UN migration agency can not meddle in domestic debates, says boss

UN migration agency can not meddle in domestic debates, says boss
Antonio Vitorino, head of UN’s migration agency, says that ‘migration has become a highly politicized area, and even a highly polarized area.’ (AFP)
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Updated 20 March 2023
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UN migration agency can not meddle in domestic debates, says boss

UN migration agency can not meddle in domestic debates, says boss
  • Antonio Vitorino is standing for re-election as director general of the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration

GENEVA: The UN’s migration agency should not get itself dragged into domestic policy debates, its chief Antonio Vitorino said, as he seeks a second term leading the organization.
“Migration has become a highly politicized area, and even a highly polarized area,” the 66-year-old former Portuguese deputy prime minister said.
“Some people would like us to be more vocal in some moments of the internal migration debate, but we do not take sides,” he said, noting how the topic is being fiercely debated in countries like Britain, France and the United States.
Vitorino is standing for re-election as director general of the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration.
The vote takes place in mid-May and Vitorino is in the unusual position of being challenged for the job by his American deputy Amy Pope.
The IOM was founded in 1951 to deal with the displacements in Europe following World War II.
But it was only in 2016 that it joined the United Nations fold, and its boss, unlike the chiefs of other UN agencies, does not single out countries for criticism.
Vitorino acknowledged that the organization could communicate better about what it is and what it does.
But he says the IOM must have a balanced approach toward migration and is not set up to praise or criticize countries since it is not there to verify the implementation of an international treaty or agreement, like the better-known UN refugee agency UNHCR or the UN Human Rights office.
Still, he insisted that the IOM knew how to raise its concerns.
“For instance, considering the European Union, we have been claiming for quite some time that there is a need to address the search and rescue needs in the Mediterranean,” he said.
“And we are very pleased with the fact that recently the European Commission has published a document with a strategy for the central Mediterranean that is exactly taking on board our claim.”
A politician and a lawyer, Vitorino was Portugal’s defense minister and deputy PM from 1995 to 1997 in the government of Antonio Guterres, who is now the UN secretary-general.
He was then the European commissioner for justice and home affairs from 1999 to 2004.
Vitorino was elected to the IOM leadership by member states in 2018, becoming only the second non-American to lead the agency in seven decades.
The agency has 175 member states, with the United States followed by the European Union bloc as its main financial contributors.
“All my predecessors for 70 years made two mandates, and I don’t see any reason for a successful first mandate not to be followed by a second mandate,” Vitorino said.
He said he was counting on “very strong support from the European countries” and “strong encouragement” from other nations in other regions.
He declined to comment on being challenged by his deputy, beyond saying: “It is the first time that it happens in IOM.”
As for claims that he has not traveled much in his job, he said: “If I recall correctly, I have been 15 times to Africa until the end of 2022.”
“And I would like the critics to take into consideration that for two years, we were locked down – if they have already forgotten the pandemic.”
“I’m pretty confident that my work deserves to be supported and continuous,” he said, pointing out the key role the IOM is playing in Ukraine and Haiti, two of the world’s major crises.
He wants to continue reforms to improve the IOM’s efficiency and to make the organization more financially stable, as currently 95 percent of its budget depends on voluntary contributions from its member states, who pick which projects they fund.
The IOM must also adapt to new challenges, Vitorino said, such as the growing numbers of children migrating alone, migration flows linked to climate change, and even “digital nomads” – people working remotely from other countries.
And time is pressing because nowadays, “there are more people on the move because of climate change than because of conflicts,” he said.


US to sanction over 500 targets involved in Russia ‘war machine’: Treasury

US to sanction over 500 targets involved in Russia ‘war machine’: Treasury
Updated 13 sec ago
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US to sanction over 500 targets involved in Russia ‘war machine’: Treasury

US to sanction over 500 targets involved in Russia ‘war machine’: Treasury

WASHINGTON: The United States plans to impose sanctions on more than 500 targets involved in Russia’s war in Ukraine, as fighting continues to rage two years after Moscow’s invasion, the Treasury Department said Thursday.

