HAJJIN, Syria: In the former militant bastion of Hajjin in eastern Syria, 50-year-old Khaled Abed shouts at the top of his lungs amid the rubble, asking why he cannot go home.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) expelled Daesh from the town last month, but it has since forbidden anyone from returning to its town center.
“I want to go home. Why can’t I?” Abed bellows in the street near what was once the town market but has become a cordoned off military area.
“Our sons are the ones who liberated” this town, says the father of four SDF fighters, wearing a checkered red-and-white scarf on his head.
“Why won’t they allow us back? By God, it’s outrageous.”
Backed by airstrikes of the US-led coalition, the SDF is still battling the last militants south of Hajjin.
Abed fled Hajjin last year while it was still under Daesh rule, seeking refuge in a camp for the displaced in SDF-held territory.
He returned in recent days to find his family’s five homes destroyed, but wants access to rebuild them.
The SDF has allowed people to return to others parts of the town, but not in its devastated center.
“No civilians allowed,” they repeat all day long, to anybody trying to enter.
The main road is closed, but two trucks carrying people and their belongings drive down a side road toward an adjacent neighborhood.
Abu Khaled, an SDF field commander in charge of the area, tells AFP the road needs to be checked for ordnance before it can reopen.
Daesh has often planted land mines before retreating, causing casualties among advancing SDF troops and returning civilians.
But these warnings do not deter residents like Abed.
“We’ll clear the mines ourselves,” he says, still shouting. “We’ve become experts. They tried all sorts of weapons on us… Just let us go home!”
Sixty-year-old shepherd Aswad Al-Aysh is also defiant.
“No problem, we’ll get our sheep and make them walk in front of us,” he quips, to show if there are mines.
His brother Abed Al-Ibrahim, who fled town with him a year ago, says the town’s people need to return to their land.
“Where else are we supposed to go?” he asks quietly.
Hajjin was once a bustling Daesh hub, but today food is hard to come by, and the town’s water and electricity networks have been ravaged in the fighting.
At the town’s entrance, a young boy sells cigarette packs displayed on a broken table, while a man next to him peddles cans of fuel.
An armored vehicle pulls up, and an SDF fighter swings open its door to distribute small bottles of water, and children come running.
After receiving his share, a young boy pleads for more.
“Give me another one for Granny,” he says.
On the banks of the Euphrates, trucks pump up water from the river before distributing it in the area.
In recent weeks, the SDF has cornered Daesh in a small patch of 4 sq km south down the river.
The SDF commander-in-chief last week said he expected Daesh to be flushed out within a month, before operations to root out any remaining sleeper cells.
Unable to return to the Hajjin town center, residents are staying in a nearby village and commuting daily to see whether the SDF has lifted its ban.
Even the town’s mayor, Ali Jaber Ali, no longer lives there — though he says “there’s nothing left of the town hall” anyway.
With his destroyed home out of reach in central Hajjin, the 56-year-old is staying in the village of Abu Hamam.
He says he tried to convince the US-backed forces to let his people return.
“There are no more sleeper cells” here, he says he told them. “I know every single one of the townspeople. We need to go home.”
Near the town center, some residents are already rebuilding their homes.
A woman wearing a face veil shovels debris off her porch while a man rebuilds a collapsed wall.
Watching the scene, Amer Douda, 35, who hails from the cordoned-off area, is incensed.
“Why don’t they open up the roads?” he asks. “We’re ready to go back and set up a tent amid the ruins.
“They’re scared of us, but we’re a peaceful people. They should know that.”
Children killed in attack on Cameroonian school
Assailants storm private school in city of Kumba, Southwest Region, killing at least four students.Attackers have opened fire on a private school in Cameroon’s Southwest Region, killing at least four children, according to officials. The unknown assailants stormed the Mother Francisca School in the city of Kumba on Saturday. There was no immediate claim of…
Assailants storm private school in city of Kumba, Southwest Region, killing at least four students.Attackers have opened fire on a private school in Cameroon’s Southwest Region, killing at least four children, according to officials.
The unknown assailants stormed the Mother Francisca School in the city of Kumba on Saturday. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
“They attacked around noon. They found the children in a class and they opened fire on them,” Kumba sub-prefect Ali Anougou told the Reuters news agency.
At least nine other students were wounded and sent to the hospital. There were fears the death toll could rise.
The Associated Press news agency quoted Anougou as blaming separatists who have been fighting the military in parts of western Cameroon for the attack.
Cameroon’s two Anglophone regions – the Northwest and Southwest Regions – are home to a large minority of English speakers in a country where French speakers are the overwhelming majority – a situation that is the legacy of the decolonisation of western Africa by France and Britain more than 60 years ago.
In late 2016, long-standing complaints of political and economic discrimination against English speakers by the central government spilled over when lawyers, students and teachers began calling for reforms.
