Pakistan, Afghanistan and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have unanimously agreed on a joint 12-point declaration aimed at the "safe and honorable" repatriation of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan for the past four decades.
In a declaration issued at the end of the three parties' meeting in Islamabad, they expressed their commitment to extend the existing Tripartite Agreement governing the voluntary repatriation of Afghan citizens living in Pakistan, local English daily Dawn reported on Wednesday.
A member of premier Imran Khan's cabinet told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity that the government had, in principle, decided to extend the stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan until June 2020.
He said Khan would formally announce the decision during Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's upcoming visit to Islamabad.
Earlier this week, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and the UNHCR urged the international community to support countries hosting millions of refugees.
Overruling his experts, Pompeo keeps Saudis off US child soldiers list
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blocked the inclusion of Saudi Arabia on a U.S. list of countries that recruit child soldiers, dismissing his experts' findings that a Saudi-led coalition has been using under-age fighters in Yemen’s civil war, according to four people familiar with the matter.The decision, which drew immediate criticism from human rights activists and a top Democratic lawmaker, could prompt new accusations that U.S. President Donald Trump's administration is prioritizing security and economic interests in relations with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a major U.S. ally and arms customer.Pompeo's move followed unusually intense internal debate. It comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran, the Saudis’ bitter regional rival.State Department experts recommended adding Saudi Arabia to the soon-to-be released list based in part on news reports and human rights groups’ assessments that the desert kingdom has hired child fighters from Sudan to fight for the U.S.-backed coalition in Yemen, the four sources said.The experts' recommendation faced resistance from some other State Department officials who, according to three of the sources, argued that it was not clear whether the Sudanese forces were under the control of Sudanese officers or directed by the Saudi-led coalition.A New York Times report in December cited Sudanese fighters saying their Saudi and United Arab Emirates commanders directed them at a safe distance from the fighting against the coalition’s foes, Iran-aligned Houthi militias.“The allegations of recruiting child soldiers are completely incorrect and are not based on any evidence or factual findings," said Colonel Turki al-Malki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition. He instead accused the Saudis' foes of using child fighters in Yemen.Pompeo rejected the recommendation from the experts, who are from the State Department’s anti-human trafficking office, said the four sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. The office has a key role in investigating the use of child soldiers worldwide.“The United States condemns the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. We place great importance on ending the practice wherever it occurs," a State Department official said in response to Reuters' questions. The official, however, did not specifically address the Saudi decision or whether any consideration was given to Riyadh's security ties to Washington.Instead of adding Saudi Arabia to the list, Sudan will be reinstated after being removed last year, three of the sources said.A spokesman for Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which has contributed fighters to the Yemen war, said the force is affiliated with Sudan's military. “Based on Sudanese laws, it does not recruit minors," he said. He did not directly respond to a question on who controlled Sudanese forces in Yemen.The UAE government did not respond to a request for comment.The child soldiers list will be part of the State Department’s annual global Trafficking in Persons report, which is due to be released on Thursday in a ceremony led by Pompeo and Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter.BAN ON U.S. AIDThe Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 requires the State Department to report annually on countries using child fighters, defined as "any person under 18 years of age who takes a direct part in hostilities as a member of governmental armed forces."Foreign militaries on the list cannot receive U.S. aid, training and weapons unless the president issues full or partial waivers of those sanctions based on “national interest.” Trump and his predecessors have done this in the past for countries with close security ties to the United States."This is reprehensible," U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a post on Twitter. "Is there no limit to what the Trump Admin is willing to do to cover for #SaudiArabia’s human rights abuses and violations of