Tent camps razed and activists arrested as Tunisia clamps down on migrants

Activists demonstrate outside the delegation of the European Union to Tunisia against migrant deals with EU, in the capital Tunis, Thursday, May 9, 2024. (AP)
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Activists demonstrate outside the delegation of the European Union to Tunisia against migrant deals with EU, in the capital Tunis, Thursday, May 9, 2024. (AP)
Tent camps razed and activists arrested as Tunisia clamps down on migrants
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An anti-discrimination activist in Tunisia was arrested in a money laundering investigation this week as the dangerous and dire conditions facing migrants and their advocates worsen. (File/AP)
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Updated 11 May 2024
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Tent camps razed and activists arrested as Tunisia clamps down on migrants

Tent camps razed and activists arrested as Tunisia clamps down on migrants
  • Saadia Mosbah, who is Black, was taken into custody and her home was searched
  • She was arrested after she posted on social media condemning the racism she faced

TUNIS: Tensions in Tunisia ratcheted up as demonstrators seeking better rights for migrants staged a sit-in before EU headquarters, capping a week in which Tunisian authorities targeted migrant communities from the coast to the capital with arrests and the demolition of tent camps.
Several activists were apprehended this week, accused of financial crimes stemming from providing aid to migrants. Authorities razed encampments outside UN headquarters, sweeping up dozens of sub-Saharan Africans who had been living there for months. Fewer migrants have made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea this year than last due to weather and beefed-up border security.
The 2024 figures align with objectives set by the EU as part of a deal worth more than €1 billion ($1.1 billion) that included assistance to better police the border and prevent migrants without papers from reaching Europe.
However, human rights activists say the crackdown has been damaging for the tens of thousands of migrants stuck in Tunisia as a result.
Demonstrators blasted the security-centric approach governments on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea have chosen to drive their migration policies. Some of the signs at the protests decried Tunisia’s cooperation with Italy and Europe, while others mourned the lives of Tunisians who had died or gone missing at sea.
Bodies continue to wash ashore on the country’s central coastline not far from small towns where migrants have clashed with police and farmers have grown increasingly wary of the growing presence of encampments in olive groves where they make their livings, claiming rampant theft and staging protests demanding government intervention, according to local media.
According to figures from Italy’s Interior Ministry on May 8, the number of migrants reaching Italy in 2024 fell by two-thirds compared to the same point last year.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR reported that more than 24,000 migrants traveled from Tunisia to Italy in the first four months of 2023 while fewer than 8,000 had successfully made the journey over the same period this year.
These trends relieve pressure on European officials hoping to avoid overcrowded detention centers, high numbers of asylum claims and increased concern about immigration ahead of EU parliamentary elections in June.
But in Tunisia, an opposite reality is taking shape.
In April, authorities directly thwarted 209 migration attempts and prevented more than 8,200 migrants, the majority from sub-Saharan African countries, from reaching Italy.
The Tunisian Coast Guard said it had prevented more than 21,000 migrants from reaching Italy this year.
“Tunisia is deepening the crisis and promoting the idea that there is no solution,” Romdane Ben Amor of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, a leading NGO known by its French abbreviation FTDES, told Radio Mosaïque, the country’s largest private radio station.
President Kais Saied acknowledged on Monday that migrants were deported from coastal cities to the borderlands in “continued cooperation” with neighboring countries.
He claimed that pro-migrant “traitors and agents” were being funneled millions in euros and dollars to help settle migrants without legal status in Tunisia.
He made similar remarks last year when he said sub-Saharan African migrants were part of a plot to erase his country’s identity.
His comments followed the arrest earlier this week of Saadia Mosbah, a Black Tunisian anti-discrimination activist, and Sherifa Riahi, the former president of an asylum rights group.
Mosbah was taken into custody, and her home was searched as part of an investigation into the funding for the Mnemty association she runs.
She was arrested after she posted on social media condemning the racism she faced for her work from people accusing her of helping sub-Saharan African migrants, said Bassem Trifi, the president of the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights.
Riahi was arrested on Wednesday under the same financial crimes law, Radio Mosaïque reported.
Last week, more than 80 migrants were arrested in Tunis after clashes with law enforcement during the clearance of encampments in the capital that the authorities said were “disturbing the peace,” according to Radio Mosaïque.
Hundreds of migrants had camped near the headquarters of UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, many of them demanding the agencies resettle them outside of Tunisia. Law enforcement used heavy machinery to raze their tents and then bused them outside of the city to “an unknown destination,” said Ben Amor from FTDES.
An estimated 244 migrants — most of them from outside Tunisia — have died or disappeared along the country’s Mediterranean coastline this year, including 24 whose bodies were found last week, the NGO said.
A report based on government data released Monday noted that the number of migrants without papers crossing the Mediterranean had decreased as Tunisian authorities reported increasing interceptions.
This was the case for migrants from Tunisia and migrants passing through the country en route to Europe.
North African and European officials have sought to curb human trafficking and improve the policing of borders and coastlines to prevent deaths at sea.
However, thousands of migrants fleeing conflict, poverty, persecution or hoping for a better life have continued to make the journey.
They take boats from the coast north of Sfax, Tunisia’s second-largest city, to Italian islands such as Lampedusa, about 130 km away.
The European Union hopes to limit migration with policies that include development assistance, voluntary return, and repatriation for migrants, as well as forging closer ties with neighboring governments that police their borders. The EU and member countries such as Italy have pledged billions of dollars over the past year to countries including Tunisia, Mauritania, and Egypt to provide general government aid, migrant services, and border patrols.

