Afghan students in UK fear forced return to Taliban-controlled homeland after graduation

The Afghan students are among the recipients of the Chevening scholarship program, which since 1983 has given thousands of outstanding students from all over the world the chance to study at UK universities. (AFP/File Photo)
The Afghan students are among the recipients of the Chevening scholarship program, which since 1983 has given thousands of outstanding students from all over the world the chance to study at UK universities. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 15 August 2023
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Afghan students in UK fear forced return to Taliban-controlled homeland after graduation

Afghan students in UK fear forced return to Taliban-controlled homeland after graduation
  • * The 17 students say they face Taliban persecution and asked the British government to grant them leave to remain in the UK indefinitely, as it did for Afghan students in the past two years
  • ‘As a girl who is single, who has done human rights law … who has worked with international forces, I would be persecuted, I would be hanged in front of everybody,’ said one student

LONDON: A group of Afghan students studying in the UK under a Foreign Office scholarship scheme have shared their fears that they will be forced to return to Afghanistan after they graduate in September.

The 17 students asked the British government to grant them indefinite leave to remain in the UK, as it did for Afghans who participated in the program in 2021 and 2022. They said they fear persecution from the Taliban regime in their home country if they have to return there when their visas expire.

They are among the recipients of the Chevening scholarship program, which since 1983 has given thousands of outstanding students from all over the world the chance to study at UK universities, predominantly for one-year master’s degree courses.

The Home Office originally said the scholarship scheme was never intended to be a pathway to permanent residence and that students should follow procedure after graduating by returning to their homeland or moving on to another country. However, it later added that those from Afghanistan can apply for another UK visa or claim asylum.

The students complain they face the prospect of finding money to pay the expensive fee for a two-year graduate visa, or could be left unable to work while British authorities continue to deal with a near 200,000-case backlog of asylum applications.

They spoke to the British media on condition of anonymity to protect their families still living in Afghanistan.

“As a girl who is single, who has done human rights law in the UK under the UK government scheme, who has worked with international forces, I would be persecuted, I would be hanged in front of everybody,” one said of her fears if she is forced to return to Afghanistan.

Another, who also studied international human rights law, said: “I am having panic attacks thinking about what exactly is going to happen. Should I just become stateless and homeless at the same time after September?”

Labour MP Neil Coyle, who is representing one of the students, told news agency PA Media: “Ministers must end their debilitating quagmire and grant leave to remain in the UK, as the Home Office did for the students who completed their studies last year.”

A spokesperson for the government said it has provided a letter of consent that allows the students to apply for a different visa after graduation due to “the situation in Afghanistan” and added: “This will exempt them from the normal requirement to leave the UK on completion of study.”


Ursula von der Leyen re-elected to a second 5-year term as European Commission president

Ursula von der Leyen re-elected to a second 5-year term as European Commission president
Updated 23 sec ago
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Ursula von der Leyen re-elected to a second 5-year term as European Commission president

