Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit

Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit
Pope Francis, right, speaks with an imam as he leaves in a car after meeting refugees in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos on Sunday. (AFP)
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Updated 06 December 2021

Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit

Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit
  • Pope Francis has long championed cause of migrants, visit comes a day after he made a stinging rebuke to Europe

LESBOS ISLAND: Pope Francis on Sunday returned to the island of Lesbos, the migration flashpoint he first visited in 2016, calling the neglect of migrants the “shipwreck of civilization.”

The pope has long championed the cause of migrants and his visit comes a day after he delivered a stinging rebuke to Europe which he said was “torn by nationalist egoism.”

“In Europe there are those who persist in treating the problem as a matter that does not concern them,” the pope said as he spent some two hours at Lesbos’ Mavrovouni camp where nearly 2,200 asylum seekers live.

On the second day of his visit to Greece, he met dozens of child asylum seekers and relatives standing behind metal barriers and stopped to embrace a boy called Mustafa. 

People later gathered in a tent to sing songs and psalms to the pontiff.

Pope Francis warned that the Mediterranean “is becoming a grim cemetery without tombstones” and that “after all this time, we see that little in the world has changed with regard to the issue of migration.”

He said the root causes “should be confronted — not the poor people who pay the consequences and are even used for political propaganda.”

The European Union has been locked in a dispute with Belarus over an influx of migrants traveling through the former Soviet state seeking to enter Poland, Lithuania and Latvia in recent months.

Britain and France have traded barbs over the increasing number of migrants making the deadly Channel crossing to reach the UK in the wake of the November 24 mass drowning which claimed 27 lives.

“His visit is a blessing,” said Rosette Leo, a Congolese asylum seeker at the site.

The temporary Mavrovouni tent camp was hurriedly erected after the sprawling camp of Moria, Europe’s largest such site at the time, burned down last year.

Greek authorities blamed a group of young Afghans for the incident and security was substantially enhanced for the pontiff’s visit.

The pope’s trip to Lesbos was shorter than his last as he will hold a mass for some 2,500 people at the Megaron Athens Concert Hall later Sunday.

In Cyprus, where the pope visited before Greece this week, authorities said that 50 migrants will be relocated to Italy thanks to Francis.

Greek officials have not ruled out the possibility that some migrants from Mavrovouni could accompany him back to Italy.

He took 12 Syrian refugees with him during his last visit to Lesbos in 2016.

At the start of his Athens visit on Saturday, Francis “today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy,” , warning against populism’s “easy answers.”

In 2016, Francis visited Moria with Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and Archbishop Ieronymos II, head of the Church of Greece.

The Mavrovouni camp currently holds 2,193 people and has a capacity of 8,000, a facility official said this week.

Authorities insist asylum procedures and processing times are now faster.

With EU funds, Greece is building a series of “closed” facilities on Greek islands with barbed wire fencing, surveillance cameras, X-ray scanners and magnetic gates that are closed at night.

Three such camps have opened on the islands of Samos, Leros and Kos, with Lesbos and Chios to follow next year.

Once migrants receive asylum they are no longer eligible to remain in the camps with many then unable to find accommodation or work, drawing criticism from NGOS and aid agencies.

The groups have also raised concerns about the new camps, arguing that people’s movements should not be restricted as well as claiming Greek border officers have pushed back migrants.

Greece vehemently denies the claims, insisting its coast guard saves lives at sea.

The pope flew back to Athens after the visit and will return to Rome on Monday.


UK drafting plan to detain male migrants found at sea

UK drafting plan to detain male migrants found at sea
Updated 22 January 2022

UK drafting plan to detain male migrants found at sea

UK drafting plan to detain male migrants found at sea
  • Strategy aims to bypass international laws safeguarding asylum seekers
  •  Official: Ministers ‘absolutely convinced that tough deterrents are the way’

LONDON: Male migrants who try to cross the English Channel will be detained under a new UK government proposal, The Times reported on Saturday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson tasked Home Secretary Priti Patel with drawing up new plans in the latest effort to deter Channel migrant crossings.
Under the plan, male migrants would be housed in immigration detention centers after being intercepted at sea or discovered on UK territory.
Government officials believe that the plan will deter migrants from making the hazardous journey across the Channel. 

Last year, a record 28,381 people successfully made the trip, many in small dinghies. That figure could double this year, according to government statistics.
Patel and the French government have claimed that about 70 percent of all migrants who cross the Channel are single men aged under 40.
Due to international laws, migrants who are intercepted in the Channel cannot be lawfully detained, as opposed to those who reach Britain, who are often temporarily housed in hotels.
Most migrants who cross the Channel are doing so lawfully because they are intercepted before reaching the UK coast. Only a fraction land on beaches, which is illegal under British law.
But the new government plans look to enable UK authorities to detain and subsequently deport or imprison migrants intercepted at sea.

