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Ambassador In Limbo Makes Plea For Afghans To Be Allowed Into EU

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Afghans

Ambassador in limbo makes plea for Afghans to be allowed into EU

In other times, Mirwais Samadi would have welcomed a campaign to deter his compatriots from opting to become illegal migrants and embarking on the often dangerous trek from Afghanistan to Europe.

By far the worst part of his job as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Athens – apart from the strange limbo he has found himself in representing a nation whose leaders he refuses to recognise – is notifying families back home of loved ones who died along the way. Invariably they are the victims of smuggling networks motivated solely by profit.

But Greece’s announcement of a media blitz to discourage “illegal migrant flows” from Afghanistan only weeks after Taliban militants seized power has also left the ambassador appalled.

In the face of European hostility to Afghans heading west – and as the new regime vows to rule according to a ruthless interpretation of Islamic law – Samadi, like other career diplomats still loyal to the old regime, has found himself imploring EU governments to think again.

“This is a time for solidarity, not the time for the west to turn its back on the people of Afghanistan and abandon them or have a campaign that urges [them] to stay,” he told the Guardian in his cavernous ambassadorial office. “In normal circumstances I would not be in favour of illegal movement but when people are forced to leave due to the security situation and for fear of their lives, what should we do?”

The centre-right government of the prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, unveiled the EU-funded initiative, saying its goal was “to make clear that Greece guards its borders in an organised way and does not allow illegal migration flows”.

Amid fears of the country again becoming the gateway for thousands of Europe-bound Afghans desperate to escape the excesses of Islamist hardliners still seeking international legitimacy, the Greek migration ministry admitted the move had been prompted by “the latest geopolitical developments in Afghanistan”.

Under the campaign, mainstream Afghan newspapers and social media will be targeted in what officials have called a blitzkrieg of messaging aimed at dissuading Afghans from paying smugglers to help them flee.

Platforms including YouTube will be employed, with videos reportedly being prepared to convey the unvarnished reality of what awaits people if they succeed in reaching Greece through irregular means. This week asylum seekers on Samos were moved into a “closed” and highly fortified reception centre – the first of five EU-funded facilities on Aegean isles – that is encircled by military-style fencing and equipped with magnetic gates more resonant of a prison than a migrant camp, NGOs say.

In his smart blue suit, cufflink shirt, loafers and yellow tie, Samadi, who served in Washington prior to arriving in Athens in 2019, is visually everything the Taliban are not. Like Afghan ambassadors worldwide, he was appointed by the now exiled foreign minister, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, with whom he and his counterparts still confer as representatives of Kabul’s “legitimate government” in weekly online Zoom meetings.

“No one has told us to take down our flag,” he said, pointing to the ensign the Islamic Republic used before the Taliban takeover. “We are in a limbo situation where no one recognises the Taliban, but how long that will go on for, no one knows.”

Western powers have not recognised the Taliban’s recently announced government, and its foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, has yet to nominate any representatives to replace Afghanistan’s contingent of ambassadors abroad if diplomatic relations are established. As a result, its overseas missions remain in the hands of pro-western career diplomats astounded by the course of events in their homeland, unsure of how they will survive financially and holding meetings with officials who have fled the country.

Samadi, whose wife is a prominent women’s rights activist, belongs firmly in that school. His time in Athens has been a wake-up call to the desperation that drives Afghans to seek refuge in Europe, often at great personal cost.

Eight months ago, the diplomat says, he too pressed the case for his compatriots not to embark on perilous journeys to Greece, long on the frontline of migrant and refugee arrivals from Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

“The hardest part of my job is having to inform families of children who are found dead in the sea, or in the forests around the Greek-Turkish [land] border,” he said. “In interviews with all the major TV channels in Afghanistan I encouraged people, back then, not to attempt to come illegally. I said please don’t send your children on these dangerous journeys. But now circumstances are completely different.”

Describing the situation as unique, he warned: “If countries close their borders it will be a human catastrophe … now is not the proper time for such a campaign, we have all seen the heartbreaking scenes.”

