UK religious leaders join campaign for Afghan pilot’s asylum claim

UK religious leaders join campaign for Afghan pilot’s asylum claim
The Church of England's most senior cleric, Justin Welby, on Wednesday renewed his attacks on the UK government's highly contentious plans to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda, branding them "morally unacceptable". (AFP)
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Updated 14 May 2023
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UK religious leaders join campaign for Afghan pilot’s asylum claim

UK religious leaders join campaign for Afghan pilot’s asylum claim
  • Senior Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish figures demand safe routes after pilot threatened with deportation
  • Pilot, who flew combat missions against Taliban, has written to PM Rishi Sunak in bid to remain in Britain

London: Religious leaders in the UK have joined a campaign calling for a former Afghan Air Force pilot to be granted asylum in Britain.

It comes in the wake of criticism of the government by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who called its immigration policy “morally unacceptable and politically impractical” earlier this week.

The pilot, whose identity has been kept secret due to security fears, flew dozens of combat missions against the Taliban before fleeing after his country fell to the group in August 2021, and has been described as a “patriot” by former coalition allies.

He has been threatened with deportation to Rwanda, with which the UK has an agreement to send asylum applicants to while awaiting the resolution of their cases, over allegations he entered the UK illegally via boat from France, which is a safe country, having passed through other safe countries en route.

Senior political, media and military figures have called for the pilot to be allowed to stay in the UK. The call is now being echoed by multiple senior faith leaders.

John Perumbalath, bishop of Liverpool, said the UK has a “moral duty” to give the pilot safe haven. 

“The government has been woeful in its commitment to Afghan refugees and it is time for them to do the decent thing and reverse this cruel, heartless decision,” he said.

Bishop of Durham Paul Butler said the government had got itself in a “bind” by treating people who arrive in the UK by small boats as criminals.

“I would assume, given his past service, (the pilot) would immediately be welcomed to remain and rebuild his life here,” he added.

The pilot, who has written to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urging him to examine his case, says he feels “forgotten” by the West and had no alternative but to head to the UK illegally due to a lack of safe, legal routes.

Lord Dannatt, former army chief, has said the pilot should be able to apply for the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy, but only 11,000 people have so far been granted asylum under the scheme, with a further 4,300 eligible people yet to be relocated.

Muslim Council of Britain Secretary-General Zara Mohammed said the country “must act to establish safe and legal routes for those seeking asylum in the UK.”

She told The Independent: “The absence of safe and legal routes will only serve to further embolden and enrich human traffickers, endanger the lives of those making the perilous journey across the Channel and make a mockery of our international commitments.”

Ibrahim Mogra, co-chair of the Christian-Muslim Forum and a senior imam in the city of Leicester, said: “Whether you were in support of the war in Afghanistan or against it, these Afghans risked their lives to support our government, so to abandon them like this shows utter disregard for the sacrifices they have made.”

Imam Dr. Usama Hasan, senior analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, said: “Many Afghans risked their lives against a brutal enemy in the Taliban. So it’s right and proper that those who helped the British war effort should be given asylum in this country.”

Paul McAleenan, the Roman Catholic bishop of Westminster, told The Independent: “Establishing more safe routes, and genuinely understanding people’s individual circumstances, are essential.”

Indarjit Singh, director of the Network of Sikh Organisations, described the UK’s small boat policy as “pandering to bigotry,” saying: “It is particularly cruel to threaten to send people who have helped us in good faith to get a better government in Afghanistan. It shows us in a very, very bad light.”

He added: “Threatening to send people to Rwanda if they dare to come to our shores shows a total callousness. Rwanda is not a safe country.”

Senior British rabbis also joined the campaign, with Josh Levy, head of the Movement for Reform Judaism, saying: “If (migrants) reached here on a boat, it is because there was no other choice. An inability to find the flexibility in these cases is inexcusable.”

Rabbi Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue said: “If ever there was an exception to the rule, this (the pilot’s case) is it.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Since 2015, we have offered a safe and legal route to the UK to almost half a million men, women and children seeking safety — including those from Hong Kong, Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine, as well as family members of refugees.”


