Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh get doves of peace from the Middle East

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Children at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh display the doves, which were handmade by women at NRS International’s factory in Pakistan. (Supplied picture)
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Children at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh display the doves, which were handmade by women at NRS International’s factory in Pakistan. (Supplied picture)
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Children at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh display the doves, which were handmade by women at NRS International’s factory in Pakistan. (Supplied picture)
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Workers at the NRS International’s factory in Pakistan make doves of peace for children in refugee camps. (Supplied picture)
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Workers at the NRS International’s factory in Pakistan make doves of peace for children in refugee camps. (Supplied picture)
Updated 21 September 2018

Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh get doves of peace from the Middle East

  • A Dubai-based humanitarian relief group has paired up with one in the UK to distribute toys made from upcycled refugee blankets
  • It’s one initiative marking the UN’s International Day of Peace on Friday, at a time when the world is in conflict

DUBAI: Eight-year-old Anjuman, living in Camp 7 at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, has received the most beautiful gift. “I am very happy to have received this dove. I like it so much,” she said.

She is among 150 children in the camp who have received “peace doves” from Dubai after winning an art competition organized in the camp.

To celebrate the UN-declared International Day of Peace on Friday, a Dubai-based humanitarian relief group, NRS International, and a UK-based NGO, Empathy Action, have given wings to a message of hope, peace and reconciliation. 

Both these organizations have come together to make dove toys (symbolizing peace) to distribute among children, who are among the first victims of conflict in any part of the world.

And while peace isn’t something the world often associates with the Middle East, there are plenty of ways in which countries in the region are trying to make the world a better place, from smaller initiatives such as the doves in Bangladesh to major efforts such as the peace deal brokered this week by Saudi Arabia between Ethiopia and Eritrea. 

The peace doves were handmade by women at NRS International’s factory in Pakistan. As many as 650 dove toys have been stitched and handcrafted from upcycled offcuts of refugee blankets and tarpaulins.

“Each dove, made from excess blanket material that normally keeps refugees warm, is a symbol of peace,” said Wieke de Vries, head of corporate social responsibility at NRS International. It is the leading supplier of humanitarian relief items such as fleece blankets to UN agencies and international aid organizations.

Sandy Glanfield, innovations manager at Empathy Action, said the doves will carry a reminder that for 68.5 million displaced people worldwide, a blanket or tarpaulin is a basic necessity to survive. “The passionate and skillful women who made the doves add the love into this story,” said Glanfield.

About 150 larger versions of peace doves have been distributed to Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh camps, with the support of the Danish Refugee Council. 

S.M. Atiqur Reza, who is a child protection assistant at the council, said that the peace doves have put smiles on the faces of the children in the refugee camp. 

“The children were so excited, and they loved these doves and making plans to take it back home (whenever they go back home).” 

But in a world of conflicts, there is still much to be done. Anjuman is just one of nearly 25.4 million refugees in the world, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

Dr. Hadia Aslam, who sets up health care systems for refugees in Europe and the Middle East, is not hopeful about world peace in the near future.

“I feel we have desensitized entirely to any atrocity that happens now. Nothing shocks us. I do not see a future for peace, but I do see conflict. Our systems are geared to hosting this,” said the young doctor, who is the founder of a charity that has treated thousands of refugees in Europe. 

For her, human rights violations by Israel are a major threat to world peace. “I don’t know a lot about politics, but I can categorically raise concerns about Israel’s human rights track record being astounding and the world silently watching. Their only motive is occupation and apartheid. There is no space for peace in such a place.”

Vidya Bhushan Rawat, a leading peace activist based in New Delhi, said that the biggest threat to peace is injustice and growing inequalities.” I don’t think that the world has become a peaceful place at the moment. There is a steady growth of right-wing politics the world over, where minorities and immigrants are considered a threat to the nation.

“To protect the only planet we have we need to eradicate poverty, illiteracy, hunger, malnutrition, gender disparity and superstition from our societies.”

Dr. Kamran Bokhari, director of strategy and programs at the Center for Global Policy in Washington, does not see peace becoming the norm any time soon.

