Will Turkey’s refugees be vaccinated against the coronavirus?

A Turkish Health Ministry health worker administers a dose of anti-COVID-19 vaccine on an 89-year-old woman in Ayas, in Ankara province, Turkey, on Jan. 21, 2021. (Turkish Health Ministry via AP)
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Updated 24 January 2021

Will Turkey’s refugees be vaccinated against the coronavirus?

  • Disease does not discriminate based on nationality or legal status, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: While Turkey’s COVID-19 vaccination program has been under way since Jan. 13, there has been no official declaration about whether refugees, registered or unregistered, will be immunized.

Turkey has so far received 3 million doses of vaccine and has vaccinated about 2 million citizens.

There is, however, uncertainty as to what extent the whole population will be inoculated in the shortest timeframe amid speculation that the number of vaccines available is insufficient.

The lack of any official declaration about the inclusion of migrants in the vaccination timeline may be to avoid any public backlash given negative public sentiment about Syrian refugees in Turkey.

However, experts draw attention to the responsibility of state authorities to protect members of this vulnerable group by allocating vaccines for them, not only for their own safety but also for the general health of the public.

There are about 4 million refugees registered in the country but it is difficult to estimate the number of unregistered migrants in Turkey. Last year, about 122,000 unregistered migrants were caught in Turkey, while this number was 454,000 in 2019. Hundreds of thousands more are believed to live in precarious conditions that make it impossible to follow hygiene measures to protect against the coronavirus, such as buying masks.

Metin Corabatir, former spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Turkey and president of the Research Center on Asylum and Migration (IGAM) in Ankara, said that thousands of unregistered migrants continued to arrive in Turkey due to its long maritime and land borders with neighbors.

“Some nationals of countries with which Turkey signed visa exemption agreements over recent years also stayed in the country irregularly, including domestic workers, after their short-term visa expired,” he told Arab News.

Corabatir said that some EU countries had already begun projects to include refugees in their vaccination program to prevent a risk of contagion in the coming months.

“You cannot be sure whether the man who sits near to you in the bus is an irregular migrant or not. Therefore, an exhaustive vaccination program without discriminating against any vulnerable group is a must,” he said.

Refugees in Turkey, who live close to or below the poverty line, have been hard hit by the pandemic.

Working mostly in the informal sector without any social security, they have always been vulnerable to economic shocks. Lockdown practices, restrictions of movement and the acute economic difficulties of some sectors have added to their difficulties.

Omar Kadkoy, a migration policy analyst at the Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, thinks that not vaccinating migrants in Turkey is counterproductive in curbing the spread of the virus.

“The virus does not discriminate based on nationality or based on legal status. Everybody is at risk of contracting the virus and everybody has the potential to spread COVID-19,” he told Arab News.

For Kadkoy, it is no surprise that registered and unregistered refugees have not been included in the vaccination process.

“Refugees must be included in the government’s designated groups of priority. For the unregistered, it already means exclusion from accessing the basic right of health services,” he said.

For the time being, Kadkoy said, the government should issue temporary IDs so that anybody who is undocumented becomes eligible for vaccination.

“Thereafter, the given IDs could be used to process claims for complete documentation. In doing so, Turkey would stand at an equal distance from birth rights and human rights,” he said.

More than 3,400 health care service staff are employed in 177 migrant health centers, putting extra emphasis on the danger of exposure of migrants to the contagion.

Access to health care services also appears to be a serious barrier for migrants during the pandemic.

“Hospitals in Turkey have to accept migrants under emergency situations. But unregistered migrants know very well that after their treatment the hospital authorities will inform the officials about their access to the health care services. Therefore, they will quickly be taken to the deportation centers,” Corabatir said.

Experts warn that by not including migrants in the vaccination program there is a serious risk that they will not go to hospitals, even after they have contracted the coronavirus.


Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed

Updated 2 min 18 sec ago

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed

  • The 78-year old, was first elected to lead the Cairo-based pan-regional body in 2016
  • Since its founding in 1945, the Cairo-based league has chosen an Egyptian diplomat as its chief, apart from 1979 to 1990

CAIRO: Egypt’s Ahmed Aboul Gheit was reappointed for a second term Wednesday as secretary general of the 22-member Arab League, a diplomatic source said.
The 78-year old, who served as Egyptian foreign minister between 2004 and 2011, was first elected to lead the Cairo-based pan-regional body in 2016.
“Arab foreign ministers unanimously decided to approve Egypt’s request to reappoint Arab League secretary general Ahmed Aboul Gheit for a new five-year term,” the source said.
Since its founding in 1945, the Cairo-based league has chosen an Egyptian diplomat as its chief, apart from 1979 to 1990, when a Tunisian was appointed and the headquarters moved to Tunis, after Egypt signed a peace deal with neighboring Israel.

