20 May 2019

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Friday May 17, 2019
Kabul (BNA) Six former Afghani soldiers who sought asylum in Australia after last October's Invictus Games in Sydney have been granted permanent protection visas, according to the law firm which acted on their behalf. All but one of the athletes lost limbs in operations against the Taliban, with some losing both legs. When the athletes were invited to Australia to compete in the games, they and their families reportedly became targets of the Taliban, who disliked the Invictus Games’ association with their Western-allied foes.
The five athletes and one official were issued with bridging visas after the games concluded, which enabled them to stay legally in Australia while their protection visas were being processed. The final athlete had their permanent visa granted on Tuesday. “We are extremely pleased with this outcome,” Alison Battisson, Director Principal of law firm Human Rights for All, told SBS News. “After the Games were over the athletes sought legal advice, and were able to commence an asylum process that after eight or nine months, resulted in permanent visas.”
'Decision not planned'
The athletes' decision to stay behind after the games was revealed exclusively by SBS Pashto in November last year. In an interview, Mirwais Ramaki, a games volunteer who was helping the team, said they never intended to stay behind.
"They planned to go back, but these 10 days actually changed them,” he said. “One of them actually said when he came and saw the people here - basically it was his first time coming out of the country, being in a safe and peaceful environment - that totally changed his perceptions." The Invictus Games is an international event created by the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, in which wounded military veterans compete in various sports.
Permanent protection visas grant holders the ability to live, work and study in Australia indefinitely; access government services such as Medicare and welfare; sponsor eligible family members for their own permanent residence; and, in some cases, become a citizen.
Ms Battison said the athletes are looking forward to giving back to Australia. “Some have already started working and are paying taxes,” she said. “They can’t wait to contribute and pay thanks to the country that gave them asylum”, she said. Human Rights for All want to see uniform processing times for all asylum seekers, including those in offshore detention, Ms Battison said.
"There is no reason why it would take years to process asylum claims for people in detention, and yet, it can be done in a matter of months for those in the community . "There is an enormous gap there that I think should be examined." The Department of Home Affairs has been contacted for comment.


Friday, 17 May 2019 11:04

EU Warns Hungary over Afghan Refugees

Friday May 17, 2019
Kabul (BNA) The European Commission has warned Hungary over its ill-treatment of migrants and refugees, including depriving some of food, and trying to force others back to Afghanistan in violation of human right laws.
"We are concerned of the reports of the treatment of migrants in Hungary, we take such allegations quite seriously," a European Commission spokeswoman told reporters in Brussels on Monday (13 May).
The expression of concern from the Berlaymont follows Hungary's failed efforts last week to deport three families back to Afghanistan, in what Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, described as deeply shocking.
Two families were forced back into Serbia, while a third family remains in Hungary's transit zone after the European Court of Human Rights granted an injunction preventing them from being removed.
Budapest had drafted in the EU's border agency Frontex to carry out the Afghan returns, posing questions on possible EU complicity.
But the commission said neither itself, nor the Warsaw-based Frontex, has any say over the return decisions, despite having launched two court cases against Hungary over its migration and asylum policies.
"We have a case before the Court of Justice regarding Hungarian legislation in asylum and 'return', both cases are before the court at the moment," said the spokeswoman.
Hungarian legislation automatically dismisses asylum claims by anyone transiting from Serbia - which Budapest deems a "safe country."
That means people who have passed through Serbia cannot claim asylum in Hungary, even based on merit - despite EU laws that are supposed to provide safeguards against the abuse.
This appears to be part of a larger strategy by Hungary's right-wing government under Prime Minister Viktor Orban to demonize refugees and migrants, which it views as a national security threat.
Hunger tactics
The Budapest-based Hungarian Helsinki Committee last August had also documented cases in Hungary's transit zone, along the Serbian border, of people being denied food, sometimes for up to five days.
Despite promises by Hungarian authorities to start feeding the failed asylum seekers, the NGO documented another eight cases between February and April this year.
A total of twenty-one people have gone hungry in what the NGO describes as "starvation cases".
"Pending the enforcement of the expulsion, adults, unless they are pregnant or nursing women, are starved in detention," said the NGO.
Pressed on the issue last September, Orban's spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs took a defiant tone, telling reporters in Brussels that "we are not providing a free meal, free food for any illegal migrants".
Orban earlier this month toured the Hungarian transit zone and razor-wire border fencing with Italy's far-right deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini.
The pair are ratcheting up the anti-migrant rhetoric ahead of the European Parliament elections at the end of this month. Salvini is hoping to increase the European Alliance of Peoples and Nations political group in the next parliament.
The move seeks to bridge an alliance against immigrants with other far-right leaders like France's Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, and Germany's AfD, among others.
Salvini's League party and his wider crusade against migrants has also helped spread the rise of Italian disinformation networks on Facebook.
The social media giant shut down 23 Italian Facebook pages, with over 2.46 million followers, for peddling hate against immigrants and Jews and spreading debunked anti-vaccine conspiracies.
Over a dozen of the pages supported the League party and its populist government coalition party, the Five-Star Movement.
The Facebook removals follow an investigation by Avaaz, a global activist NGO.
"Facebook has done a good job in taking these pages down, but it says a lot that a multi-billion dollar company is relying on a crowd-funded Avaaz investigation to defend Europe's democracy," said Christoph Schott, Avaaz campaign director, in a statement on Monday.