 


Algeria places pro-democracy activists in pre-trial detention: lawyer

Algeria places pro-democracy activists in pre-trial detention: lawyer
Updated 20 July 2024
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Algeria places pro-democracy activists in pre-trial detention: lawyer

Algeria places pro-democracy activists in pre-trial detention: lawyer
  • UN Special Rapporteur Clement Voule called on Algeria to “address the climate of fear caused by a string of criminal charges”

ALGIERS: Eight Algerian activists from pro-democracy protests that toppled the country’s last president have been placed in pre-trial detention while six others were released under judicial supervision, one of their lawyers said Friday.
The activists were arrested between July 8 and 15 in Bejaia, some 220 kilometers (136 miles) east of the capital Algiers.
Mira Mokhnache, a university professor and human rights defender, along with seven other activists were placed in pre-trial detention on Thursday by an investigating judge at the Sidi M’Hamed court in downtown Algiers, according to lawyer Fetta Sadat.
The protest movement, known as Hirak, broke out in February 2019 and forced longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down two months later.
The movement continued to press for deep reforms, but it waned during the Covid pandemic.
The National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD) said that among the eight convicted was a man who was released from prison last month after three years of imprisonment over ties to the pro-democracy protests.
A 16-year-old whistleblower who documented Algerian political prisons on his Facebook page was among those released under judicial supervision, according to Sadat.
Local media said the group was being prosecuted under a 2021 law amendment relating to “terrorism.”
Last year, a United Nations expert called for the repeal of the article that “broadened the definition of terrorism,” and urged Algerian authorities to pardon people convicted or detained over their involvement in the pro-democracy protests.
UN Special Rapporteur Clement Voule called on Algeria to “address the climate of fear caused by a string of criminal charges.”
Dozens of people are still detained in Algeria over links to Hirak or human rights activism, according to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees.
In February, rights watchdog Amnesty International said that five years after the protests erupted, Algerian authorities had “escalated their repression of peaceful dissent.”
“It is a tragedy that five years after brave Algerians took to the streets in their masses to demand political change and reforms, the authorities have continued to wage a chilling campaign of repression,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director, Heba Morayef.
The North African country is readying for presidential elections set to take place on September 7 as the incumbent President Abdelmadjid Tebboune remains its frontrunner.
 

 


Blast hits Iraq former paramilitaries depot: officials

Blast hits Iraq former paramilitaries depot: officials
Updated 20 July 2024
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Blast hits Iraq former paramilitaries depot: officials

Blast hits Iraq former paramilitaries depot: officials
  • A security source confirmed the blast, adding that it “occurred in a warehouse storing equipment that belongs to Hashed Al-Shaabi”

