Afghans hoping to resettle in West live in tent camps in Pakistani capital

Special Afghans hoping to resettle in West live in tent camps in Pakistani capital
Afghan refugees, seeking asylum abroad, gather to demand assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Islamabad, May 7, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 02 August 2022

Afghans hoping to resettle in West live in tent camps in Pakistani capital

Afghans hoping to resettle in West live in tent camps in Pakistani capital
  • Around 1,500 Afghan families have spent more than 3 months camped in 2 parks in Islamabad
  • Pakistan government says Afghans arriving after Taliban takeover not considered refugees as they plan to resettle in 3rd country

ISLAMABAD: Bahishta Ismail Khel, 13, was studying in the third grade and enjoying “a happy life” with her family in Kabul when the Taliban overthrew former President Ashraf Ghani’s administration in August last year, forcing her family to escape to Pakistan to flee the ensuing violence.

But life after entering Pakistan via Spin Boldak, a border town in Afghanistan, has been far from easy for the Khel family, currently squatting in a makeshift tent village in Islamabad’s posh F-6 sector — one of around 1,500 Afghan refugee families, comprising five to eight members each, camped in two parks in the capital for more than three months.

Most of the families do not want to live in Pakistan permanently and are hoping for Western embassies to process their immigration applications. In the meantime, they wait.

Pakistan is home to around 2.8 million Afghan refugees, including 1.5 million registered and 1.3 million unregistered Afghan nationals, according to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.

After the Taliban takeover of the war-battered country, some 250,000 additional Afghans took shelter in neighboring Pakistan.

“Here mosquitoes bite us at night, there is no food for us,” Khel told Arab News from inside a plastic tent. “I was going to school in Kabul and living a happy life. We fled after law and order deteriorated there.”

As she spoke, rain battered the roof of the flimsy shelter. Heavy rains have lashed the country in recent days, leaving large swathes of land inundated with water, and killing more than 430 people nationwide.

“I miss my friends and home,” Khel said, trying to hold back tears.

Many Afghans also fled their country after the Taliban closed girls’ schools in Afghanistan in March, hoping female members of their families could continue their education in Pakistan.

But it was only after arriving in Pakistani cities that they realized their children could not be admitted to Pakistan government-run schools without proper documents, while private institutions were too expensive for them to afford.

“One of my daughters has gotten mentally ill after the schools’ closure. They insist on going to school, but there is no facility for them (in Pakistan),” Basmina Sadaat, an Afghan mother-of-three, told Arab News. “What about their studies and future? We don’t have money to pay their fees (in private schools).” 

Sadaat said her family left Kabul in March after the new Taliban authorities withheld the salary of her husband, an Afghan government employee. 

“We were living in a rented house in Kabul, but when the Taliban took over, they stopped my husband’s salary,” she added. “We didn’t even have money for food, let alone for the house rent.

“Our country is destroyed and isn’t livable now, but we have no identity here either.”

Many Afghan refugees have set up a protest camp outside the National Press Club in Islamabad and urged the UNHCR, the US, and other Western countries to grant them immigration for a better future.

“So far nobody from the embassy of any country has approached us for any sort of help,” Khel’s father, Aimal Ismail Khel, told Arab News.

“I had to flee Kabul with my family after the Taliban killed my brother and threatened to kill me as well for working with the Afghan army as a driver.” 

Aimal said he borrowed 40,000 Pakistani rupees ($168) from a friend to bear the cost of traveling to Islamabad.

His family is now living on charity. “I have no savings. We are going through the worst phase of our life,” he added.

The Pakistani government said Afghans who arrived in Pakistan after the Taliban takeover were not considered to be refugees as they planned to resettle in a third country, preferably the US or in Europe. 

“These Afghans are not protesting against Pakistan, instead they have been requesting the US and Western countries to relocate them in their countries,” Mohammed Abbas Khan, a commissioner in Islamabad for Afghan refugees, told Arab News. 

“We have extended their visas till December and may extend it further to facilitate their stay in Pakistan. I have personally visited them in Islamabad, but they are not ready to register with us. In fact, they avoid us as they have been using Pakistan as a transit territory.” 

Khan said the Afghan nationals had a “genuine issue,” which was why the Pakistani government was not evacuating them.

“We aren’t harassing them in any way, rather we want them to leave for their intended destinations as quickly as possible,” he added.

The UNHCR said it was working with the Pakistani government to provide protection and assistance to Afghan and other refugees. 

“We are currently discussing with the government of Pakistan the way forward on registration and documentation of asylum-seekers, predominantly from Afghanistan,” Qaiser Khan Afridi, a spokesperson for the UNHCR Pakistan, told Arab News. 