Four go on trial in France over 2018 Christmas market attack

Four go on trial in France over 2018 Christmas market attack
Updated 5 sec ago
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Four go on trial in France over 2018 Christmas market attack

Four go on trial in France over 2018 Christmas market attack
PARIS: Four men went on trial on Thursday over a 2018 Christmas market attack in France’s eastern city of Strasbourg, with a key suspect insisting he did not know the plans of the radical Islamist who killed five people before being shot dead by police after a 48-hour manhunt.
The traditional Christmas market was in full swing on December 11 when Cherif Chekatt — a convicted criminal featured on a list of possible extremist security risks — opened fire on revellers, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Greatest” in Arabic).
The four men on trial in Paris are accused of crimes ranging from “terrorism” to helping supply weapons, including the 19th-century revolver Chekatt used in the attack.
The trial opened at the Paris court with the suspects confirming their names.
One of them, Audrey Mondjehi, faces the maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted of “terrorism.” The others risk 10 years imprisonment.
The trial, due to last until early April, is the latest legal process over the militant attacks that have hit France since 2015, with most of those in the dock accused of complicity since the actual perpetrators were generally killed while carrying out their attacks.
In December 2022, a Paris court convicted all eight suspects in the trial over a 2016 truck attack in the Mediterranean city of Nice, which left 86 dead, including the driver.
In the highest-profile case, 20 defendants were convicted in June 2022 over their roles in the November 2015 attack in the French capital, when 130 people were killed.
The Daesh group claimed the Strasbourg attack, but the then-French interior minister Christophe Castaner said it was taking credit for an attack it hadn’t planned.
A video pledging allegiance to the group was however found at the assailant’s home.
Of the accused only Mondjehi, 42, was charged with “terrorism,” while the three others — all in their 30s — face criminal conspiracy charges for their role in supplying weapons.
A fifth defendant, in his mid-80s, may be tried at a later date after a medical examination found his health was not compatible with taking part in the current long trial.
Mondjehi, a former cellmate of the assailant, played “a key role in supplying a weapon” by putting him in touch with sellers, and “could not have been unaware of, or may have even shared, all or part of Cherif Chekatt’s radical convictions,” according to the indictment.
Mondjehi told the court this was not true.
“Never could I have known that this weapon could have been for an attack,” he said.
His lawyer Michael Wacquez said he was concerned Mondjehi could be used as a scapegoat.
“Mondjehi should not be an outlet for the grief of the victims and should not be condemned because Cherif Chekatt is not there,” he said.
According to the investigation, there was no evidence of the other suspects having been aware of Chekatt’s plans.
Although Chekatt cannot now be brought to justice, survivors and relatives of victims said the trial was still crucial.
The attack “turned my whole life upside down,” said Mostafa Salhane, a 53-year-old former taxi driver who spent 15 terrifying minutes with Chekatt who climbed into his cab with a gun in his hand as he fled the scene.
A lawyer representing some of the families, Arnaud Friederich, said the trial was a “key moment” for his clients.
“There will be a before and an after,” he said.
Claude Lienhard, a lawyer for several dozen people, said there was a perception the investigation has been dragging on.
“There’s a fear that this will be a low-cost trial compared with other terror trials, as many feel they have been forgotten,” he said.
Audrey Wagner, who saw Chekatt wound one of her friends, said she expected proceedings to be “distressing” but important to “turn the page.”
Jean-Yves Bruckman, a now-retired firefighter who aided one of the victims said he needed answers “to heal.”
“One question keeps coming back to me: How can you kill someone like that?“

Italy foreign minister urges ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza

Italy foreign minister urges ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza
Updated 14 min 41 sec ago
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Italy foreign minister urges ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza

Italy foreign minister urges ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza
  • “We strongly urge Israel to protect the people in Gaza and to rigorously ascertain facts and responsibilities,” Tajani said
  • The Israeli military said a “stampede” occurred when thousands of Gazans surrounded a convoy of 30 aid trucks, leading to dozens of deaths and injuries

ROME: Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani called Thursday for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza and called on Israel to protect the Palestinian population after troops opened fire at an aid convoy.
“The tragic deaths in Gaza demand an immediate ceasefire to facilitate more humanitarian aid, the release of hostages and the protection of civilians,” he said on X, hours after the incident which the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory said killed 104 people.
“We strongly urge Israel to protect the people in Gaza and to rigorously ascertain facts and responsibilities,” he said.
The Israeli military said a “stampede” occurred when thousands of Gazans surrounded a convoy of 30 aid trucks, leading to dozens of deaths and injuries, including some who were run over by the lorries.
An Israeli source acknowledged troops had opened fire on the crowd, believing it “posed a threat.”
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed her “deep dismay and concern” over the violence, calling on Israel to “urgently ascertain the dynamics of the incident and relative responsibilities.”
She also called for negotiation efforts to be “immediately intensified to create the conditions for a ceasefire” and the freeing of the hostages.


