The Man Who Migrated Twice

Written by Matthew Price.
Read the original article on the BBC.
Image Credit: the BBC.


This is the story of the man who migrated twice.

Who dodged the police along the Italian border with France – twice. Avoided officials on the train to Paris – twice. Made it to the shanty town life in Calais – twice. Risked death as he stowed away on a vehicle to Britain – twice.

Now he waits for the British asylum process to decide whether he can stay. Yes, again, for a second time.

It is a story of the determination to make it to safety – wherever that is perceived to exist – and of why Europe’s migration crisis is only deepening.

First the man himself.

Let’s call him Adam, because he doesn’t want me to use his real name, and because it’s a popular name in Darfur, South Sudan, from where he comes.

He calls himself a “village man”. But today, in a smart well-ironed shirt, Adam looks at home here in the UK, although the UK has become anything but home for him.

Adam left Darfur in 2012, made his way to Libya, and spent some years there. But as that country crumbled, he felt propelled onwards, to Europe.

He followed the route so many take. Sicily to Ventimiglia in northern Italy, on to Paris, then Calais and then finally Britain.

Only it was not finally.

He was detained by the authorities, put into indefinite detention for four months, then released. He was then arrested again, detained this time for two months before it was decided that he should be sent back to Italy because there was a record (his fingerprints) that he had first arrived there.

“They put me in handcuffs,” Adam says. Four officers accompanied him back to Milan and left him there.

“I stayed 10 days in Milan, on the streets.” That was when he decided to go back, first to Ventimiglia, and this time round it was harder.

He says: “The first time I was lucky. I just took the train from Ventimiglia to Paris.”

But this second time was another year into Europe’s migration crisis and the border was being monitored more effectively. “I tried maybe two or three times to get to Marseille, but they sent me back again.”

Finally he stepped on to the railway tracks and started walking. “I just walked from Ventimiglia to Cannes for like eight hours.” From there to Paris again and on to Calais.

It was more difficult there too. The previous year “it was better. But this time was more difficult because many people (had) come and many police officers (were there) to stop people”.

He tried “for like 15 days, 20 days”, until he managed to crawl into a space underneath a bus. “And I found myself in UK the second time.”

One month and one day after he had been deported from Britain, he was back. But this is not the end of Adam’s story.

Determination, desperation, there’s no one word that encapsulates fully what you find today along the trail that Adam knows so well. His analysis, that it’s getting harder to cross borders, is echoed by others and this is why.

Italy has become the go-to country for those seeking to come across the Mediterranean. The Turkey-Greece route is all but shut down following an agreement between the EU and Ankara.

This year, more than 93,000 migrants have arrived in Italy according to the United Nations. An EU-wide relocation scheme that should have taken the pressure off Italy has moved fewer than 8,000 since it launched almost two years ago.

 

Rome is trying to do deals with Libya to stop the boats launching in the first place – but there’s no central figure of authority in that war zone. They want other countries to open ports in the Mediterranean to migrant and rescue boats – France and others have said no.

So Rome has dispersed its migrants across the country. There is growing resentment in towns and villages where people suddenly find themselves hosting others who don’t speak their language. As one man in the north of Italy put it: “I’m not against immigration, but I’m against it when it’s handled like this.”

The asylum process is stretched to breaking point. Shelters can’t accommodate everyone. In Trento, towards the Austrian border, four men, from Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria, told how they have waited almost three years in limbo – unable to work – not knowing if their final appeal will grant them the right to remain or not.

“If I’d stayed here six months and they told me ‘we are sending you back to Ghana’ (then) there is no crying,” says Ibrahim Mohammed. But after three years? “How can you tell me to go back?”

The likelihood is they will not be deported, even if their asylum appeals fail. Few are actually sent back. Instead they are stuck, unable to work, or provide for themselves. All this – and the poor state of the Italian jobs market – explains why so many decide to move on from Italy.

And with numbers growing, that is why Austria to the north and France to the west have both put in more frequent border checks.

The people they are trying to stop gather every morning for a small free breakfast at a refuge in the Italian border town Ventimiglia. Among them on one day recently were Nasser and his two-year-old son Aladin from Sudan.

Aladin – still in nappies – is ill and they desperately need a doctor.

“I’ve tried twice in the last week,” said Nasser. “My sister is in France waiting for us. The police sent us back.”

