In Malaysia, refugee Afghan actors find voice, solace on stage

In Malaysia, refugee Afghan actors find voice, solace on stage
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Farzana Hussaini, right, rehearses her role in “And Then Came Spring.” (Amin Kamrani/Parastoo Theatre)
In Malaysia, refugee Afghan actors find voice, solace on stage
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Actors rehearse their roles in “And Then Came Spring,” a new play by Parastoo Theatre, ahead of a July 22, 2022 stage performance in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Amin Kamrani/Parastoo Theatre)
In Malaysia, refugee Afghan actors find voice, solace on stage
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Actors rehearse their roles in “And Then Came Spring,” a new play by Parastoo Theatre, ahead of a July 22, 2022 stage performance in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Amin Kamrani/Parastoo Theatre)
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Updated 21 July 2022

In Malaysia, refugee Afghan actors find voice, solace on stage

In Malaysia, refugee Afghan actors find voice, solace on stage
  • Parastoo Theatre was founded by Afghan playwright Saleh Sepas in 2017
  • Group made up mainly of Afghans now welcomes other refugee performers

KUALA LUMPUR: Farzana Hussaini was screaming when her partner pointed a knife at her, until a man interrupted the pair to offer directing guidelines.
Shortly afterwards, the 20-year-old Afghan refugee was back in the same scene as the rehearsal continued.
Hussaini is playing the leading role in “And Then Came Spring,” which she and other refugee actors will stage over the weekend at the Damansara Performing Arts Center in Kuala Lumpur.
When she was 10, Hussaini’s family fled Afghanistan and settled in Malaysia. At a refugee school, she took part in several short performances, but it was not until three years later that she entered the real scene with Parastoo Theatre — a troupe run by Afghan playwright and director Saleh Sepas.
“Saleh Sepas asked me to join the Parastoo team. It was really hard in the beginning, because it was the first time doing theater and going on stage,” Hussaini told Arab News during a rehearsal break.
“With the help of other actors and my family encouraging me, I got through it. It was the best thing that ever happened to me and my journey as a refugee.”
“And Then Came Spring” is the latest play written and directed by Sepas for Parastoo Theatre, which he founded in 2017 to help fellow refugees establish themselves as a productive community in Malaysia.
Sepas used to work for the BBC World Service Trust’s Afghan Education Project as a writer and director of the radio program “New Home, New Life.”




Actors rehearse their roles in “And Then Came Spring,” a new play by Parastoo Theatre, ahead of a July 22, 2022 stage performance in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Amin Kamrani/Parastoo Theatre)


When he and his family left Kabul in 2016, they lost everything.
“I didn’t know why I came to Malaysia and knew nothing about it. When you are challenged and targeted, you just run away to save your life and your family,” he told Arab News.
“Being a refugee is really hard; you do not have the right to work and basic services. It’s very difficult. Some refugees have to work illegally and that’s very risky. I was a writer and director in my country, but when I first arrived in Malaysia, my first job was cleaning houses, moving items and working in the restaurant.”
Sepas did not want to rely on support from welfare NGOs.
“If my life needs change, it has to start with myself,” he said. “I started with art, because of my experience. I believe art could bring change to my life. In the beginning it was difficult as no one believed in the power of art.”
When Sepas opened Parastoo Theatre, he had only six actors, all amateurs and most traumatized by their refugee experience.
But a few months later, the group staged their first play.
“When they perform, they feel ‘this is our voice.’ They feel they could connect their community to a wider public,” Sepas said. “I wasn’t sure about the impact, but I saw and heard the reaction from the audience — people were crying.”
The performance group is made up mainly of Afghans, but has joined hands with other refugees from Iran, Syria, Myanmar, Somalia and Palestine, as well as artistic groups and educational institutions in Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.
In “And Then Came Spring,” they have collaborated with the Kuala Lumpur-based collective Instant Theatre Cafe Company.
The play tells the story of a teenager sold as a child bride to an older man so her family can settle their debts. Abandoned by her husband when he realizes she is pregnant with a girl, she flees Afghanistan to start a new life in another country.
Like the group’s other performances, the play is based on a true story.
“It is what either my friends or myself have been through,” Hussaini said.
She plays the child bride in “And Then Came Spring,” and views the role as a step toward realizing her plans of becoming a human and women’s rights activist.
“It is really hard on stage, to the point I (once) felt like fainting and my energy couldn’t hold it. But if I do this role well, part of me is standing up with other women out there,” she said. “I feel powerful if I can shout at him (male actor) as loud as I can to make him shut up and sit down.”
Theater also plays the role of a catalyst between refugees and the host community in Malaysia, which is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have a system regulating their status.
The absence of a legal framework on asylum issues is a source of unpredictability in the lives of over 182,000 refugees in the country.
“The situation in Malaysia is very unstable, there is a hostility,” Iranian-born Amin Kamrani, producer of Parastoo Theatre, told Arab News.
“When you think of refugees, you think of camps, people who are desperate. The power of art itself, even if the message is not related to refugees, can change that perception,” he said.
“We hope to use art to inspire more refugees to do activities to show their humanity.”

