UN group condemns France for failure to repatriate children from Syria camps

Children sit on the ground at the Kurdish-run Al-Hol camp. (AFP/File)
Children sit on the ground at the Kurdish-run Al-Hol camp. (AFP/File)
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Updated 24 February 2022

UN group condemns France for failure to repatriate children from Syria camps

Children sit on the ground at the Kurdish-run Al-Hol camp. (AFP/File)
  • At least 62 children of Daesh militants reportedly have died since the start of 2021 as a result of inhumane conditions in camps
  • Child detainees face dire sanitary conditions and a lack of water, food and healthcare, said member of Committee on the Rights of the Child

NEW YORK: The failure of authorities in France to repatriate from Syria the children of French nationals violates their rights to life and freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child said on Thursday.

Many children have been held in life-threatening conditions in Syrian camps for years. The CRC statement came at the conclusion of three cases filed by a group of French nationals relating to 49 of their grandchildren, nieces and nephews in the Kurdish-administered Rawj, Ayn Isa and Al-Hol camps in northeastern Syria’s Al-Hasakeh governorate.

“The children are living in inhuman sanitary conditions, lacking basic necessities including water, food and healthcare, and facing an imminent risk of death,” said committee member Ann Skelton.

“At least 62 children have reportedly died in the camps as a result of these conditions since the beginning of 2021. The situation is therefore extremely urgent.”

The sprawling, fenced off Al-Hol camp is home to more than 50,000 wives, widows and children of Daesh members. Often, several families live together in cramped conditions in tents, with minimal amenities and limited access to water and sanitation.

Some of the children were born in Syria, others were taken to the war-ravaged country by their French parents at a young age. The occupants of the camps come from more than 50 countries and the UN has repeatedly called on the authorities in home nations to repatriate their nationals, in line with international law and international human rights law. So far, the calls mostly have fallen on deaf ears.

Since the relatives of French youngsters took their cases to the CRC three years ago, the government in France has repatriated 11 children but 38, some as young as 5 years old, are still detained in the camps.

“The committee found that France has the responsibility and power to protect the French children in the Syrian camps against an imminent risk to their lives by taking action to repatriate them,” the CRC said.

The prolonged detention of child victims of the conflict in life-threatening conditions amounts to “inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment,” it added.

France has failed to show that it gave due consideration to the best interests of the child victims when assessing their relatives’ requests for repatriation, according to the committee. It again urged France to take immediate action to repatriate the remaining 38 children, and to adopt additional measures to “mitigate the risks to life, survival and development of the child victims while they remain in North East Syria.”

Skelton said: “We call on France to take immediate action, as every day that passes there is a renewed possibility for further casualties.”


Labour beats Tories in by-election

Sajid Javid
Sajid Javid
Updated 03 December 2022

Labour beats Tories in by-election

Sajid Javid
  • Polling experts said the scale of the Conservative defeat in the Chester by-election was in line with national polls giving Labour a 20-point lead

