A human tide flows out of Ukraine in search of shelter and security

Special A human tide flows out of Ukraine in search of shelter and security
“More than 500,000 refugees have now fled from Ukraine into neighboring countries,” said the UN’s high commissioner for refugees on Monday. (AFP)
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Updated 01 March 2022

A human tide flows out of Ukraine in search of shelter and security

A human tide flows out of Ukraine in search of shelter and security
  • Humanitarian crisis approaching the worst-case scenario the UN chief hoped would be avoided
  • Interviews with refugees in Poland and Hungary reveal the depth of suffering and displacement

JEDDAH: On Feb. 15, nine days before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the UN, sounded an ominous warning: “There is no alternative to diplomacy. The price in human suffering is too high to contemplate.”

Two weeks later, the UN refugee agency UNHCR and countless other humanitarian organizations are faced with what seems like the worst-case scenario Guterres hoped would be avoided.

In a message posted on Twitter on Monday, Filippo Grandi, the UN’s high commissioner for refugees, wrote: “More than 500,000 refugees have now fled from Ukraine into neighboring countries.”

His post was the latest update of a figure widely viewed as the most reliable indicator of the scale of the human suffering and displacement caused by the Russian invasion, which began on February 24.




There has been a palpable softening of attitudes toward refugees. (AFP)

By all accounts, the exodus is expected to far exceed the continent’s “refugee summer” of 2015, when about 1 million refugees and asylum seekers, most of them from Syrian war zones, made their way to Central Europe, primarily Germany.

Grandi has conveyed his “heartfelt thanks to the governments and people of countries keeping their borders open” — but the crisis is still in its early days and the UNHCR has said it is planning to deal with up to 4 million refugees if the situation continues to deteriorate. Unless the direct talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials that began on Monday in Belarus succeed in ending hostilities, the human tide flowing out of Ukraine is likely to keep growing.

Janez Lenarcic, the EU’s crisis management commissioner, fears the number of refugees could could be even higher. He warned on Sunday that up to seven million people could be displaced and 18 million “affected in humanitarian terms.”

He added: “We are witnessing what could become the largest humanitarian crisis on our European continent in many, many years.”

So far, five of Ukraine’s neighbors are bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis: Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova and Slovakia, all of which have proved welcoming.

In Hungary, more than 60,000 Ukrainians have crossed through the border town of Zahony and continued on to nearby villages and towns in the Eastern Great Plain.

One teenager who made it with a group of family and friends to Hungary described to Arab News, in a video call on Monday, the shock of sudden displacement and the agony of leaving loved ones behind. Lina, a 16-year-old from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, is now staying in Debrecen with a couple who opened their home to her group and another family, nine people in total.

She said she and her family are unharmed but the journey was harrowing and physically exhausting. The dangers along the route kept her, her cousin Bohdan, 15, and Natasha, a family friend acting as their guardian, constantly on edge as they traveled for four days, with minimal sleep, to reach the border before the shelling got worse.

Her father and mother remained behind as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared martial law, temporarily preventing men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country, Lina said. She added that an exception was granted for her 18-year-old brother, who has cerebral palsy.




The exodus is expected to far exceed the continent’s “refugee summer” of 2015. (AFP)

The past few days have gone by in a blur for Lina’s group. “When we were in Kyiv, we did not know when the war would start, so we had food, water and some stuff,” she said. “Last Thursday we woke up to news that the war had started. We were scared. We went to hide in the basement; there were three families in total, including three mothers and 11 children.

“We wanted to protect our family, so we decided to either leave the country or do anything to be safe since we did not know what would happen next.”

Lina says she hopes that the war will end soon, Ukraine will remain free and she can return home. But for now, she said: “Our (family) are still there, so we are worried about them.”
 

One positive development has been a palpable softening of attitudes toward refugees. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, declared: “Everyone who has to flee (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s bombs will be welcomed with open arms.”

Just weeks ago Poland, which was already home to 1.5 million Ukrainians before the Russian invasion, was fortifying its border with Belarus to keep out refugees and asylum-seekers from Iraq and Afghanistan, along with other migrants.

But on Sunday the AFP news agency, quoting Polish frontier guards, said that 196,000 Ukrainians had already crossed the border, with 50,000 arriving on Friday alone. It said 90 percent of the refugees are being put up by friends or relatives, and that nine reception centers have been set up close to the frontier.




Antonio Guterres: “There is no alternative to diplomacy. The price in human suffering is too high to contemplate.” (AFP)

Nancy Faeser, Germany’s interior minister, commended Poland for “taking in refugees and doing it in an excellent way” and added: “We are now trying to support Poland logistically.”

Across Poland, people are mobilizing with offers of accommodation, money, clothes and work for the new arrivals, according to the AFP report.

