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Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Afghan man gets 15 years jail term for killing a fellow asylum seeker of Somali origin in Norway

Posted by African Press International on November 19, 2013

A 29- year-old Afghan man is in Gulating Appeals court sentenced to 15 years in prison for the murder of a Somali asylum seeker at New Paradise asylum seekers camp in Bergen last year .

The killer must also pay 800,000 kroner in compensation to the bereaved family .

Mohamoud Ahmed ( 45 ) from Somalia died on the 22 May last year after being stabbed 24 times . The Afghan man claims that he killed the Somali man in self-defense because he was attacked first , but the jury did not believe him.

Analysts say the Afghan may have killed in desperation after realising that the Norwegian authorities had denied him asylum in the country. He will be deported to his home country Afghanistan after serving his sentence.

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Trauma risk for unaccompanied asylum-seeking adolescents

Posted by African Press International on August 21, 2013

Many Afghan children face deportation when caught overseas

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Thousands of Afghan minors seek EU asylum
  • Unemployment risk as international troops pull out
  • Trauma risk for unaccompanied asylum-seeking adolescents
  • Conflict, displacement could affect next generation

NANGARHAR,  – Six years ago, when Najib* was 15, Taliban fighters came to his home in Shinwar District* in the eastern province of Nangarhar telling him to join them. After repeated visits, his family sought a way for Najib to escape, and paid a smuggler to take him to the UK.

Six years on, he has just arrived back in his village, having been deported from the UK, but the threats to get him to join the Taliban are now greater than ever, he says.

“They’re not like the Taliban that were in the area before,” Najib told IRIN. “They are all foreign fighters who have come from the mountains. These guys will just kill you for no reason.”

Najib is not the only one on the move or considering his options: Growing insecurity ahead of the pull-out of international forces is driving thousands of Afghanistan’s children to seek new lives outside the country.

Of the 893,700 claims submitted in 2012, around 21,300 were for “unaccompanied or separated” children, most from Afghanistan and Somalia, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). That is the highest figure recorded since the UN started counting (in 2006).

According to a European Commission memo, Afghan unaccompanied minors, particularly boys, have become the largest group of unaccompanied minors from outside the European Union (EU) in Europe over the past few years. Of the 12,225 unaccompanied minor asylum seekers recorded by European national governments in 2011, 5,655 (46 percent) were from Afghanistan.

Mohammad Akram’s son, Mohammad Yahya, from Qarghayo District in Nangarhar Province, left Afghanistan when he was 15.

Refugee info (2012)
10.5 million Refugees worldwide
893,700 Asylum claims
21,300 Claims by “unaccompanied or separated” children
2.6 million Afghanistan refugees overseas
5.7 million Afghan migrant and refugee returns since 2001
Source: UNHCR

“Some of his classmates left Afghanistan and then when they arrived in Belgium they called him, pressuring him to come,” Akram told IRIN. “Finally my son left.”

In Turkey’s port city of Izmir, the 15-year-old found smugglers to take him to an island off Greece. The cost was US$2,000, to be paid upon arrival. Yahya never arrived; on the way the boat capsized killing all but two of its 30 passengers. His body was never found.

“We have been waiting for two months. One or two bodies turn up every day, but not my son’s,” said Akram, crying.

“It is extremely sad to see the kind of dangers these people are getting into when they are crossing waters,” the UNHCR representative in Afghanistan, Bo Schack, told IRIN. “There are major issues that they face along the journey. And, when they arrive there are sometimes issues of violence and sexual abuse against them at the asylum centres.”

Major refugee source

Afghanistan has 2.6 million refugees overseas, according to UNHCR, making it the leading source of refugees in the world, a position it has held for the past 32 years.

On average one in four refugees are from Afghanistan; 95 percent of them live in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran. Germany hosts the largest population of Afghans outside the region.

Insecurity and unemployment back home remain high; according to the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and the Disabled (MOLSAMD), four million Afghans are officially unemployed countrywide, and the real number is almost certainly far higher.

Thirty-six percent of the country’s population cannot meet their basic needs, with many more Afghans “highly susceptible” to poverty, according to a World Bank report.

And as international troops and organizations downsize, they take with them jobs that currently employ many of the country’s young people.

Mohammad Yahya’s siblings remember their brother, 15, who drowned, on his way to seek asylum in Greece

“Around 40,000-50,000 young Afghans who speak English and are good at computers work with NATO troops. When the troops leave, they will be jobless and it’s risky for them to stay in the country because they worked for foreigners,” the head of Interpol in Afghanistan, Gen Aminullah Armarkhel, told IRIN.

“The most capable young Afghans with university degrees can’t find jobs… then you have unqualified people filling positions. This is why we are seeing an increase of young people leaving the country.”

Afghans told IRIN human smugglers ask anywhere from $10,000-20,000 for a passage to Europe. However, as in Yahya’s case, there is no guarantee anyone will make it alive.

Upon arrival

Last year in the UK, a Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) reportfound that hundreds of children travelling unaccompanied to the UK received inadequate support from the state.

Upon arrival, children faced intensive interviews. The report criticized the lack of interpreters to help with translation, inappropriate accommodation, staff ill-equipped to care for traumatized children, and concerns over educational services.

Also, earlier this year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) found Italy summarily sending unaccompanied children (and adult asylum seekers) back to Greece – a country in which asylum system and detention conditions have led several EU states to suspend their transfers to the country.

According to the HRW report, most of the asylum seekers interviewed were Afghan boys “fleeing danger, conflict, and poverty”.

Unaccompanied Afghan asylum-seeking adolescents living in the UK are a high-risk group for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with many having been exposed to extreme violence, physical and sexual abuse, and rape.
Teenage migrants “trapped” in Greece

By early evening, Alexandra Park in central Athens starts to fill up with young, male migrants. They gather on benches, and some even kick a ball around, but they are not here for recreation – this is where they sleep, hoping their numbers will provide some protection from sexual predation and racist attacks. full report

The children experience significantly greater symptoms of PTSD and depression compared to accompanied asylum-seeking children, found a new study which looked at the sleeping patterns of unaccompanied Afghan asylum-seeking children.

