Video of child refugee in Libya sheds light on rampant abuse

Video of child refugee in Libya sheds light on rampant abuse
Libya has been in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. (AFP/File)
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Updated 08 September 2022

Video of child refugee in Libya sheds light on rampant abuse

Video of child refugee in Libya sheds light on rampant abuse
  • Trafficking business has flourished and militias, most on government payrolls, are involved at every stage

CAIRO: Cowering in a bare corner, the 15-year-old boy begs for mercy and holds up his arms, trying to fend off the rifle pointed at his face. “Where is the money? Where is the money?” the holder of the rifle barks, over and over.

The unseen man pulls the trigger. “Click-click-click!” The magazine is empty, it seems. The man wants to scare him, and it works. The boy flinches with each click.

“Where is the money? Where is the money?” the man keeps shouting, swatting the boy on the head with the rifle muzzle. “I swear, I don’t have,” the boy cries.

The boy, Mazen Adam, a refugee in Libya from Sudan’s conflict-torn Darfur region, was kidnapped last week by unknown gunmen demanding ransom. Hours after the video depicting this scene spread on social media, the boy’s father was taken by gunmen from his home in western Libya.

Their saga is all too common in the chaotic, war-torn Mediterranean country, where powerful militias and traffickers have for years taken advantage of the desperation of migrants fleeing wars and poverty and trying to reach Europe. But the abuse is rarely caught on camera, and the story of the boy and his father has raised concerns among regular Libyans and rights workers.

The video has underscored how abuses, torture, sexual violence and killings of migrants are rampant in Libya, where the EU is using fragments of the broken-down state as an outsourced policeman to block migrants from reaching its shores, trapping them there.

Libya has been in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The country has split into many factions, each supported by rogue militias and foreign governments.

Without a functioning government for most of the past decade, the country became a hub for migrants, with thousands coming in every year from Arab nations or sub-Saharan Africa, aiming to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

A lucrative trafficking business has flourished and militias, most of which are on the government payroll, are involved at every stage. They sometimes receive payments from the smugglers who arrange the migrants’ journeys. Militias often kidnap migrants and torture them to extort money from them.

Militias are part of the official state forces tasked with intercepting migrants at sea, including in the coast guard. They also run state detention centers, where abuses of migrants are common. As a result, militias — some of them led by warlords the UN has sanctioned for abuses — benefit from millions in funds the EU gives to Libya to stop the migrant flow to Europe.

UN-commissioned investigators said last year such practices may amount to crimes against humanity. The UN’s refugee agency has warned that Libya “isn’t a country of asylum, nor a place of safety.”

Fleeing Sudan’s Darfur, Mohamed Adam arrived in Libya with his four children in December 2017. A few months earlier, his wife died when their house was set on fire during a bout of tribal violence in Darfur.

Adam settled in Tripoli, waiting for the opportunity to reach Europe. He and his children were registered with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, as asylum-seekers, according to a registration document shared with The Associated Press. Adam found work as a day laborer.

The AP spoke to Adam by phone. A few hours later, he was abducted by armed men in uniform, according to his 20-year-old daughter, Rehab Adam.

He described how in January, despite their recognized asylum-seeker status, the whole family was rounded up in a crackdown on migrants by Libyan authorities. They were held for over three months in a detention center in the town of Ain Zara, where guards abused them and burned their few belongings, he said.

They were released on April 25 after intervention by the UNHCR, he said. They then moved to Warshefana, a town on Tripoli’s southwestern outskirts where living expenses were cheaper.

The town is also home to militias that have been implicated in human trafficking, said Tarik Lamloum, a Libyan activist working with the Belaady Organization for Human Rights.

Mazen, the second oldest of the four siblings, worked also as a day laborer in farms and workshops to help the family survive. On Aug. 30, he left home in the morning for work as usual. But he did not return.

That afternoon, Adam received a call from another Sudanese woman in Libya, telling him that his son was likely kidnapped. The woman sent him the video of Mazen being abused, which she had seen on a WhatsApp group of Sudanese migrants. How the video made it there is unclear, but it’s highly likely that Mazen’s captors wanted it to reach his family to pressure them to send money.

In the video, Mazen’s captor demands 5,000 Libyan dinars, around $1,000, and tells the boy to call friends or family to get it.

“Is he still alive or dead?” his father, Adam said, speaking hours after the video emerged. “I don’t have the money to free him.”

The video was shared on social media by activists in Sudan and by other Libyans worried for the boy’s safety. A day after it appeared, three vehicles pulled in front of Adam’s house in Warshefana. Rehab said armed men got out and took her father away.

No group claimed responsibility for the child’s abduction nor his father’s detention.