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Indian village goes for evening ‘detox’ to break digital addiction

Indian village goes for evening ‘detox’ to break digital addiction
Updated 06 October 2022

Indian village goes for evening ‘detox’ to break digital addiction

Indian village goes for evening ‘detox’ to break digital addiction
  • Mohityanche Vadgaon in Maharashtra introduced daily breaks from electronic devices in August
  • Digital addiction has come to attention of Indian authorities, parents following 2 years of online classes

NEW DELHI: When a siren goes off at 7 p.m., residents of one Indian village turn off their TV sets and mobile devices to observe a self-imposed blackout, a measure they hope will help protect their children from digital addiction.

The daily routine started in Mohityanche Vadgaon on Aug. 15 when India celebrated 75 years of independence. Since then, the village in the Sangli district of Maharashtra has been trying to observe its own liberation — 90 minutes of freedom from digital clutter.

“Everyone observes self-discipline,” village head Vijay Mohite told Arab News. “It’s digital cleansing for the whole village.”

Digital addiction has come to the attention of Indian authorities and parents following long coronavirus pandemic restrictions which kept children away from school and group activities for nearly two years.

Soon after online classes started in 2020, a study by a city hospital in the northern Indian city of Jaipur warned that 65 percent of the minors surveyed had shown symptoms of addiction to mobile phones, making them unable to leave their devices for more than 30 minutes.

In March, Electronics and IT Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar told the parliament that more than one-third of Indian children were experiencing reduced concentration due to mobile phone use.

In Mohityanche Vadgaon, the fallout from virtual online learning was observed as well.

“COVID-19 lockdowns and the online classes for school kids made the majority of school-going boys and girls addicted to mobile phones and that was affecting the academic and emotional behavior of youngsters,” Mohite said.

“We know that it’s like going against the tide, but digital detox is important if the parents in the village want their kids to have a bright future.”

The agrarian village, which survives mainly on growing sugarcane, has two government schools. Jayvant Vitthal Mohite, who teaches history at one of them, said he had noticed that after two years of online learning there was a significant drop in his students’ academic performance, and they would remain connected to their phones even during classes.

“The initiative that the village head has taken, and the parents’ awareness have made a difference in the behavior and attitude of the kids in school.”

He noted that daily digital detox, even for as short a period of 90 minutes, helped improve the well-being of kids, and even after one month his students demonstrated more creativity and focus.

“They look more relaxed and at ease than before,” he added.

Fifteen-year-old Gayatri Nikam now turns off her phone when loudspeakers at a village temple sound the digital break time in the evening.

She told Arab News: “My academic performance has improved over one month, and I have not played any mobile games for some time now.”

Parents in Mohityanche Vadgaon follow the discipline of detox too to support their children.

“We don’t switch on the TV, we don’t use mobile phones, and take only calls which are necessary,” Nikam’s father, Anil, said. “I have two daughters and I want them to do well in life.”

For her mother, Anuradha, the regular 90-minute digital-free sessions come with a sense of relief.

She said: “You hear stories of how children get spoiled by mobile addiction. The initiative in the village has really made me happy and I feel the kids are becoming more creative by being away from mobile phones.”


Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief

Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief
Updated 06 October 2022

Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief

Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief
  • The six suspects include three police officers and three people responsible for the match and its security
  • The announcement came as anger grew over the police response to a pitch invasion

MALANG, Indonesia: Indonesia’s police chief on Thursday said six people were facing criminal charges over a football stadium disaster that killed 131 people at the weekend.
“Based on the investigation and sufficient evidence, we have determined six suspects,” national police chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo told a press conference.
The six suspects include three police officers and three people responsible for the match and its security, including the head of Arema FC’s organizing committee and one of the club’s security officers, he said.
The announcement came as anger grew over the police response to a pitch invasion.
Officers reacted by firing tear gas into packed stands as fans of Arema FC tried to approach players following their defeat to fierce rivals Persebaya Surabaya on Saturday evening.
Hundreds of people fled for small exits, resulting in a crush that left many trampled or suffocating to death.
Police described the pitch invasion as a riot and said two officers were killed, but survivors accused them of overreacting.
Officers responded with force, kicking and hitting fans with batons, according to witnesses and footage, pushing the spectators back into the stands where many would die after tear gas was fired.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced an investigation after the tragedy and called for a safety review of all stadiums.


