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African asylum seekers facing expulsion have embraced Israel

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Even as he faces a potential deportation from Israel, 30-year-old Eritrean asylum seeker Johny Goytiom Kafl brims with satisfaction as he looks out upon thousands of fellow protesters rallying against the impending expulsions, all while peacefully secured by police.

It’s such displays of civil action that he most admires about his adoptive home of the past nine years since he escaped one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, and then faced torture, kidnapping and abuse during his exodus throughout Africa.

“You are treated like a human being in Israel,” he said in fluent Hebrew. “Here I am not afraid. In Eritrea, I was afraid.”

Kafl, along with tens of thousands of other Africans, now fear their stay in the Holy Land is coming to an abrupt end. Israel has given many of them until April 1 to leave for an unnamed African destination — known to be Rwanda — in exchange for $3,500 and a plane ticket. Otherwise, they face open-ended incarceration.

Israel considers the vast majority of the nearly 40,000 migrants to be job seekers and says it has no legal obligation to keep them. The Africans, nearly all from dictatorial Eritrea and war-torn Sudan, say they fled for their lives and face renewed danger if they return.

As the world grapples with the worst refugee crisis since World War II, the issue has struck a raw nerve in Israel — established on the heels of the Holocaust.

Critics at home and in the Jewish American community have called the government’s proposed response unethical and a stain on Israel’s image as a refuge for Jewish migrants.

The optics of black asylum seekers accusing the country of racism has turned into a public relations liability for Israel, and groups of Israeli doctors, academics, poets, Holocaust survivors, rabbis and pilots have all appealed to halt the plan. But the government remains steadfast, bristling at what it considers cynical comparisons to the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany.

The Africans started moving toward Israel in 2005 after neighboring Egypt violently quashed a refugee demonstration and word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel. Tens of thousands crossed the porous desert border before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx.

But Israel has struggled with what to do with those already in the country, alternating between plans to deport them and offering them menial jobs in hotels and local municipalities.

Kafl, like many of his compatriots, fled Eritrea to escape its lifelong military conscription in slavery-like conditions and fears death if he returns.

He has experienced both sides of Israel. His asylum request is still pending, and he has been locked up in a massive detention center in the remote southern desert. But he is also deeply grateful to the many Israelis who welcomed him and sympathized with his plight. He said he hopes to one day return the favor if the Eritrean regime is ultimately toppled.

“I knocked on the door of the country and said ‘save me.’ I will never forget the soldier who said ‘welcome,’ gave me food and called for a doctor. I got his kind of respect in Israel, not in Eritrea,” he said.

After the initial warm welcome, however, many turned against the migrants, particularly in the working class neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv, which have become known as “Little Africa.”

“They are abusing our democracy to live off our backs,” said Shefi Paz, who leads the local residents’ opposition. “They’ve ruined our community and ruined our lives.”

The government, dominated by nationalist parties, has denounced their prolonged stay and recently voted to begin deporting them to African countries with which they have reached secret agreements. They are believed to be Rwanda and Uganda, close allies of Israel, though they both deny any deal exists.

The government says it is going out of its way to accommodate humanitarian concerns. Women, children and families, for example, are exempt from the deportation order, as are those who escaped the genocide in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. It says it is expediting its refugee vetting process, and notes the Supreme Court has ruled the arrangement is legal and does not imperil those dispatched.

But that’s not what the migrants and their backers contend.

Sigal Rozen, of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants advocacy group, said Israel’s processing has been disingenuous, noting that of the 15,000 African refugee status requests, only 11 have been approved.

She said the 4,000 migrants who accepted previous offers to go to Rwanda did not find refuge there. Nearly all had their travel papers seized and money taken and were then pushed into neighboring Uganda to embark upon a second refugee ordeal.

Unable to return home, they have been forced to traverse though Africa, where many reported being tortured, raped and starved in Libya en route to Europe. An Eritrean Christian who had left Israel was beheaded on a Libyan beach by the Islamic State group in 2015.

