Blessing or Curse?

Given the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, local residents in different parts of the country have – in the absence of sufficient government action against the insurgents – taken up arms to defend themselves. While in some provinces such vigilantes are accused of abuse and harassment, an example in the North Eastern Province of Badakhshan seemingly had positive effects. But even in this example the threat of local action undermining the Central Government in which the international community has invested and still invests billions of dollars, hovers in the air like an invisible Damoclean sword.

When, reportedly, hundreds of insurgents attacked Ziraki, the centre of the remote District of Raghistan in Afghanistan’s mountainous North Eastern Province of Badakhshan, at the end of Ramadan in early July, the government, with only 35 to 60 Policemen at hand, would have stood no chance. After the Taliban had seized nearly all the hilltops surrounding the small village, located in a valley which gently cuts through a high plateau with meadows and wheat fields, they entered Ziraki itself. The Taliban had already reached the bank of the small mountain river that flows idly through the village and were spreading through half of the bazaar. But a few hundred local men who had taken up arms to defend their families and homes beat off the insurgents, secured the village, and took back the hilltops.

While the heroic stories about the battle of the ’27th of Ramadan’, as the locals refer to it, might be exaggerated, the sandbag walls at the end of the bazaar as well as bullet holes in houses close to the district governor’s building bear silent testimony that the stories are not made up. And the intermittent sound of distant shooting from the still ongoing fighting on the other side of the hill range that I heard during my visit to Ziraki in early August underscored the recent battle less silently.
Local residents in Ziraki are grateful for the armed uprising and stated that there are no problems at all with the vigilantes. And others, coming from insurgent-controlled nearby areas, expressed their hopes to be soon liberated from the ‘fire’ of Taliban rule, in which they would suffer currently.

Protecting kin

Given that I was the guest of the uprising’s commander, locals might of course have been reluctant to talk to me about possible issues. But as I stayed for several days in Ziraki and picked up loads of other gossip, I would have probably noticed if there were any major problems between the vigilantes and ordinary civilians. (Obviously, serious issues exist with the locals that make up the vast majority of the insurgents, who violently reject the current government and the uprising that supports it as un-Islamic; but this is another story.)

In view of the fact that all the men of the armed uprisings hail from this or nearby valleys and are, quite literally, protecting their own kin, this might not seem surprising. On the other hand, reports in places like the northern provinces of Kunduz and Faryab accuse local vigilantes of abusive behaviour against ordinary residents, ranging from illegal taxation, extortion, and pillaging to beating, rapes, and murder. One explanation as to why such abuses are not heard of in Raghistan is, according to the district governor, that Raghistan and Badakhshan in general – unlike Kunduz or Faryab – are ethnically quite homogenous, with no frictions between the people. However, given that Badakhshan’s population is apparently fractured along political and other lines, which are next to impossible to understand for an outsider, such an explanation does not convince completely.

Be that as it may, there is apparently also no rift between the government and the uprising. Police Chief of Badakhshan Province, Brigadier General Ghulam Sakhi Ghafoori, even stated that more local government supporters should be armed. And virtually all the vigilantes asserted that they still chiefly back the Central Government and don’t hold any grudge against it – perhaps surprisingly, in view of the fact that the uprising was initially caused by the failure of the government to defend Raghistan against a growing insurgency. Representatives of many, one man (who, with his stocky frame and curly, light brown full beard, looked like a Viking) simply stated his reason for joining the uprising as ‘I love the government!’

This, of course, does not mean that it is a perfect love story. For example, the main commander of the uprising, Haiot, who like many Afghans goes by only one name, at one point complained that the uprising and the Afghan Local Police, made up of former uprising members, bear the brunt of the fighting, with the Central Government forces deployed to Raghistan during July allegedly not doing much. Such dissatisfactions do not appear to significantly affect, the generally good cooperation between the uprising and the government, though. Similarly, there seem to be no significant differences within the uprising itself, as even an apparently sidelined sub-commander of the uprising who stayed inactive in Ziraki at the beginning of August, was still benevolent toward it. All in all, and to paraphrase district and provincial officials, everyone – official government forces, civil servants, as well as local vigilantes – stand united against the insurgents.

