Flood-hit Pakistanis still waiting on promised rebuild

In this photograph taken on May 9, 2023, flood-affected victims walk through the compound of their damaged house in Dadu district of Pakistan.(AFP)
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Updated 06 June 2023

Flood-hit Pakistanis still waiting on promised rebuild

  • The monsoon deluges of last summer submerged a third of the country, killing 1,700 people and displacing eight million more

DADU: Noor Bibi lost her mother, her daughter and the roof over her head in the catastrophic floods that drowned Pakistan last summer.
One year later she remains homeless, living with the remnants of her family in spartan tents marking where the village of Sohbat Khosa was gutted by the deluge in southern Sindh province.
Noor, a farm worker approaching her 60s, prays for “someone with righteous thoughts that will help us build some good houses in an elevated place.”
“If it flooded again, we would not bear such big losses,” she told AFP.
But government pledges to rebuild flood-ravaged swathes of Pakistan so they are resilient to future extreme weather have largely failed to materialize.
The monsoon deluges of last summer submerged a third of the country, killing 1,700 people and displacing eight million more.
Climate change is making those seasonal rains heavier and more unpredictable, scientists say, raising the urgency of flood-proofing the country.
A failure to do so will be most acutely felt by the poor, who tend to live in the most vulnerable areas.

Here in Dadu district, which was heavily flooded, no rehabilitation is visible. Rare pieces of public infrastructure remain in disrepair and housing reconstruction is left to locals or NGOs.
In January, Islamabad announced a “Resilient Recovery, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Framework” valued at $16.3 billion, but it remains confined to paper.
International donors have also pledged $9 billion, but most of the cash will come in the form of loans.
Villagers’ crops were swept away in the floods, depriving them of livelihoods that might have allowed them to pave their own way to recovery.
With pooled funds, the residents of Sohbat Khosa only raised enough for a toilet and water tank.
Their best hope is the Alkhidmat Foundation, a Pakistani NGO, which plans to build around 30 new homes.
“The government seems to not exist here, and if anything is done by the government, that is only corruption,” said Ali Muhammad, a coordinator for Alkhidmat in Dadu.
Pakistan is currently mired in dual political and economic crises that have brought all public initiatives to a standstill.
But decades of entrenched corruption and mismanagement are also to blame.
“Building back better is expensive, and the amount of damage is colossal,” Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told AFP.
He said he “can’t speak to what the federal government has done,” but in Sindh province, controlled by his party, “we’ve started a couple of initiatives.”
“One is the financing of the reconstruction of houses, through NGOs and charity organizations,” he said.
However, Alkhidmat, like two other NGOs interviewed by AFP, has not received any public money and relies entirely on private funds.

Thanks to Alkhidmat’s efforts, a few dozen homes have been built in the district, but it’s nowhere near the two million damaged or destroyed in the floods.
The village of Bari Baital, submerged until November, is expected to eventually host 80 houses built by the foundation — far too few for its thousands of inhabitants.
To resist future rains they are raised on brick pillars, and built with reinforced roofs and water-resistant cement.
“People are completely unaware of climate change,” said village teacher Imtiaz Ali Chandio.
All they know is that their village has been a “passage for floods for centuries,” he said.
But moving is not an option, meaning the scenario will likely soon be repeated.
“Where else could we go?” asked Abdulrahim Brohi, who already weathered catastrophic floods in 2010. “Everything of ours is here.”
“Somewhere else people won’t accept us,” added Brohi, who estimates his age to be between 50 and 60. “We don’t have resources to rebuild our houses here, so how can we afford land somewhere else?“

Prized by tourists for its scenic mountain vistas, the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan was also hit hard by last year’s floods.
Hundreds of hotels, restaurants, businesses and homes perched on the banks of the Swat river were swept away as ferocious waters were funnelled down the ravine.
To prevent a repeat of the disaster, authorities have “imposed a complete ban on the construction of any sort of building on the river,” said Irfanullah Khan Wazir, Swat’s deputy commissioner.
Nonetheless, in Bahrain, a small resort town once half underwater, the government’s writ is so weak that builders are riding roughshod over the ban.
A number of shops, restaurants and hotels have been renovated or rebuilt just meters from the coursing water. Even the mosque has been rebuilt on the same spot where it was heavily damaged.
“People are doing illegal construction on weekend nights, but [authorities] are not paying any heed — their silence is baffling,” said hotel manager Zafar Ali.
His own property is under construction 20 meters (65 feet) from the river, in a zone he says is authorized.
It is now protected by a flood wall twice the height of the previous one. Economic considerations also prevented them from relocating away from their waterfront vantage.
“Tourists want to be able to open their windows and see the river outside,” Ali said. “Those built further away struggle to cover their expenses.”
Locals in Swat also condemned the inaction of authorities. The main road following the river has been reopened, but whole sections of tarmac remain torn away.
Compensation schemes have been limited to certain people who lost their homes. They are granted 400,000 rupees ($1,400), nowhere near enough to rebuild.
Muhammad Ishaq, a tailor in Bahrain, built his house near the river for easy access to the water. He watched as his home was swallowed by the floods, and has since been forced to move in with his father further up the mountainside.
Life there is harsher, he told AFP, but even if he manages to rebuild, he knows he “will have to stay away from the river.”