Returnees at risk

Many returning Afghan child migrants and refugees face the risk of rejection by their families, kidnapping threats, beatings and exploitation, often resulting in them trying to escape the country again, according to a Maastricht University report.

“I’m scared to go back to my village in Shinwar,” Najib told IRIN just prior to returning to his village. “Of course all the villagers know I was in London. My life is in danger. Kidnappers will think my family has money and because I speak English the Taliban will suspect me.”

Najib said that when his asylum application was denied in the UK, the immigration authorities told him Shinwar District was peaceful and it was safe for him to return.

Hostel idea

A new initiative to improve reintegration prospects for deported, unaccompanied children in Afghanistan is being considered by the governments of Sweden, Norway, Holland and the UK.

It involves the setting up of a hostel for such children in Kabul, where they can stay until either they are picked up by their families, or where they can stay until they turn 18.

Nearly all Afghans – 96 percent, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross – have been affected in some way by the ongoing armed conflict, with 76 percent having experienced displacement.

Around 43 percent of the population is under 15: the ill-effects of conflict and displacement will have a strong impact on the next generation of adults.

*not a real name

bm/jj/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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SMS or Interactive Voice Response (IVR) messages give Afghan farmers and traders information on crop and livestock prices in specific locations

Posted by African Press International on July 14, 2013

Afghan farmers can access the latest prices from 15 provincial markets on their mobile phones

KABUL,  – As Asia’s poorest country and the deadliest foraid workers, rugged Afghanistan offers a considerable challenge to humanitarian work.

But just as in parts of Africa, the only other area in the world with similarly poor infrastructure, rapid advances in information and communications technology (ICT) have had a profound impact on humanitarian activities over the past decade.

To make a phone call in 2001, the only option for many Afghans was a trip to neighbouring Pakistan. Now 85 percent of the population enjoys mobile phone coverage, and aid agencies are taking full advantage.

Despite the remoteness of many regions (with three-quarters of the population living in rural areas), the mobile phone network has expanded rapidly and by 2010 a USAID survey estimated that 61 percent of the population owned or had access to a mobile phone.

The country’s four major operators (Roshan, AWCC, Etisalat and MTN) share 18 million subscribers, according to a 2012 report by Research and Markets.

Five Afghan tech initiatives

Mobile Money, one of the most commonly used ICT services, allows Afghans to safely and securely transfer money, in some cases internationally, using mobile phones. Currently all four of Afghanistan’s major telecommunications operators provide money transfers. In March, USAIDpartnered with other agencies to promote a new electronic salary payment programme. The project aims to disperse salaries to more than 30,000 teachers in about 200 schools across Afghanistan by 2014.

SMS or Interactive Voice Response (IVR) messages give Afghan farmers and traders information on crop and livestock prices in specific locations. In partnership with USAID and Mercy Corps, Roshan launched the Malomat service in 2010 – currently nearly 600 farmers and 19 traders are participating in 15 provincial markets. Malomat provides farmers and traders with wholesale prices for agricultural commodities – aiming to improve farmers’ livelihoods and thus providing a disincentive to farmers to engage in opium production.

Telemedicine: Afghan doctors are starting to use a new ICT service to access e-learning, training, management tips and tele-radiology (the electronic sharing of patient scans). Hospitals can have real-time access to medical experts outside the country. “In many areas, people cannot reach hospitals or clinics safely. And the end of winter is likely to bring renewed fighting, making the problem worse,” said Gherardo Pontrandolfi, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation at a press conference in Kabul last week. “Fighting, roadblocks, roadside bombs and a general lack of security prevent medics and humanitarian aid from reaching the sick and wounded, just when they need it most,” he said.

At WFP’s call centre operators can speak directly with Afghans in the remotest parts of the country

Emergency hotline services: WFP’s Beneficiary Feedback Desk is an example of how such a service can improve the distribution of aid. The hotline was launched through a series of radio adverts in three provinces last year. The mobile phone hotline operators told IRIN they quickly started getting calls from all over the country. Operators call back those who hang-up after a couple of rings, in case they lack phone credit. They say they receive complaints and suggestions on aid delivery. One young Afghan woman used the phone line to expose a man in her village who had set up fake literacy classes to benefit from WFP aid. In another case, in an insecure and impoverished part of Ghor Province, students were able to use the hotline to negotiate the safe delivery of WFP aid – something that had not been possible for eight years.

Mobile teacher software: Ustad Mobil was designed to help tackle the country’s illiteracy problem. A UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)project aims to improve literacy among the police force, an estimated 70-80 percent of whom are illiterate. The app adapts the national literacy curriculum so it can be taught on camera mobile phones, with slides, videos and quizzes. “The feedback has been positive,” said Mike Dawson, CEO of Paiwastoon Networking Service, the designers of Ustad Mobile software. “We expect students will reach level three, which means they will be able to read and write.”

Advantages and challenges

Though many of these new technologies lack integration and are generally stand-alone operations, ICT has helped aid organizations improve monitoring, transparency and accountability, and provided greater access to vulnerable populations.

“Access is one of the biggest issues in a country like Afghanistan. We can only help those who we can access. There is always conflict in this country so we can’t visit every part of the country to see who is vulnerable and who needs assistance,” said WFP information officer Wahidullah Amani.

“We have also been able to prevent food diversion and better monitor our food distributions, which in turn gives us opportunities to be more transparent and accountable to the people.”

But such developments in Afghanistan have not been entirely benign.

Mobile phones are frequently scrutinized at Taliban checkpoints to see if people have links with government officials or Western organizations. Being caught with a suspicious phone number or contact can lead to the loss of the phone, and in some cases a beating.

bm/jj/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Worsening violence against children in

Posted by African Press International on July 14, 2013

Child workers at a brick kiln in Kabulnal 

KABUL,  – One of the victims of  attack in May this year on the InternatioOrganization for Migration (IOM) compound in the Afghan capital is still to be identified – a six year old boy.