However, even in an apparently positive example of an uprising like in Raghistan, some concerns are hidden beneath the surface. While the uprising is endorsed by the government, this seems to be sometimes more and sometimes less officially the case. Lines begin to blur. For example, Haiot is not only the main commander of the armed uprising, but at the same time also the local head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence Service. It is virtually impossible to tell when Haiot is acting in his function as an official supporting the uprising and when he is more or less privately running it, which he does jointly with his brother Paimon, a member of the national Parliament who coordinates things from the capital, Kabul. Local residents and officials did not contest this, but apparently did not see that this might undermine the authority and legitimacy of official government institutions. In fact, for virtually all local residents in Raghistan the blurring between the official government and the uprising was apparently so natural that they did not even seem to grasp the possible issue.

Paimon, the MP, assured me that as soon as the Central Government provided security, the vigilantes would immediately hand in all their arms. This might well be true. But that is not the sole point, as even then the underlying problem would persist: many people in Raghistan apparently put their trust more in the hands of local power brokers like Haiot than government institutions or the rule of law.
Or to illustrate the issue with another example: it is indeed noble that the District Attorney of Raghistan, a man with a black beard, tinted glasses, and a turban, stands guard on a outpost on a hilltop with his AK-47 Kalashnikov, whose handle he had decorated with sparkling duct tape. However, the fact that he for now has closed down his office is not only a clear sign of the dire security situation at the moment, but also raises question about the State’s future in such forlorn regions threatened by insurgents.

Ahmad Navid Fouroutan, the Spokesman of the Governor of Badakhshan Province, acknowledged such issues. However, he explained that under the current ‘exceptional’ circumstances, the government needs men like Haiot who wield informal influence due to their status and connections to fight the insurgents. In this regard, he emphasized that the uprisings in Raghistan as well as in other districts of Badakhshan have always cooperated with the government and did not cause any reason to worry. Asked about possible adverse implications for the future, Fouroutan replied that this is unknown, but that it has also to be kept in mind that, if the government refused to cooperate with such vigilantes now, they might not only turn against the insurgency, but also against the government. The simple truth is probably that the government needs the uprisings at the moment and does not have the luxury to think about the future.

To counter concerns about armed groups outside of the official system, the central government tries to incorporate them into its ranks. This is nothing new, in fact. Already back in 2010, the Afghan Local Police was established to provide an official framework for villagers defending their own turf. And to cope with a more recent surge of uprisings in different parts of the country, the government created the so-called People’s Uprising Programme in August 2015. Information on the secretive programme remains scarce, but it reportedly originated in countering the emergence of the so-called Islamic State in Eastern Afghanistan with local uprisings. The programme is said to be under the auspices of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG), a ministerial-level body that oversees provincial governments, but is also funded and supported by the NDS.
Franz J. Marty is a freelance journalist based in Kabul, Afghanistan. He writes mainly on security and military issues and can be followed @franzjmarty on twitter.
(The Diplomat)

While around 100 vigilantes from Raghistan indeed were converted into an official unit of the Afghan Local Police sometime in early 2016, it remains unclear to what extent the uprising there is part of the People’s Uprising Program. Various sources in Raghistan insisted that the uprising is and has always been endorsed by the government and receives support from the NDS and/or the National Security Council (NSC), but this could not be confirmed, as – despite efforts – neither the NDS chief of the province of Badakhshan nor responsible officials from the IDLG, the NDS, or the NSC in Kabul could be reached for comment.

What can be said, though, is that those efforts to blend independent actors and the government are not going that smoothly. Odam Khan, the commander of the Afghan Local Police in Raghistan, stated that his unit, while getting some support such as ammunition, lacks other necessary equipment, in particular cars and motorcycles to move around. He and other sources further stated that local officials for months want to incorporate more uprising fighters into the Afghan Local Police in Raghistan, but that they don’t receive any reply from the provincial or national authorities. While the district governor of Raghistan described this as mere teething troubles and Fouroutan asserted on 10 August that a plan to increase the Afghan Local Police throughout the province by 500 men has been approved by Kabul and is in the making, one member of the Afghan Local Police in Raghistan proclaimed in exasperation that, if the government has not been able to solve the issues in the past several months, it will never be able to do it.

On the other hand, there are no details available as to exactly what kind of support the uprising itself receives from the government. However, sources agreed that sometimes there would be government support, such as weapons or salaries, and sometimes not — or at least not sufficiently. But whenever the government support is insufficient, Haiot and Paimon would take care of it, Haiot himself as well as other sources stated. One source even openly acknowledged that the needed weapons and ammunition are then bought from black markets inside Afghanistan. Given that it is not a far stretch to imagine that those are the very same black markets that the insurgents use to resupply; this is another questionable aspect of the local vigilantes.

