‘Heartbroken’ headteacher slams UK government decision to relocate Afghan refugee teenagers about to sit exams

‘Heartbroken’ headteacher slams UK government decision to relocate Afghan refugee teenagers about to sit exams
Afghan development squad team players stand on the sidelines during a football match at the Dulwich Hamlet FC ground in London on March 29, 2022. (AFP file)
Short Url
Updated 13 March 2023

‘Heartbroken’ headteacher slams UK government decision to relocate Afghan refugee teenagers about to sit exams

‘Heartbroken’ headteacher slams UK government decision to relocate Afghan refugee teenagers about to sit exams
  • The two girls and their families have been living in so-called “bridging accommodation” in a hotel, but have been told they will be relocated by the end of March

LONDON: Two Afghan refugee girls who arrived in Britain following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 have been moved out of London weeks before taking their school-leaving exams by the UK Home Office, it was revealed on Saturday.

An Observer report said the two 16-year-old students at Fulham Cross Girls School in the city had been due to sit their GCSE exams, which start in the UK on May 15, but have been notified, along with their families, that they must leave London.

Their headteacher, Victoria Tully, told the newspaper she was “heartbroken” by the decision, adding the pair — and 13 other Afghan girls who enrolled at the school following their evacuation — would not find a school to take them in, or which would be using the same exam boards or textbooks.

The two girls and their families have been living in so-called “bridging accommodation” in a hotel, according to the Observer, but have been told they will be relocated by the end of March.

“I am heartbroken, these children have overcome unbelievable adversity, and despite living in a horrible hotel their work ethic has been through the roof, to take their GCSEs away seems barbaric,” Tully told the newspaper.

“The girls spoke no English when they arrived, but have blossomed due to their sunny natures and incredible hard work,” she said.

“One of the girls, Zara, came to me very upset last week and said: ‘Miss, they are moving us, please don’t let them.’” 

According to the report, Zara, who hopes to become an engineer, was due to take exams in English, mathematics and science, but is now being relocated to Northamptonshire — more than 60 miles away.

British passport-holder Adib Kochai, Zara’s father, told the Observer: “I told local council officials I would rather sleep on the streets than go to Northampton, my wife is disabled and very ill and waiting for an operation in London, my daughter is going to take her exams. I said: ‘Please, please keep us here.’”

Along with his disabled wife and Zara, Kochai also cares for three other daughters, three sons and a granddaughter in a hotel where conditions are “very bad” he said.

Lawyers for them and other “vulnerable” families who were relocated to London from Afghanistan during the evacuation program in 2021 have slammed the decision as “disgraceful” and made without “consideration given to individual needs.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office said all local authorities where Afghan refugees are moved to have a “legal obligation” to provide a school place within appropriate catchment areas within three weeks to avoid disruption.

“We are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,500 Afghan evacuees, but there is a shortage of local authority housing for all in London and hotels do not provide a long-term solution,” the spokesperson said.


Ukraine demands emergency UN meeting over Putin nuclear plan

Ukraine demands emergency UN meeting over Putin nuclear plan
Updated 10 sec ago

Ukraine demands emergency UN meeting over Putin nuclear plan

Ukraine demands emergency UN meeting over Putin nuclear plan
  • Putin said his plan was triggered by a UK decision this past week to provide Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium

KYIV: Ukraine’s government on Sunday called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to “counter the Kremlin’s nuclear blackmail” after Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed plans to station tactical atomic weapons in Belarus.
One Ukrainian official said Russia “took Belarus as a nuclear hostage.”
Further heightening tensions, an explosion deep inside Russia wounded three people Sunday. Russian authorities blamed a Ukrainian drone for the blast, which damaged residential buildings in a town just 175 kilometers (110 miles) south of Moscow.
Russia has said the plan to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus comes in response to the West’s increasing military support for Ukraine. Putin announced the plan in a TV interview that aired Saturday, saying it was triggered by a UK decision this past week to provide Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium.
Putin argued that by deploying its tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russia was following the lead of the United States. He noted that Washington has nuclear weapons based in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkiye.
“We are doing what they have been doing for decades, stationing them in certain allied countries, preparing the launch platforms and training their crews,” he said.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry condemned the move in a statement Sunday and demanded an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
“Ukraine expects effective action to counter the Kremlin’s nuclear blackmail by the UK, China, the US and France,” the statement read, saying these countries “have a special responsibility” regarding nuclear aggression.
“The world must be united against someone who endangers the future of human civilization,” the statement said.
Ukraine has not commented on Sunday’s explosion inside Russia. It left a crater about 15 meters (50 feet) in diameter and five meters deep (16 feet), according to media reports.
Russian state-run news agency Tass reported authorities identified the drone as a Ukrainian Tu-141. The Soviet-era drone was reintroduced in Ukraine in 2014, and has a range of about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).
The explosion took place in the town of Kireyevsk in the Tula region, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) from the border with Ukraine. Russia’s Defense Ministry said the drone crashed after an electronic jamming system disabled its navigation.
Similar drone attacks have been common during the war, although Ukraine hardly ever acknowledges responsibility. On Monday, Russia said Ukrainian drones attacked civilian facilities in the town of Dzhankoi in Russia-annexed Crimea. Ukraine’s military said several Russian cruise missiles were destroyed, but did not specifically claim responsibility.
In December, the Russian military reported several Ukrainian drone attacks on long-range bomber bases deep inside Russia. The Russian Defense Ministry said the drones were shot down, but acknowledged that their debris damaged some aircraft and killed several servicemen.
Also, Russian authorities have reported attacks by small drones in the Bryansk and Belgorod regions on the border with Ukraine.
On Saturday, Putin argued that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has long asked to have nuclear weapons in his country again to counter NATO. Belarus shares borders with three NATO members — Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — and Russia used Belarusian territory as a staging ground to send troops into neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
Both Lukashenko’s support of the war and Putin’s plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus has been denounced by the Belarusian opposition.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, tweeted Sunday that Putin’s announcement was “a step toward internal destabilization” of Belarus that maximized “the level of negative perception and public rejection” of Russia and Putin in Belarusian society. The Kremlin, Danilov added, “took Belarus as a nuclear hostage.”
Tactical nuclear weapons are intended for use on the battlefield and have a short range and a low yield compared with much more powerful nuclear warheads fitted to long-range missiles. Russia plans to maintain control over the ones it sends to Belarus, and construction of storage facilities for them will be completed by July 1, Putin said.
Russia has stored its tactical nuclear weapons at dedicated depots on its territory, and moving part of the arsenal to a storage facility in Belarus would up the ante in the Ukrainian conflict by placing them closer to Russian aircraft and missiles already stationed there.
The US said it would “monitor the implications” of Putin’s announcement. So far, Washington hasn’t seen “any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.
In Germany, the foreign ministry called it a “further attempt at nuclear intimidation,” German news agency dpa reported late Saturday. The ministry went on to say that “the comparison drawn by President Putin to NATO’s nuclear participation is misleading and cannot be used to justify the step announced by Russia.”


French PM offers to meet opposition, unions amid pension crisis

French PM offers to meet opposition, unions amid pension crisis
Updated 10 min 59 sec ago

French PM offers to meet opposition, unions amid pension crisis

French PM offers to meet opposition, unions amid pension crisis
  • PM pledged not to use constitutional powers to adopt legislation without a vote again except for on budget bills

