India’s first detention centre is being built in Goalpara district’s Matia.(ANI
In the final list of National Register of Final NRC status: 15 buildings, schools, hospital in India’s first detention centre for those not in Assam NRCCitizens (NRC) published on August 31, more than 19 lakh people were excluded. However, those left out can still apply to the designated Foreigners’ Tribunals within 120 days for their cases to be heard.
The work on India’s first detention centre is progressing at quick pace in Goalpara district’s West Matia area in Assam, weeks after the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published, leaving out nearly 1.9 million people.
“The work on this project started in December 2018, our target is to complete it by December 2019. It will cost around Rs 46 crore. Fifteen four-storey buildings are being built — 13 for men, 2 for women,” Junior Engineer (JE) of the detention centre, Rabin Das told ANI.
Some 1.9 million people found themselves out of the final version of the NRC published last month after years of efforts aimed at ending a four-decade movement against illegal immigrants. The Supreme Court-monitored process of updating the NRC for Assam, last compiled 68 years ago, took four years and 55,000 officials poring over 66.4 million documents.
Fifteen four-storey buildings are being built in the detention centre — 13 for men, 2 for women. ( ANI Photo )
Those left out have been given 120 days to approach the Foreigners’ Tribunals for review. Over 200 new tribunals have been set up across the state for this purpose. To accommodate the disenfranchised persons, temporary detention camps have been set up across the state. The one coming up in West Matia area is the country’s first formal detention centre
The detention centre is being constructed over an area of 2,88,000 square feet and will have separate residential facilities for the security personnel and officials. Das also stated that the centre will have separate toilets, hospital, kitchen, dining area, recreational area and a school.
“There will be buildings for officers grade 4 staff. It will have 2 security barracks. The water system will have a capacity of 50,000 litres,” he added, reports ANI.
On rare occasions as a kid, Renzin Yuthok and his family got to share a special breakfast. They’d gather around a table in their home in Bellevue, Wash., his dad would roll tsampa flour, butter and tea into balls called pa, and then he’d hand them out to his kids.
The meal served a symbolic purpose for Yuthok: “From a very young age, [Tibetans] are taught that … reclaiming our homeland … is what our highest aspiration could be,” he says. Yuthok’s family fled Tibet in the 1950s, but their breakfast — and its grounding ingredient, tsampa — kept him connected to that dream.
The word tsampa in Tibetan usually refers to ground-up, roasted barley flour, although occasionally the flour comes from wheat or another grain. It can be made into cereal, mashed into a poultice or mixed with yak butter and tea to make calorie-dense energy balls for long mountain treks (or breakfast treats for schoolkids). It’s tossed into the air at religious ceremonies and can be incorporated into wedding cakes. The Dalai Lama says he eats it for breakfast.
Thanks to its hardiness (it’s one of the few cereal crops that can survive on the high, arid and harsh Tibetan Plateau), barley has sustained the Tibetan population for thousands of years. Scientists say the cultivation of barley may have enabled ancient Tibetans to expand their civilization into the Himalayas. Researchers have found barley traces in 2,100-year-old remains of tea, which means it’s possible that tsampa was eaten during that time.
But over the last century, tsampa has become even more than a culturally significant staple food. It’s become a centerpiece of Tibetan identity and a tool of protest.
Calling all tsampa eaters
Between 1950 and 1951, China annexed the region of Tibet. Most Tibetans called the event an invasion, while the Chinese, in documents solidifying the annexation, called it a peaceful liberation (though it involved a bloody battle in the region of Chamdo).
Though Tibet’s rulers rejected Chinese claims to their territory, Tibetans had few sources of political unity back then. “Tibetans are diverse in language, custom, habits — there’s a lot of diversity within the single Tibetan group,” says Tsering Shakya, a Tibetan historian and associate professor at the University of British Columbia. So when the Chinese army entered the region in 1950, Tibetans initially lacked a unifying force.