international norms?"Sarah Margon, director of Human Right Watch's Washington office, said: “This decision shows clearly that the Trump administration is using political manipulation and dismissing evidence – at the expense of kids – in order to protect Saudi Arabia."While internal debates over issues like child soldier violations often take place ahead of the release of the annual State Department list, this one was especially heated, several of the sources said.Since the end of 2016, the Saudi-led coalition has deployed as many as 14,000 Sudanese at any given time, including children as young as 14, to fight in Yemen, offering payments of up to $10,000 per recruit, according to the New York Times. The article cited Sudanese fighters who had returned home and Sudanese lawmakers.In Washington, the Yemen conflict is a contentious issue well beyond the State Department.Republican and Democratic lawmakers, citing evidence of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and angered by the civilian toll from the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, have ramped up efforts to block Trump’s multibillion-dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia.Congressmen Tom Malinowski and Ted Lieu organized a letter to Pompeo from more than a dozen lawmakers in March that said they were “gravely concerned by credible reports” of the Saudi-led coalition deploying Sudanese child fighters in Yemen.They called for a U.S. investigation, including into whether they had been armed with U.S.-made weapons, and also asked for an inquiry into “credible evidence of Houthi forces forcibly conscripting minors into combat.”BLOODY CONFLICTSudan sent thousands of troops to Yemen with the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in the civil war in 2015 against the Houthis, who had captured most of the main populated areas of the country and forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile.Almost from the start, accusations of the use of child soldiers have dogged the parties to the bloody conflict.A report by an independent group of experts to the U.N. Human Rights Council in August 2018 found that all sides in Yemen “conscripted or enlisted children into armed forces or groups and used them to participate actively in hostilities.”The Trump administration has faced controversy in the past over its handling of the child soldier issue.Reuters reported in 2017 that then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opted to remove Iraq and Myanmar from the child soldiers list and rejected a recommendation to add Afghanistan to it, despite the department publicly acknowledging that children were still being conscripted in those countries.The State Department said at the time that while the use of child soldiers was “abhorrent,” it was still in “technical compliance with the law.” Pompeo, who succeeded Tillerson, reinstated Iraq and Myanmar on the list last year.
Turkey has a lot to cover with refugees: Interior min.
Turkey has a lot of ground to cover on refugee adaptation, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said Tuesday.He told a Chamber of Shipping meeting in Istanbul that 4,500 irregular migrants were removed from Istanbul last year.“Now we are going to send 50,000 irregular migrants,” he said, adding that Turkey would not allow the city to become an “illegal immigrant center”.Refugees from Syria has flooded Istanbul since a civil war erupted there in early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed since then and more than 10 million others displaced, according to UN officials.Turkey has been the main route for refugees trying to cross to Europe, especially since the beginning of the war in Syria.Some 268,000 irregular migrants were held in Turkey in 2018, according to the Interior Ministry.The migrants were mostly Afghan, Pakistani, Syrian and Iraq.*Writing by Gozde Bayar
The demand came during the Sixth Quadripartite Steering Committee Meeting in Islamabad, where they discussed the issue of repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan and Iran.
The committee called for joint efforts to create an environment conducive to a phased, orderly and voluntary return of refugees, as well as their reintegration into Afghanistan and better support for host communities in Iran and Pakistan, according to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan.
The UNHCR also praised Pakistan and Iran for hosting Afghan refugees and said it would help communities hosting refugees in their countries.
Afghan Minister of Refugees and Repatriation Sayed Hussain Alemi Balkhi also thanked Pakistan and Iran for hosting refugees from his country and requested an extension of the timeframe for repatriation of Afghan refugees as his country still suffered from security issues.
The legal stay of 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees would end June 30 under the current plan.
Iranian Deputy Interior Minister Hossein Zolfaghari said his country extended several facilities to refugees living in Iran.
"Iran has enhanced services for Afghan refugees, issued driving licenses, regularized parts of the population and has been issuing 550,000 work visas, annually," he said.