India’s economy grows at its fastest pace in six quarters in election boost for Modi

India’s economy grows at its fastest pace in six quarters in election boost for Modi
Updated 29 February 2024
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India’s economy grows at its fastest pace in six quarters in election boost for Modi

India’s economy grows at its fastest pace in six quarters in election boost for Modi
  • India’s economy grew 8.4% in the October-December quarter, much faster than 6.6% estimate
  • India has beaten market expectations, is ranked as one of fastest-growing economies in the world

NEW DELHI: India’s economy grew at its fastest pace in one-and-half years in the final three months of 2023, led by strong manufacturing and construction activity and bolstering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic record just months before a national election.
Asia’s third largest economy grew 8.4 percent in the October-December quarter, much faster than the 6.6 percent estimated by economists polled by Reuters and higher than the 7.6 percent recorded in the previous three months.
“The ongoing growth momentum is indicative of the Indian economy’s resilience, notwithstanding global headwinds,” said Sunil Kumar Sinha, economist at India Ratings, noting that industrial growth continued its good run in the quarter.
India has consistently beat market expectations and is ranked as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with China struggling to recover after the pandemic and the euro zone narrowly escaping a recession.
India revised its growth estimate for the current fiscal year to March 31 to 7.6 percent from 7.3 percent.
Such a strong showing in the last major economic data release before elections due by May could bolster Modi’s chances after he made high economic growth one of his main platforms at rallies across the country.
The December growth “shows the strength of Indian economy and its potential,” Modi said in a social media post.
Modi has sharply raised government spending on infrastructure and offered incentives to boost manufacturing of phones, electronics, drones and semiconductors to help India compete with likes of Vietnam and Thailand.
The manufacturing sector, which for the past decade has accounted for 17 percent of Asia’s third-largest economy, expanded 11.6 percent year-on-year in the December quarter, while investment growth was above 10 percent for the second consecutive quarter, and the construction sector grew by more than 9 percent.
“Manufacturing sector growth was supported by lower input costs,” said Rajani Sinha, Economist at CareEdge
Private consumption, accounting for 60 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), recovered slightly in the quarter, with a 3.5 percent year-on-year rise, compared with 2.4 percent in the previous three months.
Government spending contracted 3.2 percent year-on-year, compared with 1.4 percent growth in the previous quarter.
RURAL WEAKNESS
The farm sector, which accounts for about 15 percent of the $3.7 trillion economy, continued to struggle due to unfavorable monsoon rains. It contracted 0.8 percent in the December quarter, compared with 1.6 percent growth in the September quarter.
Slowing rural growth dragged down farm incomes and some farmers have hit the streets
demanding higher procurement prices.
Rural weakness has led to slower growth for major retail companies like Hindustan Unilever and Britannia Industries.
The pace of growth in real rural wages was around 1 percent in 2023 after contracting nearly 3 percent in the previous two years, according to ICRA, while average salaries in urban areas have been going up by nearly 10 percent a year.
However, policymakers remain optimistic about rural recovery.
“With the anticipated better value addition in the farm sector next financial year, rural demand growth and rural income growth will be even better and more evident in FY25,” country’s Chief Economic Adviser V Anantha Nageswaran said.


Indonesian artists seek to amplify Southeast Asian aesthetics at Art Dubai

Indonesian artists seek to amplify Southeast Asian aesthetics at Art Dubai
Updated 29 February 2024
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Indonesian artists seek to amplify Southeast Asian aesthetics at Art Dubai

Indonesian artists seek to amplify Southeast Asian aesthetics at Art Dubai
  • 17th edition of Art Dubai runs from March 1-3 in Madinat Jumeirah
  • Over 65% of the fair’s presentations are from the Global South

Jakarta: Indonesian artists are hoping to amplify Southeast Asian aesthetics in the Middle East with their showcase at Art Dubai this week, where they will join a diverse group of Global South artists from 40 countries.

