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.”


Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes

Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes
Updated 10 August 2022

Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes

Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes
  • Skies darkened from the smoke billowing from forests destroyed by fires that have razed more than 6,000 hectares
  • France, like the rest of Europe, has been struggling this summer with successive heatwaves and its worst drought on record

HOSTENS, France: Wildfires tore through the Gironde region of southwestern France on Wednesday, destroying homes and forcing the evacuation of more than 8,000 residents, some of whom had clambered onto rooftops as the flames got closer.
Skies darkened from the smoke billowing from forests destroyed by fires that have razed more than 6,000 hectares (14,826 acres) and were continuing to burn out of control despite the efforts of firefighters backed by water-bombing aircraft.
France, like the rest of Europe, has been struggling this summer with successive heatwaves and its worst drought on record. Dozens of wildfires are ablaze across the country, including at least eight major ones.
“Prepare your papers, the animals you can take with you, some belongings and WAIT FOR THE INVITATION TO LEAVE which will be notified to you by the gendarmerie, officials or volunteers going door-to-door,” the Gironde municipality of Belin-Beliet said on Facebook after authorities decided to evacuate part of the town.
In the nearby village of Hostens, police had earlier been door to door telling residents to leave as the fire advanced. Camille Delay fled with her partner and her son, grabbing their two cats, chickens and house insurance papers before taking flight.
“Everyone in the village climbed onto their rooftops to see what was happening — within ten minutes a little twist of smoke became enormous,” the 30-year-old told Reuters by telephone.
Firefighters said more evacuations were likely. Even so, some Hostens residents were reluctant to abandon their homes.
“It’s complicated to go with the dogs and we cannot leave them here,” said Allisson Horan, 18, who stayed behind with her father.
“I’m getting worried because the fire is in a plot of land behind ours and the wind is starting to change direction.”
Numerous small roads, and parts of a highway, were closed.

HEATWAVES
Sweden and Italy are among countries preparing to send help to France, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.
He repeated calls for everyone to be responsible — nine out of 10 fires are either voluntarily or involuntarily caused by people, he said.
The Gironde wildfire is one of many that have broken out across Europe this summer, triggered by heatwaves that have baked the continent and brought record temperatures to some places.
In Portugal, nearly 1,200 firefighters backed by eight aircraft have battled a blaze in the mountainous Covilha area some 280 km (174 miles) northeast of Lisbon that has burned more than 3,000 hectares of forest since Saturday.
Spain and Greece have also had to tackle multiple fires over the past few weeks.
The Gironde was hit by major wildfires in July which destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest and temporarily forced almost 40,000 people from their homes.
Authorities believe the latest inferno was a result of the previous fires still smoldering in the area’s peaty soil.
Fires were also raging in the southern departments of Lozere and Aveyron. In the Maine et Loire department in western France, more than 1,200 hectares have been scorched by another fire.


UK Muslim mother grieving after death of daughter in gas explosion

UK Muslim mother grieving after death of daughter in gas explosion
Updated 10 August 2022

UK Muslim mother grieving after death of daughter in gas explosion

UK Muslim mother grieving after death of daughter in gas explosion
  • Sana Ahmad says ‘incredible little girl’ died after gas company’s negligence
  • ‘The explosion was so bad that it almost felt like missiles were dropped on the properties’

LONDON: A Muslim mother is mourning the death of her 4-year-old daughter, who was killed in a gas explosion in London.
Sana Ahmad, 28, said her world has been “torn apart” after the incident that killed Sahara Salman, “her incredible little girl,” the Evening Standard reported on Wednesday.
She accused the gas supplier to her home, Southern Gas Networks, of negligence after it allegedly ignored a complaint about a suspected gas leak in July, despite an engineer inspecting the property.
“I made a phone call to my mum because we had arranged for her to collect the children. My mum was going to make her way to the house at about 7:05 a.m. So, I’m on the phone and within seconds she heard me scream because there was a big bang,” Ahmad said.
“My instinct was to grab all my children but as I’d gone to the hallway Sahara’s room had collapsed already … The explosion was so bad that it almost felt like missiles were dropped on the properties. That’s how quickly the building started to fall down.
“My mum identified the smell on July 30. The first call we made to them was on the same day at 3:57 p.m.
“He (the engineer) said that he would send another guy who was higher up than him to inspect the property because he wasn’t totally sure. Unfortunately other guy never did show up. The work wasn’t fully carried out. They did tell us there were loads of little gas leaks — they said that pipes had been leaking but that they were minor leaks.
“The saddest thing is that we tried to prevent this from happening. The gas people should have ensured the safety of not only us, but every single person who lives in that area.
“Now we’re all suffering — the whole community. And now we all have to live with the trauma of a little girl dying.”
Ahmad’s local MP Siobhain McDonagh said: “This should never have happened, we will get to the bottom of it.”
A spokesman for Southern Gas Networks said: “Our deepest sympathies are with the family of the child who has tragically died as well as those injured.
“We’d like to reassure everyone that our engineers are working closely with the emergency services.
“Given the ongoing police investigation, it is inappropriate to comment any further at this stage.”


