Publisher: AFP, Agence France Presse
Story date: 24/11/2011
KABUL, Nov 25, 2011 (AFP) -
At a bustling Kabul market, people smugglers are making a quick buck out of Afghans increasingly desperate to buy a new life in Europe before NATO combat forces leave in 2014.
Ordinary people pay up to $13,000 for the chance to embark on a long and perilous journey hiding in truck chassis, stowing away on boats or trekking across mountains that they hope will take them to a better life.
At Shahzada money exchange market between Kabul's oldest mosque and its foul-smelling river, middlemen ply their trade among the din of currency exchangers shouting out their latest rates and brandishing wads of notes.
Shamim Assir, 20, a thin man with a pale face and trimmed black beard from Logar, south of Kabul, is here to chase up a Turkish visa, which he paid for three months ago but has still not materialised.
"I want to leave my home for a better life, the life is horrible in Logar," he says.
"The security situation is worsening day after day, there is no work for us, we cannot even roam around freely, there is no future," he adds, lines wrinkling his young face.
"In Logar, if you work for the government, the Taliban will arrest you or even kill you. You either work for them or get beaten or killed."
He says that one of his friends was beaten to death by the Taliban for working for the government.
Shamim is among thousands of Afghans who want to leave the country before foreign soldiers do, even though many people are baying for the departure of American forces, blaming much of the violence on their presence.
There are currently around 140,000 international troops in Afghanistan and all NATO-led combat forces are due to leave by the end of 2014.
Suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices and other attacks already kill hundreds of civilians every year, but many Afghans worry that security will worsen after 2014, or even that civil war could reignite.
There has been a surge of Afghans leaving the country in the last five years, Afghanistan's refugee ministry says.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR says that in 2010, more of the world's refugees came from Afghanistan than any other country.
It adds there are more than three million Afghan refugees in 75 countries. Three in 10 of all the world's refugees come from Afghanistan, which was wracked by war even before a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001.
Most of those who leave go to Pakistan or Iran, but some borrow cash or hand over their life savings in the hope of a better life further afield.
"If you want to go to Turkey, you have to pay $4,000 to get your visa but it will cost you $13,000 if you want to reach Europe via Ukraine and Russia," says one trader at the market, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"This year, the number of asylum seekers has been on the rise. Most of those who come here are very young, in their 20s," he says, claiming to have a waiting list of 2,000 Afghans willing to take on dangerous journeys to escape.
"If you pay less, you have to take a bus from Kabul to Iran via Nimruz province in western Afghanistan and then be smuggled to Turkey, Greece, France or Germany," he tells AFP.
He adds that there are several dozen middlemen like him working at the Shahzada market alone.
The journey to mainland Europe can take months or even years many never reach their destination, getting arrested and deported along the way or succumbing to other perils.
Some walk for weeks across the treacherous mountains of Iran, west of Afghanistan, towards Turkey, before crossing by land through eastern Europe, or by sea to Greece and Italy.
In January, a ship reportedly carrying around 260 mostly Afghan asylum seekers to Italy sank near the Greek island of Corfu, killing around 20 people.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, there was a mass exodus of Afghans to Pakistan, Iran and the West as they sought to escape a harsh and violent style of government.
After a US-led invasion toppled the Taliban in 2001, millions returned in the hope of a better life.
But in recent months, the number of Afghans coming back to their homeland has slowed sharply UNHCR says the figure for the first 10 months of this year was 60,000, compared to more than 100,000 in the same period last year.
Meanwhile, the young men in the money market are simply desperate to get out, despite the hardships that await them.
Hamidullah, 29, recently fled to Turkey but was detained by police there for a month before being sent back to Afghanistan.
He said he spent weeks walking most of the way, pausing only to rest in shipping containers en route.
"If the police see these people (refugees), they open fire at them and kill them," he said.
"I saw dead bodies on the way of refugees whose bodies had remained in deserts for a month. I spent around $10,000 to get there. I'm here to borrow some money and go back."
Publisher: Reuters News Agency
Story date: 24/11/2011
CANBERRA (Reuters) Australia's government began releasing asylum-seekers from immigration detention centres on Friday in a reversal of tough border security policies forced by the country's highest court and the failure of a refugee swap agreement with Malaysia.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said 27 mostly Afghan and Sri Lankan men who arrived by boat had been released from detention on so-called bridging visas while their claims to be treated as refugees were assessed.
There are plans to release as many as 100 people a month into the community on similar visas, he said.
"This will be an ongoing, staged process to ensure an orderly transition to the community and that only suitable people are released," Bowen told reporters.
Asylum seekers are a hot political issue in Australia, although U.N. figures show the country ranks 46th on a list of nations hosting refugees and asylum seekers, with just under 0.5 percent of the world's total.
