UK tells Syrian asylum seeker ‘safe’ to return home

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel makes a statement in the House of Commons in London. (File/AFP/UK Parliament)
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel makes a statement in the House of Commons in London. (File/AFP/UK Parliament)
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Updated 09 January 2022

UK tells Syrian asylum seeker ‘safe’ to return home

UK tells Syrian asylum seeker ‘safe’ to return home
  • The Home Office sent the Syrian asylum seeker a refusal letter in December
  • His lawyers are now appealing the government’s unprecedented decision

LONDON: A Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Britain has been told by the UK Home Office that he is safe to return to his war-torn country, The Guardian reported on Sunday.
The 25-year-old refugee sought sanctuary in the UK in May 2020 after fleeing mandatory enlistment into Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army in 2017. “He said that if he is forced back to Syria, he will be targeted as a draft evader, arrested, detained and killed,” the newspaper reported.
It would be the first time that the UK returns a refugee to Syria, which the UN Refugee Agency said in October was still “unsafe.”
The agency reiterated an appeal from Human Rights Watch that “all countries should protect Syrians from being returned to face violence and torture, and halt any forced returns to Syria.”
A refusal letter sent to the asylum seeker by the Home Office last month said: “I am not satisfied to a reasonable degree of likelihood that you have a well-founded fear of persecution.
“It is not accepted that you will face a risk of persecution or real risk of serious harm on return to the Syrian Arab Republic due to your imputed political opinion as a draft evader.”
His lawyers are now appealing the Home Office’s unprecedented decision.
The asylum seeker, who has not been named for his own protection, said: “I escaped from Syria in 2017 and I am looking for safety.
“I hope I will not be forced back to Syria. I am so tired of trying to find somewhere that I can be safe.”


Afghanistan’s Taliban mediate cease-fire between Pakistan, local militants

Afghanistan’s Taliban mediate cease-fire between Pakistan, local militants
Updated 6 sec ago

Afghanistan’s Taliban mediate cease-fire between Pakistan, local militants

Afghanistan’s Taliban mediate cease-fire between Pakistan, local militants
  • A TTP statement confirmed that talks were underway in Kabul and that a cease-fire has been put in place will May 30
KABUL: The Taliban in Afghanistan have mediated a temporary cease-fire between Pakistan and a local Pakistani Taliban militant group following talks between the two sides in Kabul, an official said on Wednesday.
The Pakistani Taliban — known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — has carried out some of the bloodiest attacks inside Pakistan since 2007. It is not directly affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, but pledges allegiance to them.
“During the talks, in addition to significant progress on related issues, a temporary cease-fire was also agreed upon,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter, confirming the talks in Kabul.
Pakistan carried out a number of operations against the TTP, but, despite reducing the militant group’s footprint, it has not been able to fully stop attacks, which, in recent months, have begun to rise again along its western border.
A TTP statement on Wednesday also confirmed that talks were underway in Kabul and that a cease-fire has been put in place will May 30.
It was not clear who was representing Pakistan’s government in the talks. Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman did not reply to Reuters’ request for comment.
Islamabad says the TTP have been able to find safe haven in Afghanistan over the years — a charge both the Taliban and the previous US-backed governments have denied.
Last year, the two sides had agreed to a cease-fire but talks failed. The talks, also held inside Afghanistan, broke down due to a disagreement over the release of TTP prisoners held by Pakistan, according to local media.
Pakistan is also currently dealing with a surge of attacks by separatist insurgents in its southwestern province of Balochistan, which also borders Afghanistan.

Moscow expels 24 Italian, 27 Spanish diplomats

Moscow expels 24 Italian, 27 Spanish diplomats
Updated 10 min 49 sec ago

Moscow expels 24 Italian, 27 Spanish diplomats

Moscow expels 24 Italian, 27 Spanish diplomats
  • Russia will also expel 24 Italian diplomats in a retaliatory move

MOSCOW: Moscow on Wednesday expelled 24 Italian and 27 Spanish diplomats, according to the Russian foreign ministry, in tit-for-tat responses to the expulsion of Russian diplomats over the Ukraine conflict.
The ministry said in a statement that 27 employees of the Spanish embassy in Moscow and the Spanish Consulate General in Saint Petersburg “have been declared persona non grata,” while ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russian news agencies that 24 Italian diplomats had also been expelled.
Italy has slammed Russia’s expulsion of the diplomats as a ‘hostile act’.
France earlier “strongly condemned” the expulsion of 34 of its diplomats by Russia, a tit-for-tat move by Moscow after Paris ordered some Russian staff to leave.
Saying the step had “no legitimate basis,” the ministry said in a statement that “the work of the diplomats and staff at (France’s) embassy in Russia... takes place fully within the framework of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic and consular relations” — whereas Paris expelled the Russian staff in April on suspicion of being spies.