“How can Israel know if these people are genuine refugees if they didn’t check their asylum requests?” said Rozen. “As Jews, we are morally obliged to protect these people from the horrible things that they ran away from.”

At a parliamentary hearing Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said Israel had no obligation toward what she called job seekers who imposed “unacceptable migrant terror that includes violence and sexual harassment” toward the people of south Tel Aviv.

Monim Haroon said it hurt to hear Israel refer to him as an infiltrator. Now a 28-year-old university student in Jerusalem, he fled Darfur five years ago and has lost family members in the genocide.

“I escaped my country because I wanted to stay alive and to say that I am just a migrant worker, that is very painful to me,” he said at a demonstration outside the Rwandan Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Lior Birger, a researcher who published a recent study of 19 migrants who voluntarily left Israel and managed to reach Europe, said Israel’s promises were not being kept. One Eritrean testified to being extorted in a Sudanese prison and then beaten in a Libyan torture camp and shoved into a small room with 800 people. Another said he watched his wife drown in the Mediterranean and later tried to kill himself. She said everyone had a uniform message: “Better a prison in Israel than dying on the way.”

A recent poll by the respected Israel Democracy Institute found two-thirds of the Jewish public agreed with the planned expulsions. The migrants’ best hope may be the government’s lack of preparation. Prison authorities are skeptical they will be able to process the expected 15,000 to 20,000 to be jailed.

For many of the Africans, there is no good choice.

“I don’t care about the money and I never even planned to reach Israel. I was just looking for a safe area,” said Halofom Sultan, 37, who escaped Eritrea seven years ago and has been separated from his wife and two children since. “I hope there will be a change in my country and I can go back. Otherwise, I don’t know.”

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Lewis Hamilton hails ‘magical moment’ as he wins 100th Formula One race | UK News

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Lewis Hamilton has spoken of the “magical moment” of winning his 100th Formula One race at Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix.

Hamilton, 36, used his driving and overtaking skills, and his strategic thinking in the rain, to fight back from seventh place on the first lap to a landmark victory.

He is the first driver to reach 100 victories.

It was his fifth win of the season and his first since the British Grand Prix in July.

“It’s taken a long time to get to 100 and at times, I wasn’t sure it would come,” the British driver said.

“It is a magical moment. I could only have dreamed of still being here, to have this opportunity to win these races, and to drive with such phenomenal talents this late on in my career.”

“I am so proud of everything we have done with Mercedes, on and off the track, and this is a special moment for everyone that has been part of it.

“My dad called me last night and he has always been that one to reassure me and to continue to support me. I feel incredibly grateful for the amazing support that I have had.”

The victory takes Hamilton two points clear of Max Verstappen in the title race with seven rounds to go.

It also denied Lando Norris of his first victory following a thrilling finale.

Norris, 21, appeared on course to keep Hamilton at bay, and become the youngest British Formula One winner.

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Vladimir Putin pictured fishing and hiking on Siberian forest holiday | World News

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The Kremlin has released pictures showing Russian President Vladimir Putin on a fishing and hiking holiday in Siberia.

Mr Putin, 68, was joined by defence minister Sergei Shoigu, his regular holiday companion, for the short break earlier this month.

Mr Putin visited the Primorye and the Amur Region of the Russian Far East earlier this month Pic: AP
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Mr Putin visited the Primorye and the Amur Region of the Russian Far East earlier this month. Pic: AP

The Russian premier stopped off for a few days after a working trip to the Primorye and the Amur Region of Russia‘s Far East.

He appeared relaxed while walking through meadows against a dramatic mountain backdrop, casually dressed in a khaki-coloured hat and jacket.

The Kremlin released the images of Mr Putin on Sunday, 26 September Pic: AP
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Mr Putin appeared relaxed while walking through meadows against a dramatic mountain backdrop. Pic: AP
President Putin leans against a tree in a forest on a short break earlier this month Pic: AP
Image:
President Putin leans against a tree in a forest on a short break earlier this month Pic: AP

He took a moment to lean against a tree while staring into the distance in another shot.

