Afghan pilot granted asylum in UK after struggle against deportation

Afghan pilot granted asylum in UK after struggle against deportation
an Afghan pilot stands next to a line of US-made MD-530 Helicopters in Kabul. (AFP Filephoto)
Short Url
Updated 24 August 2023
Follow

Afghan pilot granted asylum in UK after struggle against deportation

Afghan pilot granted asylum in UK after struggle against deportation
  • Described as a ‘patriot’ by colleagues, pilot was threatened with removal to Rwanda having entered UK illegally
  • Home Office admits he has ‘well-founded fear of persecution’ but his family remains trapped in Afghanistan

LONDON: A former Afghan military pilot locked in a battle to remain in the UK as a refugee has been granted asylum.

The pilot, who flew numerous missions against the Taliban and was described as a “patriot” by coalition allies who worked with him, traveled to Britain illegally through several safe countries and across the English Channel in a small boat, having found it “impossible” to find legal means of reaching the UK.

His asylum application was initially rejected, and he was threatened with deportation to Rwanda, but following a long campaign led by UK newspaper The Independent, supported by numerous politicians and military figures and which even posed questions directly to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over the case, that decision has been overturned.

The UK Home Office accepted the pilot’s claim that he had a “well-founded fear of persecution, and therefore cannot return to (his) country of origin.”

The pilot told The Independent: “I am really happy, completely happy. When they sent me the Rwanda letter I was in shock at how they could send me this kind of letter, but this morning I was equally shocked to see that they had granted me asylum. I couldn’t believe it.

“I want to say thank you very much to every one of you who has supported me,” he added.

“I read the letter and I thought, maybe I’m not understanding it, but really it was clear. I can stay in the UK and I have been given a life here. When I realized it fully, I became really, really happy at the result. And I am also really surprised.

“I have told my wife I have some important news for her. I hope she will be able to join me here soon.”

The pilot’s fight, though, is not yet over. He has still to bring his family, who are in hiding in Afghanistan, over to the UK in a process that can take years, with the waiting list at more than 11,000 for people seeking to relocate to join relatives in the UK. Having been living in a hotel on a grant of just £9 ($11.42) per week, he will also lose all government financial support within a month, and will need to find a job to support himself.

The decision to grant the pilot asylum was welcomed by those who supported his campaign.

Former head of the British Army Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt said he was “delighted,” while Lord Hutton, the former defense secretary, said that “justice has been done.”

Many, though, also voiced frustration that the process had taken so long, and said others were still stuck in similar situations.

Former UK naval staff chief Admiral Lord West said it was “unfortunate that it took so long to look at his case properly,” while Sir Laurie Bristow, the former British ambassador to Afghanistan, told The Independent: “I’m glad for him — it’s very good news. The underlying principle is that we should be fulfilling our obligation to the people who worked for us and with us, and whose lives are at risk as a result.”

Gen. Sir John McColl, the former deputy supreme allied commander for Europe, told The Independent: “The unfortunate thing is that there are many still marooned in Afghanistan and Pakistan, accepted as deserving support after fighting alongside us, waiting to get permission to come here. We’re still waiting for a coherent, focused plan. They are being treated as out of sight and out of mind.”

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative Party leader, said: “I hope we help as many people as possible who have reason to be here. It seems very difficult to get the process going any faster, but for the people over there it’s a nightmare.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: “I’m glad that things have been made right in this case, but it’s hard to keep something similar from happening again without real change.”

The pilot was supported through his ordeal by refugee charity Care4Calais. Its CEO, Steve Smith MBE, a former army colonel, said: “The pilot is an incredible person. We are proud of how he has conducted himself throughout this ordeal, and are honored to have supported him.

“This is a great outcome for the pilot, but it’s not the end. His young family remain in danger in Afghanistan, and steps should be taken to reunite them in the UK as soon as possible.”

A government spokesperson said: “The government provides a safe and legal route through its family reunion policy which enables individuals with protection status in the UK to sponsor their partner or children to stay with or join them here, provided they formed part of the family unit before the sponsor fled their country of origin to seek protection.”


‘Boiling not warming’: Marine life suffers as Thai sea temperatures hit record

‘Boiling not warming’: Marine life suffers as Thai sea temperatures hit record
Updated 11 sec ago
Follow

‘Boiling not warming’: Marine life suffers as Thai sea temperatures hit record

‘Boiling not warming’: Marine life suffers as Thai sea temperatures hit record
  • The once vibrant and colorful corals, about five meters underwater, have turned white in a phenomenon known as coral bleaching
  • If water temperatures do not cool, more coral will die, says marine biologist Lalita Putchim

TRAT, Thailand: Aquatic life from coral reefs to fish in the Thailand’s eastern gulf coast is suffering as sea surface temperatures hit record highs this month amid a regional heatwave, worrying scientists and local communities.

