After escaping the Taliban, hundreds of Afghans languish in Albania in a prolonged US visa process

Afghan men walk at a tourist resort where they are accommodated, in Shengjin, 70 kilometer (44 mile) northwest of the capital, Tirana, Albania, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. (AP)
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Afghan men walk at a tourist resort where they are accommodated, in Shengjin, 70 kilometer (44 mile) northwest of the capital, Tirana, Albania, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. (AP)
After escaping the Taliban, hundreds of Afghans languish in Albania in a prolonged US visa process
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Afghan men walk at a tourist resort where they are accommodated, in Shengjin, 70 kilometer (44 mile) northwest of the capital, Tirana, Albania, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. (AP)
After escaping the Taliban, hundreds of Afghans languish in Albania in a prolonged US visa process
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Afghan Firooz Mashoof checks his mobile phone at a tourist resort where he has been accommodated, in Shengjin, 70 kilometer (44 mile) northwest of the capital, Tirana, Albania, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 19 June 2023
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After escaping the Taliban, hundreds of Afghans languish in Albania in a prolonged US visa process

After escaping the Taliban, hundreds of Afghans languish in Albania in a prolonged US visa process
  • The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their withdrawal from the country after two decades of war and as the US-backed Afghan government and military crumbled

SHENGJIN, Albania: Almost two years since he fled Afghanistan to escape the Taliban takeover, Firooz Mashoof is still haunted by the memory of his last day in Kabul — the bus that took him to the airport, getting on a packed plane and taking off as gunfire echoed across the city.
“The last thing I saw were the mountains around Kabul and the dreary sunset as the Qatar Airways took off,” he said.
Today, thousands of miles from his homeland, the 35-year-old photojournalist and former employee of the Afghan soccer federation, is languishing in warm and sunny Albania. With each passing day, his anxiety grows over the delay in the promised US visa, casting a shadow on his dreams of a new beginning in America.
For hundreds of others like him, it’s an emotional roller coaster. Some try to find work and live with a semblance of normalcy but the concern and fear for families back home permeates their days — even in welcoming Albania.





Afghans walk at a tourist resort where they are accommodated, in Shengjin, 70 kilometer (44 mile) northwest of the capital, Tirana, Albania, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. (AP)
 

They are hopeful, despite the prolonged bureaucracy, and look to a new life.
In Shengjin, a town on the Adriatic coast some 70 kilometers (45 miles) northwest of the Albanian capital of Tirana where hundreds of Afghans were given temporary shelter, Mashoof often goes for long walks by the sea. He has found work at a mall, an hour’s bus ride away.
The walks stave off panic attacks that he has been forgotten — or the “crazy fear” for his family back in western Herat province.
“I was saved, ... and now I am to start my new life in America,” he said, “But when?”
The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their withdrawal from the country after two decades of war and as the US-backed Afghan government and military crumbled.
Despite initial promises of a more moderate rule, they soon started to enforce restrictions on women and girls, barring them from public spaces and most jobs, and banning education for girls beyond the sixth grade.
The measures harked back to the previous Taliban rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, when they also imposed their strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia. The harsh edicts prompted an international outcry against the already ostracized Taliban, whose administration has not been officially recognized by the United Nations or the international community.
As the Taliban pursued an ever more hard-line path, a severe economic downturn followed, despite efforts by aid agencies to help large swaths of the impoverished nation.
In the days of the chaotic pullout, Washington had decided to take in all those who had worked for the US government and American troops or for US-based media organizations and nongovernmental groups in Afghanistan. But over time, the complicated visa process for Afghans who demonstrate they are at risk of persecution became protracted.
More than 3,200 Afghans have stayed in Albania’s tourist resorts along the Adriatic Sea. A NATO member, Albania first agreed to house fleeing Afghans for one year before they move for final settlement in the United States, then pledged to keep them for longer if their visas were delayed.
There are about 76,000 Afghans already in the US, where congressional efforts meant to permanently resolve their immigration status have also stalled.
A top Albanian government official told The Associated Press that the authorities in Tirana would not be against keeping Afghans more long-term in the Balkan country, if they can find jobs. The official did not elaborate and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the subject.
Last year, a small group of Afghans in Shengjin staged a protest, calling on Washington to speed up the process of their transfer. Some women and children held posters reading, “We are forgotten.”
“I don’t have the heart to protest because of the delay,” Mashoof said. “There is nothing I can do.”
Fazil Mohammad Shahab, a senior soccer federation official in Afghanistan, came to Albania in November 2021. Unlike many of the thousands of tourists who visit Shengjin and other Albanian resorts, he doesn’t see the pristine coastline as an unspoiled paradise.
“For me, it’s a place of waiting,” he said.
On a sunny day earlier this month in Shengjin, Afghan women holding scarves clustered in small groups as their children played on the grass. Afghan couples walked along the beach or sat at a nearby café.
Farishta Oustovar, a television news reporter and a former player on Afghanistan’s national volleyball team, arrived in Albania in September 2021. Within two months she found work — first at a hotel, then at a shoe factory and finally at a childcare center.
“I need to feel that I can have a normal life,” said the 23-year-old, despite worries for her family in Herat.
A popular TV presenter and comedian, 30-year-old Qasim Taban resumed producing funny YouTube clips from Shengjin. He says he finds strength in humor and is hopeful friends and fans back home can see the videos.
“We, here in Albania, and also Afghans back in Afghanistan need to laugh,” he said.
 