He spoke no English, had no lawyer. An Afghan man's case offers a glimpse into US immigration court

Updated 3 sec ago

He spoke no English, had no lawyer. An Afghan man's case offers a glimpse into US immigration court

  • The case reflects an asylum seeker who was ill-equipped to represent himself and clearly didn’t understand what was happening, according to experts who reviewed the transcript

NEW YORK: The Afghan man speaks only Farsi, but he wasn’t worried about representing himself in US immigration court. He believed the details of his asylum claim spoke for themselves.
Mohammad was a university professor, teaching human rights courses in Afghanistan before he fled for the United States. Mohammad is also Hazara, an ethnic minority long persecuted in his country, and he said he was receiving death threats under the Taliban, who reimposed their harsh interpretation of Islam after taking power in 2021.
He crossed the Texas border in April 2022, surrendered to Border Patrol agents and was detained. A year later, a hearing was held via video conference. His words were translated by a court interpreter in another location, and he said he struggled to express himself — including fear for his life since he was injured in a 2016 suicide bombing.
At the conclusion of the nearly three-hour hearing, the judge denied him asylum. Mohammad said he was later shocked to learn that he had waived his right to appeal the decision.
“I feel alone and that the law wasn’t applied,” said Mohammad, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition that only his first name be used, over fears for the safety of his wife and children, who are still in Afghanistan.
Mohammad’s case offers a rare look inside an opaque and overwhelmed immigration court system where hearings are often closed, transcripts are not available to the public and judges are under pressure to move quickly with ample discretion. Amid a major influx of migrants at the border with Mexico, the courts — with a backlog of 2 million cases -– may be the most overwhelmed and least understood link in the system.
AP reviewed a hearing transcript provided by Mona Iman, an attorney with Human Rights First now representing Mohammad. Iman also translated Mohammad’s comments to AP in a phone interview from Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas.
The case reflects an asylum seeker who was ill-equipped to represent himself and clearly didn’t understand what was happening, according to experts who reviewed the transcript. But at least one former judge disagreed and said the ruling was fair.
Now Mohammad’s attorney has won him a new hearing, before a different judge — a rare second chance for asylum cases. Also giving Iman hope is a decision this week by the Biden administration to give temporary legal status to Afghan migrants living in the country for more than a year. Iman believes he qualifies and said he will apply.
But Mohammed has been in detention for about 18 months, and he fears he could remain in custody and still be considered for deportation.
AP sought details and comment from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agency didn’t address questions on Mohammad’s case but said noncitizens can pursue all due process and appeals and, once that’s exhausted, judges’ orders must be carried out.
For his April 27 hearing, Mohammad submitted photos of his injuries from the 2016 suicide bombing that killed hundreds at a peaceful demonstration of mostly Hazaras. He also gave the court threatening letters from the Taliban and medical documents from treatment for head wounds in 2021. He said militants beat him with sticks as he left the university and shot at him but missed.
In court, the government argued that Mohammad encouraged migration to the US on social media, changed dates and details related to his history, and had relatives in Europe, South America and other places where he could have settled.
In ruling, Judge Allan John-Baptiste said the threats didn’t indicate Mohammad would still be at risk, and that his wife and children hadn’t been harmed since he left.
Mohammad tried to keep arguing his case, but the judge told him the evidentiary period was closed. He asked Mohammad whether he planned to appeal or would waive his right to do so.
Mohammad kept describing his claim, but John-Baptiste reminded him he’d already ruled. Mohammad said if the judge was going to ignore the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, he wouldn’t ask for an appeal. John-Baptiste indicated he had considered it.
“You were not hit by the gunshot or the suicide bomber,” John-Baptiste said. “The harm that you received does not rise to the level of persecution.”
Mohammad continued, explaining how his family lives in hiding, his wife concealing her identity with a burqa.
“OK, are you going to appeal my decision or not?” John-Baptiste ultimately asked.
“No, I don’t,” Mohammad said.
“And we don’t want you to make the decision now that you can’t come back later and say you want to appeal. This is final, OK, sir?” John-Baptiste said.
“Yes. OK, I accept that,” Mohammad said.
He later asked whether he could try to come back legally. The judge started to explain voluntary departure, which would allow him to return in less than a decade, but corrected himself and said Mohammad didn’t qualify.
“I’m sorry about that, but, you know, I’m just going to have to order you removed,” John-Baptiste said. “I wish you the best of luck.”
Mohammad later told AP he couldn’t comprehend what was happening in court. He’d heard from others in detention that he had a month to appeal.
“I didn’t understand in that moment that the right would be taken from me if I said no,” he said.
Former immigration judge Jeffrey Chase, who reviewed the transcript, said he was surprised John-Baptiste waived Mohammad’s right to appeal and that the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld that decision. Case law supports granting protection for people who belong to a group long persecuted in their homelands even if an individual cannot prove specific threats, said Chase, an adviser to the appeals board.
But Andrew Arthur, another former immigration judge, said John-Baptiste ruled properly.
“The respondent knew what he was filing, understood all of the questions that were asked of him at the hearing, understood the decision, and freely waived his right to appeal,” Arthur, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for immigration restrictions, said via email.
Chase said the hearing appeared rushed, and he believes the case backlog played a role.
“Immigration judges hear death-penalty cases in traffic-court conditions,” said Chase, quoting a colleague. “This is a perfect example.”
Overall, the 600 immigration judges nationwide denied 63 percent of asylum cases last year, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Individual rates vary wildly, from a Houston judge who denied all 105 asylum requests to a San Francisco one denying only 1 percent of 108 cases.
John-Baptiste, a career prosecutor appointed during the Trump administration’s final months, denied 72 percent of his 114 cases.
Before Mohammad decided to flee, his wife applied for a special immigrant visa, which grants permanent residency to Afghans who worked for the US government or military, along with their families.
But that and other legal pathways can take years. While they waited, Mohammad said, the Taliban came looking for him but instead detained and beat his nephew. Mohammad described making the devastating decision to leave his family, who had no passports.
He opted for a treacherous route through multiple countries to cross the US-Mexico border, which has seen the number of Afghans jump from 300 to 5,000 in a year.
Mohammad said he crossed into Pakistan, flew to Brazil and headed north. He slept on buses and trekked through Panama’s notorious Darien Gap jungle, where he said he saw bodies of migrants who didn’t make it.
Mohammad planned to live with a niece in North Carolina. Now he fears if he’s sent home and his wife gets her visa, they’ll be separated again.
Deportations to Afghanistan are extremely rare, with a handful each year.
Attorney Iman said they’re grateful Mohammad’s case has been reopened, with a hearing scheduled for Oct. 4. She is fighting for his immediate release.
“I have no doubt that his case would have turned out differently had he been represented,” Iman said. “This is exactly the type of vulnerable individual that the US government has promised, has committed to protect, since it withdrew from the country.”



