LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called on the Iranian government to provide answers about the death and burial of British-Iranian dual national Alireza Akbari who was executed by Iran earlier this month.
“The regime is prolonging the suffering of the family and it is sadly typical of that disregard for basic human dignity,” Sunak told parliament.
“Iran must now provide answers about the circumstances of his death and his burial.”
On Jan. 14, Tehran defied calls from the UK and the US and executed Akbari, who once served as Iran’s deputy defense minister.
That prompted London to impose a fresh round of sanctions on Iranian officials earlier this week.
Labour lawmaker Andy Slaughter said he was due to meet a British foreign office minister on Thursday along with the family of Akbari, who had lived in Slaughter’s constituency, to seek the government’s help at “this time of greatest suffering.”
UNHCR launches Islamic Philanthropy Report with Abdulaziz Al-Ghurair Refugee Education Fund at joint event in Dubai
Agency in partnership for the first time to demonstrate strength of Gulf support
Updated 51 min 59 sec ago
Rebecca Anne Proctor
DUBAI: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has launched its annual Islamic Philanthropy Report for the first time in partnership with the Abdulaziz Al-Ghurair Refugee Education Fund at a joint event in Dubai.
The report details the importance of engaging Islamic philanthropy tools and their increased role in attending to the needs of displaced people globally.
There are now more than 100 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, according to the UN. The number is likely to reach 117 million by the end of the year.
Khaled Khalifa, UNHCR’s senior adviser and representative to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, said the Muslim world or Organization of Islamic Cooperation states accounted for more than 50 percent of the caseload of refugees globally.
The UN began the Refugee Zakat Fund in 2017 due to an increasing desire by donors and institutions to provide funds to refugees. The fund has helped around 6 million forcibly displaced persons since its inception.
The UNHCR assisted over 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced people in 21 countries with zakat and sadaqah contributions in 2022.
Partners included His Excellency Sheikh Thani bin Abdullah bin Thani Al Thani and Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, in addition to UNHCR’s global Ramadan and winter campaigns, and the Refugee Zakat Fund mobile app.
Zakat, an Islamic financial term, is one of the pillars of Islam. It requires all Muslims to donate a portion of their wealth to charity. Muslims must meet a certain threshold before they can qualify for zakat. Once they do, the amount given is 2.5 percent of an individual’s total savings and wealth.
Over the last 15 years the Middle East has experienced a dramatic flood of refugees and forced migration, particularly due to the wars in Syria and Iraq, as well as those fleeing wars and failed states in Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and Afghanistan.
His Excellency Abdulaziz Al-Ghurair, chairman of Abdulla Al-Ghurair Foundation, said during the event’s keynote speech: “The Middle East and North Africa is facing grave challenges.
“The region has one of the highest unemployment rates globally for youths under 25 and is home to over 16 million refugees and displaced people.
“We cannot ignore this reality around us. If Islamic philanthropy is effectively applied, as it was intended, it will lead to a long-term sustainability that gives the most vulnerable the chance to become financially independent and self-sufficient.”
Al-Ghurair in 2018 launched the Refugee Education Fund which focuses on beneficiaries in Lebanon and Jordan. It provides $32 million to support 20,000 refugees to enroll in secondary, vocational, and tertiary education over three years.
Jordan hosts 760,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR. Some 670,000 of those are from Syria, making Jordan the second-largest host of Syrian refugees per capita globally behind Lebanon.
Danah Dajani, director of partnerships and programs at Abdulla Al-Ghurair Foundation, told Arab News: “Prior to the refugee crisis, Jordan and Lebanon faced huge unemployment and poverty so they had a double burden, and we are trying to alleviate this through education, which provides access to jobs and a better life.”
It is increasingly difficult for refugees to gain access to education. According to the UNHCR, 68 percent of school-aged refugee children are enrolled in primary school, 37 percent of refugee youth are enrolled in secondary education, while only 6 percent are in higher education.
Al-Ghurair told Arab News: “Access to equitable and quality education is at the heart of the Refugee Education Fund, to enable a better future for refugees across the region.
“With the help of partners like UNHCR, the fund has been able to substantially improve the life chances of more than 60,000 vulnerable youth in Jordan and Lebanon since the launch in 2018.”
This year marks the first time the Islamic Philanthropy Report has been launched in partnership with the Refugee Education Fund.
The report indicates that the Refugee Zakat Fund has enabled UNHCR to support around 6 million refugees and IDPs in 26 countries since it was piloted in 2017.
This figure includes more than 1.5 million refugees and IDPs assisted in 2022.
Al-Ghurair told Arab News: “Islamic philanthropy is one of the largest untapped resources for joint humanitarian work.
“This is significant at a time when we are addressing multiple global crises. We need to collaborate and make concerted efforts to ensure giving is efficient and effective.”
There has been an increased recognition over the last five years of the potential for Muslim philanthropy, with the UN calling for innovative methods and new partnerships, such as the Zakat Refugee Fund, to utilize Islamic financial resources to search for solutions.