Ursula von der Leyen re-elected to a second 5-year term as European Commission president
STRASBOURG, France: Lawmakers at the European Parliament on Thursday re-elected Ursula von der Leyen to a second 5-year term as president of the European Union’s executive commission, giving her a comfortable majority and heading off a possible leadership vacuum.
Von der Leyen raised both fists in victory as the Parliament President Roberta Metsola read out the result at the legislature.
“5 more years. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am for the trust of all MEPs that voted for me,” she said on the social media platform X.
The re-election ensures leadership continuity for the 27-nation bloc as it wrestles with crises ranging from the war in Ukraine to climate change, migration and housing shortages.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was quick to send his congratulations on X, calling von der Leyen’s re-election “a clear sign of our ability to act in the European Union, especially in difficult times. Europeans expect us to take Europe forward. Let’s do it!”
A majority in the 720-seat legislature voted for the German Christian Democrat after a speech in which she pledged to be a strong leader for Europe in a time of crisis and polarization.
Von der Leyen gained 401 of the 707 votes cast. There were 284 votes against her candidacy, 15 abstentions and seven void ballots.
The secret ballot came hot on the heels of strong gains by the far right in last month’s election for the European Parliament.
“I will never let the extreme polarization of our societies become accepted. I will never accept that demagogues and extremists destroy our European way of life. And I stand here today ready to lead the fight with all the Democratic forces in this house,” von der Leyen said in her final pitch.
If lawmakers had rejected her candidacy, it would leave leaders of the 27-nation bloc scrambling to find a replacement as Europe grapples with crises ranging from the war in Ukraine to climate change. Instead, the continent now has an experienced pair of hands at the helm.
In a speech that sought to shore up support from across the political spectrum, von der Leyen pledged to strengthen the EU economy, its police and border agencies, tackle migration and pursue policies tackling climate change while also helping farmers who have staged protests against what they call stifling EU bureaucracy and environmental rules.
She also vowed to tackle housing shortages across Europe and said she would appoint a commissioner for the Mediterranean region due to the multiple challenges it faces.
She also took a swipe at Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his recent visit to Russia shortly after his country took over the rotating six-month EU presidency.
“This so-called peace mission was nothing but an appeasement mission,” von der Leyen said as she vowed that Europe would remain shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine.
One radical right lawmaker, Diana Iovanovici-Sosoaca of Romania, was escorted out of the parliament’s chamber for heckling a speaker during the debate following von der Leyen’s speech. Iovanovici-Sosoaca briefly wore what appeared to be a muzzle and held up religious icons before being led out of the room.
Over the past five years, von der Leyen has steered the bloc through a series of crises, including Britain’s exit from the EU, the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She has also pushed a Green Deal aiming to make the EU climate-neutral by 2050.
Von der Leyen’s election came as newly elected UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer was welcoming some 45 heads of government to discuss migration, energy security and the threat from Russia as he seeks to restore relations between the UK and its European neighbors.
EU leaders signed off on the conservative German von der Leyen at a summit meeting late last month. The 65-year-old von der Leyen’s bid was boosted when the European People’s Party, which includes von der Leyen’s Christian Democratic Union, remained the largest group at the EU Parliament after the elections.
The German politician has been praised for her leading role during the coronavirus crisis, when the EU bought vaccines collectively for its citizens. But she also found herself receiving sharp criticism for the opacity of the negotiations with vaccine makers.
The EU general court ruled Wednesday that the commission did not allow the public enough access to information about COVID-19 vaccine purchase agreements it secured with pharmaceutical companies during the pandemic.
Before voting got underway, a majority of lawmakers rejected a motion from a leftist bloc in parliament calling for the election to be delayed until September in light of the court ruling.
Following the elections for EU Parliament, European Union leaders agreed on the officials who will hold the key positions in the world’s biggest trading bloc in the coming years for issues ranging from antitrust investigations to foreign policy. At the side of von der Leyen will be two new faces: Antonio Costa of Portugal as European Council president and Estonia’s Kaja Kallas as the top diplomat of the world’s largest trading bloc.
While Costa’s nomination only needed the leaders’ approval, Kallas will also need to be approved by European lawmakers later this year. The Estonian prime minister is a staunch supporter of Ukraine and a fierce critic of Russia within the European Union and NATO.

Sweden to phase out development aid to Iraq next year

Sweden to phase out development aid to Iraq next year
Updated 8 min 34 sec ago
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Sweden to phase out development aid to Iraq next year

Sweden to phase out development aid to Iraq next year
  • Sweden said current aid package to Iraq amounts to around $18 million a year

STOCKHOLM: Sweden will phase out development aid to Iraq over the coming year, the government said on Wednesday, as it focuses on giving more effective support to fewer countries.
“Sweden has contributed both humanitarian support and development aid to Iraq for many years,” Johan Forssell, Minister for International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, said.
“The conditions have changed and Iraq is now a middle-income country with good resources to support its own population.”
The government said its current aid package to Iraq amounts to around 190 million Swedish crowns ($18 million) a year. Next year, the total will be around 100 million, with aid being phased out by June 30, the government said.
Sweden, home to around 200,000 people either born in Iraq or with an Iraqi-born parent, currently gives aid to around 100 countries and Forssell said the money was too widely spread to be effective.


