Most of Kuwait fire victims are Indians, minister says

Kuwaiti security forces gather outside a building which was ingulfed by fire, in Kuwait City, on June 12, 2024. More than 35 people were killed and dozens injured in a building fire in an area heavily populated with foreign workers in Kuwait, the interior ministry said.(AFP)
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Updated 13 June 2024

Most of Kuwait fire victims are Indians, minister says

  • Victims will be repatriated to India by military aircraft
  • Kuwait’s Emir orders financial compensation for the families of the victims

KUWAIT: Most of the victims in a deadly blaze that engulfed a block housing immigrant workers were from India, Kuwait’s foreign minister said on Thursday, raising the death toll to 50.
Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Meshaal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah ordered financial compensation for the families of the victims, who will be repatriated to India in military aircraft, according to an official statement.

Three Filipinos were among the dead, Philippines officials said, after the fire sent black smoke billowing through the six-story building south of Kuwait City.
At least 43 more were injured in the fire in Mangaf, south of Kuwait City, which broke out around dawn on Wednesday at the ground level of the block housing nearly 200 workers.
“One of the injured died” overnight, Foreign Minister Abdullah Al-Yahya told reporters, after 49 people were declared dead on Wednesday.
“The majority of the dead are Indians,” he added. “There are other nationalities but I don’t remember exactly.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the country is “doing everything possible to assist those affected by this gruesome fire tragedy,” in a post on X late on Wednesday.
Next of kin will receive payments of 200,000 rupees ($2,400), Modi’s office announced.
In Manila, the Department of Migrant Workers said three Filipinos died from smoke inhalation, with two more in critical condition while six escaped unharmed.
“We are in touch with the families of all the affected (workers), including the families of those two in critical condition and the families of the three fatalities,” Migrant Workers Secretary Hans Leo J. Cacdac said in a statement.
Kuwaiti officials have detained the building’s owner over potential negligence and have warned that any blocks that flout safety rules will be closed.

Since the fire broke out, Kuwaiti officials have carried out intensive inspections to demolish violating properties.
Stories of the victims

From a father-of-two who planned to leave his job to a 29-year-old due to visit his family in August, two dozen Indians from the southern state of Kerala died, leaving their families bereft.
Among the Keralite victims was Muralidharan Nair, who had been working in Kuwait for 32 years, including 10 as a senior supervisor in the company that owned the housing facility where the fire broke out.
“He came on leave in December for two months with a plan to end his career in Kuwait. The company called him back,” his brother, Vinu V Nair, told Reuters, adding that the family identified the 61-year-old from a list published by India’s embassy. His two roommates also died in the blaze.
For decades, a disproportionately large share of Indian workers in the Gulf have been drawn from Kerala, a densely packed state along southern India’s Arabian Sea coast.
News of the disaster spread quickly in Kerala. The family of Saju Varghese, 56, found out about the fire from television and social media, and confirmed his death from friends and relatives in Kuwait.
Working in the Gulf nation for the last 21 years, Varghese planned to visit Kerala later this month to arrange his daughter’s higher education.
“The family is in a state of shock,” their neighbor, George Samuel, said.
Another victim, Stephin Abraham Sabu, 29, was an engineer in Kuwait since 2019 and called home almost daily.
He had visited his hometown Kottayam “two or three times” since he left, and had booked air tickets to return in August for the housewarming of his family’s new home and to help them buy a new car, his friends said.
Sabu’s father has a small shop in Kottayam while his mother is a housewife. His brother, Febin, also works in Kuwait but lived separately.

With agencies

What is behind the recent spike in attacks on Arab visitors and Syrian refugees in Turkiye?

Updated 31 sec ago

What is behind the recent spike in attacks on Arab visitors and Syrian refugees in Turkiye?

  • A Turkish man was arrested in Istanbul earlier this month after threatening a group of Saudi tourists with a knife
  • The incident occurred against the backdrop of a fresh wave of violence against Syrians living in Turkiye

LONDON: A spike in the number of violent assaults on Arabs in Turkiye in recent times has raised concern about the safety of foreigners in a country visited by tens of thousands of tourists from Middle East countries and which hosts millions of Syrian refugees.

Earlier this month, a Turkish man was arrested in Istanbul after threatening a group of Saudi tourists with a knife while seemingly hurling derogatory epithets at them, Al-Arabiya reported.

