‘People are not animals’; stranded migrants freeze in Bosnian fores

‘People are not animals’; stranded migrants freeze in Bosnian forest
By Dado Ruvic

VUCJAK, Bosnia (Reuters) – Hundreds of migrants and refugees stuck in a makeshift camp in a Bosnian forest are struggling to survive in subzero temperatures as snow weighs down on their tents, spurring fears that some may die unless they are resettled soon.

A senior human rights envoy who visited the camp on Tuesday demanded its immediate closure, though a Bosnian government minister said it could take up to a month to move the refugees to a more secure location.

“People are people, not animals,” said Mauloddin, 24, an Afghan who set off for Europe 3-1/2 years ago. “You see, … it’s very cold weather, (there is) no sleeping, no food.”

Mauloddin is among some 600 migrants from the Middle East and Asia stuck in the camp at Vucjak, a former landfill site about 8 km (5 miles) from the Croatian border, because Bosnian authorities cannot agree on where to settle them.

Bosnia is struggling to deal with an upsurge in migrant numbers since Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia closed their borders against undocumented immigration. The migrants hope to get to wealthy western Europe and find work there.

Some lacked warm clothes and were wrapped in blankets, some traipsed through the snow and mud in flip-flops to collect firewood. One man brushed snow from the roof of his tent to prevent it collapsing.

“Vucjak must be shut down today,” said Dunja Mijatovic, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe. “Otherwise the people here will start dying.”

Mijatovic added that as a Bosnian citizen whose country generated its own stream of refugees during the wars that tore apart Yugoslavia in the 1990s she was “ashamed” of the conditions in the camp, saying they were “not for human beings”.

Aid agencies have long urged the authorities to close the camp, which lacks running water and electricity. The forest is strewn with landmines left over from the wars of the 1990s. [L8N27G8O3]

“THEY STRIKE US, THEY HIT US”

Security Minister Dragan Mektic said on Tuesday the migrants would be moved to a location near the capital Sarajevo in the next month.

Until then, said Selam Midzic, head of the Red Cross from the nearby town of Bihac, the migrants will have to endure the freezing cold and many will fall sick. The Red Cross is the only organization providing food and medicines to the migrants.

Commenting on their plight, Rezwanullay Niazy, a 24-year-old Afghan, said: “We spent all our money… We came close to Europe, and now they closed the Croatian and Slovenian borders. When we go there they strike us, they hit us.”

Human rights groups have accused Croatian police of using violence to push the migrants back over the border into Bosnia, a charge denied by Croatian authorities.

“They (the Europeans) really don’t want refugees to come to their countries,” said Niazy.

(Reporting by Dado Ruvic and Reuters TV, writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Greece moves more migrants to mainland, warns others to stay away

Greece moves more migrants to mainland, warns others to stay away
By Angeliki Koutantou

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek authorities moved more refugees and migrants from overcrowded island camps to the mainland on Tuesday as the government, facing a surge in new arrivals, said it would take a hardline on those who did not qualify for asylum.

Nearly 700 migrants and refugees arrived in the port of Elefsina near Athens from the island of Samos, officials said. Earlier, 120 people arrived from Lesbos at Greece’s main port, Pireaus.

Greece is struggling with the biggest resurgence in refugee and migrant flows across the Aegean Sea from Turkey since 2015, when more than a million crossed into Europe, many of them via Greece.

The islands, which are closest to Turkey, have been struggling under the influx, with some 33,700 refugees and migrants in overcrowded camps, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

In late September, a woman died in a fire in a tent in a camp on Lesbos, while a fire in an overcrowded camp in Samos forced hundreds of people into the streets this month.

“Our focus was mainly on Samos because we want things there to calm down,” migration ministry secretary Manos Logothetis told Reuters.

LOSING MONEY

Greece has adopted a tougher stance on migration since the conservative government led by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis came to power in July.

Mitsotakis told his EU counterparts last week that the union must review asylum rules and warned economic migrants that they will be returned to Turkey if they are not entitled to asylum, government spokesman Stelios Petsas said on Tuesday.

“If they give their money to traffickers hoping to permanently cross into Europe, they will only lose it,” Petsas told reporters. “Even if they reach Greece, since they are not entitled to asylum, they will return to Turkey.”

“They can no longer come to Greece and apply for asylum hoping that they stay here forever, as it was the case with the previous government,” Petsas said, referring to former prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ left-led administration.