LONDON: Britain’s opposition Labour Party has secured a resounding victory in a vote for a parliament seat in northwest England, showing the scale of the challenge facing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to win a general election in the next two years.
Adding to the gloom for the Conservatives, who are trailing in nationwide polls and seemingly heading for defeat in a national election expected in 2024, one of the governing party’s most experienced frontline politicians, Sajid Javid, said he planned to stand down.
Javid joins a growing group of Conservative lawmakers who will quit Westminster at the next national election, as the party faces the possibility of being out of power for the first time since 2010.
Polling experts said the scale of the Conservative defeat in the Chester by-election was in line with national polls giving Labour a 20-point lead.
It offered the first electoral judgment since the party embarked on a chaotic bout of infighting, ousting Boris Johnson and Liz Truss as prime minister, the latter after markets took fright at her unfunded fiscal plans.
Sunak became prime minister on Oct. 25, inheriting a divided and fractious party at a time of economic crisis, tasked with tackling soaring inflation and restoring the confidence of financial markets.
Governing parties rarely do well in so-called by-elections, which take place outside the schedule of national elections when a lawmaker leaves their position.
In Chester, Labour candidate Samantha Dixon secured 61 percent of the vote, compared to 22 percent for the candidate from the Conservatives. Labour’s outright majority rose to 10,974 from 6,194.
Labour have held the Chester seat since the 2015 national election, when the party scraped through with a majority of just 93 there, the smallest in the country.
Chester was held by the Conservatives between 2010 and 2015.
Charles Walker, one of those Conservative lawmakers who will stand down at the next election, said Sunak was doing the right things against a difficult backdrop, but defeat at the next national election was likely unavoidable.
“It’s almost impossible to see us coming back from this,” Walker told Times Radio. “I hope what Rishi Sunak does is make sure Labour doesn’t wipe the floor with us, so that ... we form a viable opposition.”
Javid said that the Conservatives had asked lawmakers to confirm their intentions for the next election, to allow the party to prepare.
He played his own role in the year’s drama - resigning as Health Secretary in July, minutes before Sunak quit as finance minister, triggering the unprecedented ministerial rebellion that brought down Johnson.
Javid, who had also served as chancellor of exchequer under Johnson, then said he would stand to replace him, but withdrew before the contest began. He also stood to replace Theresa May as leader in 2019, and was eliminated midway through the race.
“After much reflection I have decided that I will not be standing again at the next general election,” Javid said.
British polling expert John Curtice said the 13 percent swing from Conservative to Labour in Chester suggested that Labour would win an outright majority in parliament at the next national election, but noted that local votes were rarely a good guide.
“Rishi Sunak is being reminded by the voters of Chester that he’s got quite a lot of work to do to get his party back in a position where we might consider the prospect of the Conservatives winning the next general election,” he said.
The vote was triggered after Labour lawmaker Christian Matheson resigned.
An independent panel said he had breached parliament’s sexual misconduct policy for making “unwanted and unwelcome” advances towards a junior staff member.

 


China relaxes COVID-19 rules after protests

A child wearing a mask is pushed across a road in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP)
A child wearing a mask is pushed across a road in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP)
Updated 03 December 2022

China relaxes COVID-19 rules after protests

A child wearing a mask is pushed across a road in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP)
  • Social media footage posted on Thursday night and geolocated by AFP showed dozens of people clashing with health workers in hazmat suits outside a school in Yicheng, in central China’s Hubei province

BEIJING: Cities across China further unwound Covid restrictions on Friday, loosening testing and quarantine rules in the wake of nationwide protests calling for an end to lockdowns and greater political freedoms.
Anger and frustration with China’s hardline pandemic response spilled onto the streets last weekend in widespread demonstrations not seen in decades.
China’s vast security apparatus has moved swiftly to smother the rallies, deploying a heavy police presence while boosting online censorship and surveillance of the population.
A number of cities have now begun loosening COVID-19 restrictions, such as moving away from daily mass testing — a tedious mainstay of life under Beijing’s stringent zero-Covid policy.
But sporadic localized clashes have continued to flare up.
Social media footage posted on Thursday night and geolocated by AFP showed dozens of people clashing with health workers in hazmat suits outside a school in Yicheng, in central China’s Hubei province.
The author of the post said people in the video were parents of students who had tested positive for the virus and been taken to quarantine facilities.
Parents are seen kneeling in front of the school gate, pleading to take their children home. Another video showed at least a dozen police officers at the scene.
Signs have emerged of a possible shift in the policy of sending positive cases to central quarantine facilities.
An analysis by state-run newspaper People’s Daily on Friday quoted a number of health experts supporting local government moves to allow patients to quarantine at home, which would be a marked departure from current rules.
When called on Friday, some officials in the Chaoyang district of Beijing said people who tested positive there would no longer have to go to central quarantine.
Authorities in the southern factory hub of Dongguan on Thursday also said those who meet “specific conditions” should be allowed to quarantine at home. They did not specify what those conditions would be.
The southern tech hub of Shenzhen on Wednesday rolled out a similar policy.
Central government officials have signaled that a broader relaxation of the zero-COVID-19 policy could be in the works.
Speaking at the National Health Commission Wednesday, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said the Omicron variant was weakening and vaccination rates were improving, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
A central figure behind Beijing’s pandemic response, Sun said this “new situation” required “new tasks.”
She made no mention of zero-COVID-19 in those remarks or in another meeting on Thursday, suggesting the approach, which has disrupted the economy and daily life, might soon be relaxed.
The southwestern metropolis of Chengdu from Friday no longer required a recent negative test result to enter public places or ride the metro, instead only demanding a green health code on an app confirming people have not travelled to a “high-risk” area.
Beijing also announced on Friday that using public transport in the city would no longer require a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours.
The day before, the capital’s health authorities called on hospitals not to deny treatment to people without a 48-hour test.
In January, a pregnant woman in the city of Xi’an miscarried after being refused hospital entry for not having a PCR result.
China has seen a string of deaths after treatment was delayed by COVID-19 restrictions, including the recent death of a four-month-old baby who was stuck in quarantine with her father.
Those cases became a rallying cry during the protests, with a viral post listing the names of those who died because of alleged negligence linked to the pandemic response.
Many other cities with virus outbreaks are allowing restaurants, shopping malls and even schools to reopen, in a clear departure from previous tough lockdown rules.
In the northwestern city of Urumqi, where a fire that killed 10 people spurred anti-lockdown protests, authorities announced Friday that supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and ski resorts would gradually be reopened.
The city of more than four million in the far-western Xinjiang region endured one of China’s longest lockdowns, with some areas shut from early August.