Friday May 17, 2019
Kabul (BNA) While gridlock is keeping the Taliban and the United States from reaching a political settlement to the war in Afghanistan, a lacklustre peace process represents just one of many issues confronting the country.
Decades of civil wars and invasions have exacerbated the consequences of deforestation and desertification in Afghanistan, where environmental issues tend to take a backseat to counterinsurgency and counterterrorism.
If Afghans and their allies in the international community want to ready the country for a conflict-free future, however, they must take the natural environment into account.
Deforestation claimed a third of Afghanistan's trees between 1990 and 2005, and the country lost no less than half its forests by 2013. For its part, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has long warned that desertification is harming over three quarters of the country's north, south, and west, rural areas over which Afghan authorities can rarely exert control.
Because battling the Taliban demands so many of the Afghan government's resources, Afghan officials now lack the bandwidth to address the ever-worsening effects of environmental degradation. The distraction of the conflict has kept Afghans from preparing their country for global warming.
   Deforestation claimed a third of Afghanistan's trees between 1990 and 2005, and the country lost no less than half its forests by 2013  
"War has been one of the greatest factors contributing to deforestation and desertification in Afghanistan," observed Ghulam Hussain Poya, an associate professor of natural resource management at Kabul University.
"In the 1980s, during the Soviet–Afghan War, anecdotal evidence suggested that the Mujahideen used the forests to hide from the Soviets, who retaliated by bombarding the forests."
The spread of illegal logging, which has flourished as part of the war economy, remains one of the biggest contributors to deforestation in Afghanistan. The destruction of electrical grids has forced Afghans to burn wood to heat their homes, and factions of the Islamic State and the Taliban have even turned to the lumber industry to bankroll some of their operations in the country's east.
The longer the war in Afghanistan lasts, the greater the opportunities for environmental crime. Like the Afghan military, Afghan law enforcement agencies have to dedicate most of their time to fighting the Taliban.
"During the war, the smuggling of timber has intensified because there are no controls over the borders," said Abdul Aziz Mohibbi, an associate professor of natural resource management at Kabul University. "The smugglers can carry timber freely – without any concerns. Meanwhile, the war has led to a lack of forest management, simultaneously intensifying desertification in Afghanistan."
Insurgents' influence over much of the Afghan countryside has limited the ability of the Afghan government to curb illegal logging and promote environmental protection, bringing into doubt the reach of Afghan officials' current strategy for reforestation, which seems to include relying on the UN.
"The Afghan government must develop precise, suitable, feasible short- and long-term strategies for reforestation and natural-resource rehabilitation and conservation," concluded Poya, noting that the Afghan government could partner with the Asian Development Bank, the Global Environment Facility, and the World Bank in addition to the international community as a whole.
   In 2017, the Taliban called on Afghans to plant trees as an Islamic obligation  
The Afghan government may find an additional partner in the Taliban, which, despite its own role in deforestation, has expressed its interest in becoming part of the solution. In 2017, the insurgents called on Afghans to plant trees as an Islamic obligation. The Taliban later added that it supported the Afghan government's own efforts to encourage environmental protection despite characterising Afghan officials as lackeys of a puppet state.
This development raises the possibility that the Afghan government and the Taliban could find common ground by planning a joint response to deforestation and desertification.
"To curb desertification, the Afghan government can raise awareness among local communities and prevent the use of rangeland beyond its carrying capacity," noted Mohibbi.
Whether Afghan officials and their counterparts in the Taliban reach a political settlement or not, Afghan environmental organisations and the international community can assist the Afghan government with its efforts to deal with the environmental issues that have plagued Afghanistan for decades.
"The Afghan government should apply a community-based approach to forest management, build and strengthen locally managed institutions, and empower local communities in Afghanistan by allowing them to participate in decisions and giving them a feeling of ownership over forestry," Poya told The New Arab.
"This strategy can decrease deforestation and halt desertification."
In addition to UNAMA, the Afghan government can look for assistance from the Ecology and Conservation Organization of Afghanistan and other Afghan environmental organisations. The plethora of American intelligence agencies and military branches, which have long studied climate change as a threat to global security, also have a stake in protecting Afghanistan from environmental degradation. Though war has consumed Afghan officials' attention for the Afghan government's entire history, peace may give them the chance to reflect on and respond to the long-term threat presented by environmental issues.
"Most Afghans rely on the natural environment for their livelihoods," Mohibbi told The New Arab. "The Afghan government must try to decrease the people's dependence on natural resources."