More than 12,000 people arrived in Greece in September, the highest level in the three-and-a-half years since the EU agreed a deal with Turkey to seal the Aegean corridor to Europe.

Athens has announced plans to deport 10,000 people who do not qualify for asylum by the end of next year.

Logothetis said up to 300 more people would be leaving Samos this week, and up to 2,000 from all outlying islands next week. Greece aims to move up to 20,000 off the islands by the end of the year, he said.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; writing by Renee Maltezou; editing by Angus MacSwan)

Turkish assault in Syria weakens Iraq Kurds, strengthens regional powers

Iraqi Kurds protest the Turkish offensive against Syria during a demonstration outside the United Nations building in Erbil, Iraq October 12, 2019.REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

Turkish assault in Syria weakens Iraq Kurds, strengthens regional powers
By Raya Jalabi and Ali Sultan

ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – A Turkish border offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces will further weaken Iraq’s divided Kurds next door and embolden regional rivals who have one thing in common – they want no Kurdish state.

The assault, following an American troop pullback that in effect gave Turkey a U.S. green light, alarmed inhabitants of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. It ended Syrian Kurdish rule of “Rojava” – their name for northeastern Syria – and left Iraqi Kurdistan as the Kurds’ only self-governed land.

Outraged that their Syrian kin were betrayed by another U.S. policy decision, protesters in Iraqi Kurdish cities burned Turkish flags and authorities promised to help refugees fleeing.

“The world has failed the Kurds,” said Bayan Ahmed, a 20-year-old student.

“That’s our story – we’re always betrayed.”

But a more cautious reaction from Iraqi Kurdish leaders who did not condemn neighboring Turkey by name showed Kurdistan’s economic and political reliance on the same country that is battling their Syrian brethren over the border.

It also masked the underlying tensions between the two main parties in Iraq’s Kurdistan — the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan PUK, a close ally of Iran, and the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which enjoys close relations with Ankara.

As Turkey advances on Kurdish militants, Syria’s government retakes Kurdish areas and Iran-aligned militias secure regional supply lines, Iraqi Kurdish dependence on regional powers will only grow, according to Kurdish officials and analysts.

“Kurds are caught between powerful states all working against them, Turkey, Syria, Iran, even Iraq. The Kurdish government’s worried. It’s the only one left,” said Shirwan Mirza, a Kurdish lawmaker in the Iraqi parliament.

“To preserve itself, it might look to closer cooperation with Baghdad – but not as first-class citizens.”

Iraqi Kurds are still reeling from a failed independence bid in 2017. They say the attempt was wrecked by U.S. criticism of their referendum on full Kurdish self-rule, a stance they see as a betrayal by Washington.

The U.S. criticism, plus Turkish and Iranian condemnation, paved the way for Iraqi government forces to retake areas under Kurdish control since Islamic State seized vast parts of Iraq.

Bilal Wahab, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the two Kurdish experiments in self-government in Syria and Iraq “suffered a nosebleed” in the past two years.

Wahab questioned whether the setbacks were due to bad timing, lack of political nous, or “a bigger picture where Kurds will always end up with the shorter end of the stick regardless.”

FAILED INDEPENDENCE, DIVISIONS

Kurds have sought an independent state for almost a century, when the Ottoman Empire crumbled and left Kurdish-populated territory scattered between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

But moves by regional powers to keep the ethnic group of 30 million in check, combined with internal divisions, have long thwarted efforts towards independence.

In northern Iraq, the Kurds got their first self-run territory in 1991, after the Gulf War.

But since then, they have had to balance their ambitions for full independence with the threat of a backlash from their neighbors and the reluctance of Baghdad to redraw borders.

Syria’s Kurdish experiment is younger. The war that began in 2011 allowed Kurds in the northeast to rule themselves as President Bashar al-Assad was busy fighting rebels in the west.

U.S. forces partnered with the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia to defeat Islamic State, providing a powerful Western ally Kurds hoped would support shaky de-facto self-administration.

That ended last week as U.S. troops withdrew and Turkey began its incursion. Ankara sees the YPG as terrorists and an extension of its home-grown PKK militant group.

Desperate to stave off the offensive, the YPG made a deal with Assad to allow his forces to defend them, giving back territorial control to Damascus for the first time in years.

Assad’s ally Iran is also set to gain. Iraqi paramilitary groups backed by Iran on the Iraq-Syria border will likely help Assad secure control, strengthening their own supply lines along a corridor of territory from Tehran to Beirut.

