Afghan families in UK divided, relocated after hotels cancel government contracts

Afghan families in UK divided, relocated after hotels cancel government contracts
Around 9,500 Afghan refugees still being housed in hotels across Britain almost a year after Kabul evacuation operation began. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 30 July 2022

Afghan families in UK divided, relocated after hotels cancel government contracts

Afghan families in UK divided, relocated after hotels cancel government contracts
  • One family considered return to Kabul after Home Office fiasco

LONDON: Afghan refugees who arrived in Britain following the evacuation of Kabul are being separated from family members and moved around the country to alleviate a shortage of hotel rooms, UK newspaper The Times reported on Saturday.

Major hotel chains, including Ibis, Arora and Britannia, have axed government refugee contracts in a bid to attract regular guests.

The contract cancelations meant that government staff had to scramble to relocate refugees to available accommodation, with many families being split up in the process, with members being sent hundreds of miles away from each other, disrupting employment and education routines.

The news that around 9,500 Afghan refugees are still being housed in hotels across Britain comes almost a year after the evacuation operation in Kabul began. The hotel system reportedly costs UK taxpayers about $1.2 million per day.

Britain has so far provided only 7,000 Afghan refugees with permanent accommodation — less than half of the total evacuees.

Marwa Koofi, 21, told The Times that after being placed in a London hotel upon arrival from Afghanistan, she was then moved to Leeds along with her siblings and mother.

But after almost a year waiting for permanent housing in the northern city, Koofi’s family was split up, with her mother and one sibling moving to West Sussex, and her other siblings forced to relocate to Manchester.

Koofi was asked by her mother to handle all communications with the UK Home Office due to her English language skills. 

She told The Times: “Everyone was looking to me, saying, ‘You have to do more.’ My mother was very tired, she had a very hard health situation. It became so bad that the family even discussed returning to Kabul.

“(After) 10 months, everyone (felt) that we should just leave the UK and go back because we came to the UK to be away from the Taliban and danger, and away from their prison. But it doesn’t feel very different from Kabul anyway.”

However, Koofi said that her admission into a university course this year had given her reason to stay, adding: “That is a bright light in front of me, so I’m going to stay. I’m looking forward to it.”

Jon Featonby of the British Red Cross said: “12 months on, far too many people are still living in hotels, their lives effectively on hold as they wait to find out where their more permanent homes will be.

“We know from our work supporting those in the asylum system the negative impact long stays in temporary accommodation can have, and we need to urgently see a plan to get people into proper homes.

“Many of those we worked with are also incredibly concerned about their loved ones left in Afghanistan, with families separated as events unfurled. We are urging the UK government to clarify how these families can be reunited and be safe together.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,000 Afghan evacuees in such a short space of time, but we face a challenge of there currently not being enough local housing accommodation in the UK — not just for Afghans and those in need of protection, but also British citizens who are on a waiting list for homes.”


As Ukraine worries UN, some leaders rue what’s pushed aside

As Ukraine worries UN, some leaders rue what’s pushed aside
Updated 8 sec ago

As Ukraine worries UN, some leaders rue what’s pushed aside

As Ukraine worries UN, some leaders rue what’s pushed aside
  • The ongoing war in Ukraine is making it more difficult to tackle the perennial issues that feature each year in the deliberations of this assembly. President Muhammadu Buhari

NEW YORK: In speech after speech, world leaders dwelled on the topic consuming this year’s UN General Assembly meeting: Russia’s war in Ukraine.
A few, like Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, prodded the world not to forget everything else.
He, too, was quick to bring up the biggest military confrontation in Europe since World War II.
But he was not there to discuss the conflict itself, nor its disruption of food, fuel and fertilizer markets.
“The ongoing war in Ukraine is making it more difficult,” Buhari lamented, “to tackle the perennial issues that feature each year in the deliberations of this assembly.”

The ongoing war in Ukraine is making it more difficult to tackle the perennial issues that feature each year in the deliberations of this assembly.