Mobile internet down, troops on streets as Bangladeshi students clash with police

Mobile internet down, troops on streets as Bangladeshi students clash with police
Updated 18 July 2024
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Mobile internet down, troops on streets as Bangladeshi students clash with police

Mobile internet down, troops on streets as Bangladeshi students clash with police
  • At least 11 people killed in violent clashes across Bangladesh’s main cities

DHAKA: Mobile internet services were down, businesses closed, and public transportation was disrupted across Bangladeshi cities on Thursday, as authorities ordered troops on to the streets amid deadly clashes with protesting students.
University students have been rallying to demand the removal of government employment quotas after the High Court reinstated a rule that reserves the bulk of jobs for descendants of those who fought in the country’s 1971 liberation war.
Under the quota system, 56 percent of public service jobs are reserved for specific groups, including women, marginalized communities, and children and grandchildren of freedom fighters — for whom the government earmarks 30 percent of the posts.
Clashes with police and government supporters began on Sunday after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina undermined the students’ cause by suggesting that they supported the “razakars,” or those who had collaborated with the Pakistani military, an enemy occupying force, during the 1971 war.
Since Wednesday, educational institutions, campuses and students’ dormitories have been shut across the country, forcing students on to the streets.
Tensions escalated early on Thursday and about 6,000 border guards were sent to assist police.
“Considering the present situation, we have deployed additional forces to maintain law and order, and protect the people’s lives and properties,” Inamul Huq Sagar, spokesperson at the police headquarters, told Arab News.
“During emergency situations, we always deploy an additional number of forces.”
Authorities have also shut down mobile internet to prevent further mobilization through social media, with Telecommunications Minister Zunaid Ahmed Palak telling reporters services “will be brought back to normal when the situation improves.”
At least 11 people have been killed and hundreds injured since the clashes broke out across Bangladesh’s main cities, according to local media reports.
Most of the violence took place in Dhaka, where students announced a “complete shutdown,” urging private sector workers and businesses to close operations for the day.
“The complete shutdown is a call from the students to the people not to go to offices, and businesses to remain closed. People will stay at home. All the students are on the streets now,” Umama Fatima, coordinator of Students Against Discrimination, one of the protest organizers, told Arab News.
“The protest is underway everywhere in the capital and across the country. In many places, police and the ruling party’s student wing, Bangladesh Chatra League, attacked the protesting students. As I heard, at least four students died in Dhaka on Thursday during clashes with police.”
More than a quarter of Bangladesh’s 170 million population is aged between 15 and 29. Unemployment is highest in this group, contributing 83 percent of the total jobless figure in the country.
The quotas for well-paid government jobs hit them directly.
Mohammad Nahid Islam, another Students Against Discrimination coordinator, told Arab News earlier this week that the protest was not seeking an end to the quota system, merely its reform, so that it continues to protect marginalized groups, but does not disproportionately distribute public service jobs prioritizing the descendants of the 1971 fighters.
“We are demanding the reform by reserving some quota for the underprivileged population,” he said. “We are demanding job recruitment on the basis of merit.”


Spanish, German police detain four suspected of trafficking drone parts to Hezbollah

Spanish, German police detain four suspected of trafficking drone parts to Hezbollah
Updated 56 min 20 sec ago
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Spanish, German police detain four suspected of trafficking drone parts to Hezbollah

Spanish, German police detain four suspected of trafficking drone parts to Hezbollah
  • Several hundred or even a thousand drones could have been assembled by Hezbollah using the parts, according to Spanish police
  • The remains of drones flown by Hezbollah and found in Israel match the type of components seized by the police in Spain and Germany