The once vibrant and colorful corals, about five meters (16 feet) underwater, have turned white in a phenomenon known as coral bleaching, a sign that their health was deteriorating, due to higher water temperatures, scientists say.
Sea surface temperatures in the Eastern Gulf of Thailand reached 32.73°C (90.91°F) earlier this month while underwater readings are slightly warmer, with dive computers showing around 33°C, data shows.
“I couldn’t find a single healthy coral,” said marine biologist Lalita Putchim of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) after completing a dive in the gulf coast.
“Almost all of the species have bleached, there’s very little that’s not affected.”
The Trat archipelago is home to over 66 islands, with over 28.4 square kilometers (2,841 hectares) of coral reef, where Lalita has found that up to 30 percent of coral life was bleaching and 5 percent had already died.
If water temperatures do not cool, more coral will die, Lalita said.
“It’s global boiling, not just global warming,” she said.

Lalita Putchim, a marine biologist of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, dives to survey an area of bleached corals in a reef in Koh Mak, Trat province, Thailand, on May 8, 2024. (REUTERS)

Rising temperatures were also impacting other marine life and the livelihoods of local fishermen including Sommay Singsura.
In recent years, his daily catch of seafood has been dwindling. Previously he had been able to make up to 10,000 baht ($275) a day, but now sometimes he comes back empty handed.
“There used to be jackfish, short mackerel, and many others ... But now, the situation isn’t good. The weather isn’t like what it used to be,” Sommay laments.
Coral reefs are both a food resource and habitat for marine life, as well as being natural barriers preventing coastal erosion, scientists say.
If bleaching causes marine life to decrease, fishermen will need to spend more to get their catch, which could see selling prices rise, said Sarawut Siriwong, the dean of faculty of Marine Technology at Burapha University.
“While this (coral bleaching) would affect food security, at the same time, their (community) income stability is also at stake,” he said.
 


Daily marijuana use outpaces daily drinking in the US, a new study says

Daily marijuana use outpaces daily drinking in the US, a new study says
Updated 16 min 4 sec ago
Follow

Daily marijuana use outpaces daily drinking in the US, a new study says

Daily marijuana use outpaces daily drinking in the US, a new study says
  • In 2022, an estimated 17.7 million people reported using marijuana daily or near-daily compared to 14.7 million daily or near-daily drinkers,
  • The number of daily users suggests that more people are at risk for developing problematic cannabis use or addiction, says researcher

For the first time, the number of Americans who use marijuana just about every day has surpassed the number who drink that often, a shift some 40 years in the making as recreational pot use became more mainstream and legal in nearly half of US states.

In 2022, an estimated 17.7 million people reported using marijuana daily or near-daily compared to 14.7 million daily or near-daily drinkers, according an analysis of national survey data. In 1992, when daily pot use hit a low point, less than 1 million people said they used marijuana nearly every day.
Alcohol is still more widely used, but 2022 was the first time this intensive level of marijuana use overtook daily and near-daily drinking, said the study’s author, Jonathan Caulkins, a cannabis policy researcher at Carnegie Mellon University.
“A good 40 percent of current cannabis users are using it daily or near daily, a pattern that is more associated with tobacco use than typical alcohol use,” Caulkins said.

Marijuana plants are displayed at a shop in San Francisco on March 20, 2023. (AP Photo/File)

The research, based on data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, was published Wednesday in the journal Addiction. The survey is a highly regarded source of self-reported estimates of tobacco, alcohol and drug use in the United States.
From 1992 to 2022, the per capita rate of reporting daily or near-daily marijuana use increased 15-fold. Caulkins acknowledged in the study that people may be more willing to report marijuana use as public acceptance grows, which could boost the increase.
Most states now allow medical or recreational marijuana, though it remains illegal at the federal level. In November, Florida voters will decide on a constitutional amendment allowing recreational cannabis, and the federal government is moving to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug.
Research shows that high-frequency users are more likely to become addicted to marijuana, said Dr. David A. Gorelick, a psychiatry professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.
The number of daily users suggests that more people are at risk for developing problematic cannabis use or addiction, Gorelick said.
“High frequency use also increases the risk of developing cannabis-associated psychosis,” a severe condition where a person loses touch with reality, he said.
 