President Muhammadu Buhari

He went on to name a few: Inequality, nuclear disarmament, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who have been living in limbo for years in Bangladesh.
In an environment where words are parsed, confrontations are calibrated and worry is acute that the war and its wider effects could worsen, no one dismissed the importance of the conflict.
But comments such as Buhari’s quietly spoke to a certain unease, sometimes bordering on frustration, about the international community’s absorption in Ukraine.
Those murmurs are audible enough that the United States’ UN ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, made a point of previewing Washington’s plans to address climate change, food insecurity, health and other issues during the diplomatic community’s premier annual gathering.
“Other countries have expressed a concern that as we focus on Ukraine, we are not paying attention to what is happening in other crises around the world,” she said, vowing that it wasn’t so.
Still, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken complained at a Security Council meeting days later that Russia’s invasion is distracting the UN from working on other important matters.
In many years at the assembly, there’s a hot spot or news development that takes up a lot of diplomatic oxygen. As former UN official Jan Egeland puts it, “the world manages to focus on one crisis at a time.”
“But I cannot, in these many years as a humanitarian worker or a diplomat, remember any time when the focus was so strongly on one conflict only while the world was falling apart elsewhere,” Egeland, now secretary-general of an international aid group called the Norwegian Refugee Council, said in a phone interview.
Certainly, no one was surprised by the attention devoted to a conflict with Cold War echoes. The urgency only intensified during the weeklong meeting as Russia mobilized some of its military reserves.
Ukraine is undeniably a dominant concern for the European Union. But foreign policy chief Josep Borrell insisted the bloc hasn’t lost sight of other problems.
“It’s not a question of choosing between Ukraine and the others. We can do all at the same time,” he said on the eve of the assembly.
Jordan’s King Abdullahbriefly mentioned the war’s effects on food supplies, then moved on to sustainable economic growth, Syrian refugees and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
President Andrzej Duda of Poland — on Ukraine’s doorstep — stressed in his speech that “we mustn’t show any ‘war fatigue’” regarding the conflict.
But he also noted that a recent trip to Africa left him pondering how the West has treated other conflicts.
Over seven months of war, there have been pointed observations from some quarters about how quickly and extensively wealthy and powerful nations mobilized money, military aid, General Assembly votes to support Ukraine and offer refuge to its residents, compared to the global response to some other conflicts.
South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor last month told reporters that while the war is awful, “we should be equally concerned at what is happening to the people of Palestine as we are with what is happening to the people of Ukraine.”
At the General Assembly, she added that, from South Africa’s vantage point, “our greatest global challenges are poverty, inequality, joblessness and a feeling of being entirely ignored and excluded.”
Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Kausea Natano, said in an interview on the assembly’s sidelines that the war shouldn’t “be an excuse” for countries to ignore their financial commitments to a top priority for his island nation: fighting climate change.
Part of Bolivian President Luis Arce’s speech compared the untold billions of dollars spent on fighting in Ukraine in a matter of months to the $11 billion committed to the UN-sponsored Green Climate Fund over more than a decade.
To be sure, most leaders made time for issues beyond Ukraine in their allotted, if not always enforced, 15 minutes at the mic. And some mentioned the war only in passing, or not at all.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro devoted his time to lambasting capitalism, consumerism and the US-led war on drugs, particularly its focus on coca plant eradication.

 


Pakistani women MPs, activists condemn ‘brutal killing’ of Iranian woman

Pakistani women MPs, activists condemn ‘brutal killing’ of Iranian woman
Updated 25 September 2022

Pakistani women MPs, activists condemn ‘brutal killing’ of Iranian woman

Pakistani women MPs, activists condemn ‘brutal killing’ of Iranian woman
  • Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody ignites rage against Tehran regime

KARACHI: Leading Pakistani women politicians and rights activists on Saturday joined the growing global outcry over the death of Iranian Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after being detained by Iran’s so-called morality police for disobeying the country’s strict dress code.  

At least 35 people have been killed during widespread protests across Iran in the past week, according to Iranian state media, amid mounting anger over allegations that Amini, 22, was the victim of police brutality.  

Amini was arrested in Tehran on Sept. 13 for allegedly wearing a hijab in an “improper” manner. She was taken to a detention center where she collapsed shortly afterwards.

Her death three days later sparked large demonstrations and acts of defiance against the Tehran regime.

FASTFACT

In Iran, women are required to follow a strict dress code which includes wearing a headscarf over their heads and putting on long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise their figures. The laws are based on Iran’s interpretation of Islamic law.

In several clips that have gone viral on social media, women can be seen cutting their hair publicly and burning headscarves, an open challenge to Iranian authorities.  

Protesters are demanding an end to what they say is police brutality, as well as moral policing, and say that women should have the right to dress as they please.

The Gasht-e Ershad (Guidance Patrols) is a special police unit in Iran tasked with enforcing the Islamic dress code in public.

Pakistani women politicians reacted angrily to Amini’s death, calling for an impartial investigation into the case and demanding more freedom for women in Iran.  

“It’s really sad and if what is being reported is true, it’s a shocking and blatant violation of fundamental rights,” Shazia Marri, Pakistan’s federal minister for poverty alleviation, told Arab News on Saturday.  