Instead, he said, all nations should be holding the Taliban to account because if the situation inside Afghanistan were to improve – with better job opportunities, security and freedom of expression for women, human rights activists and civil society – the desire to leave would diminish.

“Now is the time to make the Taliban accountable,” he said. “If the Taliban don’t enter negotiations with other Afghan political groups and agree to form a broad-based, inclusive government based on rule of law and respect for the rights of everyone then we should not be stopping but helping to get vulnerable people out.”

Afghans account for the largest number of asylum seekers in Greece – although the vast majority are headed on elsewhere – with an estimated 40,000 registered in the country.

A nondescript building perched on an elevation in Athens’ northern suburbs, the Afghan embassy was deluged daily by hundreds requiring passports and other documents to apply for refugee recognition status, prior to the pandemic.

“So far only about 10,000 of the 40,000 here have had their requests processed,” Samadi said. “The rest are still waiting. Over 95% arrive without documents and over 90% are in a very bad economic situation. They have sold everything, their clothes, properties, jewellery to make the journey.”

Before the Greek campaign even gets off the ground there are questions as to whether it will have any effect. “Migrants trust their own sources and have their own way of understanding things,” said Gianluca Rocco, the chief of mission of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN migration agency, in Greece. “They don’t listen so much to campaigns. Usually they trust their network of families and friends more than messages from governments of Europe.”

Since the fall of Kabul, Greece – which also took part in US-led evacuation efforts in August – has taken in about 65 Afghans refugees, including six female MPs who arrived en route to being resettled with their families in the US. Athens’ foreign ministry described them as “defenders of fundamental values, freedom of expression and gender equality”.

Samadi said he could sympathise with the domestic pressure the Greek government faced but that it was also up to the EU to stand up for the core values it represented.

“Thousands [of refugees] have arrived here and I know Greece has challenges, but there should be a joint EU effort to address this common challenge,” the ambassador said. “People in Afghanistan now are in a state of shock. But if the situation doesn’t improve then definitely in the coming months, once winter has passed, there is a strong possibility of big migrant flows towards Greece and the EU.”

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

The head of the United Nations warned Friday that the world faces “catastrophe” because of the growing shortage of food around the globe.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war in Ukraine has added to the disruptions caused by climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and inequality to produce an “unprecedented global hunger crisis” already affecting hundreds of millions of people.

“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022,” he said in a video message to officials from dozens of rich and developing countries gathered in Berlin. “And 2023 could be even worse.”

Guterres noted that harvests across Asia, Africa and the Americas will take a hit as farmers around the world struggle to cope with rising fertilizer and energy prices.

“This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage,” he said. “No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe.”

Guterres said U.N. negotiators were working on a deal that would enable Ukraine to export food, including via the Black Sea, and let Russia bring food and fertilizer to world markets without restrictions.

He also called for debt relief for poor countries to help keep their economies afloat and for the private sector to help stabilize global food markets.

The Berlin meeting’s host, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, said Moscow’s claim that Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were to blame for food shortages was “completely untenable.”

Russia exported as much wheat in May and June this year as in the same months of 2021, Baerbock said.

She echoed Guterres’ comments that several factors underlie the growing hunger crisis around the world.

“But it was Russia’s war of attack against Ukraine that turned a wave into a tsunami,” Baerbock said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that Russia has no excuse for holding back vital goods from world markets.

“The sanctions that we’ve imposed on Russia collectively and with many other countries exempt food, exempt food products, exempt fertilizers, exempt insurers, exempt shippers,” he said.

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

Local and federal highways in the North-west have become vulnerable as bandits continue to ambush and abduct travellers.

The gunmen who abducted 29 people returning to Zamfara State from Sokoto State where they had gone to attend the wedding of colleagues have released them after the payment of an unspecified ransom.

The victims, who were mostly dealers of mobile phones and phone accessories at Bebeji Communication Market (Bebeji Plaza) in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State were abducted in Sokoto 13 days ago.

Secretary of the GSM Dealers Association in the state, Ashiru Zurmi, confirmed the release of the victims but didn’t give details.

