Afghans return home in record numbers as Iran currency plunges

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In this photo taken on August 2, 2018, an Afghan family with their children sit in an International Organization for Migration (IOM) transit centre after returning from Iran, in the Afghan province of Herat. (AFP)
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In this photo taken on August 4, 2018, an Afghan returnee (R) from Iran counts Iranian rial banknotes at a currency exchange in the Afghan province of Herat. (AFP)
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People walk in front of a currency exchange shop in the Iranian capital Tehran on August 8, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 09 August 2018

Afghans return home in record numbers as Iran currency plunges

  • The 442,344 Afghans who returned from Iran in the first seven months of 2018 was more than double the number for the same period of 2017
  • The IOM expects the flood of returnees to Afghanistan to continue as US sanctions targeting Iran’s access to US banknotes

HERAT, Afghanistan: Migrant workers squeezed into battered taxis pull into the Four Seasons of Freedom hotel in western Afghanistan, part of a wave of Afghans forced to leave Iran after a currency implosion wiped out their earnings.
A record 442,344 Afghans have voluntarily returned or been deported from Iran this year as looming US sanctions — which began to be reimposed this week — fueled a run on the rial and spurred inflation.
Iran’s currency has lost around half of its value against the dollar since US President Donald Trump abandoned a landmark 2015 nuclear deal in May, triggering a reimposition of tough penalties on the Islamic republic.
That has devastated not only the savings of Iranian households, but also the remittances of undocumented Afghans.
Desperate and jobless Afghans have crossed the porous border with Iran for years in search of work to support their struggling families back home.
Many of those families are farmers now suffering through Afghanistan’s worst drought in living memory, compounding the misery caused by 17 years of conflict and underscoring their reliance on the remittances.
Abdul Mussawir, who went to Iran three years ago, used to earn the equivalent of 18,000 afghanis per month (about $260) working in an auto factory in the central city of Isfahan.
Mussawir, 22, sent money to his parents and nine younger siblings in Parwan province, supplementing the meagre income of his taxi driver father.
But as the run on the rial gathered pace, his monthly earnings shrivelled to the equivalent of 6,000 afghanis.
“I was sending almost all the money I was earning to support my family... (but) it wasn’t enough,” said Mussawir, wearing a shirt emblazoned with “Keep Karma + Carry On.”
After taking a taxi from the border to the Four Seasons of Freedom hotel in Herat city, a distance of roughly 140 kilometers (90 miles), Mussawir hoped to find better paid work in his conflict-torn country.
“It doesn’t make sense to come back here but I have to,” he said, a look of resignation etched on his face.

The 442,344 Afghans who returned from Iran in the first seven months of 2018 was more than double the number for the same period of 2017, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
“The number of Afghan returnees from Iran in 2018 has been unprecedented,” IOM spokeswoman Eva Schwoerer told AFP in Herat.
The figure included 191,056 “spontaneous,” or voluntary, returns. The remaining 251,288 were deported as Iran toughens its border controls.
Among those kicked out was 17-year-old Aleem Mohmini, who spent three months working on a tomato farm near the southern city of Shiraz before Iranian police caught him.
As he sat with other minors in the IOM’s transit center for returnees in Herat, Mohmini pondered his future in a country where unemployment is rampant.
“I don’t know what I should do. There’s no one in my family to earn money,” said Mohmini, who was the breadwinner for his household in the northern province of Baghlan.
The IOM expects the flood of returnees to Afghanistan to continue as US sanctions targeting Iran’s access to US banknotes, key industries and oil sales exacerbate the country’s economic woes.
The influx is having “direct and immediate effects” on the Afghan economy, the IOM said in its latest report.
It is pushing down wages for casual laborers in cities and fueling the displacement of drought-stricken Afghan farmers, many of whom have long relied on income from relatives working in Iran.
More than 70,000 people have been forced to move to cities due to the lack of water and food, according to the United Nations, with many of them living in makeshift tents and competing with returnees for limited jobs.
Iran’s currency freefall is also hurting Afghan businesses in Herat that rely heavily on returning Afghans for sales of mobile phones, backpacks and shoes.
“Business was much better in the past... (people) were rich, they could buy everything,” said Zia Fahmi, whose sales have plunged more than 80 percent in recent months.
As newly arrived returnees loitered outside his store, Fahmi said he may be forced to close the shop and join the migrant trail to look for work in “other countries.”
Abdullah Wasi Zahariyan, who spent a year working on a cucumber farm in Isfahan, also told AFP he plans to go to “another country” — most likely Turkey, and then Germany — if he cannot find a job in Afghanistan.
Zahariyan, 22, decided to return home after his earnings plunged 60 percent due to the devaluation of the rial.
“If there is no job in Afghanistan, there is no future,” he told AFP.