Tsampa — which is eaten across Tibet — soon became that force. “When [Tibetan resistance leaders] were looking to unite [Tibetans] into a single identity, they adopted tsampa as a symbol,” Shakya says. In 1952, two years after the Chinese occupation began, The Tibet Mirror, an independent Tibetan language newspaper, published a letter calling for revolt. Its first call-out? Tsampa eaters:
“We, the tsampa eaters, chuba [traditional Tibetan outerwear] wearers, dice players, raw and dried meat eaters, followers of Buddhism, Tibetan language speakers…we must make the effort to end the [Chinese] occupation.”
Years later, in 1956, the Mirror again called out to “tsampa-eaters” to “unite your minds” and “stand up!” The Mirror’s exhortations were one of a series of events that led to what’s known today as the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, when thousands of Tibetan protesters gathered in the streets of the capital city, Lhasa, calling for Tibet’s independence from China and later, mobilizing to fight the regime. The Dalai Lama fled the region during this time.
In an essay about this time period, Shakya writes, “If Buddhism provided the atom of Tibetanness, then tsampa provided the sub-particles of Tibetanness. The use of tsampa transcended dialect, sect, gender, and regionalism.”
This growing unity, coupled with support from anti-Communist countries like the U.S., was not enough for the relatively small Tibetan population to defeat the powerful Chinese army. They lost their fight for independence and are governed as part of Chinato this day. Thousands of Tibetans were killed during the 1959 uprising, and the Tibetan government-in-exile has estimated that the occupation led to the loss of 1.2 million lives.
Making a comeback
Since the 1950s, China’s incorporation of Tibet has fragmented tsampa’s place as the region’s staple grain, Yuthok says, partly because of an influx of Han Chinese who tend to prefer crops like wheat and rice.
Still, people in Tibet eat far more barley per person than nearly anywhere in the world. And tsampa’s importance to Tibetan identity and struggle has not diminished. If anything, it has been making a comeback.
Starting in 2008, a new wave of revolts began. In 2009, protesting monks cried, “Rise up, all tsampa-eating Tibetans!” In 2012, protesters ate tsampa and threw it up into the air during a mass prayer; at a different rally, according to a witness, monks were “chanting mantras and eating tsampa in protest.”
So important was tsampa to these protests that the modern-day Tibetan resistance movement often goes by another name online: The Tsampa Revolution, or #TsampaRevolution.
Tsampa has also found its way into Tibetan political music and youth culture. In 2012 the rapper Shapaley, who spent his childhood in Tibet, released a song called “Tsampa” on YouTube. The accompanying music video features the rapper sitting behind a bowl of tsampa, a traditional bag for storing the grain and a steaming cup of butter tea.
“Our parents gave us tsampa so we’ll give it to our kids / the Tibetan spirit will always remain,” Shapaley raps. “You can threaten us but we keep doing our thing … you can’t stop us!” At the end of the video he throws what looks like a cloud of tsampa into the air, in homage to the traditional sang-sol ceremony — or perhaps to the monks protesting in Tibet that same year, thousands of miles away.
A health food trend?
Yuthok, who was born in Taiwan and moved to the U.S. as a kid in the 1970s, is now working with his aunts Namlha and Tzesom as they try to spark another movement with tsampa in North America. Their company, Peak Sherpa, sells tsampa as a hot cereal and as “energy bites” — sort of a cross between an energy bar and the traditional pa. The cereal, I can attest, is delicious — the grains are smaller and denser than oatmeal, making for a pleasing nutty taste without the gluey texture of oats.
Because the barley used in tsampa doesn’t have to be heavily processed, it retains more nutrients, and the flour’s healthfulness rivals that of other ancient grains. Tsampa is high in fiber and essential minerals and it’s prebiotic, meaning it helps promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria. It has a low glycemic index, which helps keep blood sugar from spiking. Plus, from a marketing perspective, it could be seen as one more in a line of Tibetan foods that have caught on with the health-food crowd — like goji berries and butter tea (reinvented as bulletproof coffee here in the U.S.).