Blessing or curse

In the end, it is hard, if not impossible, to tell if such local armed uprisings are overall a curse or a blessing for the government, in particular as they seem indeed to range from the blessing of true and noble local resistance to the curse of abusive private militias. In any event, such uprisings are a reality that the central government has to cope with somehow. The problem, then, is how to meaningfully incorporate or abolish them. Because even in the case of an apparently positive uprising like in Raghistan, the mere existence of an armed group outside the official system by its very nature threatens the foundation of every state – its monopoly on executing force to uphold order. So while the uprising in Raghistan is most probably more blessing than curse, it is a blessing with at least a grain of salt.

In any event, given that sometime in mid- to late August virtually all official government forces have reportedly been redeployed from Raghistan to other parts of the country — leaving the insurgents, who still hold some of their main positions in Raghistan, weakened but not defeated — the locals have little choice but to fight for themselves.

-Franz J. Marty


Giant pandas rebound off endangered list

The giant panda is no longer an endangered species, following decades of work by conservationists to save it.

The official status of the much-loved animal has been changed from “endangered” to “vulnerable” because of a population rebound in China.

The change was announced as part of an update to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

But the update also brought bad news. The eastern gorilla, the world’s largest primate, is now endangered.

Efforts by China, which claims the giant panda as its national animal, have brought its numbers back from the brink. The latest estimates show a population of 1,864 adults.

There are no exact figures for the numbers of cubs, but estimates bring the total number of giant pandas to 2,060.

“Evidence from a series of range-wide national surveys indicate that the previous population decline has been arrested, and the population has started to increase,” said the IUCN’s updated report.

“The improved status confirms that the Chinese government’s efforts to conserve this species are effective,” it added.

But the rebound could be short-lived, the IUCN warned. Climate change is predicted to wipe out more than one-third of the panda’s bamboo habitat in the next 80 years.

“And thus panda population is projected to decline, reversing the gains made during the last two decades,” the report said.

It added: “To protect this iconic species, it is critical that the effective forest protection measures are continued and that emerging threats are addressed.”

John Robinson, a primatologist and chief conservation officer at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told the AFP news agency: “When push comes to shove, the Chinese have done a really good job with pandas.

“So few species are actually downlisted, it really is a reflection of the success of conservation,” he told the AFP news agency.”

A surge of illegal hunting has taken the eastern gorilla in the other direction, reducing its numbers to just 5,000 across the globe.

Four out of six of the Earth’s great apes are now critically endangered – the eastern gorilla, western gorilla, Bornean orangutan and Sumatran orangutan.

“Today is a sad day because the IUCN Red List shows we are wiping out some of our closest relatives,” Inger Andersen, IUCN director general, told reporters.

The number of eastern gorillas has declined more than 70% in the past two decades.

The IUCN Red List includes 82,954 species, both plants and animals. Almost one third, 23,928, are listed as being threatened with extinction.

-Ceylon Today

Japan knife attack leaves 19 dead

Nineteen residents have been killed in a knife attack at a care centre for people with mental disabilities in the Japanese city of Sagamihara.

Such attacks are extremely rare in Japan – the incident is the worst mass killing in decades.

Police have arrested a local man, said to be a former employee of the centre, who went to a nearby police station and allegedly admitted to the attack.

He reportedly said he wanted people with disabilities to “disappear”.

The attack has shocked Japan, one of the safest countries in the world.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said it was “a very heart-wrenching and shocking incident in which many innocent people became victims”.

Attack in Nice: 80 Dead

At least 80 people were killed Thursday night when a truck careened through crowds of people celebrating Bastille Day in the southern French city of Nice. French President François Hollande has said the attack, which also left 18 people in critical condition and dozens more injured, was likely an act of terrorism.

According to eyewitness accounts, bodies were sent flying into the air as the heavy-duty white transport vehicle hit them on the Promenade des Anglais at about 10:30 p.m. local time, where people had gathered to watch fireworks by the Nice seafront. Videos taken by bystanders show the truck zigzagging as the driver apparently sought to hit as many people as possible as he drove along more than a mile of crowded road. Images from the scene show bodies sprawled along stretches of road.

The driver reportedly also opened fire on the crowd, and was killed in a shootout with police. Authorities have also said the truck was loaded with explosives and “heavy weapons.” Photographs show the windshield of the truck riddled with bullet holes after it was brought to a halt.