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Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes

Updated 25 min 14 sec ago

Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes

  • In 2020, Egypt broadened the rules for who can foster a child to include single women over 30 and divorcees
  • A social media campaign encouraging both taking children home and financing them has also helped spark change

CAIRO: Yasmina Al-Habbal always wanted to take in an orphan but only did so last year after Egypt’s government eased regulations over who could do so and campaigned to change public attitudes, enabling her to take home baby Ghalya.
Formal adoption — where people permanently adopt a child, give them their surname and make them their legal heir, is not accepted in Islam due to the importance of respecting lineage, and not practiced in Egypt, although people are encouraged to sponsor children or foster them.
Complexities around Islam and adoption prevented some people from fostering and instead people chose to support children who remained in the full-time care of orphanages.
In January 2020 however, Egypt broadened the rules for who can foster a child to include single women over 30 and divorcees, and reduced the minimum level of education required, hoping that by increasing the pool of prospective foster parents it could make fostering more widespread and socially accepted.
A social media campaign “Yala Kafala” (Let’s sponsor a child) encouraging both taking children home and financing them, started by an Egyptian woman, has also helped spark change.
Habbal, 40 and unmarried, had always dreamt of having a daughter and said she faced social pressure when choosing to care for now seven-month-old Ghalya.
“My friends said to me: ‘how will you face society? What are you going to tell people? Are you going to tell Ghalya that she isn’t your child? Are you going to tell everyone else?’.”
Habbal assured her friends she would respond by telling people their prejudiced views were wrong, and she would tell Ghalya it didn’t matter where she came from.
“I’m going to tell Ghalya... ‘what is important is the positive change you’ve made to so many people’s lives’.”
She added she has a seen a change in attitudes to fostering, and her experience is encouraging others to apply.
“In this past year, the number of families who have applied to sponsor orphans shows just how much people have accepted it. People used to be afraid of it, but now, Egypt’s highest religious authority Al-Azhar, civil society organizations and the ministry of social solidarity are all trying to make the idea more widespread,” she said.
Reem Amin, a member of Egypt’s social solidarity ministry’s alternative families committee said its main goal was to remove the need for orphanages by 2025.
“An orphanage’s main goal is as a stopover point before the child moves to a foster home,” she said.
The ministry’s legal adviser Mohamed Omar said around 11,600 families have taken in orphans since January 2020 and another 11,000 orphans needed homes.
In the second half of 2020 as restrictions due to the pandemic began to ease, the ministry received 1000 requests from families wanting to sponsor orphans.
Cairo couple Mohamed Abdallah and his wife had initially failed to conceive a child of their own and decided to take in an orphan instead.
Months later, Abdallah’s wife Merna became pregnant and now they are raising their biological son Soliman and Dawood, their foster child. “I have a dream that they will be an example for a normal society — two brothers who love each other, even though they are not related by blood,” said Abdallah.


Yemen’s army launches offensive in Taiz to relieve pressure on Marib

Updated 03 March 2021

Yemen’s army launches offensive in Taiz to relieve pressure on Marib

  • During the early hours of the offensive, the army troops liberated a number of villages

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Army has launched a new offensive in the southern city of Taiz to break a six-year-long siege by the Iran-backed Houthis and ease military pressure on government forces in the central province of Marib, a Yemeni army spokesperson in Taiz told Arab News on Wednesday. 

Abdul Basit Al-Baher said that hundreds of army troops on Tuesday night attacked Houthi-controlled locations on the western and eastern edges of the city, triggering clashes with the rebels. 

During the early hours of the offensive, the army troops liberated a number of villages and mountainous locations and killed at least 12 Houthis and destroyed military equipment. 

“The national army activated four battlefields in Taiz and managed to push Houthi militia from different locations,” Al-Baher said, adding that the army is pushing to break the Houthi siege on Taiz and open a strategic road that links Taiz with the Red Sea areas. If the government forces seize control of Al-Bareh, the epicenter of the fighting, government forces will be able to partially end the Houthi siege on Taiz and funnel fighters and military equipment from the western regions.

About the timing of the offensive, local Yemeni commanders say that the Houthis in Taiz have been weakened since they sent their elite forces and heavy equipment to participate in the movement’s offensive on the central city of Marib. 

“The Yemeni Army offensive partly aims to ease military pressure on Marib,” Al-Baher said. 

On Wednesday afternoon, artillery shells fired by the Houthis landed in areas close to Al-Thawra hospital in the eastern part of the city, residents said. No one was reportedly hurt in the shelling. 

The Houthis have imposed a siege on the city of Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, since early 2015, after failing to seize control of the city due to strong resistance from army troops and resistance fighters. 