Asif Khan Zadran, a press attache at the Afghan mission in Islamabad, said the embassy had helped Afghan nationals camped in Islamabad get temporary residency in Pakistan so they could work on processing their applications for relocation. 

“The embassy is attesting the applications of all those who are getting immigration offers from other countries,” Zadran told Arab News. “This is up to these Afghans to approach and plead embassies of European countries here in Islamabad for visas. We can’t help them, but we are also not trying to create any hurdles for them.” 

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NATO chief says alliance won’t back down on Ukraine aid

NATO chief says alliance won’t back down on Ukraine aid
Updated 29 November 2022

NATO chief says alliance won’t back down on Ukraine aid

NATO chief says alliance won’t back down on Ukraine aid
  • NATO foreign ministers meeting in Bucharest are focusing on ramping up military assistance for Ukraine such as air defense systems and ammunition

BUCHAREST: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday said the alliance would not pull back in its support for Ukraine, calling on partners to pledge more winter aid for Kyiv as it braced itself for more cold and darkness due to Russian attacks on infrastructure.
NATO foreign ministers meeting in Bucharest are focusing on ramping up military assistance for Ukraine such as air defense systems and ammunition, even as diplomats acknowledge supply and capacity issues, but also discuss non-lethal aid as well.
Part of this non-lethal aid — goods such as fuel, medical supplies, winter equipment and drone jammers — has been delivered through a NATO assistance package that allies can contribute to and which Stoltenberg aims to increase.
“Nato will continue to stand for Ukraine as long as it takes. We will not back down,” Stoltenberg said in a speech in Bucharest.
“The main focus is supporting Ukraine and ensuring President (Vladimir Putin) doesn’t win,” he said, adding that the only way to get the right terms for a negotiation to begin would be for Ukraine to advance on the battlefield.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned his fellow citizens of new Russian attacks this week that could be as bad as last week’s, the worst yet, which left millions of people with no heat, water or power.
Russia acknowledges attacking Ukrainian infrastructure. It denies its intent is to hurt civilians.
“It is going to be a terrible winter for Ukraine, so we are working to strengthen our support for it to be resilient,” a senior European diplomat said.
Germany, which holds the G7 presidency, also scheduled a meeting of the Group of Seven rich nations with some partners on the sidelines of the NATO talks as it presses for ways to speed up reconstructing Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
Washington had been working with US utilities and hardware providers and with European nations to locate equipment that can help restore high-voltage transmission stations damaged by Russian missile strikes, senior State Department official told reporters.
The official did not specify what form the assistance would take or how much it would be worth.
France and Germany have said they are sending more than 100 power generators each to help stabilize the electricity grid.
“The reason Russia is continuing these war crimes is because it is losing ground,” a French official said, referring to the attacks on civilian infrastructure.
WEAPONS’ CRUNCH?
On the military side, NATO keeps pushing weapons manufacturers to accelerate production but a second diplomat cautioned there were increasing problems with supply capacity.
“We are doing the maximum we can on deliveries, but there is a real problem. The Ukrainians know it. Even the US weapons industry despite its strength is having issues,” the diplomat said.
Ministers will also discuss Ukraine’s application for NATO membership. But they are likely to only confirm the alliance’s open-door policy while NATO membership still appears far away.
In 2008, a NATO summit at the same Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, built under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu who was toppled in 1989, agreed that Ukraine would eventually become a member of the alliance.
However, leaders have stopped short of taking any concrete steps such as giving Ukraine a membership action plan that would lay out a timetable for bringing it closer to NATO.
Georgia, Moldova and Bosnia will also attend the meeting on Wednesday as the alliance looks to strengthen ties with the countries amid fears Russia is seeking to destabilize states beyond Ukraine.
NATO ministers will also talk about how to strengthen the resilience of society, days after Stoltenberg warned Western nations must be careful not to create new dependence on China as they wean themselves off Russian energy supplies.


Toronto police charge man with 1983 killings of 2 women

Toronto police charge man with 1983 killings of 2 women
Updated 29 November 2022

Toronto police charge man with 1983 killings of 2 women

Toronto police charge man with 1983 killings of 2 women
  • In 2019, genetic samples in the case were sent to a lab in Texas, where the results were cross-referenced with samples uploaded to Family Tree DNA, a Houston-based commercial genetic testing company, police said

