UK government to evict Afghan refugees from hotels, house small-boat arrivals using taxpayer funds

Afghans board a UK military aircraft at Kabul airport, Afghanistan, Aug. 16, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 July 2023
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UK government to evict Afghan refugees from hotels, house small-boat arrivals using taxpayer funds

  • Labour councilor fears former interpreters, soldiers ‘at risk of homelessness’
  • Govt to finance 5,000 beds over fears of Channel crossing surge

LONDON: Hotel accommodation in the UK occupied by at-risk Afghan refugees will be vacated to make room for migrants who cross the English Channel using small boats, The Guardian reported.

The Afghan former interpreters and soldiers, who were evacuated to the UK in the wake of the Taliban takeover, were warned that next month they would be evicted from their accommodation.

But the thousands of rooms they occupy will continue to be paid for by British taxpayers, with the government financing 5,000 beds to potentially house new boat arrivals this summer and autumn.

So far this year, around 13,000 people have entered Britain by crossing the Channel. Ministers fear a surge in arrivals during the coming months.

MPs were told by UK Home Office officials last week that the government, using taxpayer money, was continuing to pay for the hotel beds to house asylum seekers and ease overcrowding at detention centers.

The Guardian reported that at least three hotels housing some of the 8,000 Afghans will be open to small-boat arrivals.

The issue is complicated further by the fact that some of those arriving by boat are of Afghan origin, including people who were accepted by the UK’s official relocation scheme for Afghanistan.

Labour Party councilor, Peymana Assad, said: “Afghans are now at risk of homelessness come the eviction date and, what is worse, is that those coming on the small boats are eligible Afghan refugees or already have Arap (Afghan relocations and assistance policy) acceptance letters.

“The government’s continued refusal to provide safe routes for asylum for Afghans like they did for Ukraine is what is driving vulnerable Afghans onto boats. What they are doing is effectively pitting Afghan refugees against Afghan refugees.”

Other critics of the move have raised concerns that the evictions would lead to a misconception that the Afghan refugees had arrived in the UK illegally.

Conservative Friends of Afghanistan director, Shabnam Nasimi, said: “It is clear that the government is trying to find a way to deal with the small-boat crisis. But this response is wrong and adds to the misconception that people who were invited here from Afghanistan are here illegally.”

Local councils throughout the country have warned that many of the Afghans, if evicted, could be made homeless because of Britain’s housing crisis.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Hotels are not, and were never designed to be, long-term accommodation for Afghans resettled in the UK and it is not in their best interests to be living in hotel accommodation for months or years on end.

“That is why we have announced a plan, backed by £285 million ($368 million) of new funding, to speed up the resettlement of Afghan nationals into long-term homes.

“Extensive government support is available, and we will continue to do all we can to help Afghan families as they rebuild their lives here.”


Two arrested in India over Bengaluru cafe bombing

Updated 7 sec ago
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Two arrested in India over Bengaluru cafe bombing

  • The two suspects were hiding under false identities, National Investigation Agency says
  • Both are accused of orchestrating the March attack on cafe using a small homemade bomb

KOLKATA: Police in India arrested two men Friday accused of bombing a popular cafe in the southern tech hub Bengaluru last month, wounding nine people.

The National Investigation Agency said in a statement it had located the two suspects outside the eastern city of Kolkata, where they were hiding under false identities.

The men are accused of orchestrating the March attack on the Rameshwaram Cafe during its busy lunch hour using a small homemade bomb.

Bengaluru, known as “India’s Silicon Valley,” is home to many of the country’s top information technology companies and the capital of Karnataka state.

Karnataka is ruled by the opposition Congress party, which is often accused of being soft on extremism by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.


