After Channel boat disaster, Iraqi families fear worst

After Channel boat disaster, Iraqi families fear worst
Qader Abdallah, whose son Mohamed was set to cross the English Channel, speaks at his home in Qadrawa, north of Sulaymaniyah in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 30 November 2021

After Channel boat disaster, Iraqi families fear worst

After Channel boat disaster, Iraqi families fear worst
  • Fate of migrants difficult to know, as the investigation is yet to reveal the identities of the recovered victims

QADRAWA, IRAQ: The last time 20-year-old Mohamed spoke with his father, who lives in Iraqi Kurdistan, he told him that he was about to cross the English Channel.
That was on November 23. The next day, France announced the sinking of a boat in the busy waterway, killing at least 27 people, in a disaster that has made global headlines.
The family now fears the very worst.
“Our last contact was on the eve of the tragedy,” says the father, Qader Abdallah, 49, sitting in his living room in Qadrawa, a small village in Kurdistan, northern Iraq.
“He told us that he was going to go to Britain. He sent us a message on (Facebook) Messenger.
“We told him it was dangerous, that there were risks with this crossing. He tried to reassure us by telling us there had been many crossings ... and that there had been no problems.”
Since then, several families in Qadrawa have desperately waited for news on their family members. Were they onboard the ill-fated boat? Did they arrive in Britain?
It is difficult to know, as the investigation is yet to reveal the identities of the recovered victims, their nationalities or the cause of the capsize.
Immigration ministers from France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands met in the French port of Calais on Sunday and promised to strengthen “operational cooperation” on tackling people smugglers.
France said EU border agency Frontex would deploy a plane to help fight migrant trafficking in the Channel from December 1.
Mohamed flew to Turkey a month ago from the Kurdish region’s Irbil airport.
He made his way illegally to Italy, then to France. He wanted to join his two brothers, who have been living in Britain for two years.
“Our family had agreed that he should go to Europe,” Abdallah admitted. “All young people try to go to Europe to find a better future.”
In the autonomous region of Kurdistan, he said, “living conditions are difficult.”
“The young people have demonstrated because of the deteriorating economic situation that prevents them from finding a job,” he said about recent protests by university students.
Last Wednesday’s tragedy was the worst to date in the English Channel, which is now crossed daily by migrants trying to reach the English coast, usually in flimsy boats.
The crossings have multiplied since 2018 following restrictions at the port of Calais and in the Eurotunnel, which irregular migrants had traversed by hiding in vehicles.
Another father in the Kurdish region, Abu Zaniar, said he too had lost track of his 20-year-old son.
“On November 23 we spoke, but since then there has been no information on his fate,” he said.
A month ago, the young man had left by plane for Turkey, from where he was able to travel illegally to Italy, then France.
“We made an agreement with a smuggler to take him to Britain in exchange for $3,300,” the father said.
During the interview with AFP, the father tried once again to reach the smuggler by phone, but to no avail. The phone was turned off.
The father then called the traffickers’ relatives, telling them: “He had promised us to get Zaniar safely to England.”
“If my son survived this time, I will send him back to Europe,” said Abu Zaniar. “No life is possible in the Kurdistan region; graduates here can’t find work.”
Two years ago, his son had tried to reach Western Europe via Bulgaria, where he was arrested, mistreated in prison, and then deported to Iraq.
According to rescuers, those shipwrecked in the Channel were crammed into a soft-bottomed inflatable boat about 10 meters (32 feet) long.
Only one Iraqi and one Somali were saved.
Could the Iraqi be a man named Mohamed Khaled? His mother, Cheleir Ahmed, thinks so, saying she has received a phone call from her son.
The 22-year-old had gone to Belarus two months ago, before reaching France with the help of smugglers.
“His health is very bad because he stayed in the water for a long time,” his mother said.
“He informed me that he and an African migrant had survived.”
She said her son told her there had been 32 people on the boat, including children and entire families, almost all of whom would have drowned.

Immigration bill could ‘all but destroy’ safe, legal routes to UK: Charity

Immigration bill could ‘all but destroy’ safe, legal routes to UK: Charity
Updated 10 sec ago

Immigration bill could ‘all but destroy’ safe, legal routes to UK: Charity

Immigration bill could ‘all but destroy’ safe, legal routes to UK: Charity
  • Proposed law would disproportionately impact women, children hoping to reunite with their families 
  • Nationality and Borders Bill being debated in House of Lords, having passed through House of Commons

LONDON: A new bill being debated in the House of Lords threatens to “all but destroy” the main legal safe route for refugees to reach the UK, a charity has warned.

The Nationality and Borders Bill, which has passed through the House of Commons, seeks to penalize asylum seekers who arrive in Britain via unauthorized routes by granting them only temporary protection and limiting their family reunion rights.