TORONTO: A 61-year-old man has been charged in the cold case killings of two women who were found dead in their Toronto homes within months of each other almost four decades ago, police said Monday.
Police Chief James Ramer said Joseph George Sutherland, of Moosonee, Ontario, was arrested Thursday and charged with first-degree murder in the killings of Erin Gilmour and Susan Tice in 1983.
Both women had been sexually assaulted and stabbed to death, Ramer said. Although their bodies were discovered four months apart, detectives linked the deaths using DNA technology in 2000, and investigators suspected the same man in both cases, he said.
Police said Gilmour was a 22-year-old aspiring fashion designer and Tice was a 45-year-old mother of four who held a master’s degree in social work and worked with disadvantaged children.
“This is a day that I and we’ve been waiting almost an entire lifetime for,” said Sean McCowan, Erin’s brother.
“It finally puts a name and a face to someone who for all of us had been a ghost.”
In 2019, genetic samples in the case were sent to a lab in Texas, where the results were cross-referenced with samples uploaded to Family Tree DNA, a Houston-based commercial genetic testing company, police said.
From there, detectives worked backwards, building a family tree of the suspect’s nearest common relatives, said Det. Sgt. Steve Smith. As they closed in on Sutherland, police served him with a warrant for his DNA to test directly against the samples recovered from the crime scenes.
Smith said the same lab had helped police in a different case, analyzing DNA samples to identify the man who likely killed 9-year-old Christine Jessop in 1984. Police said they would have charged that man with murder, but a lawyer for the Jessop family said he died by suicide in 2015.
Smith said Sutherland had not previously been a suspect or person of interest in the deaths of Gilmour and Tice, and that police would not have connected him without the DNA technology.
Toronto police said they will now investigate whether Sutherland is connected to any other unsolved cases from the past 39 years. Detectives are also reaching out to police services across the province where the man might have lived or visited, Smith said.
Officers with the Ontario Provincial Police arrested Sutherland without incident on Thursday in Moosonee. He is next set to appear in court on Dec. 9.
Smith said Sutherland was living in Toronto at the time of the deaths. He said there is a publication ban on the case and declined to release more details.

 


Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange

Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange
Updated 29 November 2022

Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange

Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange
  • The material was leaked to WikiLeaks by the then American soldier Chelsea Manning and revealed the inner workings of US diplomacy around the globe

WASHINGTON: The United States should end its prosecution of Julian Assange, leading media outlets from the United States and Europe that had collaborated with the WikiLeaks founder said on Monday, citing press freedom concerns.
“This indictment sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America’s First Amendment and the freedom of the press,” editors and publishers of the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País said in an open letter.
Assange is wanted by US authorities on 18 counts, including a spying charge, related to WikiLeaks’ release of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables. His supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimized because he exposed US wrongdoing, including in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Monday marked twelve years since those media outlets collaborated to release excerpts from over 250,000 documents obtained by Assange in the so-called “Cablegate” leak.
The material was leaked to WikiLeaks by the then American soldier Chelsea Manning and revealed the inner workings of US diplomacy around the globe. The documents exposed “corruption, diplomatic scandals and spy affairs on an international scale,” the letter said.
In August, a group of journalists and lawyers sued the CIA and its former director Mike Pompeo over allegations the intelligence agency spied on them when they visited Assange during his stay in Ecuador’s embassy in London.
Assange spent seven years in the embassy before being dragged out and jailed in 2019 for breaching bail conditions. He has remained in prison in London while his extradition case is decided. If extradited to the United States, he faces a sentence of up to 175 years in an American maximum security prison.
His legal team has appealed to the High Court in London to block his extradition in a legal battle that has dragged on for more than a decade.
“Publishing is not a crime,” the media outlets said in their letter on Monday.

 


Australia falls short in Great Barrier Reef efforts, say experts

Australia falls short in Great Barrier Reef efforts, say experts
Updated 28 November 2022

Australia falls short in Great Barrier Reef efforts, say experts

Australia falls short in Great Barrier Reef efforts, say experts

PARIS: Despite warnings, Australia’s efforts to save the Great Barrier Reef still fall short of protecting the world’s largest coral reef system from pollution and climate change, experts said on Monday.

Australia had taken unprecedented steps towards the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, which the United Nations has designated a world heritage site, but more was needed to avoid the site being declared “in danger” by UNESCO, the UN agency which compiles and manages a list of heritage sites.

Such a designation puts a government on notice that a site could be removed from the World Heritage list altogether, a very rare event.

“Despite the unparalleled science and management efforts” made by Australia over recent years, the Great Barrier Reef is “significantly impacted by climate change factors,” Eleanor Carter at the International Union for Conservation of Nature and UNESCO representative Hans Thulstrup said in a report based on a mission to the Reef.

“The resilience of the property to recover from climate change impacts is substantially compromised,” they said.

Carter and Thulstrup recommended that the reef should be added to the “World Heritage in Danger” list.