BAGHDAD: An explosion ripped through “logistics” warehouses belonging to former pro-Iran paramilitaries south of the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Thursday, officials said.
“At 7:00 p.m. (1600 GMT)... an explosion occurred in logistics warehouses belonging to the 42 Brigade... in the Yusufiyah area, south of Baghdad,” said the Hashed Al-Shaabi — an alliance of pro-Iranian former paramilitary groups now integrated into the regular army.
The cause of the blast was not immediately known, and the Hashed said it assigned a committee to investigate.
Firefighters were battling the blaze, it added in a statement.
A security source confirmed the blast, adding that it “occurred in a warehouse storing equipment that belongs to Hashed Al-Shaabi.”
A Hashed official said he did not rule out the possibility of an “air strike.”
In April, one person was killed and eight wounded in a blast at a military base housing Hashed groups in Babylon province, south of Baghdad.
An investigation found the blast was caused by munitions stored on-site, not by an air strike.
The Hashed Al-Shaabi is an integral part of the Iraqi security apparatus under the authority of the prime minister.
It includes some pro-Iran groups which have carried out dozens of attacks against US forces in Iraq and neighboring Syria.
The latest blast comes after two drones were launched on Tuesday against an Iraqi base used by US-led troops without causing any damage.
 

 


Israel threatens reprisals for deadly Yemen rebel drone strike

Israel threatens reprisals for deadly Yemen rebel drone strike
Updated 20 July 2024
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Israel threatens reprisals for deadly Yemen rebel drone strike

Israel threatens reprisals for deadly Yemen rebel drone strike
  • Israel has killed at least 38,848 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory, where fighting raged on Friday

TEL AVIV: Israel threatened reprisals Friday after a drone claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels penetrated its vaunted air defenses and killed a civilian in a Tel Aviv apartment building near a US embassy annexe.
The attack drew condemnation from UN chief Antonio Guterres and an appeal for “maximum restraint” to avoid “further escalation in the region.”
The pre-dawn strike came hours before Israel suffered another blow, a ruling by the UN’s top court that its occupation of the Palestinian territories was “illegal” and needed to end as soon as possible.
The advisory opinion of The Hague-based International Court of Justice is not binding, but it comes amid mounting international condemnation of Israel’s handling of its war on Hamas in Gaza.
The office of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas hailed the court’s decision as “a victory for justice.” Hamas said it puts “the international system before the imperative of immediate action to end the occupation.”
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has overseen a major expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, insisted: “The Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land.”
The Houthis are one of a number of Iran-backed armed groups around the Middle East that have claimed drone and missile attacks on Israel in retaliation for the Gaza war.
The group, which controls swathes of Yemen, including much of its Red Sea coast, has previously claimed attacks on Israeli cities including Ashdod, Haifa and Eilat, but Friday’s strike appears to be the first to breach Israel’s sophisticated air defenses.
The Houthis fired at Tel Aviv a “new drone called ‘Yafa’, which is capable of bypassing the enemy’s interception systems,” their spokesman Yahya Saree said.
An Israeli military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a “very big drone that can travel long distances” was used in the 3:12 am (0012 GMT) attack.
He said the drone was detected but due to “human error” the alarm was not raised in time, and it slammed into an apartment building.
Military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israel believed the drone used was Iranian-made and upgraded so it could reach Tel Aviv from Yemen — at least 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) away.
Medical services said one civilian was killed and four people suffered “relatively minor” injuries.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed revenge.
“The security system will settle the score with all who try to harm the state of Israel, or sends terrorism against it, in a decisive and surprising manner,” he said in comments posted on social media platform X.

In grainy security camera footage, the buzz of what appeared to be the drone was followed by an explosion that shook the building and set off car alarms.
The blast occurred about 100 meters (yards) from a US embassy annexe, said an AFP journalist who saw broken windows along the street lined with apartment blocks.
“It woke me up because the vibration of the sound was like a 747 (jet) coming in,” said Kenneth Davis, an Israeli who was staying in a hotel opposite the building which was hit.
“And then the explosion... everything blew out in the room,” he told AFPTV.
Since November, the Houthis have also carried out dozens of drone and missile attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden that they claim is Israeli-linked.
The United States and Britain launched a campaign of air strikes in January to deter the attacks on shipping.
The Gaza war was triggered by Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 42 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 38,848 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory, where fighting raged on Friday.

Residents said clashes were heard between Palestinian fighters and the Israeli army, with explosions and shelling in the Tal Al-Hawa district of Gaza City.
The war has destroyed much of Gaza’s housing and other infrastructure, leaving virtually the entire population displaced and short of food and drinking water.
Many are living in unsanitary conditions. Health authorities in Gaza and Israel said on Thursday that poliovirus had been detected in Gaza sewage samples.
The World Health Organization said on Friday that no cases of the highly infectious disease had been discovered in Gaza so far.
 

