Flight of people out of Ukraine brings global refugee crisis to the fore

Special The fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War has drastically increased the global population of forcibly displaced. (AFP)
The fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War has drastically increased the global population of forcibly displaced. (AFP)
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Updated 03 April 2022

Flight of people out of Ukraine brings global refugee crisis to the fore

The fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War has drastically increased the global population of forcibly displaced. (AFP)
  • Fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since Second World War swells global population of forcibly displaced
  • UN aid agencies scrambling to find funds and resources to house, feed and treat traumatized Ukrainians

DUBAI: They have become a sign of our times: Long queues of people in distress at border checkpoints, carrying the few belongings they could grab before hurriedly abandoning their homes and livelihoods. Hunger gnaws away at their dignity while their eyes plead for mercy, yet they must do exactly what they are ordered by impassive border guards tasked with maintaining order.

Nearly seven years after a record number of arrivals of refugees and migrants led to a crisis in the European Union, the spectacle of a mass flight of people out of Ukraine has brought the global refugee crisis to the fore. It has also prompted accusations of double standards and racial discrimination in Europe’s embrace of civilians displaced by war.

Since February 24, more than 4.1 million Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries, producing the sixth-largest refugee outflow of the past 60-plus years, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of UN data.

These Ukrainians, taken in by Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia, Russia and Belarus, are part of a human tide made up of more than 10 million people, representing over a quarter of Ukraine’s pre-war population, who are thought to have fled their homes.

UN aid agencies are scrambling to find funds and resources to house, feed and treat wounded and traumatized Ukrainian refugees, all the while hoping a peace deal can be secured quickly to allow them to return home safely.

But even the biggest refugee crisis of modern times cannot obscure the mind-boggling scale of the problem on a global level. According to the UN, at least 84 million people, almost half of whom are children, are currently displaced worldwide.

If the war in Ukraine drags on without a clear conclusion, the civilians forced from their homes by the fighting may end up as a mere statistic, accounting for no more than a small fraction of the total number of war-affected people the world over who have nowhere to go, in many cases even decades later.

Opinion

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These victims of conflicts are denizens of refugee camps across the Middle East, Asia, Africa, South America and Southern Europe, unable to return home or move on to a new country. What were originally intended as temporary shelters became over time permanent settlements, absorbed by host communities.

Across the Middle East and Central Asia, there has been scant progress in returning or resettling the millions of people who have fled the spate of major conflicts over the past 20 years.




Poland has welcomed more than 2 million people from Ukraine since the outbreak of the conflict, when refugees braved freezing cold temperatures and long queues to make the journey westward. (AFP)

The US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, sparked a deadly Sunni insurgency and a sectarian war in 2014 that contributed to the rise of Daesh. The resulting violence and insecurity forced millions of Iraqis — ethnic Arabs, Kurds and other minorities — from their homes.

More than 260,000 fled Iraq and 3 million more were internally displaced during this period. Many of those who remained inside the country settled in camps or informal settlements in urban areas of the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR estimates more than 4.1 million Iraqis, around 15 percent of the country’s post-war population, still need some form of protection or humanitarian assistance, years after Daesh’s territorial defeat in late 2017.

The conflict spilled over into neighboring Syria, where an uprising against the regime of Bashar Assad had already sparked an exodus of civilians into Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, three countries where the bulk of them remain to this day.

Since 2011, more than half of Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million have faced forced displacement, many more than once. An estimated 6.7 million Syrians remain internally displaced.

A large number have sought shelter in Idlib, a volatile, rebel-held corner in the northwest that comes under routine regime and Russian bombardment.




At least 84 million people, almost half of whom are children, are currently displaced worldwide, according to the UN. (AFP)

Hajj Hassan, originally from Syria’s Homs region, was first displaced in 2012, then again in 2016. The 62-year-old has been in Idlib ever since. “We lost everything in 2012,” he told Arab News.

“Not a single building was left standing. I moved again and the bombardment followed. I now live in the world’s most miserable place. I am a refugee in my own country.”