Yemenis elated as 5 Taiz policewomen handed key security roles

Yemenis elated as 5 Taiz policewomen handed key security roles
Updated 02 February 2023

Yemenis elated as 5 Taiz policewomen handed key security roles

Yemenis elated as 5 Taiz policewomen handed key security roles
  • The five were given roles at sites and police stations in the Taiz Security Department as part of a security overhaul
  • The appointments were intended to empower women in security roles as part of a push to end the disorder and lawlessness that has plagued Taiz

AL-MUKALLA: Five Yemeni policewomen were appointed to key security posts for the first time in the southern Yemeni city of Taiz, sparking excitement among gender equality advocates and the media.

The five were given roles at sites and police stations in the Taiz Security Department as part of a security overhaul that saw the appointment of 12 new security heads, said local officials.

The appointments were intended to empower women in security roles as part of a push to end the disorder and lawlessness that has plagued Taiz for years.

Second Lt. Amera Al-Bukaili, who was recently elevated to the role of deputy director of training for Taiz security, told Arab News that women’s fight for empowerment and senior positions had finally borne fruit.

“I am so delighted today. The appointments have restored a portion of our rights, which is something that should have occurred a long time ago,” she said.

A holder of a master’s degree in social science, Al-Bukaili has almost two decades’ experience in the security field. She was made second lieutenant in 2019, while her male counterparts with similar levels of experience and education were promoted to higher ranks, she added.

“When women hold positions of authority, they will have the capacity to influence and innovate. This is an opportunity to get more rights.”

The appointments have been welcomed by both men and women who have long advocated for the promotion of women to positions of power in the country.

Sara Qassem, a human rights activist from Taiz, characterized the appointments as “special milestones” toward granting women greater rights, urging other Yemeni provinces to follow suit by appointing women to crucial posts.

“We applaud this action, which is in response to efforts to empower women in politics, human rights, security and other areas,” Qassem told Arab News, adding that the move would improve security in Taiz at a time when the city is teetering on the brink of chaos and facing a renewed Houthi siege.

Journalist Zakaria Al-Sharabi agreed, saying that deploying policewomen to key security positions will enable operations in areas that are inaccessible to men due to social barriers. The appointees will also help in combating sexual harassment and other crimes against women, she added.

“Without a doubt, the participation of women in the police force is critical, since many police duties and services, particularly those involving women, children, harassment offenses and juvenile protection need the presence of women,” Zakaria said.

Human rights and gender equality campaigners in Yemen say that women’s rights have been trampled upon and abandoned throughout the country’s civil war, particularly in Houthi-controlled regions, where the militia restricts women’s freedom of movement and other rights.

The Houthis have prohibited women from traveling between Yemeni cities without a male companion or mahram, according to observers in Sanaa.

Women also report that some service departments no longer assist unaccompanied women.

Angela Abu-Asba, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of Sanaa, said that a technician at an auto repair shop in Sanaa refused to fix her vehicle because she was unaccompanied by a male guardian.

“He said that women are not permitted to enter without a mahram. Bring your mahram and come. I told him, oppressively and bitterly, that my father was in Ibb and my brother was at work,” Abu-Asba said on Facebook.

She later deleted the social media post over fears of Houthi reprisal, with the militia frequently targeting critics from the public sector and elsewhere.


Egypt officials: Hospital fire in Cairo kills 3, injures 32

Egypt officials: Hospital fire in Cairo kills 3, injures 32
Updated 01 February 2023

Egypt officials: Hospital fire in Cairo kills 3, injures 32

Egypt officials: Hospital fire in Cairo kills 3, injures 32
  • The fire took place at the Noor Mohammadi hospital in eastern Cairo’s Matariya neighborhood
  • Firefighters were able to put out the blaze

CAIRO: A fire broke out Wednesday at a hospital in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, killing at least three people and injuring at least 32 others, health authorities said.
The Health Ministry said the fire took place at the Noor Mohammadi hospital in eastern Cairo’s Matariya neighborhood. The facility is run by a charity.
The ministry said in a statement that flames broke out at the hospital’s radiology department without elaborating on what caused it. Provincial authorities said firefighters were able to put out the blaze.
Health Minister Khaled Abdel Ghaffar said the injured patients suffered from burns, fractures and smoke inhalation. They were transferred to other hospitals in Cairo.
He said the causality tally was a preliminary one, suggesting it could increase.
Safety standards and fire regulations are poorly enforced in Egypt and have been linked to many deaths. A 2020 fire at an intensive care unit at a private hospital in Cairo killed seven coronavirus patients.