In this environment the Kurdish regional Government (KRG) is not in a position to rush to the aid of Syrian Kurds, and nor will it want to, for fear of upsetting regional ties with Iran and Turkey, according to Kurdish politicians and analysts.

In Iraq, this could push Kurdish authorities to work closer with the central government, they say. The 2017 independence move left the Kurds weaker in their relations with Baghdad.

Maintaining ties with Turkey will also be crucial.

“The KDP has become a part of (Turkish President Tayyip) Erdogan’s plan … they have interests in keeping up ties, among them oil and gas contracts,” said Bezdar Babkar of the Kurdish opposition Change Movement.

The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) relies on Turkish pipelines to export oil. Links between the ruling KDP and Turkey go beyond the economy, including a shared enemy in the PKK. Turkey regularly bombs PKK bases in northern Iraqi Kurdistan.

KRG help to Syrians will therefore be limited to taking in some refugees, which it has started doing. KDP rival the PUK, which controls areas near the Iran border, has closer ties with the PKK and has issued stronger condemnation of Turkey.

The two Kurdish parties fought a civil war in the 1990s. More recently they have taken to sharing power, but competing regional loyalties, rivalry and strains govern the relationship.

(Reporting by Raya Jalabi and Ali Sultan in Sulaimaniya; Writing by John Davison; Editing by Samia Nakhoul, William Maclean)

Turkey plans to return one million Syrians, warns of new migrant wave in Europe

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting of his ruling AK Party in Ankara, Turkey, September 5, 2019. Murat Kula/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

By Nevzat Devranoglu and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey plans to resettle 1 million refugees in northern Syria and may reopen the route for migrants into Europe if it does not receive adequate international support for the plan, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.

Turkey, which hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, controls parts of north Syria where it says 350,000 Syrians have already returned. It is setting up a “safe zone” with the United States in the northeast where Erdogan said many more could be moved.

“Our goal is for at least one million of our Syrian brothers to return to the safe zone we will form along our 450 km border,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.

The comments come as Turkey mounts pressure on Washington for further concessions on the depth and oversight of the planned safe zone in the northeast, and as it comes under increasing pressure in Syria’s northwest Idlib region where a Russian-backed government offensive has pressed north.

Only a small minority of Syrians in Turkey are from the northern strip roughly proposed for re-settlement, according to Turkish government data.

“We are saying we should form such a safe zone that we, as Turkey, can build towns here in lieu of the tent cities here. Let’s carry them to the safe zones there,” Erdogan said

“Give us logistical support and we can go build housing at 30 km (20 miles) depth in northern Syria. This way, we can provide them with humanitarian living conditions.”

“This either happens or otherwise we will have to open the gates,” Erdogan said. “Either you will provide support, or excuse us, but we are not going to carry this weight alone. We have not been able to get help from the international community, namely the European Union.”

RENEWED CONFLICT

Under a deal agreed between the EU and Turkey in March 2016, Ankara agreed to stem the flow of migrants into Europe in return for billions of euros in aid.

However, the number of migrant arrivals in neighboring Greece spiked last month. A week ago, more than a dozen migrant boats carrying 600 people arrived, the first simultaneous arrival of its kind in three years.

Last month, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said only 17% of refugees in Turkey hail from northeast regions controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara considers a terrorist group. Of that region, the proposed safe zone would cover only a fraction.

Last week, senior Syrian Kurdish official Badran Jia Kurd said it is necessary to resettle refugees in their home towns. “Settling hundreds of thousands of Syrians, who are from outside our areas, here would be unacceptable,” he said of the northeast.

In Idlib, where Turkey has troops and where Ankara in 2017 agreed with Moscow and Tehran to reduce fighting, months of renewed conflict intensified in recent weeks and raised prospects of another wave of refugees at Turkey’s borders.

After a truce collapsed in early August, the Russian-backed Syrian army has gained significant ground against rebel forces, some of whom are backed by Turkey.

Nicholas Danforth, Istanbul-based senior visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund, said warning about refugees in the context of the safe zone allows Erdogan to pressure both Europe and the United States at once.

“What seems clear is that it would be impossible to settle that many refugees in any zone achieved through negotiations with the United States and the YPG,” he said.

“This looks like an attempt to build pressure for more U.S. concessions on the safe zone, where some refugees could then be resettled for purposes of domestic (Turkish) public relations.”