 


UN refugee agency says record 117 mln people forcibly displaced in 2023

UN refugee agency says record 117 mln people forcibly displaced in 2023
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UN refugee agency says record 117 mln people forcibly displaced in 2023

UN refugee agency says record 117 mln people forcibly displaced in 2023
  • UNHCR report stated that there had been a yearly increase in the number of people forcibly displaced over the last 12 years

GENEVA: The United Nations refugee agency on Thursday said the number of people forcibly displaced stood at a record 117.3 million as of the end of last year, warning that this figure could rise further without major global political changes.

“These are refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people, people being forced away by conflict, by persecution, by different and increasingly complex forms of violence,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“Conflict remains a very, very deep driver of displacement.” In its report on global trends in forced displacement, UNHCR said that there had been a yearly increase in the number of people forcibly displaced over the last 12 years.

UNHCR estimates that forced displacement has continued to increase in the first four months of 2024, and that the number of those displaced is likely to have exceeded 120 million by the end of April. “Unless there is a shift in international geopolitics, unfortunately, I actually see that figure continuing to go up,” Grandi said, referring to the risk of new conflicts.

The conflicts that have driven displacement include the war in Sudan, which Grandi described as “one of the most catastrophic ones” despite garnering less attention that other crises.

More that 9 million people have been internally displaced and another 2 million have fled to neighboring countries including Chad, Egypt and South Sudan, Grandi said. “People are arriving in the hundreds every day,” he said, referring to the influx of people seeking safety in Chad. In Gaza, Israel’s bombardment and ground campaign have caused around 1.7 million people – nearly 80 percent of the Palestinian enclave’s population – to become internally displaced, many of them multiple times.

Grandi warned that the possible crossings of Gazans into Egypt from the southern border town of Rafah to escape Israel’s military offensive would be catastrophic. “Another refugee crisis outside Gaza would be catastrophic on all levels, including because we have no guarantee that the people will be able to return to Gaza one day,” Grandi said.