On the small winding roads through the hills to France, the police check vehicles for stowaways before you can cross the border. They have set up camp in the olive groves up on the hillsides to keep watch for those trying to get across. Occasionally a patrolling helicopter passes overhead.

For France too is “overwhelmed” – that’s the word the new president uses – and is trying to stop people coming on to its territory.

In the capital a week ago, they moved thousands off the streets around a metro station into shelters, but now another thousand are back on the streets, according to the deputy mayor, Patrick Klugman.

“What’s going now today, this week, this summer, we need urgent measures. We cannot handle it by ourselves in Paris.”

The French prime minister last week announced a series of new measures – cutting the time it takes to process asylum claims, “systematically” deporting so-called economic migrants and building more shelters to house refugees in the next two years.

However, Mr Klugman says it is not enough.

Only a tiny number of the hundreds of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers in Europe follow Adam for the whole of his journey and cross from Calais to the UK.

We don’t know how many of them do it twice.

As for Adam, there is no happy ending to his story. It has been around a year since he had his last interview in his new asylum process. Since then he has been in limbo, not knowing whether he will be deported again, or this time be allowed to stay.

He has a room to stay in – paid for by the government – and £75 a week to live off. He is not allowed to work. And he says it feels as if he is still on his journey, heading where he does not yet know.

“I have nothing to do. Just eat, sleep, nothing. Wait, wait and nothing changes.” “Sometimes you feel it’s not a life. It’s better to pass away.”

Venezuela Crises Set to Escalate as General Strike Begins

Written by Alicia Hernandez and Sibylla Brodzinsky.
Read the original article on the Guardian.
Image credit: The Guardian.


Venezuela is bracing for an escalation of the confrontation between the government and the opposition as the country awoke to near paralysis on Thursday at the beginning of a general strike.

Caracas, the capital, was littered with roadblocks of burning rubbish and tyres, and wires stretched from lamppost to lamppost to stop traffic, as opponents of the president, Nicolás Maduro, try to block his plan to consolidate power.

Near Plaza Altamira, in the upscale eastern part of the city, young men manning the barricades turned away any cars that tried to pass, including a bus stamped with the logo of the government tax agency.

“We are seeing empty streets and most shops closed,” said opposition leader Henrique Capriles while touring the city on foot.

Maduro has called for a vote on 30 July to elect a constituent assembly charged with rewriting the constitution. Opposition and human rights groups say the move is aimed at bypassing the National Assembly, which has been under opposition control since 2016, further consolidating the ruling Socialist party’s grip on power. Maduro argues a new constitution would promote dialogue in a country deeply polarised and crippled by widespread shortages of food, medicine and basic services, and unbridled violent crime.

The strike holds the threat of increasing repression from government forces and paramilitary militias, which have been blamed for more than 90 deaths during nearly four months of street demonstrations across the country. “There is a grave danger of violence on a scale so far unseen,” the International Crisis Group warned in a report.

The strike comes as the Trump administration in the US weighs up imposing “swift economic actions” if Maduro goes ahead with the election. “The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” Trump said in a statement. The United States is Venezuela’s largest trading partner, and the country is the third largest crude oil supplier to the US.

Colombia, France, Spain, and the EU have also urged the Venezuelan government to cancel the election.

The last time Venezuela’s opposition attempted a strike of this scale was in 2002. The stoppage lasted two months in an attempt to topple Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, who set the country on a path of “21st century socialism” before his death in 2013.

Mismanagement and plunging oil income under Maduro have left that project in tatters, driving hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to flee the country and leading the political opposition to try to increase pressure on the president to step down or call a general election.

On 16 July the opposition orchestrated an unofficial “consultation” of votersordered by the National Assembly in which more than 7 million Venezuelans voted to reject the constituent assembly, mandate parliament to appoint a new supreme court and electoral authority and to form a government of “national unity”. While symbolic and non-binding, the vote turned up the pressure on the government and emboldened the opposition to call the strike.

The country’s federation of business groups, Fedecamaras, which played a pivotal role in the 2002 strike, has not fully endorsed the action this time around but businesses have said their employees won’t be punished for not turning up for work.

Labour minister Néstor Ovalles said that private companies that close as part of the strike would be punished. “We won’t allow it, and we’ll be watching closely,” he warned.