A video of the attack recently circulated on social media showing the man making a hand gesture associated with the Gray Wolves — an ultranationalist and pan-Turkic group established in the late 1960s as the youth wing of the Nationalist Movement Party.

The Gray Wolves have long been associated with violent acts, including attacks on leftists, Kurds and other minority groups. Despite their controversial reputation, they remain influential in Turkish society.

Turkiye is a popular destination for Saudi tourists, with 650,000 of them visiting from January through August last year, according to the Saudi Gazette newspaper. An outburst of hostility toward Arabs could dent Saudi visitor numbers.

This was of course not the first time that clips of attacks on Arab tourists in Turkiye went viral online. Incidents involving fistfights and xenophobic insults were uploaded to social media platforms last year by users from the Gulf states and Egypt.

Turkish man threatening to attack Saudis in a cafe in Turkiye. (Twitter photo/File)

The knife-brandishing incident occurred against the backdrop of a fresh wave of violence against Syrians in Turkiye, following the arrest of a 26-year-old Syrian man on charges of sexual assault against a minor in Kayseri, Central Anatolia.

Riots broke out overnight on June 30 across Kayseri after news spread on social media about a Syrian man who was allegedly caught abusing a 7-year-old female relative in a public restroom in the Melikgazi district, according to a Reuters report.

The rioters attacked and vandalized dozens of Syrian-owned businesses, homes, and vehicles, following which the violence spread to other parts of Turkiye, including Gaziantep, Bursa, and Hatay, where a Syrian grocery store was set on fire.


Turkish ultranationalist and pan-Turkic group.

Paramilitary wing of the Nationalist Movement Party.

Believes in the supremacy of the Turkish race and nation.

Rose to prominence in the late 1970s.

Outlawed for hate speech in France in 2020.

Ali Yerlikaya, the Turkish interior minister, said the assault was being investigated and condemned the rioters’ actions as “illegal” and contrary to the nation’s values.

He said in a post on X that local authorities had detained 67 of the protesters, stressing that it was “unacceptable for our people to harm the environment without considering public order, security and human rights.”

In a separate post, Yerlikaya said authorities were investigating several X accounts that had helped to stoke the violence, with 10 referred to the prosecutor’s office.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also condemned the violence, saying: “Nothing can be achieved by fueling xenophobia and hatred of refugees in society.”

A few days after the Kayseri incident, the personal data of some 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkiye was leaked online, sparking fears of an eruption of xenophobic violence.

The Turkish Interior Ministry confirmed that the personal details of Syrians under temporary protection were shared from the social media account “Uprising#Turkey,” which is run by a 14-year-old.

“The necessary action was taken against E.P. (the account admin) by the Istanbul Children’s Branch Directorate,” the ministry said in a statement.

UK-based Syrian activist Lana, whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity, told Arab News that her family in Gaziantep “went through hell for at least two weeks following the Kayseri incident.”

She said: “In the few days following the riots, they couldn’t even leave the house to buy bread. They were gripped by fear and paralyzed by the uncertainty created by the recent developments, including talk since June (regarding the) end of normalization of Turkish ties with President Bashar Assad.”

Marwah, a Syrian who lives in Bursa and works in human resources, thinks social media was responsible for blowing the situation out of proportion.

“While following the news, I felt like I’d be killed for my identity if I stepped outside my house, but this has not been the case,” she told Arab News.

Still, the news and footage of the riots have caused panic among Syrians. “Some have frantically sold their possessions or borrowed about $8,000 to flee Turkiye while others have contemplated returning to Syria,” said Marwah.

“Even my colleague who has Turkish citizenship was inquiring about relocating to Egypt despite not having witnessed any of the violence.”


3.6 million

Registered Syrian refugees in Turkiye. (UNHCR)

UN agencies and several human rights bodies, including Amnesty International, have concluded that Syria remains unsafe for refugee repatriation.

Marwah explained that although violence against Syrians has not been unusual in Turkiye since the outbreak of civil war in 2011 sent millions fleeing abroad, “Kayseri is a place where Syrians and Turks have coexisted peacefully, with 48 percent of workers being Syrian.

“Apparently it was not easy to incite strife between Syrians and Turks in Kayseri, so it had to be done through something related to common values, as the people of Kayseri are generally conservative,” said Marwah.

She said she heard from locals that “groups of thugs were brought to Kayseri in buses to stir up violence.