Merkel tells Turkey’s Erdogan withdrawal of troops from Libya would be ‘important signal’

Updated 52 min 3 sec ago

Merkel tells Turkey’s Erdogan withdrawal of troops from Libya would be ‘important signal’

  • Merkel and Erdogan agreed in a video conference to support the interim government of Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday that the withdrawal of foreign troops from Libya would be an “important signal” as both leaders vowed to support the new interim government there, a German government spokesman said.
Libya’s new unity government was sworn in on March 15 from two warring administrations that had ruled eastern and western regions, completing a relatively smooth transition of power after a decade of violent chaos.
Turkey had backed the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord against the eastern-based Libyan National Army, which was supported by Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France.
Merkel and Erdogan agreed in a video conference to support the interim government of Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh in its efforts to improve the supply situation for the population and in preparing elections by year-end, the spokesman said.
“The Chancellor emphasized that an early start of the withdrawal of foreign soldiers and mercenaries would send an important signal,” the spokesman added.
Merkel and Erdogan also discussed international efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic as well as regional issues such as the civil war in Syria and international talks about the Cyprus issue, the spokesman said.
“The Chancellor and the Turkish President emphasized that adequate access for humanitarian aid to the people in need in Syria must be maintained,” the spokesman said. (Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alistair Bell)


Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood eviction appeal delayed

Updated 06 May 2021

Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood eviction appeal delayed

JERUSALEM: The lone Israeli court judge looking into the eviction appeal lodged by Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem has decided to let three judges of the Supreme Court take up the case on Monday.

The decision follows the rejection of both the Jewish settler organization and lawyers for the Palestinian families to reach an agreement between them as requested by the judge.

Lawyer Hosni Abu Hussein, representing the Palestinian families, told Arab News that the Israeli judge did not have the courage to take the right decision.

“Our request to appeal the eviction was based on sound legal arguments that any judge would have easily accepted but the prevailing atmosphere made it difficult for the judge to stand up for justice.”

Head of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens in Israel Mohammad Baraka and member of Knesset Ahmad Tibi met with representatives of the families in Jerusalem and later issued a statement of support for their “steadfastness” and their rejections of compromise offers.

Tibi told Arab News that the priority is to support the Palestinian families and to protect the Arab identity of Jerusalem. “It is clear that the aim of this unjust eviction effort is to Judaize the Arab city of Jerusalem,” he said.

Abdel Latif Ghaith, a senior veteran Jerusalem activist, told Arab News that the public support for the people of Sheikh Jarrah must continue without any hesitation.

“What is clear is that the Israeli courts will not act on their own even in a case where justice is so obvious. The public pressure both local, regional and international, together with the legal effort and the undisputed documentation, will reverse the effort of the Jewish settlers bent on taking over this Palestinian area,” he said.

Ehab Abdel Latif, a resident of Sheikh Jarrah who has illegal Jewish settlers on two sides of his house, said he is worried. “Although we are not at present threatened with eviction, if the Israeli courts insist on turning a blind eye to the facts in this case and give unquestioned support to the Jewish settlers, then we are all doomed.”


Jordan was in control of Jerusalem when the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) built housing units on the vacant land and started to charge Palestinians rent. Settler organizations, which also claim to be the owners of the land, are now demanding rent payment.