UK government talks tough on immigration — again

UK government talks tough on immigration — again
Updated 06 October 2022

UK government talks tough on immigration — again

UK government talks tough on immigration — again
  • "It's not racist for anyone... to want to control our borders," said Home Secretary Suella Braverman x
  • "It's not racist for anyone... to want to control our borders," said Home Secretary Suella Braverman The 42-year-old anti-EU right-winger pointedly vowed to get tough on asylum seekers who do not "meet the needs of the country"

LONDON: Accusing asylum seekers of “abusing the system” and urging the need to “take back control,” the UK government is once again talking tough on immigration.
But its latest pledge to reduce crossings from northern France in small boats comes with a blatant promise to defy international conventions.
“It’s not racist for anyone... to want to control our borders, it’s not bigoted to say that we have too many asylum seekers who are abusing the system,” said Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
The stance earned Braverman, whose parents emigrated to Britain from Kenya and Mauritius in the 1960s, a standing ovation at this week’s Conservative party’s annual conference.
The 42-year-old anti-EU right-winger, who has been in the job for the past month, pointedly vowed to get tough on asylum seekers who do not “meet the needs of the country.”
“If you deliberately enter the United Kingdom illegally from a safe country, you should be swiftly returned to your home country or relocated to Rwanda. That is where your asylum claim will be considered,” she said.
Successive Conservative governments since 2010 have been promising to drastically reduce the number of migrants but to no avail.
Since the beginning of the year, a record 33,500 people have crossed the Channel in small boats.
More than half of them came from Afghanistan (18 percent), Albania (18 percent) or Iran (15 percent), according to the Home Office.
Since 2018, Iranians and Iraqis have accounted for almost half of all migrants intercepted on the route.
Zoe Gardner, an expert on British migration and asylum systems, said while the pro-Brexit Tories have never managed to reduce immigration, they have made a tougher for asylum seekers to settle.
“For a long time, it (immigration policy) has been a way to gain support, when every other area of policy seems to be a failure for them,” she told AFP.
“Every time the government of Boris Johnson had a bad week in the newspapers, you can be sure they would announce another plan to target immigrants just to distract people.”
The strategy, though, is in danger of running out of steam, she added.
Britons are overwhelmingly in favor of taking in refugees, according to polls, but are now more concerned about a cost-of-living crisis.
Proposing to ban access to asylum would be a violation of the UN Refugee Convention to which Britain is a signatory.
It states that a migrant can travel in any way he or she wishes — or can — to a country to seek refuge, without being harmed by the mode of arrival.
For some experts, such a ban would result in court action, just as it did when the government attempted to deport the first batch of failed asylum seekers to Rwanda.
In June, a plane bound for Kigali was grounded after last-minute legal challenges in the English courts, and a ruling at the European Court of Human Rights.
Braverman, a former attorney general and successor to another hard-liner Priti Patel, blasted the ruling of the “foreign court,” which Britain helped set up after World War II.
She told conference delegates with a smile that her “dream” for Christmas would be to see “a front page of The Telegraph with a plane taking off to Rwanda.”
According to Braverman’s own department, 94 percent of the 50,000 or so migrants who arrived in the UK across the Channel between January 2018 and June 2022 applied for asylum.
Some 82 percent of those applicants were still waiting for a decision, but the majority who have received a response were successful.
“We are talking about people with good reason to seek asylum in UK, with no other way of doing so because the government has closed the majority of other options,” said Daniel Sohege, a refugee law specialist who heads the association Stand For All.
As the law currently stands, a migrant must be physically in the UK to start the asylum process.
But there is “no way” that London would allow them to arrive in the country and seek refuge, Zoe Gardner said.
The UK also relies on its island status and believes that it does not have to take in migrants who have traveled through other so-called safe countries.
With this impossible equation for refugees, “the UK receives fewer asylum applications than France, Germany or Italy,” said Gardner.


