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Two years on: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – On a fateful August morning two years ago, Safina Begum, now 23, fled from her charred village in Maungdaw district in Myanmar and slogged through marshland and paddy fields for three days to reach the Kutupalong refugee camp in neighbouring Bangladesh.

“They [Myanmar army] killed my father and two brothers in front of my eyes. I ran away for my life,” Safina, who has taken shelter in Shalbagan camp for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, told Al Jazeera.

While life in the refugee camps is not easy, Safina said she at least does not have to fear for her life here. “If I go back there, I will die.”

Like Safina, nearly a million Rohingya live in 27 refugee camps in southern Bangladesh.

Most arrived there two years ago when more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after a brutal military crackdown by the Myanmar army that started on August 25, 2017.

They joined hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who were already living in Bangladesh, having fled earlier waves of violence during the 1970s and 1990s.

Akbar Ali, 52, wants to go back. But he says his daughters, one of whom was allegedly raped by the Myanmar army, are too traumatised to go back.

“My heart cries for my home in Rakhine state. I have spent all of my life there. I used to have farmland. Here I have nothing, living the life of refugees,” said Ali.

A second attempt to return 3,400 refugees last week failed as refugees said they feared going back to Rakhine without a guarantee of citizenship rights and safety.

Kulsum Begum, who lives with her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren in Shalbagan camp, told Al Jazeera she was content that they have food and shelter in refugee camps.

She said she “doesn’t ask for more from God”.

“I only wish my son had a job, but it’s very hard for a refugee to get one,” she said.

Many Rohingya refugees have started small enterprises in the camps.

Shafiq (who didn’t reveal his surname) was four when he came to Kutupalong camp with his father in 1991.

Now, 32, he runs a tailoring shop inside the Nayapara camp. “I get a lot of orders from the refugees as I can sew the clothes according to the latest fashion trend.”

Shafiq said he can’t remember anything about his homeland.

Source: Aljazeera

'The diaspora is key in helping stabilise a better Sudan'

A Sudanese protester holds a national flag as he stands on a barricade along a street in June, 2019 [File: Reuters]

Abubaker Abdelmonem Alfadlaby woke up from surgery on December 21, 2018, to find three of his fingers missing.

Three days earlier, during a protest at the University of Khartoum, the 23-year-old student was hit with a tear gas canister launched by security forces.

He picked the canister up to throw it away from himself and the crowd.

“But it ended up exploding in my hand,” he told Al Jazeera by phone. “I accepted my destiny, because it happened for my country.”

Protests across Sudan were just beginning then, over the rising costs of bread and fuel.

The rallies eventually led to the removal of Omar al-Bashir as president and the establishment of a transitional government. 

But protesters were often met with force in the way of tear gas and sometimes live ammunition. 

In total, since late last year, more than 200 people have been killed and over 1,000 were injured.

The diaspora is key in helping stabilise a better Sudan. People have gone as far as vowing to give up their month’s salary – or a regular amount monthly – it’s been inspiring to see.

Despite a signed accord for a power-sharing between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and an alliance of opposition groups in early July, the crackdown by security forces continued.

In late July, five schoolchildren at a rally were shot dead in the city of El-Obeid, once again igniting nationwide protests.

The head of the TMC, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said the killings are “unacceptable”.

Alfadlaby was rushed to hospital where he was immediately taken into surgery. But the hospital lacked the needed equipment to save his fingers. That was when Sudanese doctors outside of the country and local activist Nazim Sirag got involved.

After hearing his story, they arranged treatment in India.

Soon, a worldwide fundraising campaign rose up to help other injured protesters in Sudan; for many, the support from outside has been life-saving. 

When protests began, the Sudanese diaspora launched charities to provide critical items such as food and medical equipment – to date raising hundreds of thousands of dollars through various campaigns. 

Contributions exploded after Sudanese security forces attacked a sit-in site at the military headquarters on June 3, killing more than 100 and injuring hundreds more.

After the June 3 attack, medical facilities came under attack, underscoring the need for urgent assistance.

Alfadlaby’s travel and medical costs were funded by the University of Khartoum Alumni Association in North America (UOKANA), which works with organisations and volunteers inside Sudan to reach individuals who have limited to no access to medical care.