The government’s lethal response to the protests provoked rebels to declare in 2017 independence for a region they call “Ambazonia”, triggering a stronger crackdown by the authorities.
Both sides have since been accused of committing atrocities in a conflict that has killed some 3,000 people and forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.
Anglophone secessionists have imposed curfews and closed schools as part of their protest against President Paul Biya’s government.
Last year, officials blamed separatists for kidnapping dozens of schoolchildren, charges the separatists denied.
Vietnamese envoy hails KRCS’ global humanitarian efforts
KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer meets Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh. – KUNAKUWAIT: Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh hailed the humanitarian efforts of Kuwait Red Crescent Society (KRCS) around the world. The remarks were made to KUNA yesterday after the ambassador’s meeting with KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer. He expressed appreciation…
KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer meets Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh. – KUNAKUWAIT: Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh hailed the humanitarian efforts of Kuwait Red Crescent Society (KRCS) around the world. The remarks were made to KUNA yesterday after the ambassador’s meeting with KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer. He expressed appreciation for the society’s aid to the Vietnamese Embassy during the coronavirus crisis.
The ambassador added that they discussed providing his country with aid to face the impact of the recent floods and landslides, considered to be the worst in decades. Sayer said he was pleased with the ambassador’s visit and affirmed that KRCS will continue exerting humanitarian efforts to aid those affected by natural disasters and crises everywhere. – KUNA
Pain, frustration: Expats lose jobs to new rules and COVID
File photos show foreign workers applying to leave Kuwait during the amnesty. – Photos by Yasser Al-ZayyatBy Chidi Emmanuel After working for 24 years in Kuwait, Charley Lyon received the dreaded letter that many expats fear amid the economic downturn, coronavirus pandemic and new residency laws. Lyon is among thousands of expat workers in the…
File photos show foreign workers applying to leave Kuwait during the amnesty. – Photos by Yasser Al-ZayyatBy Chidi Emmanuel
After working for 24 years in Kuwait, Charley Lyon received the dreaded letter that many expats fear amid the economic downturn, coronavirus pandemic and new residency laws. Lyon is among thousands of expat workers in the government sector who were being laid off.
As part of its Kuwaitization policy, Kuwait is replacing expats with locals in the government sector. The government has also stopped issuing work permits to expats over 60 years of age without a university degree. These new rules have had a huge impact on the lives of thousands of expats in the country, leaving many with no choice but to pack their bags and leave.
Gulf countries are facing an exodus of foreign workers as the coronavirus pandemic pushes out foreign workers. In the midst of the COVID-19 and financial crunch, the National Assembly approved a draft law to slash expat numbers over the next five years.
As the budget deficit widens and economic conditions worsen, Kuwait is grappling with an economic downturn as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc around the world. The combined shock of collapsing oil prices, the pandemic and joblessness is reshaping labor policies in the region, thus bringing anti-foreigner sentiments to the fore again.
While Kuwait’s expats struggle to secure their jobs, the government is calling for an increase in workforce nationalization in government entities. “Why will foreigners take the jobs meant for us (Kuwaitis)? They can work anywhere – but not in the ministries,” argued Abdullah, a 26-year-old Kuwaiti.
Buttressing Abdullah’s viewpoint, Fatma, an unemployed Kuwaiti woman, complained of the difficulty in competing with foreign workers for jobs in the private sector. “Foreign workers can work longer for less, unlike us Kuwaitis. So most companies prefer to hire non-Kuwaitis. This leaves us with only one sector (the public sector). I think this is why the government introduced Kuwaitization, so as to give unemployed Kuwaitis an opportunity,” she explained.
For Lyon, justice and fairness should override anti-expat sentiments. “It is understandable that ministries would give preference to locals for jobs during these tough times, but it would be fair to consider the efforts of the old staff who have put in their best to build this country,” Lyon, 61, and some of his co-workers who were laid off recently lamented, as they worry about their future.
Expats make up the majority of the population of Kuwait. Residency is tied to employment and Kuwait does not easily offer citizenship routes to non-nationals. “We have been here (in Kuwait) legally for over 20 years. It will be difficult to go back and start afresh in our home countries. More so, Kuwait’s residency is linked to the work permit – when you lose your job, you automatically lose your residency. I worry about my children who are still in school. The three-month notice will not be enough to relocate them,” Mustapha, an Egyptian expat who recently lost his job, said in dismay.
Abdurazak Hamad, an African expat, is in a dilemma. “I feel miserable leaving my family behind. I don’t want to go alone, but I can’t make my wife quit her KD 450 job since she is now the sole breadwinner. Starting afresh in my home country at this age (62) will be very difficult. I wish I can get a permit (residency) to stay here with my family,” said Hamad, who was recently sacked.