Pakistan’s top court begins hearing challenge to expulsion of Afghans

Pakistan’s top court begins hearing challenge to expulsion of Afghans
More than 370,000 Afghans have fled Pakistan since Octobar 1, after Pakistan vowed to expel more than a million undocumented refugees, mostly Afghans. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 01 December 2023
Follow

Pakistan’s top court begins hearing challenge to expulsion of Afghans

Pakistan’s top court begins hearing challenge to expulsion of Afghans
  • More than 370,000 Afghans have fled Pakistan since Oct. 1, after Pakistan vowed to expel undocumented refugees
  • Pakistan is home to more than 4 million Afghan migrants and refugees, about 1.7 million of whom are undocumented

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Supreme Court began hearings on Friday on a petition by rights activists seeking to halt deportation of Afghan refugees, a lawyer said, as authorities are combing refugee settlements in an effort to find and send home thousands.
More than 370,000 Afghans have fled Pakistan since Oct. 1, after Pakistan vowed to expel more than a million undocumented refugees, mostly Afghans, amid a row with Kabul over charges that it harbors anti-Pakistan militants.
“Due to the urgency, as thousands of people are suffering on daily basis, I’ve requested the court to take up the case as early as next week,” said Umar Ijaz Gilani, the lawyer representing the rights activists.
The panel of three judges hearing the case has asked the government, the interior (home) and foreign ministries, as well as a panel of government and top military officials, to furnish an explanation in reply, the lawyer said.
Thousands of Afghans have gone underground in Pakistan to avoid deportation, fearing for their lives if they return to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan following a hasty and chaotic withdrawal of US-led Western forces in 2021.
Children born to Afghan families in Pakistan could not be sent back due to their birthright, Gilani said.
Friday’s petition is separate from another focused exclusively on seeking Pakistani citizenship for such children, as guaranteed by the South Asian nation’s constitution, he said.
Pakistan is home to more than 4 million Afghan migrants and refugees, about 1.7 million of whom are undocumented.
Many arrived after the Taliban retook Afghanistan in 2021, joining a large number living there since the Soviet invasion of the neighboring nation in 1979.
Pakistani police have searched door-to-door in refugee settlements for any who have not left voluntarily, starting from the southern port city of Karachi, where hundreds of thousands of Afghans live. Any remaining are being forced to leave.
Islamabad has not heeded calls from international bodies and refugee agencies to reconsider its deportation plans.


Fire in Bangladesh capital leaves at least 43 people dead, health minister says

Fire in Bangladesh capital leaves at least 43 people dead, health minister says
Updated 9 sec ago
Follow

Fire in Bangladesh capital leaves at least 43 people dead, health minister says

Fire in Bangladesh capital leaves at least 43 people dead, health minister says
  • Firefighters said the fire began in a popular restaurant on the first floor of the mall in a busy commercial district at the heart of the capital

DHAKA: A fire at a six-story shopping mall in the Bangladeshi capital overnight killed at least 43 people and injured dozens of others, the health minister said Friday.
Health Minister Samanta Lal Sen said the fire broke out late Thursday in the building in Dhaka’s downtown area. Firefighters rescued survivors and pulled out bodies, and by early Friday, at least 43 people died and at least 22 others were being treated, he said.
Firefighters said the fire began in a popular restaurant on the first floor of the mall in a busy commercial district at the heart of the capital, and that many people were trapped by the fire.
The cause of the fire could not immediately be determined.
Sen said at least 33 people, including women and children, were declared dead at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, while at least 10 others died after being taken to the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery.
More than a dozen firefighting units were deployed to douse the fire that broke out at the Green Cozy Cottage Shopping Mall, said Fire Service and Civil Defense Director General Brig. Gen. Md. Main Uddin.
At 75 people, including 42 who were unconscious, were rescued from the building, rescuers said.


At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal

At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal

At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal
  • The Saint-Louis estuary, where the Senegal River meets the Atlantic Ocean, is notorious for strong currents and areas of thick mud
  • Samb did not say how many people were missing from the vessel, which witnesses said could have been carrying more than 300 people

SAINT LOUIS, Senegal: At least 26 people seeking to reach Europe died after their loaded vessel sank off northern Senegal, the governor of the Saint-Louis region told AFP on Thursday.
Alioune Badara Samb said bodies had been found since Wednesday when the boat got into difficulty in a particularly dangerous part of the northern coast. He added that 21 people had been rescued.
The Saint-Louis estuary, where the Senegal River meets the Atlantic Ocean, is notorious for strong currents and areas of thick mud.
Samb did not say how many people were missing from the vessel, which witnesses said could have been carrying more than 300 people.
A number of survivors managed to reach shore and dispersed among locals on the sea banks, making it difficult to say exactly how many people were involved, he said.
Mamady Dianfo, a survivor from Casamance in the south, told AFP more than 300 people were on board when the boat left Senegal a week ago.
Another survivor, Alpha Balde, estimated there were more than 200 passengers.
Dianfo said the vessel reached Morocco further north up the coast but the captain then said he was lost and could no longer continue the journey.
“We asked him to take us back to Senegal,” he said.
President Macky Sall on Thursday expressed his “deep sadness” following the “tragic capsizing” in a message on X, formerly Twitter.
He added that the relevant authorities had been deployed to offer support and assistance.
Senegal’s coast is an increasingly common departure point for Africans fleeing poverty and unemployment and heading to the Canary Islands, their port of entry into Europe.
European Union border agency Frontex says Senegal and Morocco are the most common countries of origin for migrants arriving on the Spanish archipelago in the Atlantic.
Of the more than 6,600 migrants who died or went missing trying to reach Spain last year, the vast majority were lost on the treacherous Atlantic route, according to Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras.


Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan

Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan

Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan
  • FM Alexander Schallenberg said the Middle East has witnessed enough devastation and cruelty

BEIRUT: Austria’s foreign minister on Thursday urged Israel and Hezbollah against escalating the conflict along the volatile Israel-Lebanon border and expressed hope for a pause in the fighting in Gaza in time for the start of the holy month of Ramadan in March.

The Middle East has witnessed enough devastation and cruelty, said Alexander Schallenberg, speaking after meeting his Lebanese counterpart in Beirut.

Schallenberg said he came to Lebanon after visiting Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israeli airstrikes on Lebanese villages along the southern border killed two people and wounded 14 others in the village of Kafra on Wednesday night, National News Agency reported.

Meanwhile, an Israeli drone strike hit a truck near the western Syrian town of Qusair close to the Lebanese border on Thursday, killing a Hezbollah member, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, and a Hezbollah official said.

European and American officials have tried to ease the tensions in visits to Beirut, to avoid a full-blown war between Israel and Hezbollah, which has said it would not discuss any deals before the war in Gaza ends.


Aid groups appeal to EU to release urgent funds for UNRWA

Aid groups appeal to EU to release urgent funds for UNRWA
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

Aid groups appeal to EU to release urgent funds for UNRWA

Aid groups appeal to EU to release urgent funds for UNRWA

BRUSSELS: Humanitarian aid groups have appealed to the EU to release tens of millions of euros in funding due to the main UN agency that delivers most aid to people in the Gaza Strip as the organization teeters on the brink of financial collapse.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, was due to disburse €82 million ($89 million) to the UNRWA aid agency on Feb. 29. UNRWA said that it still had not received the payment as of Thursday morning.

“This is a moment of reckoning for the EU as a humanitarian leader and a critical donor for this crisis,” said Niamh Nic Carthaigh, from Plan International’s EU Liaison Office.

“Any further cuts to UNRWA funding would be an effective death sentence for civilians trapped in Gaza and the region who rely on the agency for their survival,” she said in a joint statement from 17 aid groups, including the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and Oxfam.

UNRWA is reeling from allegations that 12 of its 13,000 Gaza staff members participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel. The agency immediately fired the employees, but more than a dozen countries suspended funding worth about $450 million, almost half its budget for 2024.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini has described the payment due from the EU as “absolutely critical.”

The agency has been the leading supplier of food, water, and shelter during the war in Gaza. Lazzarini has warned that it may be forced to suspend its work soon.

Two UN investigations into Israel’s allegations against the agency are underway, but the European Commission — the third biggest donor to UNRWA after the US and Germany — has demanded a separate audit and wants to appoint experts to carry it out.

Asked on Thursday how the audit is evolving and when funds might be released, European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said that “work is ongoing.”

“The plight of the Palestinian people is of utmost concern to us. At the same time, we have set out several points that need to be agreed with UNRWA before we decide on the next payment, which is indeed foreseen for the end of the month,” Mamer said.

The war has driven 80 percent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians from their homes, and UN officials say a quarter of the population is starving.

The European Commission acknowledged this week that no agency other than UNRWA is capable of helping Gaza’s people correctly and that Israel has provided no evidence to support its allegations against the agency’s staff. The agency provides Israel with a yearly staff list and has received no objections.

Despite this, it insists on “a review of all UNRWA staff” to confirm they had no role in the attacks. Of the UN agency’s 13,000 Gaza staff members, more than 3,000 continue working there.

Among the EU’s 27 member countries, several have unilaterally suspended funding. Germany said it “will temporarily not approve any new funds” until investigations are concluded. France, Italy, and the Netherlands have taken similar positions.


US has no expectation of free and fair vote in Iran, State Dept says

US has no expectation of free and fair vote in Iran, State Dept says
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

US has no expectation of free and fair vote in Iran, State Dept says

US has no expectation of free and fair vote in Iran, State Dept says
  • “I suspect that a great number of Iranians have no expectation that those elections will be free and fair,” Miller said

WASHINGTON: Washington has “no expectation” that a parliamentary election in Iran on Friday will be free and fair, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Thursday.
“I suspect that a great number of Iranians have no expectation that those elections will be free and fair,” Miller said.

“As you probably already know, thousands of candidates were already disqualified in an opaque process and the world has long known that Iran’s political system features undemocratic and non-transparent administrative, judicial and electoral systems.”