Italian premier admits she hoped to do ‘better’ on controlling irregular migration

Updated 48 min 59 sec ago

Italian premier admits she hoped to do ‘better’ on controlling irregular migration

  • After 8,500 people arrived on the tiny island of Lampedusa in just three days earlier this month, Meloni demanded the EU do more to help relieve the pressure

ROME; Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has admitted she had hoped to do “better” on controlling irregular migration, which has surged since her far-right party won historic elections a year ago.
“Clearly we hoped for better on immigration, where we worked so hard,” she said in an interview marking the win, broadcast late Saturday on the TG1 channel.
“The results are not what we hoped to see. It is certainly a very complex problem, but I’m sure we’ll get to the bottom of it.”
Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party was elected in large part on a promise to reduce mass migration into Italy.
But the number of people arriving on boats from North Africa has instead surged, with more than 130,000 recorded by the Interior Ministry so far this year — up from 70,000 in the same period of 2022.
After 8,500 people arrived on the tiny island of Lampedusa in just three days earlier this month, Meloni demanded the EU do more to help relieve the pressure.
Brussels agreed to intensify existing efforts, and this week said it would start to release money to Tunisia — from where many of the boats leave — under a pact aimed at stemming irregular migration from the country.
But Meloni’s main coalition partner, Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigration League party, has been dismissive of EU efforts to manage the surge of arrivals that he dubbed an “act of war.”
The League this weekend also condemned the German government for providing funding for an NGO conducting at-sea rescues in the Mediterranean, saying it represented “very serious interference” in Italian affairs.
Defense Minister Guido Crosetto, a member of Meloni’s party, added his criticism on Sunday, telling La Stampa newspaper that it was a “very serious” move that put Italy “in difficulty.”
Salvini, who closed Italy’s ports to charity migrant rescue ships while in government in 2019, is agitating for Rome to take tougher action.
Since taking office in October, Meloni’s government has restricted the activities of the charity rescue ships, which it accuses of encouraging migrants, while vowing to clamp down on people smugglers.
It has also sought to boost repatriation of arrivals ineligible for asylum, including by building new detention centers and extending the time migrants can be held there.