The child’s body, found near the attack site, has not been claimed and the police have not been able to find the boy’s parents.

As a result of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, the number of child casualties in the first four months of 2013 was 414 – a 27 percent jump from the 327 last year, according to a press release from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Of the 414 child casualties, 121 were killed and 293 injured.

“Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous places to be a child,” UNICEF spokesman Alistair Gretarsson told IRIN.

From 2010 to 2012, 4,025 children were killed or seriously wounded as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan, according to the UN Secretary-General’sAnnual Reports on Children and Armed Conflict.

Child casualties for the country totalled 1,304 for 2012. However, the reported 27 percent increase in child casualties in the first four months of this year is fuelling concern that 2013 could be one of the deadliest years yet for children in Afghanistan.

“Every day when I leave the house, my Mum worries about us,” said Mohammad Qayum, a 14-year-old boy selling gum on the streets of Kabul. “There are more attacks in Kabul and my friends working on the streets are also scared. We are a lot more scared than we used to be.”

Continuing a trend from recent years, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are still the leading killer, contributing to 37 percent of the 414 conflict-related child casualties.

Children caught in crossfire made up 20 percent of the child-casualties; “explosive remnants of war” – 18 percent; with the remainder attributed to other causes.

According to UNICEF, the armed opposition accounted for most of the attacks. However, the Taliban, just one of many armed opposition groups in the country, deny the claim.

Indirect victims

Aside from being physically caught up in the violence, children suffer in a variety of ways from the conflict – from disrupted education, to forced recruitment as child soldiers, to the loss of family members.

Qayum’s father died in a suicide attack six years ago. He has three sisters and one older brother; so the US$4 he earns a day selling gum and flowers on the street is essential.

While the government and armed opposition groups, particularly the Taliban, have laws and regulations prohibiting the recruitment of children as fighters and suicide bombers, both continue to do so.

Ali Ahmad, 12 at the time, was searching for a job at the Spin Boldak border when he was abducted.

“Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous places to be a child,” Alistair Gretarsson, Unicef

“They took me to a training centre and trained me for 20 days. They taught me how to use guns and weapons and also taught me how to do a suicide attack by pressing some button and telling me that I will be given a lot of money,” Ali told IRIN.

Findings from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) 2013torture report show of the 105 child detainees interviewed, 80 (76 percent) experienced torture or abuse at the hands of Afghan security forces – a 14 percent increase compared to previous findings.

Sexual abuse

Children described being beaten with cables or pipes, being forced to make confessions, being hanged, having genitals twisted, death threats, rape and sexual abuse. Of all the violations against children in Afghanistan, sexual violence remains one of the most under-reported abuses.

“Although sexual abuse of both boys and girls is a crime under Afghan law, the sexual abuse of boys continues to be tolerated far too often, especially when it takes place in association with armed groups where families of the children involved have no real recourse,” Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch told IRIN.

Bacha-bazi – the practice of “owning” a boy for sexual purposes, usually by people with money and power such as government officials and militia commanders – rarely receives attention.

“The reality is that it is very widespread and it’s very prevalent in the Afghan society. It’s something that Afghanistan as a society is not able to discuss openly. The society is not ready to face that this problem exists and something has to be done,” said one analyst who asked not to be named.

Last year in southern Helmand Province several cases of rape and abuse were exposed. A district governor was found keeping a 15-year-old “boy”, whose identity was only highlighted after he killed an international soldier.

Conflict-related violence continues to hinder children’s access to education. Most violations such as the burning of schools, intimidation and threats against staff are reportedly the result of armed groups. However, schools are also used by pro-government forces to carry out operations.

As a result of the growing violence across the country, more and more youth are seeking a way out.

“Unfortunately the number of young people leaving the country today is increasing,” Gen Aminullah Amarkhel, head of Interpol, told IRIN in a recent interview.

According to a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report released this week, Afghanistan is one of five countries that make up 55 percent of the world’s 45.2 million displaced people. One in every four refugees is from Afghanistan, making it the world’s largest contributor.

Children under 18 make up 46 percent of refugees worldwide. A record number of asylum seekers submitting applications in 2012 came from children, either unaccompanied or separated from their parents.

Conflict is the main cause, said the report.

“As the Qatar office opens and formal negotiations between the government and the Taliban perhaps finally start,” said Barr, “issues like protection of civilians and protection of children should be the first thing on the agenda”.

bm/jj/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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Violence leads to insecurity for health staff.

Posted by African Press International on July 13, 2013

The women’s ward at Mirwais regional hospital in Kandahar city

KABUL,  – It is close to midday and a group of patients wait outside the Mirwais regional hospital in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar city.

“There are no health clinics in our district so I have to come this long way for treatment. I have not met the doctor yet and have been waiting to see him for a long time,” one man, who had been waiting since sunrise and had driven four hours from neighbouring Helmand Province, told IRIN.

According to health NGO Emergency, war-related admissions to their health facilities are up 42 percent in the first four months of 2013 on the same period last year, with the situation particularly bad in Helmand, which saw an increase of nearly 80 percent.

The figures correspond with accounts of increased violence from both the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO) and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

According to ANSO, the number of attacks by the armed opposition increased by 47 percent from January to March of this year, marking a return to the levels of violence seen in 2011, the highest on record.

UNAMA figures show a 13 percent increase in civilian casualties in the second half of 2012 compared to the same period in the previous year. The increasing use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) is a key cause of civilian injuries.

The violence is leading not just to a greater demand on medical services but also a climate of insecurity for health staff.

“The number of war-related cases we are receiving at Mirwais has definitely increased in the past four months,” hospital director Farhad Dawod told IRIN.

“Until now our staff has not been threatened but they don’t feel comfortable within the community because there’s no peace. The attacks terrorize people.”

Mirwais deals with 500-600 outpatients a day, sees 3-4 maternal deaths a month, and has a bed occupancy rate of 87-90 percent for adults, and 105 percent for children in the Intensive Care Unit, meaning sometimes three sick children share the same bed.

