Pope Francis to defend migrants in Marseille trip

Pope Francis’ visit comes as a surge in the number of migrant arrivals in Italy revives a bitter debate over how European countries manage asylum seekers. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 September 2023
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Pope Francis to defend migrants in Marseille trip

  • Head of the church likely to highlight issues of poverty, climate change, and tolerance among societies

VATICAN CITY: Calls for compassion for migrants suffering in North Africa and those attempting to reach Europe or die trying will be at the heart of Pope Francis’s visit to Marseille this week.

The pontiff is making a two-day trip to France’s second-largest city, a historic gateway for immigrants, where he is expected to insist on the causes of migration, from poverty to climate change, and urge greater tolerance.
He is also likely to address the horrors many migrants face in North Africa, from internment in brutal camps to being left by traffickers to die in the desert.
The visit comes as a surge in the number of migrant arrivals in Italy revives a bitter debate over how European countries manage asylum seekers.
“It represents a challenge that is not easy, as we also see from the news in recent days, but which must be faced together,” Francis said after his Angelus prayer on Sunday in Rome.

SPEEDREAD

• The pope is also likely to address the horrors many migrants face in North Africa, from internment in brutal camps to being left by traffickers to die in the desert.

• The Marseille trip comes as Francis, 86, is in increasingly fragile health, saying on his return from Mongolia this month that papal voyages were not as easy as they used to be.

• He continues to travel widely, focusing on the smaller Catholic communities the Vatican calls the peripheries.

“It is essential for the future of all, which will be prosperous only if it is built on fraternity, putting human dignity and real people, especially those most in need, in first place,” he said.
The Marseille trip comes as Francis, 86, is in increasingly fragile health, saying on his return from Mongolia this month that papal voyages were not as easy as they used to be.
But he continues to travel widely, focusing on the smaller Catholic communities the Vatican calls the peripheries.
He is visiting Marseille first and foremost to take part in a meeting of Mediterranean-area Catholic bishops and young people.
“I will go to Marseille, but not to France,” Francis said in August, despite the risk of offending French Catholics, in particular those on the conservative fringe, who think he goes too far with his messages of compassion for migrants.
The port city is a key destination for migrants from North Africa — and is also home to some of the poorest neighborhoods in Europe, many of which are plagued by drug trafficking.
“The problem that concerns me is the Mediterranean problem ... The exploitation of migrants is criminal,” Francis said in August.
More than 2,300 migrants have died so far this year attempting the Mediterranean crossing from North Africa, according to the UN.
The Marseille event, “Mediterranean Meetings,” will look at themes including economic inequality, migration and climate change.
The pope is expected to speak to bishops active in North Africa in particular about the challenges there.
“The Mediterranean is a cemetery. But it’s not the biggest: the biggest cemetery is in North Africa,” Francis told reporters in August. “It’s terrible. That’s why I’m going to Marseille.”
The pope will start at the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, a symbolic monument overlooking the city, for a prayer with the clergy on Friday afternoon. That will be followed by a moment of meditation with representatives of other religions in front of a memorial dedicated to sailors and migrants lost at sea.
On Saturday morning, he will take part in the closing “Mediterranean Meetings” session at the Palais du Pharo overlooking the port, before leading a mass in the Velodrome stadium for about 57,000 participants.
French President Emmanuel Macron will be at the final mass, a decision that sparked controversy among left-wing politicians in the strictly secular country.
Some also accuse Macron of having postponed the presentation of a bill on end-of-life care, a debate likely to include discussion over extending euthanasia laws — a red flag to the Catholic Church — so as not to interfere with the visit. The Jesuit pope has a cordial relationship with Macron, who was himself Jesuit-educated, and the leaders have already seen each other three times.
“There is a real familiarity, a real complicity between Macron and the pope,” Vatican journalist Bernard Lecomte said.
Crowd-loving Francis, the first pope to visit France since Benedict XVI in 2008, will ride in his “popemobile” up the city’s Avenue du Prado after the mass.
Throughout his visit, he will be accompanied by the archbishop of Marseille, Jean-Marc Aveline, a close friend who was made cardinal in 2022.
Around 5,000 police and other security forces will be mobilized for the trip, one welcomed by some residents — though others have questioned whether Francis understands the challenges large numbers of migrants pose to the city.
“I don’t entirely agree with the pope when he says ‘we must welcome all migrants’,” said Yvette Devallois, 69, who is active in her local parish.
“We welcome migrants, but still, we can’t take in all the misery in the world.”