Militants kill eight soldiers in northwest Syria: monitor

Militants kill eight soldiers in northwest Syria: monitor
Updated 01 February 2023

Militants kill eight soldiers in northwest Syria: monitor

Militants kill eight soldiers in northwest Syria: monitor
  • "HTS fired shells and rockets at a Syrian military post, killing eight soldiers," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said
  • The Idlib region is home to about three million people, around half of them displaced

BEIRUT: Eight Syrian soldiers were killed in the country’s northwest on Wednesday in an attack carried out by the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham militant group, a war monitor reported.
“HTS fired shells and rockets at a Syrian military post, killing eight soldiers near Kafr Ruma in Idlib province,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
HTS is headed by ex-members of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda franchise.
Syrian state media did not immediately report the attack.
About half of the northwestern province of Idlib and areas bordering the neighboring provinces of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia are dominated by HTS and other rebel factions.
The Idlib region is home to about three million people, around half of them displaced.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that since the end of 2022, the militants “have intensified operations against regime forces in Idlib... in the context of a rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus.”
He said exchanges of fire and clashes between regime forces and militant factions had killed 63 people since the start of the year, 45 of them pro-regime forces. One of the 18 militants was a French national.
Ankara became a sworn enemy of Damascus when it began backing rebel efforts to topple Assad at the start of the civil war.
But in late December the defense ministers of Turkiye and Syria held landmark negotiations in Moscow — the first such meeting since 2011.
The mooted reconciliation has alarmed Syrian opposition leaders and supporters who reside mostly in parts of the war-torn country under Ankara’s indirect control.
President Bashar Assad said in January that a Moscow-brokered rapprochement with Turkiye should aim for “the end of occupation” by Ankara of parts of Syria.
Turkiye has military bases in northern Syria and backs some local groups fighting the regime and against Syrian Kurdish forces which it considers “terrorist” groups.
Ankara has never publicly backed hard-line group HTS but is believed to coordinate with its forces.
HTS, which is sanctioned by the UN as a terrorist organization, formally broke ties with Al-Qaeda in 2016 and incorporated a number of smaller Syrian rebel factions in a major re-branding effort.
Widely seen as the strongest and best organized of Syria’s rebel groups, it has presented itself as the mainstay of Syria’s opposition.
With Russian and Iranian support, Damascus has clawed back much of the ground lost in the early stages of Syria’s conflict, which erupted in 2011 when Assad’s government brutally repressed pro-democracy protests.
The war has killed nearly half a million people since it broke out over a decade ago, displacing almost half of Syria’s pre-war population.
Despite periodic clashes, a cease-fire reached in 2020 by Moscow and Turkiye has largely held in the northwest.


Israel steps up demolitions of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem

Israel steps up demolitions of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem
Updated 01 February 2023

Israel steps up demolitions of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem

Israel steps up demolitions of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem
  • Properties were razed in the city’s Sur Baher, Wadi Al-Hummus and Silwan neighborhoods on Wednesday
  • Residents of Al-Khan Al-Ahmar are staging a sit-in amid fears they will be displaced after a final deadline to leave the village expired