PARIS: French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne plans to meet with opposition leaders and trade unions in the hope of ending weeks of protests against a new pension law, her office said on Sunday.
Demonstrations against the pension reform, which will raise the retirement age by two years, turned violent after the government pushed through the legislation this month without a final parliamentary vote.
President Emmanuel Macron has ruled out scrapping or delaying the legislation, tasking his prime minister with finding fresh support in parliament after the government failed to find enough votes for the bill.
Borne will meet with political party leaders and also aims to restart dialogue with unions over labor issues, her office said, without mentioning the pension bill.
The prime minister added in an interview with AFP that the meetings with opposition and union leaders would take place in the week starting April 3.
She also pledged not to use constitutional powers to adopt legislation without a vote again except for on budget bills, AFP said.
It is unclear if the government’s attempt to draw a line under the pension crisis will calm a majority of the public hostile to the reform and demonstrators exasperated by the adoption of the legislation without a final vote.
Unions have scheduled a 10th day of nationwide protests against the pension law on Tuesday, after a previous day of action last Thursday saw the most violent clashes yet with police.
The head of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger, last week proposed that Macron pause the law for six months to seek a possible compromise.


Albania calls for amnesty for ‘honest’ citizens in the UK illegally

Albania calls for amnesty for ‘honest’ citizens in the UK illegally
Updated 26 March 2023

Albania calls for amnesty for ‘honest’ citizens in the UK illegally

Albania calls for amnesty for ‘honest’ citizens in the UK illegally
  • Interior minister asks British counterpart for countrymen to be given work visas

LONDON: Albania has called for an amnesty for its “honest” citizens living in the UK without visas as part of the agreement to tackle people-smuggling gangs and illegal migration, the Sunday Telegraph has reported.

Bledar Cuci, the Albanian interior minister, met his British counterpart Suella Braverman during a visit to the UK with Prime Minister Edi Rama this week. He stated that the problem of illegal migration could not be solved unless the UK government “improved” its approach to legal settlement.

Cuci requested that the UK’s work visa scheme be relaxed to allow more Albanians to enter for employment, including seasonal work, as well as an amnesty for those who were already in the country without permission. 

“I asked her to give an amnesty for all Albanians without a visa but are honest without criminal records. Albanians are a vital community and well-integrated in the UK,” Cuci said. “It is unacceptable to single out the Albanian community in the UK and to be stereotyped due to some illegals.”

A source close to Braverman told the Telegraph that she was “happy to meet with minister Cuci to discuss the UK’s relations with Albania. She explained that Britons would always welcome Albanians traveling to the UK legally, and that she had great respect for their country. 

“She also listened to his proposals with interest,” the source added. 

Roughly one-third of the 45,700 people who crossed the English Channel in small boats in 2022 were Albanians. Around 800 of them have since been deported and thousands more remain in detention.

The UK has an agreement with Albania to expedite the return of those who cross the channel, and another for the early deportation of all eligible Albanian inmates in British prisons so that they can serve their remaining sentence in their home country.


Afghan woman in Glasgow fears for her life after UK rejects her visa

Afghan woman in Glasgow fears for her life after UK rejects her visa
Updated 26 March 2023

Afghan woman in Glasgow fears for her life after UK rejects her visa

Afghan woman in Glasgow fears for her life after UK rejects her visa
  • Maryam Amiri says she’s been threatened for criticizing the Taliban
  • Glasgow MP slams Home Office for lack of care, professionalism

LONDON: An Afghan woman living in Glasgow fears being deported to her country after her new visa was rejected by the Home Office.

Maryam Amiri has urged the UK government to reconsider its decision.

Amiri told Sky News that her family has already received threats due to her views on the Taliban and its decision on women’s rights. She also stated that her husband, who is also Afghan, works for British forces and that forcing either of them to return would be dangerous.

The Home Office said that Amiri is not eligible for leave to remain under the five-year or 10-year partner route, despite having been granted two shorter visa periods since 2016, PA News Agency reported.

The decision notice also said that Amiri does not satisfy the minimum income requirement and that the Home Secretary has not seen any evidence of “insurmountable obstacles” to the couple continuing their lives together in Afghanistan.