Friday May 17, 2019
Kabul (BNA) External Affairs Minister (EAM) Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday told visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif that India would take a decision on continuing oil imports from Iran "after the elections keeping in mind our commercial considerations, energy security and economic interests", Government sources said on Tuesday. On the issue of oil imports, it may be recalled that India has been in the process of completely stopping its oil imports from Iran to escape US sanctions.
However, the new government that is expected to be in place within the next three weeks in New Delhi is expected to take a final decision on the matter.
Iranian foreign minister Zarif had made a brief visit to New Delhi on Tuesday to hold talks with Ms Swaraj. The ministry of external affairs meanwhile only issued a brief statement, saying Ms Swaraj and Mr Zarif “held constructive discussions on all bilateral issues of mutual interest” and that there was a “good exchange of views on the evolving regional situation, including Afghanistan”.
The Indo-Iranian strategic cooperation on the Chabahar port was also discussed, with government sources saying “both sides expressed satisfaction at the operationalisation of the interim contract on the  Chabahar Port”.
New Delhi has been worried over the impact that American policy against Iran will have on the Indo-Iranian strategic partnership for the development of Chabahar port in Iran that gives New Delhi crucial sea-land connectivity to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan.
It may be recalled that the United States had earlier given six-month waivers to eight countries including India, China, Japan and South Korea for exemption from the November 4 deadline last year of stopping Iranian oil imports completely. India relies heavily on foreign oil imports to meet its energy demands.


Friday May 17, 2019
Kabul (BNA) Republican and Democratic U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday revived an effort to provide visas to move to the United States for Afghans who worked for Americans during the long war in their country and are now stranded, their lives at risk due to that work.
The bill would provide 4,000 Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for the rest of the federal fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, and also try to address obstacles that have prevented Afghans from getting visas under previously passed legislation.
National Public Radio (NPR) reported on May 1 that President Donald Trump’s administration had cut by 60 percent the number of U.S. visas provided to Afghans who risked their lives assisting American forces. About 1,650 were approved in 2018, down from more than 4,000 in fiscal year 2017.
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen sponsored the bill with Republicans Thom Tillis, Roger Wicker and Cory Gardner and Democrats Jack Reed, Richard Blumenthal and Tim Kaine.
Backers of the plan said Washington needs to protect Afghans who worked for U.S. forces in order to ensure local support.
Army General Austin Miller, commander of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, sent a letter to Shaheen backing the bill, calling the SIV program critical to success in Afghanistan.
“If the program is not fully resourced, our credibility and the sacrifices made by thousands of Afghans in support of Americans and our Coalition partners could be undermined,” Miller wrote.
Shaheen was a lead sponsor of similar legislation passed in previous years, along with late Republican Senator John McCain, who was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
His widow, Cindy McCain, backed the bill, saying McCain would be pleased to know that the bipartisan measure continued his legacy.
Backers said they felt the measure stood a good chance of passing, possibly as a provision of one of the larger must-pass spending bills Congress will consider later this year, despite Trump’s efforts to tighten immigration, particularly from Muslim-majority countries.

Thursday, May 16, 2019
Kabul (BNA) Based on Union of money exchangers in Sari Shahzada, Kabul city, the exchange rate of Afghani as a follow:
One Dollar                                                              79/15        Afs
One Pound Sterling                                            101/50       Afs
One Euro                                                            88/50       Afs
One Emirate’s Dirham                                       21/45       Afs
One Thousand Pakistani Rupees                           545       Afs
One Thousand Indian Rupees                              1120       Afs
One Thousand Iranian Rupees                            05/30       Afs

Thursday, May 16, 2019
Qalat (BNA) Six armed Taliban militants were killed by Afghan Security Forces Air strike in Zabul province last night.
The militants were targeted in suburb of Nawbahar district bazaar.
ANA senior commander in south of the country told BNA, six militants were killed in the air raid.
The Taliban riding cars were targeted by security forces while terrorist and destructive activities, he added.
In the raid, several Taliban vehicles burnt down with all its fighting equipment.
T. Yarzada

Thursday, May 16, 2019
Kandahar (BNA)  Ten armed terrorists were killed in two separate battles in Kandahar province this morning.
The terrorists were suppressed in Maiwand and Nesh districts of the province by security forces.
According to reports, the terrorists wanted to plant a mine on a main road of Maiwand district and preparing themselves for an attack on a military base in Nesh district, shelling by security forces.
Key commander of ANA in south of the country told BNA, ten armed terrorists including their two local commanders were killed in the raids.
In recent times of these battles, numerous of heavy and light weapons of the terrorists were seized by security troops.
T. Yarzada

Thursday, May 16, 2019
Kunduz (BNA) The commando forces in a clearing operation eliminated a training center and a large number of Taliban weapons last night.
Abdul Ghafar Nooristi press in charge of army corps told BNA, the training center of Taliban were eliminated in a clearing operation conducted by commando forces in Chardara district.
Large number weapons of the Taliban were destroyed in the operation, said Nooristani.
T. Yarzada


Thursday, May 16, 2019
Pul-e-Khomri (BNA) Taliban shadow governor for Baghlan Markazi District, Baghlan province was killed with other seven insurgents by commando forces operation yesterday.
Abdul Ghafar Nooristani press in charge of army corps told BNA. The shadow governor of Taliban with other seven insurgents were killed by commando forces operation in suburb of the mentioned district.
In the operation, seven other insurgents were wounded a Saracha car and ten motorbikes of the insurgents were also destroyed.
T. Yarzada

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