Carmen Duque, who works at an insurance company, headed to work early on Thursday despite her desire to join the protest strike. “It looks like it’s a success,” she said as she manoeuvred through the blockaded streets of Altamira. “I wanted to join but I’m on call,” she said.

A woman dressed in a red T-shirt most often worn by government supporters, called strikers “puppets and zombies”. “The ones supporting this strike don’t understand anything,” said the woman, who declined to give her name.

Why is the India-China border stand-off escalating?

Written by  Soutik Biswas.
Read the original article on the BBC.
Image Credit: the BBC.


f you browse through the latest headlines about the now month-long border stand-off between India and China, you might think the Asian rivals are teetering on the brink of an armed conflict.

The rhetoric is full of foreboding and menace. A Delhi newspaper says China is warning that the stand-off “could escalate into full-scale conflict”. Another echoes a similar sentiment, saying “China stiffens face-off posture”.

In Beijing, the state-run media has begun reminding India of its defeat in the 1962 war over the border, digging out old reports and pictures of the conflict. Global Times has been particularly bellicose, first accusing India of undermining Bhutan’s sovereignty by interfering in the road project, and then declaring that if India “stirs up conflicts in several spots, it must face the consequences of all-out confrontation with China”.

The latest row erupted in mid-June when India opposed China’s attempt to extend a border road through a plateau known as Doklam in India and Donglang in China.

The plateau, which lies at a junction between China, the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, is currently disputed between Beijing and Bhutan. India supports Bhutan’s claim over it.

India is concerned that if the road is completed, it will give China greater access to India’s strategically vulnerable “chicken’s neck”, a 20km (12-mile) wide corridor that links the seven north-eastern states to the Indian mainland. And since this stand-off began, each side has reinforced its troops and called on the other to back down.

There is a dreadful sense of deja vu about the way the stand-off appears to be escalating.

This is not the first time the two neighbours who share a rocky relationship have faced off on the ill-defined border, where minor incursions by troops have been common. The region saw armed clashes between China and India in 1967, and a prolonged stand-off and build-up of troops along the border in Arunachal Pradesh in 1986-87.

Delhi believes that Beijing is testing India’s commitment to Bhutan in the latest stand-off, writes analyst Ajai Shukla. “China has always been galled by this close relationship, which has withstood sustained Chinese pressure to divide it,” he says.

This time China has upped the ante against India. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday that Indian forces should leave the area to avoid an “escalation of the situation”.

‘Not a bluff’

Indian analysts believe China’s warnings cannot be ignored. “In general, the Chinese pattern of use of force has been to prepare the ground with adequate statements and warnings. Hence, I think we should not take them lightly or see it as a bluff,” a China expert told me.

In 1962, the state-run news agency Xinhua warned well in advance that India should “pull back from the brink of war”. During the Korean War in 1950 which pitted the US and its allies against the USSR, North Korea and communist China, the Chinese warned the US through India that if they crossed the Yalu River the Chinese would be forced to enter the war.

To be true, this doesn’t mean that China is girding up for war. As things stand, both sides can share some blame for the stand-off in what is a strategically important area.

In 2012, India and China agreed that the tri-junction boundaries with Bhutan and Myanmar (also called Burma) would be finally decided in consultation with these countries. Until then, the status quo would prevail.

India believes China violated the status quo by building the road. Indian troops were sent to resist their Chinese counterparts in the area only after Bhutan, which has close ties with India, requested India to help.

China insists Indian troops invaded Doklam/Donglang to help Bhutan, and it was a violation of international law. Mr Lu says India should not “take trespass as a policy tool to reach or realise their political targets”.

Some analysts say India possibly made a mistake by openly conflating the building of the road with talk of potential “serious security implications for India“.

“I agree that there were security concerns, but it was wrong for India to voice them strongly. We could have just said that China had breached the status quo. By overplaying the security angle, we may have scored an own goal, and the Chinese are exploiting it,” an analyst told me.

Tricky situation

He has a point. Long Xingchun, an analyst at a Chinese think-tank, says “a third country’s” army could enter the disputed region of Kashmir at Pakistan’s request, using the “same logic” the Indian army has used to stop the Chinese troops from building the road in Doklam/Donglang. “Even if India were requested to defend Bhutan’s territory, this could only be limited to its established territory, not the disputed area.”