Voters are traditionally concerned about border security and around 100 boats have arrived with more than 5,000 people on board since Prime Minister Julia Gillard won power last year, with most sent to jail-like immigration detention centres.
The United Nations' top human rights watchdog criticised Australia's draconian refugee policies earlier this year, saying long-standing policies of locking up asylum seekers had "cast a shadow over Australia's human rights record."
Australia's High Court then blocked the deportation of asylum seekers to Malaysia under a deal to exchange them for approved refugees, and political opposition in the parliament forced Gillard to change detention policies.
Bowen said asylum seekers released on bridging visas would be free to live with family and friends in the community, and would also be able to work and have access to healthcare.
But he said the government remained committed to mandatory detention policies and called on political opponents who support detention, but not Gillard's failed Malaysia deal to back the government in parliament.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR and Australia's Human Rights Commission said the shift was "sensible and positive," because asylum seekers arriving by boat would be treated the same as others coming by air, often from Europe and the United States.
While the numbers arriving by air without appropriate visas vastly outnumbered asylum-seekers arriving by boat, the former received much more lenient treatment.
"UNHCR has been very concerned, for many years, about the human impact of mandatory detention on asylum-seekers and refugees arriving by boat to Australia," UNHCR regional representative Richard Towle said.
(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Paul Tait)
Publisher: BBC News
Author: By Lucy Ash
Story date: 24/11/2011
Once it was Chechnya, today it is the republic of Dagestan on the Caspian Sea that is the most explosive place in Russia and in Europe. There are bomb attacks almost daily, shootouts between police and militants, tales of torture and of people going missing.
Two armed men in camouflage holding Kalashnikov rifles enter the shop and tell the customers to leave. The terrified cashier stumbles past as one of the men puts a bomb on the counter and sets the timer.
He does not bother emptying the till, he just walks out of the door.
Seconds later, the shop is filled with smoke.
Attacks like this one caught on supermarket security cameras in which Islamic fighters punish shops that sell alcohol have become routine events in Dagestan's capital, Makhachkala.
The owners typically get a warning first, often delivered by text message, or on a USB memory stick thrown through car windows, or into a letterbox.
If they ignore it, there may be a bomb or a shootout or the owners may agree to pay protection money.
"The fighters like to portray themselves as so devout," says a lieutenant colonel in the anti-terrorism police, who I will call Bashir.
"But many are just cynical criminals running protection rackets."
I met Bashir at a football match, watching the Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto'o reportedly the world's best-paid footballer play for Anzhi Makhachkala.
The atmosphere inside the stadium was relaxed, even joyful, with old men munching sunflower seeds and children waving flags, despite the heavy security outside.
After the game, a smiling Eto'o told me he was proud to play in Dagestan but he does not spend much time here, heading straight back to the safety of Moscow after every match.
In the centre of Makhachkala, there are armed police on almost every corner.
Bashir drives me past a place where two car bombs recently killed a policeman and a young girl and wounded 60 police and passers-by.
"When our guys rushed to the scene of the first explosion, a blast about 12 times more powerful went off," he adds.
"It was a trap. They wanted to get as many of us as possible."
He asks me not to use his real name, or to photograph his face. Government officials and policemen are the main targets of the increasingly ruthless Islamic insurgents.
Many officers are too scared to go on to the street in their uniform. Police who have to stop and search cars often wear masks.
But unlike some of his colleagues, Bashir seems to want to understand why so many young Dagestanis have joined the rebels and gone into hiding known here as "going into the forest".
At the university, I watch him lecture students about the dangers of fundamentalist websites. He tells them a cautionary tale about a young medical student who made some so-called friends online, and who later forced him to plant a car bomb.
Bashir is joined by an imam, who urges moderation and compliance with Russian law. "If a man only gets secular education he will be heartless if he only gets religious education he'll be a fanatic," the imam says.
Most Muslims in Dagestan are Sufi but younger people are increasingly drawn to the Salafi branch of Islam, which is less mystical, more puritanical and, crucially, outside the control of the state.
This is seen by the interior ministry as a problem, as I discover in the village of Sovietskoye, three hours south of Makhachkala.
Said Gereikhanov, the young imam at the village mosque, tells me about a day last May, when dozens of Salafi mosque-goers were detained and beaten by police.
Plain-clothed security officers burst into the mosque in muddy boots, during Friday prayers, and told everyone to leave, he says. Outside, they found themselves surrounded by masked men with guns, and the whole congregation of 150 people, including 15 school boys, was taken to a police station in a neighbouring town.
Police then summoned the headmaster of the village secondary school, Sadikullah Akhmedov. Said says he was shocked by the brutal treatment of the teenagers and by Mr Akhmedov's failure to intercede on their behalf.
He shows me photographs of bruised bodies and young men with half of their beards shaved off.