RAMALLAH: Israeli authorities have stepped up their demolitions of Palestinian homes in parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, following a policy formulated by extreme right-wing ministers in the country’s new government, local leaders say.
On Wednesday, Israeli bulldozers knocked down buildings in the Sur Baher, Wadi Al-Hummus and Silwan neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Rights activists urged people to publicly denounce the demolitions by posting messages on social media sites such as Twitter using the hashtag #Stop_Demolishing_Jerusalem.
They also called on the Palestinian Authority, the international community and global institutions to intervene immediately to force Israel to halt the demolitions and displacements that threaten the Palestinian community in Jerusalem.
Since the beginning of this January, occupation forces have razed 30 homes in a number of the historic city’s neighborhoods. Last year, 211 Palestinian homes were demolished in Jerusalem.
In the village of Al-Khan Al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem, a sit-in protest by villagers and activists from the Palestinian Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission continued for a second day on Wednesday.
Residents of the village and surrounding Bedouin communities fear Israeli authorities will demolish their homes, after a final six-month deadline for them to leave expired on Wednesday.
Eid Khamis Jahalin, a Bedouin leader from Al-Khan Al-Ahmar, told Arab News that people are scared that Israeli bulldozers will destroy the village and displace its 250 residents.
“The electoral program of both Itamar Bin-Gvir (the new Israeli national security minister) and Bezalel Yoel Smotrich (the minister of finance) is based on the demolition of Al-Khan Al-Hamar and the displacement of its inhabitants,” he said.
Hussein Al-Sheikh, from the Palestine Liberation Organization, called on the international community to intervene immediately to halt the demolitions carried out by Israeli occupation forces in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which he described as a continuation of a policy of displacement and “apartheid.” He said the Palestinian leadership would meet on Friday to discuss ways to respond.
Elsewhere, Israeli army forces continued to besiege Jericho, in the eastern West Bank, for a fifth day on Wednesday as they searched for two young men responsible for an attempted gun attack on a settlers’ restaurant at the entrance to the city five days ago.
Critics accused Israeli authorities of imposing a collective punishment policy in the city by obstructing the free movement of residents, searching their cars and checking their identities, resulting in long queues and people being stuck in their vehicles for hours.
Journalist Adel Abu Nima from Jericho told Arab News that the Israeli army on Saturday set up military checkpoints at all main entrances to Jericho city and its camps, Aqbat Jabr and Ein Al-Sultan, and blocked secondary entrances with mounds of earth, causing great disruption to the lives of city residents and visitors.
“Some citizens and workers wait at the Israeli military checkpoints for four hours, and some are prevented from leaving Jericho,” Abu Nima said.
Jericho is the only place from which 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank can travel to other countries, so the checkpoints have affected people traveling abroad and those who are returning.
“As a journalist covering the events in West Bank, including Jenin and Nablus, I have not seen such Israeli military measures against entire cities as is happening now against Jericho,” Abu Nima said.
Meanwhile, an Israeli human rights organization has accused Israeli authorities of tolerating settler violence against Palestinians for more than 17 years.
Yesh Din said in a report published on Feb. 1 that only 3 percent of cases of ideological crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians in the West Bank during that time resulted in convictions and 93 percent of cases were closed with no indictment filed.
Data contained in the report showed that between 2005 and 2022, Israeli police failed to investigate 81.5 percent of alleged crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians and their property.
The researchers said: “The state of Israel is evading its duty to protect Palestinians from Israelis who seek to harm them in the West Bank, as international law requires.
“Yesh Din’s long-term monitoring of the results of police investigations into incidents of ideological crime committed by Israelis demonstrates the enduring systemic failures of the Israeli authorities to enforce the law on Israeli civilians who harm Palestinians and their property in occupied territory.
“The fact that this systemic failure has persisted for at least two decades indicates that this is a deliberate policy of the state of Israel, which normalizes ideological settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, supports it and then reaps the rewards resulting from it.”
In another development, the Israeli Cabinet is due to discuss a decision to stop recognizing degrees awarded by Palestinian universities.
Avi Dichter, the Israeli agriculture minister, who previously was chief of the Israeli spy agency Shin Bet, said: “During the studies of Palestinian students from Israel in Palestinian universities, they are exposed to anti-Israel materials and messages, with which they return to the country and pass on to their students.”
Sheeran Haskel, a member of the Likud Party, claimed that more than 20 percent of teachers in Arab schools in Israel had graduated from Palestinian universities “after they absorbed the implications of portraying Israel as an enemy.”
Thousand of Palestinians who live in Israel study at universities in the West Bank.


IAEA chides Iran for undeclared change to Fordow uranium enrichment setup

IAEA chides Iran for undeclared change to Fordow uranium enrichment setup
Updated 01 February 2023

IAEA chides Iran for undeclared change to Fordow uranium enrichment setup

IAEA chides Iran for undeclared change to Fordow uranium enrichment setup
  • IAEA found the change during an unannounced inspection on Jan. 21 at the Fordow Fuel enrichment Plant
  • Fordow is so sensitive that the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers banned enrichment there

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog criticized Iran on Wednesday for making an undeclared change to the interconnection between the two clusters of advanced machines enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity, close to weapons grade, at its Fordow plant.
The International Atomic Energy Agency found the change during an unannounced inspection on Jan. 21 at the Fordow Fuel enrichment Plant (FFEP), a site dug into a mountain where inspectors are stepping up checks after Iran said it would dramatically expand enrichment.
Fordow is so sensitive that the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers banned enrichment there. Since the United States pulled out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions against Iran, the Islamic Republic has breached many of the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear activities.
In a confidential report to member states seen by Reuters, the IAEA did not say how the interconnection between the two cascades of IR-6 centrifuges had been changed except that “they were interconnected in a way that was substantially different from the mode of operation declared by Iran (to the IAEA).”
In a public statement summarising that confidential report, the IAEA said its chief Rafael Grossi “is concerned that Iran implemented a substantial change in the design information of FFEP in relation to the production of high-enriched uranium without informing the Agency in advance.”
“This is inconsistent with Iran’s obligations under its Safeguards Agreement and undermines the Agency’s ability to adjust the safeguards approach for FFEP and implement effective safeguards measures at this facility.”
The IAEA has had regular access to Fordow to carry out verification activities like inspections and it is in talks with Iran on stepping up those activities, the report said.
“The Agency and Iran have continued their discussions. The Agency has increased the frequency and intensity of its verification activities at FFEP. However, some other safeguards measures are still required and are being discussed with Iran,” the report added.