(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Ankara and Ellen Francis in Beirut; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, William Maclean)

Greece moves hundreds of asylum-seekers from crowded island camp

Children from Afghanistan wait to board a catamaran that will transfer them to the mainland, in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

By Alkis Konstantinidis

LESBOS, Greece (Reuters) – Greece began moving hundreds of asylum-seekers on Monday from a camp on the island of Lesbos that holds around four times the number of people it was built for.

Over 11,000 refugees and migrants, most of whom have fled war or poverty in the Middle East, Asia or Africa, are holed up at Moria in Europe’s biggest migrant camp.

Some 635 people, mostly families, boarded a passenger ship on Monday for facilities in northern Greece, and more were due to leave later in the day.

Moving asylum-seekers from island camps to the mainland is part of government measures announced on Aug. 31 to deal with the rising numbers. All of Greece’s five formal island camps are over capacity.

Moria, which is a disused military base, has been criticized by humanitarian organizations for its squalid living conditions.

It currently holds the highest number of people in three years and violence is not uncommon. An Afghan boy was killed in a fight there last month and women have told aid groups they often feel unsafe.

Greece is Europe’s main gateway for Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi asylum-seekers, and accounts for more than half of the 56,000 migrants who have landed on the Mediterranean’s northern shore this year.

The numbers are small compared to the nearly 1 million people who fled to northern Europe through Greece in 2015, as a deal between the EU and Ankara in March 2016 all but cut off the flow. But they have still piled pressure on Greek facilities.

About 7,000 people landed on Greece’s shores last month, the highest number since the deal was signed. Last Thursday alone, more than a dozen boats arrived with around 600 migrants, prompting the government’s Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense to hold an emergency session.

To curb the influx, Greece also plans to tighten its border controls and speed up deportations of rejected asylum-seekers.

(Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Four million Venezuelans have fled crisis: U.N.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan migrants walk along a trail into Brazil, in the border city of Pacaraima, Brazil, April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – Four million Venezuelan refugees and migrants have fled an economic and political crisis in their homeland, all but 700,000 of them since the end of 2015, U.N. aid agencies said on Friday.

The “alarming” figure highlights the urgent need to support host countries, mainly in Latin America – led by Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina – the U.N. refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a joint statement issued in Geneva.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Syrians displaced in the northwest call on Turkey to open border

A displaced Syrian child sleeps on a mat laid out on the floor in an olive grove in the town of Atmeh, Idlib province, Syria May 19, 2019. Picture taken May 19, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

By Khalil Ashawi

ATMEH, Syria (Reuters) – Camped on the Turkish border to escape bombardment by Russian and Syrian government forces, many displaced Syrians are angry and frustrated that Turkey has not done more to protect them from the bombs or let them cross the frontier to safety.

The border wall a few hundred meters (yards) away offers a degree of cover for thousands of people, since air strikes are rare so close to Turkey. But it also blocks any chance they have of fleeing the conflict and joining millions of refugees abroad.

“Turkey is our only option today,” said Abu Abdallah, 51, who left his village at the start of the war in 2011 to seek sanctuary near the town of Qalaat al-Madiq, until it was captured by Syrian government forces in early May.

“We can no longer put up with living under bombardment or in the open under the trees,” said Abu Abdullah, one of thousands of Syrians living in white tents dotted around the rock-strewn olive groves, some of them only 50 meters (yards) from the border.

Some 180,000 people were displaced by the recent attacks in northwest Syria, the last major rebel stronghold. The increase in shelling killed dozens of people and marked the most intense period of violence for months between President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels, who launched a counter-attack last week.

The Syrian government says it is responding to attacks by al Qaeda-linked militants. The dominant insurgent faction in the region is the jihadist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), although the army offensive has not focused on the central Idlib area where it is most concentrated, an HTS-aligned opposition figure said.

Much of the bombardment has hit a buffer zone around Idlib province and surrounding territories which was set up by Russia and Turkey in September under a deal which put off a full-blown assault against the region and its 3 million residents.

Shells from Syrian government territory also hit a Turkish military observation post, one of 12 set up near the Idlib borders by Ankara, which backs the rebels.

At the border, many of the displaced were angry at the lack of Turkish action in response to the recent offensive, and called on Turkey to open its border to allow people to escape.

“We didn’t ask to go into Turkey before,” said 32-year-old Khsara Ahmed al-Hussein. “But when you set up a de-escalation zone and … you guarantee that I won’t get struck, but then even the Turkish observation point is struck by the regime, then what’s the point of protection if you can’t even protect yourself?”