“I have always been vocal against the Taliban and their brutal regime,” Amiri told the PA News Agency.

Amiri also disagreed with the Home Office’s decision to return her to a country “where women are not secure,” particularly women who have “always been vocal against the Taliban.”

“I feel threatened and am scared of losing my life if I go back,” she said.

“I have put my life in trouble by opposing the Taliban and their activities,” Amiri added.

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, slammed the Home Office decision, saying Amiri’s return to life in Afghanistan was “dangerous” and failed to account for the country’s changes since 2016.

“The idea that you can just send people back and everything will be fine, that’s just not sensible, not practical,” Thewliss told Sky News.

“It’s dangerous and the Home Office should really know better before putting something like this out,” Thewliss added.

She continued: “I think her case highlights just the lack of care, the lack of attention, the lack of professionalism in the Home Office.”

Amiri’s case was raised in the House of Commons with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on an individual case.

Concerning Amira’s visa, a Home Office spokesperson told Sky News: “All visa applications are decided on individual merits. We don’t routinely comment on individual cases.”


Ex-boxing champ Amir Khan thought he could die during London robbery

Former world boxing champion Amir Khan has said he feared his children would grow up fatherless after he was robbed at gunpoint.
Former world boxing champion Amir Khan has said he feared his children would grow up fatherless after he was robbed at gunpoint.
Updated 26 March 2023

Ex-boxing champ Amir Khan thought he could die during London robbery

Former world boxing champion Amir Khan has said he feared his children would grow up fatherless after he was robbed at gunpoint.
  • Olympic silver medalist was robbed at gunpoint for watch during Ramadan last year
  • He feared his children would grow up ‘without their dad,’ has since moved his family to Dubai

LONDON: Former world boxing champion Amir Khan has said he feared his children would grow up fatherless after he was robbed at gunpoint in London last year.

Khan, 36, had been dining at the Sahara Grill restaurant with his wife Faryal Makhdoom, 31, and their friend Omar Khalid to break their Ramadan fast on April 18, before Khan and Makhdoom were confronted outside by a gunman.

Dante Campbell, 20, stole a Franck Muller watch worth up to £70,000 ($85,000), having pointed a gun at Khan and instructed him to “take off the watch.”

The watch — a bespoke present made of rose gold and encrusted with diamonds — has not been recovered.

Khan, originally from Bolton in the north of England, told The Sun: “In that moment, you think the worst … that the kids could be growing up without their dad, that Faryal would be raising them on her own.

“Your life flashes before your eyes. I leant my head to the right because I thought, if he is going to shoot me, he can shoot the side of my head. I don’t want to see the bullet coming.”

Khan, an Olympic silver medalist in 2004 who retired from professional boxing last year having won 34 of his 40 professional fights, said: “It was the first time I’ve ever seen a gun in my life. I could see down the barrel. I remember looking back seeing where my wife was. She ran back on the road and screamed ‘help!’”

Makhdoom told The Sun that she thought she and her husband “were going to die on the spot.”

Asked if he should have used his boxing abilities to fight off Campbell, Khan said: “I’ve got a family. It’s only a watch. My life means more to me. When you have kids, you have a priority to make sure they are looked after. I am the breadwinner for the family.

“If I was with the kids, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Maybe I would have panicked and tried to run.”

Khan added that the incident had forced him to relocate his family to Dubai, and that when back in the UK, he spent £600 per day on security.

“I love England,” he said. “I won a medal for the country, but I stay in Dubai now because it’s the only place I feel safe.”

Campbell and his getaway driver, 25-year-old Ahmed Bana — both from north London — admitted conspiracy to commit robbery and possession of an imitation firearm at their trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court. They are due to be sentenced at a later date.

Two men accused of being “spotters” inside the restaurant for Campbell and Bana to target Khan — Ismail Mohamed, 24, and Nurul Amin, 25 — both from north London, were acquitted of conspiracy to commit robbery.