So why has the Yuthoks’ company had a tough time breaking into the U.S. market? While they’re still relatively new, “it’s been really hard,” he admits. “I’d say we’re definitely a niche product at this point.” Though, he notes, “we definitely have our fans.”
Here’s what he suspects: Hot breakfast cereals are a highly competitive sector. Oats are nutritionally comparable to barley. And at only a few cents per serving, oats are much cheaper — and they’re nostalgia-inducing.
“People have a relationship with the Quaker guy, you know?” he says. “They love that guy, and what’s not to love?”
Additionally, American barley is not exactly easy to eat. Most barley grown here comes in a tough, inedible hull that’s difficult to remove, making it hard for food producers to create “whole grain” foods out of the original plant, unlike rice or wheat. Much of our barley is used to brew beer and other alcoholic beverages.
But that could very well shift soon. Tibetan barley lacks a tough outer hull, meaning it’s easy to thresh, like wheat — and that’s likely because of selective breeding by Tibetans over thousands of years, says Patrick Hayes, a professor of barley breeding and genetics at Oregon State University. Hayes is working on popularizing these Tibetan barley strains in the U.S. He plans to use them todevelop locally adapted varieties.
So far, so good. But Hayes is careful to acknowledge the true source of his current success. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this work without what [Tibetans] did over thousands of years.” If he ends up converting us all to barley, we will have tsampa eaters to thank.
BY Susie Neilson . The writer is an intern on NPR’s Science Desk. Follow her on Twitter: @susieneilson.
The U.S.-based University of California, Berkeley will adopt 100 villages in Meghalaya to start a concept of smart villages and address the issue of urban migration due to environmental issues, Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma said on Friday. The Chief Minister was addressing a gathering at Montreux (Switzerland), who converged for the Caux Forum, which aims to inspire, equip and connect people, groups and organisations to build a just, sustainable and peaceful world.
The State government will sign the Memorandum of Understanding with the University of California, Berkeley in September to adopt 100 villages to start the concept of smart villages in Meghalaya, Mr. Conrad said, according to an official release issued here.
Our cities are already choking and having smart villages will prevent urban migration and related environmental issues, he said.
The Chief Minister spoke highly of the States’ uniqueness in terms of land ownership, forest conservation techniques as he deliberated at the Forum.
He said, “We as a government are proud of our society and the idea of our sacred groves and living root bridges should be known to the rest of the world. My government has given importance to these indigenous knowledge and have stressed on community participation in the implementation of government programmes, he said.
With a population of about 3.3 million people, the Chief Minister said the State is known worldwide for receiving the heaviest rainfall in the world.
Another great aspect of the State is the discovery by Geologists in 2018 about the Meghalayan Age which put the State in the global spotlight, he said.
Informing that about 6,500 villages are there in Meghalaya, he said the government will ensure that the National Resource Management Plans are made through full community participation.
He also informed that there is also a special emphasis on restoration of land in more than 400 villages of the State and added that the government has linked all livelihood programmes to natural resources and are encouraging people to protect these natural resources.
I am happy to inform that this year on World Environment Day we have planted 1.2 million trees and every citizen is encouraged to plant and adopt one tree, he said.
On water scarcity, the Chief Minister said Meghalaya is one of the first States in the country to be ready with the State water policy to face the issue of water conservation and water use.
There are problems we have to address and there are also solutions, we just need to come together to talk, discuss and share and need to create goals that must permeate down to the individual level so that every individual has a goal for the development and good of the society, the nation and the world, he said.
At the 2019 Dialogue at Caux, global thought leaders and practitioners will explore how community and individual actions can reverse degradation leading to peace and stability.
There is one more reason to stay in love with the Northeast India, for Tawang has been named as the cleanest districts in the region. The finding owes it origin to a survey conducted by Swachh Survekshan Gramin. The said survey also included a total of 698 districts across the country, and was conducted at the behest of the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.
The crowing of Tawang as the cleanest district in the Northeast India has brought more glory to the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The uninitiated should know that the state is rid of tobacco for 35 years now, and has also been active at waste management. It also participated in the Himalayan Cleanup drive, and sticks to allowing only biodegradable bags. Reportedly, the drive comprised of ridding 89 cities of single-use plastic in a span of just one day!
