Afghan evacuees mark first US Ramadan with gratitude, agony

Afghan evacuees mark first US Ramadan with gratitude, agony
Shel Alam Momand prays before breaking the Ramadan fast at his new apartment in El Paso, Texas, on Sunday, April 3, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 05 April 2022

Afghan evacuees mark first US Ramadan with gratitude, agony

Afghan evacuees mark first US Ramadan with gratitude, agony
  • Afghan families evacuated to the US are celebrating Ramadan with gratitude for their safety
  • Yet there’s also the agony of being away from loved ones who they fear are in danger under a Taliban leadership

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico: Sitting cross-legged on the floor as his wife and six children laid plates of fruit on a red cloth in front of him, Wolayat Khan Samadzoi watched through the open balcony door for the sliver of new moon to appear in the cloudless New Mexico sky, where the sun had set beyond a desert mountain.
Then, munching on a date, the bushy-bearded former Afghan soldier broke his first Ramadan fast in the United States – far from the Taliban threat, but also the three dozen relatives he would be marking the start of the Muslim holy month with if he was still home in Khost, Afghanistan.
A few minutes after naan was dipped into bowls of stewed okra and beans, Samadzoi, his wife and the two oldest children retired to worship on their prayer rugs. On Saturday evening, the two-bedroom apartment filled with the murmurs of their invocations.
“I pray for them, and they pray for me, they miss me,” he said of his relatives back home. His cousin Noor Rahman Faqir, who is also now in Las Cruces, translated from Pashto to the simple English he learned working with American forces in Afghanistan.
As they adjust to their new communities, Afghan families evacuated to the United States as the Taliban regained power last summer are celebrating Ramadan with gratitude for their safety. Yet there’s also the agony of being away from loved ones who they fear are in danger under a Taliban leadership crafting increasingly repressive orders.




Wolayat Khan Samadzoi prays using a rosary made in the colors of the flag of his native Afghanistan in his new apartment in Las Cruces, N.M., Saturday, April 2, 2022. (AP)


From metropolitan areas with flourishing Afghan diasporas to this desert university community less than 40 miles (64 kilometers) from the Mexican border, tens of thousands of newly arrived Afghans share one predominant concern that’s amplified in what should be a celebratory time: With only temporary immigration status and low-paying jobs, they feel helpless to take care of their families here and back home.
Abdul Amir Qarizada repeats several times the exact moment, 4:30 p.m., when he was ordered to take off from Kabul’s airport during the chaos of the evacuation – with no time to get his wife and five children, who are still in Afghanistan more than seven months later.
“My concern is the aircraft is safe, but my family is not safe,” the former flight engineer says after Friday prayer at Las Cruces’ only mosque, where he goes by bike to find some “peace.”
So does Qais Sharifi, 28, who says he can’t sleep with worry for his kids left behind, including a daughter born two months after he fled Afghanistan alone.
Both men break into smiles when the mosque’s education director, Rajaa Shindi, an Iraqi-born professor at nearby New Mexico State University, invites them to register for the free iftar dinners held nightly in the meeting hall decorated with gold balloons spelling “Ramadan kareem” — an Arabic greeting often used to wish people a happy Ramadan.
Local congregations like the mosque and El Calvario United Methodist Church in Las Cruces, as well as the Jewish and Christian-based organizations that resettle refugees across their national networks, have been helping Afghans find housing, jobs, English-language classes, and schools for their children.
They decry the fact that most displaced Afghan families don’t have permanent legal status in the United States, despite their services for the US government, military or their Afghan allies during the post-9/11 Afghanistan war. That would give them access to many government benefits and an easier path to work and family reunification.
While Afghanistan’s decades of war and current food shortage mean far less extravagant feasts than in many countries where Ramadan is celebrated, the familiar tastes of home are top of mind for many displaced this year. Qarizada recalls his mother’s signature festive dish of bolani, a stuffed fried bread like a giant samosa.




The three oldest Sultani children, from left, Sana, 8; Elaha, 9, and Shafiullah, 11, eat a midday meal prepared by their mother in the motel room the family shares in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, March 26, 2022. (AP)


The mother of Shirkhan Nejat still cries every time the 27-year-old makes a WhatsApp video call home from Oklahoma City, where he was resettled with his wife and the couple’s baby was born. Missing his close-knit extended family at Ramadan brings “bad emotions,” Nejat said, despite his gratitude for being safe.
It’s such bonds, the warmth of large family gatherings around the iftar meal and the cacophony of familiar sights, sounds and smells marking the end of a day’s fast that many are yearning for in America.
In Texas, Dawood Formuli misses his family’s typical pre-iftar routine: His hungry father irritably asking for his food. His mother asking her husband to calm down, and Formuli, 34, telling a joke to lighten the mood and make his father laugh. His children, in another room with their many cousins, sometimes playing, sometimes fighting. “Allahu akbar,” the call to prayer, spilling over from the mosque down the street.
“Every day, it’s like Christmas,” the former translator at the US embassy in Kabul said of past Ramadans in the three-story house his family used to share with his parents, siblings and their families.
In his new apartment in Fort Worth, the call to prayer now comes from an app, not a minaret.
The transition has been especially hard for his pregnant wife, who is still learning English. Yet there are traces of the familiar in their new community: Muslim neighbors, mosques for the special Ramadan prayers, known as “taraweeh,” and halal food markets.
Khial Mohammad Sultani, who the day before Ramadan was still living in an extended stay motel on the outskirts of El Paso, Texas, had to ride nearly 80 miles (128 kilometers) round trip into New Mexico in a taxi to go buy and slaughter a lamb for Ramadan.