“One of our first fundraisers was called Support Sudan Uprising, which started December 20, a couple of days after the uprising started. We collected $104,000 in about a month,” Bakri Ahmed Ali, a volunteer with UOKANA, told Al Jazeera.

Sudan diaspora

Alfadlaby arrived in India in March.

“Without their support, it would have been very difficult for me to get the treatment I needed, they helped me a lot,” he said.

He underwent six, ultimately unsuccessful, surgeries to try and recover his fingers. In the end, his hand was amputated. 

But he avoided infections, something he feared was more likely in Sudan.

“I felt much more comfortable and confident with the treatment in India,” he said.

UOKANA covered all of his expenses, including the final stage – a prosthetic hand.

“We’ve helped with very expensive medical treatment and surgeries such as prosthetic arms,” said Ali, referring to other Sudanese nationals the group has helped. “These treatments can reach $15,000. We support [victims] for as long as they have to stay. We provide monthly living expenses and we support a family member of theirs to be with them.”

Demonstrations in Sudan- - KHARTOUM, SUDAN - JUNE 03 : Sudanese protesters burn tyres and set up barricades on roads to army headquarters after the intervention of Sudanese army, during a demonstratio

In Alfadlaby’s case, his brother was able to join him in India.

“The number of injured is in the thousands, so it’s very expensive to treat them all, so these fundraisers have been key,” explained Ali.

In another example, a youth-led fundraiser launched after the June 3 attack has so far raised more than $65,000, with more than $20,000 flooding in the week after the violence.

Sudanese-American Ali Yousuf, a 25year-old from Minnesota, participated in this initiative – he has been collaborating with Minnesota-based non-profit organisation The Sound Heart to provide humanitarian and medical assistance to people in Sudan. 

These efforts will continue and multiply in the transition to democratic reforms.

“We also sponsor orphanages in Sudan and support them with all expenses. When the protests started … The Sound Heart started working with protesters to cover medical fees, medical supplies and everyday essentials,” Yousuf told Al Jazeera. 

For Yousuf, the act of charity is about more than raising money. It also shines a light on the conflict.

“The goal of my fundraising efforts is to raise money and increase awareness, so I know that I must target both Sudanese and non-Sudanese people to achieve this,” he said.

Online campaigns have allowed the diaspora and non-Sudanese supporters to get involved.

The digital world allows the diaspora “to tell the world about Sudan,” said UOKANA’s Ali, “to take it beyond the fundraising and tell people about Sudan and change the image of Sudan that’s been inherited from the former regime.”

To rebuild Sudan into a civilian-led democracy, the diaspora is key to the current transition period, activists and analysts said.

‘We’ve still got a long way to go’

For more than 40 years, Sudanese people have been migrating.

There is no concrete data on the Sudanese diaspora, but Sudan’s government estimates that about five million live abroad – from the Middle East to North America.

Years of civil war, inadequate education and decades of economic instability are among the reasons people leave.

After the fall of al-Bashir, some have returned, including from self-imposed exile. 

“The Sudanese diaspora are … realising they have a role to play. The diaspora is key in helping stabilise a better Sudan,” said Ali. “People have gone as far as vowing to give up their month’s salary – or a regular amount monthly – it’s been inspiring to see.”

During the protests, the diaspora called on local politicians for support. 

“In the US, for instance, Sudanese protested in front of the White House and the Capitol building. They reached out to their Congress representatives, and created solidarity groups with doctors in Sudan to exchange medical knowledge and technologies,” said Amal Hassan Fadlalla, an associate professor at the University of Michigan.

“These efforts will continue and multiply in the transition to democratic reforms.”

Back in Khartoum, as Alfadlaby learned to use his prosthetic hand, he reflected on the sacrifices demonstrators have made.

If he could send a message to the people of Sudan, it would be: “Don’t allow the martyrs’ blood be in vain.

“We’ve still got a long way to go.”

Sudan diaspora

Source: Aljazeera

Police arrest 29 people as Hong Kong braces for more protests

Those arrested also included the organiser of Saturday’s march, Ventus Lau, public broadcaster RTHK reported. [Vincent Yu/AP Photo]

Protesters have begun gathering in steady rain for Hong Kong‘s latest pro-democracy march, despite the arrest of 29 people after overnight clashes that saw authorities use tear gas to disperse the crowd.

A stream of people carrying umbrellas filed into Kwai Chung sports ground on Sunday along one side of the oval track.