The Refugee Council said the plan “flies in the face” of the government’s commitment to strengthening safe routes to the UK, and “undermines” the stated intention of the new bill to strengthen safe and legal routes.

Enver Solomon, CEO of the charity, said by removing refugees’ rights to family reunion, the government would be “throwing thousands of highly vulnerable people into desperately precarious, risky situations and at risk of exploitation by people smugglers.”

The new changes would impact people like Mada, a Syrian woman who was able to reunite with her husband in the UK in 2018 after the family was split apart when escaping their country’s war.

Mada’s husband made the treacherous journey to Britain while she and her children remained in Egypt, to where they had fled.

Being granted refugee status in the UK made it easier for his wife and children to make it to Britain, delivering them safety and security.

The Nationality and Borders Bill would make it almost impossible for Mada’s family to have reunited, potentially leaving them without a husband and father, and vulnerable to crime and exploitation.

“The most important thing for me and my children was safety. (In Egypt) I couldn’t afford to pay for school. The children didn’t feel safe, even at home,” Mada told The Independent.

“I feel lucky. I think about if I didn’t have this chance ... I don’t want any family to go through that.”

According to government data, 29,000 people — over 90 percent of them women and children — have been able to come to the UK safely under family reunion rules that allow people to join a close family member in the country.

Solomon told The Independent: “The cruel and heartbreaking irony is that this government’s proposal all but destroys the main legal safe route open to refugees and predominately used by vulnerable women and children — the very people this government has vowed to protect.”

The Refugee Council calculated that as many as 3,500 people per year could be prevented from reuniting with their families if the bill becomes law.

A Home Office spokesperson said in a statement: “We will continue to uphold our international obligations. More than 39,000 family reunion visas have been granted since 2015 under our refugee family reunion policy, with over half issued to children.

“Our New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken asylum system so that it is fair but firm, helping those in genuine need through safe and legal routes while stopping those who abuse the system. Family reunion will continue to play an important part (in) our immigration system.”

US combat jet crashes in South China Sea exercise, 7 hurt

US combat jet crashes in South China Sea exercise, 7 hurt
Updated 51 min 28 sec ago

US combat jet crashes in South China Sea exercise, 7 hurt

US combat jet crashes in South China Sea exercise, 7 hurt
  • Details on the crash of the multimillion-dollar aircraft are still being verified

BANGKOK: A US Navy F35C Lightning II combat jet conducting exercises in the South China Sea crashed while trying to land on the deck of an American aircraft carrier, injuring seven sailors, the military said Tuesday.
The pilot was able to eject before the aircraft slammed into the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson on Monday and then fell into the water. The pilot was safely recovered by a helicopter, said Lt. Mark Langford, a spokesman for the US 7th Fleet.
Seven sailors, including the pilot, were injured and three were evacuated for medical treatment in Manila, Philippines, while four were treated on board the ship. The three sent to Manila were reported in stable condition on Tuesday morning, the Navy said.
Details on the crash of the multimillion-dollar aircraft were still being verified, Langford said.
“The status and recovery of the aircraft is currently under investigation,” he said.
Two American carrier strike groups with more than 14,000 sailors and marines are conducting exercises in the South China Sea, which the military says is to demonstrate the “US Indo-Pacific Command Joint Force’s ability to deliver a powerful maritime force.”
Impact to the deck of the USS Carl Vinson was “superficial,” Langford said, and both carriers have resumed routine flight operations.
As China has pressed territorial claims in the South China Sea and increased pressure on Taiwan, the US and its allies have stepped up exercises in the region, in what they call freedom of navigation operations in line with international law.
As the Carl Vinson and Abraham Lincoln strike groups began their dual carrier operations on Sunday, China flew 39 warplanes toward Taiwan in its largest such sortie of the new year, according to Taiwan’s defense ministry.
The formation of 24 Chinese J-16 and 10 J-10 fighter jets stayed out of Taiwanese air space, but the maneuver prompted Taiwan to scramble its own aircraft in response.
Chinese pilots have been flying toward Taiwan on a near-daily basis, and it was unclear if Sunday’s flights were a response to the American exercises. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to comment.
Taiwan and China split during a civil war in 1949, but China claims the island as its own territory. Beijing has used diplomatic and military means to isolate and intimidate the self-ruled island, but the US has continued to support Taiwan by selling it advanced weapons and fighter planes.

Islamic university to be created in Latin America

Islamic university to be created in Latin America
Updated 48 min 5 sec ago

Islamic university to be created in Latin America

Islamic university to be created in Latin America
  • Initially based in Brazil and Mexico, plan is to have branches in other countries
  • Goal to educate ‘any person who wants to deepen knowledge of Islam,’ vice president tells Arab News

SAO PAULO: Latin American Islamic associations gathered in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo recently to sign an agreement to create the Latin American and Caribbean Islamic University.

