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Afghanistan: Spain receives the first Afghan asylum seekers who will later be sent to other EU countries | International

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The fall of Kabul after a lightning offensive by the Taliban in Afghanistan has prompted a logistical challenge in Spain. The Air Force and the UME military emergency unit has set up a camp at the Torrejón de Ardoz air base in Madrid that can hold up to 800 people. The government of Socialist Party (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has established the base as the center of operations for Afghan nationals who previously worked for the European Union (EU) and who will later be moved to other member state countries.

So far, there are 89 people on the base who have been evacuated from Kabul, among them five Spaniards. They arrived in the early hours of Thursday on an A400M aircraft sent by the Spanish government as well as an Italian plane that forms part of the EU’s Foreign Service. Spain is working with the latter organization to serve as an entry point for the distribution of Afghan collaborators among the bloc’s member states.

The camp, which has been set up next to the runway and includes a canteen for 200 people, showers and restrooms, has different areas for men, women and children. The evacuees are being attended to by professionals from the Secretary of State for Migration as well as NGOs. For the minors, there is a play area and a baby-feeding area, as well as a medical and psychological attention service.

As well as food and drink, the arrivals are being supplied face masks and other hygiene items. One of the 32 minors who arrived this morning has been taken to the Gregorio Marañon Hospital after suffering from diarrhea. All of the people evacuated to Torrejón have so far tested negative for coronavirus via antigen tests.

The maximum time that the asylum seekers spend in Torrejón before being processed by the Spanish or EU countries’ systems is expected to be 72 hours, according to government services. After their coronavirus tests, the arrivals are being identified by the National Police, to whom they must express their interest in seeking international protection.

Spain’s Inclusion, Social Security and Migration Minister José Luis Escrivá was there to receive the arrivals this morning, along with Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares. The former explained today that the evacuees will be informed of the international protection procedures before they are distributed among different EU countries.

In Spain, the regions of Extremadura, Murcia, Catalonia and the Basque Country, as well as the city of Barcelona, have expressed their willingness to take in some of these refugees, but Escrivá explained that the state network, in theory, has the “sufficient resources” to handle the influx. He did not, however, rule out falling back on the regions and cities that have offered their help with the logistical tasks ahead. The system currently counts on around 3,000 free spaces across the country.

On the Italian flight that arrived in Spain this morning, after making a stop in Rome, there were 36 Afghans who had previously worked with EU institutions. The government reported that they included five families who will be taken in by Denmark, Germany, Poland and Lithuania. Prime Minister Sánchez had offered to the EU that Spain would “temporarily” take in these staff before they are sent to other member states.

The Spanish government, which is run by a coalition of the PSOE and junior partner Unidas Podemos, has stated that the first phase of the repatriation effort, which involved evacuating all the Spanish nationals who are not essential for the operation, is complete. At 1.30pm CET, Sánchez was due to hold a videoconference with the foreign, defense, interior and migration ministers.

One of the two A400M aircraft sent by Spain for the evacuation is due to fly from Dubai to Kabul today, Thursday. The aim is to collect more than the 53 people who were flown in to Madrid this morning. If all goes to plan, another A400M medical plane will also be sent to the Afghan capital. A third could also be sent to Dubai in the coming hours.

The Spanish government is, however, acting with extreme caution, and sources from the executive have explained that no planes will be sent to Afghanistan until the highest number of priority personnel are safe within the airport in Kabul.

“The planes can only be [in the airport] the time that is necessary for them to immediately return to Dubai,” the same sources explained.

The current objective is to evacuate the Afghans who have worked with the Spanish authorities in recent years, along with their families, as well as human-rights activists.

The government is planning to use the Air Europa airline from Dubai should a large number of people be successfully evacuated from the mousetrap that Afghanistan has become due to the Taliban advance.

English version by Simon Hunter.



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El Salvador ‘responsible for death of woman jailed after miscarriage’ | Global development

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The Inter-American court of human rights has ruled that El Salvador was responsible for the death of Manuela, a woman who was jailed in 2008 for killing her baby when she suffered a miscarriage.

The court has ordered the Central American country to reform its draconian policies on reproductive health.

The decision on Tuesday marked the first time an international court has ruled on El Salvador’s extreme abortion laws and was celebrated by women’s rights activists, who believe it could open doors for change across the region.

Since 1998, abortion in El Salvador has been banned without exception, even in cases of rape and incest. Over the past two decades, more than 180 women have been jailed for murder for having an abortion after suffering obstetric emergencies, according to rights groups.

The case of Manuela v El Salvador was brought after the 33-year-old mother of two from the countryside died from cancer after receiving inadequate medical diagnosis and treatment, leaving her two children orphaned. She had been serving a 30-year prison sentence for aggravated homicide after a miscarriage.

When Manuela – whose full name has never been made public in El Salvador – went to the hospital after miscarrying, staff failed to provide her with timely treatment and instead subjected her to verbal abuse and accused her of having an abortion, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Manuela was handcuffed to her bed and denied access to a lawyer while police interrogated her.

“There is no doubt that Manuela suffered an obstetric emergency,” the landmark court ruling stated. “Such situations, as they are medical conditions, cannot lead to a criminal sanction.”

The court also ruled that the state must pay reparations to Manuela’s family, and should develop comprehensive sexual education policies and guarantee doctor-patient confidentiality.

“The Inter-American court has done justice by recognising Manuela was another victim of an unjust legal context that originates in the absolute prohibition of abortion,” said Morena Herrera, at the Feminist Collective for Local Development, one of the parties in the case supporting Manuela’s family.

“Manuela’s story is a sad one, but it represents a change and becomes a path of justice and hope for all women in Latin America and the Caribbean who are criminalised for obstetric events.”

Most countries in the region respect the Inter-American court’s jurisdiction, opening the door for sweeping change, activists said.

“This is a huge advance for reproductive rights, not only in El Salvador but across Latin America,” said Catalina Martínez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, another party in the case. “This is a standard we can apply to the constitutions and states across the region.”

Martínez Coral added that while the ruling was to be celebrated, the issue of poverty affecting access to reproductive rights remained a challenge.

“There are over 180 cases of women in jail, or that have been jailed, over these issues,” said Martínez Coral, who also worked as a litigator on the case against the Salvadorean state.

“What that means is we’re dealing with a state that criminalises women and, above all, criminalises poor women in the most rural and impoverished areas,” she said.

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EU commission unveils proposal to digitalise justice systems

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The European Commission unveiled on Wednesday a proposal to digitalise EU cross-border justice systems, aiming at making them more accessible and effective. Under the new draft law, the EU executive wants to tackle inefficiencies affecting cross-border judicial cooperation and barriers to access to justice in cross-border cases. Shifting paper-based communications to electronic formats would save up to €25m per year across the EU in postage and paper costs.

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Covid limits migration despite more people displaced by war and disasters | