Sudan confirms ‘contacts’ with Israel, says UAE move is ‘brave’

An Israeli flag is seen near the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount December 6, 2017.

By Khalid Abdelaziz

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan on Tuesday confirmed having contacts with Israel, saying the United Arab Emirates’ decision to normalize relations with Israel is “a brave and bold step”, according to its foreign ministry spokesman.

Under the U.S.-brokered deal announced last week, the UAE becomes just the third Arab country to forge full relations with Israel in more than 70 years. The pact could reshape Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to the fight against Iran.

In February, Israeli officials said Israel and Sudan had agreed to move towards forging normal relations for the first time during a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s military-led, transitional sovereign council, in Uganda.

“The Emirates’ move is a brave and bold step and contributes to putting the Arab world on the right track to build peace in the region and to build sustainable peace,” Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Haydar Sadig told Reuters by phone on Tuesday, confirming remarks made earlier to regional media.

“I cannot deny that there are contacts between Sudan and Israel,” he added.

Netanyahu welcomed the remarks, saying on Twitter: “Israel, Sudan and the entire region will benefit from the peace agreement (with the UAE), and together can build a better future for all people in the region. We will do whatever is necessary to turn this vision into a reality.”

Back in February, Burhan confirmed the meeting with Netanyahu but cast doubt on any rapid normalization of ties, saying Sudan’s stance on the Palestinian issue remains unchanged, and that relations between the two countries was the responsibility of the civilian cabinet in Khartoum.

Scores of Sudanese protesters condemned Burhan’s meeting with Netanyahu in February. Under the long rule of Islamist strongman Omar al-Bashir until his fall in a popular uprising in 2019, Khartoum counted among hardline Muslim foes of Israel.

Sadig said any normalization of relations with Israel would not be at the expense of “Sudan’s moral values and independence” and be “according to Sudan’s interests”.

“We will not accept unequal relations with Israel.”

Israel says it expects other Gulf Arab countries and Muslim nations in Africa to follow in normalizing ties after its breakthrough with the UAE.

(Aditional reporting Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem; Writing by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

‘Fragile’ Africa prepares for high risk of coronavirus spread

By Juliette Jabkhiro and Kate Kelland

DAKAR/LONDON (Reuters) – An isolation ward stands ready at a hospital in Khartoum, Sudan. Laboratories in Senegal and Madagascar have the testing equipment they need. Passengers arriving at airports in Gambia, Cameroon and Guinea are being screened for fever and other viral symptoms.

Africa’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says it has activated its emergency operation centre in the face of what global health officials say is a high risk the coronavirus disease epidemic that began in China will spread to its borders.

On a poor continent where healthcare capacity is limited, early detection of any outbreak will be crucial.

The fear is great that a spreading epidemic of coronavirus infections will be hard to contain in countries where health systems are already overburdened with cases of Ebola, measles, malaria and other deadly infectious diseases.

“The key point is to limit transmission from affected countries and the second point is to ensure that we have the capacity to isolate and also to provide appropriate treatment to people that may be infected,” said Michel Yao, emergency operations program manager at the World Health Organization’s regional office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is barring its citizens from flying to China. Burkina Faso has asked Chinese citizens to delay travelling to Burkina, and is warning that they face quarantine if they do. Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda have all suspended flights to China.

“What we are emphasising to all countries is that they should at least have early detection,” Yao said.

“We know how fragile the health system is on the African continent and these systems are already overwhelmed by many ongoing disease outbreaks, so for us it is critical to detect earlier to that we can prevent the spread.”

John Nkengasong, Africa’s CDC director, told a briefing in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa this week that the activation of the emergency operation centre would create a single incident system to manage the outbreak across the continent.

The Africa CDC will also hold a training workshop in Senegal for 15 African countries on laboratory diagnosis, he said.

The continent has more than doubled the number of laboratories now equipped to diagnose the viral infection, this week adding facilities in Ghana, Madagascar and Nigeria and to established testing labs in South Africa and Sierra Leone.

“By the end of the week we expect that an additional 24 countries (in Africa) will receive the reagents needed to conduct the tests and will have the test running,” a spokeswoman for the WHO’s Africa Region told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Giulia Paravicini in Addis Ababa, Benoit Nyemba in Kinshasa, Thiam Ndiaga in Ouagadougou, Josiane Kouagheu in Douala, Pap Saine in Banjul and Saliou Samb in Conakry. Writing and reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Pravin Char)

Judge bars U.S. from ending protections for immigrants from four countries

Paint is seen on cars before members of the Teamsters Union participate in a tractor trailer caravan surrounding the LA Metro Detention Center in support of port truck drivers and others threatened by deportation if the courts or congress don't stop the termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in Los Angeles, California, U.S. October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. federal judge in California barred the Trump administration on Wednesday from implementing a plan to end temporary protections for more than 300,000 immigrants in the United States from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan.

U.S. District Judge Edward M. Chen issued a preliminary injunction in a suit brought by a number of immigrants with temporary protected status, or TPS.

The TPS designation offers protection from deportation to immigrants already in the United States, including those who entered illegally, from countries affected by natural disasters, civil conflicts, and other problems.

The government has failed to establish any real harm if “the status quo (which has been in existence for as long as two decades) is maintained during the pendency of this litigation,” Chen wrote in the order.

“Indeed, if anything, Plaintiffs and amici have established without dispute that local and national economies will be hurt if hundreds of thousands of TPS beneficiaries are uprooted and removed,” he said.

There are more than 263,000 TPS beneficiaries from El Salvador, 58,000 from Haiti, 5,000 from Nicaragua and 1,000 from Sudan, according to court documents.

The Trump administration has shown a deep skepticism toward the temporary protected status program and has moved to revoke the special status afforded to thousands of immigrants from a number of countries, including the four named in the suit.

Salvadoran immigrants covered by TPS will lose their protected status in September 2019, those from Haiti in July 2019, Nicaraguan immigrants in January 2019 and Sudanese immigrants in November 2019.

(Reporting by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Paul Tait)

Israel says to send 16,000 African migrants to Western countries

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem April 2, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Monday it has scrapped a plan to deport African migrants to Africa and reached an agreement with the U.N. refugee agency to send more than 16,000 to Western countries instead.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu named Canada, Italy and Germany as some of the nations that will take in the migrants.

Other migrants, many of whom are seeking asylum, will be allowed to remain in Israel, which they entered illegally on foot through the border with Egypt, for at least the next five years.

The fate of some 37,000 Africans in Israel has posed a moral dilemma for a state founded as a haven for Jews from persecution and a national home. The right-wing government has been under pressure from its nationalist voter base to expel the migrants.

But the planned mass deportation led to legal challenges in Israel, drew criticism from the United Nations and rights groups and triggered an emotional public debate among Israelis.

In February, Israeli authorities started handing out notices to 20,000 male African migrants giving them two months to leave for a third country in Africa or risk being put in jail indefinitely.

Teklit Michael, who came to Israel from Eritrea a decade ago, said he was delighted by the new deal.

“I saw in the past few years a lot of people lose their hopes because of that deportation to an unsafe place,” said Michael, 29.

MONEY AND AN AIR TICKET

The Israeli government has offered migrants, most of them from Sudan and Eritrea, $3,500 and a plane ticket to what it says is a safe destination. At immigration hearings, migrants were told they could choose to go to Rwanda or Uganda.

But rights groups advocating on their behalf say that many fled abuse and war and that their expulsion, even to a different country in Africa, would endanger them further.

The groups had challenged the deportation plan in Israel’s High Court, which on March 15 issued a temporary order that froze its implementation.

Netanyahu said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had agreed to organize and fund the new plan that would take five years to implement.

“The joint commitment is that ‘You take out 16,250 and we will leave 16,250 as temporary residents’. That enables the departure of a very large number of people, 6,000 in the first 18 months,” Netanyahu said at a news conference in Jerusalem.

A UNHCR spokeswoman in Tel Aviv confirmed that an agreement had been reached but gave no details.

The U.N.’s refugee agency had urged Israel to reconsider its original plan, saying migrants who have relocated to sub-Saharan Africa in the past few years were unsafe and ended up on the perilous migrant trail to Europe, some suffering abuse, torture and even dying on the way.

The largest community of African migrants, about 15,000, lives in south Tel Aviv, in a poor neighborhood where shops are dotted with signs in Tigrinya and other African languages and abandoned warehouses have been converted into churches for the largely Christian Eritreans.

(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Egypt says it does not want war as tension grows with Sudan

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi gives a televised statement on the attack in North Sinai, in Cairo, Egypt November 24, 2017 in this still taken from video.

CAIRO (Reuters) – President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Monday Egypt is not conspiring against its neighbors and has no intention to fight, a reference to growing tension with Sudan.

Relations have deteriorated in recent weeks, including over a Sudan-Turkey naval agreement that angered Cairo and an ongoing dispute over a dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile river that runs through all three countries.

In the latest move, Sudan recalled its ambassador to Egypt without saying when he might be back.

“Let’s always look for peace and development, our people need that. They don’t need us arguing and entering conflict,” Sisi said at an inauguration of new projects in the province of Monofeya.

He said Egypt would not interfere in other countries’ affairs. Khartoum has in the past accused Cairo of political meddling while Egypt has accused Sudan of harboring Egyptian Islamists.

“Egypt will not fight its brothers … I’m saying this as a message to our brothers in Sudan,” Sisi said.

Khartoum and Ankara agreed last month that Turkey would rebuild a ruined Ottoman port city on Sudan’s Red Sea coast and construct a dock to maintain civilian and military vessels.

Egyptian officials reacted with suspicion about what they see as Turkey’s plans to expand its influence in the region.

Separately, Ethiopia is building a hydroelectric dam on the Nile which Cairo fears will restrict the waters flowing down from Ethiopia’s highlands and through Sudan to Egypt.

Ethiopia, which wants to become Africa’s biggest power exporter, says it will have no such impact.

Egypt believes Sudan is leaning toward the Ethiopian position in the dispute.

The Ethiopian foreign minister, who held talks with his Sudanese counterpart on Sunday, is expected to visit Cairo later this week for negotiations after multiple delays.

(Reporting by Mohamed El Sherif; Writing by Arwa Gaballa; Editing by Peter Graff)

U.S. places Pakistan on watch list for religious freedom violations

Trump to make final tax push as Republican negotiators near deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department has placed Pakistan on a special watch list for “severe violations of religious freedom,” it said on Thursday, days after the White House said Islamabad would have to do more to combat terrorism to receive U.S. aid.

The State Department also said it had re-designated 10 other nations as “countries of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for having engaged in or tolerated egregious violations of religious freedom.

The re-designated countries were China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They were re-designated on Dec. 22.

“The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity,” the department said in a statement. “These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized Pakistan for not doing more to combat terrorism, and his administration has informed members of Congress that it will announce plans to end “security assistance” payments to the country.

Pakistan has said it is already doing a lot to fight militants, and summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain a tweet by Trump that said the United States had been foolish in dispensing aid to Islamabad.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Susan Thomas)

Israel offers to pay Illegal African migrants to leave, threatens jail

African migrants protest outside Israel's Supreme Court in Jerusalem January 26, 2017.

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Wednesday it would pay thousands of African migrants living illegally in the country to leave, threatening them with jail if they are caught after the end of March.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in public remarks at a cabinet meeting on the payment program, said a barrier Israel completed in 2013 along its border with Egypt had effectively cut off a stream of “illegal infiltrators” from Africa after some 60,000 crossed the desert frontier.

The vast majority came from Eritrea and Sudan and many said they fled war and persecution as well as economic hardship, but Israel treats them as economic migrants.

The plan launched this week offers African migrants a $3,500 payment from the Israeli government and a free air ticket to return home or go to “third countries”, which rights groups identified as Rwanda and Uganda.

“We have expelled about 20,000 and now the mission is to get the rest out,” Netanyahu said.

An immigration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there are some 38,000 migrants living illegally in Israel, and some 1,420 are being held in two detention centers.

“Beyond the end of March, those who leave voluntarily will receive a significantly smaller payment that will shrink even more with time, and enforcement measures will begin,” the official said, referring to incarceration.

Some have lived for years in Israel and work in low-paying jobs that many Israelis shun. Israel has granted asylum to fewer than one percent of those who have applied and has a years-long backlog of applicants.

Rights groups have accused Israel of being slow to process African migrants’ asylum requests as a matter of policy and denying legitimate claims to the status.

Netanyahu has called the migrants’ presence a threat to Israel’s social fabric and Jewish character, and one government minister has referred to them as “a cancer”.

Teklit Michael, a 29-asylum seeker from Eritrea living in Tel Aviv, said in response to the Israeli plan that paying money to other governments to take in Africans was akin to “human trafficking and smuggling”.

“We don’t know what is waiting for us (in Rwanda and Uganda),” he told Reuters by telephone. “They prefer now to stay in prison (in Israel) instead.”

In his remarks, Netanyahu cited the large presence of African migrants in Tel Aviv’s poorer neighborhoods, where he said “veteran residents” – a reference to Israelis – no longer feel safe.

“So today, we are keeping our promise to restore calm, a sense of personal security and law and order to the residents of south Tel Aviv and those in many other neighborhoods,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Miriam Berger; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Food security in Middle East, North Africa deteriorating, says U.N. agency

A Syrian woman and her children wait for food aid in front of an humanitarian aid distrubition center in Syrian border town of Jarablus, Syria, December 13, 2017.

CAIRO (Reuters) – Food security in the Middle East and North Africa is quickly deteriorating because of conflict in several countries in the region, the United Nations said on Thursday.

In those hardest hit by crises — Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Sudan — an average of more than a quarter of the population was undernourished, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization said in its annual report on food security.

A quarter of Yemen’s people are on the brink of famine, several years into a proxy war between the Iran-aligned Houthis and the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi that has caused one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in recent times.

The report focused on changes to food security and nutrition across the region since 2000.

It said that undernourishment in countries not directly affected by conflict, such as most Gulf Arab states and most North African countries including Egypt, had slowly improved in the last decade. But it had worsened in conflict-hit countries.

“The costs of conflict can be seen in the measurements of food insecurity and malnutrition,” the FAO’s assistant director-general Abdessalam Ould Ahmed said.

“Decisive steps towards peace and stability (need to be) taken.”

Several countries in the region erupted into conflict following uprisings in 2011 that overthrew leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Syria’s civil war, which also began with popular demonstrations, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and made more than 11 million homeless.

(Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Turkish PM calls Rohingya killings in Myanmar ‘genocide’

Rohingya refugee children play at the Shamlapur refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh December 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Turkey’s prime minister on Wednesday dubbed the killing of minority Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar by its security forces “genocide” and urged the international community to ensure their safety back home.

Binali Yildirim met several Rohingyas in two refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in neighboring Bangladesh.

Almost 870,000 Rohingya fled there, about 660,000 of whom arrived after Aug. 25, when Rohingya militants attacked security posts and the Myanmar army launched a counter-offensive.

“The Myanmar military has been trying to uproot Rohingya Muslim community from their homeland and for that they persecuted them, set fire to their homes, villages, raped and abused women and killed them,” Yildirim told reporters from Cox’s Bazar, before flying back to Turkey.

“It’s one kind of a genocide,” he said.

“The international community should also work together to ensure their safe and dignified return to their homeland,” Yildirim, who was accompanied by Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, said.

Surveys of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh by aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres have shown at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine state in the month after violence flared up on Aug. 25, MSF said last week.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the violence “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and said he would not be surprised if a court eventually ruled that genocide had taken place.

Yildirim inaugurated a medical camp at Balukhali, sponsored by Turkey, and handed over two ambulances to Cox’s Bazar district administration. He also distributed food to Rohingya refugees at Kutupalong makeshift camp.

He urged the international community to enhance support for Rohingyas in Bangladesh and help find a political solution to this humanitarian crisis.

U.N. investigators have heard Rohingya testimony of a “consistent, methodical pattern of killings, torture, rape and arson”.

The United Nations defines genocide as acts meant to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part. Such a designation is rare under international law, but has been used in contexts including Bosnia, Sudan and an Islamic State campaign against the Yazidi communities in Iraq and Syria.

Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s less than two-year old civilian government has faced heavy international criticism for its response to the crisis, though it has no control over the generals it has to share power with under Myanmar’s transition after decades of military rule.

Yildirim’s trip follows Turkish first lady Emine Erdogan’s visit in September to the Rohingya camp, when she said the crack down in Myanmar’s Rakhine state was “tantamount to genocide” and a solution to the Rohingya crisis lies in Myanmar alone.

(Reporting by Mohammad Nurul Islam; Editing by Malini Menon and Richard Balmforth)

Hungry South Sudanese refugees risk death in return home for food

Hungry South Sudanese refugees risk death in return home for food

By Jason Patinkin

PALORINYA, Uganda (Reuters) – Oliver Wani found sanctuary from South Sudan’s civil war in a Ugandan refugee camp. But when the food ran out, he returned home only to be killed in the conflict he had fled.

The 45-year-old farmer was one of more than a million South Sudanese living in sprawling camps just across the border in northern Uganda, seeking refuge from the four-year war that has devastated their homeland.

But funding gaps and organizational problems often delay or reduce their meager rations, driving some desperate families back to the lands they fled and underscoring the struggle to cope with Africa’s biggest refugee crisis in two decades.

Refugees from South Sudan have been arriving in Uganda at an average rate of 35,000 a month this year. The Bidi Bidi camp was home to 285,000 people at the end of September, according to the U.N.’s refugee agency, making it the biggest in Africa.

The U.N. agency (UNHCR) said funding had only covered 32 percent of $674 million requested to help refugees in Uganda in 2017 and the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) said it was facing a $71 million shortfall for the next six months.

Wani, who cared for his elderly parents, received no food in October because distributions had been delayed, his father Timon said. The memory of the crops Oliver had left behind proved too tempting and he returned to South Sudan to find food.

Two weeks later, other returning refugees recognized his remains alongside another dead refugee on a forest path in South Sudan, where the ground was littered with bullet casings.

“He went back to look for food,” said Timon, a tall, thin man who wiped away tears with his handkerchief as he spoke at a memorial service for his first-born child in the Palorinya refugee camp. “I’m heartbroken.”

DESPERATE REFUGEES

The four-year war in oil-rich South Sudan, a country only founded in 2011, has forced more than a third of its 12 million citizens to flee their homes. Tens of thousands have died, some in ethnic killings, others from starvation and disease.

Palorinya is the second biggest camp in northern Uganda after Bidi Bidi and alone houses 185,000 refugees.

Each refugee is supposed to get 12 kg of grain, 6 kg of dry beans, cooking oil and salt each month, but the U.N.’s WFP said this was delayed in October because grain was scarce in Uganda and the roads to Palorinya were bad.

Food distributions did not start camp until Oct. 26, WFP said. It takes two weeks to complete a distribution, so tens of thousands of refugees did not get any food that month.

Desperate, some returned to the war zone. At least eight refugees from Palorinya were killed in South Sudan after returning to look for food in October, according to family members and the Anglican church, which tracks civilian deaths.

In August and September, when rations were distributed normally, just two refugees from the camp were killed when they returned to find food, the church diocese in South Sudan’s volatile Kajo Keji region said.

Modi Scopas John, chairman of a Refugee Welfare Committee in Palorinya, said refugees were returning home every day.

“If you have nothing to eat, what do you do?” he asked, perched on a plastic chair under a spindly tree. “You have to look for food.”

FOOD SHORTAGES

Wani was killed in Kajo Keji, where the government and two rebel groups are battling for control in a war sparked by a feud between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.

Next to Wani lay the body of Yassin Mori, 35, who had also left Palorinya to look for food, according to Mori’s two brothers who ventured into South Sudan to look for him.

Mori left two wives and nine children behind.

“Now we need support because we are left with his children and widows,” Taha Igga, one of the brothers, said at a memorial service in the Ugandan refugee camp.

Mutabazi Caleb, from aid group World Vision, which runs the distributions, said that Palorinya is two months behind other camps in its food distributions.

WFP said it had substituted half the cereal ration with money in September in some other camps so refugees could buy food and was expanding its infrastructure to prevent future delays.

But refugees said even when food arrives, it doesn’t last a month. Of the 12 kg of grain, refugees said they sell one to pay for grinding the rest into flour, and another to buy soap, which is in short supply.

They also complained that the beans were sometimes inedible.

“They are not okay, others are rotten, and they are smelling,” said mother-of-four Liong Viola, 32, picking through her sack of shriveled legumes during an Oct. 26 distribution.

WFP country director El Khidir Daloum said it was investigating the complaint and, “is committed to providing our beneficiaries with the highest quality of food”.

John, the Refugee Welfare Committee chairman, said he urged people to stay in the camps.

“At least let us die here of the hunger rather than go back to South Sudan and be killed like a chicken,” he said.

But hungry refugees often ignore the pleas. At dusk last Saturday, Pastor Charles Mubarak packed extra clothes into a plastic bag to take back into South Sudan where he hoped to harvest cassava fields he left behind when he fled in January.

“As a family, we are 10 in number, and I’m not in position to feed them,” he said. “If I get killed I get killed once, but dying of hunger is too difficult.”

Mubarak kissed each neatly folded shirt as he placed them in the bag.

“If they give us the food rations, I wouldn’t think of going back to South Sudan,” he said. “Food is life.”

(Reporting by Jason Patinkin; editing by Katharine Houreld and David Clarke)