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Syrians feel deserted as Turkey cracks down

Abu Hisham brings up the photo sent to him after his son crossed the border back into Syria [Tessa Fox/Al Jazeera]

Istanbul, Turkey – Ab Kinan’s* small-scale export business in Aksaray, Istanbul, has been closed for weeks, although not by choice. Turkish police arrived at the premises unannounced on July 23 and arrested Ab Kinan and a fellow Syrian colleague.

Ab Kinan had lived in Turkey for five years and held an ID registered in Istanbul for the last three. He told Al Jazeera that after being held for nearly a week, he was deported to Idlib, a province in northwest Syria under rebel control and facing bombardment from the Syrian government and allied Russian forces since late April, without receiving an explanation.

Since returning to his home country, he has moved between rebel-held Idlib city and the city of Afrin, which is controlled by Turkish forces and rebels, struggling to make a living and fearing for his wellbeing.

“I can’t feel safe in this country, the situation is really bad,” Ab Kinan told Al Jazeera by telephone. “I’ll try to re-enter Turkey and go to Europe or somewhere else. It’s really hard here.”

Crackdown

Last month, the Turkish government announced a crackdown on unregistered migrants in the metropolis of Istanbul, sparking a wave of panic and confusion among the million Syrians residing there.

The Istanbul governorate issued an official statement on July 22 stating Syrians living in Istanbul who had initially registered in other Turkish provinces would have until August 20 to return to those locations. The deadline was extended this week to October 30, while authorities included exemptions for Syrians with serious health conditions, students, business owners, taxpayers and employees registered with the Social Security Institution.

Roughly 350,000 Syrians residing in Istanbul are registered in other cities within Turkey, while approximately 100,000 hold no registration at all, according to figures provided by the Migrant Solidarity Association, a Turkish NGO.

Turkey hosts more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, who have been offered “temporary protection” status, which provides them with limited rights to reside in the country, including access to education and healthcare.

Since the Istanbul crackdown was first announced on July 12, reports of deportations of Syrians, including some who were registered in Istanbul, have circulated in local and foreign news media.

The flurry of reported deportations prompted the formation of the We Want to Live Together Initiative, an Istanbul-based group comprising civil society members, parliamentarians and NGO workers.

The group, whose goal is to promote coexistence, has reported on the deportations of several Syrians and says many held temporary protection status. It claims that prior to being deported, some Syrians were pressured by Turkish authorities to sign forms waiving this status.

Turkish Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu told Al Jazeera “there is nothing like deportations” happening in Turkey, but added that some Syrians choose to go back “voluntarily”.

He said people who are unregistered in any province are taken to existing refugee camps, where they undergo a registration process that lasts for up to 15 days before being sent to their new provinces.

Between July 18 and August 9, 3,784 Syrians once living in Istanbul but unregistered in the city were sent to camps, Soylu said.

One of the main ground crossing points to enter Syria from Turkey, the Bab al-Hawa border on the Syrian side, released figures showing the number of deportations from Turkey in July as 6,160, up from 4,370 the previous month and 3,316 in May.

Human Rights Watch has also documented cases of Syrians being arrested and forcibly returned to Syria prior to the announcement of the crackdown.

Under international humanitarian law, it is prohibited to send anyone back to a place “where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life.”

Death at the border

While Syria remains an unsafe location to return to for many, attempting to re-enter Turkey also carries risks.

In a sparsely furnished apartment about a 30-minute drive from the centre of Istanbul, Hisham Mustafa’s widow sat in mourning, surrounded by female family members. Her three-month-old baby lay on the ground, cushioned by a blanket.

Mustafa was shot dead on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey on August 5, while attempting to cross into the country irregularly, according to his father, Abu Hisham, and sources who were with him at the time.

Originally from a town near Aleppo, Mustafa and his family had first arrived in Turkey three years ago. His wife was pregnant at the time and the couple received temporary protection status in Istanbul within seven months.

