Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions

Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions
Afghan collaborators with the Spanish mission in Afghanistan and their families. (File/AFP)
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Updated 25 June 2022

Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions

Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions
  • UK government cites housing shortages as former Afghan allies denied chance to reunite with families

LONDON: British ministers have been accused of failing to honor their promises to Afghan refugees by refusing to accommodate their family members.

About 12,000 Afghan refugees are still living in hotels paid for by the British taxpayer as ministers blame a housing shortage for the delay.

When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last year, the UK government told refugees that their family members would be allowed to join them once they were evacuated.

But The Times newspaper said that 10 months after the collapse of Kabul, about 6,500 refugees were still blocked from joining family members in the UK because they had yet to be granted refugee status.

The newspaper quoted government sources saying that ministers were forced to adjust the policy of family reunion because the average family size of those involved is 6.7, and regulations on housing rules meant that bigger homes were needed to shelter them.

By contrast, the average household size in Britain is three, and much of local government housing is developed around this figure.

Hossain Saeedi, 37, told The Times that he was evacuated with his wife and children, but his request to bring in his ex-wife, who is mother to his son, was denied.

He said: “The cases of Afghan family reunion have been overshadowed by the new scheme for Ukrainian refugees.”

The 6,500 Afghans barred from refugee status were brought in on the Home Office’s Pathway 1 scheme. In September, the government indicated that family members would be allowed to join other refugees, but has failed to demonstrate how this would be achieved.

The Home Office said that the 6,500 evacuees from Afghanistan who were unable to travel with their relatives would be given “options” for rejoining them “in due course.”

“Around 6,500 people were brought to safety in the UK during and after the Afghanistan evacuation who are eligible for the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme and received leave to remain under Pathway 1. While they do not hold refugee status, those who were evacuated were able to bring their immediate family members, including spouse or partner and children under 18 years old,” the government said.

The delay in reuniting families comes as a letter by several leading charity figures accused the government of treating Afghans unfairly compared with Ukrainians, who have received two visa schemes for reuniting family members, warning that this could have severe consequences on their mental health.

The letter, signed by the CEOs of Amnesty International, British Red Cross, Oxfam, Refugee Council, Safe Passage, Student Action for Refugees, UNHCR and Voices Network, said: “Ten months later these families remain separated. This is despite the government indicating, as long ago as September 2021, that family members would be eligible to join people who had been evacuated.

“Prolonged separation is distressing for families and can have a severe impact on mental health.

“We saw how the government acted to bring Ukrainian families together through the Ukraine Family Scheme. They must now act with the same urgency to safely reunite Afghan evacuees with their loved ones.”


Crisis-hit Sri Lanka to ask Japan to open talks with main creditors, says Wickremesinghe

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka to ask Japan to open talks with main creditors, says Wickremesinghe
Updated 18 August 2022

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka to ask Japan to open talks with main creditors, says Wickremesinghe

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka to ask Japan to open talks with main creditors, says Wickremesinghe
  • Sri Lanka, a tear-shaped tropical country of 22 million people, is facing its most severe financial crisis since independence from Britain in 1948

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka will ask Japan to invite the Indian Ocean island’s main creditor nations, including China and India, to talks on bilateral debt restructuring, as it seeks a way out of its worst economic crisis in decades, its president said on Thursday.

“Someone needs to call in, invite the main creditor nations. We will ask Japan to do it,” President Ranil Wickremesinghe told Reuters in an interview, adding that he would travel to Tokyo next month and hold talks with Japanese premier Fumio Kishida.

Sri Lanka, a tear-shaped tropical country of 22 million people, is facing its most severe financial crisis since independence from Britain in 1948, resulting from the combined impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic mismanagement.

Left with scant foreign exchange reserves, stalling imports of essentials including fuel and medicines, ordinary Sri Lankans have been battling crippling shortages of months amid sky-rocketing inflation and a devalued currency.

Public anger stoked unprecedented mass protests, with thousands of people storming the colonial-era presidential residence in Sri Lanka’s commercial capital Colombo in early July, forcing then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa into hiding.

Protesters occupied the residence for days, some of them sleeping in the president’s bedroom and others frolicking in a swimming pool surrounded by manicured gardens.

Rajapaksa, a former military officer, then fled the country to Singapore and resigned, becoming the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term.

Wickremesinghe, who is also finance minister, said he will present an interim budget in September which won a parliamentary vote and took office as president on July 21. Local broadcaster Newsfirst, citing a former ambassador, said on Wednesday that Rajapaksa would return home next week.