According to the country’s humanitarian health cluster, which brings together NGOs and UN agencies working in the sector, Kandahar is one of nine provinces (out of 34) that have seen a 40 percent increase in security incidents involving public health facilities, staff and patients.

Health facilities and outreach programmes have also had to stop their activities in some areas due to fighting and insecurity along the roads.

More non-functioning health facilities 

In February the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a 40 percent increase in the number of non-functioning health facilities in 2012 compared to the previous year.

Insecurity and lack of funding prevented 540 health centres across the country from either opening or carrying on with their normal daily activities.

In turn, said the report, the suspension or closure of the health facilities was a main contributing factor to the 283 cases of disease outbreaks WHO handled in the first 10 months of 2012.

“Until now our staff has not been threatened but they don’t feel comfortable within the community because there’s no peace. The attacks terrorize people”, Farhad Dawod, hospital director

“The hospitals in the southwest part of the country are better off than those in other parts of the country,” said Dawod. But “as you can see, even in Kabul they don’t have basic medicine and health care for patients.”

While attacks have picked up in Kabul, particularly over the past month, doctors working in government hospitals in the capital told IRIN they have not been affected by the overall increase in violence. But they said they are still facing the same chronic shortages, as in the past.

“Hospitals in Kabul have not experienced any noticeable differences [as violence across the country increases], but there is no doubt we are facing many problems regarding quality and standardization of health services,” intensive care specialist Ajmal Mushkanny, who works in both a private and a government-run emergency hospital in Kabul, told IRIN.

“There are plenty of medical staff in Kabul, but the problem is finding those with the right level of qualifications.”

Medical care for women

Female civilian casualties in 2012 were up 20 percent compared to the year before, according to UNAMA, but health centres and hospitals struggle with a shortage of qualified female staff.

“Poor health services and a lack of female staff and doctors have a big impact on our activity with children and maternal care,” said Dawod. “Our lack of qualified female staff, especially obstetrician/gynaecologist doctors, has greatly affected us, increasing our maternal mortality rate.”

Female health workers, including unqualified support staff, make up 28 percent of the workforce in the country, according to a joint health report, but they are concentrated in midwifery and community health work.

Despite gains in maternal mortality, Afghanistan is still among the world’s toughest countries to be a mother, with only 40 percent of births assisted by trained medical personnel, according to WHO.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that in the first five months of this year, the health sector was able to assist 708,000 people with emergency services (out of the 1.6 million people targeted for interventions this year).

bm/jj/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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A new poppy policy in Afghanistan

Posted by African Press International on July 8, 2013

Only 30 percent of Afghan’s one million drug users have access to treatment

HIGHLIGHTS

  • High levels of drug addiction
  • Poppy eradication underfunded
  • Farmers’ needs must be understood
  • Alternative livelihood programmes generally failed

KABUL,  – Despite a surge in efforts to eradicate poppy farming, the country’s opium production is at close to record levels, prompting calls for a change in policy – from analysts, as well as farmers impoverished by attacks on their livelihood due to the current poppy policy.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) 2012 Opium Survey found a 154 percent increase in Afghan government poppy eradication efforts in 2012, yet cultivation actually increased – up 18 percent on the previous year.

Afghanistan produces around three-quarters of the world’s heroin, recently retaining its position as the lead producer and cultivator of opium globally, according to the 2013 World Drug Report.

The latest assessment from April shows 12 out of 34 provinces expect an increase in poppy cultivation. Only in western Herat Province is cultivation expected to decrease.

Experts say these trends are worrying as the country is entering a key period in the next 18 months that will see the drawdown of the International Security Assistance Force and presidential elections to replace President Hamid Karzai.

“The potential negative ramifications of the transition on the drugs economy are alarming,” according to a report by the independent Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) in May.

“Afghanistan cannot afford to be complacent with regards to poppy cultivation. If the Afghan government and international community fail to restructure their priorities now, poppy cultivation will only increase, contributing to the already growing war in the country.”

Yet, year after year, despite repeated calls to restructure priorities, little progress has been made.

Cultivation and local addiction

The rise of an opium-based economy is not just about exports – the country now has one of the highest levels of addiction in the world, according to UNODC country office regional representative Jean-Luc Lemahieu.

Afghanistan’s population of 30 million now has one million users – with more than 700,000, or 70 percent, having no access to drug treatment. Of particular concern is the rising number of female and child addicts.

Not only tribes and villages, but also drug-dependent districts, are sprouting up and having a domino-like effect across the country say Afghan analysts.

Qali a Zal, a predominately Uzbek district in northern Kunduz Province known for carpet weaving is just one example.

Kunduz Province, population 800,000, has more than 30,000 drug addicts according to Kunduz’s only drug treatment centre. Half come from Qali a Zal District, where women and children make up 40 percent of addicts.

At birth women rub opium oil on their babies’ navels to stop them from crying, so that the women can get on with their work undisturbed.

Due to lack of funding for a treatment centre or any existing health care services in the district, the addiction is passed from one generation to the next.

Most provincial counter-narcotics officials who spoke with IRIN point to funding as the source of the problem.

“Ask the Ministry of Counter Narcotics how much money they give each province to fight poppy eradication. Some provinces like Laghman, Nuristan and others have a budget of 17,000 Afghanis [US$300] a month. Government officials’ salaries are 10 times that,” said an Afghan official who preferred anonymity. “You can’t fight a multi-billion dollar industry without money.

“Several years ago in the south, police chiefs had limited manpower [to help cut down the poppy crop] so they were asking the `maliks’ (tribal leaders) to eradicate a portion of the poppy on their land.

“Then they would take pictures and send them back to Kabul as proof of eradication.”

For the country’s one million addicts, there are only around 90 drug treatment centres across the country, according to the Ministry of Counter-narcotics.

Most are understaffed, can only hold a small number of patients and are for short-term rehabilitation only, said Afghans.

“Only when you start offering sustainable alternative income sources and livelihood, can you start thinking about reducing illicit cultivation for those farmers that have a real choice between the legal and illegal economy”

This all means drugs merchants have little fear. “You have to have strong connections to be an opium trader,” said one trader from eastern Afghanistan who did not reveal his name for security reasons.