Credit: Getty ImagesPlastic waste has been hailed as one of the most destructive elements for the environment and, of course, the biggest hindrance while taking constructive steps, Arunachal Pradesh is on the right course. It has set an example for the rest of the country and its sister states in the Northeast, including Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura.
The other northeastern states also have been quite active in turning clean as well as green; Meghalaya’s Mawlynnong was also labelled as the cleanest village in Asia. Sikkim, though not being a part of the Seven States, is the first fully organic state in the country. Clearly, the rest of the country has a lot to learn.
Six-year-old Derek C Lalchhanhima from Sairang, Mizoram who accidentally ran over his neighbour’s chicken with his cycle and immediately took the chicken to the hospital for medical assistance will be awarded with the ‘Compassionate Kid’ award by PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) for his act of compassion that won people’s hearts everywhere.
Narrating the events leading up to the attack on his brother, he said a group of four youth had visited the market last Thursday and beat up some people for selling beef.
By Prasanta MazumdarExpress News Service
GUWAHATI: Mohammed Sahabuddin says some people have been selling beef in the bi-weekly market of Madhupur in Northern Assam’s Biswanath district for decades and nobody ever made a hue and cry over it.
His younger brother, Shaukat Ali (45), was thrashed by a mob on Sunday for allegedly selling beef in his “rice hotel”. The victim, who hails from Kalakati village located 15 km from district headquarters Biswanath Chariali, is admitted to a local hospital.
The incident came to light on Monday evening after a video of it, captured by the locals, had gone viral on social media. So far, two people have been arrested by the police based on an FIR which Sahabuddin filed. He alleged in the FIR that his brother was also force-fed a piece of pork by the mob that day.
“A lot of people come to the bi-weekly market on Thursdays and Sundays. We have been running the rice hotel for 40-45 years. My father started it and later, I took its charge. Some time back, I asked my younger brother, Shaukat, to run it. I won’t tell a lie, we have been selling beef all along. Beef was never an issue here,” Sahabuddin told this newspaper.
Narrating the events leading up to the attack on his brother, he said a group of four youth had visited the market last Thursday and beat up some people for selling beef. Subsequently, he said, those beaten up had brought the matter to the notice of market committee.
“On Sunday, a mob of 10-12 people appeared in the market and vandalised our hotel. Soon after, it launched an attack on my brother, beating him up mercilessly. They had also made him eat a piece of pork,” Sahabuddin alleged.
“Taking Thursday’s incident as a warning, we had decided against selling beef on Sunday, yet they attacked my brother,” he lamented.
The police are examining the video of the incident to identify the perpetrators of the crime. They have appealed to people to refrain from sharing it on social media. The district authorities convened a meeting with leaders of various local organisations on Tuesday to try and maintain communal harmony.
Biswanath Deputy Commissioner (District Magistrate) Pabitra Ram Khaund said, “As soon as we learnt about the incident, we took him (victim) to the hospital and provided treatment. He is now out of danger”.
Additional Director General of Police Mukesh Agarwal said all measures were being taken for the maintenance of peace.
Biswanath district falls under the Tezpur Parliamentary seat which will go to elections in the first phase on April 11.
Citing literary sources, turning to parables, prose, plays, poetry is the wherewithal of political discourse
Policemen and policewomen are not mindless digits in khaki. They have all been to school. Many of them are MAs, some PhDs. And they have families, friends just like anyone else who has not been clad in hide-tough uniforms the whole day. When at end of duty hours they return home, get back to home-clothes, settle down to a tired day’s evening, like anyone else, they talk of all they went through during the day, good and bad, honest and wicked, how they had to respond to political orders, ‘high’ influence, low intrigue. They laugh then at the ways of the cunning world of which they have become part, and feel sometimes proud of what they did and sometimes not. And then turn on their television sets to watch not news — of which they have had enough and more — but, to lighten their minds, old and new cinema, hear Lata Mangeshkar singing through the lips of Meena Kumari, or Asha Bhosle through those of Madhubala. In States like West Bengal and Maharashtra, with their strong traditions of theatre and musical arts, they can well go to see a play, ‘with family’, based on old epics or written by bold new playwrights staged in theatre-houses invariably named after Tagore, in his grey-flowing beard or the great Chhatrapati Shivaji in his sharp-pointed black one.