The march is in an outlying community in Hong Kong’s New Territories. It is starting near the Kwai Fong rail station that has become a focal point of protests after police used tear gas in the station earlier this month.

On Saturday, some protesters were seen throwing bricks and petrol bombs at riot police, who responded with tear gas. Other protesters set up roadblocks with bamboo scaffolding and tore up “smart” lamp posts equipped with surveillance cameras, Reuters news agency reported.

Police said in a statement on Sunday they strongly condemned protesters “breaching public peace” and that 19 men and 10 women were arrested.

Those arrested also included the organiser of Saturday’s march, Ventus Lau, public broadcaster RTHK reported.

It was the first use of tear gas in more than a week after a series of mostly peaceful demonstrations in the former British colony. 

More than 700 people have been arrested since the demonstrations began over two months ago after Hong Kong announced a bill that would make it easier for authorities to extradite people from the former British colony to mainland China.

That bill has since been shelved, but protesters have continued their calls for more democracy in the special administrative region, demonstrating against the increased influence of China’s mainland on daily life in the Asian financial hub.

They say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that enshrines a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong since the handover to China.

The protest movement still appears to have broad support, with thousands, including families, lawyers and accountants, taking to the streets in anti-government rallies.

Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong’s main airline, has become the biggest corporate casualty of the protests, after China demanded it suspend staff involved in, or who supported the demonstrations. 

On Saturday, China released Simon Cheng, a British consulate worker who was held in detention for 15 days for allegedly breaching public security management regulations.

Cheng, who had travelled to the neighbouring city of Shenzhen on a business trip, “confessed to his illegal acts”, a statement by Chinese authorities said.

Following Cheng’s arrest, the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong barred local staff from leaving the city on official business. 

Source: Aljazeera

G7 protests: Thousands march against summit

As world leaders gathered for the G7 summit in France’s Biarritz, thousands of people took part in a demonstration in the nearby town of Hendaye.

They called for urgent climate action and accused world leaders of causing inequality.

Source: Aljazeera

Israeli drone crashes, another explodes in Beirut: Hezbollah

Residents said they heard an aircraft flying just before the blast and reported later that the area was sealed off [Bilal Hussein/AP]

Two Israeli drones have come down in a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut, Lebanon, an official from the group said.

Mohammed Afif, a Hezbollah spokesperson, said a small, unmanned reconnaissance drone fell on the roof of a building that was housing Hezbollah’s media office in the Moawwad neighbourhood in Dahyeh suburb on Sunday.

He said a second drone, which appeared to have been sent by Israel to search for the first drone less than 45 minutes later, exploded in the air and crashed nearby.

“We did not shoot down or explode any of the drones,” Afif told the Associated Press.

Residents reported one large explosion that shook the area early on Sunday, triggering a fire. They said the nature of the blast was not immediately clear but said it may have been caused by the drone that went down in the area amid Israeli air activity in neighbouring Syria.

Residents told the Associated Press they heard an aircraft flying just before the blast and reported later that Hezbollah sealed off the area. 

A man was seen taking away metal fragments in a white plastic bag that he said contained parts of the aircraft that went down.

The Israeli military said it does not comment on “foreign reports”.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut, said it was “a densely populated neighbourhood in the Lebanese capital and also a Hezbollah stronghold”.

Israeli warplanes regularly violate Lebanese airspace and have struck inside neighbouring Syria from Lebanonon numerous occasions.

Israeli attacks

Late on Saturday, the Israeli military attacked targets near Syria’s capital of Damascus in what it said was a successful effort to thwart an imminent Iranian drone attack on Israel, stepping up an already heightened campaign against Iranian military activity in the region.

The raid, which triggered Syrian anti-aircraft fire, appeared to be one of the most intense attacks by Israeli forces in several years of hits on Iranian targets in Syria.

Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Al Quds force, working with allied Shia fighters, had been planning to send a number of explosives-laden attack drones into Israel.

Syrian state TV said the country’s air defences responded to “hostile” projectiles over Damascus and shot down incoming missiles before they reached their targets.

In recent days, US officials said Israeli attacks have also hit Iranian targets in Iraq.

