UK Afghan relocation backlog reaches 71k as charities decry ‘restrictive’ criteria

The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy aims to relocate people who worked with UK forces during the country’s war until the Taliban takeover in 2021. (File/AFP)
The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy aims to relocate people who worked with UK forces during the country’s war until the Taliban takeover in 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 22 January 2023

UK Afghan relocation backlog reaches 71k as charities decry ‘restrictive’ criteria

The ARAP aims to relocate people who worked with UK forces during the country’s war until Taliban takeover in 2021. (File/AFP)
  • Applicants who “risked lives” serving British forces face “impossible choices,” says advocacy director

LONDON: Britain’s Afghan relocation scheme has a backlog of 71,149 applications from vulnerable people still stuck in the Taliban-led country, The Independent reported.

The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy aims to relocate people who worked with UK forces during the country’s war until the Taliban takeover in 2021.

Many are in imminent danger after waiting for months on their applications, charities have warned, amid a wave of reprisals in the country against those who worked with Western-led forces.

Figures from the UK Ministry of Defence show that more than 127,000 applications have been received since April 2021, with staff only recently assessing files from January 2022.

Charities have also described the ARAP criteria as “restrictive,” leading to many applicants “falling through the cracks” despite having served British interests in the country.

About 12,000 Afghans have been relocated to Britain through the scheme.

One Afghan waiting on a response to his ARAP application was told by the Ministry of Defence to acquire a birth certificate for his children through Taliban authorities.

Zehrah Hassan, advocacy director of the charity Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “The disgraceful ARAP figures reveal our government has slammed the door shut on vulnerable Afghans.”

She added: “People who have already risked their lives — working as interpreters, teachers and aid workers — will now face the impossible choice of risking persecution in Afghanistan or making their own perilous journeys here and facing criminalization.”

Refugee Council campaigns chief Mark Davies said: “It is unacceptable that so many Afghans are caught in the backlog of applications to the ARAP program, leaving them desperately unsafe in Afghanistan.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “Our priority, as set by ministers, is not simply processing a volume of applications but finding and relocating those Afghans who meet the ARAP criteria through direct service with the British Armed Forces.

“There are fewer than 1,000 interpreters and other staff yet to be allocated a place on the scheme. Our priority is finding them and bringing the individuals and their families to the UK.”


Traveling artist paints a different picture of Mauritania’s poor

Traveling artist paints a different picture of Mauritania’s poor
Updated 29 sec ago

Traveling artist paints a different picture of Mauritania’s poor

Traveling artist paints a different picture of Mauritania’s poor

NOUAKCHOTT: For the past decade, artist Seb Toussaint has traveled to some of the poorest parts of the world to paint brightly colored frescoes on the walls of downtrodden neighborhoods.

Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, the 35-year-old French British artist, who always paints an inspiring word at the heart of his work, is tackling a piece called “Future” in a dusty slum on the outskirts of Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott.

“The goal is to paint the words of those who don’t have a voice,” he says. He and two travel companions have daubed the sides of a sheet metal shack with a mural of geometric and undulating shapes in white, blue and baby pink.

As they work, children play in the dirt paths, rolling a tire or kicking a ball between makeshift homes, as curious women in colorful veils mill around.

Zaatar is a hodgepodge extension of the capital, where fishermen, construction workers, carpenters and casual workers have made their homes. The soil is too salt-laden to be cultivated, and there is little greenery aside from two ailing acacia trees.

Since 2013, Toussaint has painted walls of cement, wood, and corrugated iron with words in different languages and alphabets as part of his project, which he calls “Share the Word.”

There was “Humanity” in the Palestinian Territories, “Change” in Nepal, and “Freedom” in Iraq.

He earns a living painting murals in Europe and saves up to finance about two trips a year to spend a month in a slum or refugee camp, where he offers his services to residents. The homeowner will decide what word he wants highlighted in the mural.

Toussaint started his career painting “tifos” — vibrant choreographed displays held up by fans at football matches. 

He decided to dedicate himself to bringing “color to an environment where there is very little,” after being exposed to the harsh realities some people face when traveling the world on his bicycle a decade ago.

When he arrived in Zaatar in early January, “we played football with the kids. I explained in broken Arabic that the goal was to paint houses. One person said: I would like you to paint my house.”

“We have never had anyone turn us down,” he said. However, there is often an initial reluctance.

“We had our suspicions about their presence, but we quickly realized these guys had good intentions,” said fisherman Amar Mohamed Mahmoud, 52.

