UK government under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees

UK government under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees
The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy Scheme meant to help tens of thousands of people reach the UK after Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 16 August 2022

UK government under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees

UK government under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees
  • Ministers should ‘hang their heads in shame,’ says former NATO chief in Afghanistan

The UK government is facing criticism over its failure to safeguard Afghan refugees who worked with coalition forces during the war in Afghanistan, The Guardian reported on Monday.

About 6,200 people along with their families are eligible for relocation under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).

The ARAP scheme has brought more than 10,000 Afghans to the UK, and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) will allow up to 20,000 to settle in the country.

However, as Western allies mark the one-year anniversary of NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the UK faces accusations of abandoning many Afghans to persecution at the hands of Taliban.

Ret. Gen. Sir John McColl, who served as first head of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told BBC Radio 4’s “World at One” that Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and other ministers should “hang their heads in shame.”

McColl described the UK’s evacuation of Afghans as “random,” and at times prioritizing animals over people.

“The system was broken when we withdrew from Kabul last year and it remains broken. It was a source of shame then and it continues to be a source of shame,” McColl said.

Those eligible for ARAP include people still in Afghanistan and those who have fled, most often to Pakistan, but also Iran, where strained relations between London and Tehran have hindered the scheme’s ability to assist people.

Earlier this month, nine expert groups on Afghanistan criticized the government’s resettlement schemes as “unjustifiably restrictive.”

They also expressed deep concern over the government’s failure to provide a safe route for Afghan women, girls and oppressed minority groups.

According to sources at the Ministry of Defense, about 1,050 people evacuated out of Afghanistan under ARAP are living in hotels in Pakistan while awaiting processing and transportation to the UK or another destination.

However, the ministry expressed frustration that many Afghans who are brought to the UK end up, as one highly placed source put it, “stuck in hotels.”

The ministry source attributed this to the government’s failure to put adequate plans in place.

With only 7,000 Afghans having been rehoused, the UK government is still providing hotel accommodation to 9,500 people who sought refuge in the UK, The Guardian reported.

The news outlet also said that thousands of Afghan refugees were told by the Home Office to search for housing on the websites Rightmove and Zoopla.

A Home Office spokesperson said that the UK intends to welcome up to 20,000 people in need via ACRS.

“Already we are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,000 Afghan evacuees, but there is a shortage of local housing accommodation for all,” they said.

“While hotels do not provide a long-term solution, they do offer safe, secure and clean accommodation. We will continue to bring down the number of people in bridging hotels, moving people into more sustainable accommodation as quickly as possible.”

The Home Office has said that local authorities will receive £20,520 ($24,770) per person over a three-year period to support the resettlement of Afghan families, with flexibility to use the funds in various ways.


UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso

UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso
Updated 9 sec ago

UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso

UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso
  • The situation in capital Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday, with gunfire and the deployment of soldiers in the streets, raising fears of clashes between Damiba’s supporters and the country’s new strongmen

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has condemned army officers who seized power in Burkina Faso and called on all parties to refrain from using violence in the restive West African country.

“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the unfolding developments in Burkina Faso. He strongly condemns any attempt to seize power by the force of arms and calls on all actors to refrain from violence and seek dialogue,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

The situation in capital Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday, with gunfire and the deployment of soldiers in the streets, raising fears of clashes between Damiba’s supporters and the country’s new strongmen.

The new putschists were quick to introduce an overnight curfew.

The army officers who have seized power in Burkina Faso said in televised comments that toppled junta leader Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was planning a counteroffensive from a “French base.”

Damiba “is believed to have taken refuge in the French base at Kamboinsin in order to plan a counter-offensive to stir up trouble in our defence and security forces,” they said in a statement read out on national television and signed by Capt. Ibrahim Traore, the country’s new strongman.

France, the former colonial power in Burkina Faso, denied any involvement.

An hour before the televised comments by the military figures, who overthrew Damiba on Friday, the French Embassy issued a statement “firmly denying any involvement of the French army in the events of the last few hours.”