Source: Aljazeera

'I want people to see me as a wrestler, not just some hijab girl'

Five feet tall and weighing less than 50kg, Nor “Phoenix” Diana won her first title in 2019 [Courtesy of Fight Sport Manila]

At 19, Nor “Phoenix” Diana has only been performing for three years but has already made a significant impact in the world of professional wrestling. 

The first woman to wrestle in a hijab, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women, she captured her maiden championship in Malaysia Pro Wrestling and has recently performed in the Philippines.

“I have a goal to wrestle in WWE,” she told Al Jazeera, referring to World Wrestling Entertainment. “I think I can bring something to the wrestling industry. I want people to see me as a wrestler, and not just as some Muslim hijab girl.

“I started watching wrestling when I was 14 with my father and little brother as they were fans. I eventually became a fan too, and started thinking, ‘Hey, I want to do that one day,’.”

When she finished high school in 2016, she started searching for a place to get her in-ring training under way. 

She enrolled in a wrestling school in the Kampung Baru, a Malay enclave in central Kuala Lumpur.

But not everyone at home was comfortable with her ambitions.

“My dad has always been supportive, but my mum doesn’t really support me. I’m her youngest daughter,” she said. “She knows wrestling has a high risk, and is afraid that I’ll get injured easily.”

Despite her concerns, Nor’s mother didn’t stand in the way.

Nor’s coaches were so impressed with her acrobatic style that she debuted in the ring two months after starting her training.

Initially, reluctant to wrestle in the standard hijab, Nor, five feet tall and weighing less than 50kg, wore a mask to accommodate her religious beliefs.

She made the switch in 2018.

“When I started I was always worried that I don’t belong in wrestling as I wear a hijab. I was worried what people would say about a Muslim girl wrestling. But I always trained in my scarf, and I started feeling more comfortable and confident, and decided to wear it to the ring. My bosses were really supportive of my decision.”

Some people on social media have criticised her, saying Muslim women should not be involved in rough sports. 

But on the whole, her choice hasn’t hindered her progress.

I can totally see her making it to WWE. Can you imagine the influence she would have on a global stage like that? I’m rooting for her, I really am.

That’s not surprising to Malaysian sports commentator Abu Bakar Atan, who said that, within the Malaysian context at least, a woman wrestling in a hijab is not something out of the ordinary.

“It is not uncommon in Malaysia, where a number of female athletes wearing hijab have had a lot of success locally and internationally. For example, Aifa Azman is the British Open junior squash champion, while Siti Rahmah Mohamed Nasir is a multi-time silat martial arts world champion.

“The number of female athletes wearing the hijab is notable in Malaysia these days as they practice their religious belief without much issue. It’s not a social taboo.”

Nor hopes her example will encourage more girls to take up wrestling and other sports.

Malaysian wrestling fan Eli, a 27-year-old who also wears hijab, said Nor is an already inspiration.

“She is so young and she is already a champion. That inspires me to follow my dreams, and follow my passion,” she told Al Jazeera. “It’s not just me. What she is doing helps women’s empowerment and helps veiled women in Malaysia to strive for their goals.”

In the US market, female players in the mainstream wrestling scene compete in lavish and often revealing ring gear.

However rather than this being an issue, Nor’s look will help her stand out, said Ring Magazine reporter Ryan Songalia.

“The worst thing that could happen to a wrestler is to be forgettable,” he said. “There was probably a time when her look might have been a hurdle, but I think that time has passed.

“Major companies like WWE have a more diverse roster than ever before. And the business has gone global in a way that opens many new markets, so it’d be an asset to a US-based company looking to tap into those new audiences.”

Nor has already received support from within the WWE locker room.

WWE Superstar Ali, an American of South Asian heritage whose real name is Adeel Alam, told Al Jazeera that he was “beyond impressed” with Nor and believes she has a bright future.

“She’s breaking down barriers. She’s inspiring athletes across the globe that a hijab doesn’t limit or define them. She’s ‘normalising’ the hijab,  something many people don’t understand. I can totally see her making it to WWE,” he said. “Can you imagine the influence she would have on a global stage like that? I’m rooting for her, I really am.”

Back in Kuala Lumpur, Nor knows she still has some way to go before making it to the elite level. 

In the meantime, she remains focussed on refining her skills and raising the profile of pro-wrestling in Southeast Asia.

But if she continues on her current trajectory, it’s difficult to see anyone stopping the Phoenix from rising.


Source: Aljazeera