Clearly, for the stand-off to end, all three sides need an agreeable solution without losing face. As China hardens its position, many believe that finding a “three-way, face saving solution” would be tricky and time consuming. Relations between the two countries are also at their lowest ebb in many years.

Both sides possibly passed up an opportunity to resolve the crisis earlier this month when a potential meeting between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg did not happen. India said a meeting with Mr Xi had never been on Mr Modi’s agenda; and China’s foreign ministry had said the atmosphere was not right for a meeting.

There’s another window of opportunity coming up. India’s influential National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is to visit Beijing for a meeting of Brics nations later this month. Mr Doval, who is also the special representative for the India-China border, is likely to meet his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi.

“Both sides have made it a prestige issue. But diplomacy is all about keeping things going in difficult circumstances,” a former diplomat says.

Despite the deteriorating relationship, a war is unlikely to break out.

“I don’t think either side wants an armed conflict. Nobody is interested in a war. Nothing in the [stand-off] area is worth a conflict. But both sides see their reputations at stake and that could lead to a prolonged stand-off,” Srinath Raghavan, a senior fellow at the leading Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research think-tank told me.

South Korea Seeks Rare Talks with North Korea to Ease Military Tensions

Written by the Agence France-Presse in Seoul.
See the original article on the Guardian.


South Korea has offered to hold rare military talks with the North to ease tensions after Pyongyang’s first intercontinental ballistic missile test earlier this month.

Monday’s offer, the first since South Korea elected the moderate Moon Jae-In as president, came as the Red Cross in Seoul proposed a separate meeting to discuss the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean war.

The South’s defence ministry proposed a meeting on Friday at the border truce village of Panmunjom, while the Red Cross offered to hold talks on 1 August at the same venue.

If the government meeting goes ahead, it will be the first official inter-Korea talks since December 2015. Moon’s conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, had refused to engage in substantive dialogue with Pyongyang unless the isolated regime made a tangible commitment to denuclearisation.

The Red Cross said it hoped for a positive response from its counterpart in the North; mooted family reunions in early October would be the first in two years.

Millions of families were separated by the conflict that sealed the division of the peninsula. Many died without getting a chance to see or hear from their families on the other side of the heavily-fortified border, across which all civilian communication is banned.

Only about 60,000 members of divided families are still left in the South.

“North Korea should respond to our sincere proposals if it really seeks peace on the Korean Peninsula,” said Cho Myoung-gyon, Seoul’s unification minister in charge of North Korea affairs.

Cho stressed that Seoul “would not seek collapse of the North or unification through absorbing the North” and urged Pyongyang to restore inter-Korea communication channels, including a shuttered military hotline.

Moon, who took power in May, has advocated dialogue with the nuclear-armed North as a means of bringing it to the negotiating table and vowed to play a more active role in global efforts to tame the South’s unpredictable neighbour.

But Pyongyang has staged a series of missile launches in violation of UN resolutions, most recently on 4 July when it test-fired its first ICBM, a move which triggered global alarm and a push by the US president, Donald Trump, to impose harsher UN sanctions on the country.

Washington has also called on China, the North’s sole ally, to put more pressure on Pyongyang to rein in its nuclear ambitions, which have advanced rapidly under the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

“We make the proposal for a meeting … aimed at stopping all hostile activities that escalate military tension along the land border,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

[NEW]The European Union offered European support for South Korean efforts to negotiate with North Korea, but said it was also considering tougher sanctions on Pyongyang following its first intercontinental ballistic missile test.

In a statement Monday, the EU’s executive arm condemned the test earlier this month as a “serious threat to international peace and security” and urged an end to such actions.

The latest missile test – which Kim described as a “gift” to the Americans – was seen as a milestone in Pyongyang’s quest to build a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead that can hit the US mainland.

The proposed meetings, if realised, would be a “rare opportunity to ease tension that has built up for 10 years”, said Cheong Seong-chang, analyst at the Sejong Institute, a thinktank.

“It would at least help let off some steam out of the current crisis, although the North would still maintain that it would not give up its weapons programmes,” he said.

The agenda for the meeting could include moves to suspend propaganda campaigns operated on both sides of the border for years, Cheong added.