“They do a good job that brightens up the neighborhood.”

Mahmoud got a rare animal painting, “The Camel,” in shades of blue and fawn, in honor of the animal which plays an important role in Mauritanian society.

He has painted eight murals in the neighborhood, among them “Mum,” “Youth,” and “Friends,” whose colors dazzle in the sun-scorched neighborhood.

He estimates he has painted 222-word murals around the world, with a general fondness for the themes “Peace” and “Love.”

Some of his works last for years, while others are fleeting. Several murals disappeared when a migrant camp in Calais in northern France was dismantled.

The murals also become a backdrop for local music artists to shoot videos, he says. Once, in Nepal, one of his painted walls was used as a backdrop for a fashion shoot.


Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight
Updated 07 February 2023

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight
  • Lavrov made the remarks at a press conference during a visit to Bamako that the Russian envoy described as a ‘historic’ first
  • Lavrov promised Mali further military support and declared Russia’s wider backing for Africa in the face of what he described as the West’s ‘neo-colonial approach’

BAMAKO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday promised the Kremlin’s help for states in West Africa’s Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea which are facing a ruthless extremist insurgency.
“The fight against terrorism is of course an issue for the other countries in the region,” Lavrov said during a visit to Mali, which Russia is already helping militarily.
“We are going to provide our assistance to them to overcome these difficulties. This concerns Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad and the Sahel region generally and even the coastal states on the Gulf of Guinea,” he said.
Lavrov made the remarks at a press conference during a visit to Bamako that the Russian envoy described as a “historic” first.
Since seizing power in 2020, Mali’s ruling junta has brought in Russian planes, helicopters and paramilitaries to strengthen its fight against extremist militants.
The closer ties with the Kremlin have coincided with the departure of France, the country’s former colony and traditional ally, which says the Russian operatives are Wagner mercenaries.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the UN have implicated Wagner and the Malian army in an alleged massacre at Moura in central Mali last March in which several hundred people were rounded up and killed.
The landlocked state is the epicenter of an extremist insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012 and spread to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.
Thousands of civilians have died across the three countries, and millions have fled their homes.
Discontent within the military in Mali and Burkina has spurred two coups in both countries.
Sporadic cross-border attacks have also taken place in Togo, Benin and Ivory Coast in recent years, spurring fears that the extremists are seeking to push southwards to the Gulf of Guinea.
France wound down its long-running military presence in Mali in the face of mounting hostility with the junta and pulled out its last troops in 2022.
Similar tensions have recently broken out between France and Burkina Faso. The French military contingent there, a unit of special forces numbering around 400 men, is to be withdrawn this month.
Lavrov promised Mali further military support and declared Russia’s wider backing for Africa in the face of what he described as the West’s “neo-colonial approach.”
“We are going to provide our support for resolving problems on the African continent,” he said.
“We always start from the basis that African problems must be resolved by African solutions.”


German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW
Updated 07 February 2023

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW
  • The group Environmental Action Germany argued that manufacturers such as BMW pose a threat to people's right to property, health and life if they continue making vehicles that produce greenhouse gas emissions

BERLIN: A German court on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit by environmental campaigners seeking to force automaker BMW to stop selling vehicles with combustion engine by 2030.
The group Environmental Action Germany, also known by its German acronym DUH, argued that manufacturers such as BMW pose a threat to people’s right to property, health and life if they continue making vehicles that produce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Munich regional court ruled Tuesday that while the plaintiffs’ arguments couldn’t be dismissed from the outset, “at present there is no threat of illegal encroachment” of their rights.
Judges noted that German and European lawmakers, spurred partly by a 2021 ruling by Germany’s top court, have taken numerous measures to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord. As such there was no absence of laws that would warrant civil action against BMW “at last not at this time,” they said.
The Munich-based automaker welcomed the ruling, saying efforts to cut emissions should be determined by democratically elected parliaments, not in the courts.
DUH said it was satisfied the court had recognized the permissibility of their lawsuit in principle. It plans to appeal the ruling.
The group said vehicles sold by BMW in 2021 were responsible for more emissions of planet-heating carbon dioxide than countries such as Finland or Portugal produce in a year.
A similar lawsuit against Mercedes-Benz was rejected by a German court last year and the appeal is pending.
A third lawsuit, against energy company Wintershall Dea, is scheduled to be heard in August.


Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 

Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 
Updated 07 February 2023

Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 

Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 
  • In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases
  • Over 268,000 Filipino workers, mostly women employed as domestic helpers, live in Kuwait 

MANILA: Philippine lawmakers are calling on the government to review labor agreements with Kuwait after increasing reports of abuse, including a brutal murder, of Filipino migrant workers. 