On the day he was killed, Mustafa was trying to re-enter Turkey after being arrested in a house raid on May 28 and deported to Syria on June 19, according to his father and the sources.

Abu Saif, 43, said he was part of a group of people who were with Mustafa when he was attempting to re-enter Turkey.

“We were going with a guide, we were away from the wall around 350 metres,” he told Al Jazeera by telephone from Idlib. “We sat there, almost hiding. We were checking if we could cross or not but there were soldiers around so we had to wait until really late at night.”

At approximately 10pm, the group heard incoming shots from the direction of the border, Abu Saif said.

The guide told them they should move further up, and started to prod Mustafa to get up.

“He kept poking Hisham [Mustafa], who didn’t respond. He thought he was joking with us. He then put his ear on Hisham’s heart, but he didn’t hear anything,” Abu Saif said.

Amid fire from the direction of the border, it took the group one hour to move Mustafa’s body to the closest road and hail a minibus, he added.

“We got him to the hospital and the doctor said the minute the bullet hit him [through the right ear] he passed away immediately,” Abu Saif said.

Soylu, the minister, said any allegation that Mustafa was shot by Turkish security forces at the border was false.

“Even if a shot has ever been made, it should be in our records, it should be in our day-to-day reports, minutes, of our operations,” Soylu said. “This is a completely fabricated claim.”

He said that if any incident like that had occurred on the borders of Turkey, it would have been reported to judicial authorities.

“Let’s say it happened, there would have been a criminal procedure … immediately for the individuals involved in this incident.”

In 2016, Human Rights Watch reported cases of people being shot while trying to enter Turkey irregularly.

Hisham Bab Al Hawa: The photo sent to Abu Hisham after his Mustafa (R) crossed the border back into Syria and was met by his friend. Provided by Abu Hisham.

Soylu said the Istanbul Criminal Peace Court produced an order for Mustafa’s arrest at the end of May and that “it has been proven that this person is in line with the criteria, as an individual, [has] affiliation with terrorist organisations.”

“Hisham [Mustafa] has been sent to Istanbul Bilinic removal centre, while he was still residing in the removal centre, he said he is volunteering to go back to Syria on the 19th of June,” added Soylu.

When asked if Mustafa had been charged or tried in Turkey, Soylu said he was “not aware of this detail”.

Abu Hisham said Turkish police informed him multiple times there were no charges against his son.

‘Voluntary’ return

Since the Turkish authorities announced the Istanbul move last month, Syrians have reportedly been arrested during raids on homes or workplaces, as well as during ID checks in the streets.

The report issued by We Want to Live Together Initiative outlines that refugees who contacted them claimed police officers used violence and threats of indefinite detention in an attempt to coerce them into signing a “voluntary return document”.

The document is written in Turkish, which not all Syrians read, and states that the signature brings to an end the protection Turkey provided to the signatory.

A spokesperson for the Turkish presidency told a news conference in early August that reports of Syrians being deported after being forced to sign voluntary forms were “completely false”.

But Eyup Ozer, a member of the We Want to Live Together Initiative, said it was unlikely people would voluntarily sign the forms.

“If this was true, why would people try and come back within two days?” Ozer asked.

Syrian Deportations

UNHCR Turkey spokeswoman Selin Unal told Al Jazeera she could not confirm if Syrians under temporary protection have been returned to Syria.

“The minister of interior has publicly declared and reiterated that no Syrians under temporary protection will be forcibly returned,” she said.

Abu Hisham said he felt deserted by humanitarian organisations and the UNHCR.

“No one backs us up,” he said. “If they consider us less than humans, then they won’t do anything.”

Additional reporting by Asmaa Al Omar 

Source: Aljazeera

Iran's Zarif: Nuclear talks with Macron were ‘productive’

Iran’s foreign minister has hailed “positive” talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, on salvaging the 2015 nuclear deal.

Mohammad Javad Zarif says they could work with new French proposals, to save the nuclear deal.