Troubled G7 leaders focus on Ukraine war, China in Italian summit

Troubled G7 leaders focus on Ukraine war, China in Italian summit
Updated 13 June 2024
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Troubled G7 leaders focus on Ukraine war, China in Italian summit

Troubled G7 leaders focus on Ukraine war, China in Italian summit
  • Determined to claim the initiative, the G7 leaders look likely to announce they have agreed on plans to issue $50 billion of loans for Ukraine using interest from frozen Russian assets to back the multi-year debt package

BARI, Italy: Group of Seven (G7) leaders start their annual summit on Thursday looking to double down on support for Ukraine in its war with Russia and offer a united face in confronting China’s political and economic ambitions.
With the Middle East, migration and artificial intelligence (AI) also on a packed agenda, the June 13-15 summit in southern Italy would be taxing for leaders at the best of times, but most of them are also bowed down by their own domestic woes.
US President Joe Biden, facing a tough re-election bid in November, arrived in Italy the day after his son Hunter Biden was convicted of lying about his drug use to illegally buy a gun.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appears destined to lose power in a July 4 election, the leaders of France and Germany are reeling from political defeats, and opinion polls are bleak for the prime ministers of Canada and Japan.
Only the host, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, is riding high after triumphing in Italy’s European election last weekend, but achieving meaningful results in the luxury Borgo Egnazia hotel resort will be a tall order.
Determined to claim the initiative, the G7 leaders look likely to announce they have agreed on plans to issue $50 billion of loans for Ukraine using interest from frozen Russian assets to back the multi-year debt package.
However officials acknowledge the plan is complex, meaning any deal will only be in principle, with legal experts still having to thrash out the details that will need the backing of European nations, particularly Belgium, which is not in the G7.
For a second year running, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will attend the summit and is due to sign a new, long-term security accord with Biden.
“By signing this we’ll also be sending Russia a signal of our resolve. If (Russian President) Vladimir Putin thinks he can outlast the coalition supporting Ukraine, he’s wrong,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters.

CONFRONTING CHINA
Underscoring US determination to punish Moscow for its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Washington on Wednesday dramatically broadened sanctions on Moscow, including by targeting China-based companies selling semiconductors to Moscow.
By announcing new restrictions on Chinese firms on the eve of the G7 meeting, Biden is no doubt hoping to persuade Western allies to show greater resolve in confronting Beijing over its support for Russia and its industrial over-capacity.
The European Commission told automakers on Wednesday it would impose extra duties of up to 38.1 percent on imported Chinese electric cars from July, less than a month after Washington quadrupled duties for Chinese EVs to 100 percent.
While G7 leaders are expected to express concern over high Chinese production levels, which they say disrupt global supply chains and market stability, EU diplomats warn that Europe is anxious to avoid a full-blown trade war with Beijing.
Eager not to appear like an elitist fortress, the G7 has thrown open its doors to a large number of outsiders this year, including Pope Francis, who is expected to give a keynote speech on Friday on both the risks and potential of AI.
Among those who have also been invited to Puglia are the leaders of some of the biggest regional powers across the globe such as India, Brazil, Argentina, Turkiye, Algeria and Kenya.
Although the summit is scheduled to run until Saturday, many G7 chiefs will leave on Friday night, including Biden, meaning the final day has been earmarked for bilateral meetings for those staying on and a final news conference from Meloni.


UK’s Labour pitches for power with promise of growth

UK’s Labour pitches for power with promise of growth
Updated 13 June 2024
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UK’s Labour pitches for power with promise of growth

UK’s Labour pitches for power with promise of growth
  • Starmer will describe Labour’s blueprint for government as a “manifesto for wealth creation”
  • Economists said the incoming government could get some momentum from expected falls in interest rates