The Houthi siege has stifled the densely populated city, pushing tens of thousands of people to the brink of famine and triggering condemnation from local and international rights groups.

Houthis earlier this month renewed a major offensive to recapture the central city of Marib, the Yemeni government’s last stronghold in the northern half of Yemen. 

In the western province of Hodeidah, a civilian was killed and his brother was wounded when an artillery shell fired by the Houthis exploded inside their house on Tuesday night in the town of Hays, south of Hodeidah city, local media said. 

The Joint Forces, an umbrella term for three major military units in the country’s western coast, said that Houthi sporadically shelled civilian areas in Hays, causing panic among residents. 

A truce imposed under the Stockholm Agreement in 2018 has largely failed to bring peace to contested areas in Hodeidah as local rights organizations say that hundreds of civilians have been killed in shelling and by land mines planted by the Houthis during the last three years.

Yemen’s government has hailed US sanctions on two Houthi military leaders for orchestrating terrorist strikes inside and outside Yemen. 

Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani described the US decision as a “right step” on the path to punishing the Houthi group for rejecting peace ideas and launching deadly attacks on civilians across Yemen and in Saudi Arabia.


Lebanon’s president wants investigation into currency crash

Updated 03 March 2021

Lebanon’s president wants investigation into currency crash

  • While officially, the US dollar costs only 1,520 Lebanese pounds, the black market price was around 9,900 pounds on Wednesday
  • Just a few months earlier dollars could be bought at a rate of some 7,000 pounds

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president ordered the central bank governor on Wednesday to open an investigation into currency speculation, after the Lebanese pound plunged to record lows on the black market this week, leading to protests in the stricken country.
The request by President Michel Aoun came after the country’s banks were required to raise their capital holdings by Feb. 28, and local media reported that some had to scramble to get hard currency from the black market, sending demand for it — and its prices — surging.
While officially, the US dollar costs only 1,520 Lebanese pounds, the black market price was around 9,900 pounds on Wednesday — a day after briefly hitting a record high of 10,000. Just a few months earlier dollars could be bought at a rate of some 7,000 pounds.
In a statement released by his office after meeeting central bank governor Riad Salameh, Aoun said if it turns out that the crash was because of speculators, they should face justice. Enraged protesters, angry over the higher costs of dollar denominated goods, have blocked roads and highways with burning tires across the country.
Lebanon’s banking association denied it was responsible for the situation, blaming instead a lingering political implasse, pileups of unpaid state contracts, and houshold dollar hoarding.
Bickering between Lebanon’s political rivals has left the country in a stalemate for months, only worsening the economic disaster sparked by a debt crisis and soverign default last year. Disagreements between Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri have delayed the formation of the government for more than four months.
Lebanon has been hit by one crisis after another, with widespread protests against the country’s corrupt political class breaking out in October 2019. That has been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic and a massive blast in Beirut’s port last August that decimated the facility.
The country desparately needs foreign currency, but international donors want major anti-corruption reforms first, lest the funds disappear into a notorious state sector sinkhole that has brought the nation to the brink of bankruptcy.
The crisis has driven nearly half the population of the small country of 6 million into poverty. Over 1 million refugees from Syria live in Lebanon.


New Maronite archbishop elected

Updated 03 March 2021

New Maronite archbishop elected

  • Antoine Farès Bounajem elected new archbishop of Antélias of the Maronites
  • Lebanese Maronite Christians constitute about 22% of the population of Lebanon

ROME: The Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church of Antioch of the Maronites has elected Antoine Farès Bounajem as new archbishop of Antélias of the Maronites, Lebanon.

Pope Francis has given his assent to his election, according to a statement of the Vatican Press office.

Bounajem, 53, was born in Harharaya-Kattine. After his schooling at the Saint George College of Zalka and in the minor seminary of Ghazir, he studied philosophy and theology at the Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik, graduated in 1992.

He was awarded a licentiate in theology, with a catechetical-pastoral focus, at the Institut Catholique de Paris in 1999.

He was ordained a priest on July 10 1994 for the archeparchy of Antélias. Since ordination he has held various pastoral roles.

He has served as parish priest and chaplain of the Scouts and various prayer and formation groups.

Pope John Paul II established the archdiocese of Antélias of the Maronites in 1988. It depends immediately on the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch.

Its cathedral is the Resurrection Cathedral, five km north of Beirut, in the Matn District, Lebanon. In 2012, its 93 parishes counted 249,971 Lebanese Maronite Catholic members.

The Maronite Church is the largest Christian denomination in Lebanon. It is an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the worldwide Catholic Church.

The Lebanese Maronite Christians are believed to constitute about 22 percent of the total population of Lebanon.