4 Britons who were detained in Afghanistan are released by the Taliban

4 Britons who were detained in Afghanistan are released by the Taliban
The Taliban released four Britons who were detained in Afghanistan on allegations that they broke the laws of the country, the U.K. government said Tuesday. (AP/File)
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Updated 10 October 2023
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4 Britons who were detained in Afghanistan are released by the Taliban

4 Britons who were detained in Afghanistan are released by the Taliban
  • The Foreign Office said in a brief statement that it welcomed the release of the four Britons
  • “The U.K. government regrets this episode,” it added

LONDON: The Taliban released four Britons who were detained in Afghanistan on allegations that they broke the laws of the country, the U.K. government said Tuesday.
The Foreign Office said in a brief statement that it welcomed the release of the four Britons, and expressed apologies on behalf of their families “to the current administration of Afghanistan for any violations of the laws of the country.”
“The U.K. government regrets this episode,” it added.
The Foreign Office didn't provide details on who the four were or what laws they allegedly broke.
Scott Richards, co-founder of the U.K.-based nonprofit Presidium Network, which was involved in negotiations to help secure the Britons' release, said one of the four was Kevin Cornwell, who had been working with the United Nations in a medical capacity.
Cornwell was detained in January in a Kabul hotel housing nonprofit workers, along with an unidentified hotel manager, after Afghanistan's Directorate of Intelligence searched their rooms and found a pistol in the hotel safe, according to Richards.
All four men were on a flight returning to the U.K. on Tuesday, Richards added.


Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage

Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage
Updated 10 min 57 sec ago
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Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage

Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage
  • NGO condemns ‘abusive and degrading’ treatment of 50 migrants
  • Evidence of problem across continent, says Council of Europe official

LONDON: Footage of Syrian migrants in Serbia being stripped and forced back into North Macedonia has emerged, in what human rights groups warn is evidence of growing violence targeting migrants on the edges of Europe.

Legis, an NGO in North Macedonia, sent two video clips to The Guardian newspaper showing a line of semi-naked men on a road near Lojane, close to the border with Serbia.

The videos are dated Feb. 10 and show the second instance of “abusive and degrading” migrant pushbacks that day, Legis said.

In total, more than 50 migrants who crossed the border were stripped and pushed back by Serbian authorities, the NGO added.

Legis President Jasmin Redjepi said the pushback followed an EU-Serbian cooperation summit that aimed to bolster the Serbian border against people-smuggling operations.

 

 

He added: “These incidents occur when the EU prepares restrictions for migrants on the route, and in this case just days after an EU-Serbia border cooperation summit. We then see the direct impact and consequences.”

Though the stripping of migrants has taken place across Europe, the Legis footage is the first instance of the practice taking place on the Serbia-North Macedonia border.

A report by a Belgian NGO estimated that in 2023, almost 350,000 forced pushbacks took place on Europe’s external borders.

Dunja Mijatovic, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, said: “Recent reports of alleged pushbacks by Serbian police officers at the border with North Macedonia, characterized by ill- and degrading treatment and robbery of migrants, possibly including those attempting to seek asylum, require prompt and effective investigation by state authorities.”

She added that the pushbacks on the North Macedonia border are indicative of an “urgent pan-European problem,” with the practice becoming a widespread phenomenon across the continent.

“These incidents are not only disturbing, but also indicative of a wider, worrying trend among Council of Europe member states.

“These actions appear to violate the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits refoulement and collective expulsions, as well as other international standards which require ensuring genuine and effective access to asylum for those who seek it,” Mijatovic said.

“What I have observed and warned about is that migrants have been subjected to treatment that might constitute degrading treatment or torture in several European countries for years, in clear violation of states’ human rights obligations.”