Afghan elections throw schools to the firing line
Schools across the conflict-plagued Afghanistan are fearing deadly attacks from the insurgents, as the country braces for landmark presidential polls slated for September this year.Engaged in fragile peace talks with the U.S., the Taliban had already issued stern threats against the use of schools and other public places for the election process.In a statement issued on the social media, the Taliban warned educational staffers, teachers, lecturers and school principals in cities and rural areas of the country to halt the use of their schools as polling stations and to prevent teachers and students from participating as election workers.Against their wishes, the residents of southeastern Logar province had to close multiple schools last week to demonstrate their opposition to the use of the academic institutes for security or electoral purposes.When the schools in the Mohammad Agha district -- hometown of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani -- were shut down by the locals, at least 12,000 boys and girls were deprived of their right to education.As a signatory of the Safe Schools Declaration, Afghanistan is bound to implement the guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict.But, schools across the insurgency-hit country have been on the front line of the conflict for decades. In various provinces, the students have to attend classes in bombed-out buildings and walls littered with bullet holes.This also significantly affected the education of girls, who are less likely to attend schools where there are no walls, or in the presence of armed men.Local civil society and the international community have long been asserting that the first step to ensure the neutrality of schools in Afghanistan is to implement the guidelines of the Safe Schools Declaration and remove armed actors from schools and universities across Afghanistan.Anthony Neal, advocacy manager for the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Anadolu Agency elections in Afghanistan are a contentious issue between different fighting forces and the use of schools as election facilities brings with it similar risks like the ones when the schools are used by armed forces.“Therefore, we believe that alternatives to schools should be found for the elections in order to reduce the risk of attacks on schools during the election period,” he said.Over 190 attacks on schoolsMuch of these concerns stem from the deadly assaults on schools in the past. According to official statistics, out of the 192 attacks on schools that took place last year -- 92 of them were related to elections.Similar increase in attacks on schools were witnessed in 2014 during the last presidential elections and the 2018 parliamentary elections.A report by the UN in Afghanistan documented 435 civilian casualties (56 deaths and 379 injured) as a result of violence, including attacks on schools used as polling stations.The report expressed concerns over the numerous attacks by anti-government elements, mainly Taliban, directed at civilian objects and populated civilian areas during the elections.Nusrat Rahimi, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, told Anadolu Agency that the security forces in collaboration with intelligence forces are “seriously determined to ensure safety of schools”.“Our aim is to reclaim all areas that still remain under the Taliban control. We recently took back control of two districts in Ghazni province from the Taliban, and that is what we would replicate all over the country for peaceful execution of the polls,” Rahimi said.Abdul Wakil Kaliwal, head of the Directorate of Education, told Anadolu Agency, the schools in Mohammad Agha district of Logar province were reopened following consultations with local elders.However, situation remains quite grim across the country. As per official statistics, some 430 schools across the country remain closed mainly due to security concerns.“Despite the support of the Ministry of Education, so far there has been limited interest from both the rest of the government and many international donors -- many of whom have also endorsed the Oslo Safe School Declaration -- to find alternatives [for polling stations]”, Neal said.The critical presidential polls are set to take place on Sept. 28.
Pakistan challenges credibility of BBC report
Pakistan filed formal complaints Tuesday over a report published this month by U.K. state broadcaster BBC documenting alleged human rights abuses in the country’s tribal areas.The Ministry of Information filed complaint letters with the British communications regulator and BBC raising questions over the authenticity of the story regarding Pakistan’s military.On June 2, the BBC published a report on its website titled "Uncovering Pakistan's secret human rights abuses" which said tens of thousands of people have been killed during Pakistan’s long battle with militants as part of the post -9/11 war on terror and that many of them were tortured and murdered by soldiers and insurgents in Waziristan, a tribal district in northwestern Pakistan bordering Afghanistan."The story not only presented a fabricated theme but also violated journalistic ethos. The story also violates BBC's editorial policy by not incorporating the point of view of all stakeholders/citing credible sources/quoting authentic evidence etc.," the ministry said in its letter addressed to the BBCIt amounted to “indicting the State of Pakistan for so-called ‘secret human rights abuses’ without any cogent evidence”."The detailed analysis of its content reflects bias, spinning and angling of the facts. There are judgmental expressions in the story which are a clear violation of journalistic norms of impartiality and objectivity," said the ministry’s letter.The government of Pakistan expects the matter to be looked into for appropriate action against the author and editorial board linked to the report.Pakistan also demanded that the BBC remove the “defamatory and malicious” story and issue a clear-cut apology."We also expect the BBC authorities to ensure that in future, such fake stories specifically targeting Pakistan will not be disseminated," said the letter.However, Pakistan also warned the BBC that Islamabad reserves the right to pursue all legal measures within the country and the United Kingdom if the BBC fails to retract the story and take action against its author.A dossier accompanying the letter contained further analysis of the government’s complaints.On June 4, Pakistan’s military also reacted to the BBC story."The story carries conjecturing implicating Pakistan’s Army without any proof,” Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of Pakistan’s army, said in a statement."The story is a pack of lies and in violation of journalistic ethos," it added.North Waziristan has been a battleground between the army and the Taliban since June 2014 following a full-scale military onslaught that has killed over 5,000 suspected militants, according to the military.Over 700 soldiers have also lost their lives in landmine blasts and clashes with the Taliban during the period.On March 28, the BBC apologized and agreed to pay damages to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko over an incorrect report claiming a payment was made to extend a meeting between Poroshenko and U.S. President Donald Trump.