It emerged this week it would also be requiring migrants awaiting a decision on asylum to pay a deposit of 5,000 euros or be sent to a detention center, prompting accusations the state was charging “protection money.”

The center-left Democratic Party said earlier this week that “on immigration, the Italian right has failed.”

“It continues on a path that is demagogic and consciously cynical, but above all totally ineffective both in the respect and safeguarding of human rights, and for the protection of Italy’s interests,” it said in a note.


First refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh arrive in Armenia following Azerbaijan’s military offensive

Ethnic Armenians from the first group of about 30 people from Nagorno-Karabakh have dinner at a hotel in Armenia.
Updated 24 September 2023

First refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh arrive in Armenia following Azerbaijan’s military offensive

  • More are expected to come after a 10-month blockade of the breakaway region

YEREVAN: The first refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh have arrived in Armenia, local officials reported Sunday, after Azerbaijan imposed a 10-month blockade on the breakaway region and conducted a lightning military offensive there, reclaiming full control of the region as a result.
Thousands of people were evacuated from cities and villages affected by the latest fighting and taken to a Russian peacekeepers’ camp in Nagorno-Karabakh. A total of 377 people had arrived in Armenia from the region as of Sunday night, Armenian authorities reported.
Russia's Defense Ministry reported that its peacekeepers, who were deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020, helped transport 311 civilians, including 102 children. The conflicting numbers could not be immediately reconciled.
“It was a nightmare. There are no words to describe. The village was heavily shelled. Almost no one is left in the village,” one of the evacuees told The Associated Press in the Armenian city of Kornidzor. She refused to give her name for security reasons. “I have an old grandmother’s house here in Tegh village, (in the Syunik region of Armenia). I will live there until we see what happens next.”
Nagorno-Karabakh is located in Azerbaijan and came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenian military, in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. During a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan took back parts of Nagorno-Karabak along with territory surrounding the region that Armenian forces had claimed during the earlier conflict.
A Russia-brokered armistice ended the war, and a contingent of about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers was sent to the region to monitor it. Parts of Nagorno-Karabakh that weren't retaken by Azerbaijan remained under the control of the separatist authorities.
In December, Azerbaijan imposed a blockade of the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, alleging that the Armenian government was using the road for mineral extraction and illicit weapons shipments to the province’s separatist forces.
Armenia charged that the closure denied basic food and fuel supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh’s approximately 120,000 people. Azerbaijan rejected the accusation, arguing the region could receive supplies through the Azerbaijani city of Aghdam — a solution long resisted by Nagorno-Karabakh authorities, who called it a strategy for Azerbaijan to gain control of the region.
On Tuesday, Azerbaijan launched heavy artillery fire against ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, who conceded to demands to lay down their arms the next day. Nagorno-Karabakh’s final status remains an open question, however, and is at the center of talks between the sides that began Thursday in the Azerbaijani city of Yevlakh.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in an address to the nation Sunday that his government was working “with international partners to form international mechanisms to ensure the rights and security of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, but if these efforts do not produce concrete results, the government will welcome our sisters and brothers of Nagorno-Karabakh in the Republic of Armenia with all the care.”
The events in Nagorno-Karabakh have sparked a days-long wave of protests in Armenia, where demonstrators accused Pashinyan and the Russian peacekeepers of failing to protect the region's Armenian population.
Hundreds of people gathered again Sunday in the center of Armenia's capital, Yerevan, to demand Pashinyan’s ouster.
As part of a cease-fire agreement reached last week, the separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh started surrendering tanks, air defense systems and other weapons to the Azerbaijani army. As of Sunday, the process of surrendering arms was still underway, the Azerbaijani military said.
Azerbaijan’s Interior Ministry said Sunday that disarmed and demobilized Armenian troops would be allowed to leave the region and go to Armenia.