“Turks in Kayseri, which is an industrial city, typically retire early, so it is unlikely the locals were the ones who engaged in the violence against Syrians,” she said, stressing that “anyone living in Turkiye for years would know that those riots — and their social media coverage — could not have erupted spontaneously, without prior planning.”

Anti-Arab sentiments may have already put a damper on the Turkish tourism industry’s ambitions.

According to the news website Hurriyet Daily, the number of tourists visiting Turkiye from Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan dropped in 2023 respectively by 34 percent, 17 percent, 24.2 percent, 24.4 percent and 22.2 percent.

UK-based Syrian activist Lana said that “while heightened anti-Arab racism in recent years has caused a decline in Arab tourism to Turkiye, the biggest impact is felt by Syrian nationals, who for the last three years have been pursuing onward migration to Europe.”

She believes the hostility has been encouraged in part because Syrian refugees have been used as a “political pawn” in local elections and “are not included in any discussions related to their status and future.”

Enass, a France-based Syrian journalist who also requested anonymity, believes “Turkiye, like other neighboring countries, has profited from hosting Syrian refugees.

“There was a clear agreement to increase EU support for Turkiye in exchange for curbing the influx of refugees to European countries in 2015,” she told Arab News, emphasizing that most of Syria’s neighbors “addressed the refugee crisis as an emergency rather than a permanent situation.”

In 2016, an agreement was reached between the European Commission and Ankara to control the flow of irregular migrant boats to Greece. Turkiye agreed to tighten border security at its shores in exchange for 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion).

“The government’s management of the refugee issue has been both political and economic, aimed at serving the national interest, while the public has often been misled about how their country benefited from hosting Syrian refugees,” said Enass.

She added that many Turkish politicians, particularly during election campaigns, “have employed an anti-refugee rhetoric” that “has contributed to inciting violence against vulnerable Syrian communities across the country.

“For years, competing political parties in Turkiye have spread misleading information about the support provided to Syrian refugees. This has led Turkish citizens to believe refugees were entitled to services and support, which in turn has contributed to economic inflation. This isn’t true,” Enass said.

“Opposition parties capitalized on this misinformation to stoke anger among the Turkish populace.”

Syrian entrepreneurs in Turkiye wholly or partly owned at least 10,000 businesses as of 2019, according to a study by the Economic Research Foundation of Turkiye. Those enterprises employ around 44,000 Syrians as well as thousands of Turkish nationals.

Enass said the changing political and economic landscape “is prompting the Turkish government to take new measures that encourage Syrians to ‘voluntarily’ return, but this is a form of unjustified deportation of individuals holding valid permits.”

She added: “The delay in addressing security incidents against Syrians in Turkiye undermines the interests of Syrians and contributes to the rise in hate speech.”

Erdogan has said he sees no reason not to restore diplomatic relations with Damascus, but the Syrian leadership has conditioned normalization on the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Syrian territory.

A rapprochement would see the opening of a crossing between government-held areas and those controlled by Turkish-backed opposition forces in Aleppo province.


PM: Egypt will halt power cuts on Sunday

Updated 11 min 23 sec ago

PM: Egypt will halt power cuts on Sunday

DUBAI: Egypt will halt load-shedding power cuts during the summer as of Sunday, after some natural gas shipments arrived, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said on Wednesday, in a bid to end a crisis that inconvenienced a population of 106 million.

The North African country has been grappling with power shortages as high cooling demand during summer drives up consumption. Egypt generates most of its electricity from burning natural gas.

Load-shedding refers to rotating power cuts in parts of the electricity grid to prevent failure of the entire system when demand exceeds capacity.

Egypt’s daily power consumption has exceeded 37 gigawatts, up 12 percent from last year, Madbouly said in a televised press conference.

It has received five cargoes containing 155,000 cubic meters of liquefied natural gas out of 21 cargoes that it contracted for, the Petroleum Ministry said on Monday.

Daesh ‘trying to reconstitute’ in Iraq, Syria, says US Central Command

Updated 17 min 22 sec ago

Daesh ‘trying to reconstitute’ in Iraq, Syria, says US Central Command

  • Attacks double compared to 2023

BAGHDAD: The US Central Command said on Wednesday that the Daesh group is trying “to reconstitute” as the number of attacks in Syria and Iraq is on track to double this year, compared to the year before.

Daesh claimed 153 attacks in the two countries in the first six months of 2024, CENTCOM said in a statement. 

According to a US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t allowed to speak publicly on the matter, the group was behind 121 attacks in Syria and Iraq in 2023.