FILE PHOTO: A general view of Atmeh camp for the displaced, in Atmeh town, Idlib province, Syria May 19, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

FILE PHOTO: A general view of Atmeh camp for the displaced, in Atmeh town, Idlib province, Syria May 19, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

“LIKE WORLD WAR THREE”

When bombardment of Hussein’s village intensified, his family dug holes in the earth outside their house and slept in them. When the situation became unbearable, they headed to the border, where he has been living under trees for two weeks.

“There were eight planes in the air, bombing intensively, as if it were World War Three,” he said.

Air strikes have hit 18 health facilities and dozens of schools, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). At least 38 children have been killed since the start of last month, Save the Children said.

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said last week that attacks on schools and hospitals did not constitute fighting terrorism. His defense minister spoke with his Russian counterpart on Monday about reducing tension in Idlib, Turkey’s defense ministry said.

Near the border village of Atmeh, dozens of people sat under trees with a few blankets and pillows arranged on the hard earth. A blue plastic tarp was draped over the trees to protect them from the burning sun.

Um Bassan wants to join her children who have been in Turkey for over a year, after she and their father spent everything they had to smuggle them out of Syria.

“I want this torture to end and to see my children,” she said. “No one prefers another country over their own, but I want release from the bombardment and to see my children there.”

(Writing and additional reporting by Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Dominic Evans and Edmund Blair)

As Venezuela tensions mount, U.S. to deploy hospital ship to region

People hold lit candles and Venezuelan flags while participating in a candlelight vigil held for victims of recent violence in Caracas, Venezuela May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

By Phil Stewart

(Reuters) – As tensions with Venezuela mount, the United States is planning to announce on Tuesday the deployment of a military hospital ship to the region, U.S. officials say, in the latest sign of the Pentagon’s limited, and targeted, involvement in the crisis.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not specify where in the region the ship would travel to. Last year, a hospital ship — the USNS Comfort — cared for Venezuelan refugees and others as it stopped in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Honduras.

The U.S. military’s Southern Command, which oversees U.S. forces in Latin America, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The deployment will fall far short of satisfying some of President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, who have called for more robust U.S. military support to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who seeks to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

The United States and some 50 countries recognize Guaido as the legitimate head of state.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has called for the deployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier, something critics say is tantamount to threatening U.S. military intervention to topple Maduro.

President Donald Trump has invested considerable political capital in the diplomatic and economic intervention in the Venezuela crisis. But he has not signaled an intent to use military force.

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, however, stressed last week that the Pentagon has been planning a full range of military options.

The announcement of the hospital ship’s deployment would come the same day that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was expected to offer new incentives to Venezuela’s military to turn against Maduro, responding to an attempted uprising that fizzled out last week.

In a speech at the State Department scheduled for 3:25 p.m. (1925 GMT), Pence will also warn that the United States will soon move to impose sanctions on 25 additional magistrates on Venezuela’s supreme court, a senior administration official said.

Pence will also offer assistance for refugees who have fled the country, and an economic aid package contingent on a political transition, according to the official.

Guaido, the president of the country’s national assembly, invoked Venezuela’s constitution in January to declare himself interim president of the country, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

Maduro – who has said Guaido is a puppet of Washington – has sought to show that the military remains on his side, but opposition leaders and U.S. officials have said that support is tenuous.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Capturing 24 hours in Gaza, one hour at a time

Locals walk past graffiti in Gaza City, February 20, 2019. Political graffiti covers walls throughout Gaza. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

GAZA CITY (Reuters) – In the build-up to the one-year anniversary of the Gaza border protests that opened up a deadly new front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Reuters photographer Dylan Martinez visited Gaza for the first time.

As someone who had never set eyes on Gaza, his assignment was to use those unfamiliar eyes to record life beyond the daily drumbeat of violence in the blockaded Palestinian territory.

The mood has become more tense in recent weeks as the March 30 anniversary nears, with trails of Palestinian rockets and Israeli missiles again appearing in the skies above.

Martinez did not know what to expect after he crossed through Israel’s fortified checkpoint and past a long caged walkway and parallel road leading to a dilapidated Palestinian checkpoint at the other end.