 


UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech

Updated 01 March 2024
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UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech

  • PM: ‘In recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality’

LONDON: Following weeks of simmering tension in the UK over the Gaza conflict, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Friday said that the “time has come” to battle extremist forces as he warned “democracy itself is a target.”
In an unusual address from outside his Downing Street home, Sunak said that “in recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality.”
Regular marches protesting Israel’s military response to Hamas’ October 7th attacks have seen dozens arrested for anti-Semitic chanting and banners, inviting support for a proscribed organization and assaulting emergency workers.
Right wing conter-protesters were also arrested when they descended on London for Remembrance Day events in November.
“Islamist extremists and far-right groups are spreading a poison. That poison is extremism,” said Sunak.
Matters came to a head last week when the Speaker of the House of Commons said he bucked procedure during a debate due to concerns about the safety of MPs.
Sunak said that the protests, a regular occurence on Saturdays in the capital, “had descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence.”
“Now our democracy itself is a target. Council meetings and local events have been stormed.
“MPs do not feel safe in their home. Long-standing parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns,” he added.
The prime minister said that “police have a tough job in policing the protests” but that “we must draw a line.”
“I say this to the police, we will back up when you take action,” he added.
Sunak’s speech came as left-wing firebrand George Galloway was elected to the UK parliament after tapping into anger over the Israel-Hamas war in a chaotic by-election marred by allegations of anti-Semitism.
Sunak said it was “beyond alarming” that voters had elected a candidate “who dismisses the horror of what happened on October 7th, and who glorifies Hezbollah.”
The government will soon unveil a “new, robust framework” to tackle extremism, which will include backing for the counter-radicalization Prevent program and a demand for universities to stop extremist activity on campus, he explained.
“It is not enough to live side-by-side, we must live together, united by shared values and a shared commitment to this country,” said Sunak.
“The time has now come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division,” he added.


Military court in Somalia sentences 6 Moroccan men to death for membership in Daesh

Updated 01 March 2024
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Military court in Somalia sentences 6 Moroccan men to death for membership in Daesh

  • The individuals entered Somalia to cause harm to Muslims and Somalis and incite unrest in the country
  • It was not immediately clear if any of the men had access to legal representation or where they were being held Friday

MOGADISHU: A military court in Somalia’s northeastern semiautonomous state of Puntland sentenced to death six Moroccans believed to be foreign fighters for the Daesh group in Somalia.
The individuals entered Somalia to cause harm to Muslims and Somalis and incite unrest in the country, the presiding judge in the Puntland region, Col. Ali Ibrahim Osman, said late Thursday.
The six men, identified as Mohamed Hassan, Ahmed Najwi, Khalid Latha, Mohamed Binu Mohamed Ahmed, Ridwan Abdulkadir Osmany, and Ahmed Hussein Ibrahim, can appeal and if they are unsuccessful they will be shot to death by firing squad.
Additionally, an Ethiopian and a Somali were each sentenced to 10 years in prison, while another Somali defendant was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
It was not immediately clear if any of the men had access to legal representation or where they were being held Friday. The eight men claimed they were misled into joining the group and expressed a desire to be repatriated, Osman said.
According to Osman, the six Moroccans were accused of receiving training with Daesh at its base in the Cal-Miskaat Mountains in northeastern Somalia, which serve as a stronghold for the group.
The Moroccans were apprehended in the mountain range, located to the east of Bosaso, which is the commercial hub of the Puntland region.
The Somali branch of Daesh was established in 2015 by a group of defectors from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabab group, which is the most prominent militant group in Somalia.
The group is notorious for extorting locals and primarily carries out small-scale, sporadic attacks. This marks the first time that authorities in the semi-autonomous Puntland region have charged or sentenced foreigners for joining Daesh.


Armenia, Azerbaijan to continue peace talks after Berlin meet

Updated 01 March 2024
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Armenia, Azerbaijan to continue peace talks after Berlin meet

BERLIN: Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to continue peace talks after a new push in Berlin this week to resolve their decades-long conflict, the German foreign ministry said on Friday.
Armenia’s Ararat Mirzoyan and Azerbaijan’s Jeyhun Bayramov held two days of talks in Berlin hosted by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who hailed their “courageous steps” toward a peace agreement.
A German foreign ministry spokeswoman on Friday said the two countries had “a great interest in continuing to clarify outstanding issues together and to meet again for this purpose.”
The foreign ministries of Armenia and Azerbaijan had also said in a statement on Thursday that they wished to “continue negotiations on the open issues.”
The German spokeswoman hailed the agreement to pursue talks as “a very good sign” and said the two parties wanted to work “step by step” toward a peace agreement.
Armenia and Azerbaijan fought two wars, in the 1990s and in 2020, before Azerbaijani forces last September retook control of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in a lightning offensive that ended three decades of Armenian separatist rule over the enclave.
Tensions have remained high since the Azerbaijani operation that triggered the exodus to Armenia of most of the enclave’s entire ethnic-Armenian population of more than 100,000 people.
The dialogue in Berlin built on a surprise direct meeting between the two nations’ leaders on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference last month.
Under German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s mediation, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev agreed in Munich to push on with peace negotiations.