One of the victims reportedly died in captivity.

Though the amount paid as ransom to secure the release of the hostages has not been revealed, Abdullahi Lawal, whose brother was among those abducted, said their relatives were asked to make donations. He said his family raised N33,000 while the phone sellers’ association “provided the remaining money.”

“Every family was told to gather N400,000 while the members of the plaza and their colleagues in the state provided the remaining money. Some family members were able to raise the money in full, but we couldn’t. I took the money to the plaza and I was told that they were still negotiating with the bandits” he said.

He said he didn’t know how much was given to the bandits “but I’m happy that my brother is okay,” he said.

From N5m to N700,000

A phone accessories seller, Sharhabilu Muhammad, told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone that the officials of the phone dealers association negotiated with the bandits to reduce the ransom they originally demanded to release the captives.

“You know that the initial money they said was N5m for each of the captives but our officials kept negotiating with them (bandits) until they reduced the money to N700k,” he said.

When asked about the person who reportedly died in captivity, Mr Muhammed said his identity has not been revealed.

“We don’t know because even the bandits didn’t tell but we’ll surely find out when they (captives) arrive at Gusau tonight,” he added.

The police command spokesman, Mohammed Shehu, didn’t respond to calls and SMS sent to him on the development.

Backstory

PREMIUM TIMES reported that the wedding guests were abducted when bandits opened fire on the two buses they were travelling in a few kilometres after Bimasa in the Dogon Awo junction, Sokoto State.

They were returning from Tambuwal town in Sokoto State where they had attended the wedding of a colleague, Jamil Umar.

The captives were travelling on a Toyota Coaster bus belonging to the Universal Basic Education Commission UBEC and another bus owned by Gusau Local Government.

The bandits had demanded a ransom of N145 million to release the 29 hostages.

Bandits have been terrorising North-west states and a part of North-central Nigeria, killing and displacing hundreds of people and rustling domestic animals.

Travelling on federal and local highways is becoming dangerous as bandits block roads, abduct and kill motorists.

Major federal highways including Abuja-Kaduna, Gusau-Sokoto-Birnin Kebbi, and Birnin Gwari-Kaduna have become travellers’ nightmares with attacks and abduction or killing of travellers becoming a daily occurrence.

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

A motion seeking the intervention of the House of Representatives in the conflict between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, and Justices of the Supreme Court, over issues bordering on welfare and working conditions suffered a setback on Thursday.

While the House called for a general review of salaries and allowances of all political office holders and public servants, the members were divided over which committees should handle the task.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Onofiok Luke, had moved a motion to seek the intervention of the chamber in the crisis rocking the apex court and better welfare package for judicial officers across the courts.

Luke, who moved the motion titled, ‘Need to Address the Deteriorating Working Conditions of Judicial Officers,’ prayed the House to urge the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to upwardly review the remuneration of judicial officers in line with present economic realities.

The lawmaker prayed the House to urge the Federal Government to increase the budgetary allocation of the judiciary for the upcoming fiscal year and provide special intervention funds for the development of the arm

He further prayed the House to mandate the Committee on Judiciary to ensure compliance and report back within six weeks for further legislative action.

While the lawmakers were making amendments to the prayers, the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, called for an upward review of the welfare package of all public office holders.

Wase, who stated that he appreciated the memo from the Justices to the CJN, noted that only the RMAFC had the responsibility to review remuneration of government officials.

The Deputy Speaker made reference to a part of the motion that read, ‘The remuneration of judicial officers was last reviewed in 2008 by the RMAFC when the official exchange rate was N117.74 to $1, whereas the naira has considerably depreciated.’

Wase partly said, “I think this particular element does not affect just judicial officers, maybe because they cried out now. I don’t think it is right that we have to wait every time until people write letters of complaints and there is protest before we begin to do the right thing.”

Rephrasing Wase’s proposed amendment, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said: “The DSP’s amendment is that we should not isolate the Judiciary and all those enumerated constitutional bodies and public office holders. They should be reviewed; a comprehensive review based on all the things that Hon Luke said – the exchange rates and this and that.”

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