American missing in Russian-controlled east Ukraine, say local police

Updated 12 April 2024
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American missing in Russian-controlled east Ukraine, say local police

  • Bentley went missing on April 8
  • Mash cited his wife as saying he had gone to see if anyone needed help but had not returned

MOSCOW: Russell Bentley, an American who fought against Ukrainian forces, is missing in the Russian-controlled Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, police there said on Friday, adding that a search was under way.
Bentley went missing on April 8, they said. The online news outlet Mash said he had disappeared after a district in the city of Donetsk was shelled by Ukrainian forces.
Mash cited his wife as saying he had gone to see if anyone needed help but had not returned. She was quoted as saying she had found his car with his baseball cap in it along with his smashed mobile phone and a pair of glasses.
Bentley, 64, is a self-declared supporter of Russian-backed forces in Ukraine.
He joined pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and used the military call-sign “Texas,” the Russian state news agency RIA reported.
It said Bentley had later swapped his gun for journalism and had worked with the Sputnik news agency, another state-owned entity, and obtained Russian citizenship.
In 2022, Rolling Stone magazine ran an interview with Bentley titled “The Bizarre Story of How a Hardcore Texas Leftist Became a Frontline Putin propagandist.”


Four teenagers detained in Germany over ‘Islamist attack’ plot

Updated 12 April 2024
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Four teenagers detained in Germany over ‘Islamist attack’ plot

  • The trio, aged 15 to 16, had also “committed to carrying out a crime — murder and manslaughter,” Duesseldorf prosecutors added
  • Investigators did not provide further details on the alleged plot, saying the inquiry was still under way

BERLIN: Police have detained two girls and two boys — all teenagers — in western Germany on suspicion that they were planning an Islamist attack, prosecutors said on Friday.
Three arrested in North Rhine-Westphalia state are “strongly suspected of planning an Islamist-motivated terror attack and of having committed to carrying it out,” Duesseldorf prosecutors said in a statement.
The trio, aged 15 to 16, had also “committed to carrying out a crime — murder and manslaughter,” Duesseldorf prosecutors added.
Separately, prosecutors in Stuttgart said a 16-year-old suspect is in custody on “suspicion that he was preparing a serious crime endangering the state.”
Investigators did not provide further details on the alleged plot, saying the inquiry was still under way.
But Germany’s biggest-selling daily Bild reported that the four youths were allegedly planning to carry out Molotov cocktail and knife attacks in the name of the Daesh group.
Their targets are believed to have been Christians and police officers, according to the report, which said the suspects were also weighing whether to obtain firearms.
Germany has been on high alert for Islamist attacks since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in October, with the country’s domestic intelligence chief warning that the risk of such assaults is “real and higher than it has been for a long time.”
The country is also particularly nervous about security breaches as it prepares to host the European football championships from mid-June to mid-July.
Police had already foiled a suspected plot earlier this year.
Investigators in January arrested three people over an alleged plan targeting the cathedral in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.
Bild reported that the suspects were Tajiks acting for Daesh-Khorasan, the same group believed to have been behind March’s deadly massacre in a Moscow concert hall.
“The danger from Islamist terrorism remains acute,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said at the time, describing the Khorasan offshoot as “currently the biggest Islamist threat in Germany.”
Islamist extremists have carried out several attacks in Germany in recent years, the deadliest being a truck rampage at a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016 that killed 12 people.
More recently, two Afghans linked to Daesh were arrested in Germany in March on suspicion of planning an attack around Sweden’s parliament in retaliation for Qur'an burnings.
In October, German prosecutors also charged two Syrian brothers for planning an attack inspired by Daesh on a church in Sweden.
In December 2022, a Syrian-born Islamist was jailed for 14 years for a knife attack on a train in Bavaria in which four people were injured.
The number of people considered Islamist extremists in Germany fell from 28,290 in 2021 to 27,480 in 2022, according to a report from the BfV federal domestic intelligence agency.
However, in presenting the report, Faeser said Islamist extremism “remains dangerous.”
Germany became a target for militant groups during its involvement in the coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, and its deployment in Afghanistan.


German lawsuit calls for end to Israeli arms sales

Updated 12 April 2024
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German lawsuit calls for end to Israeli arms sales

  • Country is second-biggest weapons exporter to Tel Aviv after US
  • Rights groups representing Palestinian plaintiffs say Berlin violating humanitarian conventions

LONDON: A lawsuit filed in Germany is asking judges to demand an immediate end to arms sales to Israel by the national government, The Guardian reported on Friday.