Speaking to reporters after meeting Macron, Zarif says both countries have made suggestions on how to move forward after the United States pulled out of the nuclear deal last year.

Macron has previously said he will either try to soften the effect of the US sanctions or come up with a way to compensate the Iranian people.

Source: Aljazeera

'Our house is burning': Macron urges G7 action on Amazon fires

French President Emmanuel Macron has branded the record number of fires in the Amazon rainforest an “international crisis” that needs to be top of the agenda at the upcoming G7 summit, prompting a swift rebuke from Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro.

Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rainforest – the lungs which produces 20 percent of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire,” Macron said in a tweet on Thursday.

Fires in the Amazon, a forest considered a vital bulwark against climate change, have surged 83 percent so far this year compared with the same period in 2018, according to data released earlier this week by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Macron called on members of the G7 group of advanced industrialised countries – which does not include Brazil – to address the issue over the weekend at a scheduled meeting in the French town of Biarritz.

His call was backed up by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said the Amazon fires posed an “acute emergency” and belonged on the G7 agenda. 

In a Twitter post before the G7 summit, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the wildfires “an international crisis”, adding: “We stand ready to provide whatever help we can to bring them under control and help protect one of Earth’s greatest wonders.”

But Bolsonaro reacted angrily to Macron’s earlier comments, accusing his French counterpart of attempting to use the issue for “political gain” and describing the fires as an “internal matter” for Brazil and other Amazonian countries.

“The French president’s suggestion that Amazon issues be discussed at the G-7 without participation by the countries in the region evokes a colonialist mentality that is out of place in the 21st century,” Bolsonaro said in a Twitter post.

Several other countries in the Amazon region have seen a surge in fires this year, according to INPE data, including Bolivia and Peru, both of which border Brazil.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned” by the blazes.

“In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity,” Guterres said in a post on Twitter. “The Amazon must be protected.”

Bolsonaro rows back

Although fires are a regular and natural occurrence at this time of year, environmentalists blamed the sharp rise on farmers setting the forest alight to clear land for pasture.

Bolsonaro, who took power in January, has repeatedly said he believes his country should open the Amazon up to business interests, to allow mining, agricultural and logging companies to exploit its natural resources.

Critics accuse the Brazilian president of emboldening illegal loggers and ranchers and not doing enough to curb widespread deforestation.

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro suggested NGOs were behind the fires, without providing evidence. He appeared to row back on Thursday, when he said for the first time that farmers could be blamed for the fires and also claimed that his government lacks the resources to fight the blazes.

“The Amazon is bigger than Europe, how will you fight criminal fires in such an area?” he asked reporters in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia.

Last month, the INPE published preliminary data showing deforestation in Brazil’s portion of the Amazon rainforest soared more than 88 percent in June compared with the same month a year ago, the second consecutive month of rising forest destruction under Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro fired the director of INPE following the publication of the statistics, saying they were inaccurate and smearing Brazil’s reputation abroad.

EU-Mercosur deal at risk

Bolsonaro is facing mounting pressure from international powers to protect Brazil’s environment under the terms of a landmark free-trade deal brokered over 20 years between the European Union and South American bloc Mercosur – of which Brazil is a member – and agreed to last month. 

The pact requires the Latin American giant to abide by the Paris climate accord, which Bolsonaro has threatened to pull out of, and also aims to end illegal deforestation, including in the Brazilian Amazon.

It must be ratified by the 28 national governments of the EU and the European Parliament before it enters force.

On Friday, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Dublin would vote against the deal unless Brazil takes action to protect the rainforest, however.

Varadkar said in a statement he was very concerned at the record levels of rainforest destruction, and said the Ireland – an EU member – would closely monitor Brazil’s environmental actions in the two years until the Mercosur deal is ratified.

“There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement if Brazil does not honour its environmental commitments,” he said.

Macron’s office later echoed Varadkar comments, saying France would also oppose the deal on account of Bolsonaro having “lied” to the French President when he played down concerns about climate change at a G20 summit in Japan in June.