UN says 14 million fled homes in Ukraine since Russian invasion

UN says 14 million fled homes in Ukraine since Russian invasion
Updated 7 sec ago
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UN says 14 million fled homes in Ukraine since Russian invasion

UN says 14 million fled homes in Ukraine since Russian invasion
  • Over 4.5 million people have returned home to date, from either abroad or displacement within the country
  • United Nations overall says it needs $4.2 billion this year to provide humanitarian aid in Ukraine and to refugees

Geneva: The UN said Thursday more than 14 million people had fled their homes in Ukraine during the two years since the Russian invasion, with nearly 6.5 million now living outside the country as refugees.
Reflecting on the February 24 second anniversary of the full-scale invasion, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that in addition to the refugees abroad, some 3.7 million people remain displaced within Ukraine.
Over 4.5 million people have returned home to date, from either abroad or displacement within the country.
In total, more than 14 million people — nearly one third of Ukraine’s population — have fled their homes at some point during the war.
“The destruction is widespread, loss of life and suffering continues,” IOM director general Amy Pope said in a statement.
“IOM commends the government of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people for their strength and resilience, as well as Ukraine’s neighbors who are taking in those seeking safety. We remain fully committed to alleviating human suffering and helping recovery.”
The United Nations agency said it had supported 6.5 million people in Ukraine and across 11 countries in eastern Europe hosting refugees.
“As the war enters a protracted phase, however, needs continue to grow and outpace available resources,” the agency said.
In the first two years of the conflict, the IOM has received $957 million in donations.
“We count on increased support from donors and local partners to meet the challenges that lie ahead in providing a better life for Ukrainians,” said Pope.
The Russian invasion was the biggest of a European country since World War II and triggered the largest refugee crisis the continent has faced since the 1939-1945 conflict.
The United Nations overall says it needs $4.2 billion this year to provide humanitarian aid in Ukraine and to refugees who have fled but fears a likely shortfall as the Gaza war dominates global attention.
Of those who fled and have now returned to their homes, “many have encountered lasting challenges... including insecurity, loss of livelihoods, damaged housing and infrastructure, and strained services,” said Soda Federico, director of the IOM’s humanitarian response and recovery department.
“We must focus on economic recovery,” he said in the agency’s report on the first two years of the war.


Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south

Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south
Updated 22 February 2024
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Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south

Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south
  • Roughly 50 square kilometers is ablaze northwest of Ballarat
  • A similar area is also burning out of control further to the west

SYDNEY: More than two thousand people have been ordered to evacuate from towns in the west of Australia’s Victoria state due to a bushfire burning out of control on Thursday.
The state emergency service urged residents in the towns of Raglan and Beaufort, home to around two thousand people, and those in surrounding areas to leave while it was still safe and head east to the nearby regional hub of Ballarat, 95 kilometers west of Melbourne.
Roughly 50 square kilometers is ablaze northwest of Ballarat. A similar area is also burning out of control further to the west.
State Premier Jacinta Allan said more than 1,000 firefighters were on the ground, supported by 24 aircraft and more than 100 vehicles. More are set to join the fight soon.
“Leaving immediately is the safest option for those communities,” she said at a news conference. “If you are located in these areas, please heed this advice, please act now to save your own life.”
Officials said no property damage had been reported but it was too soon for an accurate picture.
Large swathes of the state are on high alert for fires and the Bureau of Meteorology on Thursday issued extreme fire danger warnings for several districts due to hot, dry winds and the potential for thunderstorms.
The fires west of Ballarat are expected to worsen throughout the evening until around midnight, when the winds will begin to slow, Jason Heffernan, chief officer of the Country Fire Authority, told the news conference.
Temperatures were above 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit) in the northwest of the state at 3.00 p.m. (0400 GMT).


In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden

In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden
Updated 22 February 2024
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In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden

In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden
  • As Gaza Strip death toll climbs, residents once firmly in the Democratic fold — are turning against the president in a crucial swing state he won by just 150,000 votes in 2020.