“Islamic philanthropy itself is as old as Islam,” says Khalifa. “We are only utilizing the tools of Islamic philanthropy that have been tried and tested over the centuries, but it is something new for the UN. We decided to step into this field because we felt that we could add value, because we saw that 50 percent of the caseload of displaced persons were coming from the states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.”
Khalifa says the last 10 years have seen no drop in the numbers of people forcibly displaced.
He said: “The trajectory is going up because of conflicts that contribute to 80 percent of the problem worldwide, due to persecution in many places because of human rights abuses, and most recently because of climate issues.
“We are also witnessing a spike in the number of climate displacement persons worldwide, and we hope that individuals and governments and institutions will feel the plight of people in need, especially because some of them are suffering or facing a double crisis at the same time, like the Syrians who are really living in a state of emergency due to the recent earthquake.”
Khalifa added that the UN also covers the expenses of the distribution of the fund from its general budget. Moreover, the money from the fund is distributed in cash.
He added: “We receive a million dollars, we distribute a million dollars, and we report on a million dollars, and we cover everything else, even the bank transfers from other sources.”
UNHCR and the Islamic Development Bank launched the Global Islamic Fund for Refugees at the end of March 2022. The fund is a sustainable and Shariah-compliant resource mobilization instrument that will open new Islamic philanthropy funding in support of millions of forcibly displaced people.
Khalifa said: “Until now, most of our Islamic revenue funding has come from the Gulf.
“Saudi Arabia is one of our largest supporters and donors, particularly through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center.”
Al-Ghurair told Arab News: “Philanthropists can help elevate funds where resources are constrained to support better results, and the accountability will generate greater trust that helps support governments to meet the increasing demand for education as the challenges multiply.
“With Ramadan approaching, I urge all fellow philanthropists to come together to support and improve the lives of the future leaders of tomorrow.”
Yemeni government and Houthis agree to release hundreds of detainees
UN envoy Hans Grundberg said the prisoner exchange is one more reason to be optimistic that things are finally moving in the right direction in Yemen
He added that he senses there is now a greater will to resolve the conflict, following the recent Saudi-Iranian rapprochement
Updated 21 March 2023
NEW YORK CITY: The Yemeni government and the Houthis on Monday agreed to release 887 detainees, following 10 days of negotiations in Geneva, the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
They added that both sides have also agreed to visit each other’s detention facilities, grant the delegations full access to all detainees during those visits, and to meet again in May to discuss further prisoner swaps.
Hans Grundberg, the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, described the deal as one more reason to believe things are moving “in the right direction” toward a resolution of a conflict that has ravaged the country for more than eight years and caused one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world.
“For hundreds of Yemeni families, today is a good day,” said Grundberg. “Unfortunately, Yemen doesn’t experience as many good days as it deserves. So, I warmly congratulate all involved for this achievement. Today, hundreds of Yemeni families can look forward to reuniting with their loved ones.
“But it is important to remember that when the parties committed to the Detainees’ Exchange Agreement they made a promise, not just to each other, but to thousands of Yemeni families who have been living with the pain of separation from those dearest to them for far too long.”
Referring to the announcement on March 10 of the resumption of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Grundberg added that he senses there is now “a willingness to engage in a positive direction on trying to come to a settlement on the conflict in Yemen.”
During a UN Security Council meeting last week, Grundberg welcomed the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran and said the region was witnessing a “step change in the scope and depth” of talks to end the long-running conflict in Yemen.
At the same time, he urged all those involved in the conflict to seize the opportunity offered by this “renewed regional diplomatic momentum” and take “decisive steps toward a more peaceful future.”
On Monday, he said a “comprehensive and sustainable end to the conflict is necessary if Yemen is to recover from the devastating toll the eight-year conflict has had on its men and women.”
According to a message posted on Twitter by the head of the Houthis’ prisoner affairs committee, Abdul Qader Al-Murtada, and the militia’s chief negotiator, Mohammed Abdulsalam, the Houthis have agreed to release 181 detainees, including 15 Saudis and three Sudanese nationals, in exchange for 706 prisoners held by the Yemeni government. The exchange will take place in three weeks, they added.
“It’s an expression of hope, it’s an expression of humanity and it indicates the way ahead for all parties to the conflict,” said Fabrizio Carboni, the International Committee of the Red Cross’s regional director for the Middle East, who was sitting between representatives of the two delegations on Monday.
The talks, which took place near the Swiss capital, Bern, were the latest in a series of meetings under the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement, which previously led to the release of prisoners in 2020 and 2022.
Grundberg thanked the Swiss government for hosting the negotiations, and Jordan for hosting a number meetings of the supervisory committee.
Jordan summons Israeli envoy to protest over flag of expanded Israel
Updated 21 March 2023
AMMAN: Jordan on Monday summoned the Israeli ambassador to protest over the behavior of an Israel minister who spoke at a podium that had an Israeli flag with expanded borders that incorporated the kingdom and the Palestinian territories.
Earlier Amman condemned the ultra-nationalist Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s move saying it was a provocative move by an “extremist” and “racist” minister that violated international norms and Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel.