The South’s military has deployed dozens of giant loudspeakers along the tense border to blare out a mix of world news, K-pop songs and other propaganda targeting young North Korean soldiers.

It has also occasionally launched giant balloons containing anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border despite warnings of military retaliation by the North.

The North has responded with its own propaganda broadcasts and sent anti-Seoul leaflets via giant balloons across the border.

They Fled Boko Haram and Famine – and then They Were Forced Back

Written by Kevin Sieff.
Read the original article on The Washington Post.
Image credit: The Washington Post.


 The soldiers arrived in the middle of the night, tearing through the village of Nigerian refugees, barging into stick huts where families slept in knots on the floor.

For years, those refugees had been on the run from Boko Haram insurgents, finally escaping across a dried riverbed that served as the border with Cameroon. They had settled in the village of Majina, where they farmed beans and millet. “A peaceful place,” the men said. And then, in March, the Cameroonian soldiers arrived.

The troops rounded up the refugees haphazardly and pushed them into military trucks, often separating parents from their children, according to witnesses. The refugees soon realized where they were headed: back to one of the most dangerous corners of Nigeria. Today, they are living in a displacement camp in Banki, a city racked by one of the world’s biggest hunger crises.

The United Nations would eventually put a label on what happened that night and many others to follow — “forced return.”Over the past few months, at least 5,000 Nigerian refugees were rounded up in Cameroonian villages and refugee camps and expelled to a region under frequent attack by insurgents, according to U.N. officials. Some aid officials think the actual number of those forcibly returned is over 10,000, including people evicted in sporadic operations since 2013. The Cameroonian government has denied driving out the Nigerians.

As the number of refugees around the world soars — topping 20 million — they are facing growing hostility from host countries and shrinking protection from the international legal framework put in place decades ago to defend such vulnerable people. A forced return like the one reported in Cameroon emblematizes the most extreme and unforgiving reaction to those searching for a haven.

Many countries are taking less-drastic steps that have still alarmed refu­gee advocates. Over the past three years, Pakistan has pressured hundreds of thousands of long-term war refugees from Afghanistan to return home, despite the dire poverty and violent insurgency in their homeland. In Kenya, a court blocked the government from sending more than 200,000 inhabitants of the Dadaab refu­gee camp, mostly Somalis, back to a nation beset by war and a hunger crisis. But human rights groups say many of the residents are being pressured to leave anyway.

International human rights groups last year accused Turkey of expelling thousands of Syrian refugees, a charge the government denied.

Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, ratified by 145 countries — including Cameroon — victims of war or persecution should not be returned to nations where they will face serious threats. But that edict is being ignored, according to human rights groups.

“Poorer countries hosting huge numbers of refugees for many years, such as Kenya, Pakistan and Turkey, have recently pushed back hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers,” said Gerry Simpson, a migration expert at Human Rights Watch. “They seem to be taking their lead from richer countries, such as Australia, the E.U. and the U.S., who are pulling out all the stops to limit refugee arrivals.”

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has sought to reach agreements with countries that are sending refugees home, to ensure that only voluntary repatriations occur.

But the agency’s assistance came too late for thousands of Nigerians in Cameroon.

Aid groups are still unsure what prompted what they call a mass eviction. Some U.N. officials say the refugees were probably forced out in advance of a large military operation. Other aid groups say that Cameroon, one of the world’s poorest nations, has simply grown tired of hosting Nigerians. Cameroon has been inundated by refugees in recent years, with more than 300,000 people fleeing wars in the Central African Republic and Nigeria.

Cameroon’s government has rejected the UNHCR statements on the forced returns. “I’m telling you there were no forced expulsions,” Richard Etoundi, head of the protocol unit in the Ministry of External Relations, said in a phone interview.

In addition to the thousands who were reported forced from Cameroon, many more were persuaded to go back to northeastern Nigeria after being lied to about the conditions there, according to refugees and aid officials. Arriving home, the refugees are finding a lack of housing, severe overcrowding and a scarcity of food and water. This month, the head of UNHCR, Filippo Grandi, said he was “extremely worried” about the flood of Ni­ger­ian refugees returning from Cameroon to “a situation dangerously unprepared to receive them.”

The Cameroonian military acted so hastily in removing the refugees that it inadvertently swept up a group of Cameroonian women and children in a raid in the village of Keraoua. They now sleep on the floor of an unfinished building in a bombed-out side street in Banki.