“Some time ago some of my friends were caught with drugs by border police. They contacted [top] officials and were released. Eradication could affect us but right now we have enough land to cultivate poppy even if the government decides to cut some areas down.”

Has eradication made things worse?

For the last decade, counter-narcotics experts say Western-backed initiatives in the country have largely focused on poppy farmers.

report by researchers David M. Catarious Jr. and Alison Russella from the Center for Naval Analysis (CAN) said initiatives fail to consider the motivations and needs of the poppy farmers who are “the most vulnerable and victimized link in the opium trade”.

Instead of alleviating the pressures that drive farmers to grow poppy in the first place, eradication programmes often exacerbate poverty, and so increase farmers’ dependence on opium.

“The eradication of poppy harms our life. If the government eradicates our poppy, then they should support us and find alternative methods,” said Saeed Kazim, a farmer from Khogyni District in eastern Nangarhar Province.

“If there is no work and no job our lives will be very difficult. Everything I have in my life, I owe to poppy.”

In southern Helmand Province where widespread eradication has taken place, AREU research found that poppy famers and their families dependent on the crop often fall back on negative coping strategies to deal with the loss of income.

In 2011, the study found that households, particularly those in Marjah and Nad Ali districts, reduced both the amount and quality of the food they were eating due to the government’s eradication efforts.

Opium harvest in in Badakhshan (file photo)

The families also held off seeking important medical care, withdrew children from school and stopped paying on loans or marriage-related settlements. Some even sold their long-term productive assets making future legal income generation much harder.

Compared to 2006, poppy production in Helmand has tripled and is expected to be even higher this year.

Jorrit Kamminga, director of policy research at the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), told IRIN that international counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan since 2003 had resulted in what he called “sequencing problems”.

“While pushing for forced poppy crop eradication, there was no way for alternative development programmes to keep pace with eradication. In other words, farming communities that were dependent on poppy cultivation had nothing to fall back on. It explains why, in the 10 years that have passed, the problem has not gone away and in many ways has even increased in size and scope.”

Indeed, according to UNODC, poppy cultivation is not only expected to expand in areas where it already existed in 2012 but also in new areas or areas where poppy cultivation had stopped.

Window of opportunity

There is a window of opportunity for the Afghan government to start a more independent counter-narcotics policy with the end of the security transition in 2014 and reduced Western influence, said Kamminga.

The key component, essential to its success, say analysts, is that in its initial stages the model “de-links” from the programme’s overall drug control objectives.

Only later does it integrate a counter-narcotics focus in the broader policies of territorial control, institution-building, good governance and development.

“In other words, while you leave illicit poppy cultivation intact until the local government has firmly established its presence and basic services, you do not focus on crop eradication. Only when you start offering sustainable alternative income sources and livelihood, can you start thinking about reducing illicit cultivation for those farmers that have a real choice between the legal and illegal economy,” said Kamminga.

Under this putative new policy, farmers’ incomes will decline over time as opium phases out because few crops can compete with opium, but ideally people’s standard of living increases.

“If the Afghan government supports farmers they don’t need to grow poppy. If they build long-term projects in our area then the youth can help with that. But when unemployment increases, and a huge number of our youth are jobless and can no longer go to Pakistan and Iran for work because the conditions there are not good, you tell me… what should they do?” said Kazim, the farmer from Nangahar Province.

Alternative livelihood programmes

A standard approach by donors and aid agencies to reduce opium farming has been to create alternative livelihood programmes, schemes criticized by the World Bank back in 2008.

“The shift to an `alternative livelihoods’ concept was meant to encompass broader factors, including access to assets like land, water, and credit, as well as markets. But this conceptual improvement has not been translated into practice, as alternative livelihood programmes have continued to focus on discrete projects mainly involving other crops.”

Without wider development, poppy farming helps farmers survive.

“In my whole district there is no water,” said farmer Gul Khan from Charchino District of Uruzgan Province. “Farmers face difficulties from years of drought, and it is difficult to see any reconstruction from all the money distributed between government authorities; for these reasons we need to grow poppy.”

Successful projects in Afghanistan are few. Small-scale projects with international support such as replacing poppies with organic roses have often depended on continuing outside support and lacked sustainability.

Projects that have shown some degree of success, said Kamminga, share several commonalities: the possibility to cultivate crops with a high international market value, to effectively organize farmers into associations and cooperatives to increase their bargaining power vis-à-vis buyers, and a unique trait that added an increased value such as organic certification.

In Afghanistan pomegranates, almonds, saffron and some fruit production have shown market potential.

To dissuade the 1.6 million Afghans directly involved in poppy cultivation, said Kamminga, the number of beneficiary projects would need to be significantly more than the several hundred that exist today.

bm/jj/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Afghanistan: Worsening violence against children

Posted by African Press International on June 25, 2013

KABUL,  – One of the victims of last month’s attack on the International Organization for Migration (IOM) compound in the Afghan capital is still to be identified – a six year old boy.

The child’s body, found near the attack site, has not been claimed and the police have not been able to find the boy’s parents.

As a result of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, the number of child casualties in the first four months of 2013 was 414 – a 28 percent jump from the 327 last year, according to the UN Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict. Of the 414 child casualties, 121 were killed and 293 injured.

“Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous places to be a child,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesman Alistair Gretarsson told IRIN.

From 2010 to 2012, the UN report says 4,025 children were killed or seriously wounded as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Child casualties for the country totalled 1,304 for 2012. However, the reported 28 percent increase in child casualties in the first four months of this year is fuelling concern that 2013 could be one of the deadliest years yet for children in Afghanistan.

“Every day when I leave the house, my Mum worries about us,” said Mohammad Qayum, a 14-year-old boy selling gum on the streets of Kabul. “There are more attacks in Kabul and my friends working on the streets are also scared. We are a lot more scared than we used to be.”