The 17th edition of Art Dubai, which runs from March 1 to 3 in Madinat Jumeirah, will showcase leading artists and galleries from developing countries, as it seeks to provide a platform for art from typically underrepresented regions and communities. This year, over 65 percent of its presentations are drawn from the Global South.

Indonesia’s artists, represented by various galleries such as Gajah Gallery and Yeo Workshop, are among a group of Southeast Asian creatives presenting works focused on the region’s heritage.

Erizal As, a painter from Indonesia’s West Sumatra province, is hoping that Dubai will help boost the global visibility of his, and other Southeast Asian artists’ work.

“I am indeed hopeful to garner greater recognition in the Middle East, a region experiencing rapid growth and burgeoning appreciation for the arts. I am confident that the universal themes and expressive depth of my work will resonate with the discerning Gulf audience, fostering a meaningful dialogue transcending cultural boundaries,” Erizal told Arab News on Thursday.

“I also think that the inclusion of more Indonesian and Southeast Asian artists may bring a fresh perspective to the local art scene … Maybe the different visual language that we bring actually has the same soul or essence as what Dubai has been feeling and communicating through their arts. The two visual languages can communicate with each other.”

After spending the COVID-19 years painting outdoors in the West Sumatra mountains, Erizal returned to his studio to transform his experiences into a series of abstract paintings, presenting various forms through texture and strokes, to capture the essence of nature. Some of those works are being showcased in Dubai this week.

“With my recent creations, my foremost aspiration is to evoke contemplation on the intrinsic essence of nature, spirituality, and the profound energy that permeates our existence,” Erizal said.

Yunizar, who is also from West Sumatra and is known for his childlike creations seeking to capture the psyche of ordinary individuals, will present his paintings and bronze sculptures at Art Dubai.

“My work depicts my observations of life around me. I mix visualizations of objects with things that are fantastical in nature,” Yunizar told Arab News.

Indonesian artist Yunizar working on his “Detail of Bonsai,” 2021. (Gajah Gallery)

He believes in the “common relatability towards art between humankind everywhere” and hopes to amplify the reach of his work at the international art fair.

“Dubai, in my opinion, has a burgeoning art scene with a rich cultural background that can support the development of new visual trajectories. Showcasing my work on such a global scale, I can only strive and attempt to deliver my best work,” he said.

“I believe that my work transcends cultural boundaries and reverberate with viewers from diverse backgrounds. In terms of quality, my work is not less than that of artists from other regions, such as those from Europe. And with its rich visual language and unmistakable Southeast Asian essence, in my opinion, my art will find resonance among the Gulf audience, fostering meaningful dialogue and appreciation for art across borders.”


Amnesty welcomes news NGO ship crew charges could be dropped

Amnesty welcomes news NGO ship crew charges could be dropped
Updated 29 February 2024
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Amnesty welcomes news NGO ship crew charges could be dropped

Amnesty welcomes news NGO ship crew charges could be dropped
  • Crew of Iuventa charged with ‘facilitating irregular immigration to Italy from Libya’
  • Prosecution said this week a lack of evidence means case should be dismissed

London: Amnesty International has welcomed news that charges against the crew of NGO ship the Iuventa, which worked to rescue thousands of people from the Mediterranean, could be dropped.

An investigation was opened by Italian authorities in 2017 into the activities of the Iuventa. Four crew members were eventually charged with “facilitating irregular immigration to Italy from Libya,” amid suggestions that they had collaborated with people traffickers, with possible sentences of up to 20 years in jail.

A court in the Italian city of Trapani is set to rule on whether the crew, alongside members of Medecins Sans Frontieres and Save the Children, will be indicted on Saturday, but on Wednesday prosecutors said a lack of evidence meant the charges should be dropped.

“The Iuventa crew has endured six and a half years of court proceedings with unfaltering grace and resilience, and we are glad that there is new hope that the court case will finally be thrown out,” said Elisa De Pieri, regional researcher at Amnesty International.

“The Iuventa ship has saved more than 14,000 lives, including children, and its crew has done so upholding the law of the sea.

“We urge the authorities to stop misusing criminal proceedings and charges of facilitation of irregular migration to obstruct life-saving activities.

“Humanity must come first as we recognize the fearlessness of the Iuventa crew and others who work to battle the horrors that take place in the treacherous waters across the Mediterranean.

“Their acts of solidarity with refugees and migrants should be championed and never be punished. Without them, the already horrific death toll in the central Mediterranean would only get worse.”