Details have begun to emerge in local media about the possible identity of the driver. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that identity papers belonging to someone of French-Tunisian nationality were found in the truck, citing a police source. Other unconfirmed local media reports cited by the Guardian said the papers belonged to a 31-year-old Nice resident. It is not yet known whether the attacker had any accomplices.

Officials were quick to say they suspected a terrorist attack had taken place. The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into “murder, attempted murder in an organized group linked to a terrorist enterprise,” to be led by the country’s intelligence agency and judicial police, the Associated Press reports.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but social media channels supporting the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group celebrated the attack. Observers monitoring terrorist groups said that both ISIS and al-Qaeda have asked their followers to use vehicles as weapons.

The January 2015 attack on the Paris offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo was linked to al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch, and the multiple attacks in the same city in November were claimed by ISIS.

President Hollande addressed the nation in the early hours of Friday morning local time, condemning the attack, whose victims he said included children. He said the “terrorist nature” of the attack was “undeniable,” AFP reports. A state of emergency in France — which has been in place since November’s attacks on Paris, but was set to be lifted later this month, before this latest attack — has been extended for another 3 months.

“France has been struck on the day of her national holiday … the symbol of liberty,” Hollande said, according to the Guardian. “France as a whole is under the threat of Islamic terrorism. We have to demonstrate absolute vigilance and show determination that is unfailing.”

Leaders around the world responded to the attack, and Twitter users were using the hashtag #PrayForNice. President Barack Obama also issued a statement offering “any assistance that they may need to investigate this attack and bring those responsible to justice.”

Sushma assures solution on fishermen issue

CHENNAI: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday told a delegation of fishermen associations from Tamil Nadu that the Union government would try to find a solution to their problems, including harassment at the hands of Sri Lankan Navy.

The delegation which was led by DMK MP Tiruchy Siva also asked Ms Swaraj to take immediate steps to ensure the release of 29 fishermen who are languishing in Sri Lankan jails and 103 boats seized by the Sri Lankan Navy.

“We told the Minister that the fishermen should be released immediately. She assured us that she will talk to concerned in Sri Lanka and try to put an end to the problem,” Mr. Siva told reporters after the meeting.

Ms. Swaraj also promised the delegation that she would convene a meeting of all stakeholders very soon to discuss the problems faced by Indian fishermen hailing from TN.

Members would attend the meeting from fishermen associations, Coast Guard and ministry of external affairs, the minister told the delegation.

“Ms. Swaraj said she would try and hold the meeting in a month’s time. The fishermen association representatives were also happy with the response of the minister,” Mr. Siva said.

More than 40 arrests under PTA in 2015-16

United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, prior to his oral report that is to be released today (29), said he ‘remains convinced’ that international participation in the accountability mechanisms would be a necessary guarantee of the independence and impartiality of the process in the eyes of victims, as Sri Lanka’s judicial institutions currently lack the credibility needed to gain their trust.

In his advanced oral report made yesterday, at the 32 session of the UNHRC in Geneva, the UN Rights Commissioner said Sri Lanka must keep in mind that the magnitude and complexity of the international crimes alleged, which the OHCHR investigation discovered, could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity and he remains convinced that international participation in the accountability mechanisms would guarantee an independent and impartial probe process.


He also called for an impartial and independent probe on new evidence that emerged recently on the use of cluster munitions towards the end of the conflict by the government Forces and recalled that the OHCHR investigation report also had mentioned the use of cluster bombs.
He noted that in late May 2016, it was reported that Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had in an address to a large group of senior military officers again ruled out international participation in a domestic Sri Lankan justice mechanism – but he remains convinced that international participation guarantees independence and impartiality.

While commending Government’s symbolic steps towards promoting reconciliation and de-listing of several Tamil diaspora organizations and individuals who had been proscribed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Zeid noted that the GoSL has made more than 40 new PTA arrests in 2015-16, including more than 25 in March-April 2016, during a security operation after the discovery of an explosives cache in Jaffna.

He stated that the manner in which some of these arrests reportedly took place, in an arbitrary manner and without adherence to established legal procedure, have led some to compare them to the infamous ‘white van’ abductions/disappearances of the past.
While there are clear differences (all those arrested reappeared in detention in a matter of hours), such cases strike fear in the community and undermine confidence in the government’s efforts to restore the rule of law and criminal procedures in accordance with the law and international standards.