 “We constantly hear about peace talks. But seldom do these efforts produce actual peace. The rise of nationalism is undoing the internationalist order that we thought would gain ground after the end of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago. Meanwhile, non-state actors are filling the vacuums left behind by weakening states, which suggests greater, not less, global conflict.”

Dr. Shehab Al-Makehleh also believes that the world is less peaceful now than it has been in a long time. “Right now, peacefulness is at the worst level of any time since 2012. By the end of 2017, 1 percent of the world population had been refugees and displaced,” said the executive director of Geostrategic media in Washington, DC.

He does not expect things to improve unless decision-makers in the international community give this matter attention as the world will be witnessing new economic and financial crises that could turn major countries into enemies.

“Unless the UN takes necessary measures that the world does not fall into anarchy due to populism and nationalism, the domino effect will cross borders, causing insecurity at all levels, toppling some regimes and changing borders with hundreds of thousands of people dying of poverty and terrorism,” Dr. Al-Makehleh said.

All the more reason to bring hope to children such as Anjuman. As Reza said of the Rohingya children in the camp: “They want peace. They say they want to go back home. They want to go to their schools and study. They find the camp is a very small place to live. They are really sad here.”

UK police asked to probe Indian officials’ role in Kashmir

Updated 15 sec ago

UK police asked to probe Indian officials’ role in Kashmir

  • The law firm’s report was based on over 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021

LONDON: A London-based law firm filed an application with British police Tuesday seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in disputed Kashmir.
Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit documenting how Indian forces headed by Gen. Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians.
The law firm’s report was based on over 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021. It also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.
“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to territory that is part of the Himalayan region.
The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” which gives countries authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.
The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been taken abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.
Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.
“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.
The police application was made on behalf of the family of Zia Mustafa, a jailed militant whom Camuz said was the victim of an extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and the behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, which both claim the region in its entirety. Muslim Kashmiris support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country. In Indian-controlled Kashmir, tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades.
Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.
In 2018, the UN human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces.”
India’s government has denied the alleged right violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region.
The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.
Its report also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.
Parvez, 42, worked for the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, which has written extensive reports about Indian troops’ use of violence and torture.
Other accounts in the report discuss journalist Sajad Gul, who was arrested earlier this month after he posted a video of family members and relatives protesting the killing of a rebel commander.
Human rights lawyers have increasingly used the universal jurisdiction principle to seek justice for people who were unable to file criminal complaints in their home countries or with the International Criminal Court, located in The Hague.
Last week, a German court convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of thousands of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago.
Camuz said he hoped the request to British police seeking the arrest of Indian officials will be followed by other legal actions also focusing on Kashmir.
“We are sure this is not going to be the last one, there will probably be many more applications,” he said.

Turkey’s Erdogan, Serbia’s Vucic agree to broker Bosnia crisis talks

Updated 19 January 2022

Turkey’s Erdogan, Serbia’s Vucic agree to broker Bosnia crisis talks

  • Erdogan said Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks alike should refrain from steps that endanger Bosnia’s territorial integrity
  • Erdogan said, earlier, that Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik had voiced support for his mediation offer

ANKARA: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he and Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic agreed on Tuesday to broker crisis talks involving all parties in Bosnia after elections in Serbia in April.

The crisis flared after nationalist lawmakers in post-war Bosnia’s semi-autonomous Serb entity passed a non-binding motion last year to start pulling the region out of the country’s armed forces, tax system and judiciary — a move long backed by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik.

Turkey, which has deep-rooted historical ties in the Balkans, has criticized the move as “wrong, dangerous” and has offered to mediate in the crisis, which has raised fears of a relapse into ethnic conflict in Bosnia.

After a calamitous 1992-95 ethnic war that killed 100,000 people, Bosnia was split into two widely autonomous regions — a Serb Republic (RS) and a Federation dominated by Bosniaks and Croats, overlaid by a loose central government.

Addressing reporters along with Vucic after talks in Ankara, Erdogan said Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks alike should refrain from steps that endanger Bosnia’s territorial integrity and that all should act “with a sense of responsibility.”