Continuing a trend from recent years, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are still the leading killer, contributing to 37 percent of the 414 conflict-related child casualties.

Children caught in crossfire made up 20 percent of the child-casualties; “explosive remnants of war” – 18 percent; with the remainder attributed to other causes.

According to UNICEF, the armed opposition accounted for most of the attacks. However, the Taliban, just one of many armed opposition groups in the country, deny the claim.

Indirect victims

Aside from being physically caught up in the violence, children suffer in a variety of ways from the conflict – from disrupted education, to forced recruitment as child soldiers, to the loss of family members.

Qayum’s father died in a suicide attack six years ago. He has three sisters and one older brother; so the US$4 he earns a day selling gum and flowers on the street is essential.

While the government and armed opposition groups, particularly the Taliban, have laws and regulations prohibiting the recruitment of children as fighters and suicide bombers, both continue to do so.

Ali Ahmad, 12 at the time, was searching for a job at the Spin Boldak border when he was abducted.

“Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous places to be a child,” Alistair Gretarsson, Unicef

“They took me to a training centre and trained me for 20 days. They taught me how to use guns and weapons and also taught me how to do a suicide attack by pressing some button and telling me that I will be given a lot of money,” Ali told IRIN.

Findings from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) 2013 torture report show of the 105 child detainees interviewed, 80 (76 percent) experienced torture or abuse at the hands of Afghan security forces – a 14 percent increase compared to previous findings.

Sexual abuse

Children described being beaten with cables or pipes, being forced to make confessions, being hanged, having genitals twisted, death threats, rape and sexual abuse. Of all the violations against children in Afghanistan, sexual violence remains one of the most under-reported abuses.

“Although sexual abuse of both boys and girls is a crime under Afghan law, the sexual abuse of boys continues to be tolerated far too often, especially when it takes place in association with armed groups where families of the children involved have no real recourse,” Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch told IRIN.

Bacha-bazi – the practice of “owning” a boy for sexual purposes, usually by people with money and power such as government officials and militia commanders – rarely receives attention.

“The reality is that it is very widespread and it’s very prevalent in the Afghan society. It’s something that Afghanistan as a society is not able to discuss openly. The society is not ready to face that this problem exists and something has to be done,” said one analyst who asked not to be named.

Last year in southern Helmand Province several cases of rape and abuse were exposed. A district governor was found keeping a 15-year-old “boy”, whose identity was only highlighted after he killed an international soldier.

Conflict-related violence continues to hinder children’s access to education. Most violations such as the burning of schools, intimidation and threats against staff are reportedly the result of armed groups. However, schools are also used by pro-government forces to carry out operations.

As a result of the growing violence across the country, more and more youth are seeking a way out.

“Unfortunately the number of young people leaving the country today is increasing,” Gen Aminullah Amarkhel, head of Interpol, told IRIN in a recent interview.

According to a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report released this week, Afghanistan is one of five countries that make up 55 percent of the world’s 45.2 million displaced people. One in every four refugees is from Afghanistan, making it the world’s largest contributor.

Children under 18 make up 46 percent of refugees worldwide. A record number of asylum seekers submitting applications in 2012 came from children, either unaccompanied or separated from their parents.

Conflict is the main cause, said the report.

“As the Qatar office opens and formal negotiations between the government and the Taliban perhaps finally start,” said Barr, “issues like protection of civilians and protection of children should be the first thing on the agenda”.

bm/jj/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Norway condemns attack on Red Cross in Afghanistan

Posted by African Press International on June 6, 2013

The local office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Jalalabad was attacked on 29 May by unidentified armed men. An Afghan guard was killed and one expatriate staff member was slightly injured in the attack.

“We condemn the attack in the strongest possible terms. The ICRC has had a presence in Afghanistan since 1987 and has worked to assist and protect the civilian population. Attacks on humanitarian aid workers have widespread repercussions for the conflict-affected population and they are completely unacceptable,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide.

“It is essential to grasp every opportunity to promote respect for humanitarian principles and international humanitarian law vis-à-vis all parties to the conflict,” Mr Eide said.

Norway has just hosted an international conference aimed at strengthening the protection of civilians and respect for international humanitarian law. This attack shows how crucial it is to continue these efforts.

 

End

 

 

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Roots of polio vaccine suspicion

Posted by African Press International on April 11, 2013

KANO,  – For years, polio vaccination has faced strong resistance within conservative Islamic communities in northern Nigeria, largely due to a deep distrust of the West , persistent rumours that the vaccine is harmful, and the house-to-house approach taken by immunization campaigners, which many saw as intrusive. 

Over recent years, polio campaigners have changed their methods to try to win over reluctant community members and religious leaders – to mixed effect. In February of this year, 10 polio vaccinators were killed in the northern city of Kano by anti-western Boko Haram militants, the latest setback to efforts to eradicate the virus from Nigeria.The country is one of only three where polio is still endemic. In 2012, Nigeria recorded 122 cases – over half of the global total that year.

IRIN spoke to residents, imams and health workers in Kano State to discuss the roots of ongoing vaccine suspicion.

Geo-politics

Sheikh Nasir Muhammed Nasir, imam of Fagge Juma’at Mosque, the largest in Kano, is an advocate of polio immunization.

“There is nothing wrong with the polio vaccine. The major reason why people reject it is the deep-seated suspicion they harbour against the West, particularly the United States due to its foreign policies in the Muslim world, especially the war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.

“The US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan – which caused deaths and destruction – is seen by many Muslims here as a war on their brethren. They wonder how the same countries responsible for this colossal carnage can now turn and save lives elsewhere. To them, it doesn’t make any sense that you offer to save my children from a crippling disease yet are killing my brothers,” said Nasir.

Mamman Nababa, a father of three in Kano, said: “I can’t understand how the West will spend millions of dollars in providing medication against polio for our children while they systematically killed 500,000 Muslim children in Iraq by imposing an embargo that denied them access to basic medicines.

“They are doing the same in Iran, where they imposed sanctions that make drugs scarce. It doesn’t make sense to kill my brother’s child by denying him life-saving drugs and then expect me to believe that you want to save my child from polio for free.”