He said that the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture had also at the end of his visit made reference to recurring allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, albeit with less frequency and severity than in the past. Some groups have also reported cases of torture and sexual abuse of Tamils returning to Sri Lanka from abroad who are suspected of LTTE involvement.
” In December 2015, the government released on bail 39 individuals detained without charge, but around 250 detainees are believed to remain in detention. The government has filed indictments in 117 of these cases, and in January created a special High Court Bench to expedite proceedings. The government had promised the Attorney-General’s Office would make decisions by the end of March 2016 but there have been no further indictments or releases this year. This situation is not only traumatic for the individuals concerned , some of whom resorted to hunger strikes, and for their families, but a source of growing frustration among Tamil political parties and the community at large. At the end of his visit in February 2016, the High Commissioner urged the government to quickly find a formula to charge or release the remaining security-related detainees. This situation is compounded by the government’s continued reliance on the PTA to make new arrests, despite its commitment to repeal the law, he added.

He also reiterated that these continuing concerns point to a deeper challenge for the government in asserting full civilian control over the military and intelligence establishment and dismantling the units and structures allegedly responsible for grave violations in the past.
Despite welcoming the steps towards demilitarization, such as the removal of checkpoints, the military presence in the North and East remains heavy, and a culture of surveillance and, in certain instances, intimidation and harassment, persists, he noted.
The High Commissioner firmly believes that bold and visible steps of this kind can have a far-reaching effect in creating a climate of confidence and trust, but obviously need to be accompanied by more institutionalized change.
He also noted his concerns about the continued aggressive campaigns in social media and other forms (such as the Sinha Le bumper sticker campaign) which stoke nationalism against ethnic, religious and other minorities.

Suicide bombs kill 31, wound close to 150 at Istanbul airport

Three suicide bombers opened fire before blowing themselves up in the main international airport in Istanbul on Tuesday, killing 31 people and wounding close to 150, officials said.

Police fired shots to try to stop two of the attackers just before they reached a security checkpoint at the arrivals hall at Ataturk airport, Europe’s third-busiest, but they detonated their explosives, one of the officials said.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said 31 people were killed and 147 wounded, according to Turkish broadcasters. Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said authorities believed there were three suicide bombers, an account corroborated by witnesses.

A Turkish official said the vast majority of those killed were Turkish nationals but foreigners were also among the dead.

“There was a huge explosion, extremely loud. The roof came down. Inside the airport it is terrible, you can’t recognize it, the damage is big,” said Ali Tekin, who was at the arrivals hall waiting for a guest when the attack took place.

A woman named Duygu, who was at passport control having just arrived from Germany, said she threw herself onto the floor with the sound of the explosion. Several witnesses also reported hearing gunfire shortly before the attacks.

“Everyone started running away. Everywhere was covered with blood and body parts. I saw bullet holes on the doors,” she said outside the airport.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest in a string of suicide bombings in Turkey this year, but the Dogan news agency said initial indications suggested Islamic State may have been responsible, citing police sources.

A Turkish official said it was too soon to assign blame.

The attack bore some similarities to a suicide bombing by Islamic State militants at Brussels airport in March which killed 16 people. A coordinated attack also targeted a rush-hour metro train, killing a further 16 people in the Belgian capital.

Paul Roos, 77, described seeing one of the attackers “randomly shooting” on the departures floor of the terminal.

UN urges SL to rein in military, prosecute war crimes

Sri Lanka must rein in its military forces, prosecute war crimes committed during the long civil war with Tamil rebels and win the confidence of the Tamil minority, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

Witnesses must be protected under an effective transitional justice mechanism that should include international judges, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in an annual report.

The military and Tamil Tiger rebels – who were fighting for an independent Tamil state in the north and east of the Indian Ocean island – are both likely to have committed war crimes during the 26-year conflict that ended in 2009, the U.N. said last year.

President Maithripala Sirisena’s government, formed in March 2015, has “consolidated its position, creating a political environment conducive to reforms”, but governance reform and transitional justice had lagged, the report said.

“The early momentum established in investigating emblematic cases must be sustained, as early successful prosecutions would mark a turning point from the impunity of the past,” it said.

“Continuing allegations of arbitrary arrest, torture and sexual violence, as well as more general military surveillance and harassment, must be swiftly addressed, and the structures and institutional culture that promoted those practices be dismantled.”

A spokesman for the government in Colombo was not immediately available for comment.

