Police find 41 migrants alive in truck in northern Greece

Police find 41 migrants alive in truck in northern Greece
ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek police found 41 migrants, mostly Afghans, hiding in a refrigerated truck at a motorway in northern Greece on Monday, officials said.

The discovery came 10 days after 39 bodies, all believed to be Vietnamese migrants, were discovered in the back of a refrigerated truck near London. Two people have been charged in Britain and eight in Vietnam over the deaths.

The refrigeration system in the truck where the migrants were found in northern Greece had not been turned on, and none of the migrants was injured, though some asked for medical assistance, a Greek police official said.

Police had stopped the truck near the city of Xanthi for a routine check, arresting the driver and taking him and the migrants to a nearby police station for identification.

Greece is currently struggling with the biggest resurgence in arrivals of migrants and refugees since 2015, when more than a million crossed into Europe from Turkey via Greece.

Most of them are reaching Greek Aegean islands close to the Turkish coast via boats but a large number also come overland, using a river border crossing with Turkey.

Road accidents, mainly in northern Greece, involving migrants trying to cross into other countries have become more frequent in recent years. Police have arrested dozens of people believed to be involved in human trafficking so far in 2019.

About 34,000 asylum seekers and refugees are being held in overcrowded camps on the Aegean islands under conditions which human rights groups have slammed as appalling.

The conservative government that came to power in July has vowed to move up to 20,000 off the islands and deport 10,000 people who do not qualify for asylum by the end of 2020.

Arrivals of unaccompanied children have also increased. About 1,000 minors have arrived since July, the Greek labor ministry said, with the total number estimated at over 5,000.

A fifth of them are now missing, the ministry said, pledging to build more facilities and shelters for migrant children.

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas and Angeliki Koutantou; Writing by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Taliban team at Afghan peace talks in Qatar to include women: spokesman

FILE PHOTO: Afghan women line up at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Kabul, Afghanistan October 20, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi

KABUL (Reuters) – Women will be included for the first time in the Taliban delegation to peace talks in Qatar this month, the movement’s main spokesman said on Monday, ahead of the latest round of meetings aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan.

For a group notorious for its strictly conservative attitude to women’s rights, the move represents a step towards addressing demands that women be included in the talks, intended to lay the foundations for a future peace settlement.

The April 19-21 meeting in Doha will be between the Taliban and a delegation comprising prominent Afghans, including opposition politicians and civil society activists. It follows similar talks between the two sides in Moscow in February.

The non-Taliban delegation that was in Moscow could be expanded next week to include some government officials, but acting in their private capacities as the insurgents have refused to hold formal talks with Kabul.

“There will be women among Taliban delegation members in the Doha, Qatar meeting,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s main spokesman, said by telephone.

He did not name the women, but added, “These women have no family relationship with the senior members of the Taliban, they are normal Afghans, from inside and outside the country, who have been supporters and part of the struggle of the Islamic Emirate”.

In a tweet, he specified that the women would only join the discussions with Afghan civil society and political representatives, not in the main negotiations with American officials, led by U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

Khalilzad has not yet set dates for the next round of talks with the Taliban, a State Department spokesperson said.

“We do not have new U.S. talks with the Taliban to announce at this time. Before additional talks, we look forward to knowing the outcome of the intra-Afghan dialogue,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Khalilzad, a veteran Afghan-born U.S. diplomat, is working to secure an accord with the Taliban on a U.S. troop pullout, measures to prevent al Qaeda and other extremists from using Afghanistan as a springboard for attacks, a ceasefire and inter-Afghan talks that include the government on the country’s political future.

The Taliban have rejected formal talks with the government, which they dismiss as a “puppet” regime controlled by the United States.

While Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative country, especially in rural areas, there have been major advances in women’s rights since the U.S-led campaign of 2001 that toppled the Taliban government. Many women fear that if the group regains some power, many of these gains could be erased.

The movement gained worldwide notoriety when it came to power in the 1990s by forcing women to wear full facial covering and imposing severe restrictions including banning girls from school and forbidding women from working outside the home.

However, Taliban spokesmen say the group has changed and it encourages girls’ education and other women’s rights within an Islamic Sharia system.

Civil society groups, the Western-backed government and Afghanistan’s international partners have pressed for women to take part in the talks and news of the Taliban delegation was welcomed. Fawzia Koofi, a former member of parliament who took part in the meetings in Moscow, said the presence of women in the Taliban team was a “good step”.

“Only women can feel the pain and miseries that Afghan women have suffered. The presence of women among the Taliban negotiators shows that the Taliban’s ideology has changed.”

Jeanne Shaheen, a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, who has been pressing for women to play a role in the peace talks said the process should be inclusive.

Future international support for Afghanistan could be affected by whether women’s rights were properly respected in any settlement, she said.

“There are certain levers that we have, that the Taliban are interested in,” she told reporters in Kabul, where she was visiting as part of a Congressional delegation. “There is going to be an interest in economic support after the conflict ends.”

“I think if the Taliban has any interest in getting international support … it would be in their interest to recognize the importance of including women and including human rights as part of any settlement that happens.”