“It doesn’t make sense to kill my brother’s child by denying him life-saving drugs and then expect me to believe that you want to save my child from polio for free.”

Residents also expressed scepticism of the focus on polio, saying other diseases should be given priority.

“How could I be so naive as to allow my children to be given polio drops by people who go door-to-door giving the vaccine free while the government has failed to provide medication for the most urgent diseases affecting us, such as malaria and typhoid?” said one Kano resident.

Infertility

For years there has been suspicion that the polio vaccine is laced with infertility hormones as part of a US-led plot to reduce the Muslim population. The Kano State government suspended polio immunization between September 2003 and November 2004 following the spread of such rumours by some Muslim clerics. The suspension led to an unprecedented number of infections and transmission of the virus to 17 countries that had been polio-free.

Kano resident Zulaihatu Mahmud says most people understand polio is caused by a virus, but even so, she and others fear the vaccine could be harmful: “Nobody wants their child to be crippled by polio, and nobody wants her child to be sterile, either.”

In 2003, to address these concerns, the Kano State government and federal government set up committees of doctors and clerics to test the polio vaccine. Following trials in Nigeria, South Africa and Indonesia, they declared the vaccine safe.

However, they also confirmed the presence of traces of two sex hormones – oestrogen and progesterone – that are used in contraceptive medicine, which reinforced the sterility rumours in some communities.

Sadiq Wali, a professor of medicine who was involved in the committee, explained that the vaccine is developed in a culture made of monkey kidney, which contains the two hormones. Since hormones are highly water-soluble, traces are bound to be found in the vaccine, but they are too minute to have a contraceptive impact, he said. The amounts are so infinitesimal that special equipment is needed to detect them.

Lingering anti-colonial sentiment

Much of the longstanding distrust of Western influence among northern Nigerians is linked to the British colonial occupation and its dealings with the Islamic caliphates that had ruled the north, explained Aminu Ahmed Tudun-Wada, head of the Kano State Polio Victims Trust Association.

“Almost a century after the introduction of Western education, there are still parents who don’t enrol their children in school because they believe it is a ploy to convert them to Christianity, and the suspicion has its roots in the British conquest. It is the same sentiment playing out with the polio vaccine,” he said.

The Pfizer Meningitis Trial
In 1996, US pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer conducted a trial of the meningitis drug Trovan (trovafloxacin) on 200 children at the state-run Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) in Kano. At the time, a triple epidemic of meningitis, measles and cholera in the city had killed around 12,000 people. One hundred children were put on Trovan and 100 on the antibiotic ceftiaxone. Eleven children participating in the trial died, and others suffered paralysis, brain damage and slurred speech. Pfizer claimed it was meningitis that had made the affected children sick. The families alleged the clinical trial was improperly conducted and lacked parental consent.In 2003, Kano State filed a US$2.75 billion law suit against Pfizer, which ended in an out-of-court settlement in 2005. Several of the children involved have also been compensated. For anti-polio campaigners, the case gives “practical evidence that there is harm in the polio vaccine, just like Trovan, with which they convinced parents,” said Abdullahi Musa, a Kano-based paediatrician.

“The Pfizer drug trial was a real setback against not only polio vaccination but to other child health interventions in the north, because it destroyed public confidence and made the anti-polio campaign readily believable,” said polio vaccinator Abdulhamid Barau.

Several people in the north referred to the introduction of cigarettes to Nigeria by the British 50 years ago. Kano tobacconist Habu Iro and several residents told IRIN that in the 1950s, when people bought cigarettes, they would find money in the packet. The amount included was gradually reduced as people became addicted.

“We now know what [the] cigarette does to human health. The white man will never give anything for free. It is the same thing with [the] polio vaccine. They are hiding something,” 73-year-old Kano resident Dije Umar said.

Changing approaches

Early polio campaigners’ approaches were also seen as too insistent, combining radio advertisements, community workshops and teams of health workers going door to door, according to a polio expert with an international agency who asked to remain anonymous.

But because most inoculations take place in health clinics or hospitals, many families did not trust health workers arriving at their doorsteps.

One polio expert, who wished to remain anonymous, called initial campaigns “aggressive”. “They… sent a wrong signal to parents. We didn’t take account of the social dynamics then,” he said, referring to the need for more efforts to get communities on board.

Before 2005, polio campaigners partnered only with political and health authorities. They later learned to work closely with community and religious leaders. Most northern states have since formed polio immunization task forces with village and religious leaders as members.

The results were largely positive, with greater community acceptance and an improved understanding of polio and the vaccine, said an anonymous polio expert, who said uptake of the vaccine had increased since 2005.

But in February of this year – following the killing of the 10 polio vaccinators in Kano – the approach changed once again. The campaign is now limited to health clinics and hospitals as part of routine immunizations, and it is entirely government-led.

Many doctors fear this approach will threaten eradication efforts. To eliminate polio, vaccinators must reach at least 90 percent of children, giving each four doses over a 6-12 month period, according to the World Health Organization.

“The halt in house-to-house immunization is a serious threat to eradication… A large chunk of children will have no access to the vaccine and will be at risk of infection,” Adamu Isa, a paediatric nurse at Nassarawa Specialist Hospital in Kano, told IRIN.

The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), which oversees polio immunization in Nigeria, plans to hold a national workshop in Abuja for Muslim clerics and traditional leaders to clear up all misconceptions about the vaccine.

“It will be frank, honest and no-questions-barred discussions where we will clear any misgiving they have about the polio vaccine with concrete proofs and evidences, because once we secure their support, we secure the confidence of the public in accepting the vaccine,” NPHCDA’s director-general, Ado Mohammed, told IRIN.

aa/aj/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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Security and aid work in militia-controlled areas

Posted by African Press International on April 8, 2013

KUNDUZ, – Hamidullah, the headmaster of Haji Mir Alam girls’ school in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz Province, was sitting at his desk in the summer of 2011 when members of a local militia entered the school. 