“After these (Serbian) elections, we want to bring together the leaders of these three groups and to have a meeting with them. With this meeting, let us take steps to ensure Bosnia’s territorial integrity,” he said.

“We want to convene the three leaders — of Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs — and accomplish this. We agreed on this,” Erdogan said, adding the talks could be held in Istanbul or Belgrade.

Mainly Muslim Turkey backed the late Bosniak Muslim wartime leader Alija Izebegovic and has forged good relations with Bosnia’s post-war, inter-ethnic Bosniak-Serb-Croat presidency.

Earlier, Erdogan was quoted by local media as saying Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, Dodik and other regional officials had voiced support for his mediation offer, and that Ankara would intensify its diplomacy to resolve the crisis.

Vucic told the news conference that Serbia was committed to Bosnia as an intact state and that the preservation of peace and stability in the Balkans was paramount, along “with respect for differences.”

Vucic called on Dodik last week to return to national institutions that the Serb Republic has boycotted since mid-2021 over a law criminalizing the denial of genocide.

International war crimes court judgments have branded the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces as genocide, something nationalist Serbs deny.

Serbia was the patron of wartime Bosnian Serb separatists and remains close to Bosnia’s post-war Serb entity, sharing a border with it.

Dodik’s secessionist rhetoric has spurred Serb nationalist rallies and incidents in towns across the Serb Republic.

Earlier this month, the United States imposed new sanctions on Dodik for alleged corruption and threatening Bosnia’s stability and territorial integrity. The European Union also said last week the Bosnian Serb leadership faced EU sanctions and a loss of aid should it continue to incite tensions.

Norway mass killer seeks parole 10 years after attacks

Updated 18 January 2022

Norway mass killer seeks parole 10 years after attacks

  • Under Norwegian law, Breivik is eligible for his first parole hearing after 10 years in prison.
  • Asked by the prosecutor who the messages were aimed at, he said they were directed at millions of people “who support white power”