Layer Abu Hussein explained that the compromise the courts wanted failed because of the gap between both sides. Palestinians said that they are willing to avoid eviction on grounds of not paying the rent by depositing the rent to a fund at the courts, while the Jewish settler organization Lahav Shomron is willing to allow the Palestinians to stay at their homes on condition that they pay rent to them. But if this happens the settlers will be considered landowners.

According to the rent protection law in Jerusalem, the offer by the settler organization allows Palestinian families to stay as long as a designated member of the family is alive. Thereafter, the settler organization would take over the homes. Palestinian residents have rejected this offer.

New evidence, which has emerged from the Ottoman records in Turkey and the Jordanian government, proves Jordan and the UNRWA agreed to build housing units on the land for Palestinians, Abu Hussein said. The land actually belonged to the Hijazi Saadi family, dated 1149 Hijri (1736 AD).

Using old Ottoman documents, the settlers’ side said the land belonged to an oriental Jewish group that registered itself in 1972.

Palestinian lawyers dispute this claim, arguing that the documents in the Ottoman archives in Istanbul that the settlers refer to do not exist and are forged.

Abu Hussein said that settlers have made ownership claims without proof that they are the original owners of the land.


Ethiopian dam is ‘existential issue’ for Egypt, El-Sisi tells US diplomat

Updated 06 May 2021

Ethiopian dam is ‘existential issue’ for Egypt, El-Sisi tells US diplomat

  • El-Sisi said Egypt has adopted a flexible approach to the issue over the years through a range of negotiation methods

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has reiterated that the issue of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) is an “existential issue” for Egyptians, adding that his country will not accept any risk to its water supply.

In a meeting with US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman on Wednesday, El-Sisi said Egypt is keen to enhance bilateral cooperation with the US and underlined the vital role of such a partnership in achieving stability in the Middle East and Africa.

A spokesman for El-Sisi said the two men discussed several issues relevant to the Horn of Africa, foremost of which was the GERD. Feltman said the US is keen to help reach “a fair and comprehensive settlement” to the matter, given its great importance to Egypt and the region.

Ethiopia started building the 1.8 km-long gravity dam in 2011. Egypt fears it will threaten its supplies of water from the River Nile. Sudan, meanwhile, is concerned about the dam’s safety and its effect on the water supply of Sudanese dams and water stations.

El-Sisi said Egypt has adopted a flexible approach to the issue over the years through a range of negotiation methods. Egypt’s approach, he said, has been based on seeking a “balanced and legally binding” agreement that respects the interests of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. He blamed Ethiopia’s “lack of political will” for the failure of negotiations to date.

The president stressed that Egypt is still seeking a fair agreement regarding the filling and operation of the dam under the negotiations sponsored by the African Union, led this year by Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi.

El-Sisi called on the international community to “assume its responsibilities” to help solve the crisis. The president also highlighted the vital role of US influence in this regard.

Feltman said the US values its strategic relations with Egypt highly in light of Cairo’s political influence and pivotal role in the region. The envoy also stressed America’s desire to boost cooperation with Egypt.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Ati also met with Feltman. They told him that Egypt still hopes to reach an agreement over the GERD before summer this year.

They added that the process of filling the dam should be carried out according to an agreement that respects the interests of Egypt and Sudan — the two downstream nations — and limits any damage to those two countries.

During their meeting with Feltman, the ministers expressed Egypt’s willingness do as much as possible to ensure the success of the negotiations sponsored by the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Both ministers said Egypt is looking forward to cooperating with its international partners, especially the US, to achieve this goal.