The suit is a sign of growing pressure on Berlin’s ties with Israel amid rising discontent over Tel Aviv’s prosecution of its war in Gaza. Germany is the second-biggest arms exporter to Israel after the US.

The lawsuit is requesting judges to demand that the German government revoke all weapons licenses issued to Israel since Oct. 7 last year.

It was filed by four human rights groups, representing five Palestinian people in Gaza who say they are victims of collective punishment by Israel.

One of the lead litigants, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, said in a statement: “It is reasonable to believe that the German government is in violation of the arms trade treaty, the Geneva conventions and its obligations under the genocide convention — agreements that have been ratified by Germany.”

The center’s general secretary, Wolfgang Kaleck, said: “A basic prerequisite for a rules-based and human rights-oriented German foreign policy is respect for the law in its own decision making.

“Germany cannot remain true to its values if it exports weapons to a war where serious violations of international humanitarian law are apparent.”

One of the major transfers that could be impacted by the suit is the sale of 3,000 anti-tank weapons from Germany to Israel.

Some of the Palestinian plaintiffs have lost relatives in the war, as well as homes and jobs. “All five of my children were killed when Israel fired on the refugee camp where we were staying after fleeing from the north,” one said.

“Germany must stop sending weapons that fuel this war. No other mother should suffer such a terrible loss.”

The country, due to the Holocaust, has described “Israeli security” as “at the heart of its foreign policy.”

In response to the suit, the German government told the court it had received and approved of Israeli assurances that it had taken precautions in the use of German-sold weaponry.


Notre-Dame nears re-opening five years after fire

Updated 12 April 2024
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Notre-Dame nears re-opening five years after fire

  • On the evening of April 15, 2019, the cathedral’s roof burst into flames
  • Macron, whose second and final term ends in 2027, wants the cathedral’s restoration to lift the nation’s mood — and his government’s approval ratings

PARIS: Five years after a devastating fire, the restoration of Notre-Dame cathedral is nearing completion as the world’s eyes turn to Paris for the Olympic Games.
On the evening of April 15, 2019, the cathedral’s roof burst into flames. Soon, it had engulfed the spire and almost toppled the main bell towers. Around the world, TV viewers watched with horror as the medieval building burned.
Macron, whose second and final term ends in 2027, wants the cathedral’s restoration to lift the nation’s mood — and his government’s approval ratings. “Only once in a century does one host Olympic and Paralympic Games, only once in a millennium does one rebuild a cathedral,” Macron said in his 2024 New Year speech.
It remains unclear what exactly caused the fire. French authorities have said an electrical fault or a burning cigarette may have been responsible.
“A firefighter told me ‘Sir, take a close look at the facade because if we don’t manage to put out that fire, it will all go to ruin’,” remembered Laurence Alsina, who owns a bookselling stand close to the cathedral on the banks of the River Seine.
The facade held, but the damage has needed five years of intense stabilization and restoration works.
The pride of those working on the project shines through.
“This is the construction work of a lifetime, because restoring an entire monument in all its three-dimensionality, that’s quite exceptional.” Emma Roux, an artisan working on the iconic stained glass windows said.
The re-opening is scheduled for December, and is currently running on schedule, according to the official leading the project.
“We are on time and on budget,” Philippe Jost said last month at a Senate hearing. Jost told lawmakers that the project had so far cost 550 million euros ($587 million), funded in part by massive donations, including from luxury sector billionaires Francois Henri Pinault and the Arnault family. So much money has been donated that there will even be funds left over for further investment in the building, he said.
“An additional 150 million euros should be made available and — provided the approval of our sponsors — it will be used to restore the cathedral and tackle problems that predate the fire, which mainly concern the exterior stonework,” Jost added. Jost, 63, a trained engineer who spent much of his career in the defense ministry, took over the job after his predecessor, General Jean-Louis Georgelin, died in a hiking accident in August 2023.