Donors pledge $7.5 billion for Turkiye, Syria after quake
Nearly 300,000 buildings in Turkiye either collapsed or were severely damaged, according to Erdogan
“We have shown to the people in Turkiye and Syria that we are supporting those in need,” Von der Leyen said
Updated 20 March 2023
BRUSSELS: The European Union and international donors on Monday pledged seven billion euros ($7.5 billion) to help Turkiye and Syria in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated parts of the neighboring countries last month.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU’s executive arm, said 3.3 billion euros ($3.5 billion) of the total amount will be raised by the 27-nation bloc.
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake on Feb. 6 killed more than 52,000 people — the vast majority in Turkiye. Nearly 300,000 buildings in Turkiye either collapsed or were severely damaged, according to the country’s president.
“We have shown to the people in Turkiye and Syria that we are supporting those in need,” Von der Leyen said, adding that the global pledge included 1.1 billion euros from the EU’s executive arm, and 500 millions from the European Investment Bank, backed by the EU budget.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed the conference via videolink and described some of the reconstruction challenges, including deadly floods that hit parts of the earthquake zone last week.
“Some of the aftershocks have been going on for a while and they are of equal magnitude to a separate earthquake,” he said. “We have been fighting against the flood disasters and challenging weather conditions.”
Erdogan said some 298,000 buildings across 11 provinces affected by the earthquake were destroyed or left unfit for use.
“No single country can fight against such a disaster, regardless of its level of economic development,” he said, putting the cost of reconstruction at $104 billion. “Your contributions made at this conference will contribute to the healing of wounds and wipe clean the traces of this disaster.”
The conference hosted by the European Commission and Sweden — which holds the rotating presidency of the EU — was attended by NGOs, G-20 countries and UN members as well as international financial institutions.
Survivors of the earthquake in rebel-held northwest Syria have received very little assistance because of deep divisions exacerbated by the country’s 12-year war. The EU said 15.3 million Syrians of a population of 21.3 million already required humanitarian assistance before the earthquake struck.
The bloc has been providing humanitarian aid to Syria since 2011 and wants to step it up. But it does not intend to help with reconstruction in the war-torn country, with EU sanctions against the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad in place due to its continued crackdown against civilians.
Von der Leyen said the Commission pledged an additional 108 million euros ($115.8 million) in humanitarian aid for Syria on Monday.
“All together we managed to raise with our partners 950 million euros ($1 billion) for the people in Syria,” she said. “This is just the first step.”
The International Rescue Committee, an aid group responding to humanitarian crises, had urged donors to ensure that the UN’s appeal for Turkiye and Syria — calling for $1 billion and $397 million respectively — is fully funded.
“The people affected by this devastating earthquake are relying on donors meeting in Brussels to step up this week,” said Tanya Evans, the IRC’s Country Director in Syria. “They need to ensure that funding is available for life-saving items including food, shelter, warm clothes and clean water, as well as support to the already weak health care system including the provision of medicines and medical equipment. If they fail to do so, the most vulnerable will pay the price,” she added.
UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain happiest Arab states during pandemic: study
Lebanon ranks second-last out of 137 countries in World Happiness Report
Out of the 137 countries measured, the top three Arab countries were the UAE at 26, Saudi Arabia at 30 and Bahrain at 42
Updated 20 March 2023
LONDON: The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain were the happiest Arab countries from 2020 to 2022, according to the World Happiness Report, which was published on Monday.
Lebanon, suffering from economic malaise and a political crisis, was the unhappiest Arab state and second-last out of the 137 countries measured in the study.
The report, titled “World Happiness, Trust and Social Connections in Times of Crisis,” surveyed respondents from around the world for the three years spanning the COVID-19 pandemic.
It measured well-being through three main indicators: life evaluations, positive emotions and negative emotions. Happiness rankings were based on a three-year average of life evaluations.
Several variables were also considered in the study, including gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and freedom from corruption.
“Only at the extremes do country rankings for life evaluations differ significantly from all others — Finland at the top and Afghanistan and Lebanon at the bottom,” the report said.
Out of the 137 countries measured, the top three Arab countries were the UAE at 26, Saudi Arabia at 30 and Bahrain at 42.
The three Gulf states were the only Arab countries out of the 13 listed that were in the top third of the global list.
Nine Arab countries were not listed: Djibouti, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The bottom half of the rankings included Algeria (81), Iraq (98), Palestine (99), Morocco (100), Mauritania (103), Tunisia (110), Egypt (121), Jordan (123), Comoros (130) and Lebanon (136). The only country listed behind Lebanon was Afghanistan.
The World Happiness Report highlighted several surprising findings, including that the number of benevolent acts in 2022 measured about a quarter higher than before the pandemic.
The gathered data appeared to confirm a range of studies showing that higher public trust led to more successful pandemic responses in countries around the world.
“The benefits of high trust were especially great for those in conditions of adversity, including ill-health, unemployment, low income, discrimination and unsafe streets,” the report said.
It added that its life evaluation metric “continued to be remarkably resilient,” with global averages throughout the pandemic measuring “just as high as those in the pre-pandemic years from 2017-2019.”