was from a prominent family with connections and a sympathy for jihad. She was just what they needed.”
Waqas Jilani, at the time a graduate student at Clark University, told the Globe that Siddiqui had boasted she would be proud to be on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, and urged fellow Muslims to take up arms and fight.
“She was always mouthing off about the US and the FBI being so bad and all,” he said.
Siddiqui’s former husband, Mohammed Amjad Khan, described how, having married her over the phone from Pakistan, he arrived in the US to discover she would regularly watch videos of Osama bin Laden and spent weekends at training camps with other members of Al-Kifah.
“I discovered that the well-being of our nascent family unit was not her prime goal in life,” he said. “Instead, it was to gain prominence in Muslim circles.”
He added he felt unable to introduce her to professional colleagues because she would “only want to talk about them converting to Islam. Invariably this would lead to unpleasantness.”
He added: “Her focus had shifted to jihad against America, instead of preaching to Americans so that they all become Muslims and America becomes a Muslim land.”
After the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, Siddiqui demanded that the couple return to Pakistan and get divorced. It is thought she later married Ammar Al-Baluchi, the nephew of 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour at the Foreign Press Association headquarters, in Paris on Jan. 17, 2022. Zemmour was convicted of inciting racial hatred over 2020 comments he made about unaccompanied migrant children. (AP)
Far-right presidential contender convicted of hate speech
A Paris court ordered Zemmour to pay a fine of €10,000
Zemmour said he will appeal the decision
Updated 17 January 2022
PARIS: French far-right presidential candidate Éric Zemmour was convicted Monday of inciting racial hatred over 2020 comments he made about unaccompanied migrant children.
A Paris court ordered Zemmour to pay a fine of €10,000 (more than $11,000) and several thousand euros in damages to anti-racism groups.
Zemmour said he will appeal the decision.
“I’m one more time the victim of a political justice,” Zemmour told reporters, adding “I absolutely do not regret” the comments.
Zemmour, who has two prior hate speech convictions, went on trial in November on charges of “public insult” and “incitement to hatred or violence” against a group of people because of their ethnic, national, racial or religious origin.
Samuel Thomas, president of Maisons des Potes (“Homes of Friends“), a network of anti-racism associations, said the sentence is “very light.”
“We had hoped for him to be deprived of civic rights,” Thomas said. “So Éric Zemmour will be able to continue his political career.”
He added: “When you’re inciting racial hatred, you’re also responsible for crimes that are committed by far-right thugs.”
Zemmour, a 63-year-old former TV pundit who is running in France’s April 10 presidential election, is drawing fervent audiences with his anti-Islam, anti-immigration invective. He is considered among the major challengers to centrist President Emmanuel Macron, who is seen as the front-runner, according to polls. Macron has yet to confirm he will run for a second term.
The case against Zemmour focused on September 2020 comments that he made on French news broadcaster CNews about children who migrate to France without parents or guardians, calling them thieves, murderers and rapists who cost France money.
Zemmour wasn’t present at court for his trial or the verdict. In a statement in November, he denounced “an attempt to intimidate (him)” from prosecutors and anti-racist groups. He maintained his comments and said the political debate doesn’t take place in courts.
Zemmour also has an appeals trial Thursday on a charge of contesting crimes against humanity — which is illegal in France — for arguing in a 2019 television debate that Marshal Philippe Petain, head of Vichy’s collaborationist government during World War II, saved France’s Jews from the Holocaust.
A court acquitted him last year, saying Zemmour’s comments negated Petain’s role in the extermination, but explained that he wasn’t convicted because he had spoken in the heat of the moment.
Zemmour has repeated similar comments in recent months, and lawyers contesting his acquittal plan to cite that point as evidence in the appeals trial.
Zemmour previously was convicted of incitement to racial hatred after justifying discrimination against Black and Arab people in 2010, and of incitement to religious hatred for anti-Islam comments in 2016. He was sentenced to pay court costs and a 5,000-euro ($5,660) fine.
He has also been tried in other cases where he was acquitted.
Zemmour is a descendant of Berber Jews from Algeria. He was born in France in 1958 to parents who came from the North African country, then a French colony, a few years earlier.