UK defense minister says China sending ‘lethal aid’ to Russia for Ukraine war

UK defense minister says China sending ‘lethal aid’ to Russia for Ukraine war
Updated 23 May 2024
Follow

UK defense minister says China sending ‘lethal aid’ to Russia for Ukraine war

UK defense minister says China sending ‘lethal aid’ to Russia for Ukraine war

LONDON: China is sending “lethal aid” to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine, Britain’s defense minister Grant Shapps said on Wednesday.
“Today I can reveal that we have evidence that Russia and China are collaborating on combat equipment for use in Ukraine,” he said in a speech at a London conference.
Shapps warned that NATO needed to “wake up” and bolster defense spending across the alliance.
“US and British defense intelligence can reveal that lethal aid is now flowing from China to Russia and into Ukraine.”
He argued that democratic states should make a “full-throated case” for freedoms that are dependent on the international order, meaning “we need more allies and partners” worldwide.
“It’s time for the world to wake up. And that means translating this moment to concrete plans and capabilities. And that starts with laying the foundations for an alliance-wide increase in spending on our collective deterrent,” he said.
China and Russia’s strategic partnership has only grown closer since the invasion of Ukraine, but Beijing has rebuffed Western claims that it is aiding Moscow’s war effort.
China has also offered a critical lifeline to Russia’s isolated economy, with trade booming since the invasion and hitting $240 billion in 2023, according to Chinese customs figures.
US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan, however, appeared to take issue with some of Shapps’s comments.
He said the possibility that China might “provide weapons directly — lethal assistance — to Russia” had been a concern earlier, but that “we have not seen that to date.”
The United States did though have a “concern about what China’s doing to fuel Russia’s war machine, not giving weapons directly, but providing inputs to Russia’s defense industrial base,” he added.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin put on a strong show of unity during a meeting in Beijing earlier this month.
Xi said in a statement following talks with Putin during his visit that the two sides agreed on the need for a “political solution” to resolve the war.


Colombia to open embassy in Ramallah

Colombia to open embassy in Ramallah
Updated 23 May 2024
Follow

Colombia to open embassy in Ramallah

Colombia to open embassy in Ramallah

BOGOTA: Colombia, whose president has described Israel’s campaign in Gaza as “genocidal,” said Wednesday it will open an embassy in Ramallah in the Palestinian territories.

Foreign Minister Luis Murillo told reporters that President Gustavo Petro — an ardent critic of Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu — had given instructions “that we install the embassy of Colombia in Ramallah” in the West Bank.

The announcement came on the same day Ireland, Norway and Spain announced they would recognize a Palestinian state, more than seven months into the devastating Gaza war.

An unprecedented attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7 resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,709 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Colombia severed ties with Israel as Petro called Netanyahu “genocidal.”

Earlier this month, he called for the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for the Israeli leader.

On Monday, the prosecutor of that court said he has requested arrest warrants for Netanyahu, his defense minister and top Hamas leaders.


UCLA police chief reassigned following criticism over handling of campus demonstrations

UCLA police chief reassigned following criticism over handling of campus demonstrations
Updated 23 May 2024
Follow

UCLA police chief reassigned following criticism over handling of campus demonstrations

UCLA police chief reassigned following criticism over handling of campus demonstrations
  • The reassignment of Thomas follows UCLA’s May 5 announcement of the creation of a new chief safety officer position

LOS ANGELES: The police chief at the University of California, Los Angeles, has been reassigned following criticism over his handling of recent campus demonstrations that included a mob attacking a pro-Palestinian encampment.
Chief John Thomas was temporarily reassigned Tuesday “pending an examination of our security processes,” said Mary Osako, UCLA vice chancellor for strategic communications, in a statement released Wednesday.
The Daily Bruin reported late Tuesday that Thomas said in a text to the campus newspaper, “There’s been a lot going on and, I learned late yesterday that I’m temporarily reassigned from my duties as chief.”
Neither Osako nor Thomas identified his reassigned role.
The reassignment of Thomas follows UCLA’s May 5 announcement of the creation of a new chief safety officer position to oversee campus security operations.
On April 30, counterdemonstrators attacked a pro-Palestinian encampment, throwing traffic cones, releasing pepper spray and tearing down barriers. Fighting continued for several hours before police stepped in, and no one was arrested. At least 15 protesters suffered injuries.
Thomas told the Los Angeles Times in early May that he did “everything I could” to provide security and keep students safe during days of strife that left UCLA shaken.
But his response was roundly criticized and prompted Chancellor Gene Block to order a review of campus security procedures. Block then announced that Rick Braziel, a former Sacramento police chief, would lead a new Office of Campus Safety that will oversee the UCLA Police Department.
“To best protect our community moving forward, urgent changes are needed in how we administer safety operations,” Block said in the May 5 statement.
Sporadic disruptions continued following the dismantling of a pro-Palestinian encampment and some 200 arrests on April 30.
Block has been summoned to Washington by a Republican-led House committee to testify Thursday about the protests on the Los Angeles campus.
The union that represents more than 250 officers who police the 10 UC campuses criticized Thomas’ reassignment.
“The UCLA administration owns the failure of any protest response, and the public should reject their attempts to shift blame to law enforcement,” Wade Stern, president of the Federated University Peace Officers’ Association, said in a statement Wednesday. “The response to protests appears ad hoc and devoid of the structured planning mandated by the UC system.”