18 Dec

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

Displaced Iraqis long for home, but return risky

© AFP/File / by Sarah Benhaida | Since the battle for Mosul began in mid-October, 103,872 people have been displaced, the vast majority from Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital


Iraqi civilians displaced by the battle to recapture Mosul long to return home but bombs left by jihadists and ongoing fighting makes going back now a dangerous proposition.

More than 100,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since the massive operation to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) group was launched on October 17, and the battle is far from over.

Hisham, in his 20s, cannot stand life in the Hassan Sham camp anymore.

“I am not asking anything from anyone, just let me leave this camp and go home,” Hisham says.

He waves his arms, brandishing his identity card proving he is from a village that was recently retaken from IS.

“I was searched, my identity was checked and then I was recorded. Now my name is on the list of displaced and I cannot move,” he says, adding that he had tried to leave the camp several times but was prevented from doing so.

Nearby, a teenager shivering in the cold is angered that he cannot return to his nearby house, rather than have to live squeezed into a tent in the camp alongside his father, mother and four siblings.

“Our house is in the village of Hassan Sham and we are in the camp of Hassan Sham,” says the teenager, who declined to give his name.

– Risking lives to return –

“At least we would have a real roof. Here, there is hardly anything to eat,” while outside, his father could have found work to support the family.

From inside the fences surrounding camps for displaced people in northern Iraq, life outside may seem much better. But waiting to make sure of stability and that bombs have been removed is the safer course.

“Often we see places being announced retaken and safe for return very quickly,” said Becky Bakr Abdulla of the Norwegian Refuge Council aid group.

But in reality, people may be “risking their lives to return home, because it’s not safe or secure,” Abdulla said.

“Before people return, they need to have all the information necessary to make an informed decision,” she said, noting that there may not be “enough aid, not enough service infrastructure (and) they feel forced to leave.”

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US politics >>

Taking to the streets, blocking traffic or marching on Washington will not be enough. What we must do is unite single-issue protests under a broader banner

Trump protest

‘Questioning the legitimacy of those in power is central because it can lead people to question the nature of power itself.’ Photograph: Kevin Hagen/EPA

The US is now more politically divided than at anytime since the civil war. And yet, as of next month, America will be much like a one-party state. With a new US supreme court justice, the party will effectively control all three branches of government. Say goodbye to the famous checks and balances of the US political system. Now the balance, and those checks, will have to come from the streets.

The American political system is broken. Trump lost the popular vote by close to 3m ballots. Yet he has shown a readiness to bully political dissenters, and an inability or unwillingness to disentangle his personal financial interests from the business of running the country.

He has nominated Wall Street tycoons, generals and political extremists to top positions. True, his nominees may get tough questioning, even from some Republicans. But make no mistake: personal flamboyance aside, the Trump agenda is essentially the Republican agenda.

Trump will enter office as perhaps the most unpopular newly elected president in history. And yet the famous institutions established by the US constitution, meant to prevent the usurpation of power by any one individual or faction, no long appear up to the task. That civic responsibility – of organizing to prevent tyranny – must now fall to everyday Americans. But that social movement will need to have a strategic vision, one that connects with the justifiable anger that drove many voters to Trump.

Such powerful social movements are not unprecedented in US history: the organized resistance to British colonial rule; the underground railroad and the abolition movement; the strikes and labor organizing of the 1930s spurring the New Deal; the civil rights movement and the various movements it inspired. Our country, and our world, would look entirely different today without the hard work and struggle of these activists, organizers and resisters.

Yet any protest movement against the extremes of the Trump administration must be strategic and not merely reactive. That means that the tactics must align with the movement’s strategic vision. Simply taking to the streets, blocking traffic or marching on Washington will not be enough. Nor will it suffice to simply revive the Clinton coalition.

The bigotry, sexism and racism of Trump and the extremists he has dredged up must be stopped at all costs. But a successful movement must drive a sharp wedge between Trump and many of the disaffected Americans he drew to his campaign. Single-issue protests must be tied to broader concerns, or they will succumb to Trump’s uncanny ability to divide and conquer.

The soft underbelly of the emerging Trump government is the outrageous claim that he and his fellow billionaire appointees have the interests of America’s working class at heart. The campaign of Bernie Sanders demonstrated the potential for a politics that, while celebrating diversity, calls for a solidarity of the many against the powerful few who continue to benefit from capitalism run amok. And under Trump run amok it certainly will. While Sanders did not “win” in the formal political sense, he inspired millions, including many young people who have historically been the foot soldiers of social movements.

Social movements don’t need a majority to be effective. Research shows that governments around the world have been shaken to their foundations, and often toppled, when a mere 3.5% of their populations are organized in opposition. This is because any government, no matter how much it controls the formal levers of power, must also in the end retain legitimacy.

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EU council leader calls for ‘consideration of constitutional morals’ as police forcibly remove protesters from outside parliament


Polish MPs leave parliament in the early hours of Saturday after police forcefully removed protesters blocking the exit

European Union council president, Donald Tusk, called on the authorities in Poland to respect the constitution as a standoff between the opposition and the ruling party continued.

Polish opposition leaders called for days of anti-government protests and pledged to keep blocking parliament’s main hall after being accused of trying to seize power illegally by a government they say has violated the constitution.

Several thousand people protested in Warsaw and other cities after police broke up a blockade of the parliament building in Warsaw in the early hours.

“Following yesterday’s events in parliament and on the streets of Warsaw … I appeal to those who have real power for respect and consideration of the people, constitutional principles and morals,” Tusk told a news conference in Poland’s western city of Wroc?aw.