SKIEN, Norway: Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian far-right fanatic who killed 77 people in bomb-and-gun massacres in 2011, argued Tuesday for an early release from prison.
He told a parole judge he had renounced violence even as he professed white supremacist views and flashed Nazi salutes.
Breivik, 42, is serving Norway’s maximum 21-year sentence for setting off a bomb in Oslo’s government district and carrying out a shooting massacre at a summer camp for left-wing youth activists. Under Norwegian law, he is eligible for his first parole hearing after 10 years in prison.
Though experts agree Breivik is highly unlikely to be released, authorities have insisted he has the same rights as any other prisoner, arguing that treating him differently would undermine the principles that underpin Norwegian society, including the rule of law and freedom of speech.
At the three-day hearing, which is taking place in the high-security prison in Skien, south of Oslo, where he is being held in isolation with three cells at his disposal, Breivik made full use of his rights.
Sporting a stubble beard and a two-piece suit, he entered the makeshift courtroom in a prison gymnasium by raising his right hand in a Nazi salute and holding up homemade signs with white supremacist messages. One sign was pinned to his suit.
Asked by the prosecutor who the messages were aimed at, he said they were directed at millions of people “who support white power.”
The Associated Press resists being used as a conduit for speech or images that espouse hate or spread propaganda and is not publishing images showing Breivik’s Nazi salutes and other white supremacist propaganda.
Breivik has used previous court hearings to disseminate conspiracy theories of an ongoing genocide against white people in the West. Some worry he could inspire like-minded people to carry out similar attacks. But since his criminal trial in 2012, many Norwegians have insisted that the best way to defy his world view is to stand up for a tolerant, open society and show that the system he claims is oppressing him in fact is giving him every chance to have his day in court.
Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, a law professor at Oslo University, said Breivik was pushing the boundaries in Tuesday’s hearing.
“At the same time, it’s fairly clear that the prosecutor has a very clear strategy here,” she said. “By letting him speak ... he gets his very incoherent message out in the open.”
In a rambling monologue to the court, Breivik argued there is a distinction between militant and nonmilitant white nationalists and said he had been brainwashed by the former when he carried out his attacks in Oslo and at the summer retreat on Utoya Island.
“Today, I strongly dissociate myself from violence and terror,” he said. “I hereby give you my word of honor that this is behind me forever.”
Reminding the court of the scale of the attacks, prosecutor Hulda Karlsdottir read the names of each of Breivik’s victims, many of them teenagers on the annual retreat. Many were shot multiple times and some drowned as they tried to swim from the island in panic. During the criminal trial, Breivik said he considered the victims traitors for embracing multiculturalism and that he regretted not having killed even more.
Karlsdottir stressed the parole hearing was not about re-examining guilt, saying, “The main topic here is the danger associated with release.”
Breivik didn’t express any remorse, saying only that he cries for victims on “both sides” in what he described as a culture war.
The court is set to sit until Thursday and a ruling is expected later this month.
During a break in the proceedings, Breivik’s lawyer Øystein Storrvik was asked whether his client was using the hearing to spread his propaganda.
“That is a right he has under Norwegian law,” he was quoted as saying by national broadcaster NRK. “Whether what he chooses to say is wise or not is another matter.”
Groups representing survivors and families of victims have said they won’t comment during the hearing. Before the session, Lisbeth Kristine Røyneland, who heads a support group, said she was afraid Breivik would use the opportunity “to talk freely and convey his extreme views to people who have the same mindset.”
Breivik was declared criminally sane in his trial, even though the prosecution argued that he was psychotic. He didn’t appeal his sentence but unsuccessfully sued the government for human rights violations for denying him the right to communicate with sympathizers.
Although Norway’s maximum sentence is 21 years, Breivik could be held longer under a provision that allows authorities to keep criminals in prison for as long as they’re considered a menace to society.
Breivik has been trying to start a fascist party in prison and reached out by mail to likeminded extremists in Europe and the United States. Prison officials seized many of those letters, fearing he would inspire other violent attacks. Ahead of the parole hearing, Randi Rosenqvist, the psychiatrist who has followed Breivik since 2012, said she could “not detect great changes in Breivik’s functioning.”

Dhaka boat hotels keep dreams afloat for poor Bangladeshis

Updated 18 January 2022

Dhaka boat hotels keep dreams afloat for poor Bangladeshis

  • Lodgings cheapest option for many jobseekers, visitors to Bangladesh capital
  • Concept emerged in 1st half of 20th century, providing accommodation for traders from different parts of Bangladesh

DHAKA: Many residents of Dhaka have never heard about the city’s boat hotels, but for traders and visitors to the Bangladeshi capital from other districts the floating lodgings have for decades provided a cheap accommodation option.

The boat hotels on the banks of the Buriganga River started to emerge in the first half of the 20th century, under British colonial rule, providing accommodation to poor traders from deprived rural areas arriving in Dhaka in search of work.

The two-storey vessels moored along the riverbanks on the southwest outskirts of the city are the most cost-effective option for visitors, with prices as low as 50 US cents per night.

Mohammed Mostofa Mia, owner of the Faridpur Hotel, one of the four remaining floating establishments, told Arab News that the business emerged when road communications in the country were limited, and the river was the main route to Dhaka.

“These floating hotels started providing services to the traders who travelled to Dhaka from different parts of the country,” he said.

“We operate like other regular hotels. The guests need to provide a copy of their national identity card during check in.”

But other rules were different.

“The guests are required to bring their own bedding, pillows, and blankets. We only provide space here,” Mia added.

Each floating hotel can accommodate around 60 people, with only two shared washrooms. The cheapest option, at 50 cents, is a hostel-like room with 15 beds, while a more private room — a double-bed cabin of around 4 square meters — costs nearly $2 per night.

Apart from a bed, there are no amenities and guests hang their belongings on the upper part of the walls. Ceiling fans offer some comfort during hot weather.

Mohammed Lalon, 35, who sells dates in the old city of Dhaka and its Sadarghat port terminal, checked into one of the boat hotels almost two months ago.