US uncovers Iran ‘plot’ to kill ex-White House official John Bolton

US uncovers Iran ‘plot’ to kill ex-White House official John Bolton
Updated 10 August 2022

US uncovers Iran ‘plot’ to kill ex-White House official John Bolton

US uncovers Iran ‘plot’ to kill ex-White House official John Bolton
  • Justice Department says it uncovered an Iranian plot to kill the former White House national security adviser
  • It announced charges against a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

WASHINGTON: The US Justice Department said Wednesday it had uncovered an Iranian plot to kill former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, and announced charges against a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Justice Department said 45-year-old Shahram Poursafi, also known as Mehdi Rezayi, had offered to pay an individual in the US $300,000 to kill Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN.
The Justice Department said that plan was likely set in retaliation for the US killing of top Guard commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq in January 2020.
Prosecutors say the scheme unfolded more than a year after Soleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force and an architect of Tehran’s proxy wars in the Middle East, was killed in a targeted airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport in January 2020. After the strike, Bolton, who by then had left his White House post, tweeted, “Hope this is the first step to regime change in Tehran.”

The allegation came as Iran weighs a proposed agreement in Vienna talks to revive the 2015 agreement that aims to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
For months Tehran has held up the deal, demanding that the US remove its official designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a sponsor of terrorism.
“This is not the first time we have uncovered Iranian plots to exact revenge against individuals on US soil and we will work tirelessly to expose and disrupt every one of these efforts,” said US Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen.
According to the charges, Poursafi tried to arrange Bolton’s murder beginning in October 2021, when he contacted online an unidentified person in the US, first saying he wanted to commission photographs of Bolton.
Poursafi provided the person with Bolton’s office address, including the name and contact information for someone who worked in the office, and took screenshots of surveillance photographs of Bolton’s office, the affidavit says.
He offered $250,000, which was then negotiated up to $300,000.
“Poursafi added that he had an additional ‘job,’ for which he would pay $1 million,” the Justice Department said.


But that second person, court documents say, was a confidential source for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The ostensible assassin stalled, waiting for an initial payment, but only in late April did Poursafi send money, paying a total of $100 in cryptocurrency.
Poursafi was charged with the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, which brings up to 10 years in prison, and with providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot, which carries a 15-year sentence.
In his own statement, Bolton thanked the FBI and Justice Department for their work in developing the case and the Secret Service for providing protection.
“While much cannot be said publicly right now, one point is indisputable: Iran’s rulers are liars, terrorists, and enemies of the United States,” he said.
He urged President Joe Biden to not restore the nuclear agreement.
Bolton, one of the leading “hawks” of the US foreign policy establishment and a strong critic of Iran, was national security adviser in the White House of president Donald Trump from April 2018 to September 2019.