LONDON: Britain’s Labour party on Thursday launches its general election manifesto, hoping that a promise to get the economy growing again will catapult it into power after 14 years in opposition.
Labour has been consistently some 20 points ahead of Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives for nearly two years, making its leader Keir Starmer a virtual shoe-in as the country’s next prime minister if polls are correct.
But Starmer, 61, still has work to do before polling day on July 4 to overcome persistent Tory claims about Labour profligacy with public finances and warnings that it will increase personal taxes.
The manifesto launch comes two days after the Tories promised voters more tax cuts, in a campaign where the affordability of the main parties’ spending plans have come under close scrutiny.
In details trailed in advance by the party, Starmer will describe Labour’s blueprint for government as a “manifesto for wealth creation” and call it “our number one priority.”
“The mandate we seek from Britain at this election is for economic growth,” the former human rights lawyer and chief public prosecutor will tell party members in Manchester, northwest England.
“Growth is our core business — the end and the means of national renewal,” he will add, promising sustained economic growth to drive up living standards.
To get there, Labour is promising to restore economic stability after the turbulence of recent years that saw inflation hit 11.1 percent in October 2022 — its highest in 40 years.
It vowed to introduce tough new spending rules to allow businesses to plan, a cap on corporation tax at 25 percent and an industrial strategy for longer-term investment, particularly in green tech and AI.
Starmer and his likely finance minister Rachel Reeves look set to have little room for maneuver, however, with the economy stagnant in April after emerging from recession in the first quarter.
Both Labour and the Tories have ruled out increasing the VAT sales tax, income tax rates and National Insurance, which pays for state health care, pensions and unemployment, if they win.
Economists said the incoming government could get some momentum from expected falls in interest rates and inflation by the end of the year.
Many Labour policies — from continued support for Ukraine and scrapping the Tories’ plan to deport failed asylum seekers to Rwanda, to recognizing Palestinian sovereignty as part of the peace process — have been drip-fed over months.
As in 1997, when Tony Blair won a landslide after 18 years of Tory rule, Starmer knows that he needs to reassure a jittery electorate that Labour can provide stability and economic competence.
At the last election in 2019, his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn stood on a radical platform that included proposals for sweeping renationalization of key industries, and tax hikes for high earners.
Starmer, who took over after Labour was routed by Boris Johnson’s Tories and has dragged the party back to the less threatening center ground, and will vow it is “pro business and pro worker.”
Britons have endured an unprecedented period of political upheaval, with five Tory prime ministers since 2010, and three in just four months in 2022.
Much of that was the result of Brexit, the country’s tortuous departure from the European Union, but also self-inflicted wounds such as Liz Truss’s short-lived tenure, when her unfunded tax cuts spooked the markets and crashed the pound.
One of Starmer’s first tasks if he finds himself in Downing Street on July 5 will be to prepare for a crunch NATO summit in Washington the following week, and to host a meeting of European leaders.


Study details huge emissions resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Study details huge emissions resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Updated 13 June 2024
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Study details huge emissions resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Study details huge emissions resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
  • Aside from killing tens of thousands and displacing millions of people, the war launched by Russia has has also caused vast environmental damage

KYIV: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has directly caused or paved the way to the emission of 175 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, a joint report said on Thursday.

The report, published by Ukraine’s environment ministry and climate NGOs, said their estimate included both emissions that had been released and those that would be produced during repair work following the destruction caused by the February 2020 invasion.
It laid out some of the main carbon-emitting activities caused by fighting.
“Billions of liters of fuel used by military vehicles, nearly a million hectares of fields and forests set ablaze, hundreds of oil and gas structures blown up and vast amounts of steel and cement used to fortify hundreds of miles of front lines,” it said.
The 175 million tons estimate was the equivalent to the annual emissions produced by 90 million cars, or the whole of the Netherlands in a year, it said.
The war launched by Moscow has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions, but it has also caused vast environmental damage as two armies engage in the biggest European land war in 80 years.
The report, which seeks to quantify the war’s carbon footprint, was put together in cooperation by Ukraine’s environment ministry and climate researchers from Ukraine and other countries.
The report used a measure called the Social Cost of Carbon to calculate the approximate financial cost of the additional emissions.
“The total climate damage that the Russian Federation has caused after 24 months of the war amounts to more than USD 32 billion,” it said.
The report said that the war emissions could be divided approximately into three thirds: military activity, the steel and concrete needed to rebuild damaged infrastructure, and the final third being made up of several disparate factors including fires and movement of people.
“In the early months of the war, the majority of the emissions were caused by the large scale destruction of civilian infrastructure requiring a large post-war reconstruction effort,” the report said.
“Now, after two years of war, the largest share of emis- sions originate from a combination of warfare, landscape fires and the damage to energy infrastructure.”
Military activity was responsible for 51.6 million tons of CO2 equivalent emmmisions, the report said.
The majority of that number, 35.2 million tons of CO2 equivalent, was caused by the Russian military’s fuel consumption, with a further 9.4 milion tons from the Ukrainian military’s use of fuel.
Among the world’s biggest consumers of fuel, militaries worldwide account for 5.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2022 estimate, opens new tab by international experts.
According to the report, the war has significantly increased the frequency of landscape fires in the affected areas.
It said a million hectares of land had been scorched by 27,000 war-related fires, causing the equivalent atmospheric damage of 23 million tons of CO2.
The report also calculated that the closure of airspace over Ukraine and some parts of Russia, as well as the restrictions on certain carriers’ use of Russia’s airspace, have created just over 24 million tons of CO2 of additional emissions.
“Restrictions or caution has largely cleared the skies above some 18 million km2 of Ukraine and Russia, adding hours to journeys between Europe and Asia that consume additional fuel,” it said.