‘Crime against humanity’

Amid the rise in deforestation, Norway and Germany earlier this month halted millions of dollars of Amazon protection subsidies to the Amazon Fund, accusing Brazil of turning its back on the fight against deforestation.

The move came after Bolsonaro’s administration unilaterally changed the fund’s governance structure and closed down the steering committee that selects the projects to back, making no formal proposal for the composition of a new committee.

Filipe Martins, an adviser to Bolsonaro, on Thursday said the government was committed to fighting illegal deforestation, however.

The Amazon will be saved by Brazil and not “the empty, hysterical and misleading rhetoric of the mainstream media, transnational bureaucrats and NGOs”, Martins said in a series of Twitter posts.

His claim was rebutted by former Brazilian environment minister and presidential candidate, Marina Silva, who called the fires in the Amazon a “crime against humanity” and blamed current policies for fuelling the blazes.

“The whole world is watching a situation that is out of control in terms of deforestation and fires in Brazil’s Amazon,” Silva told a conference in the Colombian capital, Bogota, on Thursday.

“It’s a situation I regard to be a crime against the homeland, a crime against humanity.

“Throughout Brazil’s history we have had difficult situations, but this is the first time we have a situation that was practically and officially fuelled by the government.”

Source: Aljazeera

Venezuelans race to Ecuador before new visa rules take effect

People walk on the Rumichaca International Bridge into Ecuador, where officials have noticed a spike in Venezuelan arrivals before the country’s new visa requirements take effect on Monday [Pu Ying Huang/Al Jazeera]

Rumichaca, Colombia – For months, Jose Amaya held out hope that his country would change. Even as his friends, family and neighbours abandoned Venezuela, with its hunger and violence, he refused to leave his home, his car and the only life he ever knew in the city of Maracaibo.

But earlier this month Ecuador, about 1,600km away, announced it would begin to require visas for Venezuelans from August 26, following similar moves by Chile and Peru. That was when Aymala, 54, concluded that time was running out for him and his three grandchildren.

”When we saw the news about the visa, we knew it was time,” he said as he waited amid thousands of his fellow displaced countrymen to cross Colombia’s cold and mountainous border into Ecuador while they still could. ”We practically gave up hope in Venezuela.”

Amaya echoed the feelings of many who stood wrapped in blankets beside heaped luggage at the border: Doors were closing to Venezuelan migrants while the political, economic and humanitarian crises that drove them from their homes only promised to deepen.

Amaya travelled with a group of 10 – neighbours and relatives, children and adults – who had gotten together and sold off a Chevy Malibu, AC units, furniture and a PlayStation to buy bus passes across Colombia to meet his 21-year-old son in the Ecuadoran capital of Quito.

He was among the more fortunate who waited at the border. Many with nothing to sell had arrived on foot from Venezuela to beat the Ecuadorian deadline. Others had left their country more than a year ago but struggled to get by in Colombia and turned up at the border in their latest attempt to find some means to survive.

“I don’t think even my family will ever believe what I’ve been through,” said Ronald Romero, 25, who wore slippers because he said a trucker who has picked him up hitchhiking had stolen his shoes, phone and the money he had saved to buy a bus ticket. “I’ve been hungry, tired, cold. I’ve cried plenty because I’m all alone.”

He left Venezuela six months ago but could not find work in Colombia, he said, so he planned to walk to find his sister in Argentina, more than 4,828km away.

Surge in number crossing Ecuador border

About 4,500 Venezuelans have crossed this border daily since Ecuador announced the new visa requirement earlier this month, according to Jorge Pantoja, secretary of public safety for the nearby city of Ipiales. That is up from an average of between 1,800 and 2,200 Venezuelans a day before the announcement, he said. 

Up to 7,800 Venezuelans a day could pass through this weekend as Ecuador’s deadline looms, he said.

