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Nigerian troops evacuate ‘entire town’ in security operation: UN

Nig photoA surge in attacks in December saw tens of thousands of civilians fleeing into Maiduguri [File:Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters]

Up to 10,000 civilians have been forcibly relocated because of a military operation against Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria, the United Nations said on Thursday, calling for better protection.

At least 2,000 people were initially said to have been moved the 40km from Jakana to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, on Tuesday. But the UN said five times as many were forced to flee.

“The military ordered the immediate departure and forced the relocation of up to 10,000 civilians in the middle of the night, without prior warning,” it said in a statement.

“The entire town of Jakana was emptied, and people were forced to move to Maiduguri with very little time to collect personal belongings,” added UN Humanitarian Coordinator Edward Kallon. “Some people said they arrived in Maiduguri with nothing, not even with shoes on their feet.”

The northeast is the battleground in Nigeria’s decade-long fight against the armed group of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram.

A surge in attacks in December in which towns and military bases were overrun saw tens of thousands of civilians fleeing into Maiduguri and swelling the population of existing camps.

Humanitarian concerns

The armed groups have in the last few weeks been hit by intensive air and ground offensives from coalition forces involving Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon in the Lake Chad region, according to military sources and armed fighters.

But there are fresh concerns about the effects of the conflict on civilians after nearly 10 years of fighting, more than 27,000 deaths and 1.8 million made homeless.

Previous mass displacements of civilians have forced them into already overcrowded camps for the internally displaced in Maiduguri, putting pressure on the authorities.

“The United Nations is urging the government to urgently provide safety, shelter, food, water and medical care to the displaced civilians, in addition to information about when they will be allowed to return home,” said Kallon.

Jakana lies on a known crossing route for ISWAP fighters moving between their camps in the Benisheikh forest area of Borno and their hideouts in the Buni Yadi area of Yobe.

In January, ISWAP sent letters to Jakana and Mainok residents telling them to vacate their homes for an impending raid on the military.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/nigerian-troops-evacuate-entire-town-security-operation-190411103958546.html

Indonesian Buddhist woman’s blasphemy conviction upheld

Indonesia photoSibarani said there was insufficient evidence against Meiliana to warrant a custodial sentence [Antara Foto/Irsan Mulyadi via Reuters]

Medan, Indonesia – Indonesia’s Supreme Court has upheld an 18-month jail sentence for a 44-year-old Buddhist woman convicted last year on blasphemy charges.

Meiliana’s conviction last August stemmed from a complaint filed after she was accused of making remarks against mosque loudspeakers in the city of Tanjung Balai in North Sumatra nearly three years ago.

Her lawyer Ranto Sibarani said that his client was a “victim of a hoax,” denying she made those remarks.

“There is no evidence that she committed blasphemy. This hoax spread in the course of a week and ruined a woman’s life in the process,” Sibarani told Al Jazeera.

“Today’s decision is very dangerous because in the future it means that people can spread false information which will lead to wrongful convictions under the blasphemy law.”

The case is based on an incident on July 22, 2016 when Meiliana, an ethnic Chinese-Buddhist resident of Medan, purportedly made a complaint to her neighbour, Kasini, who like many Indonesians only goes by one name.

Kasini claimed that Meiliana asked for the azan, the Islamic call to prayer, to be turned down at the local al-Mashum mosque. Her version has been disputed and the ensuing blasphemy conviction widely criticised byhuman rights groups, including Amnesty International Indonesia.

In the days and weeks that followed the initial incident, comments were widely shared on social media stating that Meiliana, a mother of four, had tried to stop the mosque from broadcasting the call to prayer.

A mob in Tanjung Balai set fire to Meiliana’s front lawn while two of her four children were inside her home. They escaped with the help of a Muslim pedicab driver who happened to be passing at the time.

Members of the mob were then called as witnesses at the trial which took place in Medan District Court between June and August last year.

Sibarani said there was insufficient evidence against Meiliana to warrant a custodial sentence.

“The hoax was legitimised by the court. The judge allowed a statement letter to be submitted as evidence by three witnesses outside Meiliana’s house,” he said.

“They claimed she told them the prayer call hurt her ears while a gang confronted her and pelted her home with rocks and bottles. Yet there is no evidence that this conversation ever happened and the statement letter was written six months after the incident.”