Earlier on Saturday, the head of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, Jaros?aw Kaczy?ski, left parliament after police forcefully removed protesters blocking their exit, television footage showed.

Kaczy?ski left in a car that drove away in a convoy with the car of prime minister Beata Szyd?o and several other vehicles, footage from broadcas

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This year’s Christmas Appeal supports three refugee charities. Two boys in France who are being helped to make to make their UK asylum claims talk about their lives and dreams

The evacuation of a makeshift camp near Stalingrad metro station in Paris.

The evacuation of a makeshift camp near Stalingrad metro station in Paris. Photograph: Thierry Orban/Getty Images

From a distance, he seemed strangely well fed for a child who had been travelling alone for 18 months. Closer, it became evident that Hassan was only trying to stay alive. Wrapped around the 16-year-old’s slender frame were seven coats. The outer layer, a quilted puffer jacket, engulfed him.

It was on Tuesday, just before 6pm as the temperature tumbled in central Paris, when the young Somalian was found shivering on the Avenue de Flandre, close to the Gare du Nord.

For four weeks he had survived penniless in Paris, sleeping on pavements in the 10th arrondissement and, when it rained, jostling for a space beneath the Stalingrad metro bridge. “People from all over Africa were gathered there, but you have to hustle for a place to sleep and the police kick people,” he said, managing a rueful smile.

Hassan left Mogadishu in July 2015, travelling alone through Kenya, Sudan, Egypt before crossing the Mediterranean in a 12-day odyssey that “made me certain I would never survive”.

His ambition had been to reach Calais and, from there, Birmingham where his eldest sister lives. Entering France, he learnt that the vast refugee camp at Calais had been demolished and so he wound up in the French capital. There is no back-up plan: “My sister is all I have.” Hassan’s father died in the continuing Somali civil war. Later, his mother was killed in a terrorist attack by al-Shabaab militants.

The teenager was found last week by Laura Griffiths of Safe Passage, which has a team of volunteers combing the French capital for child refugees who, like Hassan, are eligible to enter the UK.

Throughout 2016, Safe Passage, founded last year by the social action charity Citizens UK, has ensured that hundreds of unaccompanied child refugees have found safe and legal routes to the UK, defeating the Home Office in the high court and helping force a reticent British government to honour its political and ethical obligations.

No one knows how many unaccompanied children are living rough in Paris, hidden in central squats or the city’s peripheral housing projects. More child refugees, many of whom are eligible to enter Britain, arrive daily in Paris. Tracking them down quickly is essential, says Griffiths.

Hassan was so vulnerable that when Griffiths found him, a man she assumed was his father turned out to be a stranger who had known him for 10 minutes.

“It is difficult though; we’re not going to find 300 unaccompanied minors with family in the UK in a week like we did in Calais. We found three yesterday, all hungry and cold and unable to speak English,” said Griffiths.

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Automated system erroneously accused claimants in 93% of cases, state review finds: ‘It’s balancing the books on the backs of the poorest,’ lawyer says

Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder. A government agency in the state made wrongful accusations of fraud in tens of thousands of cases, a state review found.

Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder. A government agency in the state made wrongful accusations of fraud in tens of thousands of cases, a state review found. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

A Michigan government agency wrongly accused individuals in at least 20,000 cases of fraudulently seeking unemployment payments, according to a review by the state.

The review released this week found that an automated system had erroneously accused claimants in 93% of cases – a rate that stunned even lawyers suing the state over the computer system and faulty fraud claims.

“It’s literally balancing the books on the backs of Michigan’s poorest and jobless,” attorney David Blanchard, who is pursuing a class action in federal court on behalf of several claimants, told the Guardian on Friday.

The Michigan unemployment insurance agency (UIA) reviewed 22,427 cases in which an automated computer system determined a claimant had committed insurance fraud, after federal officials, including the Michigan congressman Sander Levin, raised concerns with the system.

The review found that the overwhelming majority of claims over a two-year period between October 2013 and August 2015 were in error.

In 2015, the state revised its policy and required fraud determinations to be reviewed and issued by employees. But the new data is the first indication of just how widespread the improper accusations were during that period.

The people accused lost access to unemployment payments, and reported facing fines as high as $100,000. Those who appealed the fines fought the claims in lengthy administrative hearings. And some had their federal and state taxes garnished.

Kevin Grifka, an electrician who lives in metro Detroit, had his entire federal income tax garnished by the UIA, after it accused him of fraudulently collecting $12,000 in unemployment benefits.

The notice came just weeks before Christmas in 2014.

“To be honest with you, it was really hard to see your wife in tears around Christmas time, when all of this went on for me,” Grifka said.

The computer system claimed that he had failed to accurately represent his income over a 13-week period. But the system was wrong: Grifka, 39, hadn’t committed insurance fraud.

In a statement issued on Friday, Levin called on state officials to review the remaining fraud cases that were generated by the system before the policy revision.

“While I’m pleased that a small subset of the cases has been reviewed, the state has a responsibility to look at the additional 30,000 fraud determinations made during this same time period,” he said.

Figures released by the state show 2,571 individuals have been repaid a total of $5.4m. It’s unclear if multiple cases were filed against the same claimants.

The findings come as Michigan’s Republican-led legislature passed a bill this week to use $10m from the unemployment agency’s contingent fund – which is comprised mostly of fines generated by fraud claims – to balance the state’s budget. Since 2011, the balance of the contingent fund has jumped from $3.1m to $155m, according to a report from a Michigan house agency.

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