Iran says arrested 28 Daesh members over Tehran plot with international links, including Pakistan

Updated 24 September 2023

Iran says arrested 28 Daesh members over Tehran plot with international links, including Pakistan

  • Officials say the arrested militants wanted to carry out 30 coordinated explosions in Tehran but were apprehended
  • A number of bombs, firearms, suicide vests and communications devices were also seized during the crackdown

TEHRAN: Iranian authorities have arrested 28 people linked to the Daesh group for plotting to target Tehran during the anniversary of last year’s protests, the intelligence ministry said on Sunday.
The protests erupted after the death in custody on September 16, 2022, of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd arrested for allegedly flouting the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
“In recent days, during a series of simultaneous operations in Tehran, Alborz and West Azerbaijan provinces, several terrorist bases and team houses were attacked, and 28 members of the said terrorist network were arrested,” the ministry said on its website.
“These elements are affiliated to the professional crime group of Daesh and some of them have a history of accompanying takfiris in Syria or being active in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Kurdistan region of Iraq,” it added.
In Shiite-dominated Iran, the term “takfiri” generally refers to jihadists or proponents of radical Sunni Islam.
The intelligence ministry said two security personnel were wounded during the arrest operations, and a number of bombs, firearms, suicide vests and communications devices were seized.
It said it had neutralized a plot to “carry out 30 simultaneous terrorist explosions in densely populated centers of Tehran to undermine security and incite riots and protests on the anniversary of last year’s riots.”
The months-long demonstrations saw hundreds of people killed, including dozens of security personnel, in what Tehran called “riots” fomented by foreign governments and “hostile media.”
On Thursday, a court sentenced to death a Tajik Daesh member convicted over a deadly gun attack on a Shiite Muslim shrine in August.
The attack on the Shah Cheragh mausoleum in Shiraz, capital of Fars province in the south, came less than a year after a mass shooting at the same site that was later claimed by the Daesh group.

India protests after China bars three female athletes from Asian Games 

Indian Minister of Sports Anurag Singh Thakur delivers a speech during a send off ceremony for Indian athletes.
Updated 31 min 19 sec ago

India protests after China bars three female athletes from Asian Games 

  • India, China share undemarcated border, where tensions have been high in recent years 
  • China does not recognize Arunachal Pradesh province, calls it South Tibet in newly issued map  

NEW DELHI: India’s Sports Minister Anurag Thakur called out China’s discriminatory approach on Sunday after three Indian athletes were denied entry to the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou.  

The Asian Games are the continent’s biggest sporting event and are held every four years. The current iteration opened on Saturday after it was due to be held last year but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Three female martial artists from the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh — a disputed region China mostly considered as South Tibet — were unable to travel to the Asian Games, while the rest of their 10-member squad was reportedly able to go ahead as planned.  


India, China share undemarcated border, where tensions have been high in recent years.

“As you could see I am not in China. I am in Coimbatore, standing with my players,” Thakur told reporters on Sunday in the south Indian city.  

“This discriminatory approach of a country, which is against the Olympic Charter, is not acceptable at all,” he said. “I have canceled my trip to China on these grounds as they have denied the opportunity to the players from Arunachal Pradesh to be a part of the Asian Games.” 

India and China share an undemarcated 3,800-km border, which has long been a source of dispute between the two Asian giants. Tensions rose in 2020 when at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed in hand-to-hand fighting in the Galwan area of the Ladakh region. The incident was their worst border clash since 1967.  

India lodged a strong protest with China only last month over a new map Beijing had released that showed Arunachal Pradesh as part of its official territory, which it calls South Tibet. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Friday that “China welcomes athletes from all countries” to attend the Asian Games, but said Beijing has never recognized Arunachal Pradesh, because the southern Tibetan region is “Chinese territory.”  

The three Indian athletes were reportedly given visas stapled to their passports, while the rest of India’s athletes competing at this year’s games were given Asian Games badges that also serve as visas to enter China. The same athletes did not compete at the World University Games in Chengdu, China in July because they were given similar visas.  

“The Chinese authorities have, in a targeted and pre-meditated manner, discriminated against some of the Indian sportspersons from the state of Arunachal Pradesh by denying them accreditation and entry to the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.  

India has also lodged a strong protest “against China’s deliberate and selective obstruction of some of our sportspersons,” the ministry said.  

“Arunachal Pradesh was, is and will always remain an integral and inalienable part of India.”