‘It was a decent life’

Abba Goni, 76, fled Banki nearly three years ago on a green bicycle with “China” stamped on the frame, riding on the packed sand from village to village, an old man much faster on two wheels than on his two gnarled feet.

Goni was born and raised in Banki, once a city of 150,000 surrounded by fertile farmland, just over a mile from the Cameroonian border. In September 2014, the Islamist extremists known as Boko Haram surged into town on trucks and motorcycles, shooting wildly and burning buildings. Goni’s first escape on the green bicycle was in the dead of night. His two wives and nine children followed.

For a few weeks, they lived outdoors, subsisting on whatever fruits they could find. When Boko Haram caught up with them, Goni got back on his bicycle, heading toward Cameroon.

Since Goni was a boy, members of his Kanuri ethnic group had moved back and forth between Cameroon and Nigeria without any documents. Boko Haram, too, had crossed the border with impunity. But the group’s stronghold remained in Nigeria, and Goni knew that if he headed deep enough into Cameroon, he would most likely be safe. In 2015, he and his family arrived in Majina, where some local men allowed him to cultivate a small patch of farmland.

“It was a decent life,” he said.

Parts of Nigeria were meanwhile inching closer to famine. When the aid group Doctors Without Borders finally got access to Banki last summer, after the military drove out Boko Haram, aid workers found a hunger crisis, with more than 10 percent of children suffering from severe malnutrition and people dying of preventable diseases. For Goni and his family, their hamlet in Cameroon wasn’t just an escape from Boko Haram, but also a refuge from starvation.

The government of Cameroon, though, was struggling to provide for so many refugees. Residents of northern Cameroon blamed food shortages on refugees. In some cases, the two populations clashed.

Experts see that frustration reflected in other countries where refugees have been pressured to leave.

“I think host governments are getting sort of fed up that a very large proportion of the burden is falling on them, without enough international assistance,” said Kathleen Newland, co-founder
of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based research organization.

In Majina, Goni never experienced that antagonism. On that March day, when he heard the sounds of trucks and men shouting, Goni first assumed Boko Haram had arrived. Then he looked outside and saw the men in uniform.

“Who is Nigerian?” the soldiers shouted, Goni recalled.

Goni asked if he could at least collect his clothes, blankets, food and his bicycle. The soldiers refused. Everything happened quickly. When he looked around, in the back of the speeding military truck, he found only one of his wives and two of his children. The rest had been left behind.

‘Get the Nigerians out’

The following morning, Goni got his first look at what was left of Banki. Entire blocks had been flattened, most likely by military airstrikes. Displaced people were living in abandoned houses.

Although aid groups had begun to distribute food and open rudimentary clinics, the Nigerian military still controlled access, posting checkpoints and barring residents from leaving town.

That meant no farming in nearby fields, no collecting of firewood and no possibility of leaving Banki again.

After being interrogated by Ni­ger­ian soldiers, Goni was directed to an abandoned building. UNHCR gave him a mat and a blanket. And he had a new home: one room with 18 people sleeping on the floor.

A month into his time in Banki, he and many of the other deportees were eating only one meal a day.

A few blocks away, in another gray, unfinished building, 32 Cameroonian women and children waved their documents — Cameroonian birth certificates and voter registration cards — when they spotted a visiting journalist.

“We kept telling the soldiers, ‘We are from Cameroon,’ but they brought us here anyway,” said Fati Kadi, 40. Her two children had been left behind during the raid, she said.

Faruk Ibrahim, a program manager with UNHCR, said the agency had expected that the Cameroonians would be taken home. “But it’s been over two months now.”

Stories of other forced returns emerged throughout March and April. More than 2 million people had already been displaced internally in Nigeria’s war with Boko Haram. With the flow of repatriated refugees from Cameroon, that number was rising.

Two hundred miles from Banki, in the city of Ngala, the border superintendent watched one day in April as the Cameroonians deposited hundreds of Nigerians on a bridge that connects the two nations.

“They just wanted to get the Nigerians out,” Mohammed Gadam, the border chief, said in an interview.

Many others in Ngala had chosen to return after they were convinced by Cameroonian and visiting Nigerian soldiers that life was much better in Nigeria, with free-flowing aid and much-improved security.