 


As IMF funding delayed, Pakistan expects $3 bln from friendly country

As IMF funding delayed, Pakistan expects $3 bln from friendly country
Updated 02 December 2022

As IMF funding delayed, Pakistan expects $3 bln from friendly country

As IMF funding delayed, Pakistan expects $3 bln from friendly country
  • An IMF review for the release of its next tranche of funding has been pending since September
  • Pakistan's finance minister, Ishaq Dar, said all targets for the IMF's ninth review had been completed, adding that withholding a tranche despite that would not make sense

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan expects to secure $3 billion in external financing from a friendly country in two weeks, its finance minister said on Friday as the South Asian country awaits IMF funding.
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) review for the release of its next tranche of funding has been pending since September, leaving Pakistan in dire need of external financing.
Pakistan’s finance minister, Ishaq Dar, said on Friday in an interview with Geo News TV that all targets for the IMF’s ninth review had been completed, adding that withholding a tranche despite that would not make sense.
Pakistan secured a $6 billion bailout in 2019 under an Extended Fund Facility (EFF), that was topped up with another $1 billion earlier this year.
“We continue to engage in discussions with the government over policies to address the humanitarian and rehabilitation needs of the floods while promoting macroeconomic and fiscal sustainability,” the IMF’s resident representative in Pakistan, Esther Perez Ruiz, said in a statement.
Dar said Pakistan’s foreign reserves, which have dropped to $7.5 billion, will be shored up with a $3 billion financing from a friendly country in the next two weeks.
That is hardly enough for a month of imports for Pakistan, which has been facing a widening current account deficit and a balance of payments crisis.
“All the requirements for the ninth (IMF) review are completed,” Dar said, adding that the international lender was “behaving abnormal” by not completing the review.
Pakistan will make alternate arrangements in case of any delay from the IMF, he said.
“If the money doesn’t come, we will manage, no problem,” he added.

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NEOM offers Sri Lankan workers ‘lifetime opportunity,’ minister says

NEOM offers Sri Lankan workers ‘lifetime opportunity,’ minister says
Updated 58 min 54 sec ago

NEOM offers Sri Lankan workers ‘lifetime opportunity,’ minister says

NEOM offers Sri Lankan workers ‘lifetime opportunity,’ minister says
  • Manusha Nanayakkara ‘blown away’ by Saudi megaproject on visit to Kingdom
  • Smart city presents opportunities for construction, engineering, IT professionals, he says

COLOMBO: Saudi Arabia’s NEOM smart city offers a great opportunity for Sri Lankan professionals and skilled workers, a government minister from the South Asian nation said on Friday.

Labor and Foreign Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara visited the site of the megaproject in northwestern Tabuk province last month during an official visit to the Kingdom.

He also met his Saudi counterpart, Human Resources and Social Development Minister Ahmed bin Sulaiman Al-Rajhi, to discuss ways to boost labor relations and find employment opportunities for skilled Sri Lankan workers on some of the huge infrastructure projects being implemented under Saudi Vision 2030.