Syrian children have borne the brunt of displacement, through exposure to violence, shock, trauma, hunger and harsh weather conditions. Many have been forced to grow up in exile, often separated from their families, where they have been subjected to violence, forced early marriage, recruitment by armed groups, exploitation and psychological distress.

Elsewhere in Asia, since the collapse of the internationally recognized government in Kabul in August last year, Afghanistan has been beset with humanitarian challenges, made worse by reductions in foreign aid, international trade and the nature of Taliban governance.

Afghans have been the victims of civil wars, insurgencies, natural disasters, poverty and food insecurity for the past 40 years, and today form one of the world’s largest refugee populations, with at least 2.5 million registered by the UN, most in neighboring Iran and Pakistan.




Since February 24, more than 4.1 million Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries, producing the sixth-largest refugee outflow of the past 60-plus years. (AFP)

When the humanitarian crises in Yemen, Myanmar and North African countries are added to the mix, the refugee numbers seem too large for a war-weary world and an overstretched NGO community to handle.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, aid agencies have been struggling to secure donor funding to support projects in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. “Compassion fatigue” is threatening the viability of health and education programs in all three countries, senior aid workers say.

“Now, with Ukraine, there is going to be even less focus on Yemen than before. It may well be time to do something else,” one Middle East-based aid worker told Arab news. “I can’t deal with the crushing blow that would be walking away when the money runs out, so I may as well exit first.”

One thing common to the Ukraine war and recent Middle East conflicts is the major role played by neighboring countries in the humanitarian effort.

Just like the countries bordering Syria, which took in millions of refugees over the past decade, Eastern European nations that have accepted that displaced Ukrainians will likely need outside help to deal with the increased population pressure, especially if the invasion turns into a long, grinding war.

Lebanon currently hosts about 850,000 of the Syrians turned into refugees by the civil war, Jordan another 600,000 and Turkey more than 3 million. But weighed down by their own socioeconomic problems and fiscal difficulties, these countries have shown an increasing reluctance to shoulder the burden while attempting to push some refugees back to Syria.




Migrants wait to be rescued by members of Proactiva Open Arms NGO in the Mediterranean Sea, some 12 nautical miles north of Libya. (AFP)

Many of those who returned to their homes in the war-torn country found themselves rapidly enlisted into the national army or shaken down by mafia-style groups for protection.

While the influx of Ukrainians has elicited an outpouring of generosity from European governments, the continent’s unified welcome is in marked contrast to the lukewarm reception that the Syrian refugees received, to say nothing of the outright hostility to migrants who tried to cross the Belarus-Poland border late last year.

Indeed, it seems hard to believe that just a matter of months ago, Poland began work on a $380 million wall along its border with Belarus to block thousands of non-European refugees seeking asylum in the EU.

“The situation of non-Ukrainian refugees at the borders, especially right now, has been horrible. It’s been appalling to watch,” Nadine Kheshen, a Lebanon-based human rights lawyer, told Arab News.

“On the one hand, it’s beautiful to see Ukrainians being welcomed with open arms. On the other, it’s heartbreaking to see how Syrian, Afghan, Kurdish, Iraqi and other refugees are being treated on the Polish border.”

Kheshen’s opinion is echoed by Nadim Houry, executive director of the Paris-based Arab Reform Initiative think tank. “There is no doubt some sort of double standard in the way refugees are being treated,” he told Arab News. “I would say, particularly vis-a-vis Afghan refugees in Europe, this must be condemned. People fleeing violence should be welcomed.”




Rohingya refugee children play in Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, on March 27. (AFP)

Although the needs of refugees are the same no matter where they come from, it does seem that the kind of conflict they are fleeing could well determine how long they are displaced, or whether they can return at all.

“There is a major difference between Ukraine and Syria, for example,” said Houry. “In the case of Ukraine, people are fleeing an external aggressor. The moment the external aggressor stops, people will feel safe going back. However, in Syria, people were fleeing the Syrian regime mostly.

“The same happened between Israel and Lebanon in 2006. You had massive displacement, but once the Israelis stopped, the Lebanese went back to their towns.”