Individuals will face a maximum prison sentence of four years under the new law. A government source said: “We’re working through what powers of detention are needed.”
Another official said: “Ministers are convinced this is the way to create a deterrent. Their thinking is ‘you make it worse and worse, more draconian and it’ll stop people coming.’ They’re absolutely convinced that tough deterrents are the way to fix it.”
The plan is part of a wider strategy to use the Royal Navy, as well as a relocation policy to third countries, in order to combat Channel crossings.
However, MPs from Johnson’s Conservative Party have questioned the new proposal. Senior MP Tim Loughton said: “The fear is that it’s substituting the current accommodation bill of a Holiday Inn with the higher bill of a prison facility or a secure facility.”
There are also concerns that detained migrants could claim other rights under the Human Rights Act and the UN Refugee Convention, making it difficult for the government to execute its strategy.
But Patel’s plan aims to classify migrants who enter the UK illegally, or who arrive through a “safe” third country — including France — as “inadmissible.” 


Ethiopia army planning to ‘eliminate’ Tigrayan forces, military official says

Ethiopia army planning to ‘eliminate’ Tigrayan forces, military official says
Updated 22 January 2022

Ethiopia army planning to ‘eliminate’ Tigrayan forces, military official says

Ethiopia army planning to ‘eliminate’ Tigrayan forces, military official says
  • The conflict, which broke out in November 2020, has displaced millions and triggered widespread hunger

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s military is planning to enter the Tigray regional capital of Mekelle and “eliminate” rebellious forces, a top military official said late on Friday amid diplomatic efforts to end conflict in the country’s north.
The Horn of Africa country has been gripped by war for more than a year, with the federal military and its allies battling forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the political party that controls Tigray.
This week two top US diplomats flew into Addis Ababa to push for a cease-fire, building on tentative signs of a thaw in relations between warring parties, including the release of political prisoners.
In an interview with state-affiliated media outlet Fana broadcast late on Friday, Ethiopian Defense Forces (EDF) deputy army chief, General Abebaw Tadesse said the country would not be at peace until the TPLF was eliminated.
“Tigray is part of Ethiopia and no force will stop us from entering. We will enter and we will eliminate the enemy. There shouldn’t be any confusion about this,” he said.
“The people of Ethiopia shouldn’t think that it is over, it is not over. The main thing here is we have stopped because we have to prepare ourselves. This enemy is still there, and it has to be absolutely eliminated. We will not negotiate with them.”
The TPLF’s spokesman, Getachew Reda, could not be reached for a comment on the military official’s remarks.
Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokesperson, Billene Seyoum, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The TPLF says Abiy wants to end the country’s ethnically-based federal government system while Abiy says the TPLF is hungry to seize the national power it once held.
For months there has been an uneasy stalemate between the two sides, punctuated by sporadic fighting. TPLF forces control most of Tigray but are surrounded by hostile forces from neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara which are allied with the federal military.
The conflict, which broke out in November 2020, has displaced millions and triggered widespread hunger.
In recent months there have been multiple diplomatic and political efforts to end it, including pressure from the United States pushing for rapprochement between the two sides.


Taliban say Oslo talks with West will ‘transform atmosphere of war’

Taliban say Oslo talks with West will ‘transform atmosphere of war’
Updated 22 January 2022

Taliban say Oslo talks with West will ‘transform atmosphere of war’

Taliban say Oslo talks with West will ‘transform atmosphere of war’
  • Talks between the Taliban and Western officials will open in Oslo on Sunday on human rights and humanitarian aid as a poverty crisis deepens