The murder of 35-year-old maid Jullebee Ranara, whose charred body was found abandoned in a desert in late January, had sent shockwaves across the Philippines. She was one of over 268,000 Filipino workers living in Kuwait, a group of mostly women employed as domestic helpers. 

After Ranara’s murder, Philippine authorities tightened rules for recruitment agencies in Kuwait. In another case that emerged in the media recently, a Filipina worker in Kuwait was reportedly paralyzed after trying to escape her abusive employer. 

“There is growing clamor for a review of all labor agreements entered by the Philippines with countries of destination to determine specific guidelines and mechanisms needed for the protection of their human rights,” lawmaker Marissa Magsino said in a resolution introduced in the House of Representatives on Monday. 

The agreements, Magsino said, must not only ensure the welfare of overseas Filipino workers and guarantee their access to legal support but also “provide for serious consequences” in cases of abuse. 

She told Arab News on Tuesday that such bilateral labor agreements are very important, “especially with Kuwait,” where about 100 overseas Filipino workers were now at a shelter, waiting for repatriation. 

“They are those who were maltreated, abused, and then they ran away (from their employer),” the lawmaker, who is also a member of the House’s Overseas Workers Affairs committee, said. 

“The only reason why they are in the shelter is that it’s the last recourse for them to seek refuge, to be able to run away from their abusive employers.” 

Ranara’s murder was not the first such incident in Kuwait, where the 2018 killing of a Filipina domestic helper, Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment, led to the Philippines imposing a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country. 

The ban was partially lifted that same year after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers. 

But it was again introduced in January 2020, after the 2019 killings of Filipina maid Constancia Lago Dayag and Jeanelyn Villavende, who was tortured by her employer to death. 

The ban was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to hanging. 

According to Sen. Rafael Tulfo, another ban might be needed following the latest incidents. He has also called for a “tighter screening process on foreign employers to avoid abuse and maltreatment of (Overseas Filipino Workers),” his office said in a statement on Monday. 

“The senator,” the statement said, “maintained that his proposed deployment ban to Kuwait can be used as a leverage when the Philippine government sits down with Kuwait for bilateral talks.” 


India’s new Hajj policy promotes women’s pilgrimage, abolishes VIP quota

Muslim Indian pilgrims wait at Jeddah airport prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah. (File/AFP)
Muslim Indian pilgrims wait at Jeddah airport prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah. (File/AFP)
Updated 07 February 2023

India’s new Hajj policy promotes women’s pilgrimage, abolishes VIP quota

Muslim Indian pilgrims wait at Jeddah airport prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah. (File/AFP)
  • 500 spots in India’s annual Hajj quota previously reserved for VIPs
  • New policy allows women pilgrims to embark on Hajj individually

NEW DELHI: Indian authorities have abolished the VIP quota for pilgrims and allowed single women to apply as well, in a step they said on Tuesday was aimed at making the country’s pilgrimage policy more inclusive.

With more than 200 million Indians professing Islam, the Hindu-majority South Asian nation has the world’s largest Muslim-minority population. Every year, more than 150,000 Indian Muslims embark on Hajj, a spiritual journey and one of the five pillars of Islam.

While some of them need to wait years for their turn, there were 500 reserve spots set aside annually for top government officials — a practice that was stopped on Monday under the new Hajj policy released by the Ministry of Minority Affairs.

The new policy also increased the number of pilgrimage embarkation points from 10 to 25, and waived application fees.

A.P. Abdullakutty, chairman of the Haj Committee of India, a statutory body of the Indian government that organizes Islamic pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia, said: “In front of Allah everyone is the same therefore there is no need to have special quotas.”

The policy also allows women to apply individually.

“So far the policy was that women above 45 can travel in groups of four without a male companion, but this time a single woman can also apply,” Abdullakutty added.

A total of 175,000 pilgrims from India will embark on Hajj this year, with the journey of 80 percent of them being handled by the committee, and the remaining 20 percent by private operators.

S. Muawari Begum, vice chairperson of the Hajj committee, told Arab News the new policy was “people friendly and more inclusive toward women.”

India’s civil society saw the move also as a step for India in becoming more accepting of women’s independence.

“To be independent is a different thing and the society accepting the independence of a woman is a different thing,” Jamila Nishat, a women’s rights activist based in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, said.

“This is a good step. This is a step to accept the independence of women.”