Wickremesinghe said he was “not aware” of any such plans, speaking to Reuters at the presidential secretariat, part of which had also been occupied by protesters.

Besides seeking assistance from its allies, Sri Lanka is also negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan package worth between $2 billion and $3 billion, Wickremesinghe said.

Sri Lanka’s total bilateral debt was estimated at $6.2 billion at the end of 2020 by the IMF, according to a March report. An IMF team is expected to arrive in the country at the end of August to continue talks to reach a staff-level agreement.

Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister who is also finance minister, said he will present an interim budget in September which will focus on fiscal consolidation measures agreed with the IMF.

Expenditure will be slashed by a “few hundred billions” of rupees to channels funds for welfare and to repay high interest rates, he said.

Cuts will include defense, which has retained the highest budgetary allocation despite Singhalese-majority Sri Lanka ending a bloody civil war with Tamil rebels more than a decade ago.

The interim budget will be followed by a full-year budget for 2023, likely to be presented in November, where a broader recovery plan will be outlined.

“So, both those budgets will put out government policy. The first one on stabilization and the second one will look at recovery,” he said.

Overall, Wickremesinghe said he expects the economy, heavily reliant on tourism and tea, to see a recovery in the second half of 2023, reaching a revenue surplus of about 3 percent by 2025.

“I think we are restructuring to make Sri Lanka a very competitive, export-oriented economy,” he said.


Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape

Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape
Updated 18 August 2022

Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape

Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape
  • Victim appeals to Gujarat government to rescind decision to free her attackers
  • Convicts walked out of prison as India celebrated 75 years of independence

NEW DELHI: Indian women took to the streets of New Delhi on Thursday to protest the release of 11 Hindu men convicted of raping a Muslim mother and killing seven members of her family during religious riots in 2002.

The anti-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat are widely viewed as some of the worst instances of religious unrest in the predominantly Hindu country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the state’s chief minister when the violence that killed more than 1,000 people — most of them Muslims — broke out.

The decision to free the 11 convicts after they served 14 years in jail was announced by the Gujarat government on Monday, despite the men being sentenced to life terms. Videos that went viral on social media showed the men welcomed with sweets and garlands when they walked out of prison as India celebrated 75 years of independence.

Bilkis Bano was 19 and pregnant with her second child when she was brutally gang raped. The seven family members killed by the assailants included her three-year-old-daughter.

In a statement released by her legal representative on Wednesday night, Bano said that the decision to free the men left her numb and has shaken her faith in justice, as she appealed to the Gujarat government to “undo this harm” and give her back the “right to live without fear and in peace.

“How can justice for any woman end like this? I trusted the highest courts in our land,” she said. “My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts.”

The convicts’ release has raised questions over the government’s stance on women in a country with a notorious gender-based violence record. “We are telling the government that this is not what the women’s movement is going to accept and we are demanding from the Home Ministry of India that this remission by the Gujarat government be revoked, and the convicts be sent back to jail,” Maimoona Molla from All India Democratic Women Association told Arab News from a protest site in the Indian capital.

“If the Home Ministry does not act, then the Supreme Court must take suo moto action and restore women’s dignity, and ensure safety and security for women in India.”

Kawalpreet Kaur, an activist from the All India Students Union, who was also protesting in Delhi, said that the “selective discretion by the Gujarat government to release the rape and murder convicts” has sparked outrage and disillusionment.

“The prime minister in his Independence Day message said that women should come out and women’s dignity and equality should be guaranteed,” Kaur said. “Immediately after that we see that those convicted of such a heinous crime are being released.”

Annie Raja, secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, said that the release of the 11 convicts was also a “blatant demonstration of majoritarianism” and a warning to India’s Muslim community.

“This is a warning for all those who stand for human rights, justice, democracy and secularism,” she told Arab News.

The Gujarat government’s decision has also created uproar among Indian politicians.

“The prime minister spoke big things about women’s safety, women’s power, women’s respect,” Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera told reporters. “A few hours later the Gujarat government released those behind the rape. We also saw that the convicts in the rape who were released are being honored.”

K. T. Rama Rao, industry minister of the southern state of Telangana, said that the order to release the rapists was “nauseating,” as he took to Twitter to appeal to the Indian prime minister to intervene and rescind the Gujarat government’s remission order, and “make necessary amendments to the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure suitably so that no rapist can get a bail through judiciary.”