Italy says Libyan coast guard fired on its fishing boats, injuring captain

Updated 06 May 2021

Italy says Libyan coast guard fired on its fishing boats, injuring captain

  • The captain of one of the boats was "slightly injured" and transferred to an Italian navy vessel
  • There have been frequent tensions between Italy and Libya over Italian fishing activity off the North African coast

ROME: The Libyan coast guard on Thursday fired on three Italian fishing boats, injuring the captain of one of the vessels, Italian authorities said.
The boats operating out of the Sicilian port of Mazara del Vallo were fishing some 30 to 40 nautical miles off the Libyan coastal town of Misrata when a Libyan coast guard vessel fired warning shots against them.
Giuseppe Giacalone, the captain of one of the boats, was “slightly injured” and transferred to an Italian navy vessel, the mayor of Mazara del Vallo, Salvatore Quinci, told Reuters, confirming reports in Italian media.
There have been frequent tensions between Italy and Libya over Italian fishing activity off the North African coast.
Last September a group of Italian sailors were seized by Libyan patrol boats while fishing in the Mediterranean, accused by local authorities of operating in Libya’s territorial waters. They were released some three months later.
“This is the umpteenth attack by the Libyan government in Tripoli,” Quinci told Reuters.
The southern Mediterranean fishing grounds have been disputed since 2005, when Libya’s then ruler, Muammar Qaddafi, unilaterally extended Libyan territorial waters to 74 nautical miles offshore from 12.
Enrico Letta, leader of Italy’s co-ruling Democratic Party, tweeted that the latest incident was “inconceivable” and Mario Draghi’s government “must not be satisfied by apologies or vague explanations” from Libya.
Libya’s new unity government took office in March from two warring administrations that had ruled eastern and western regions, completing a smooth transition of power after a decade of violent chaos.

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Israel accuses Spanish woman of aiding banned militant group

Updated 06 May 2021

Israel accuses Spanish woman of aiding banned militant group

  • A military court indicted Juana Ruiz Sánchez on Israeli terrorism-financing offenses and other charges
  • Israel, US, Canada and European Union regard the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine a terrorist organization

JERUSALEM: Israeli authorities on Thursday charged a Spanish woman under the country’s anti-terrorism laws, accusing her of funneling large sums of donations from European governments to a banned Palestinian militant group.
Juana Ruiz Sánchez was charged in a West Bank military court. Her indictment was the culmination of a more than year-long investigation into financing for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
The group is regarded by Israel, the United States, Canada, and European Union as a terrorist organization.
Ruiz, a Spanish citizen and West Bank resident, has worked for Health Work Committees, a Palestinian non-governmental organization that provides medical services in the territory.
She was indicted on Israeli terrorism-financing offenses and other charges. The Palestinian NGO’s senior accountant, former accountant and former purchasing department manager were expected to be charged with similar offenses in the coming days, according to the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency.
Ruiz, 62, had been held by Israeli authorities without charge since her arrest at her home near Bethlehem on April 13. Spanish authorities have provided her with consular assistance and Spain’s deputy consul general has accompanied her during court hearings, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press.
“We will continue following this case closely, insisting and working together with the Israeli authorities,” it said.
The PFLP is a Palestinian Leninist-Marxist militant group that opposes the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. It staged a number of airline hijackings in the 1970s and numerous attacks on Israeli civilians, including the 2001 assassination of then-tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi. It is part of the PLO, the main Palestinian national movement.
The Shin Bet began investigating the PFLP’s finances following an August 2019 attack by the militant group in the West Bank that killed a 17-year-old girl and wounded her brother and father, an Israeli official said.
The investigation found at least seven Palestinian charities had funneled tens of millions of euros donated by European governments and organizations for humanitarian purposes to PFLP coffers.
The Israeli official said the probe found that the NGO, along with other aid organizations, including the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and Addameer, “act under PFLP leadership and in accordance with the organization’s directives, as a cover for promoting the PFLP’s activities and funding.”
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The Health Works Committees did not respond to requests for comment.
Although the PFLP is one of the smaller Palestinian militant groups operating in the occupied West Bank, its cash pipeline from Europe has “developed considerably in the past decade,” the official said. “European governmental money helped build up this organization.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry has called on European governments to step up oversight of donations to Palestinian organizations to ensure they don’t wind up funding groups outlawed by the EU.
The European Union’s diplomatic mission in Israel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A petition calling on Israel to free Ruiz and the other detainees’ was signed by nearly 6,000 individuals and organizations in Spain, saying the aid group was attacked by Israel “in a policy of repression, weakening and dismantling of civil society organizations of Palestine.”