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Migrants are encouraged by Aid Agencies to try ‘Closed’ Balkans Route into Europe

Serbia’s people-smugglers are looking for a share of a business worth more than $5 billion in southern Europe last year, according to international police agencies.

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Migrant children play with a cardboard box at a makeshift camp at the Serbian-Hungarian border near the village of Horgos, Serbia, May 19, 2016. Image Source: REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Fifty young men line up in a Belgrade park where aid workers hand them supplies for the journey ahead – a backpack each, containing a torch, phone and blanket.

But the aid organisations can do little more for the migrants, since the Balkan route to western Europe was officially closed. To reach their destinations, they must now rely on their wits, determination and shadowy people-smugglers.

Esan Ahmadzia, an IT manager from Afghanistan, says he ran into trouble with the Taliban and is heading for Germany to join his family. Javid from Pakistan wants to go to Italy.

Balkan states have tried to seal their borders, but for many migrants, Serbia still offers a risky path to a better future.

The smugglers can charge thousands of dollars and expose the migrants to grave danger – anything from armed robbery to drowning.

More than 650,000 people from the Middle East, Asia and Africa trudged through Serbia last year on their way to the European Union, but in March the borders closed, leaving thousands trapped on the Macedonian frontier.

Migrants. Image source: SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty
Migrants. Image source: SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty

A deal between the European Union and Turkey has stemmed the armada of rubber boats reaching Greece and several other countries in the region have closed their borders to migrants.

But people are still reaching Serbia via Macedonia or Bulgaria – a steady influx of around 200 a day, according to the Belgrade Asylum Information Centre.

Smaller numbers are arriving in Serbia via a new route from Greece via Albania and Kosovo, refugee experts say.

Most migrants use smugglers to get into Serbia and will use them to reach EU member state Hungary. Before borders closed, refugees had free passage on this last leg of the route to western Europe.

A few dozen a day are allowed into Hungary, families with children having priority. Those refused often try to cross the border fence illegally. Migrant support groups report some are beaten and robbed.

DANGER

“It’s absolutely impossible to stop migration. They say they don’t have any alternative,” Rados Djurovic of Serbia’s Asylum Protection Centre told Reuters.

“People are using more risky ways and they are coming.”

Refugees gather in central Belgrade to meet the smugglers. One open space near the bus station is known as the Syrian park, while over the road is the Afghan park. A bed for the night is on offer at an asylum centre just outside the city.

At the Krnjaca centre, Shekib Daqiq, 35, said he left Afghanistan because he was threatened after working as an interpreter for the French army. His journey with his family via Baluchistan and Turkey was fraught with danger.

He became separated from his wife, Nilo, and two of his children after walking for five hours through a forest in Bulgaria. The three were later deported to Turkey, he said.

In Serbia, the vehicle smugglers were using to transport him crashed and caught fire. Daqiq then walked for hours, his face covered in blood and six-year-old son Sadi on his shoulders.

Daqiq hopes to reach France: “If the government of France helps me, it’s not difficult.”

Also at the Krnjaca centre is Rezan Ibrahim, 44, a Kurdish teacher who said she had fled murders, kidnappings and threats in Iraq. Serbia is “very good”, but asked if she wants to go to Germany, she replies: “Of course.”

She said the journey so far had cost nearly 22,000 euros (17,163 pounds) for her and her three children, in payments to smugglers. For the next leg she will have to pay again, with smugglers charging up to 1,500 euros to travel through Serbia into Hungary.

Saman Ali Vjestica of the Asylum Information Centre said smugglers demanded 7,000 euros to get people from Greece to western Europe, or 15,000 from their country of origin. The route into Serbia via Bulgaria is cheaper but migrants say they suffer more there at the hands of smugglers and security forces.

Routes through Serbia are often controlled by smugglers from Pakistan or Afghanistan, with locals providing transport and accommodation, Asylum Centre officials said.

Serbia’s people-smugglers are looking for a share of a business worth more than $5 billion in southern Europe last year, according to international police agencies.

Police have this year charged 187 suspects with trying to smuggle 1,323 people across Serbia’s borders.

Those working with refugees say that by the time they reach Serbia, they will not be stopped by closed borders.

“Europe is there,” said Djurovic. “You can grab it already.” (REUTERS)

(Writing by Giles Elgood; editing by Andrew Roche)

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Nearly 58% of Rohingya Refugees are Kids Suffering from Severe Malnutrition, Says UN Report

The report highlights the dangers these Rohingya minors faced during the attacks when they were in Myanmar or when they were fleeing the repression to Bangladesh.

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Displaced Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine. Wikimedia.

Bangladesh, October 20, 2017 : Nearly fifty-eight per cent of the about 600,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are children who suffer from severe malnutrition, a UN report released said.

The UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) report also said that these children were highly exposed to infectious diseases, Efe news reported.

“In a sense it’s no surprise that they must truly see this place as a hell on earth,” said Simon Ingram, Unicef official and author of the report.

Titled “Outcast and Desperate: Rohingya refugee children face a perilous future” was released at a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

After two weeks in Cox’s Bazar, a southern Bangladesh town where nearly 600,000 newly arrived refugees are crammed into a crowd of 200,000 Rohingyas who had fled earlier, Ingram described the situation fraught with “despair, misery and indescribable suffering”.

The report highlights the dangers these Rohingya minors faced during the attacks when they were in Myanmar or when they were fleeing the repression to Bangladesh.

The report also highlighted several drawings of children with uniformed soldiers killing people and helicopters spraying bullets from the sky.

In mid-August, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) carried out a coordinated attack on security posts in Myanmar, sparking a violent response from the military which led to thousands of Rohingyas in Rakhine state fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.

Ingram explained that very little is known about what is happening in Rakhine, since humanitarian agencies have not been able to enter the region since August.