Sri Lanka produces world-class engineers, architects and city planners. They can contribute their technical and creative capabilities. Projects will be a lifetime opportunity for most of them.

Manusha Nanayakkara, Labor and foreign employment minister

“NEOM is a futuristic concept and I was blown away by looking at the amount of work that has gone into it,” Nanayakkara told Arab News. “Also, once the project is complete it will trigger a significant transformation in traditional tourism and modern living.”

He added: “NEOM offers a substantial amount of job opportunities in various categories and I am trying to orient as many aspiring migrant workers to capitalize on this.”

Some of the best opportunities were for construction, engineering, IT and urban planning professionals, he said.

“Sri Lanka produces world-class engineers, architects and city planners. They can contribute their technical and creative capabilities. Projects like NEOM are rare in the world and it will be a lifetime opportunity for most of them.”

Sri Lanka is keen to find work overseas for its professionals as it is facing its worst financial crisis since gaining independence in 1948 and in desperate need of foreign currency.

The island nation of 22 million people officially defaulted on its debts in April and without foreign currency reserves has been left unable to pay for imports. Most of its citizens are facing daily power cuts and shortages of basic commodities.

Remittances from Sri Lankans working overseas have long been a key source of foreign exchange for the country.

“(An) Immediate contribution, without a doubt, would be foreign remittance,” Nanayakkara said, adding that involvement in NEOM would also bring long-term benefits for Sri Lankan workers.

“The expertise and experience they gain by being employed by NEOM will add to their credentials as professionals.”

 


Husband of Daesh bride Shamima Begum disputes ‘grooming’ claims

Husband of Daesh bride Shamima Begum disputes ‘grooming’ claims
Updated 02 December 2022

Husband of Daesh bride Shamima Begum disputes ‘grooming’ claims

Husband of Daesh bride Shamima Begum disputes ‘grooming’ claims
  • Yago Riedijk says he and then schoolgirl ‘agreed on the conditions of marriage’
  • Begum is appealing a British government decision to strip her of her citizenship

LONDON: The husband of Daesh bride Shamima Begum has insisted his marriage to the British schoolgirl was a happy one, the Daily Mail reported.

Yago Riedijk, who was 23 when he married Begum, then 15, said the couple enjoyed a good marriage in Syria, despite claims from Begum she was groomed and trafficked.

Begum left her east London home in February 2015 and married Dutch convert and Daesh soldier Riedijk days after arriving in Syria.

The couple had three children, all of whom died of disease or malnutrition.

Lawyers for Begum, who is appealing a British government decision to strip her of her citizenship, told the special immigration court there was “overwhelming” evidence she was groomed and trafficked by Daesh for the purpose of “sexual exploitation and marriage to an adult male.”

Nick Squires KC, a member of Begum’s legal team, told the Special Immigration Appeals Commission: “In doing so, she was following a well-known pattern by which ISIS (another term for the terror group) cynically recruited and groomed female children as young as 14 so that they could be offered as wives to adult men.”

However, Riedijk, who was speaking in an interview from prison in northern Syria, said the marriage was consensual and, initially at least, a happy one.

“Basically, I was looking for marriage and a friend of mine came to me and said ‘there’s a sister looking for marriage, are you interested?’ I took him up on his offer.

“We had a talk, we agreed on the conditions of marriage,” he said.

It was “not really something big or anything important, it was small things like going out shopping, things like this,” he added.

“Basically she asked for some freedoms, which I agreed to give her — going shopping, seeing her friends, very, very basic stuff. We agreed on a dowry — all she asked for was an English translation of the Quran, which I agreed to.”

Following Daesh’s ousting from the last of the territory it had seized across Syria and Iraq in March 2019, the British government said Begum was a risk and rescinded her citizenship.

MI5, the UK’s security service, concluded that Begum’s travel to Syria was voluntary and she had “demonstrated determination and commitment” to joining the terror group.

Female recruits to Daesh were likely to have been radicalized and were probably given military training to fight in defense of the group, it said in a statement.

“They were exposed to routine acts of extreme violence, which would be likely to have had the effect of desensitizing individuals, and encouraging them to view violent terrorist activity as an acceptable and legitimate course of action.

“(Daesh) was committed to perpetuating violence against those who it viewed as enemies of Islam, including the UK.”