“The increase in attacks indicates Daesh is attempting to reconstitute following several years of decreased capability,” CENTCOM said.

In northeastern Syria, Kurdish-led authorities issued a general amnesty on Wednesday that would include hundreds of Syrians who have been held by the main US-backed force over their roles within IS.

The US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, are holding over 10,000 captured Daesh fighters in around two dozen detention facilities — including 2,000 foreigners whose home countries have refused to repatriate them. The SDF captured the last sliver of land in Syria from Daesh in March 2019.

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria said a life sentence will be reduced to 15 years in jail, while those detainees serving life sentences who have incurable diseases will be set free, as will those who have reached the age of 75. 

It said the amnesty will not include Daesh officials and members who fought against the SDF, nor those who carried out attacks with explosives that killed people. Legal expert Khaled Jabr said the amnesty will include some 600 Syrian citizens who are held on terrorism charges and links to Daesh, as long as their hands are not tainted with blood or they were detained while fighting SDF members. The announcement comes just after the 10-year mark since the militant group declared its caliphate in large parts of Iraq and Syria. 

At its peak, the group ruled an area half the size of the UK where it attempted to enforce its extreme interpretation of Islam, which included attacks on religious minority groups and harsh punishment of Muslims deemed to be apostates.

Tunisia urges EU to increase aid to tackle migration crisis

Updated 22 min 7 sec ago

Tunisia urges EU to increase aid to tackle migration crisis

TRIPOLI: Tunisia’s prime minister urged European countries on Wednesday to increase financial assistance to his country and others to help tackle the flow of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

Tunisia has faced protests by local residents and extra financial costs over migrants arriving from other countries in the hope of traveling on to Europe by sea, risking perilous journeys on what in many cases are dilapidated boats.

Thousands of migrants are now concentrated in southern Tunisian towns such as Amra and Jbeniana, many of them fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe.

“More assistance must be provided to countries such as Tunisia. The aid provided is insufficient to address the problem,” Tunisian Prime Minister Ahmed Hachani told a migration conference in Tripoli.

He said Tunisia was a victim country and was exhausting its public finances on efforts to deal with the migration crisis, which is an additional burden for a government that was already facing other problems.

“There are towns that have absorbed migrants beyond their ability,” he said, referring to Amra and Jbeniana.

“There has been money spent for 10 or 50 years on this problem, and this problem has not been solved,” Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh told the conference. “This money must be spent there (in the countries of origin) and not in detention camps, whether in Libya or Europe.”

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told the conference that the situation could not be resolved without tackling the problem in the countries of origin.

Syrian official who oversaw prisons with widespread allegations of abuse arrested by US officials

Updated 32 min 7 sec ago

Syrian official who oversaw prisons with widespread allegations of abuse arrested by US officials

  • Samir Ousman Al-Sheikh, 72, was arrested last week at Los Angeles International Airport on immigration fraud charges
  • Al-Sheikh, who was in charge of Syria’s infamous Adra prison, ‘provided materially false information on his visa application’

LOS ANGELES: A former Syrian military official who oversaw prisons with widespread allegations of abuse has been arrested in Los Angeles.
Samir Ousman Al-Sheikh, 72, was arrested last week at Los Angeles International Airport on immigration fraud charges, specifically that he denied on his US visa and citizenship applications that he had ever carried out any abuse in Syria, according to a criminal complaint filed on July 9.
Al-Sheikh, who was in charge of Syria’s infamous Adra prison, “provided materially false information on his visa application by falsely stating that he had not committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in extrajudicial killings, political killings, or other acts of violence,” the complaint states. Al-Sheikh has been a resident of Los Angeles since 2020.
Investigators were considering additional charges, according to court papers.
“This is the highest level Assad regime official arrested anywhere in the world, it is the highest regime official arrested in the United States for sure, if not the only one of his type,” Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, said Wednesday. “This is a really big deal, it’s unprecedented.”
Human rights groups and United Nations officials have accused the Syrian government of widespread abuses in its detention facilities, including torture and arbitrary detention of thousands of people, in many cases without informing their families about their fate. Many remain missing and are presumed to have died or been executed.
Other players in Syria’s civil war, now in its 14th year, have also been accused of abuse of detainees, including insurgent groups and the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which guard suspected and convicted Islamic State members imprisoned in northeastern Syria.
The war, which has left nearly half a million people dead and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million, began as peaceful protests against the government of Bashar Assad in March 2011.