Although Eastern and Central European countries have been quick to welcome the millions of Ukrainians arriving on their soil, there are concerns that the new arrivals could ultimately find themselves consigned to a life as permanent refugees. Many might eventually outstay their welcome.

“We are now seeing high levels of support and welcoming by neighboring countries and high levels of solidarity,” Houry told Arab News. “However, some countries, such as Moldova and Poland, will require support so as not to be strained.

“People tend to forget the beginning of the conflict in Syria. Syrian refugees were generally welcomed. But then it changed as the conflict raged on.”

So far, Europe’s show of solidarity with people fleeing the war in Ukraine has been impressive. But given that the invasion is entering just its fifth week, it may be early days yet.


Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them

Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them
Updated 16 August 2022

Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them

Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them

WASHINGTON: Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sued the US Central Intelligence Agency and its former director Mike Pompeo on Monday, alleging it recorded their conversations and copied data from their phones and computers.
The attorneys, along with two journalists joining the suit, are Americans and allege that the CIA violated their US constitutional protections for confidential discussions with Assange, who is Australian.
They said the CIA worked with a security firm contracted by the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where Assange was living at the time, to spy on the WikiLeaks founder, his lawyers, journalists and others he met with.
Assange is facing extradition from Britain to the US, where he is charged with violating the US Espionage Act by publishing US military and diplomatic files in 2010 related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Robert Boyle, a New York attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the alleged spying on Assange’s attorneys means the WikiLeaks founder’s right to a fair trial has “now been tainted, if not destroyed.”
“The recording of meetings with friends, with lawyers and the copying of his attorneys’ and friends’ digital information taints the criminal prosecution because now the government knows the contents of those communications,” Boyle told reporters.
“There should be sanctions, even up to dismissal of those charges, or withdrawal of an extradition request in response to these blatantly unconstitutional activities,” he said.
The suit was filed by attorneys Margaret Ratner Kunstler and Deborah Hrbek, and journalists Charles Glass and John Goetz.
They all visited Assange while he was living inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London under political asylum, since withdrawn.
The suit named the CIA, former CIA director and former US secretary of state Pompeo, and the security firm Undercover Global and its chief executive David Morales Guillen.
It said Undercover Global, which had a security contract with the embassy, swept information on their electronic devices, including communications with Assange, and provided it to the CIA.
In addition it placed microphones around the embassy and sent recordings, as well as footage from security cameras, to the CIA, the suit alleges.
This, the attorneys said, violated privacy protections for US citizens.
Assange is awaiting a ruling on his appeal of the British extradition order to the United States.
The charges he faces could bring a sentence of up to 175 years in prison.
The suit said that Spain-based Undercover Global was recruited to work with the CIA in 2017 by officials from the Las Vegas Sands casino group.
Las Vegas Sands was at the time controlled by the late tycoon Sheldon Adelson, a powerful conservative backer of the Republican Party who, the suit said, “had cooperated with the CIA on similar matters in the past.”
The suit said that while Undercover Global controlled security at the embassy, each visitor had to leave their electronic devices with a guard before seeing Assange.
“The information contained on the plaintiff’s devices was copied and, ultimately, given to the CIA,” they said.
“Defendant Pompeo was aware of and approved the copying of information contained on plaintiffs’ mobile electronic devices and the surreptitious audio monitoring of their meetings with Assange,” the suit alleged.
It said the defendants became aware of the spying only when the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported in September 2019 that Morales and Undercover Global were under criminal investigation in Spain.
El Pais revealed information on the London operations that had previously been sealed in the case.


Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico
Updated 15 August 2022

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico
  • Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain, 25, as well as Mohammad Ahmadi, 62

NEW MEXICO: Police in New Mexico have found evidence that appears to tie a father and son to the killings of Muslim men in New Mexico, federal prosecutors said on Monday.
Both Muhammad Syed, 51, and his son Shaheen Syed were in the same area of Albuquerque shortly after an Aug. 5 murder took place, based on cellphone data, federal prosecutors said in court documents.
Agents believe Shaheen Syed observed Aug. 5 murder victim Naeem Hussain attending a funeral service that day for two other Muslim men who were murdered, based on FBI analysis of cell tower data.
Shaheen Syed then followed Hussain to the location where he was gunned down, prosecutors said in documents for a Monday detention hearing.
“Telephone calls between Muhammad Atif Syed and the defendant would be consistent with quick surveillance calls, both before and after the shooting,” federal prosecutors said, citing an FBI analysis of cell tower data.
The reference to the defendant is Shaheen Syed, who was arrested last week on federal firearms charges for providing a false address.
An attorney representing Shaheen Syed described the latest allegations as “exceedingly thin and speculative.”
In a court filing, lawyer John Anderson said federal prosecutors provided no evidence as to the size of the “general area” the father and son’s phones were both in shortly after the Aug. 5 murder.
Muhammad Syed was formally charged with killing Aftab Hussein, 41, on July 26 and Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, 27, on Aug. 1.
Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain, 25, as well as Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, who was shot dead on Nov. 7, 2021.

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PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years
Updated 15 August 2022

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years
  • Premier says India will be guided by ideals of self-reliance to reach its goal
  • Corruption, nepotism are barriers to growth, Modi warns in independence day address

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged on Monday to turn India into a developed country in the next 25 years, and vowed to fight against corruption and nepotism, as the nation celebrated its independence day.  

India gained independence on Aug. 15, 1947 after more than 200 years of British rule, when the subcontinent was divided into the states of India and Pakistan.

Wearing a turban printed with small stripes that matched the Indian flag, Modi addressed the nation from the 17th-century Red Fort in New Delhi to mark 75 years of independence.

“For the next 25 years, we need to focus on the ‘Panch Pran’ (five pledges). The first is making India a developed country,” he said.

“It is a big pledge and we should work toward this goal with all our might.”

Other pledges include removing any trace of the colonial mindset, strengthening unity, taking pride in India’s legacy, and for everyone to fulfill their duties as citizens.

India is categorized as a lower middle-income economy by the World Bank, a distinction meant for countries with a gross national income per capita of between $1,086 and $4,255. High-income countries, such as the US, have a per capita income of $13,025 or more.

Modi said that India will be guided by ideals of self-reliance, as well as the spirit of international partnership, in order to achieve its development goals. He also identified corruption and nepotism as barriers to growth.

“Corruption is hollowing the country like termites. I want to fight it and seek your support,” he said.

But the premier’s ambitions for a developed India failed to take into account the country’s regression when it comes to minorities, writer Bhagwandas Morwal told Arab News.

“Modi’s speech is without vision, and India cannot become a developed nation by going astray from the path of secularism and pluralism,” Morwal said.

The South Asian nation has witnessed increasing violence targeting its Muslim minority, which makes up about 13 percent of the 1.35 billion population. Many attacks have been carried out by Hindu nationalists emboldened by Modi’s silence about such incidents since taking office in 2014.

“India has slid in its standing among a comity of nations, and in the last eight years of Modi rule it has gone astray from its constitutional commitment to minorities.”

Historian Aditya Mukherjee told Arab News that he is “extremely worried” about the nation’s trajectory.

“We are moving in the opposite direction that the country was set by our freedom fighters,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee, director of the Institute of Advanced Study at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University and co-author of “India’s Struggle for Independence,” said that “fundamental ideas,” such as democracy, secularism, sovereignty and pro-poor orientation, “are being completely abandoned.”

“The question is not whether we can become a developed nation after 25 years,” he said. “The question is, will we remain as a nation (considering) the manner in which the divisive agenda is promoted?”

 


UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees
Updated 15 August 2022

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees
  • Ministers should ‘hang their heads in shame,’ says former NATO chief in Afghanistan

The UK government is facing criticism over its failure to safeguard Afghan refugees who worked with coalition forces during the war in Afghanistan, The Guardian reported on Monday.

About 6,200 people along with their families are eligible for relocation under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).

The ARAP scheme has brought more than 10,000 Afghans to the UK, and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) will allow up to 20,000 to settle in the country.

However, as Western allies mark the one-year anniversary of NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the UK faces accusations of abandoning many Afghans to persecution at the hands of Taliban.