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population but it also is home to sizeable numbers of Buddhist and Christian minorities.

The alleged remarks also kicked off some of the worst race riots since the fall of Suharto in 1998. At least 11 Buddhist temples were torched in Tanjung Balai, where Buddhists number around 11,000 out of 185,000 residents.

There has been widespread criticism of Indonesia’s blasphemy law, which in recent years has been wielded against minority groups including the former governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.

Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison for insulting Islam following comments he made about a verse from the Quran in 2016.

According to Sibarani, Meiliana’s legal team are now considering their final legal options.

“We believe that video evidence of the discussion outside Meiliana’s home exists and we plan to use it to file a judicial review,” he said. “If this case is not followed up then it means that anyone can now file a statement letter to a judge accusing someone of blasphemy without having to prove it.”

“This case shows that there is no legal certainty in Indonesia any more.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/indonesian-buddhist-woman-blasphemy-conviction-upheld-190408100321754.html

Exclusive: Yemeni child soldiers recruited by Saudi-UAE coalition

Child soldier photoAhmad al-Naqib, 16, managed to flee a military camp at the Saudi-Yemeni border [Al Jazeera]

Al Jazeera has obtained exclusive footage that proves the presence of child soldiers in the recruitment camps of the Saudi-UAE-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

The children, desperately poor, are being recruited to fight along the Saudi border to defend it from the Houthis, a rebel group that overran the capital, Sanaa, and large swaths of Yemen’s northwest in 2014.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) formed a coalition to overthrow the Houthis – plunging Yemen into a ruinous war – supported by forces loyal to the country’s internationally recognised government.

The conflict has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, pushing Yemen to the brink of famine and leaving about 80 percent of its population – 24 million people – in need of humanitarian assistance.

However, many children face an even worse reality: being recruited by either warring side to fight in the conflict. According to the United Nations, two-thirds of the child soldiers in Yemen fight for the Houthis. The others fight for the Saudi-UAE-led coalition.

Although Yemen and Saudi Arabia signed the international protocol banning involvement of children in armed conflict in 2007 and 2011, respectively, at the end of 2018, Saudi Arabia was accused of recruiting Sudanese children from Darfur to fight on its behalf in Yemen.

Today, Yemeni children are being recruited using local trafficking networks to defend the Saudi border.

Bereaved families interviewed by Al Jazeera questioned why the coalition would need to recruit children to fight in its war. Al Jazeera investigated these claims.

Paycheck promises

In the southern city of Taiz, Al Jazeera spoke to 16-year-old Ahmad al-Naqib and his family at the end of 2018, and the family of Mohammad Ali Hameed, 15, in February 2019. Both boys left their home, chasing promises of a regular paycheck and non-combatant roles.

Ahmad was able to flee and tell us his story, but Mohammad never made it home after he was recruited, leaving his father to tell his story.

“He had graduated from high school and started working, but before we knew it they had recruited him. He insisted on going to al-Buqa’,” Mohammad’s father, Ali, told Al Jazeera in an interview in December.

“It has been five months since he left. We have not heard anything since; we still don’t know where he is,” he added.

Both teenagers, who came from a poor background, embarked last year on separate and arduous journeys from their villages near Taiz, in the south of Yemen, towards the Saudi border crossing of al-Wade’a in the north.

According to Ahmad, al-Buqa’ in Yemen – close to the Saudi border – is where Yemeni children are being trained to fight. It is also an area that has seen frequent fighting between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition. In order to avoid exposure to the Houthis, buses carrying people to al-Buqa’ were going through the border town of al-Wade’a into Saudi Arabia.

‘There are many just like them’

The teenagers were first contacted by recruiters in the south’s poverty-stricken villages; they were looking for young boys to take to the Saudi-Yemeni borders.

Ahmad said he and many other boys were recruited ostensibly to work in the kitchens of Yemeni military units stationed inside Saudi Arabia.

“We went because we were told we would be working in a kitchen and making 3,000 Saudi riyals ($800)… so we believed them and got on the bus,” Ahmad told Al Jazeera.

Typically, a recruiter would deliver his human cargo to a trafficker at one of the Yemeni cities along the route leading up to the borders. The trafficker would then deliver the young recruits to another smuggler who would provide them with identification cards – if they did not have one – so they are able to cross into Saudi Arabia, where they would be placed into a military camp.