That flood has prompted Colombia’s migration authority to expand services at the 24-hour border crossing between the two countries to cut down wait times, which can reach beyond 15 hours, so as to decrease the number of Venezuelans forced to spend the nights outside in this chilly city at 2,895-metre elevation, where temperatures after dark often dip to near-four degrees Celsius.

Nearly 500,000 Venezuelans have left Colombia via this border crossing since the start of this year, according to Colombian migration authorities.

The vast majority show up to the border without passports, which are nearly impossible to get in their country. They then apply for a special improvised ID on the Colombian side which gets them access to Ecuador. After the new visa rule takes effect on Monday, only Venezuelans with passports who have applied and paid for visas will be able to cross into Ecuador.

Venezuelans race to Ecuador [Pu Ying Huang/Al Jazeera]

Nearly 250,000 Venezuelans live in the small mountainous country of 17 million people, which has recently seen rising tensions between Ecuadorans and immigrants. When discussing the possibility of new visa restrictions last month, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said, “everything has a limit.” 

One young couple, 31-year-old Dais Ojeda and 28-year-old Dargur Rodriguez, had spent two years living in eastern Colombia, near Venezuela, with their two children, aged six and eight. She sold coffee in the street and he worked in construction. But as the months went by, even more Venezuelans poured into the small Colombian city where they lived and work became harder to find. Every day they struggled to put food on the table until they began to realise they would have to move on. 

When they heard that Ecuador would soon be closing to Venezuelans without passports, they left home and headed west, walking and hitchhiking with the kids for 10 days to reach the border.

They heard things were better in Ecuador. But they were not sure exactly where they would go or what work they might find.

“We’ll figure that out when we get there,” Ojeda said as she waited in line with her family at the border.

Nearby, 31-year-old Roni Blanco sat on the cold concrete rubbing his foot where it had worn through his sock in the pink foam slippers he wore.

For a year and two months, he has worked in several mechanic shops in the Colombian capital, Bogota. His goal was to save money to get his children and parents out of Venezuela, but each day his earnings went straight to food and rent. As more Venezuelans arrived he found himself frequently out of work, so he hiked eight days to this border before it closed. 

“The idea is to get work and bring my family,” he said, sitting with two companions he met along way. “We don’t know what city we’re going to because we don’t know anything about Ecuador.”

Colombia has protested restrictive immigration measures in other South American countries as the continent grapples with a four million-person exodus from Venezuela, which the Organization of American States has predicted could hit eight million by the end of next year if nothing significant changes. The more countries that close their doors to Venezuelan migrants, the more will be stuck in Colombia, which shares a 1,900km border with Venezuela and hosts more Venezuelans than any other nation – approximately 1.4 million.

‘Venezuelans have no choice’

Humanitarian groups have warned that such restrictions will only drive the migration underground.

“It worries us that the new visa for Venezuelans may have negative impacts,”a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency in Bogota told Al Jazeera. “In the experience of the UNHCR, measures to restrict access don’t necessarily create a decrease in the flow of migration, and instead can put people at risk using illegal border crossings controlled by delinquent groups.”

Venezuela

At the border, 30-year-old Yurima Gutierrez also doubted that visa requirements would stop Venezuelans from coming to Ecuador, recalling how easily she had entered Colombia through informal and unpoliced patches across the border.

Just two weeks before she had been laid off as a business administrator for a subsidiary of Venezuela’s decrepit state oil firm, PdVSA, and given a severance pay that allowed her to buy only four kilograms of flour. Nearly panicked, she realised the only way to feed her four children was to leave the country immediately, so she left the oldest two with relatives and took the younger ones across Colombia to Ecuador.

Source: Aljazeera

US billionaire David Koch, conservative donor, dies at age 79

Businessman David Koch arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala Benefit in Upper Manhattan, New York [Carlo Allegri/Reuters]

Billionaire industrialist David Koch, a driving force behind conglomerate Koch Industries who, as one of the world’s richest people, became a major financier of conservative causes and political candidates, has died at age 79, his brother said on Friday.