The Australian government in January announced a billion-dollar package to protect the reef, seven years after its “Reef 2050” plan, already a response to a UN downgrade threat.

The Climate Council pressure group said this latest package of funding was like putting “a Band-Aid on a broken leg.”

Monday’s report echoed that assessment, saying the reef’s ability to recover from climate change impacts was “substantially compromised.”

In particular, Australian strategies were “lacking clear climate change targets,” while some measures were not fully implemented, especially concerning “water quality and fisheries activities,” it said.

Australia reported in May that 91 percent of the reef’s coral had been damaged by bleaching after a prolonged summer heat wave, a process that increases the mortality rates of the affected corals.

After intense lobbying, Australia narrowly avoided the Reef being placed on UNESCO’s “in danger” list in the summer of 2021.

The then-government of conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison was voted out this year in favor of a center-left government under Anthony Albanese who has promised greener policies.

A UNESCO spokesperson told AFP that “a constructive dialogue is ongoing with the current government.”

A source close to the matter called Monday’s report “a roadmap submitted to the Australian government which should say what it intends to do with it and produce results.”

The source added: “The path to saving the Great Barrier Reef is narrow, but it exists. Strong and rapid action can produce results.”


Somali troops overpower militants to end hotel siege

Somali troops overpower militants to end hotel siege
Updated 28 November 2022

Somali troops overpower militants to end hotel siege

Somali troops overpower militants to end hotel siege
  • Somalian security forces, who are trained by the US and Turkey, were under orders to “eliminate” the militants
  • Mohamed Sayid Hassan Elmi, who lives in Birmingham, was named locally as one of the victims at Villa Rose hotel

MOGADISHU: Somali security forces stormed a hotel in the capital on Monday to end a near day-long siege by Al-Shabab militants who killed nine people at the building near the president’s residence in the capital, police said.

A Briton is reported to have died in the siege, where Somalian security forces, who are trained by the US and Turkey, were under orders to “eliminate” the militants who stormed it yesterday.

Mohamed Sayid Hassan Elmi, who lives in Birmingham, was named locally as one of the victims at Villa Rose Hotel.

Gunfire crackled from inside the hotel as the special forces fought the militants more than 12 hours after the Islamist group stormed the building in the center of Mogadishu.
A police spokesperson said 60 civilians had been rescued, while a government minister said he and others had kicked down a door to escape after being caught in the hotel following evening prayers when a suicide bomber struck and the gunbattle broke out.
The assault underscores the continuing ability of the Al-Qaeda-allied militants to stage deadly attacks with sometimes high casualties inside the city even as President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s government presses an offensive against them.
“The operation at the hotel Rose has been concluded,” Sadik Aden Ali, the police spokesperson said, referring to the Villa Rose hotel where the siege occurred.
Ali said the militants had killed eight civilians and later added that one soldier had also died in the siege. Five soldiers were injured, he said.
Six Al-Shabab fighters had been involved in the attack, with one blowing himself up and five shot dead by the security forces, Ali said.
Al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab, which controls swathes of the country, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement that it was targeting the nearby presidential palace.
Al Shabab, which is seeking to topple the government and establish its own rule based on an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, frequently stages attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere.
Government officials in Mogadishu often use the Villa Rose hotel for meetings. Some officials also live there.
Somalia’s environment minister Adam Aw Hirsi said the assault on the hotel, where he lives, began with a deafening explosion by a suicide bomber who was followed by militants on foot to breach the perimeter of the heavily guarded hotel.
“I had exited the hotel mosque where we performed the evening prayer in congregation when the explosion hit. The roof of the VIP room I was in flew and glasses shattered far and wide,” Hirsi told Reuters, describing the scene of the attack.
“Then bullets rained in all directions,” he said, adding that he, a friend and another minister fled the building through a back exit. “Many people followed us to the exit, we broke the door with collective kicks and we exited to safety,” he said.
Asked what the government would do next, he said there was no turning back and the government would “not let up the fight.”
Somalia government forces, supported by clan militias and, at times, African Union troops and US air strikes, have made a number of battlefield gains in an offensive against Al-Shabab over the last three months.
The US military has conducted several air strikes against the Al-Shabab this year, but it was not clear whether it was involved in Monday’s battle.
Despite being pushed back, Al-Shabab has still been able to stage large attacks on both civilian and military targets.
In October two car bombs exploded at Somalia’s education ministry next to a busy market intersection, killing at least 120 people. It was the deadliest attack since a truck bomb exploded at the same intersection in October 2017, killing more than 500 people.
Somalia’s parliament said it had postponed a scheduled session for both of its houses on Monday as the siege unfolded.