When Falta Ali, 23, arrived back in Ngala in March, two years after she fled, she saw that the city was in ruins. Aid groups set up tents, but not enough. The international community was running out of money for food aid.

Ali’s 6-month-old, Yagana Buhama, quickly developed whooping cough.

“It’s a product of the environment here,” said a doctor, Beauty Nwuba, standing over Buhama’s bed in a tented clinic. “There’s so much overcrowding.”

In March, UNHCR reached an agreement with the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments, mandating that refugees return to Nigeria only voluntarily. The number of forced returns appears to have dropped off recently, according to UNHCR.

“There is now a framework for voluntary returns,” said Cesar Tshilombo, head of UNHCR’s sub-office in northeastern Nigeria.

But other relief workers say people are still being pressured to go back to a dangerous, desperate place.

“They are threatened by Cameroonian authorities until they agree to return,” said a relief worker in Banki who interviewed refugees last month. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly about the issue.

Other countries also have been accused of compelling refugees to move home to precarious places. In a February report, Human Rights Watch said that in Pakistan, Afghan refugees have been subject to police harassment, arbitrary detention and deportation threats. More than 350,000 registered refugees had gone back to Afghanistan
in the previous six months, “making it the world’s largest mass forced return of refugees in recent years,” the group wrote. It added that the United Nations was abetting the exodus by providing subsidies of $400 per refu­gee.

The United Nations rejected the charge and said it offered support to refugees to decide their futures “based on a well-informed consideration of best options.”

The Pakistani government denied the allegations of coercion.

For now, the thousands of refugees, like Goni, who have been forced back to Nigeria have pragmatic questions. When will they be reunited with their families? How will they get their belongings in Cameroon? Will they ever be free to return?

“They keep us here like prisoners,” he said. “We weren’t ready to come back.”

Kentucky Queries: Why Trade with Cuba is Good for America

For our new blog series, Kentucky Queries, we’ll be taking a different question about world affairs or culture submitted by our members and followers and pose it to a local export. If you have a burning question of global importance that you’d like to see answered, you can ask it using this form.

Our inaugural question deals with the recent White House shift in Cuba policy:

What does the reversal of the Obama-Era Cuba policy mean for the American economy? What are the effects this change could have on Kentuckians?

Why Trade with Cuba is Good for America

by Dr. Robert Brown

A rollback of our Cuba policy would be bad for the Cuban people, bad for U.S. business, bad for U.S. national security and bad politics for President Trump.

Bad for the Cuban people: 

  • The Cuban people overwhelmingly support U.S. engagement. An increase in American travelers and trade has brought increased access to internet and dramatically strengthened Cuba’s growing private sector.
  • Every leading human rights organization agrees that the best way to improve the lives of the Cuban people is through increased engagement, not leaving the Cuban people stranded by returning isolationist policies.

Bad for U.S. Business: 

  • A rollback of Cuba policy would cost the U.S. economy $6.6 billion dollars and affect over 12,000 jobs. U.S. companies are interested in doing business in Cuba. But additional regulations on U.S. businesses will make it impossible for American companies to help bring Cuba into the 21st century.

Bad for U.S. National Security: 

  • The Cold War is over and Cuba is no longer a threat, but Cuba remains within an arms reach of Putin and China. If we reverse course with Cuba, we’d be creating a vacuum for our foreign adversaries to fill 90 miles away.
  • Ties between Moscow and Havana are strengthening at an alarming rate, if we pull out of Cuba, we would be opening the door for Russia to regain its once diminished influence in our backyard.

Bad politics: 

  • President Trump campaigned on the promise of removing burdensome regulations on U.S. businesses. A “reversal” of Cuba policy would actually ADD job-killing regulations on U.S. companies.
  • Morning Consult released a poll showing that 6 in 10 Republicans support policies that expanded travel to and trade with Cuba.
  • Over 60% of Cuban-Americans support these policies.
  • Recently, Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform led a group of conservative organizations in urging Trump not to reverse these changes that have helped U.S. businesses and spread free market ideas to Cuba.

Dr. Robert Brown is the chair of both the National District Export Council and its local Kentucky chapter, organizations dedicated to helping small and medium-sized businesses establish and increase export sales and improving our country’s economic growth.