Charles Koch, Koch Industries Inc’s chairman, disclosed the death in a statement that touched on his younger brother’s lengthy battle with prostate cancer and his philanthropic contributions to medical research, education and the arts.

“He will be greatly missed, but never forgotten,” Charles said in a statement addressed to employees. “David was proud of the extraordinary work you all have done to make Koch Industries the successful company that it is today.”

David, a philanthropist and patron of cultural and medical institutions, amassed his vast wealth with a large ownership stake in Koch Industries, the Kansas-based company he ran with Charles.

With Charles as chairman and chief executive and David as executive vice president, Koch Industries – one of the world’s largest privately-held businesses – aggressively expanded beyond the oil refining business their father created into an array of new ventures.

David stepped down from the business and political activities in June 2018, citing declining health.

He and Charles, both Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained engineers, spent hundreds of millions of dollars to back conservative causes and Republican political candidates in the United States. They were fierce critics of Democratic President Barack Obama but failed in their bid to stop him from being re-elected in 2012.

Political activity

Environmentalists and others have been highly critical of the Koch brothers over their funding to groups denying climate change. 

The brothers also funded groups like Americans for Prosperity that spread their libertarian vision of conservatism advocating lower taxes and fewer regulations on businesses and donated heavily to Republican candidates. Critics said the brothers used their riches to buy political influence and peddle positions that would benefit them financially.

The Kochs were no fans of businessman-turned-politician Donald Trump and backed rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Once Trump was nominated by the party, the brothers redirected their political donations towards congressional races rather than the presidential election in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The Koch brothers strongly opposed Trump’s protectionist trade policies, which abandoned free trade deals, aimed tariffs at close US allies and picked fights with major trade partners like China.

David and Charles each were worth $58.7bn, ranking 7th and 8th on the list of the world’s richest people, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Their combined wealth exceeded that of the world’s richest man, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Their father, Fred Koch, founded Koch Industries and built gas plants in Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union before becoming an ardent anti-communist and a founder of the archconservative John Birch Society.

In 1991, David survived a plane collision in Los Angeles that killed 34 people. 

“I felt that the good Lord spared my life for a purpose. And since then, I’ve been busy doing all the good works I can think of,” David told New York magazine in 2010. 

He was a familiar figure at cultural events in New York City, joined by his wife, Julia, 23 years his junior.

David donated more than $1bn in his lifetime. He gave hundreds of millions of dollars to medical facilities, art and natural history museums and the New York City Ballet.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three children.

Vice presidential run

David ran unsuccessfully for US vice president in 1980 – running to the right of conservative hero Ronald Reagan – on a long-shot Libertarian Party ticket that called for abolishing income taxes, minimum wage laws, government regulatory agencies, the Social Security retirement programme, the FBI and the CIA.

Under the leadership of Charles and David, Koch Industries was involved in oil refining, chemicals, biofuels, pipelines, commodities trading, ranching, fertilizer and paper. It made well-known everyday products such as Dixie disposable cups, Brawny paper towels, Quilted Northern toilet paper, Stainmaster carpet and stretchy Lycra fabric.

David guided the chemical equipment side of his company from his home in New York while Charles remained in Wichita. The two brothers each owned 42 percent of Koch Industries.

The Koch brothers helped back the conservative Tea Party movement that arose after Obama took office and tenaciously fought his policies, including the 2010 Obamacare healthcare law that reduced the number of Americans without medical insurance by millions.

Koch was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1992 and underwent radiation treatment, surgery and hormone therapy. The experience prompted him to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to medical institutions, including MIT, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. 

David was embroiled in a bitter family feud that erupted in 1980 in which his fraternal twin, Bill, and another brother, Frederick, accused David and Charles of cheating them out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Two decades of court battles ensued. Their mother disinherited Bill and Frederick before her death. During one courtroom showdown in 1998, David sobbed on the witness stand while describing his broken relationship with his twin.

Source: Aljazeera