“I said to myself, ‘You’re a teacher; what will they do?’” he told IRIN.

The armed men escorted Hamidullah outside the school gate where their commander, Qadirak, was waiting. Then they beat him unconscious with their rifles.

“I still don’t know the reason they beat me. If people beat me, it’s like beating all the villagers. To show their power, they beat the father of education.”

Such abuses are a regular part of life, especially in the north and northeast, particularly in the provinces of Kunduz, Baghlan, Faryab and Balkh, where militias are commonplace.

These groups complicate the delivery of aid and create insecurity for ordinary people, who are frequently confused by the assortment of armed ethnic gangs, village protection forces and semi-official militia, according to half a dozen aid organizations in Kunduz interviewed by IRIN.

“There are irresponsible groups in the area. When they come to an area, they cause problems and hinder some work,” said Hayatullah Amiri, director of the Human Rights Commission, which works in Kunduz.

Militia power

These groups include village militias known as ‘arbaki’, which typically lack uniforms and training, and the Afghan Local Police (ALP), locally based militia groups that have received some training from US Special Forces and which are officially under the control of the Ministry of Interior.

The war in Afghanistan is often seen as a fight between Taliban insurgent groups and government and international forces, but in reality, local armed groups frequently operate between and among these sides in a kind of grey area. Militias, often tied to local strongmen, provide security against Taliban insurgents in areas without a government presence, and many have, at different times, been in partnership with government and international forces. Individual members have often switched sides and allegiance between the different groups involved in the conflict.

After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, international troops began hiring some of the militias – which had helped drive out the Taliban – as temporary security forces.

The government initiated a disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation (DDR) programme in early 2003,
to disband militia groups and help members reintegrate into society, but progress was slow, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).

As the security situation deteriorated, the international forces began to sponsor many of these militias to extend their reach. Such semi-unofficial forces played an important role in providing security for the 2009 elections.

Things took a more formal turn in 2010 when the ALP was officially recognized as the primary local defence force to help keep remote communities free from Taliban insurgents.

Abuses

The UN Mission in Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) 2012 report highlighted an increasing number of abuses blamed on the various independent militia groups.

For ordinary people, the official Afghan National Police force is just one of a large number of armed groups

Ordinary Afghans also report acts of intimidation by militia members.

“We have to pay the local government, the ALP and other commanders. Sometimes they ask for motorbikes for their fighters. Other times they ask for money, food and medicine,” said Haji Mir Jan, a trader from Khanabad District.

“I have to keep all sides happy, including the Taliban. This is the only way for me and many other locals. A commander often comes and says, ‘Please cook for 30 of our guests’, or, ‘We have fighters who need to be fed.’”

Though some communities and aid workers told IRIN that they have seen security gains in areas with an ALP presence, Human Rights Watch has reported rights abuses by ALP forces.

Some militia groups were previously hired by international forces but have since been disbanded – though not disarmed. These groups operate at a more informal level, but many hope to be incorporated into the ALP.

“My 224 men at 21 posts around Qaliazal District haven’t been paid for the last six months. I want the government to either disarm my men and take charge of security, or start giving us money,” Nibikichi, the commander of the officially disbanded CIP Qaliazal militia, told IRIN.

His group had previously been hired and paid by US Special Forces.

“If we hand over weapons now, the Taliban will come and kill us all, and the area will be insecure again very quickly. For now, locals here pay for food to feed my men. You can ask them. We don’t force anyone to feed us.”

But critical local residents say Nibikichi’s militia has a reputation for frequently using torture, unlawful imprisonment and imposing illegal taxes.

People told IRIN they felt they had no choice but to obey for fear of reprisals.

Uncertainty for aid workers

The presence of such armed groups increases uncertainty for aid workers, as well.

“In areas where there are Afghan Local Police and national police, work is getting done. Of course NGOs have to take security into consideration, and when they do projects they have to contact these officials. But where other [armed] groups operate and exist, there are problems,” said Amiri of the Human Right Commission.

But “many Afghan civilians as well as aid actors had difficulty distinguishing between militia, criminal groups, Taliban and ostensibly government-controlled security forces,” said Ashley Jackson and Antonio Giustozzi, authors of a recent working paper on aid work in the country.

“While some aid workers felt that arbaki enhanced their security, others complained that militias or local strongmen attempted to interfere with their programming,” Jackson and Giustozzi wrote.

Still, most NGOs in Kunduz told IRIN that humanitarian work was still possible in areas with a strong militia presence.

“We have been here for 30 years, so we know what works,” said Zabihullah Aziz, director of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan. “We hire people from the area where the project is being implemented, so they know the sensitivities of the community, but we also provide further training.

“The impunity is growing; the cycle of violence is perpetuating”

“We provide services that meet the community’s needs. This helps build trust. If you don’t assess the community’s needs first or train people on [how to deal with] militia or Taliban, you will face trouble.”

Razmal Sardar, who worked on a UN World Food Programme (WFP) project, says using local staff is key: “We are locals from Kunduz, so people know us and our families. Because of this we can work in areas with militia. They often looked after our security.”

Echoing Aziz, Sardar says community support is essential. “If they agreed on the project, then we would start. If the people did not want the project or weren’t sure, we did not go ahead. If locals agree and are involved in development then militia won’t bother with you.”

But Zalmai Alokzai, manager of a new project, Stability In Key Areas, which helps programmes identify sources of instability before implementing projects, anticipates challenges ahead: “Because of the nature of our work, I am sure we will face problems.”

District officials are outnumbered and lack power to arrest or detain militia when they commit abuses, and officials say they are beyond government control.

“The impunity is growing; the cycle of violence is perpetuating,” said a UN human rights official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Thomas Ruttig of Afghanistan Analysts Network says the most basic problem with these militias is the economy: “There is not enough money to employ these people. There is a surplus in the gun business, so the gun industry is more lucrative than, say, agriculture.

“If growing sugar beets were more profitable, then the militia would grow sugar beets. The whole intervention post-2001 has still not changed this. We need to look at the intervention and question its effectiveness.”

bm/jj/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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