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Dutch refugee council sues state over ‘inhumane’ asylum centers

Dutch refugee council sues state over ‘inhumane’ asylum centers
Updated 18 August 2022

Dutch refugee council sues state over ‘inhumane’ asylum centers

Dutch refugee council sues state over ‘inhumane’ asylum centers

TER APEL, Netherlands: Teenager Munasar Muhidin says he fled Somalia in 2020 after militants killed most of his family and that his brother died trying to get to Europe. He hoped he had finally found a place of refuge in the Netherlands.

But when he reached the country’s main reception center for asylum seekers in the northern town of Ter Apel he found hundreds ahead of him in the queue and was forced to camp by the roadside, where he said fights broke out and thunderstorms soaked his bedding.

The Dutch Council for Refugees says Muhidin’s story and many similar ones have prompted it to sue the state over what it calls the “inhumane” treatment of newcomers.

“At a refugee camp in a conflict zone there is no other choice,” council spokesman Martijn Van der Linden said.

“In the Netherlands, we don’t have a refugee crisis. There is a political crisis that has resulted in people in Ter Apel sleeping outside.”

Hundreds are being forced to sleep on the muddy ground there, and the council says conditions at dozens of other centers for asylum seekers, while often better, still did not meet the most basic requirements.

“I have no family left,” said 18-year-old Muhidin, who described fleeing the El Dher district of Somalia after attacks by Al-Shabab militants nearly two years ago.

“They killed my mother, father and older brother.”

Weeping, he said he escaped with his only remaining brother, Abdallah, who drowned trying to cross by boat from Turkey to Greece. “He was my last dream.”

Others in Ter Apel on Wednesday evening spoke of fleeing violence or repression in Syria, Iran and Turkey.

They also said they had been unable to get access to safe shelter due to the long queues.

Van der Linden said the Netherlands was not an inhumane country, “but our government has failed these past years.”

Funding cuts and personnel shortages in the Dutch asylum and refugee system had created conditions “that are inhumane and also violate European guidelines for refugees.”

The council, whose case is due to be heard on Sept. 15, is demanding improved conditions by Oct. 1, including access to clean water, showers, privacy, adequate food and healthcare.

A spokesperson at the government’s Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers, which oversees the shelters, said the system was being overwhelmed by arrivals.


Ukraine’s Zelensky hosts talks with UN chief, Turkey leader

Ukraine’s Zelensky hosts talks with UN chief, Turkey leader
Updated 18 August 2022

Ukraine’s Zelensky hosts talks with UN chief, Turkey leader

Ukraine’s Zelensky hosts talks with UN chief, Turkey leader
  • At the meetings, Turkey agreed to help rebuild Ukraine’s infrastructure, including roads and bridges
  • Zelensky asked Guterres to seek UN access to Ukrainian citizens deported to Russia

LVIV, Ukraine: Turkey’s president and the UN chief met with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky on Thursday in a high-stakes bid to ratchet down a war raging for nearly six months, boost desperately needed grain exports and secure Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant. But little progress was reported.
The gathering, held far from the front lines in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, near the Polish border, marked the first visit to Ukraine by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan since the outbreak of the war, and the second by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Erdogan has positioned himself as a go-between in efforts to stop the fighting. While Turkey is a member of NATO — which backs Ukraine in the war — its wobbly economy is reliant on Russia for trade, and it has tried to steer a middle course between the two combatants.
At the meetings, Turkey agreed to help rebuild Ukraine’s infrastructure, including roads and bridges, and Zelensky asked Guterres to seek UN access to Ukrainian citizens deported to Russia, according to the Ukrainian president’s website. Zelensky also requested UN help in freeing captured Ukrainian soldiers and medics.
On the battlefield, meanwhile, at least 17 people were killed and 42 wounded in heavy Russian missile strikes on Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Ukrainian authorities said.
Russia’s military claimed that it struck a base for foreign mercenaries in Kharkiv, killing 90. There was no immediate comment from the Ukrainian side.
Heightening international tensions, Russia deployed warplanes carrying state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles to the country’s Kaliningrad region, an enclave surrounded by two NATO countries, Lithuania and Poland.
The three leaders’ agenda included the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine. Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the complex, and the fighting has raised fears of a nuclear catastrophe.
Zelensky has demanded that Russian troops leave the plant and that a team from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency be allowed in.
Zelensky and the UN chief agreed Thursday on arrangements for an IAEA mission to the plant, according to the president’s website. But it was not immediately clear whether the Kremlin would consent to the proposed terms. As for a pullout of troops, a Russian Foreign Ministry official said that would leave the plant “vulnerable.”
Concerns about the plant mounted Thursday when Russian and Ukrainian authorities accused each other of plotting to attack the site and then blame the other side.
Earlier this month, Erdogan met in Russia with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the fighting. And last month, Turkey and the UN helped broker agreements clearing the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of corn and other grain stuck in its Black Sea ports since Russia invaded Feb. 24. The agreements also sought to clear roadblocks to exports of Russian food and fertilizer to world markets.
The war has significantly worsened the global food crisis because Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of grain. Developing countries have been hit particularly hard by shortages and high prices, and the UN has declared several African nations in danger of famine.
Yet even with the deal, only a trickle of Ukrainian grain exports has made it out. Turkey said more than 622,000 tons of grain have been shipped from Ukrainian ports since the deal was reached.
At a news conference Thursday in Lviv, Guterres touted the success of the grain export agreements but added, “There is a long way to go before this will be translated into the daily life of people at their local bakery and in their markets.”
The discussions about an overall end to the war that has killed untold thousands and forced over 10 million Ukrainians to flee their homes were not expected to yield anything substantive.
In March, Turkey hosted talks in Istanbul between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, but the effort to end the hostilities failed, with the two sides blaming each other.
Erdogan has engaged in a delicate balancing act, maintaining good relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Turkey has provided Ukraine with drones, which have played a significant role in the fighting, but it has refrained from joining Western sanctions against Russia over the war.
Turkey is facing a major economic crisis, with official inflation near 80 percent, and is increasingly dependent on Russia for trade and tourism. Russian gas covers 45 percent of Turkish energy needs, and Russia’s atomic agency is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
Sinan Ulgen of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank characterized Turkey’s diplomatic policy as being “pro-Ukraine without being anti-Russia.”
“Turkey believed that it did not have the luxury to totally alienate Russia,” Ulgen said.