Bullet and shrapnel holes cover a wall as children fly kites in Gaza City, February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Bullet and shrapnel holes cover a wall as children fly kites in Gaza City, February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

“We have a great team of photographers and journalists in Gaza whose main task, really, is to photograph the protest, the clashes between Israel and Gaza,” said Martinez, 49, a 28-year Reuters veteran who has covered Europe, Asia and the Americas and is currently based in London.

“My remit, I think, was to do pretty much anything but that. Because everyone has seen that side of Gaza.”

Gaza is a 139-square-mile (360-square-kilometre) coastal strip situated between Tel Aviv and Sinai and is home to around two million Palestinians, two thirds of them refugees.

It has been governed by the Islamist Palestinian movement Hamas since shortly after Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers in 2005.

With its armed brigades and thousands of police and security men on the streets, Hamas controls Gaza’s interior as tightly as Israeli soldiers, gunboats and warplanes control most of Gaza’s perimeter, with Egyptian walls and watchtowers along the eight-mile southern border.

Accompanied by a Reuters assistant photographer from Gaza City, Martinez traveled the strip, photographing it at every hour of the day and night over a 10-day period.

Children play a game of "Arabs and Jews" outside a school in Gaza City, February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Children play a game of “Arabs and Jews” outside a school in Gaza City, February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

One of the most powerful scenes was a patch of wasteland between a school and a mosque where children were playing.

“These kids were burning some cardboard, they had trenches, they were throwing sandballs so they weren’t hurting each other. And I said, ‘Oh, what are you guys doing?’ and they said, ‘Oh, we are playing Jews and Arabs.'” The image, he said, “will probably stay with me forever”.

SUNSETS AND RUBBISH

Parts of Gaza, to his surprise, resembled an underdeveloped version of California’s famed Venice Beach – with glorious Mediterranean sunsets, bathers and skateboarders, but often with crumbling buildings and rubbish heaps as part of the backdrop.

Car wrecks are seen at a garage in Gaza City, February 18, 2019. This particular garage has cars dating back to the 1950s, including an old Opel. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Car wrecks are seen at a garage in Gaza City, February 18, 2019. This particular garage has cars dating back to the 1950s, including an old Opel. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

In vehicle scrapyards in the north, he saw stacks of discarded cars. With 53 percent of Gazans living in poverty, according to a United Nations report in December, valuable items such as cars are cannibalized for every accessory.

The same “use everything” dynamic could be seen at the harbor, where even the smallest fish discarded from a catch were gathered to be sold to poorer families.

On Friday, while youths were protesting at the Gaza-Israel border, Martinez went to the beach to see what was going on.

“I really understood that not 2 million people had gone to the border to clash with the Israelis. What else were they doing?” he said.

“I found a bunch of skaters there with, I don’t know, I think they had one or two boards between them, some pretty ropey roller blades…They were just busy filming themselves trying to do flips, trying to do tricks, things like that.”

After the sun goes down and the streets empty, pool halls and bakeries continue to operate through the darkness imposed by night, and by Gaza’s constant power cuts.

Martinez was warned many times by officials and bystanders on the street, in a more cautionary than menacing manner, not to photograph Hamas checkpoints and military installations.

Children make their way through the streets as they head to school in Gaza City, February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Children make their way through the streets as they head to school in Gaza City, February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Often, he did not realize what the buildings were because their exteriors gave no sign of what might have been within. Otherwise, Martinez encountered few problems.

“There’s a real sense of being enclosed. You can stand on the beach looking out toward the horizon and see this fantastic sun and crystal blue waters, a sense (that) you are part of the world and there is everything around you,” he said.

“You look to the right, you turn one way, and there is Israel and you can go down this road but in a car it was taking 20 minutes. You look the other way, there is Egypt. You go down the road there, there’s a blockade, you can’t go any further.

“You look inland, and there in the background as well is the horizon, is Israel. And you can’t go that way.”

“So there is always a feeling you can only go so far one way. And the other way. I did feel it. There is a sort of feeling of enclosure.”

(Writing by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

New Zealand begins funerals for mosque shooting victims, PM visits school

Flowers and cards are seen at the memorial site for the victims of Friday's shooting, outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

By Tom Lasseter and Tom Westbrook

CHRISTCHURCH (Reuters) – The bodies of victims from New Zealand’s mosques mass shooting were carried in open caskets on the shoulders of mourners into a large tent at Christchurch’s Memorial Park Cemetery on Wednesday – the first burials of the 50 victims.