Sirisena has said that foreign participation is not needed for an impartial inquiry. Many Sri Lankans oppose foreign involvement and supporters of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa believe that U.N. efforts aim to punish the military unfairly.

The U.N. Human Rights Council will debate Zeid’s report on Wednesday when the government is expected to come under fresh pressure to commit to prosecuting perpetrators.

Sri Lanka acknowledged this month for the first time that some 65,000 people were missing from the war.

The United Nations and activists have long urged justice for the families of those who disappeared, including those alleged to have been secretly abducted by state-backed groups and paramilitary outfits.

At least 250 security detainees were still being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the U.N. report said, noting that Zeid had urged the government during a visit last September to quickly charge or release them.

The report voiced concerns over “military engagement in commercial activities, including farming and tourism” and aggressive campaigns in social media that it said “stoke nationalism against ethnic, religious and other minorities”.

Refugees: Feel their pain and hear them weep

Why do some people fear or dislike refugees? Why are they xenophobic? Isn’t harbouring ill-feelings towards fellow human beings inhuman, especially at a time when they are in misery and going through hardships?

These questions loom large against the backdrop of rising xenophobia in Europe and the United States, and revelations this week by the United Nations that the earth is at present carrying the recorded history’s biggest refugee population – 65 million.  The shocking figure includes 41 million internally displaced people due to wars and conflicts but excludes 19 million people displaced by natural disasters.  The United Nations High Commission for Refugees is unable to cope with the rising refugee numbers while relief organisations are overwhelmed.  With many affluent nations, towards which thousands of refugees continue their march, closing their borders and taking other measures to stem the flow, the UN now seeks to turn its annual General Assembly sessions in September into a world refugee summit.

The refugees on the run include those fleeing the wars in Syria and Iraq and the conflicts in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Nigeria, Libya and Somalia. Not to mention nearly two million Palestinian refugees who have been languishing in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank for the past 70 years or so. This week, Iraq’s war against the terror group ISIS in Fallujah and Mosul created more than 100,000 displaced people.

On Saturday, during a visit to Lesbos, the Greek island where thousands of asylum seekers arrive before they struggle towards affluent European nations, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon denounced “border closures, barriers and bigotry”. He implored European leaders to stop treating refugees as criminals and start the process to resettle more refugees.

Pope Francis in a prophetic plea last week said, “We are bombarded by so many images that we see pain, but do not touch it; we hear weeping, but do not comfort it; we see thirst but do not satisfy it. All those human lives turn into one more news story. While the headlines may change, the pain, the hunger and the thirst remain.”

As hostility toward migrants and refugees surges in Western countries, the European Union has shown signs of fracturing over the refugee influx, with the issue taking centre stage during debates that took place in the run up to yesterday’s British referendum where voters decided whether to remain in the EU or leave.

Why cannot countries open their borders and welcome refugees? After all, they are fellow members of the human race.  When there are no racial, cultural or linguistic barriers to love or sex between two human beings, what prevents us from achieving the unity of mankind?

Sociologists may come up with several theories to answer questions on xenophobia, but the search for the unity of mankind remains elusive.  Former United States President Bill Clinton told a US talk show in 2014 that an alien invasion “may be the only way to unite this increasingly divided world of ours”.  But the answer lies not in an external threat but within us. We need to break artificial political and cultural barriers – and move towards the world order that existed prior to the 19th century nation-state, before which no visa was required to travel from country to country.

The concept of nation-states, perhaps the root cause of present day xenophobia over refugees, took root in Europe as a response to the uneasiness of accommodating diversity. So they combined the cultural boundaries of a ‘nation’ with the political boundaries of a ‘state’ to create what came to be known in political jargon as the nation-state.

Though post-World War II Europe has made strides towards liberal values, it has not completely freed itself from the yoke of the nation-state. Whatever took place in terms of accommodation of “migrants” apparently was largely due to economic factors.  The first influx of migrants was the army of cheap labour:  In Germany, the Turks — and in Britain, France, the Netherlands and other European countries the people from their former colonies in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

Yesterday’s referendum in Britain was perhaps a move towards returning to the nation-state shell, with warts and all.  It appears that a sense of panic over a refugee invasion – some identify it as Islamophobia or the fear of Islam — has beset a majority of the people in the US and Europe.  Their fear of fellow human beings has reached such ridiculous proportions that it has become easy for hate-mongering politicians to rise to the threshold of power. In the US, it is Donald Trump. In Britain, it is the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), in Germany, it is Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West); in Austria, the Freedom Party; and in France, the National Front led by Marine Le Pen, who faced hate speech charges last year after she compared Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation.