However, many Ukrainians trying to leave their country have to run a gauntlet of queues at border crossings, some of which are said to be 40 miles long. At some of the 80 or more checkpoints, the process of getting to the other side takes days.

For 62-year-old Petro Kranic and his wife Luba, for example, the relief they felt on arriving at the border with Poland was mixed with disappointment when they had to wait a whole day to cross, even though their final destination was not Poland but Estonia.

“On Thursday, as soon as the bombing started, we headed straight to Palats Sportu (a station on the Kyiv Metro line), where we took shelter for two nights,” Kranic told Arab News.

“When the situation seemed to get worse, we knew that we had to leave. My wife’s sister, who lives and works in Estonia, had been asking us to come and stay with her from the time Russian troops began massing on Ukraine’s borders.”

In addition to the threat of war, the Kranics could not risk remaining in Ukraine for another important reason: Luba has just completed a final round of treatments for breast cancer and will require follow-up medical therapy.

Kranic said that after an exhausting wait at the Polish border, they went to Lviv, a city in western Ukraine around 70 kilometers away, where they have relatives, before returning to the border to continue their journey.

“It took us many hours before some Ukrainian volunteers allowed us to pass through,” he said. “A train ride that would normally take seven hours exceeded 15 hours in the end.”

Most members of Kranic’s family are still in Ukraine as the men are of military age. One brother, a truck driver who transports goods across Europe, is returning to the country to join the reserve, while another is waiting for a call for reservists to report for duty.

“They insist on staying back to defend their country,” said Luba. “None of us believed that there would be an attack but once it happened, they decided to fight for the land they love and not lose it again.”


Morocco arrests British national linked to deadly drive-by shooting

Morocco arrests British national linked to deadly drive-by shooting
Updated 7 sec ago

Morocco arrests British national linked to deadly drive-by shooting

Morocco arrests British national linked to deadly drive-by shooting
  • Nana Oppong, 42, awaiting extradition to UK after ‘day and night’ multi-agency manhunt
  • National Crime Agency regional manager praises ‘the vigilance of our Moroccan partners’

LONDON: A criminal wanted by UK authorities over a deadly drive-by shooting has been arrested at the Moroccan border following a “day and night” multi-agency manhunt, the Daily Mail reported.

Nana Oppong, 42, was the subject of a UK police investigation into the drive-by killing of 50-year-old Robert Powell in 2020.

Oppong was named on the National Crime Agency’s most-wanted list and was placed on Interpol Red Notice, which alerts law enforcement authorities worldwide about wanted fugitives.

UK police said Oppong was arrested by Moroccan border authorities late last year after trying to enter from Spain on forged documents, but the news was kept secret over operational and security concerns.

Oppong, who is the seventh person to be arrested from the NCA most-wanted list, has since been kept in custody and is awaiting extradition to the UK.

NCA regional manager in Spain Steve Reynolds said: “Oppong’s arrest came about after a sustained campaign to trace him and because of the vigilance of our Moroccan partners and support from Interpol.

“This is another excellent result and shows once again that UK law enforcement does not give up on finding those who await justice in the UK. Working with our colleagues at home and abroad we will continue to hunt those on the run.”

Stephen Jennings, a detective superintendent who leads the regional police case on Oppong, said: “Numerous officers and staff across all agencies involved in this case have been working day and night to get justice for Robert’s family.

“Oppong’s arrest is the result of an excellent collaboration between Essex Police, the NCA, the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service), Interpol, Crimestoppers and other law enforcement colleagues around the world.”


UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC

UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC
Updated 6 min 51 sec ago

UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC

UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC
  • Foreign Office fears move could make communication channels with Iran more difficult
  • Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ‘should have been proscribed by now,’ source tells Times

A plan to ban Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the UK for being a terrorist organization has been temporarily shelved by the government over fears that the move could harm diplomatic communication channels between London and Tehran. It is not known how long the pause will last.

The IRGC, established in 1979 in the wake of Iran’s revolution, has been accused of orchestrating insurgencies, assassinations, attacks and other acts of aggression worldwide. 

The proposed ban would have made membership of the IRGC or attendance of meetings in support of it illegal in the UK, and hindered its ability to raise funds in the country.

In November, the director general of UK intelligence branch MI5, Ken McCallum, accused the IRGC of plotting to assassinate or kidnap people living in Britain on at least 10 occasions in 2022.

The IRGC was also accused by British security services of threatening journalists working at London-based news outlet Iran International, which necessitated the deployment of armed police at its offices.

The IRGC’s outlawing has long been supported by senior British politicians, including Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Minister of State for Security Tom Tugendhat.

A source told The Times: “Foreign Office officials have real concerns about proscription because they want to maintain access.