The action to be rolled out on Friday will hit “Russia, its enablers, and its war machine,” a Treasury spokesperson told AFP.


Four men charged in US with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons

Four men charged in US with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons
Updated 23 February 2024
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Four men charged in US with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons

Four men charged in US with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons

WASHINGTON: Four men have been charged after the US Navy interdicted a vessel in the Arabian Sea last month that was transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons, the US Justice Department said on Thursday.

Two US Navy Seals died during the interdiction, which happened in international waters near the coast of Somalia.

In a statement following the seizure of the vessel, the US Central Command said the seized contraband consisted of both "Iranian-made ballistic missile and cruise missiles components."

"Seized items include propulsion, guidance, and warheads for Houthi medium range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), as well as air defense associated components,"  CENTCOM said.

"Initial analysis indicates these same weapons have been employed by the Houthis to threaten and attack innocent mariners on international merchant ships transiting in the Red Sea," it said.

The weapons parts were seized from a dhow — a traditional masted sailing vessel — which was deemed unsafe and sunk. Fourteen crewmembers were taken into custody.

The seizure of the weapons came after US and British forces hit scores of rebel targets across Yemen, a move triggered by the rebels' repeated attacks on shipping.

Attacks by and against the Huthis, part of the "axis of resistance" of Iran-aligned groups, have raised concerns about violence spreading in the region from the Gaza war.

The Houthis say their attacks on Red Sea shipping are in solidarity with Gaza, where Iran-backed Hamas militants have been at war with Israel for more than three months.


France expels “radical” Tunisian imam — interior minister

France expels “radical” Tunisian imam — interior minister
Updated 23 February 2024
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France expels “radical” Tunisian imam — interior minister

France expels “radical” Tunisian imam — interior minister
  • “The radical Imam Mahjoub Mahjoubi has just been expelled from the national territory,” Darmanin said

PARIS: France has expelled a Tunisian imam for “radicalism” and “unacceptable remarks,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in a statement on X.
“The radical Imam Mahjoub Mahjoubi has just been expelled from the national territory, less than 12 hours after his arrest. We will not let people get away with anything,” Darmanin said in a statement on X.


Navalny mother says being pressured into ‘secret’ burial

Navalny mother says being pressured into ‘secret’ burial
Updated 22 February 2024
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Navalny mother says being pressured into ‘secret’ burial

Navalny mother says being pressured into ‘secret’ burial
  • The Navalny case remained in the international spotlight with US President Joe Biden meeting the Russian politician’s widow and daughter, Yulia and Dasha Navalnaya, in San Francisco
  • Lyudmila Navalnaya, mother of President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critic, said she had been shown his body in a morgue in Salekhard