Little do they realise or acknowledge that the past and present actions and policies of the US and Europe have led to the crises that have driven millions of people out of their homes and villages.  The US, European nations and their oil rich Arab allies were responsible for the wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere.

Yet these countries are not in the least bothered about the plight of the refugees. The closest US shore is more than a safe distance away across the vast Atlantic Ocean.  Saudi Arabia and other affluent Arab states won’t open their doors to refugees fully, while, ironically, fleeing Syrians and Iraqis see the Islamophobic West as a far better refuge than Islamic Arabia.

The US has the power to end these wars and bring peace that will in turn bring the refugees home.  If not self or selfish reasons, what is preventing this great nation from doing so?

If the countries that have the power to end wars do not use that power to do so, they not only renounce their responsibility as civilised nations but also become accomplices in the crime of creating refugees – the crime of heaping misery upon misery on a people who, just the day before the war started, had everything in life.

The Syrian refugee fleeing the conflict had a home of his own, a family, a job and access to health services and other basic necessities. His children went to school and had a dream of becoming scientists, doctors, judges and journalists.

But, alas, when the war broke out and bombs and missiles destroyed neighbourhood after neighbourhood, his family escaped to Turkey, where he paid all his life’s saving to people smugglers to undertake the dangerous journey in a rubber dinghy to reach the Greek island of Lesbos across the Mediterranean Sea that has become a watery grave for thousands of people, including the four-year-old Aylan Khurdi. His children have no school to go now. But he now learns from the UN report that about 100,000 children who are in search of a safe haven in Europe have no parents or are separated from their parents.  Reports say an increasing number of children are sexually abused by predators and paedophiles in refugee camps.  All that the refugee wants is a place to start life anew.  Certainly the misery-driven refugee is not a missionary with a mission to Islamise Europe.

-Daily Mirror

Britain votes to leave EU in historic divorce: BBC

Britain has voted to leave the European Union, the BBC said based on voter tallies from Thursday’s referendum, an outcome that would set the country on an uncertain path and deal the largest setback to European efforts to forge greater unity since World War Two.

World financial markets dived as counting from 304 of 382 areas showed a 51.5/48.5 split for leaving. Sterling suffered its biggest one-day fall of 9.4 percent against the dollar on market fears the decision will hit investment in the world’s 5th largest economy, raise questions over London’s role as a global financial capital, and usher in months of political limbo.

The euro slumped nearly four percent against the dollar on concerns a ‘Brexit’ vote would do wider economic and political damage to what would become a 27-member union. Investors poured into safe haven assets including gold, and the yen surged.

In an early mark of international concern, Japan’s top currency diplomat Masatsugu Asakawa said he would consult with Finance Minister Taro Aso on how to respond to the market moves, describing the foreign exchange moves as very rough.

Yet there was euphoria among Britain’s eurosceptic forces, claiming a victory they styled as a protest against British political leaders, big business and foreign leaders including Barack Obama who had urged Britain to stay in the bloc.

“Dare to dream that the dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom,” said Nigel Farage, leader of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party.

“If the predictions are right, this will be a victory for real people, a victory for ordinary people, a victory for decent people…Let June 23 go down in our history as our independence day.”

He called the EU a “doomed project”.

Asked if Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum in 2013 and campaigned to stay in the bloc, should resign if Britain voted for Brexit, Farage said: “Immediately.”

Quitting the EU could cost Britain access to the EU’s trade barrier-free single market and mean it must seek new trade accords with countries around the world. President Barack Obama says it would be at the “back of a queue” for a U.S. pact.

The EU for its part will emerge economically and politically weakened, facing the departure not only of its most free-market proponent but also a member country that wields a U.N. Security Council veto and runs a powerful army. In one go, the bloc will lose around a sixth of its total economic output.

Cameron is expected to formally report the result to his European counterparts within days and prepare negotiations for the first exit by a member state from the EU — an exit he has said would be irreversible.

The British leader called the referendum in 2013 in a bid to head off pressure from local eurosceptics, including within his own party. Initially billed as an easy ride, the vote has now put his political future on the line. Party ally Boris Johnson, the former London mayor who became the most recognizable face of the “leave” camp, is now widely tipped to seek his job. (Reuters)

-Daily Mirror