(Additional reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Frances Kerry, Toby Chopra and Neil Fullick)

Drought drives desperate Afghans to marry off children for money – U.N

An internally displaced Afghan girl stands outside her tent at a refugee camp in Herat province, Afghanistan October 14, 2018. Picture taken October 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail - RC1633CE5420

By Jared Ferrie

PHNOM PENH (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Afghanistan’s worst drought in decades has driven tens of thousands of people from their homes and is pushing families to marry off their children in exchange for dowries in order to survive, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

About 223,000 people have been uprooted from their homes in the drought-hit western provinces of Herat, Badghis and Ghor this year, according to the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF).

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Afghan families have been skipping meals, selling off livestock and moving to cities where it is easier to access aid and services.

Some displaced families are taking even more drastic measures, according to UNICEF, which documented 161 child betrothals or marriages in Herat and Badghis between July and October. Of those, 155 were girls and six were boys.

“The drought is the worst in decades,” UNICEF spokeswoman Alison Parker told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Children are becoming the collateral.”

Families receive a bride price that can ease their financial woes, having lost their livelihoods and assets, said Parker.

Many drought-hit families have had to borrow money to pay for transport, food or healthcare, the United Nations said.

The charity World Vision reported that half of households it surveyed in Badghis in September said child marriage was a measure taken to put food on the table in times of drought.

About 11 million people – almost half of Afghanistan’s rural population – will be facing “severe acute food insecurity” until February, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) system used by charities to measure hunger.

“Years of civil conflict and instability, as well as the severely degraded condition of much of the land, have compounded the impacts of the drought,” said an IPC report from August.

In addition to those forced by drought to leave their homes, conflict between the government and an array of armed groups, including the Taliban, has uprooted at least 282,000 people so far this year, according to the United Nations.

The 17-year war has also devastated Afghanistan’s education system, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, an alliance of aid agencies that includes UNICEF and Save the Children.

With a rising number of attacks on schools, teachers and students, the number of children who are not in education is increasing for the first time since 2002, the agencies said.

(Reporting by Jared Ferrie @jaredferrie; Editing Kieran Guilbert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

In Greece, refugee women and children live in limbo

Faten 25, (L) from Syria, sits at the edge of the beach beside her sister-in-law near their tent outside the Souda refugees camp in Chios Island, Greece, June 10, 2017. "It's taking too long. This slowness to reunite families scares me," Faten said. "We have nothing to do all day long, we just sit by the tent which I share with my sister-in-law, a friend and her daughter."

y Zohra Bensemra

CHIOS, Greece (Reuters) – Thousands of refugee woman and children are living in limbo in Greece, waiting for the day they will be reunited with their families in other European countries.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says nearly 75,000 refugees and migrants stranded in Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Western Balkans are at risk of “psychological distress” caused by existing in a prolonged state of transit.

About 60,000 refugees and migrants, mostly Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, have been stuck in Greece for over a year after border closures in the Balkans halted the onward journey many planned to take to central and western Europe.

More than a quarter are children and over half the new arrivals have been women and children, according to U.N. data. Men were the first family members to flee to Europe in previous years, leaving others to follow.

“Despair is haunting me at the moment,” said Soha, a 23-year-old Syrian who lives in a tent on the island of Chios with two her two-year-old daughter and other Syrian women.

In the camp, next to the ruins of an ancient castle, overcrowded tents are pitched on the edge of the pebbled shore, and rats roam among the garbage. Women say they are too scared to leave their tents at night, fearing harassment.

Like other women, Soha declined to give her last name or be identified in photographs, fearing it could affect her application to join her husband in Germany.

Family reunification can take between 10 months and two years, UNICEF says, making life particularly hard those left behind.

The uncertainty caused “significant psychological distress and anxiety for children and their families, setting them back for years to come”, UNICEF Regional Director Afshan Khan said.

A one-year-old girl smiles as she sits with her mother, Ibtissam, 22, at the Souda Refugee Camp in Chios island, Greece, June 10, 2017. "I was one month pregnant with my daughter and my son was one year old when my husband migrated to Germany." Ibtissam, who is from Raqqa said. "I feel devastated, at the moment I can’t apply for family reunification because I have to wait until my husband gets his asylum document.... I feel depressed but I have to keep holding on for my children."

A one-year-old girl smiles as she sits with her mother, Ibtissam, 22, at the Souda Refugee Camp in Chios island, Greece, June 10, 2017. “I was one month pregnant with my daughter and my son was one year old when my husband migrated to Germany.” Ibtissam, who is from Raqqa said. “I feel devastated, at the moment I can’t apply for family reunification because I have to wait until my husband gets his asylum document…. I feel depressed but I have to keep holding on for my children.” REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

“I spend most of the day alone,” said Farhiya, a 23-year-old Somali who lives in a volunteer-run camp on Lesbos island.

“The other refugees don’t speak English and I don’t speak Arabic. It’s hard to live alone,” she said. Farhiya applied to join her husband in Austria seven months ago while still pregnant, but has not heard back, she said.

In Athens, 36-year-old Khalissa, who fled Syria with her three young children, spends her days in a drop-in center run by a UNICEF partner, a brief respite from her problems.

She colors in hearts representing her feelings about the past, present and future. The past is blue for sadness, the present brown for fear and the future, in which she hopes to reunite with her husband after two years, yellow for happiness.

Ultimately, she longs to go home.

“If Syria becomes as before the war, I will return home,” she said. “We must return home.”

(Writing by Karolina Tagaris, editing by Ed Osmond)