Al Jazeera called a trafficker, posing as a man interested in travelling to a military camp with three boys between 15 and 16 years old. The trafficker said the boys would be “bought” by someone at al-Wade’a who would provide them with military identification. After expressing concern that the boys would be turned away for being obviously underage, the trafficker said: “Don’t worry, there are many just like them.”

In a follow-up phone call with the trafficker about the fate of the boys, he said: “Don’t worry, this stuff isn’t important to us. What is important is that they are good soldiers. Can they handle guns?”

Ahmad got to al-Wade’a and went further inland, but did not go all the way to al-Buqa’. He heard from people in an intermediary camp that they would only be paid half the $800 salaries they were promised every two or three months and that he might not be a cook after all. “They give you your gun and send you to the front lines [to fight the Houthis],” Ahmad was told.

“They take them into battles to defend Saudi Arabia. As if these children are the ones who will defend the kingdom. Where are their weapons, their aeroplanes?” said Mohammad al-Naqeeb, Ahmad’s father.

Ahmad said he and others managed to flee the camp late last year.

Fifteen-year-old Mohammad was not one of them.

“His mother is devastated. She has given up. I wish he’d just call to let us know that he’s OK; that’s all we want. We just want to know if he’s alive or dead,” Mohammad’s father said.

“These young and irrational boys should have never been allowed to be enticed and recruited to fight in the war. The government should have sent them back home to go to school, but in a time like this, conscience is dead. Instead, they’re welcomed with open arms,” he added.

Al Jazeera obtained access to a secret list containing the names of Yemeni soldiers captured by the Houthis that Yemen’s government submitted during a round of talks between the warring sides in Sweden last year.

Mohammad’s name was not on the list. His fate is still unknown.

Ahmad, on the other hand, managed to come home to his anguished parents after escaping from the camp.

But a terrible fate awaited him. In January, a stray bullet hit the young boy in the head, ending his short life.

Al Jazeera contacted the Saudi Ministry for Foreign Affairs for comment. They have not responded to the request.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2019/03/exclusive-yemeni-child-soldiers-recruited-saudi-uae-coalition-190329132329547.html

Uganda’s bicycle ambulances help the pregnant, sick and injured

Bicycle photo
The ambulances are managed by village health teams chosen from within the community. The teams distribute contact numbers so people in need can request the service. NICHOLAS BAMULANZEKI/AL JAZEERA

by Caleb Okereke

Kibibi, Uganda – In the early months of her pregnancy, Sandra Naigaga had to walk more than four kilometres to get to antenatal care at the health centre in Kibibi, Uganda.

Uganda has high maternal and newborn death rates, with 15 women dying every day from childbirth and pregnancy-related issues. That worried Naigaga in those initial months of pregnancy.

That fear however subsided in late 2018 when the NGO First African Bicycle Information Organization (FABIO) introduced its free bicycle ambulance service to the two major health centres in the region.

Naigaga is one of the hundreds of women, elderly persons, children and the sick in her area who regularly use bicycle ambulances to get prompt medical attention.

In many remote areas, many of the roads are impassable for vehicles, so the bicycles with their specialised trailers to carry patients are the only way for many to get to a health centre.

“As pregnant women, we are always weak,” says Naigaga, “They take us to hospital, we get treatment and they take us back home.”

In Uganda, 77 of the country’s 121 districts lack an ambulance service and fewer than 7% of patients arrive at hospital by ambulance.

That lack of transport prompted FABIO to develop its first bicycle ambulance service in 2006 in Uganda’s then war-torn northern region.

Their goal since has been to create something that is both environmentally friendly and easy to maintain.

“We wanted to create a sustainable way or a cheaper way for people to be able to access health centres,” says executive director, Katesi Najjiba.

The ambulances are built by locals, with locally sourced materials, using as a base the black bicycle whose spare parts are easily found in the villages.

Bryan Nleututu, a field officer at FABIO, says the ambulances are “African solutions to African problems”.

Some terrain can be challenging for the cyclists.

“The hilly areas are most times not easy for me to go pick the patients,” says Mukasa Harid, a bicycle ambulance cyclist. “It’s only possible when one helps me push it and we manage.”