In the administration of president George Bush, he was ambassador to the UN from 2005-2006.
He was strongly opposed to the 2015 agreement between Tehran and major powers to limit its nuclear program, and supported the Trump administration’s unilateral pullout from the pact in May 2018.
The court documents indicated Bolton was aware of the plot and cooperated with investigators, allowing photographs of himself outside his Washington office to be sent to Poursafi.
Over the months Poursafi discussed the plot with his US contact, he disclosed that it related to Tehran’s desire for revenge for the US killing of Soleimani.
Since that strike on Soleimani Tehran has vowed to extract revenge, and US officials have said that the country had been looking to kill one or more US officials.
Another official believed on Tehran’s target list was Mike Pompeo, who was secretary of state at the time of the assassination of Soleimani, and before that director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
At the time Pompeo said Soleimani had been plotting large scale attacks on US targets like embassies.
(With AFP and AP)


Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says

Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says
Updated 10 August 2022

Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says

Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says
  • The 45-year-old recorded a monologue in English, Spanish and French that rails at "the left" and defends her fight for "stability, freedom and prosperity for Italy"
  • Meloni has agreed an alliance to form a government with Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini's anti-immigration League

ROME: Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader Giorgia Meloni declared Wednesday in a video message aimed at international critics alarmed by her predicted victory in September 25 elections.
The 45-year-old, whose Brothers of Italy party is topping opinion polls, recorded a monologue in English, Spanish and French that rails at “the left” and defends her fight for “stability, freedom and prosperity for Italy.”
“I have been reading that the victory of Fratelli d’Italia in the September elections would mean a disaster, leading to an authoritarian turn, Italy’s departure from the euro and other nonsense of this sort. None of this is true,” she said in the video sent to international journalists.
She also condemned as “absurd” the notion she would put at risk far-reaching structural reforms agreed with the European Union in return for billions of euros in post-pandemic recovery funds.
Brothers of Italy, which Meloni founded in 2012, is a political descendant of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), formed by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after World War II.
But she insisted in her video: “The Italian right has handed fascism over to history for decades now, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and the ignominious anti-Jewish laws.”
Brothers of Italy was the only main party not to join the national unity government formed by Prime Minister Mario Draghi in February 2021 — and has since seen its poll ratings soar.
Since the coalition collapsed and Draghi resigned last month, it has remained in pole position with around 23 percent of support.
Meloni has agreed an alliance to form a government with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League, but reiterated this week she plans to be prime minister if her party comes out on top.
Her rise has prompted a slew of negative headlines at home and abroad, to which her team is starting to respond, including with an interview to Fox News in English last month.
Meloni emphasises her Christian and family values, backs more defense spending, lower taxes and an end to mass immigration.
In her video, she says the “Italian conservatives” she leads are “a bastion of freedom and defense of Western values.”
While backing the EU’s tough response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she is highly critical of the bloc and has ties to Spain’s Vox and Poland’s Law and Justice parties.
In her video, she emphasised the “shared values” with Britain’s Conservatives, the US Republicans and Israel’s Likud.


Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers

Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers
Updated 10 August 2022

Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers

Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers
  • If passed into law, the amendments would reinstate democratic reforms made in 2015

COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan government minister on Wednesday submitted to Parliament a constitutional amendment bill that would clip the powers of the president, a key demand of protesters calling for political reforms and solutions to the country’s worst economic crisis.
Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe presented the bill, which would transfer some presidential powers — including those to appoint independent election commission members, police and public service officials, and bribery and corruption investigators — into the hands of a constitutional council comprising lawmakers and respected non-political persons. The council would then recommend candidates for these appointments that the president could choose from.
Under the proposed amendments, the president also would only be able to appoint a chief justice, other senior judges, an attorney general and a central bank governor on the recommendation of the council. The prime minister would recommend appointments to the Cabinet and the president would not be allowed to hold any ministry positions except defense.
The bill, which will undergo debate, must be approved by two-thirds of Sri Lanka’s 225-member Parliament to become law.
If passed into law, the amendments would reinstate democratic reforms made in 2015. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was ousted as president by angry protests last month, reversed those reforms and concentrated power in himself after being elected to office in 2019.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who succeeded Rajapaksa, has promised to limit the powers of the presidency and strengthen Parliament in response to the protesters’ demands.
Sri Lankans have staged massive street protests for the past four months demanding democratic reforms and solutions to the country’s economic collapse.
Protesters blame the Rajapaksa family’s alleged mismanagement and corruption for the economic crisis that has led to serious shortages of essentials like medicines, food and fuel.
The island nation is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program.
The protests have largely dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty that ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore last month after angry protesters stormed his official residence and occupied several key state buildings. His older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister in May and three other close family members resigned from their Cabinet positions before him.