“If I reside in a shared room anywhere in Dhaka, I’d have to spend twice as much. So, this floating hotel is a good solution for me,” he said. “I don’t need to spend money on conveyance every day.”

For 62-year-old Abdul Hakim, the river rooms have been his home for decades. The fruit seller arrived in Dhaka around 40 years ago and has lived most of that time in a 15-bed dormitory.

He hails from a village in Pabna district, 160 kilometers from the capital, and by saving money on his accommodation has been able to pay to send his five children to school.

“For staying a night here, I have to pay only half a dollar,” he said. “My eldest daughter completed her graduation from a college in Pabna. If I spent more on accommodation, I won’t be able to provide money for the children’s education.”

British PM denies lying about lockdown party

Updated 18 January 2022

British PM denies lying about lockdown party

  • The revelations have sparked public fury, leading to a double-digit lead in polls for the main opposition Labour party over Johnson's Conservatives
  • Johnson has apologised for a May 20, 2020 party in the Downing Street garden, telling parliament last week he thought it was a "work event",

LONDON: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday “categorically” denied claims by his former chief aide that he lied to parliament about a Downing Street party held during a strict lockdown.
But appearing in public for the first time after days of Covid self-isolation, Johnson also ducked questions about whether he would resign if an internal inquiry establishes that he did lie.
Johnson is battling damaging allegations that he and staff attended alcohol-heavy events during Covid restrictions, prompting an investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
The revelations have sparked public fury, leading to a double-digit lead in polls for the main opposition Labour party over Johnson’s Conservatives, and calls from some Tories for him to quit.
Johnson has apologized for a May 20, 2020 party in the Downing Street garden, telling parliament last week he thought it was a “work event,” despite an aide inviting staff to “bring your own booze.”
But his combative former senior adviser Dominic Cummings, who has been waging a vendetta against Johnson since leaving Downing Street in late 2020, said he warned his then boss about the event at the time.
“I can tell you categorically that nobody told me, nobody said this was something that was against the rules, that it was a breach of the Covid rules, that it was something that wasn’t a work event,” Johnson said.
“Frankly I can’t imagine why on earth it would have been allowed to go ahead,” he told reporters on a visit to a London hospital.
Hanging his head in remorse, Johnson also renewed his office’s apology to Queen Elizabeth II after it emerged that his staff held leaving parties during national mourning for her husband, Prince Philip, in April 2021.
Johnson’s denials have been carefully worded, appearing to clear him of any personal blame even if there was wrongdoing by staff, and relying on a narrow exemption for work gatherings during lockdowns.
But in the latest of an incendiary series of blog posts, Cummings wrote that he told Johnson that Downing Street was becoming a “madhouse.” The prime minister “waved it aside,” he added.
“The events of 20 May alone, never mind the string of other events, mean the PM lied to Parliament about parties,” said Cummings, adding he was ready to swear to his account “on oath.”
Six Conservatives have openly called for Johnson’s resignation, although more are reported to have done so in private. Fifty-four letters from Tory MPs are needed to trigger a no-confidence vote.
Asked if he would indeed step down, Johnson said: “We’ll have to see what she (Gray) says.
“I repeat my deep apologies to people for mistakes that may have been made on my watch,” he added.
Johnson’s senior ministerial colleagues have largely rallied round him, urging the public to wait for the conclusions from Gray’s investigation, which is expected in the coming days.
But Dominic Raab, the deputy premier and justice secretary, conceded that a proven lie by a minister “would normally under the ministerial code, and the governance around parliament, be a resigning matter.”
And in his first on-camera comments on the revelations, powerful finance minister Rishi Sunak said “the ministerial code is clear on these matters.”
“I fully support the prime minister’s request for patience as this inquiry persists,” added Sunak, who is tipped to be a strong contender to take over from Johnson in any leadership contest.
Pressed on whether the prime minister had his unequivocal support, Sunak then broke off the interview and walked off with his microphone still attached.
The opposition Labour party was unequivocal in restating its demands for Johnson to quit following the Cummings blog.
“Boris Johnson clearly knows it’s the end of the road,” Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said.