To address that concern, FABIO introduced the e-scooter, a rechargeable electric bike used in place of bicycles in areas where the terrain is hardened like the region around the Kibibi health centre.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/ugandas-bicycle-ambulances-pregnant-sick-injured-190331165202646.html

Arizona home helps women rebuild lives after prison

Arizona photo
Credit: Ekkasit Rakrotchit/Shutterstock.

. Women leaving prison can face numerous challenges – from finding housing and employment despite a criminal record to repairing relationships with family members and friends.

At one women’s home in Flagstaff, Arizona, former inmates receive help getting back on their feet. The home, run by Catholic Charities, has seen so much success in its first few years that it is now planning to expand.

Since it opened in 2016, the Juniper House has helped 55 women re-enter society after leaving jail – with a sober environment, manageable rent, and the resources to get their lives on track.

The Juniper House began through a partnership developed between Catholic Charities and the local authorities.

Sandi Flores, Catholic Charities Community Services’ senior programs director for the northern offices, said the project works with the woman who have gone through Exodus, a sobriety program completed during incarceration.

“[It began with] some interest from the local sheriff department and jail folk, who were looking for an alternative for women who were exiting the substance abuse program that was offered at the jail. So we collaborated with them.”

Since women will exit the Exodus program at different times, the Juniper House staff consistently conducts interviews at the jail once a month. The house only holds eight women at a time, so there is growing wait list.

Women who going through the program will set goals, like focusing on jobs, completing their education, or reuniting with family members.

Flores said many of these women will face challenges that hinder these goals and their recovery. A criminal record may make it hard for the individuals to find work, and past friendships may push the women back into substance abuse.

The goal of the Juniper House, she said, is to minimize the stresses these women face as they exit incarceration, giving them the best possible shot at remaining substance free, finding work, and moving forward with their lives.

Residents receive free rent for the first month, followed by discounted rent. This allows them to focus on sobriety and accessing resources, like school or searching for employment.

“It gives them a chance, when they first get out, to be in a sober living environment, focus on recovery, to work at getting a job, learning to budget their funds, build some social support and social connections that don’t involve alcohol or drugs,” said Flores.

Unlike many other halfway homes, Flores said, the Juniper House allows residents a significant amount of freedom. Women who live at the house can take behavioral medication and work late if necessary. They are not removed from the program if they relapse, but instead will be coached alongside a case manager to develop a recover plan. And they are able to move at their own pace, with some staying a house for a few months, and others for up to a year.

Flores said the one of the house’s most beautiful qualities is the accountability that develops among the women. While it can be difficult for people in general to give or receive feedback, she said, the women routinely warn each other about dangerous behavior or motivate each other to find better solutions.

“They empower each other, and they support each other, and they are quick to point out when they are seeing something that is starting to go wrong.”

“We don’t want them to feel accountable to us. That’s not our role. Our role is to provide an opportunity for them and the support and resources to help themselves to permanent stability. Holding them accountable to us is not the message, is not the mission. Letting them be accountable to each other is very strong and powerful.”

According to the Catholic Sun, 50 percent of the residents are expected to gain income within 30 days and 80 percent to gain income within 60 days. Four in ten are working to reunite with their children. Last year alone, the house served 25 women.

The Diocese of Phoenix now wants to use the Juniper House as a model for similar homes across the state of Arizona. A diocesan campaign that began two years ago has raised the funds to help the project expand to Maricopa County and Yavapai County, with $1 million going toward the expansion.

Flores expressed hope that the project will continue to grow, providing more women with the opportunity for rehabilitation.

At Catholic Charities, she said, “it is always our mission to serve our community’s most vulnerable. So we are always looking to see what is that vulnerable population that is not being served.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/arizona-home-helps-women-rebuild-lives-after-prison-43714

US-Mexico border official says migrant crisis ‘at breaking point’

US-Mexico photoCentral American migrants are seen inside an enclosure in El Paso after crossing the border between Mexico and the United States illegally and turning themselves in to request asylum

The US-Mexico border has reached “breaking point”, US officials say, amid an “unprecedented” surge in migrant numbers.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said it is “a matter of time” before tragedy strikes at one of their facilities.

More than 13,000 migrants have been taken into custody along the border just this week, he said.

Most of the migrants entering the US are families or unaccompanied children.