And he couldn’t disguise his delight as he smiled proudly while holding aloft a fish he caught in a nearby lake.

Video footage, released alongside the pictures by the Kremlin on Sunday, also showed Mr Putin driving an amphibious vehicle through a river in the region.

Days after the break, the Russian leader was forced to spend a “few days” in isolation after dozens of people in his inner circle caught COVID-19.

Mr Putin was joined on the fishing trip by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu Pic: AP
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Mr Putin was joined on the fishing trip by defence minister Sergei Shoigu. Pic: AP

The outbreak prompted Mr Putin to cancel his trip to Tajikistan for a security summit.

He has had two shots of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and is feeling healthy, the Kremlin said.

The Russian leader is known for his love of the great outdoors and has often been pictured bare-chested in an apparent bid to cultivate his macho image.

Mr Putin on a fishing trip during a mini break in the Siberian Tyva region in August 2017 Pic: AP
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Mr Putin on a fishing trip during a mini break in the Siberian Tyva region in August 2017. Pic: AP

He was most famously pictured shirtless atop a horse on a mountain holiday in southern Siberia’s Tuva region in 2009 where he paraded his bare chest and his fishing prowess.

Mr Putin later stripped down to the waist before plunging into an icy lake as part of evens to mark Orthodox Epiphany in January 2018.

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UK troops face questioning over woman’s 2012 murder in Kenya | World News

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Nine British soldiers face being questioned over the murder of a Kenyan woman whose body was found in a septic tank of a hotel close to a UK army camp more than nine years ago.

The body of 21-year-old Agnes Wanjiru was discovered at the Lions Court Inn in Nanyuki two months after she disappeared in March 2012.

The town, which lies some 122 miles (196km) north of the Kenyan capital Nairobi, is close to the British Training Unit Kenya, which is commonly known as BATUK.

Ministry of Defence in London
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The Ministry of Defence says it is in discussion with the Kenyan authorities

An initial inquiry stalled, but a fresh investigation was launched after an inquest delayed until 2019 found Ms Wanjiru was unlawfully killed, according to The Sunday Times.

A post-mortem examination found she died as a result of stab wounds to her chest and abdomen.

There was also evidence she had been beaten, although due to the condition of her body it was unclear whether she had been sexually assaulted.

Witnesses told The Sunday Times that Ms Wanjiru, a sex worker, was last seen leaving the hotel’s bar with a British soldier.

A previous investigation into her death foundered when a request by Kenyan police in June 2012 to the British Royal Military Police (RMP) that nine soldiers be questioned apparently went missing.

Detectives are said to have asked the RMP to put 13 questions to the soldiers, including whether any of them had sex with Ms Wanjiru on the night she disappeared.

A photo of the victim was included in the request, as well as a request for DNA samples to be taken from the nine men.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said it received no such request for assistance in summer 2012, but is now “in discussion with the Kenyan authorities to determine what support is needed”.

It said RMP Special Investigation Branch (SIB) officers had been in Kenya for unrelated reasons around the time of Ms Wanjiru’s murder, and had assisted in compiling the list of the nine soldiers.

The victim’s sister, Rose Wanyua Wanjiku, now 48, told The Sunday Times: “She was in the company of some British soldiers. I believe they were responsible.

“The Kenyan police should have forced the British Army to produce the culprits to face the law.”

An MoD spokesman said: “In 2012, Special Investigation Branch carried out initial inquiries in Kenya, including providing information about British personnel to the Kenyan police.

“No further requests for assistance were received.

“Following the conclusion of a Kenyan inquest in 2019, we are aware that the Kenyan authorities are looking into this incident.

“The jurisdiction for this investigation rests with the Kenyan police, and we are currently in discussions with the Kenyan authorities to determine what support is needed.

“Due to this being subject to an ongoing investigation it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

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