Khial Mohammad Sultani holds the Quran in the motel where he, his wife and six children were resettled in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, March 26, 2022. (AP)


The 37-year-old former soldier, his wife Noor Bibi, and their six children broke the second day’s fast with pieces of that lamb stewed in an aromatic sauce around the one table in their duplex, newly built on a barren foothills lot unlike their house in Gardez, with its apple and pomegranate trees.
Right after iftar, four of the children got ready for their first day of school ever the next morning, another new thrill for their parents who never received a formal education.
But when it comes to faith, Sultani will continue to teach his children at home, as his father did for him.
The three oldest children – a boy, 11, and two girls, 9 and 8, with red headscarves loosely arranged over their long braids – pray in turn on a green rug that is among the family’s most treasured possessions.
The family’s Qur’an came from the military base in New Jersey where they first landed in the United States. But Sultani’s father brought this rug from his pilgrimage at Makkah after another son was killed by the Taliban, a possible fate they escaped, crossing many checkpoints as they fled Afghanistan last summer.
“We are Muslim, and a part of our faith is to thank Allah for everything,” Sultani says in Dari through a volunteer translator. “As appreciation for him, we’re doing this.”


UN-chartered ship in Ukraine readying for journey to Africa

UN-chartered ship in Ukraine readying for journey to Africa
Updated 14 August 2022

UN-chartered ship in Ukraine readying for journey to Africa

UN-chartered ship in Ukraine readying for journey to Africa
  • The ship will sail to Ethiopia via a grain corridor through the Black Sea
  • It will be the first humanitarian food aid cargo bound for Africa since Russia’s invasion

ODESA, Ukraine: The United Nations-chartered ship MV Brave Commander will depart Ukraine for Africa in coming days after it finishes loading more than 23,0000 tons of wheat in the Ukrainian port of Pivdennyi, a UN official said.
The ship, which arrived in the port near Odesa, will sail to Ethiopia via a grain corridor through the Black Sea brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in late July.
It will be the first humanitarian food aid cargo bound for Africa since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. under the framework of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
The cargo was funded with donations from the United Nations World Food Programme, US Agency for International Development and several private donors.
A total 16 ships have now departed from Ukraine following the deal with Russia to allow a resumption of grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, after they were stalled for five months due to the war.
The agreement was reached last month amid fears that the loss of Ukrainian grain supplies would lead to severe food shortages and even outbreaks of famine in parts of the world.
Ukraine has some 20 million tons of grain left over from last year’s crop, while this year’s wheat harvest is also estimated at 20 million tons.
So far most of the cargoes under the deal have carried grain for animal feed or for fuel.
As part of the UN deal, all ships are inspected in Istanbul by the Joint Coordination Center, where Russia, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN personnel work.


River torrent kills 7 in China amid widespread heavy rains

River torrent kills 7 in China amid widespread heavy rains
Updated 14 August 2022

River torrent kills 7 in China amid widespread heavy rains

River torrent kills 7 in China amid widespread heavy rains

BEIJING: Seven people were killed by a torrent of water that came rushing down a river in a popular recreational spot following mountain rains in southwestern China, authorities said Sunday.
Workers and volunteers mobilized to urge people to leave the area after receiving an imminent heavy rain warning about 2:40 p.m. on Saturday, the emergency management bureau in Pengzhou city said.
People could be seen scrambling to flee in videos posted on social media, but some were caught when the torrent hit about 50 minutes later at 3:30 p.m.
One man at the scene said several people were washed away, including some children, when the water flow in the lower reaches of the river suddenly increased in just 10 to 20 seconds, the state-owned China National Radio reported.
The Chengdu city government said Sunday that seven people had died and three others were hospitalized with minor injuries. Pengzhou is a tourist spot about 70 kilometers (45 miles) north of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.
A video showed a helicopter rescuing a person stranded on a small outcropping by descending to just above the water and opening a door so the person could climb in.
Elsewhere in China, heavy rain flooded streets in the northwestern city of Xining on Saturday night. Heavy to torrential rain was forecast for the northeast from Sunday to Monday afternoon, with 10 to 18 centimeters (4 to 7 inches) of rainfall expected in parts of Liaoning and Jilin provinces.
A heat wave was hovering over a wide swath of southern China, with forecast highs on Sunday of 35 to 39 degrees Celsius (95 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit) and possibly surpassing 40 degrees (104 Fahrenheit) in some places including Shanghai.
Jiangsu province warned that road surface temperatures could rise to 72 degrees (162 Fahrenheit), raising the risk of flat tires, state broadcaster CCTV reported.