The majority of victims from Friday’s attack in the South Island city were migrants or refugees from countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

People attend the burial ceremony for the victims of the mosque attacks at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, New Zealand March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

People attend the burial ceremony for the victims of the mosque attacks at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, New Zealand March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

The youngest was a boy of three, born in New Zealand to Somali refugee parents.

The first two victims buried, father and son Khaled and Hamza Mustafa, came from war-torn Syria.

“I cannot tell you how gutting it is…a family came here for safety and they should have been safe here,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, visiting the city for the second time since the massacre.

Wrapped in white cloth, the bodies were laid to face Mecca, and, after jenazah (funeral) prayers, were carried towards their freshly dug graves.

“Seeing the body lowered down, it was a very emotional time for me,” said Gulshad Ali, who had traveled from Auckland to attend the first funeral.

Several mounds of dirt piled high marked the site of multiple graves which will be used for New Zealand’s worst mass shooting.

Hundreds gathered to mourn, some men wearing a taqiyah (skullcap), others in shalwar kameez (long tunic and trousers), while women wore hijabs and scarfs.

Heavily armed police stood watch with flowers tucked in their revolver holsters and attached to their high powered rifles.

Six victims were buried on Wednesday, with more expected during the week.

Ardern said this coming Friday’s call to prayers for Muslims in New Zealand will be broadcast nationally and there will be a two-minute silence on Friday.

“There is a desire to show support for the Muslim community as they return to mosques on Friday,” she said.

The bullet-ridden Al Noor mosque, where more than 40 people died, was being cleaned and repaired for Friday prayers.

Near the mosque, members of rival gangs did a Maori haka, a powerful indigenous ceremonial performance, and a crowd of people sung New Zealand’s national anthem as the sun set.

The Australian National Imams Council has called on Imams to dedicate this Friday’s Khutbah (sermon) to the Christchurch mosque mass shooting.

“This is a human and an international tragedy, not only a Muslim and NZ tragedy. These acts of terror are there to divide us…and we reject this in all its forms and ways, but rather we will stay united and strong.”

INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATION

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist who was living in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, has been charged with murder following the attack.

He was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5, when police said he was likely to face more charges.

New Zealand’s police chief said global intelligence agencies, including the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and those from Australia, Canada and Britain, were building up a profile of the alleged shooter.

“I can assure you this is an absolute international investigation,” Police Commissioner Mike Bush said at a media briefing in the capital Wellington.

Questions were being asked about New Zealand’s relaxed gun laws, which Ardern has promised to tighten, and on whether New Zealand authorities were focused enough on the risk from far-right extremists.

As of Tuesday night 21 victims had been identified, with the remainder expected to be completed on Wednesday before their bodies can be released for burial, police said.

Families of the victims have been frustrated by the delay as under Islam bodies are usually buried within 24 hours.

Bush said police had to prove the cause of death to the satisfaction of the coroner and the judge handling the case.

“You cannot convict for murder without that cause of death. So this is a very comprehensive process that must be completed to the highest standard,” he said.

Twenty nine people wounded in the attacks remained in hospital, eight still in intensive care.

Many have had to undergo multiple surgeries due to complicated gunshot wounds. The gunman used semi-automatic AR-15 rifles, with large magazines, and a shotgun.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets with one of the first responders who was at the scene of the Christchurch mosque shooting, in Christchurch, New Zealand March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets with one of the first responders who was at the scene of the Christchurch mosque shooting, in Christchurch, New Zealand March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

TRAGEDY FOR A SCHOOL

The attack was broadcast live on Facebook and quickly distributed to other platforms, prompting Ardern and others to rebuke the technology companies.

A group of state-run New Zealand investment funds with a combined NZ$90 billion ($61.5 billion) in assets said they were putting their investment heft behind calls for Facebook, Google and Twitter to take action following the livestreaming and sharing on social media of the attack.

Ardern earlier visited Cashmere High School in Christchurch which lost two students in the attack – teenagers Sayyad Milne and Hamza Mustafa – plus Hamza’s father Khaled, and a former student Tariq Omar.

She talked to about 200 children gathered at the school auditorium about racism and changes in gun laws.

“Never mention the perpetrator’s name … never remember him for what he did,” she said, asking the children to focus on the victims.

($1 = 1.4624 New Zealand dollars)

(Additional reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Edgar Sue in CHRISTCHURCH, Praveen Menon in WELLINGTON; Editing by Michael Perry, Lincoln Feast and Simon Cameron-Moore)