The embassy also denied “rumors that Burkinabe authorities have been hosted or are under the protection of French military.”

According to the coup plotters, the actions by Damiba and the French forces are in response to their willingness “to go to other partners ready to help in the fight against terrorism.”

No country was explicitly mentioned but Russia, whose influence is growing in French-speaking Africa, is among the possible partners in question.

France has a military presence in Burkina Faso, with a contingent of special forces based in Kamboinsin which is some 30 km from the capital Ouagadougou.

Damiba himself came to power in a coup in January.

He had installed himself as leader of the country of 16 million after accusing elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore of failing to beat back jihadist fighters.

With much of the Sahel region battling a growing insurgency, the violence has prompted a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.


Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts

Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts
Updated 12 min 53 sec ago

Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts

Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts
  • The declaration from the United Nations’ cultural arm called for open, inclusive international dialogue on illegally acquired artifacts and concrete measures to battle the illicit trade in antiquities

MEXICO CITY: Cultural ministers and representatives from 150 countries committed to expanding efforts to return historical artifacts to their countries of origin, according to a declaration released on Friday, following a UNESCO conference in Mexico City.

Major museums, auction houses and private collectors have faced growing pressure in recent years to repatriate priceless works of art and other antiquities from Latin American and African nations, among others, which argue the goods were often taken unethically or illegally.

The declaration from the United Nations’ cultural arm called for open, inclusive international dialogue on illegally acquired artifacts and concrete measures to battle the illicit trade in antiquities.

The declaration deems culture a “global public good” that should be included in the UN development goals.

Restitution of cultural artifacts is often politically sensitive and raises questions over the transport and care of often delicate antiquities.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has renewed calls in India for the return of one of the world’s largest uncut diamonds from Britain’s crown jewels, while Chile has for years demanded the return of a Moai statue from the British Museum.

Mexico’s government has previously called for the return of a 500-year-old Aztec crest known as Montezuma’s headdress from a Vienna museum, but experts have deemed its centuries-old iridescent quetzal feathers, dotted with golden pendants, too fragile for transport.

During the conference, ministers also discussed how to protect heritage from wars and climate change.

Ernesto Ottone, a senior UNESCO official, expressed hope that old attitudes are shifting in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.

“In the last three years there has been a change, a turning point, on how restitution can be made,” he said, pointing to recent bilateral deals that have led to the return of artifacts. “Today, doors are opening for us.”


Road accident in India leaves 27 dead: reports

Road accident in India leaves 27 dead: reports
Updated 50 min 18 sec ago

Road accident in India leaves 27 dead: reports

Road accident in India leaves 27 dead: reports
  • The accident in the city of Kanpur in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh left another 22 people injured
  • Other news media gave slightly lower death tolls

NEW DELHI: A tractor pulling a trolley packed with pilgrims returning from a shrine in India overturned Saturday and plunged into a pond, killing as many as 27 people, Indian media reported.
The accident in the city of Kanpur in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh left another 22 people injured, The Times of India reported.
Other news media gave slightly lower death tolls.
The tractor-trolley was bringing Hindu pilgrims back from the Chandrika Devi temple, reports said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences in a tweet.
“Distressed by the tractor-trolley mishap took place in Kanpur. My thoughts are with all those who have lost their near and dear ones and prayers with the injured,” Modi said.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said this kind of vehicle — a tractor pulling a large cart — should be used only to transport farm goods and freight, not people, The Hindu said.
“The road accident in Kanpur district is very heart-wrenching,” he said.


Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing

Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing
Updated 01 October 2022

Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing

Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing
  • The demonstration was quickly broken up by Taliban police
  • The bomber struck an education center Friday packed with hundreds of students in a Shiite neighborhood

KABUL, Afghanistan: A group of Afghan women Saturday protested a suicide bombing that killed or wounded dozens of students in a Shiite education center in the capital Kabul a day earlier, demanding better security from the Taliban-run government.
The demonstration was quickly broken up by Taliban police.
The bomber struck an education center Friday packed with hundreds of students in a Shiite neighborhood, killing 19 people and wounding 27. Among the casualties were teenagers taking practice university entrance exams, a Taliban spokesman said.
The morning explosion at the center took place in Kabul’s Dashti Barchi neighborhood, an area populated mostly by ethnic Hazaras, who belong to Afghanistan’s minority Shiite community. The Daesh group has carried out repeated, horrific attacks on schools, hospitals and mosques in Dashti Barchi and other Shiite areas in recent years.
About 20 protesters Saturday gathered in the Dashti Barchi area for about 45 minutes before their rally was broken up by Taliban security. They carried banners in English and Dari reading “Stop Hazar Genocide.”
“We are asking the Taliban government, when they claim that they have brought security, how they cannot stop an attacker from entering an educational center to target female students. In this incident, one family has lost four members, why is it still happening,” said demonstrator Fatima Mohammadi.
Staff at the Kaaj education center spent Saturday cleaning up the wreckage caused by the attack, while victims’ family members searched through items covered with blood belonging to their loved ones.
Hussain, who goes by one name, witnessed the attack. He said he believed the death toll was significantly higher, based on the large number of bodies he saw.
“First the attacker just over there, where a huge crowd of students was standing, opened fire. At least 40 people were killed there,” he said.
Zahra, a student who survived the attack, was unharmed because she went out just minutes before to buy a pen. She said she lost her friends in the attack and also her hope for a better future.
“I am not even sure if there is a future for us anymore or not,” she said.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. The Daesh group — the chief rival of the Taliban since their takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 — has in the past targeted the Hazara community, including in Dashti Barchi, in a brutal campaign of violence.
Militants have carried out several deadly attacks in Dashti Barchi, including a horrific 2020 attack on a maternity hospital claimed by IS that killed 24 people, including newborn babies and mothers.


Iranians in Tokyo demonstrate ‘for freedom’ in their country

Iranians in Tokyo demonstrate ‘for freedom’ in their country
Updated 01 October 2022

Iranians in Tokyo demonstrate ‘for freedom’ in their country

Iranians in Tokyo demonstrate ‘for freedom’ in their country
  • Protestors also shouted slogans such as “Bye Bye Islamic Republic”

TOKYO: Iranians in Japan protested in support after a woman from the Saquez region near Iranian Kurdistan died, allegedly as a result of being detained by the morality police for not wearing compulsory Islamic clothing.

In the crowded and popular Shibuya Scramble Square Central Tokyo, close to a 100 Iranians and activists from different organizations gathered to show their support and demanded freedom for all women in Iran.

Most of the women came bareheaded, others wore colorful veils and some wore their regional traditional dress. A group of several people present at the rally displayed portraits of the son of Iran’s former Shah.

Protests in Iran have spread after the 22-yer-old woman, Mahsa Amini, from the Kurdistan region died after being taken into custody by vice police for not complying with the religious dress code.  The Iranian government has denied accusations that she was beaten to death by police and claim that she had underlying health problems which caused her to collapse.

“She died at a hospital days later despite intensive medical care and resuscitation efforts,” said government sources.

Demonstrations spread in some parts of the world denouncing the Iranian government and “its oppression against women”, but Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said the United States and the United Kingdom were “directly” involved in the recent riots across the country.

“Dozens of terrorists affiliated with the Zionist regime and anti-revolution groups have been detained during the recent days of unrest,” the ministry said in a Friday statement.

But Tokyo demonstrators said “the totalitarian regime in the Iran Islamic Republic is killing Iranians seeking freedom, so it can continue its dictatorship.”

From a loudspeaker, a protestor shouted, “Today, the Iranian government is trying to suppress protests for the rights of Iranians by force to prove its legitimacy.”

At present, the Iran Islamic Republic is not representative of the Iranian people, so we strongly condemn any talks or initiatives. “We want freedom for all Iranians,” she said.

Protestors also shouted slogans like “Bye Bye Islamic Republic.”