“It’s a complete travesty of justice and highly condemnable. Everyone must have a right to choose,” she added.

Iranian police said that Amini’s death was caused by a heart attack, and denied reports that officers had struck her with a baton and banged her head against one of their vehicles.  

Sharmila Sahibah Faruqui, a lawmaker of Pakistan’s provincial Sindh Assembly, told Arab News that it is “heartbreaking to see how Mahsa Amini was brutally killed by law enforcement authorities for not wearing a hijab.”  

She added: “The voices of women must not be oppressed by the state. Women must be empowered, not silenced.”

Sehar Kamran, a former Pakistani senator, said that “Iran must ensure that a few individuals do not smear the name of law and Islam, and should bring the culprits to justice.”

She added: “The onus lies on Iranian authorities to ensure justice so that such events do not occur in the future.”  

Anis Haroon, a member of the Women’s Action Forum in Pakistan, said that women’s rights have suffered in Iran due to compulsory dress codes, segregation and torture by the morality police.  

“The role of the morality police should end,” she said. “The state has no right to intervene in the private lives of people. Women of Iran should be allowed to live like free human beings under the rights granted by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” she said.  

Nighat Dad, a leading lawyer who runs the Digital Rights Foundation — a think tank tackling digital rights through a gender lens — said that Amini’s death has sparked resistance, “which the regime won’t be able to stop now.”

She told Arab News that men supporting these protests is a “testament to what the people of Iran basically want from the regime now.”

Women were now deciding for themselves whether to wear the hijab or not, Dad said.

“And it is actually their own choice. When we say ‘my body, my choice’ in Pakistan, that is exactly what we mean — that we should have control over our body, not other people controlling it,” she added.   

Dancer and activist Sheema Kermani accused Iran’s morality police of having committed grave human rights violations for decades.

She said that the Iranian state’s warnings to citizens and an Internet blackout are “ominous signs that reflect the intention of the totalitarian regime to use more brutal force against the protesters.”

She said: “We are proud of Iranian women for offering strong resistance despite being the most vulnerable group.”   

Nayab Gohar Jan, a Pakistan People’s Party activist, told Arab News that it is time for Iran to have serious conversations about women’s rights.

“Given the scale of protests across the country, it may also be time for Iranian authorities to open up dialogue on these issues,” she said.  

 


Philippines, US on track to deepen alliance as Marcos concludes American trip

President Joe Biden meets with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in New York. (AP)
President Joe Biden meets with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in New York. (AP)
Updated 24 September 2022

Philippines, US on track to deepen alliance as Marcos concludes American trip

President Joe Biden meets with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in New York. (AP)
  • Leader’s approach breaks from predecessor, who embraced Beijing-friendly direction
  • Deepening relations with Manila appears to be ‘high priority’ for Biden administration, expert says

MANILA: The Philippines is on track to deepen its alliance with the US, experts said this week, as the first meeting between President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his US counterpart Joe Biden showed mutual intention to revive long-standing ties that were undermined during the previous Philippine presidency.

Marcos and Biden held their inaugural face-to-face talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York City, a few months after the son of the late dictator took office following a landslide victory in the Philippine elections.

Since becoming president, Marcos has held meetings with a number of top US officials, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a foreign policy shift from the days of former president Rodrigo Duterte, who oversaw a strategy to distance Manila from Washington and embrace a Beijing-friendly direction.

We are your partners, we are your allies, we are your friends. And in like fashion, we have always considered the US our partner, our ally and our friend.

Marcos Jr., Phillipine president

“We are your partners, we are your allies, we are your friends. And in like fashion, we have always considered the US our partner, our ally and our friend,” Marcos told Biden during their meeting.

Marcos, who is set to return to the Philippines on Saturday, said that he cannot envision his country without the US as a partner during an economic forum earlier in the week.

Biden had reaffirmed the US’ “ironclad commitment” to the defense of the Philippines during the occasion, the White House said in a statement, as they discussed various other issues, including tensions in the South China Sea and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The relationship between the US and the Philippines, to state the obvious, has very deep roots. We’ve had some rocky times but the fact is it’s a critical, critical relationship from our perspective,” Biden said.

Their meeting conveyed eagerness on both sides to strengthen ties, Southeast Asia expert Gregory Poling of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C., told Arab News.

“The meeting certainly shows both sides are eager to deepen the relationship, and that doing so is a high priority for the Biden administration,” Poling said.

As the White House “doesn’t organize a ton of meetings like this” on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Poling said that “prioritizing this one sends its own message.

“The US-Philippines alliance is undergoing a process of modernization that started last year and is moving rather quickly,” he added.