KABUL: The Taliban’s first official talks with the West on European soil since seizing power in Afghanistan will help to “transform the atmosphere of war” after a two-decade insurgency against NATO forces, the group’s top spokesman told AFP Saturday.
The hard-line Islamists stormed back to power in August as US and foreign troops began their final withdrawal from the country following a stalemate on the battlefield.
No country has yet recognized the Taliban’s government — notorious for human rights abuses during a first stint in power between 1996 and 2001 when they were ousted by a US-led invasion.
“The Islamic Emirate has taken steps for meeting the demands of the Western world and we hope to strengthen our relations through diplomacy with all the countries, including European countries and the West in general,” Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP on Saturday.
The Taliban want to “transform the atmosphere of war... into a peaceful situation.”
Talks between the Taliban and Western officials will open in Oslo on Sunday on human rights and humanitarian aid as a poverty crisis deepens.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated drastically since the Taliban’s takeover. International aid came to a sudden halt and the United States has frozen $9.5 billion (8.4 billion euros) in Afghan central bank assets held overseas.
Hunger now threatens 23 million Afghans, or 55 percent of the population, according to the United Nations, which says it needs $5 billion from donor countries this year to address the humanitarian crisis in the country.
The visit from Sunday to Tuesday will see meetings between the hard-line Islamists, Norwegian authorities and officials from a number of allied countries including Britain, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy and the United States, the Norwegian foreign ministry statement said.
The Taliban delegation is also expected to meet Afghans from civil society, including women leaders and journalists, at a time when the freedoms of those living in Afghanistan are being increasingly curtailed.
“These meetings do not represent a legitimization or recognition of the Taliban” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said Friday.
“But we must talk to the de facto authorities in the country. We cannot allow the political situation to lead to an even worse humanitarian disaster.”
The Taliban delegation, led by foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, was due to leave for Oslo on Saturday.
Ali Maisam Nazary, the foreign relations chief for the National Resistance Front (NRF) — an opposition group that bills itself as the last bastion against total Taliban control — condemned Norway over the talks.
“We all must raise our voices and prevent any country from normalizing a terrorist group as the representative of Afghanistan,” Nazary, who is based in Paris, tweeted on Friday.


Sudan deputy leader on rare visit to Ethiopia

Sudan deputy leader on rare visit to Ethiopia
Updated 22 January 2022

Sudan deputy leader on rare visit to Ethiopia

Sudan deputy leader on rare visit to Ethiopia
  • There have been sporadic deadly clashes between the two sides in recent years

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s second most powerful leader was heading to Ethiopia on Saturday, a rare visit by an official from Khartoum that comes amid border tensions, state media said.
Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, widely known as Hemeti, who is number two in Sudan’s ruling council, will be in Ethiopia on a two-day official visit to meet “several Ethiopian officials,” the SUNA news agency reported.
Daglo is head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a much feared and powerful paramilitary unit that is accused of atrocities in the western region of Darfur.
Relations between Khartoum and Addis Ababa deteriorated due to a territorial conflict over the disputed Al-Fashaqa border region, where Ethiopian farmers cultivate fertile land claimed by Sudan.
There have been sporadic deadly clashes between the two sides in recent years.
Al-Fashaqa also borders Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region, and tens of thousands of Ethiopian refugees have crossed into Sudan fleeing fighting.
In November, Sudan’s armed forces said six soldiers were killed in an attack by armed groups and militias linked to the Ethiopian military, a report denied by Addis Ababa, who blamed rebels from Tigray.
Sudan, along with Egypt, is also locked in a bitter dispute over Ethiopia’s mega-dam on the Blue Nile.
The two downstream countries, dependent on the river for most of their water, see Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam as an existential threat.
Both Khartoum and Addis Ababa are mired in crises.
Sudan has been rocked by weeks of mass demonstrations since an October 25 military takeover that derailed the country’s fragile transition to civilian rule, with at least 73 anti-coup protesters killed in a bloody crackdown.
Ethiopia still seeks to end a conflict that broke out in November 2020 following months of mounting rancour between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the former ruling party of the northernmost Tigray region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The fighting has displaced millions, and, according to UN estimates, driven hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation.


Former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad in stable condition in hospital

Former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad in stable condition in hospital
Updated 22 January 2022

Former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad in stable condition in hospital

Former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad in stable condition in hospital
  • The 96-year-old has been receiving treatment at the National Heart Institute in Kuala Lumpur for the past two days

KUALA LUMPUR: Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is in a stable condition after being admitted to a specialist heart hospital for the third time in just weeks, his daughter said Saturday.

The 96-year-old has been receiving treatment at the National Heart Institute in Kuala Lumpur for the past two days, Marina Mahathir said.

Media descended on the hospital as news spread that Mahathir had been admitted again, and current Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob also paid him a visit.

In a statement, his daughter said he was receiving follow-up treatment after a procedure at the same facility about a fortnight ago.

“His condition is now stable and he has been responding well to treatment,” she said.

His family “requests that people pray for him to make a full recovery,” she added.

Mahathir also spent several days at the hospital in December for a check-up.

He has had numerous heart problems over the years, suffering several heart attacks and undergoing bypass surgery.

Mahathir is one of Malaysia’s most dominant political figures, having served twice as prime minister for a total of 24 years.

He was leader from 1981 to 2003, then returned to power in 2018 at the age of 92, heading a reformist coalition in the wake of the huge 1MDB corruption scandal.

But that administration collapsed in 2020 due to infighting.