Yet, Bertolt Brecht’s is not a name all policemen on duty in Maharashtra’s Bhima-Koregaon village on January 1, 2018 are likely to have known. The great German playwright is, sadly, ‘niche’. Why sadly? Because he is bound to have amused, inspired, delighted, enthralled the non-kitabi, the not-a-bookworm-at-all as much as the bespectacled ‘intel’. And because Brecht speaks the truth and doesn’t care a hoot whether his truth is seen as the truth or is not. And Brecht’s truth, rather like truth itself, is non-denominational, non-sectarian. The Marathi translation of his timeless play The Good Person of Szechwan is more than likely to have passed by the police force on duty at the village celebrating, as it has done for decades, on that day the great Dalit-Mahar battalion’s vanquishing – disputed by some – of the much stronger army of the Peshwa order known for its rough-handling of Dalits. Only, this year the celebration was the more celebratory, being the centenary year of that 1818 victory. And since one group’s celebration is seen as another group’s lamentation, ‘law and order’ was a concern. And rightly so. Violence and counter-violence saw ‘the law’ swing into action, ‘order’ asserting itself. And months later, arrests are still being made. Has all this been without ‘fear or favour’? The courts will, without doubt, tell us.
Those who know Brecht’s play laugh at lines in it like these:
“I am afraid of making enemies of other mighty men if I favour one of them in particular. Few people can help us, you see, but almost everyone can hurt us.”
“Stomachs rumble even on the emperor’s birthday.”
“The First God: Do people have a hard time here? Wang the water-seller: Good people do.”
“The First God to Shen Te the prostitute: Above all, be good, Shen Te, Farewell!”
“Shen Te: But I am not sure of myself, Illustrious Ones! How can I be good when everything is so expensive?”
“The Second God: We can’t do anything about that. We mustn’t meddle with economics!”
And they would have understood, with a sigh, the line: “No one can be good for long when goodness is not in demand.”
The same play, one of the funniest, wittiest, most profoundly thoughtful and mind-rinsingly disturbing in that genre, has the woman prostitute-protagonist burst out with the words: “Unhappy men! Your brother is assaulted and you shut your eyes! He is hit and assaulted and you are silent!… What sort of a city is this? What sort of people are you? When injustice is done there should be a revolt in the city. And if there is no revolt, it were better that the city should perish in fire before the night falls…”
In Ambedkar’s words
In words that powerfully echo Brecht’s, the architect of our Constitution, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, said in the Constituent Assembly: “How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up.”ALSO READ‘Ambedkar not just a Dalit icon, but a national leader’
Here is a great, perhaps the greatest, German writer of our times, using a Chinese parable to give the world a touch of truth about the human condition, the human propensity for domination and the human impulse for freedom, justice. And when on January 1, 2018, in the Bhima-Koregaon event these lines with a timeless and location-free message were recited in their Marathi rendering, they were seen as “an incitement to violence”. If, instead of Brecht’s the reciter had cited Babasaheb’s words, would he have been charged with incitement to violence? Today, who can tell?
Mohandas Gandhi was charged, likewise, in the spring of 1922 “for inciting disaffection towards His Majesty’s government” for articles by him published in Young India. In one of them, titled ‘Shaking the Manes’, he used a phrase from then current political discourse and ‘shook’ the Raj. The accused said in his famous trial: “I have no personal ill-will against any single administrator, much less can I have any disaffection towards the King’s person. But I hold it to be a virtue to be disaffected towards a government which in its totality has done more harm to India than any previous system.”
We have our own Brechts.