On the night of 9 July, two months after the arrests at the mosque, there was a more serious incident one which sent shock waves through Russia. Mr Akhmedov was gunned down in his own sitting room by unknown assailants.
At the school nobody is keen to talk about it. The headmaster's distraught widow, Djeramat, tells me she has no idea why her husband was killed.
But Said, the imam, says Mr Akhmedov banned the hijab in school and treated girls wearing them as if they "were armed with weapons".
Said believes only the radical fighters could be responsible. He adds wearily: "You can't deliver justice through murders. They just make things worse. This war has already been going on for 20 years."
Like Bashir, Rizvan Kurbanov, Dagestan's deputy premier and the man in charge of police and security, is keen to reach out to disaffected youth.
Clutching his iPad, Mr Kurbanov shows me his Facebook account. He says when more than 20 terrorist internet sites are putting pressure on Dagestan, the government has to reclaim cyberspace and use social networks to stop young people from being seduced by online jihadists.
"No place on earth is safe from terrorism. Today the Caucasus, Dagestan included, is of heightened interest to terrorist organisations and they try to spread unrest here," he says.
An energetic man with a mop of grey hair, he chairs a new commission to persuade fighters to lay down their arms and go back to their families.
"The commission is like a bridge between a person who's lost his way, who's been duped and is in the woods, and society. He can walk across this bridge, say I've done this and that, please forgive me."
This feels like a new approach in the North Caucasus where strong-hand tactics and repression have long been the rule, with the full backing of the Kremlin.
In neighbouring Chechnya, forces loyal to President Ramzan Kadyrov have been accused of burning down the houses of suspected militants, leaving their families homeless.
Mr Kurbanov, on the other hand, urges parents to track down wayward sons and bring them round a table where they can appeal for clemency.
So far though the commission has only dealt with minor figures in the insurgency and government's leniency only goes so far, Mr Kurbanov says.
"Those who don't understand, the ones I call non-people because like animals they just crave blood and want to fight they will be dealt with briefly by the necessary power agencies."
Publisher: AFP, Agence France Presse
Story date: 24/11/2011
A United Nations envoy urged North Korea Friday to end torture and other "inhuman and degrading" treatment of detainees, saying it is perhaps the only country which believes it can ignore human rights.
Marzuki Darusman, the UN special rapporteur on the North's rights record, was speaking at the end of a week-visit to South Korea during which he met officials and refugees from the North.
"Most of the asylum-seekers I interacted with had undergone harsh punishments in the forced labour camps and had either witnessed or heard of torture being implemented on other inmates," he told a press conference.
The former Indonesian attorney-general urged Pyongyang to improve its "dismal" rights record and overhaul penal systems, "which give rise to a plethora of abuses including torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment".
The North "is perhaps the only country today that does not recognise that non-cooperation with the human rights mechanism is not an option", he said.
Up to 200,000 political prisoners are languishing in the North's camps, a sharp increase from 10 years ago, Darusman said last month.
The envoy also called on South Korea and other nations to resume food and medical aid to the North, describing the food situation as "dire". Such aid should be monitored but not linked to political requirements, he said.
UN agencies say some six million people urgently need food. The South provided some 400,000 tons of rice a year until relations worsened when a conservative administration took office in Seoul in 2008.
The UN official also urged neighbouring countries to treat fugitives from the North as refugees. China has been harshly criticised by rights groups for forcibly repatriating North Koreans as "economic migrants".
The envoy's comments follow censure this week by the UN General Assembly, which approved a resolution expressing "very serious concern" at the North's human rights conditions.
North Korea shrugged off the resolution, terming it as a smear campaign led by the United States.
"The resolution circus... is a typical smear campaign repeated every year by the US and sycophants hostile to us," a foreign ministry spokesman said Thursday.
Publisher: Xinhua News Agency, China
Story date: 24/11/2011
ISLAMABAD, Nov. 24 (Xinhua) A total of 80 Afghans were arrested for illegally entering Pakistan through Charman, a town in southwestern Pakistan's Balochistan province, that connects with southeast Afghanistan, said local officials on Thursday.
The detained Afghans entered Pakistan from near the Babe Dosti gate of the Chaman border without legal travel documents, said an official with the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary unit in the country, which is responsible for the border security.
All the detained people were handed over to the Federal Investigation Agency for further investigation, said the official.
Since the breakout of the Afghan war about a decade ago, millions of Afghan refugees have fled their homeland into Pakistan, creating a big social headache for the Pakistani government.
Under a UNHCR-sponsored repatriation program, over five million Afghan refugees have reportedly been repatriated from Pakistan. However, there are still an estimated 1.7 million Afghan refugees remaining in Pakistan.
Refugees Global Press Review
Compiled by Media Relations and Public Information Service, UNHCR
For UNHCR Internal Distribution