“On Monday and Tuesday, CBP started the day with over 12,000 migrants in our custody,” Mr McAleenan said at a news conference on Wednesday.

“As of this morning, that number was 13,400. A high number for us is 4,000. A crisis level is 6,000. 13,000 is unprecedented.”

During previous immigration surges, many of those seeking entry were single adults, the commissioner said.

But because these are family units and children, they cannot be easily repatriated and instead, are “almost guaranteed to be released to remain in the US indefinitely”.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) still do not have the capacity to detain families and children, officials said.

Mr McAleenan said his agency expects 40,000 children to enter CBP custody in March after entering the US unaccompanied, “in the hands of violent and callous smugglers”.

“We are doing everything we can to simply avoid a tragedy in a CBP facility,” he added. “But with these numbers, with the types of illnesses we’re seeing…I fear that it’s just a matter of time.”

CBP officials are on pace to manage over 100,000 migrants this month – the highest in a month since 2008.

The agency has now redirected 750 agents from their roles at ports of entry to instead support the “humanitarian mission”.

“We have in some sectors an average of 40% of our Border Patrol agents all fully engaged in just the care, transport, and processing of migrants.”

CBP is asking for assistance from other federal agencies including the National Guard and Department of Defence to increase the capacity to process migrants.

Mr McAleenan has also asked for immediate legislative action from Congress so the agency can detain families together. as well as for the government to fix issues in the legal process for asylum seekers.

He noted that it often takes two to five years for asylum seekers to see a judge, and only around 10 to 15% of migrants actually have a legitimate claim.

 

 

 

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47736603

Pakistan Asma Aziz: Wife who had ‘head shaved for refusing to dance’

Violence photoAsma Aziz appealed for public help in a video posted online

A Pakistani woman has publicly accused her husband of beating her and shaving her head for refusing to dance for him and his friends, in a case that has raised new concerns about women’s safety in the country.

Asma Aziz, from Lahore, made headlines when she published a shocking video on social media showing her shaven head and bruised face.

Her husband, Mian Faisal, and a servant are both in police custody. Mr Faisal has denied torture.

However, the case has prompted calls for more to be done to protect women from domestic violence.

In a tweet, Amnesty International said “systemic change” was necessary.

In her video posted on 26 March, an emotional Ms Aziz alleged that two days earlier she was tortured after refusing to dance in front of her husband’s friends who were at their house in Lahore’s upmarket Defence Housing Authority (DHA) district.

“He took my clothes off in front of his servants. The servants held me as he shaved my hair off and burned it. My clothes were bloody. I was bound by a pipe and hung from the fan. He threatened to hang me naked,” she said.

She said she went to the police to file a complaint but they procrastinated – the police deny the allegation, saying that immediately after Ms Aziz’s visit to the police station a team was dispatched to her residence but it was found locked and the DHA management prevented them from entering the premises.

Police acted only after the video came to the notice of Deputy Minister for Interior, Sheheryar Afridi, who ordered officers to register a complaint.

Mr Faisal and the servant, Rashid Ali, were arrested the following day. A preliminary medical report found multiple bruises, swelling and redness on Ms Aziz’s arms, cheeks and around her left eye.

Ms Aziz’s lawyers later pleaded that the case be tried under the stricter anti-terrorism law instead of the usual criminal procedure.

In papers filed to the Lahore police on Wednesday, the lawyers argued that the case had caused “wider restlessness and anxiety in society”.

Mr Faisal told the police last week that his wife had started cutting her hair under the influence of drugs, and that he, having also taken drugs, only helped her finish the job.

The case caused a furore on social media, with many voicing their anger at domestic violence in Pakistan.

Pakistani actress and singer Sanam Saeed was among those who spoke out in defence of Ms Aziz.

Women’s rights in socially conservative Pakistan has been a contentious topic of debate for years.

The UN’s Gender Inequality Index in 2016 puts Pakistan 147th in a list of 188 countries based on its poor record on women’s health, education, political empowerment and economic status.

Violence against women and girls remains a serious issue. Activists say official statistics do not reveal the extent of the problem – many cases go unreported.

Women’s Day marches last month brought complaints from some conservative groups. Some of the protest organisers said they received death and rape threats on social media.

Reporting by BBC Urdu’s Shahzad Malik in Lahore

 

 

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-47805840