NATO to take over coordination of arms deliveries to Ukraine ahead of possible Trump win

NATO to take over coordination of arms deliveries to Ukraine ahead of possible Trump win
Updated 13 June 2024
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NATO to take over coordination of arms deliveries to Ukraine ahead of possible Trump win

NATO to take over coordination of arms deliveries to Ukraine ahead of possible Trump win
  • Russia-leaning Trump and his MAGA allies in Congress feared to block US aid to Ukraine should he return to power
  • UK to announce about $310 million Ukraine aid in G7 summit

BRUSSELS, Belgium: NATO is set to take over the coordination of arms deliveries to Ukraine from the US, the alliance’s chief said on Wednesday, in a bid to safeguard the military aid mechanism as NATO-skeptic Donald Trump bids for a second term as US president.

“I expect that ministers will approve a plan for NATO to lead the coordination of security assistance and training to Ukraine,” Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on the eve of a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.Hours before, Hungary had given up its resistance to the Ukraine support package NATO aims to agree at its Washington summit in July, comprising a financial pledge and the transfer to NATO of the coordination of arms supplies and training.
During a visit by Stoltenberg to Budapest, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his country would not block NATO decisions on providing support for Ukraine but had agreed that it would not be involved.
He added he had received assurances from Stoltenberg that Hungary would not have to provide funding for Ukraine or send personnel there.
Hungary has been at odds with other NATO countries over Orban’s continued cultivation of close ties to Russia and refusal to send arms to Ukraine, with Budapest’s foreign minister last month labelling plans to help the war-torn nation a “crazy mission.”
Stoltenberg had proposed that NATO take on coordination of international military aid for Ukraine, giving the alliance a more direct role in the war against Russia’s invasion while stopping well short of committing its own forces.
The move is widely seen as an effort to provide a degree of “Trump-proofing” by putting coordination under a NATO umbrella.
But diplomats acknowledge such a move may have limited effect, as the US is NATO’s dominant power and provides the majority of weaponry to Ukraine. So if Washington wanted to slash Western aid to Kyiv, it would still be able to do so.
Stoltenberg has also asked allies to keep up funding military aid for Ukraine at the same level as they have since Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, adding up to some 40 billion euros per year.
On Wednesday, he said he was hopeful allies would find agreement on a financial pledge before the summit to make the support for Ukraine more robust and more predictable.

Britain's Prime Minister leader Rishi Sunak. (Pool/AFP)

UK readies $309.69 million aid

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will announce up to 242 million pounds ($309.69 million) in bilateral assistance to Ukraine in the G7 summit, his office said on Wednesday, to support immediate humanitarian, energy and stabilization needs for Ukraine.
“We must be decisive and creative in our efforts to support Ukraine and end Putin’s illegal war at this critical moment,” Sunak said ahead of the summit.
The Group of Seven nations and the European Union are also considering how to use profits generated by Russian assets immobilized in the West to provide Ukraine with a large up-front loan to secure Kyiv’s financing for 2025.