Just before the declaration of the national emergency in 1975, Jayaprakash Narayan had, before a massive rally in Delhi, quoted the great Hindi poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s lines: “Singhasan khali karo ki janata aati hai (vacate your throne, here come the people).” We know what happened thereafter to JP, to India. Also, what happened subsequently to the system that imprisoned him.
We shall see
Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poem Hum Dekhenge (We Shall See) is a classic in the same vein, quoted time and again as a call against oppression.
Citing literary sources, turning to parables, prose, plays, poetry is the wherewithal of political discourse. Our Prime Minister has in a Dinkar commemoration cited the same line with pride.
Just as policemen on duty are only human beings in uniform, so are lawyers in black silk. They know true from false, fact from fiction.
India, the theatre from time immemorial of a hundred injustices, a thousand oppressions is also the site of a million awakenings. Therein lies its strength.
Kuchh bat hai (there is that something), as Iqbal sang, about Hindustan that cannot let its self-hood fade. (The Hindu)
By Gopalkrishna Gandhi
Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a former Governor of West Bengal, is distinguished professor of history and politics, Ashoka University
Chief Minister Pema Khandu condoled the deaths and directed the district administration and the disaster management department to continuously monitor the situation
Landslides and flood struck two areas of Arunachal Pradesh capital Itanagar on Friday, claiming two lives, including that of a minor. Three others were reported missing.
According to official sources, the catastrophe was triggered by incessant rains for the past two days. Two persons were rescued by a search and rescue team. The incident occurred at Modirijo and Donyi-polo areas in the morning.
Twelve houses were fully washed away while eight others were damaged partially in Modirijo in the incident. Similarly, five houses were fully damaged and four others were partially damaged in Donyi Polo area by the flood and landslides. Some cars and bikes were also swept away to a flooded river.
Water supply lines to capital region have also been badly affected. There were also incidents of landslides between Potin and Pangin portion of National Highway 13 near Aalo-Bam-Pusi-Doke-Tirbin, Hoj-Potin and some other parts of the state.
Chief Minister Pema Khandu condoled the deaths. He directed the district administration and the disaster management department to continuously monitor the situation. He also passed instructions for evacuation of people from vulnerable areas. He announced immediate release of ex-gratia payment of Rs.4 lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased.
Khandu issued directives to authorities to maintain vigil during the monsoon season to avoid human casualties and damages. He also gave strict instructions to ensure preparedness to tackle the catastrophe.
Sara Mardini’s case adds to fears that rescue work is being criminalised and raises questions about NGO
Greece’s high-security Korydallos prison acknowledges that Sara Mardini is one of its rarer inmates. For a week, the Syrian refugee, a hero among human rights defenders, has been detained in its women’s wing on charges so serious they have elicited baffled dismay.
The 23-year-old, who saved 18 refugees in 2015 by swimming their waterlogged dingy to the shores of Lesbos with her Olympian sister, is accused of people smuggling, espionage and membership of a criminal organisation – crimes allegedly committed since returning to work with an NGO on the island. Under Greek law, Mardini can be held in custody pending trial for up to 18 months.
“She is in a state of disbelief,” said her lawyer, Haris Petsalnikos, who has petitioned for her release. “The accusations are more about criminalising humanitarian action. Sara wasn’t even here when these alleged crimes took place but as charges they are serious, perhaps the most serious any aid worker has ever faced.”
Mardini’s arrival to Europe might have gone unnoticed had it not been for the extraordinary courage she and younger sister, Yusra, exhibited guiding their boat to safety after the engine failed during the treacherous crossing from Turkey. Both were elite swimmers, with Yusra going on to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The sisters, whose story is the basis of a forthcoming film by the British director Stephen Daldry, were credited with saving the lives of their fellow passengers. In Germany, their adopted homeland, the pair has since been accorded star status.
It was because of her inspiring story that Mardini was approached by Emergency Response Centre International, ERCI, on Lesbos. “After risking her own life to save 18 people … not only has she come back to ground zero, but she is here to ensure that no more lives get lost on this perilous journey,” it said after Mardini agreed to join its ranks in 2016.