Manila cafe sheds light on Palestinian heritage in wake of destruction

Updated 01 March 2024
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Manila cafe sheds light on Palestinian heritage in wake of destruction

  • Cafe Habib is run by Palestinian national Mahmoud Habib and his Filipino-Iraqi wife Nadia
  • Their menu is based on recipes from Habib’s mother in Gaza

Manila: Mahmoud and Nadia Habib opened their cafe in early 2023 to bring a piece of Palestine to the Philippines. Little did they know that the place would soon turn into a center of Gaza heritage and a hub of solidarity in Manila.

Located on Mabini Street, Cafe Habib is light, warm and informal with its white tables, grey sofas and ochre walls showing maps, photos and symbols of Palestinian heritage.

From the beginning, the husband — who is a native of Gaza — and the Filipino-Iraqi wife wanted their restaurant’s ambiance to make Filipinos feel as if they had stepped into a place in Palestine.

“We came up with the concept to create a special place where when customers come in, they will not think they are in the Philippines anymore. We wanted to spotlight Arab culture,” Mahmoud told Arab News.

For Nadia, it is also an attempt to “bring a piece of Palestine to the Philippines” to share its rich heritage, traditions, and flavors.

“The Palestinian-themed cafe became our platform to introduce the Filipino people to the beauty and depth of Palestinian culture. We believed that by immersing them in a unique and authentic experience, we could foster understanding and appreciation,” she said.

Their menu features authentic dishes such as falafel, shawarma, and the iconic Palestinian knafeh — crispy filo dough with cheese soaked in syrup and topped with pistachios — all based on recipes that have been in the Habib family for generations.

“These recipes all come from my mother,” Mahmoud said, adding that Nadia also learned to make them during their trips to his home in Gaza.

The last time they visited was in September, just two weeks before Israel launched its latest deadly onslaught that has since killed at least 30,000 people, wounded tens of thousands more, and displaced about 1.5 million.

They saw the destruction and hid from daily bombardment, only managing to return to Manila when Philippine authorities evacuated some of the Filipino-Palestinians from the besieged enclave in November.

Nadia was born and raised in the Philippines, while Mahmoud has been living in the country since 2013, when he arrived to study architecture at the National University.

Upon their return to Manila, they have been trying to reunite with Mahmoud’s family, but until now, it has been to no avail.

“I tried to bring them, but it is very hard,” he said.

It is their cafe, a reminder of Palestine, that keeps the couple strong and gives them space to spread awareness among Filipinos on what is happening in Gaza.

“Speaking up about Palestine is a crucial aspect of our mission, as it lies at the core of why we established this cafe. If customers initiate a conversation about … Palestine, we wholeheartedly engage in the discussion,” Nadia said.

They also helped facilitate the efforts of Filipino peace activists who organized a Gaza solidarity march in November.

“They gave me more power. This shows that our voice goes out to the world, and everyone really has a huge heart,” Mahmoud said.

“I am proud of (this cafe). I am really happy because I’m showing people what Palestine is, who the Palestinian people are.”


Ex-government adviser urges UK PM to apologize to London mayor over Islamophobia

Updated 01 March 2024
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Ex-government adviser urges UK PM to apologize to London mayor over Islamophobia

  • Faith expert Colin Bloom calls remarks against Sadiq Khan by MP Lee Anderson ‘offensive’ and ‘disgusting’
  • Rishi Sunak is ‘not showing the leadership the country needs’

LONDON: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been urged by a former government advisor to apologize to London Mayor Sadiq Khan over comments made by a suspended Conservative MP.

Colin Bloom, who advised the governing Conservatives on faith matters, told the BBC that Lee Anderson’s remarks were “offensive” and “disgusting,” adding that Sunak is “not showing the leadership the country needs.”

Anderson was suspended last week for refusing to apologize after he said in a TV interview that Khan had “given away” London to Islamists who had “got control” of the mayor.

While admitting his words were “a little bit clumsy,” Anderson said he has received “lots of support privately in WhatsApp groups and messages” from Conservative colleagues. He denies that he or his words were racist or Islamophobic.

Bloom, a former executive director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship and director of Christians in Politics, was made a government advisor by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2019.

Bloom told the BBC’s “Newsnight” program that the “vast majority” of British Muslims are “kind, decent, generous, peaceful people,” and that Anderson’s rhetoric and the muted government response to it are putting people at risk.

Bloom said Sunak needs to apologize to Khan and it is “clearly wrong” for Anderson to have equated the Muslim mayor with being a religious extremist.

Khan has publicly called on Sunak to denounce Anderson’s words as Islamophobic, but while admitting they were “wrong,” the prime minister has so far failed to do so.

A government spokesperson told “Newsnight” that Sunak is “clear there must be zero tolerance for any form of extremism, racism or hatred” in British politics.