Erdogan says NATO should understand Turkey’s security sensitivities

Erdogan says NATO should understand Turkey’s security sensitivities
President Erdogan said he expected Turkey’s NATO allies to understand its sensitivities on security. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 May 2022

Erdogan says NATO should understand Turkey’s security sensitivities

Erdogan says NATO should understand Turkey’s security sensitivities
  • President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he expected Turkey’s NATO allies to understand its sensitivities on security

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday Sweden should not expect Turkey to approve its NATO bid without returning “terrorists,” and Swedish and Finnish delegations should not come to Turkey to convince it to back their NATO bids.
Earlier, Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the NATO alliance, a decision spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the accession process expected to take only a few weeks despite Turkey’s objections.
“We have such a sensitivity as protecting our borders from attacks by terrorists organizations,” Erdogan told MPs from his AK Party in parliament.
Erdogan said NATO allies had never supported Turkey in its fight against Kurdish militant groups, including the Syrian Kurdish YPG.
“NATO expansion is only meaningful for us in proportion to the respect that will be shown to our sensitivities,” he said.
Ankara says Sweden and Finland harbor people it says are linked to groups it deems terrorists, namely the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group and followers of Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt.
Turkish state broadcaster TRT Haber said on Monday Sweden and Finland had not granted approval for the repatriation of 33 people that Turkey requested.
“So you won’t give us back terrorists but you ask us for NATO membership? NATO is an entity for security, an organization for security. Therefore, we cannot say ‘yes’ to this security organization being deprived of security,” he said.
NATO and the United States have said they were confident Turkey would not hold up membership of Finland and Sweden. 


Extreme temperatures compound poverty in Pakistan’s hottest city

Extreme temperatures compound poverty in Pakistan’s hottest city
Updated 35 min 12 sec ago

Extreme temperatures compound poverty in Pakistan’s hottest city

Extreme temperatures compound poverty in Pakistan’s hottest city
  • Jacobabad in Pakistan’s arid Sindh province grips with temperatures peaking at 51 degrees Celsius
  • Experts say the searing weather is in line with projections for global warming

JACOBABAD, Pakistan: By the time Pakistani schoolboy Saeed Ali arrived at hospital in one of the world’s hottest cities, his body was shutting down from heatstroke.
The 12-year-old collapsed after walking home from school under the burning sun, his day spent sweltering in a classroom with no fans.
“A rickshaw driver had to carry my son here. He couldn’t even walk,” the boy’s mother Shaheela Jamali said from his bedside.
Jacobabad in Pakistan’s arid Sindh province is in the grip of the latest heatwave to hit South Asia — peaking at 51 degrees Celsius (124 Fahrenheit) at the weekend.
Canals in the city — a vital source of irrigation for nearby farms — have run dry, with a smattering of stagnant water barely visible around strewn rubbish.
Experts say the searing weather is in line with projections for global warming.
The city is on the “front line of climate change,” said its deputy commissioner Abdul Hafeez Siyal. “The overall quality of life here is suffering.”
Most of the one million people in Jacobabad and surrounding villages live in acute poverty, with water shortages and power cuts compromising their ability to beat the heat.
It leaves residents facing desperate dilemmas.
Doctors said Saeed was in a critical condition, but his mother — driven by a desire to escape poverty — said he would return to school next week.

A laborer drinks water from a hand pump at brick kiln in Jacobabad of Pakistan’s southern Sindh province. (AFP)


“We don’t want them to grow up to be laborers,” Jamali said, her son listless and tearful at her side.
Heatstroke — when the body becomes so overheated it can no longer cool itself — can cause symptoms from lightheadedness and nausea to organ swelling, unconsciousness, and even death.
Nurse Bashir Ahmed, who treated Saeed at a new heatstroke clinic run by local NGO Community Development Foundation, said the number of patients arriving in a serious condition was rising.
“Previously, the heat would be at its peak in June and July, but now it’s arriving in May,” Ahmed said.
Laborers forced to toil in the sun are among the most vulnerable.
Brick kiln workers ply their trade alongside furnaces that can reach up to 1,000 degrees Celsius.
“The severe heat makes us feel like throwing up sometimes, but if I can’t work, I can’t earn,” said Rasheed Rind, who started on the site as a child.
Life in Jacobabad is dominated by attempts to cope with the heat.
“It’s like fire burning all around. What we need the most is electricity and water,” said blacksmith Shafi Mohammad.


Power shortages mean only six hours of electricity a day in rural areas and 12 in the city.
Access to drinking water is unreliable and unaffordable due to scarcity across Pakistan and major infrastructure problems.
Khairun Nissa gave birth during the heatwave, her last days of pregnancy spent wilting under a single ceiling fan shared between her family of 13.
Her two-day-old son now occupies her spot under its feeble breeze.
“Of course I’m worried about him in this heat, but I know God will provide for us,” said Nissa.
Outside their three-room brick home, where the stench of rotting rubbish and stagnant water hangs in the air, a government-installed water tap runs dry.
But local “water mafias” are filling the supply gap.
They have tapped into government reserves to funnel water to their own distribution points where cans are filled and transported by donkey cart to be sold at 20 rupees (25 cents) per 20 liters.
“If our water plants weren’t here, there would be major difficulties for the people of Jacobabad,” said Zafar Ullah Lashari, who operates an unlicensed, unregulated water supply.
In a farming village on the outskirts of the city, women wake up at 3am to pump drinking water all day from a well — but it is never enough.
“We prefer our cattle to have clean drinking water first, because our livelihood depends on them,” said Abdul Sattar, who raises buffaloes for milk and sale at market.
There is no compromise on this, even when children suffer skin conditions and diarrhea.
“It is a difficult choice but if the cattle die, how would the children eat?” he said.