MADRID: Police detained four suspects — three in Spain and one in Germany — as part of an investigation into the sale of drone parts to Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group in Lebanon, Spanish police said on Thursday.
The investigation was initiated in Spain, where police officers detected Spanish companies owned by Lebanese-born citizens trading in large quantities of parts and components for military drones able to carry explosives, the police said.
Based on an analysis of documents detailing trades of the components within Europe, several hundred or even a thousand drones could have been assembled by Hezbollah using the parts, the Spanish police said in a statement.
The light aircraft, which are hard to detect and stop, are loaded with explosives as heavy as several kilograms and sent into Israel, the police said.
The remains of drones flown by Hezbollah and found in Israel match the type of components seized by the police in Spain and Germany, the statement said.
Israel and Hezbollah have been exchanging fire since Hezbollah announced a “support front” with Palestinians shortly after its ally Hamas attacked southern Israeli border communities on Oct. 7, triggering Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.
The fighting in Lebanon has killed more than 100 civilians and more than 300 Hezbollah fighters, according to a Reuters tally, and led to levels of destruction in Lebanese border towns and villages not seen since the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war.


Indonesian president secures UAE deal on new capital’s financial center

Indonesian president secures UAE deal on new capital’s financial center
Updated 18 July 2024
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Indonesian president secures UAE deal on new capital’s financial center

Indonesian president secures UAE deal on new capital’s financial center
  • Widodo awarded Order of Zayed for strengthening UAE-Indonesian relations
  • First phase of the new capital megaproject is scheduled for completion in 2024

JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo secured a deal during his UAE trip to involve Dubai’s financial hub in the new capital project, Nusantara, his office said on Thursday.

Widodo arrived in the UAE on a two-day working visit on Tuesday and was hosted by the Gulf state’s president, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

The two countries agreed to “significant bilateral cooperation in various sectors,” Indonesia’s Cabinet Secretariat said in a statement, as it listed eight agreements signed during the trip, including in the areas of renewable energy, tourism ecosystems, payments systems, and the “MoU (memorandum of understanding) between the international financial hub Dubai International Financial Centre Authority and the Nusantara National Capital Authority.”

Southeast Asia’s largest economy is relocating its capital to Borneo island to replace the overcrowded and sinking Jakarta on Java island, with the $33 billion megaproject scheduled for completion in 2045.

The mammoth undertaking is expected to mostly rely on private investors, with government funding planned to cover 20 percent of the total expenditure.

“In the field of strategic investment, the UEA’s contribution is increasingly significant in the development of the Indonesian Capital City,” Widodo said on X.

While construction works are underway and the central government expected to begin operations in the new city in 2024, the new capital has begun work on its financial center area, where Indonesia’s largest state-owned banks — Bank Mandiri, Bank Rakyat Indonesia, and Bank Negara Indonesia — broke ground on their new corporate offices earlier this year.

The financial center will cover 260 hectares within the city’s broader business district.

Through the MoU between Dubai International Financial Centre and Nusantara Capital City Authority, Indonesia and the UAE are “forming a new framework to ultimately grow the two financial ecosystems,” DIFC governor Essa Kazim said, the UAE state news agency reported on Thursday.

“As the UAE and Indonesia collaborate and innovate to drive economic growth and social impact in both countries, DIFC as MEASA’s (the Middle East, Africa, and Southern Asia) global leading financial center, is perfectly positioned to facilitate significant opportunities by way of this strategic partnership,” he said.

The ambitious move to relocate the capital from Jakarta about 2,000 km away in the middle of a forest is a flagship project for Widodo, who officially launched it in 2019.

The first phase of construction is scheduled for completion in 2024, in what has been widely seen as the president’s attempt to seal his legacy before the end of his second and final term in office in October this year.

During the UAE trip, Sheikh Mohamed presented Widodo with the Order of Zayed for his efforts in strengthening UAE-Indonesian relations.

The order is the highest civilian honor in the UAE and is bestowed upon leaders and heads of state.

During Widodo’s second term, the countries signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in July 2022 — Indonesia’s first free trade deal with a Middle Eastern country.

“Building upon the close and enduring ties between the UAE and Indonesia, we explored opportunities to further expand our economic partnership,” Sheikh Mohamed said on X.

“I extend my sincere thanks to President Widodo for his tireless efforts during his time in office to strengthen the bonds between our two nations.”