 


Houthis damage cargo ship in Gulf of Aden as it steps up attacks

Houthis damage cargo ship in Gulf of Aden as it steps up attacks
Updated 20 July 2024
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Houthis damage cargo ship in Gulf of Aden as it steps up attacks

Houthis damage cargo ship in Gulf of Aden as it steps up attacks
  • Houthis in recent weeks have become more adept at inflicting damage on their targets

CAIRO: Yemen’s Houthi militants hit and damaged a Singapore-flagged container ship with two missiles on Friday as they escalate attacks on global shipping over Israel’s war in Gaza.
The overnight assault on the Lobivia cargo ship came as the Iran-aligned Houthis also claimed responsibility for a fiery, long-range aerial drone strike in the center of Tel Aviv that killed one man and wounded four others.
The Houthis in recent weeks have become more adept at inflictingdamage on their targets. In June, the militants struck the Greek-owned Tutor coal carrier with missiles and an explosive-laden remote-controlled boat, causing it to sink.
Tutor was the second ship sunk in the Houthi campaign against commercial shipping, which since November has killed at least three sailors and upended global trade by forcing ship owners to avoid the Suez Canal trade shortcut.
“Their capacity, their access to more sophisticated weapons, has only increased over the course of this conflict,” said Gerald Feierstein, director of the Arabian Peninsula Affairs Program at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree in a television speech on Friday said the group launched the Lobivia strikes, adding that the assault also included drones. The manager of Lobivia did not immediately comment.
Lobivia was in the Gulf of Aden when the missiles struck two areas on its port side, the Joint Maritime Information Center (JMIC) said in an incident report.
The ship was located 83 nautical miles southeast of Yemen’s port city of Aden during the attack. All crew are reported safe and the ship was returning to its last port of call, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said.
“The ship was transiting northeast along the Gulf of Aden when a merchant vessel in the vicinity observed ‘light and blast’ where the ship was located,” British security firm Ambrey said.
The ship appeared to perform evasive maneuvers immediately and switch off her automatic identification system approximately an hour later, Ambrey said.
On Tuesday, the Houthis hit the Liberia-flagged oil tanker Chios Lion with a drone boat, causing damage to the port side that left an oily trail that experts said appeared to be fuel.
Britain and the US have conducted retaliatory strikes since February, shooting down drones and bombing attack sites in Yemen.
That has come at a significant cost, said Feierstein, who was the US Ambassador to the Republic of Yemen from 2010 to 2013 under President Barack Obama.
“We’re basically spending a million dollars every time we shoot down a Radio Shack drone. That’s wearing on the Navy and wearing on our supplies,” he said.


Killing of Gaza girl, 5, may be Israeli war crime: UN experts

Killing of Gaza girl, 5, may be Israeli war crime: UN experts
Updated 19 July 2024
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Killing of Gaza girl, 5, may be Israeli war crime: UN experts

Killing of Gaza girl, 5, may be Israeli war crime: UN experts
  • The UN experts said “the absence of proper investigation and accountability” five months after the facts “is deeply troubling and may in itself amount to a violation of the right to life”

GENEVA: The death of Hind Rajab, a Palestinian girl whose final appeals for help moved public opinion worldwide, may constitute a war crime, UN experts said on Friday.
“The killing of five-year old Hind Rajab, her family and two paramedics may amount to a war crime,” the experts said in a press statement.
Israeli claims its troops were not in the area at the time were “unacceptable,” they added.
In a statement, the Israeli Embassy in Geneva said that its own army was investigating.

This undated handout photograph obtained courtesy of the family shows six-year-old Palestinian girl Hind Rajab posing for a picture. (AP)

The UN experts said “the absence of proper investigation and accountability” five months after the facts “is deeply troubling and may in itself amount to a violation of the right to life.”
They also referred to “compelling evidence” on where the family’s car was in relation to an Israeli tank “and how it was shot at from very close range using a type of weapon that can only be attributed to the Israeli forces.”
“Audio recordings of calls between Hind and emergency services suggest that she was the only survivor in the car before she was also killed,” the experts added.
The UN experts, while mandated by the Human Rights Council, do not speak in its name.
The Gaza war was triggered by the Oct. 7 attack by militants on southern Israel.
Israel’s military retaliation to wipe out Hamas has killed at least 38,848 people, also mostly civilians, according to data from the Health Ministry in Gaza.