Dearborn: It’s common to hear residents chatting in Arabic just as often as English in this Detroit suburb’s stores or mosques, those buildings themselves often sporting bilingual signage out front.
But no matter the language, residents in this Arab American and Muslim stronghold in the Midwestern state of Michigan are convinced President Joe Biden, as he steadfastly stands by Israel in its war in Gaza, is not listening to them.
“Vote for Palestine. No Biden,” political organizer Samra’a Luqman says in English, passing out fliers outside a mosque after prayers.
“Don’t vote for Biden,” the activist with Yemeni origins adds in Arabic.
“Of course,” respond many passersby.
As the Gaza Strip death toll climbs, residents here — once firmly in the Democratic fold — are turning against the president in a crucial swing state he won by just 150,000 votes in 2020.
Some are hoping to pressure Biden to back off from his Israel support and call for a ceasefire. Others, like Luqman, say they would never vote for him.
“He’s committing the genocide. He’s funding it,” Luqman, a campaign leader with a group called Abandon Biden, tells AFP.
A campaign is underway by Luqman and others urging voters to vote “uncommitted,” or write in “Free Palestine” on their ballots in the state’s primary next week — a symbolic gesture, since Biden faces no serious challengers for the Democratic nomination.
“This is a campaign about pressuring our current president who can do something about the mass killing of children,” says Abbas Alawieh, a former Democratic chief of staff on Capitol Hill and member of the Listen to Michigan campaign group.
“In this community there are a lot of people who are directly harmed by war,” the Lebanese-born Alawieh tells AFP.
Biden, he says, “is threatening to lose this community. Not just in November, but perhaps for a generation to come.”
The war started when Hamas launched its attack on October 7, resulting in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
But concern has mounted amid the high civilian toll in Israel’s retaliatory campaign, now at 29,313 people dead, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.
Listen to Michigan began as a pressure campaign, but some voters say their frustration with the president is permanent.
Voting for Biden was the “worst mistake of my life,” says Mohamed Alemara, a 23-year-old medical student of Iraqi descent.
“You don’t kill 30,000 of our people and expect us to vote for you.”
Arab Americans’ vows to ditch Biden often baffle liberal political pundits.
What will Muslims and Arabs do, the thinking goes — vote for Donald Trump, the Republican behind the “Muslim ban” immigration policy, whose supporters flirt with ideas like “Christian nationalism“?
“We’re not a stupid community,” says Luqman. “I’ve survived a Muslim ban, but those kids in Gaza have not survived Joe Biden.”
“My intention is not to vote in an Islamophobe, another genocidal maniac,” she adds. Yet she tells AFP, “the only way I would vote for Biden is if he resurrected” the Gaza dead.
In America’s two-party system, where voters often hold their nose to pick candidates they don’t back 100 percent, 27-year-old nurse Fatima Elzaghir says that “at this point, the lesser evil is Trump.”
Others, like Alawieh, reject the premise of the question.
“How dare you come to me and say, ‘Oh, but later, Trump will be your fault,’” he says.
“Call your representative. Tell them you want a ceasefire.... Once we stop the bloodshed, then we can talk about the political consequences.”
Biden will also have to deal with Michigan’s unions — where some are defecting from the labor-friendly president’s camp.
Many union and workingclass voters already support Republicans, drawn in by their conservative social policies.
But for Merwan Beydoun, a steel mill worker and member of the United Autoworkers Union, Gaza was the breaking point.
“Furious” at Biden, whom the UAW endorsed, Beydoun stopped his contributions to the union’s political arm.
Beydoun says he still believes “in a lot of Democratic policies” and would rather not say how he’ll vote in November. But to earn Beydoun’s vote, the president “needs to wake up” and “change his ways.”
The Biden administration has tried to assuage Arab and Muslim voters’ concerns in part by portraying the president as frustrated with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
But US weapons have flowed to Israel since October 7, while Washington’s efforts to broker a second pause in fighting have failed, and on Tuesday the US blocked a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire.
“My intention is to punish Biden for what he’s doing now,” says Luqman. “For the betrayal that he’s done to me and all the community members that have voted for him.”


Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’

Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’
Updated 22 February 2024
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Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’

Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’
  • Located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the Scarborough Shoal is also claimed by China

MANILA/BEIJING: A Philippine coast guard official on Thursday described as “inaccurate” its Chinese counterpart’s claim that a fisheries vessel “illegally intruded” into Beijing’s waters.
The Chinese coast guard said earlier on Thursday it drove away a vessel of the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and accused them of “illegally intruding” into its waters near Scarborough Shoal.
“This statement is inaccurate. The BFAR vessel, BRP Datu Sanday, continues to patrol the waters of Bajo De Masinloc. Currently, the BFAR vessel is actively ensuring the security of Filipino fishermen in that area,” Commodore Jay Tarriela, the coast guard’s spokesperson on South China Sea issues told reporters.
Located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the Scarborough Shoal is also claimed by China, making it one of Asia’s most contested maritime features and a flashpoint for flare-ups.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion in annual ship commerce. Its territorial claims overlap with those of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
In 2016, an international arbitration tribunal in the Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.