Most of the refugees “are already undernourished, since the repression also included the burning of food stores and the destruction of crops”, he said.

According to the Unicef estimates, one in every five children under the age of five is suffering from acute malnutrition and about 14,500 suffer severe acute malnutrition.

Ingram explained that the main danger of infectious diseases have been mitigated with the vaccination campaign against cholera, measles and polio, but much remains to be done to tackle these risks.

He added the situation worsened with the lack of clean drinking water as these children consumed only contaminated water which is another main source of infection.

With regard to child protection, the expert welcomed the fact that the number of unaccompanied children had decreased to 800, with the identification tasks carried out by the various humanitarian agencies on the ground.

Regarding sexual abuse or forced or early marriages, Ingram explained that for now they have only punctual evidence, but that it is a real risk in any situation such as in Cox’s Bazar.

What does occur relatively frequently, he said, is child labour.

In the area of protection, the essential issue is the status of these people.

Not only do they have to be recognized as refugees, but also that newborns in the countryside or along the way, he said, should be able to obtain some kind of birth certificate.

Unicef and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are negotiating with the Bangladeshi authorities the possibility of issuing birth certificates for newborn Rohingyas, but the talks are still in process.

The Rohingyas are a Muslim minority that Myanmar does not recognize as citizens and are therefore stateless. (IANS)

 

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Pakistan Elected to UN Human Rights Council along with 14 other countries

The new members will serve a three-year term from January 1, 2018

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UN General Assembly elect 15 new members of Human Rights Council. Wikimedia

United Nations, October 17, 2017 : Fifteen countries, including Pakistan, have been elected to the UN Human Rights Council by the UN General Assembly.

In a vote on Monday, Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Qatar, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain and Ukraine were elected, a Foreign Office statement said.

They will serve a three-year term from January 1, 2018. (IANS)

 

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Pakistan Electoral Body Bars Political Party Due to Terror Ties

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Sheikh Yaqub
Sheikh Yaqub (C) candidate of the newly-formed Milli Muslim League party, waves to his supporters at an election rally in Lahore, Pakistan. voa

Pakistan’s Election Commission (ECP) on Wednesday rejected the registration application of a newly established political party with alleged ties to a banned militant group in the country.

Milli Muslim League (MML) has been disqualified to participate in the country’s state and general elections.

The electoral commission’s decision is said to be based on a request made earlier by the country’s Ministry of Interior Affairs, stating that Milli Muslim League is a front organization for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a U.S.-designated terror sponsoring organization in Pakistan.

“The government is vigilant and under no circumstances will allow any political party with a proven record of promoting violence and terrorism to spread their extremist ideology through democracy and political means,” Tallal Chaudhry, Pakistan’s minister of state for Interior Affairs, told VOA.

Saif Ullah Khalid, president of Milli Muslim League, dismissed the election commission’s decision and said the party will take the matter to the country’s judiciary.

Political wing

Milli Muslim League was established in August 2017 as a political wing for the controversial Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which is believed to be a front organization for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror group led by Hafiz Saeed.

Saeed was accused of masterminding Mumbai’s 2008 terror attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans.

The U.S. government has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest. Saeed has been reportedly under house arrest in the eastern city of Lahore for the past eight months.

In September, during an important by-election in Lahore, when the National Assembly’s seat fell vacant following the disqualification of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the newly launched MML backed an independent candidate who finished fourth in the race for Sharif’s seat.

At the time, Pakistan’s upper house of parliament strongly criticized the country’s election commission for allowing JuD’s political wing, MML, to participate in the Lahore by-election.

Some experts were concerned about the emergence of militant groups joining mainstream politics in Pakistan. They maintain that the political trend seen in Lahore’s by-election, where parties linked to militant groups are able to mobilize and generate sufficient numbers of votes within a very short period of time, as alarming.

“There should be a debate on this sensitive issue through social, political and media channels. By allowing militant-based political parties to integrate into mainstream politics, it will only escalate radicalization in the society,” Khadim Hussain, a Peshawar based political analyst, told VOA.

“There are people who believe with the merger of such militant groups into politics, we’ll provide them an avenue to maintain a political presence without leaving their extreme ideologies,” Hussain added.

Army’s support

Earlier last week, Pakistan’s army acknowledged they are mulling over plans to blend the militant-linked political groups into the mainstream political arena.

Some analysts side with MML, arguing the party should be allowed to participate in elections.

“I do not understand in what capacity the election commission has rejected MML’s application to register as a party,” said Ahmad Bilal Mehboob, the head of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT).

“Did they (MML) break any law? If not, how can you bar MML from entering the mainstream politics when they’re doing it through legitimate ways,” Mehboob emphasized.

Zubair Iqbal, a Washington-based South Asia expert, also raised concerns over the validity of the decision.

“This is how democracy works. … There are some extreme groups, some moderate groups and no one should be stopped because of their extreme ideologies,” Iqbal told VOA. “The extremist groups can be barred from entering into the politics only through people and democracy.”

“Unless these parties and individuals are allowed to participate in the political system they might never change their extreme ideologies and might continue operating underground which will prove to be more dangerous,” Iqbal added.

International pressure

In the past few years, Pakistan has faced escalating pressure from the international community for not being able to crackdown on militant groups enjoying safe havens in Pakistan and launching attacks in neighboring countries.

In his recent speech on the region, U.S President Trump put Pakistan on notice to take actions against safe havens in Pakistan. Pakistani officials deny the existence of safe havens on its soil.

Pakistan is also accused of being selective in its pursuit of terror groups. It allegedly goes after only those groups that pose a threat to the country’s national security, ignoring others that threat India and Afghanistan.

Pakistan rejects the allegations and reiterates its stance of having no sympathy for any terror group operating in the country.(VOA)