Salman Rushdie attack suspect pleads not guilty to attempted murder, assault

Salman Rushdie attack suspect pleads not guilty to attempted murder, assault
Updated 18 August 2022

Salman Rushdie attack suspect pleads not guilty to attempted murder, assault

Salman Rushdie attack suspect pleads not guilty to attempted murder, assault
  • Matar was arraigned at the Chautauqua County Courthouse on an indictment returned earlier in the day
  • His next court appearance was scheduled for Sept. 22

MAYVILLE, New York: A man accused of stabbing novelist Salman Rushdie last week in western New York pleaded not guilty to second-degree attempted murder and assault charges on Thursday during an arraignment hearing and was remanded without bail.
Hadi Matar, 24, is accused of wounding Rushdie, 75, on Friday just before the “The Satanic Verses” author was to deliver a lecture on stage at an educational retreat near Lake Erie. Rushdie was hospitalized with serious injuries in what writers and politicians around the world decried as an attack on the freedom of expression.
Matar was arraigned at the Chautauqua County Courthouse on an indictment returned earlier in the day by a grand jury that charged him with one count of second-degree attempted murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, and one count of second-degree assault. He has been in jail since his arrest and wore a gray-striped jumpsuit, a white COVID-19 face mask and his hands were shackled.
His next court appearance was scheduled for Sept. 22.
The attack came 33 years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling on Muslims to assassinate Rushdie a few months after “The Satanic Verses” was published. Some Muslims saw passages about the Prophet Muhammad as blasphemous.
Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim Kashmiri family, has lived with a bounty on his head, and spent nine years in hiding under British police protection.
In 1998, Iran’s pro-reform government of President Mohammad Khatami distanced itself from the fatwa, saying the threat against Rushdie was over.
But the multimillion-dollar bounty has since grown and the fatwa was never lifted: Khomeini’s successor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was suspended from Twitter in 2019 for saying the fatwa against Rushdie was “irrevocable.”
In an interview published by the New York Post on Wednesday, Matar said he respected Khomeini but would not say if he was inspired by the fatwa. He said he had “read a couple of pages” of “The Satanic Verses” and watched YouTube videos of the author.
“I don’t like him very much,” Matar said of Rushdie, as reported in the Post. “He’s someone who attacked Islam, he attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.”
Iran’s foreign ministry on Monday said that Tehran should not be accused of being involved in the attack. Matar is believed to have acted alone, police have said.
Matar is a Shiite Muslim who was born in California to a family from Lebanon.
Prosecutors say he traveled to Chautauqua Institution, a retreat about 12 miles (19 km) from Lake Erie, where he bought a pass to Rushdie’s lecture.
Witnesses said there were no obvious security checks at the lecture venue and that Matar did not speak as he attacked the author. He was arrested at the scene by a New York State Police trooper after being wrestled to the ground by audience members.
Rushdie sustained severe injuries in the attack, including nerve damage in his arm, wounds to his liver, and the likely loss of an eye, his agent said.