‘We’ve lost democracy’: on the road with Turkey’s justice marchers

Written by Kareem Shaheen.
Read the original article on the Guardian.
Image credit: The Guardian.


Hıdır Aydur rested his blistered feet under the shade of a tree on the side of the highway that runs between Ankara and Istanbul. The 57-year-old, from Erzincan in Turkey’s north-east, who has diabetes, had been marching for 15 days. He is one of thousands journeying by foot from Turkey’s capital to its largest city, many carrying banners that say “adalet” or “justice”.

“We lost democracy in our country, and we want it back,” Aydur said, his shirt bearing the images of Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, two teachers who were jailed last month after more than 70 days on hunger strike over their arbitrarily dismissal in a government decree.

Tens of thousands of people have been dismissed or detained in a broad government crackdown in the aftermath of a coup attempt last July that left more than 250 people dead and 1,400 wounded. After declaring a state of emergency, the government’s purge went beyond the direct perpetrators of the coup to encompass a large swathe of civil society, the political opposition, academics, journalists and civil servants, squandering a rare moment of unity to solidify its hold on power.

In April, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan narrowly won a referendum that vastly expanded his powers, while the country’s judiciary has been reshaped in his image, with a quarter of the nation’s judges and prosecutors dismissed or jailed over alleged connections to Fethullah Gülen, an exiled preacher whose grassroots movement is widely believed in Turkey to have orchestrated the putsch.

Senior opposition politicians have also been imprisoned. Earlier this month Enis Berberoğlu, a lawmaker with the People’s Republican party (CHP), was jailed for 25 years after leaking information to the press on Turkish intelligence’s transfer of weapons across the border to Syrian rebels.

That arrest sparked the Adalet march, a 280-mile (450-km) walk led by the CHP’s chairman, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, which set off from Ankara on 15 June. Organisers hope it will culminate in a large rally in Istanbul’s Maltepe neighbourhood on 9 July. It has drawn supporters along the way from across Turkish society despite the scorching summer heat, as it covers nine miles a day.

The protesters, dismissed as Gülen supporters by the government, have given a variety of reasons for their involvement: the country’s slide to authoritarianism, the authorities’ abuse of the state of emergency, the arrest of journalists and politicians, the crackdown on dissent, and even opposition to retirement laws.

“Academics and teachers are being wrongfully dismissed, losing their jobs and food and they’re being deprived of their constitutional rights,” say Aydur. “The only thing left for them is to resist, and I wanted to give a voice to their resistance. We want independent courts, not one-man rule, and we want this justice for everyone including those on the opposite side.”

The atmosphere on Thursday was relaxed, belying the deep fissures and polarisation that run through a nation yet to come to terms with the coup attempt.

A year ago hundreds of thousands of Turks gathered in Yenikapı square in Istanbul to celebrate victory over the coup plotters. But the euphoria quickly turned to alarm and then despair in the weeks and months that followed.

“There is a reign of fear,” Kılıçdaroğlu said in an interview conducted during the march. “Journalists and citizens, the people, cannot speak. This is what we want to get rid of.”

“When the 15 July coup happened every party was against it, but on 20 July there was a civil coup and its main plotter was Erdoğan,” he said. “The state of emergency gave him all the power, and with all the dismissals and investigations against thousands of academics and journalists and civil servants, there are ordinary citizens who cannot even talk to their lawyers. There is oppression against the opposition, and lawmakers are being arrested. This justice march is against this civil coup.”

Many of Erdoğan’s religiously conservative supporters look upon the country’s secular opposition as elitist “White Turks” who used to dominate the upper echelons of the state and oppress the poor. In their eyes Erdoğan’s rise can be interpreted as a rebuke to the excesses of the elite.

Namik Akbas, a 32-year-old from Amasya who joined the march, said the Erdoğan government was using religion to divide people.

“Turkey has been ruled for a long time by this mentality of manipulating the public,” he said. “Adalet to me means unifying the country under secular, enlightened values. Secularism is not against religion.”

For Borga Budak, a 36-year-old CHP member from Ankara sporting a Che Guevara cap, the march is an attempt to give succour to the Turkish opposition’s cowed base.

“The idea of this protest isn’t geographical,” Budak said. “It doesn’t stop in Istanbul. People need hope, and this walk gives them hope.”