After her first stint with ERCI, she again returned to Lesbos last December to volunteer with the aid group. And until 21 August there was nothing to suggest her second spell had not gone well. But as Mardini waited at Mytilini airport to head back to Germany, and a scholarship at Bard College in Berlin, she was arrested. Soon after that, police also arrested ERCI’s field director, Nassos Karakitsos, a former Greek naval force officer, and Sean Binder, a German volunteer who lives in Ireland. All three have protested their innocence.
The arrests come as signs of a global clampdown on solidarity networks mount. From Russia to Spain, European human rights workers have been targeted in what campaigners call an increasingly sinister attempt to silence civil society in the name of security.
“There is the concern that this is another example of civil society being closed down by the state,” said Jonathan Cooper, an international human rights lawyer in London. “What we are really seeing is Greek authorities using Sara to send a very worrying message that if you volunteer for refugee work you do so at your peril.”
But amid concerns about heavy-handed tactics humanitarians face, Greek police say there are others who see a murky side to the story, one ofpeople trafficking and young volunteers being duped into participating in a criminal network unwittingly. In that scenario,the Mardini sisters would make prime targets.
Greek authorities spent six months investigating the affair. Agents were flown into Lesbos from Athens and Thessaloniki. In an unusually long and detailed statement, last week, Mytilini police said that while posing as a non-profit organisation, ERCI had acted with the sole purpose of profiteering by bringing people illegally into Greece via the north-eastern Aegean islands.
Members had intercepted Greek and European coastguard radio transmissions to gain advance notification of the location of smugglers’ boats, police said, and that 30, mostly foreign nationals, were lined up to be questioned in connection with the alleged activities. Other “similar organisations” had also collaborated in what was described as “an informal plan to confront emergency situations”, they added.
Suspicions were first raised, police said, when Mardini and Binder were stopped in February driving a former military 4X4 with false number plates. ERCI remained unnamed until the release of the charge sheets for the pair and that of Karakitsos.
Lesbos has long been on the frontline of the refugee crisis, attracting idealists and charity workers. Until a dramatic decline in migration numbers via the eastern Mediterranean in March 2016, when a landmark deal was signed between the EU and Turkey, the island was the main entry point to Europe.
An estimated 114 NGOs and 7,356 volunteers are based on Lesbos, according to Greek authorities. Local officials talk of “an industry”, and with more than 10,000 refugees there and the mood at boiling point, accusations of NGOs acting as a “pull factor” are rife.Advertisement
“Sara’s motive for going back this year was purely humanitarian,” said Oceanne Fry, a fellow student who in June worked alongside her at a day clinic in the refugee reception centre.
“At no point was there any indication of illegal activity by the group … but I can attest to the fact that, other than our intake meeting, none of the volunteers ever met, or interacted, with its leadership.”
The mayor of Lesbos, Spyros Galinos, said he has seen “good and bad” in the humanitarian movement since the start of the refugee crisis.
“Everything is possible,. There is no doubt that some NGOs have exploited the situation. The police announcement was uncommonly harsh. For a long time I have been saying that we just don’t need all these NGOs. When the crisis erupted, yes, the state was woefully unprepared but now that isn’t the case.”
Attempts to contact ERCI were unsuccessful. Neither a telephone number nor an office address – in a scruffy downtown building listed by the aid group on social media – appeared to have any relation to it.
In a statement released more than a week after Mardini’s arrest, ERCI denied the allegations, saying it had fallen victim to “unfounded claims, accusations and charges”. But it failed to make any mention of Mardini.
“It makes no sense at all,” said Amed Khan, a New York financier turned philanthropist who has donated boats for ERCI’s search and rescue operations. To accuse any of them of human trafficking is crazy.
“In today’s fortress Europe you have to wonder whether Brussels isn’t behind it, whether this isn’t a concerted effort to put a chill on civil society volunteers who are just trying to help. After all, we’re talking about grassroots organisations with global values that stepped up into the space left by authorities failing to do their bit.” (Source: The Guardian)