Victor Andres Manhit, president of the Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies in Manila, said the meeting showed how Manila is “strengthening and believes” in its partnership with Washington.

“Hopefully, this could be a fresh start in how to strengthen this alliance and turn this alliance beyond defense and security but really a consistent support from the US with regard to trade, investments that can generate jobs, that can then generate more growth for the Philippines,” Manhit told Arab News.

He added that strong relations between the two countries have “always been what the Filipinos want.”

Marcos said that the Philippines will be “a friend to all, and an enemy to none” during his first address to the nation in July, with his administration’s approach toward the US showing a marked contrast to his predecessor, who went to China in the early days of his presidency and announced a “separation” from Washington, its former colonial master.

 


Saudi ambassador in India pledges to boost Riyadh’s ties with New Delhi

Saudi ambassador in India pledges to boost Riyadh’s ties with New Delhi
Updated 24 September 2022

Saudi ambassador in India pledges to boost Riyadh’s ties with New Delhi

Saudi ambassador in India pledges to boost Riyadh’s ties with New Delhi
  • The Kingdom is India’s fourth largest trade partner
  • New Saudi envoy to presented his credentials in early September

NEW DELHI: Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to India Saleh bin Eid Al-Hussaini has vowed to boost and strengthen relations between Riyadh and New Delhi during his tenure in the South Asian country, as officials and peoples of the two countries celebrated the 92nd Saudi National Day in the Indian capital.

Saudi Arabia celebrated its National Day on Sept. 23 to commemorate the renaming of the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by royal decree of King Abdulaziz Al-Saud in 1932.

The Saudi embassy in India hosted a National Day event in New Delhi on Friday, the first such festivity held since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Indian Health Minister Mansukh Mandavia was the chief guest during the occasion, which also saw other Indian officials in attendance.

FASTFACT

India has been seeking to enhance its strategic partnership with the Kingdom since, as well as cooperation on international platforms, with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visiting Saudi Arabia earlier in September.

Al-Hussaini, who presented his credentials to Indian President Droupadi Murmu earlier this month, has vowed to deepen Saudi-Indian ties during his tenure.

“This would be my endeavor to consolidate and accelerate the growth of our mutual and beneficial partnership and strengthen the friendly bond between the people of our countries,” Al-Hussaini said during his speech at the Saudi National Day event in New Delhi.

Saudi-Indian ties reached new highs when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited New Delhi in February 2019. In October that year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Riyadh at the invitation of King Salman, which saw the two nations establishing the Strategic Partnership Council.

Al-Hussaini, who described the crown prince’s New Delhi trip as a “landmark visit,” said that high-level engagements that year had “marked a new chapter in bilateral relations.”

India has been seeking to enhance its strategic partnership with the Kingdom since, as well as cooperation on international platforms, with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visiting Saudi Arabia earlier in September.

The India-Saudi strategic partnership is focused on four areas: Political issues, security, socio-cultural relations and defense cooperation.

Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trade partner, after the US, China and the UAE, with bilateral trade worth $42.8 billion in the 2021-22 fiscal year. Energy also plays an important role in their ties, with New Delhi importing about 18 and 22 percent of its crude oil and LPG demands, respectively, from the Kingdom.

 


France’s Montpellier airport shut after plane skids into lake

France’s Montpellier airport shut after plane skids into lake
Updated 24 September 2022

France’s Montpellier airport shut after plane skids into lake

France’s Montpellier airport shut after plane skids into lake
  • Images showed the Boeing 737 of the West Atlantic cargo carrier tilting with its nose in the lake
  • The three crew escaped the accident in the early hours of Saturday unhurt

MONTPELLIER, France: French authorities on Saturday shut the airport in the southern city of Montpellier for an indefinite period after a cargo plane overran the runway and ended up with its nose in a nearby lake.
Images showed the Boeing 737 of the West Atlantic cargo carrier tilting with its nose in the lake and body perched on the land. The three crew escaped the accident in the early hours of Saturday unhurt, local authorities said.
The prefecture for the Herault region said the airport would be closed to both passenger and cargo planes until further notice as a security measure and until a specialized firm came to take the plane away.
“We will not reopen the airport as long as the aircraft is on the runway and the investigation is not finished,” an airport source, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
“After the removal of the aircraft, the runway will also be carefully checked,” added the source.
Twenty-one commercial flights had been scheduled on Saturday at the airport which in peak season sees up to 197,000 passengers a month.
“A technical incident prevents normal operation,” said an English message on the airport’s website headlined “closure of Montpellier airport.”
The website showed that flights had either being canceled or diverted to Marseille.