MOSCOW: The mother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in an Arctic prison last week, said Thursday officials were pressuring her to agree to a “secret” burial for her son.
The Navalny case remained in the international spotlight with US President Joe Biden meeting the Russian politician’s widow and daughter, Yulia and Dasha Navalnaya, in San Francisco on Thursday.
Lyudmila Navalnaya, mother of President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critic, said she had been shown his body in a morgue in Salekhard, the nearest town to the remote prison, after several days of being refused access.
“Yesterday evening they secretly took me to the morgue where they showed me Alexei,” she said in a video released on social media by Navalny’s team.
But she said investigators wanted her son, who was 47, to be buried “secretly, without a chance to say goodbye.
“They are blackmailing me, they put conditions for where, when and how Alexei should be buried. This is illegal,” she said.
Navalny, whose death was announced last Friday, galvanized mass protests against Putin, winning popularity with a series of investigations into state corruption.
He was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent in 2020, then jailed in 2021 after returning to Russia following a period of treatment in Germany.
He was sentenced to 19 years in prison on extremism charges and sent to IK-3, a harsh penal colony beyond the Arctic Circle known as “Polar Wolf.”
Western governments and Russian opposition figures have accused the Kremlin of being responsible for Navalny’s death on February 16.
Biden met privately with the Navalny’s widow and daughter “to express his heartfelt condolences for their terrible loss,” the White House said.
The White House also backed the mother’s campaign to retrieve Navalny’s body.
“The Russians need to give her back her son,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
Personal tensions between Biden and Putin increased after the US leader called his Russian counterpart a “crazy SOB” an election campaign event late Wednesday.
Putin responded with his sarcasm, referring to his recent remark that he would prefer the more “predictable” Biden over Donald Trump in the White House.
“He can’t of course say to me: Volodya, well done, thank you (for the endorsement), you’ve helped me a lot?” Putin said.
Hundreds of people have been detained in Russia in recent days at events to pay tribute to Navalny and his widow has vowed to continue his work.
Lyudmila Navalnaya traveled to Russia’s Far North the morning after Navalny’s death was announced, hoping to be able to see and retrieve her son’s body.
“They want to take me to the edge of a cemetery to a fresh grave and say: Here is where your son lies. I am against that.
“I want that for those of you for whom Alexei is dear, for everyone for whom his death became a personal tragedy, to have the possibility to say goodbye to him.”
She said she recorded the video because investigators were “threatening” her.
“Looking me in the eye, they said that if I do not agree to a secret funeral they’ll do something with my son’s body... I ask for my son’s body to be given to me immediately,” she said.
Navalny’s mother also said that investigators had told her they knew the cause of death but did not say what it was.
The Kremlin has refused to say when the body will be handed over and has branded Western accusations as “hysterical.”
Putin has remained silent on the death of his main political opponent.
Navalny’s spokesman Kira Yarmysh said that a medical report on the death shown to Lyudmila Navalnaya “stated that the cause of death was natural.”


Albanian parliament ratifies migration centers deal with Italy

Albanian parliament ratifies migration centers deal with Italy
Updated 22 February 2024
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Albanian parliament ratifies migration centers deal with Italy

Albanian parliament ratifies migration centers deal with Italy
  • First example of a non-European Union country accepting migrants on behalf of an EU nation
  • Accord has drawn comparisons with Britain’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

TIRANA: Albanian lawmakers on Thursday ratified a migration deal with Italy under which Rome will build processing centers for migrants that it will send on to its Balkan neighbor across the Adriatic Sea.
It is the first example of a non-European Union country accepting migrants on behalf of an EU nation, and is part of an EU-wide campaign to clamp down on irregular immigration that has fueled a rise in the popularity of the far right.
The accord has drawn comparisons with Britain’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda in East Africa as a deterrent to further migrant journeys in small boats across the Channel from France organized by human traffickers.
Seventy-seven deputies in the 140-seat parliament voted in favor of the deal, announced in November, under which Italy will open two camps in EU-candidate Albania, one of Europe’s poorest and least developed countries.
“Albania is standing together with Italy by choosing to act like an EU member state,” Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on social media platform X following parliament’s vote.
“No country can solve such a challenge alone. Only a stronger, braver and more sovereign Europe loyal to itself can.”
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni replied on X, thanking Rama, Albania’s institutions and people “for their friendship and collaboration.”
One of the camps Italy plans to set up on the Albanian coast would screen sea migrants on arrival, and a second nearby would hold them while asylum applications are processed. Migrants would then either be allowed to enter Italy or be repatriated.
An Italian government source said Rome aimed to have the centers in Albania operational by this spring.
The deal has drawn international criticism from human rights advocates, and domestically from those who fear its impact on Albania’s security and on its financially vital tourist industry.
“This (tourist area) will not be the same again once the migrant processing centers are built,” said Arilda Lleshi, an activist who protested in front of parliament during the vote.
“We have reasons to believe that these (migrant centers) will be a security problem for the whole area.”
The agreement was challenged before Albania’s Constitutional Court by the main opposition Democratic Party, which argued that it broke the constitution by ceding sovereignty over Albanian soil to another country.
The Constitutional Court rejected the claims and gave a green light last month. While UN officials have criticized the Italy-Albania deal, the European Commission has said it does not appear to breach EU law as it falls outside its jurisdiction.
Rights experts warn it might be hard for Italian courts to promptly process asylum requests or appeals against detention orders from people hosted in another country, and lengthy procedures could put an unjustified burden on migrants.