North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired

North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired
Updated 06 October 2022

North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired

North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired
  • The latest missiles were launched 22 minutes apart from the North’s capital region

SEOUL/TOKYO: South Korea scrambled fighter jets after North Korean warplanes staged an apparent bombing drill on Thursday, Seoul’s defense ministry said, as allied warships held missile defense drills and Pyongyang fired off the latest in a series of ballistic missiles.

The rare bombing drill by at least eight North Korean fighter jets and four bombers prompted the South to deploy 30 fighters. The warplanes swarmed each side of the heavily fortified border amid rising tensions over a string of missile tests by Pyongyang.

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday in the direction of Japan, just an hour after condemning the repositioning of a US aircraft carrier to the region, and a UN Security Council meeting held in New York.

North Korea has launched about 40 missiles this year, including its largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and appears ready to hold its first nuclear test since 2017, officials in Seoul and Washington have said.

Thursday’s launches followed the return of the carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, to waters off the Korean peninsula, and a UN Security Council meeting held in response to the North’s recent tests.

The missile launch was the sixth in 12 days and the first since North Korea fired an intermediate-range missile (IRBM) over Japan on Tuesday, which prompted joint South Korean and US missile drills in which one weapon crashed and burned.

The launch was reported by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Japanese government.

“This is the sixth time in the short period, just counting the ones from the end of September,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. “This absolutely cannot be tolerated.”

The launch came after North Korea condemned the United States for talking to the United Nations Security Council about Pyongyang’s “just counteraction measures” on joint South Korea-US drills, suggesting its missile tests are a reaction to the allied military moves.

In a statement, the reclusive nation’s foreign ministry also condemned Washington for repositioning the US aircraft carrier off the Korean peninsula, saying it posed a serious threat to the stability of the situation.

The carrier and its strike group of accompanying warships were abruptly redeployed in response to North Korea’s IRBM launch over Japan.

The carrier strike group joined destroyers from South Korea and Japan in maritime missile defense training, the South Korean military said on Thursday.

“This training focuses on mastering detection, tracking and interception procedures through shared target information under a scenario of (North Korea) conducting ballistic missile provocations,” it said in a statement.

A State Department spokesperson said the United States condemned Thursday’s launch as a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and a threat to regional neighbors and the international community.

The spokesperson, however, added that Washington was committed to a diplomatic approach and called on the North to engage in dialogue.

Thursday’s first missile probably flew to an altitude of about 100km and a range of 350km, while the second had an estimated altitude of 50km and covered 800km, probably taking an irregular trajectory, he said.

South Korea’s JCS said the missiles were launched from near the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

The United States and its allies have stepped up displays of military force in the region, but there appears little prospect of further international sanctions by the UN Security Council, which has already passed resolutions banning the North’s missile and nuclear development.


Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery

Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery
Updated 06 October 2022

Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery

Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery
  • Attacker Panya Kamrab also kills wife, son before turning gun on himself
  • He had been sacked from the police in January on charges of drug possession

BANGKOK: At least 36 people, most of them children, were killed by an ex-policeman at a preschool daycare center in Thailand’s northeast on Thursday, police and hospital officials said.

The attack took place in the Na Klang area of Nong Bua Lamphu province in the early afternoon.

Authorities at Nong Bua Lamphu Hospital said 24 of those killed were children. A further 12 people were injured in the attack.

Police identified the killer as 34-year-old Panya Kamrab, a former police sergeant who was dismissed from service in January. According to a police report seen by Arab News, he was sacked after being found in possession of narcotics.

Panya is thought to have gone to the daycare center to find his son but when he failed to find the boy he began shooting. He then returned home, where he killed his wife and child.

“He (Panya) was already stressed after going to court to hear the case against him for narcotics possession. When he didn’t see his child, he carried out the attack with a gun and a knife,” local police spokesperson Paisan Luesomboon said.

“He left the children’s development center for his home, which is around 2 kilometers away. He collided with people on the road and also fired at them. He returned home and saw his wife and kid. He then shot them before killing himself.”

Video footage and images shared on social media showed the distraught relatives of the victims standing beside ambulances outside the daycare facility as police and rescuers dealt with the aftermath of the attack.

Another image showed the body of a woman lying beside a motorcycle on a roadside.

It was not immediately clear if the death toll included the killer and his family or the people attacked on the road.

Nong Bua Lamphu is a province in northeastern Thailand, about 500 km from Bangkok.