The academic institution will allow future Muslim leaders to study in their own region, without the need to move to Middle Eastern countries and other Muslim nations.

Imams in Latin America had been discussing the idea for years. Now, Brazil’s Islamic Dissemination Center for Latin America, known by the Portuguese acronym CDIAL, and the Supreme Council of Imams and Islamic Affairs in Latin America and the Caribbean have finally made it possible.

CDIAL and the council established a deal with the Islamic University of Minnesota, which will provide academic courses and materials for the new institution.

Initially, it will have headquarters in Sao Paulo, with classes in Portuguese, and Mexico City, with classes in Spanish.

“We’re beginning with the cities with a higher number of potential students. But our idea is that other countries create their own branches in the future,” CDIAL’s Vice President Ziad Saifi told Arab News.

He said the program was inspired by traditional Islamic courses such as those offered by the Islamic University of Madinah in Saudi Arabia and Al-Azhar University in Egypt.

“The university’s goal is not only to educate future sheikhs, but any person who wants to deepen his or her knowledge of Islam,” he added.

Even non-Muslim students will be able to enroll in classes, said Egyptian-born Sheikh Abdelhamid Metwally, who will be the university’s president and academic director.

“We want to educate people in Islamic culture and tradition. We certainly will be able to work on the formation of sheikhs. Students who desire to pursue such a path will be able to continue their studies,” he added.

“But we also want to simply educate people on Islam. Both Muslims and non-Muslims need to have a better understanding of our religion.”

Living in Brazil for 15 years, Metwally believes it is desirable to train in Latin America religious leaders who will work in the region.  

That is also the opinion of Sheikh Mohamed Mansour, who will coordinate the Spanish-language courses in Mexico City.

“We need to educate people here so they can think from here. Many times, people go to the Middle East to study and when they come back, they want to impose the Middle Eastern culture in Latin America. That’s not possible,” he told Arab News.

Islam has been growing throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, “but we aren’t growing well if we don’t have true knowledge,” Mansour said. “We need an academic foundation, something that goes beyond the mosques’ teaching.”

In Mexico, he explained, only Spanish can be spoken in class except for Arabic-language courses — if a professor or instructor can only speak Arabic, a translator will be present. “God willing, soon we will have masters and PhD courses too,” he added.

Saifi said many sheikhs and the Muslim community as a whole have been supporting the creation of the university.

“Thankfully, people have been giving their time to this project and working on the translation of educational materials and other tasks,” he added, expressing hope that courses will begin in August.

The coordinating group is working on the university’s official accreditation in each of the region’s countries.

At first the university will operate with distance learning, given the rising number of COVID-19 cases in most Latin American countries. But a physical location is being selected in Sao Paulo, Saifi said.

No distinction will be made between Sunni and Shiite students, and men and women alike will be able to enroll.

Saifi expressed hope that in the future, the Brazilian branch will welcome students coming from other Portuguese-language countries such as Angola and Mozambique.

“We still have a low number of mosques in Brazil, but their number is growing. We’ll certainly need more sheikhs and people educated on Islam,” he said.

Metwally agreed, saying: “In my own community in Sao Paulo, we have members who are already interested in enrolling. We’ll educate good Muslims.”

German woman in dock over joining Daesh in Syria as teenager

German woman in dock over joining Daesh in Syria as teenager
Updated 25 January 2022

German woman in dock over joining Daesh in Syria as teenager

German woman in dock over joining Daesh in Syria as teenager
  • Leonora Messing, 21, is on trial on suspicion that she and her husband enslaved a Yazidi woman
  • She joined Daesh in Syria at the age of 15