Police detain gunman in Canberra airport shooting

Police detain gunman in Canberra airport shooting
Updated 24 min 51 sec ago

Police detain gunman in Canberra airport shooting

Police detain gunman in Canberra airport shooting
  • No reported injuries in the attack
  • Several apparent bullet impacts were visible on the glass front of the airport

SYDNEY:  A gunman fired about five shots inside Canberra’s main airport Sunday, sending passengers fleeing but injuring no-one before he was detained by Australian police.
The airport was evacuated and locked down, leading to the suspension of flights.
Images posted on social media showed a police officer restraining a man on the ground inside the terminal as the emergency alarm sounded in the capital’s main airport.
“A male has entered Canberra Airport in the departures area. He has sat in one of the areas adjacent to the glass windows,” detective acting superintendent Dave Craft told reporters outside the airport building.
“After approximately five minutes, this male has removed a firearm from his possession and let off approximately five rounds,” he added.
Craft said the crime scene indicated that the man had fired shots at the glass inside the terminal.
“There was no shots directed at people, or persons, passengers or staff,” he said
Several apparent bullet impacts were visible on the glass front of the airport, according to images shown by Australia’s public broadcaster ABC.
A woman identified only as Helen was quoted as telling a reporter for The Guardian newspaper that she saw a man “shooting into the air” not far from the check-in counter, describing him as being middle-aged and “clean cut.”


Rushdie attack a ‘wake-up call’ on Iran, says Britain’s PM candidate Sunak

Rushdie attack a ‘wake-up call’ on Iran, says Britain’s PM candidate Sunak
Updated 14 August 2022

Rushdie attack a ‘wake-up call’ on Iran, says Britain’s PM candidate Sunak

Rushdie attack a ‘wake-up call’ on Iran, says Britain’s PM candidate Sunak
  • Iran’s reaction to the attack strengthens the case for proscribing the IRGC, the former finance minister told the Sunday Telegraph

LONDON: Rishi Sunak, one of two candidates seeking to become Britain’s next prime minister, said Friday’s attack on author Salman Rushdie should serve as a wake-up call to the West over Iran, the Sunday Telegraph reported.
Indian-born author Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after Iran urged Muslims to kill him over his novel “The Satanic Verses,” was stabbed in the neck and torso on stage at a lecture in New York state. After hours of surgery, Rushdie was on a ventilator and unable to speak as of Friday evening.
There has been no official government reaction in Iran to the attack on Rushdie, but several hard-line Iranian newspapers praised his assailant.


ALSO READ: Background of Rushdie attacker sheds light on Khomeini sympathizers in US


“The brutal stabbing of Salman Rushdie should be a wake-up call for the West, and Iran’s reaction to the attack strengthens the case for proscribing the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps),” Sunak, the former finance minister, said, according to the paper.
The IRGC controls Iran’s elite armed and intelligence forces.
Sunak, referring to stuttering talks between Iran and the West to revive a nuclear deal, said, “We urgently need a new, strengthened deal and much tougher sanctions, and if we can’t get results then we have to start asking whether the JCPOA is at a dead end.”
The JCPOA, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is the 2015 agreement under which Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for relief from US, EU and UN sanctions.
“The situation in Iran is extremely serious and in standing up to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin we can’t take our eye off the ball elsewhere,” Sunak said.


N.Korea criticizes UN chief’s support for the North’s denuclearization

N.Korea criticizes UN chief’s support for the North’s denuclearization
Updated 14 August 2022

N.Korea criticizes UN chief’s support for the North’s denuclearization

N.Korea criticizes UN chief’s support for the North’s denuclearization
  • It demands the unilateral disarmament, and Secretary-General Guterres perhaps knows well that the DPRK has totally rejected it without any toleration, says Kim

SEOUL: North Korea’s foreign ministry on Sunday criticized the United Nations Secretary-General’s recent comment on his supports for the North’s complete denuclearization, calling the remarks lack impartiality and fairness.
North Korea’s state news agency KCNA released a statement from the foreign ministry after UN chief Antonio Guterres on Friday said he fully supports efforts to completely denuclearise North Korea when he met with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.
“I cannot but express deep regret over the said remarks of the UN secretary-general that grossly lack impartiality and fairness and go against the obligations of his duty, specified in the UN Charter, as regards the issue of the Korean peninsula,” Kim Son Gyong, vice minister for international organizations of North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Kim added that the UN secretary-general should not request or accept orders from the government of a specific country but refrain from doing any act that may impair his or her position as an international official who is liable only to the UN.
Kim said the North’s “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” (CVID) was “an infringement upon the sovereignty of the DPRK,” referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“It demands the unilateral disarmament, and Secretary-General Guterres perhaps knows well that the DPRK has totally rejected it without any toleration,” said Kim, adding that Guterres should be careful when uttering “dangerous words” amid the extremely acute situation on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea has test fired a record number of missiles this year, and officials in Seoul and Washington say that it appears to be preparing to test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017, amid stalled denuclearization talks.