“The Home Office, and the government more broadly, supports the move. The IRGC should have been proscribed by now, but the whole process is on ice.”

Diplomatic relations between the two countries remain strained, and were not helped by the execution earlier this year of UK resident Alireza Akbari, who authorities in Tehran had accused of being a spy. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the case had “appalled” him.

A UK government spokesperson said: “While the government keeps the list of proscribed organizations under review, we do not comment on whether a specific organization is or is not being considered for proscription.”


EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary

EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary
Updated 20 min 41 sec ago

EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary

EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary
  • An existing oil price cap alone is costing Moscow around 160 million euros every day
KYIV: The European Union plans to slap Russia with fresh sanctions by the anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on a visit to Kyiv Thursday.
“We will introduce with our G7 partners an additional price cap on Russian petroleum products, and by the 24th of February — exactly one year since the invasion started — we aim to have the 10th package of sanctions in place,” von der Leyen said during a press conference with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Existing sanctions are “eroding” Russia’s economy, she said, and “throwing it back by a generation,” estimating that an existing oil price cap alone is costing Moscow around 160 million euros every day.

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration
Updated 55 min 15 sec ago

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration
  • 28.6% increase in asylum claims as opposition warns of ‘insurrection in the voting booths’
  • Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Georgia were main countries of origin for asylum seekers last year

French President Emmanuel Macron’s party is facing significant electoral losses amid concerns over “out of control” immigration, The Times reported.

The government’s perceived failure to control immigration — with a 28.6 percent year-on-year increase in asylum applications — has led to key potential allies urging Macron to take urgent action.

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Georgia were the main countries of origin for asylum seekers in France last year.

New figures show that France provided 320,330 people with residency permits in 2022 — up from 193,000 a decade earlier.

Bruno Retailleau, leader of the opposition Republicans in the Senate, said populism could make another comeback in France due to growing dissatisfaction with immigration levels.

Macron is likely to need Retailleau’s support in pushing through a critical new immigration bill in Parliament, with the president’s party losing its majority in the National Assembly during elections last year.

The proposed bill aims to ease concerns from both the left and right of French politics, with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne describing the legislation as a balance of “firmness and humanity.”

Under the plans, authorities will expedite the deportation of unemployed illegal immigrants, while industries facing labor shortages will gain access to new one-year working visas enabling the rapid hiring of undocumented migrants.

But Retailleau criticized the proposals, saying it “will not enable us to take back control” of immigration.

He added: “We are in the midst of migratory disorder (and) if we don’t take back control … there will be insurrections in the voting booths very soon.”

Retailleau warned that France could follow in the footsteps of Sweden, where “the extreme right is at the door of power.”

Political commentator Matthieu Croissandeau said: “The left thinks it (the legislation) is too right wing and the right thinks it’s too left wing.”


Russia’s Lavrov says United States involved in Nord Stream explosions

Russia’s Lavrov says United States involved in Nord Stream explosions
Updated 02 February 2023

Russia’s Lavrov says United States involved in Nord Stream explosions

Russia’s Lavrov says United States involved in Nord Stream explosions
  • Russia vows to push Ukrainian army back in response to longer-range rockets

MOSCOW: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday said the United States was directly involved in explosions that severely damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea last year.
Lavrov provided no evidence for his claim. President Vladimir Putin has previously accused Britain of blowing up the pipelines, which London denied.
In an interview on state TV, Lavrov also said the West was lying about Russia’s refusal to negotiate over Ukraine and was trying to turn Moldova, Georgia and former Soviet states in Central Asia against Moscow.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russian forces would respond to the delivery of longer-range Western weapons to Kyiv by trying to push Ukrainian forces further away from its borders to create a safe buffer zone.
In the interview on state TV, Lavrov said everybody wanted the conflict in Ukraine — which Moscow calls a “special military operation” — to end, but that the West’s support for Kyiv was playing an important role in how Russia approached the campaign.
Two US officials told Reuters on Tuesday that Washington was preparing a new package of military aid worth $2.2 billion which is expected to include longer-range rockets for the first time.
.”..We’re now seeking to push back Ukrainian army artillery to a distance that will not pose a threat to our territories,” said Lavrov.
.”..The greater the range of the weapons supplied to the Kyiv regime the more we will have to push them back from territories which are part of our country.”
Longer-range rockets would allow Ukraine — which has said it plans to retake all of its territory by force, including annexed Crimea — to strike deeper into Russian-held territory.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that such rockets would escalate the conflict but not change its course.
President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of Russian troops into Ukraine in February last year. He has said the operation was needed to protect Russia’s own security and to stand up to what he has described as Western efforts to contain and weaken Moscow.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of waging an illegal war designed to expand its territory.