Ret. Gen. Sir John McColl, who served as first head of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told BBC Radio 4’s “World at One” that Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and other ministers should “hang their heads in shame.”

McColl described the UK’s evacuation of Afghans as “random,” and at times prioritizing animals over people.

“The system was broken when we withdrew from Kabul last year and it remains broken. It was a source of shame then and it continues to be a source of shame,” McColl said.

Those eligible for ARAP include people still in Afghanistan and those who have fled, most often to Pakistan, but also Iran, where strained relations between London and Tehran have hindered the scheme’s ability to assist people.

Earlier this month, nine expert groups on Afghanistan criticized the government’s resettlement schemes as “unjustifiably restrictive.”

They also expressed deep concern over the government’s failure to provide a safe route for Afghan women, girls and oppressed minority groups.

According to sources at the Ministry of Defense, about 1,050 people evacuated out of Afghanistan under ARAP are living in hotels in Pakistan while awaiting processing and transportation to the UK or another destination.

However, the ministry expressed frustration that many Afghans who are brought to the UK end up, as one highly placed source put it, “stuck in hotels.”

The ministry source attributed this to the government’s failure to put adequate plans in place.

With only 7,000 Afghans having been rehoused, the UK government is still providing hotel accommodation to 9,500 people who sought refuge in the UK, The Guardian reported.

The news outlet also said that thousands of Afghan refugees were told by the Home Office to search for housing on the websites Rightmove and Zoopla.

A Home Office spokesperson said that the UK intends to welcome up to 20,000 people in need via ACRS.

“Already we are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,000 Afghan evacuees, but there is a shortage of local housing accommodation for all,” they said.

“While hotels do not provide a long-term solution, they do offer safe, secure and clean accommodation. We will continue to bring down the number of people in bridging hotels, moving people into more sustainable accommodation as quickly as possible.”

The Home Office has said that local authorities will receive £20,520 ($24,770) per person over a three-year period to support the resettlement of Afghan families, with flexibility to use the funds in various ways.


Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown
Updated 15 August 2022

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown
  • Razoni was initially heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed
  • The corn’s buyer in Lebanon later refused to accept the cargo, since it was delivered much later than agreed

BEIRUT: The first grain ship to leave Ukraine under a wartime deal has had its cargo resold several times and there is now no information about its location and cargo destination, the Ukrainian embassy in Beirut said Monday.
The Sierra Leone-flagged ship Razoni, which left Odesa on Aug. 1, and moved through the Black Sea carrying Ukrainian corn, later passed inspection in Turkey. It was initially heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed. The corn’s buyer in Lebanon later refused to accept the cargo, since it was delivered much later than agreed.
The Razoni hasn’t had its tracker on for the last three days and it appeared off the east coast of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus at last transmission.
It was not clear if the Razoni had its tracker off because it was heading to a port in Syria, a strong ally of Russia that Ukraine had accused of importing grain stolen from Ukraine.
Syria is also under Western sanctions because of the 11-year conflict there that has killed hundreds of thousands. Syrian port officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
“Our task has been to reopen seaports for grain cargo and it has been done,” Ukraine’s embassy in Beirut said in a statement in English, adding that to date, 16 vessels have left Ukraine carrying more than 450,000 tons of agricultural products since a breakthrough agreement was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations with Russia and Ukraine.
The embassy said the Razoni was the first vessel that left Ukraine under the agreement and later successfully passed inspection in Istanbul before moving toward its destination.
“We don’t have any information about (the) position of the vessel and cargo destination,” it said. “We have also information that cargo has been resold a few times after that.”
The embassy said: “We are not responsible for (the) vessel and cargo, especially when it left Ukraine, moreover after vessel’s departure from foreign port.”
The Black Sea region is dubbed the world’s breadbasket, with Ukraine and Russia key global suppliers of wheat, corn, barley and sunflower oil that millions of impoverished people in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia rely on for survival.
An estimated 20 million tons of grain — most of it said to be destined for livestock — has been stuck in Ukraine since the start of the 6-month-old war.