A man cools off as water splashes from a broken water pipe during a hot summer day in Karachi. (AFP)


Pakistan is the eighth most vulnerable country to extreme weather caused by climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index compiled by environmental NGO Germanwatch.
Floods, droughts and cyclones in recent years have killed and displaced thousands, destroyed livelihoods and damaged infrastructure.
Many people choose to leave Jacobabad in the hottest months, leaving some villages half empty.
Sharaf Khatoon shares a makeshift camp in the city with up to 100 people surviving on a few meagre rupees that male family members earn through menial labor.
They usually relocate the camp in the hottest months, 300 kilometers away to Quetta, where temperatures are up to 20 degrees Celsius cooler.
But this year they will leave late, struggling to save the money for the journey.
“We have headaches, unusual heartbeats, skin problems, but there is nothing we can do about it,” said Khatoon.
Professor Nausheen H. Anwar, who studies urban planning in hot cities, said authorities need to look beyond emergency responses and think long term.
“Taking heatwaves seriously is important, but sustained chronic heat exposure is particularly critical,” she said.
“It’s exacerbated in places like Jacobabad by the degradation of infrastructure and access to water and electricity which compromises people’s capacity to cope.”
Along a dried up canal filled with rubbish, hundreds of boys and a handful of girls in Jacobabad pour into a school for their end-of-year exams.
They gather around a hand pump to gulp down water, exhausted even before the day begins.

A man uses a water pipe to cool off on a hot summer day in Karachi. (AFP)


“The biggest issue we face is not having basic facilities — that’s why we experience more difficulties,” said headteacher Rashid Ahmed Khalhoro.
“We try to keep the children’s morale high but the heat impacts their mental and physical health.”
With extreme temperatures arriving earlier in the year, he appealed to the government to bring forward summer vacations, which normally begin in June.
A few classrooms have fans, though most do not. When the electricity is cut just an hour into the school day, everyone swelters in semi-darkness.
Some rooms become so unbearable that children are moved into corridors, with youngsters frequently fainting.
“We suffocate in the heat. We sweat profusely and our clothes get drenched,” said 15-year-old Ali Raza.
The boys said they suffered from headaches and frequent diarrhea but refused to skip lessons.
Khalhoro said his students are determined to break out of poverty and find jobs where they can escape the heat.
“They are prepared as though they are on a battlefield, with the motivation that they must achieve something.”


Indonesian police arrest 24 suspected militants in raids

Indonesian police arrest 24 suspected militants in raids
Updated 18 May 2022

Indonesian police arrest 24 suspected militants in raids

Indonesian police arrest 24 suspected militants in raids
  • Twenty-two of the suspects were arrested over the weekend in Poso, an extremist hotbed in Central Sulawesi province

PALU, Indonesia: Indonesian police said Wednesday they arrested 24 suspected militants believed to have links to extremists accused of beheadings in remote mountain jungles and who pledged allegiance to the Daesh group.
Twenty-two of the suspects were arrested over the weekend in Poso, an extremist hotbed in Central Sulawesi province, and two others were arrested in East Kalimantan province on Borneo and in Jakarta’s satellite city of Bekasi, said Central Sulawesi Police Chief Rudy Sufahriadi.
The suspects are active supporters of the East Indonesia Mujahideen, Sufahriadi said. The extremist network has claimed responsibility for the killings of police officers and minority Christians in Central Sulawesi, some by beheading, and pledged allegiance to the Daesh group.
The group has been weakened over the past decade by a sustained crackdown on militants by joint military and police forces. More than 40 of its remaining members have plotted and launched attacks from the mountainous jungles of Poso district.
Security operations in the area killed the group’s leader, Abu Wardah Santoso, in 2016. Dozens of other leaders and members of the group have been killed or captured since then, including Ali Kalora, another leader, who was killed by security forces last year. Police are pursuing two other members of the group who remain at large in the jungle.
The suspects arrested over the weekend attended military-style militant training in Central Sulawesi, Sufahriadi said. They also supplied weapons and food to militants in the jungle and have hidden information about them from the authorities.
Police seized a revolver, 10 air guns, an arrow and 26 machetes in the raids and were interrogating the suspects, Sufahriadi said.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, launched a crackdown on militants following bombings on the resort island of Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly Western and Asian tourists.
Militant attacks on foreigners in Indonesia have been largely replaced in recent years by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government, mainly police and anti-terrorism forces, and people militants consider to be infidels, inspired by Daesh group tactics abroad.