Detained after fleeing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL also known as ISIS) group’s crumbling Syrian holdout, two women from France say they are ready to go home – if they are judged fairly.
Behind the fence of a camp in Kurdish-held territory in Syria, the detainees wore long black face veils that only showed their eyes, and were accompanied by three children.
They were supervised closely by Kurdish fighters.
Around 500 foreign women have been trucked into the Al-Hol camp in recent months, after being picked up by US-backed forces near villages they have taken one by one from the jihadists.
From the outset, the French women warned AFP they would not give any personal details in order to protect their families back home.
But the most talkative, a 29-year-old from the region of Lyon in France, had a message to get out.
“We’re not animals. We’re human beings… We have a heart, we have a soul,” she said, her blue eyes staring straight ahead.
Kurdish-led forces have now hemmed the last ISIL fighters into less than half a kilometre square of territory in the village of Baghouz, and say their only choice is surrender.
‘We didn’t agree’
France is hesitating to bring back women thought to have belonged to ISIL and their children.
Their repatriation is a sensitive topic in a country that has suffered a series of deadly ISIL-claimed attacks since 2015.
And French authorities are even more suspicious of men and women who stayed with ISIL until the bitter end.
The second woman, who is in her thirties, said she, her husband, and three children fled the last ISIL holdout earlier this month.
“We didn’t agree” with the ISIL fighters, she said, with a slight southern French accent.
“But we couldn’t say anything.”
Her companion insisted “the IS [ISIL] fighters scared us. They’d say: ‘We’ll slit your throats, we’ll rape you'”.
After weeks of bombardment and food shortages as the Syrian Defence Forces moved in, she said she slipped $50 to a smuggler so she and her two young boys could escape.
Now both women say they are ready to go home.
But the 29-year-old has conditions: to be able to practice Islam as she sees fit, and to remain close to the children she has left.
She recounts how she lost two children – aged just two and six – a few years ago in bombardment.
But she claims she is not bent on revenge.
“I’ve had my children killed. It’s not tomorrow that I’m going to go and kill someone,” she said.
‘They’ll rip our kids away’
The two women claim they led peaceful lives under ISIL and that their husbands held civilian jobs, but it was not immediately possible to verify their accounts.
They say they became disillusioned by the reality of living in the “caliphate” that ISIL proclaimed across large swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014.
The group “executed lots of people for nothing, without proof – even Muslims”, the younger woman said, claiming her husband was killed.
But they do not condemn the deadly ISIL attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper and Bataclan concert hall in France in 2015.
“The people who did that wanted to avenge” French air strikes in Syria, the woman from the Lyon region said.
Already, she says the pair fear what might happen to their young boys if they return to France and are arrested.
“They’ll rip our kids away from us, put them in homes and foster families,” she said.
“They’ll be separated from each other and grow up (with values) against the education we want to give them,” she insisted.
“There are lots of things in France against our religion — homosexuality for example”.
Both hope that if they are put on trial they get short sentences.
“I hope we’ll be judged fairly case by case — not for everything the group did,” the more talkative woman said.
The older woman said she would want a short, commutable prison sentence so she can see her children.
“They’re all I’ve got,” she said, after her husband was detained.
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.