BERLIN: A German woman who traveled to Syria as a 15-year-old to join Daesh goes on trial on Tuesday accused of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.
Leonora Messing, now aged 21, is in the dock in the eastern German city of Halle on suspicion that she and her Daesh husband enslaved a Yazidi woman in Syria in 2015.
During the course of the trial scheduled to last until at least mid-May and being held behind closed doors, Messing will also face charges of membership of a terrorist organization and weapons law violations.
The high-profile case has prompted soul searching in Germany about how a teenage girl from a small town became radicalized and joined the Islamist cause.
Messing ran away from her home for the Daesh-controlled part of Syria in March 2015.
After reaching Raqqa, then the de facto “capital” of Daesh in Syria, she became the third wife of a German national originally from that region.
Messing’s father, a baker from the German village of Breitenbach, only learned his daughter had converted to a radical brand of Islam by opening her abandoned computer and reading her journal after her disappearance.
Six days after she vanished, her father received a message informing him his daughter “chose Allah and Islam” and that she had “arrived in the caliphate.”
“She was a good student,” her father, Maik Messing, told regional broadcaster MDR in 2019.
“She used to go to a retirement home to read to the elderly. She took part in carnival as a majorette. That was when a lot of the people we know saw her for the last time.”
Messing had been living a double life and was visiting, apparently without her parents’ knowledge, a mosque in the western city of Frankfurt that was in the crosshairs of Germany’s domestic intelligence service.
She is among the more than 1,150 Islamists who left Germany from 2011 for Syria and Iraq, according to government findings.
Her case has attracted particular scrutiny due to her young age, and because her father agreed to be followed for four years by a team of reporters from public broadcaster NDR.
As part of the report, he made public thousands of messages he continued to exchange with his daughter, offering rare insights into daily life under Daesh, but also eventually her attempts to break free.
Prosecutors say Messing took part in human trafficking, after her husband “bought” and then “sold” a 33-year-old Yazidi woman.
Messing, who had given birth to two small girls, wound up detained in a Kurdish-controlled camp in northern Syria.
In December 2020, she was repatriated in one of four operations bringing 54 people, most of them children, back to Germany.
Although she was arrested upon her arrival at Frankfurt airport, Messing was later released.
Germany has repeatedly been ordered by its courts to repatriate the wives and children of Daesh recruits.
A Berlin tribunal had demanded in October 2019 that a German woman and her three children be brought back, arguing that the minors were traumatized and should not be separated from their mother.
There are an estimated 61 Germans still in camps in northern Syria, as well as around 30 people with a link to Germany, according to official estimates.
A German court in November issued the first ruling worldwide to recognize crimes against the Yazidi community as genocide, in a verdict hailed by activists as a “historic” win for the minority.
The Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking group hailing from northern Iraq, have for years been persecuted by Daesh militants who have killed hundreds of men, raped women and forcibly recruited children as fighters.

North Korea fires two suspected cruise missiles, Seoul says

North Korea fires two suspected cruise missiles, Seoul says
Updated 25 January 2022

North Korea fires two suspected cruise missiles, Seoul says

North Korea fires two suspected cruise missiles, Seoul says
  • The last time North Korea tested this many weapons in a month was in 2019
  • This year Pyongyang has embarked on a fresh flurry of sanctions-busting tests

SEOUL: North Korea fired two suspected cruise missiles Tuesday, Seoul said, its fifth weapons test this year as Pyongyang flexes its military muscles while ignoring US offers of talks.
The last time North Korea tested this many weapons in a month was in 2019, after high-profile negotiations collapsed between leader Kim Jong Un and then-US president Donald Trump.
This year Pyongyang has embarked on a fresh flurry of sanctions-busting tests, including hypersonic missiles, after Kim re-avowed his commitment to military modernization at a key party speech in December.
Washington imposed new sanctions in response, prompting Pyongyang to double down on weapons testing and hint last week that it could abandon a years-long self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range tests.
“North Korea fired two suspected cruise missiles,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement Tuesday, without giving further details.
Cruise missiles are not banned under current UN sanctions on North Korea, and Seoul does not always report such launches in real time, as it does for ballistic missile tests.
The last time North Korea is known to have tested a cruise missile was in September 2021.
A South Korean military official told the Yonhap news agency that “should such a missile be launched southward, our detection and interception systems have no problem countering it.”
Pyongyang’s latest test looks like an attempt to provoke the administration of US President Joe Biden, which has offered talks “without preconditions” but no substantive high-level engagement in the last year.
“North Korea appears to be wanting to test Washington’s reaction, while showing off its presence on the global stage,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said.
By firing a cruise missile, Pyongyang does not violate UN sanctions but can still try “to attract the world’s attention while thumbing its nose at the US.”
The string of launches in 2022 comes at a delicate time in the region, with Kim’s sole major ally China set to host the Winter Olympics next month and South Korea gearing up for a presidential election in March.
Domestically, North Korea is preparing to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the birth of late leader Kim Jong Il in February, as well as the 110th birthday of founder Kim Il Sung in April.
Pyongyang has not tested inter-continental ballistic missiles or nukes since 2017, putting launches on hold as Kim embarked on a blitz of high-level diplomacy through three meetings with Trump.
But last week Pyongyang said it could examine restarting all temporarily-suspended activities.
The impoverished North, reeling economically from a self-imposed coronavirus blockade, has recently restarted cross-border trade with China.
And ally Beijing, along with Russia, last week blocked the UN Security Council from imposing fresh sanctions in response to the recent tests.
Defector-turned-researcher Ahn Chan-il said the tests could also be an attempt by Pyongyang to pressure China.
“The Beijing Olympics cannot be a festival of peace without peace on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
“And peace on the Korean Peninsula depends on North Korea.”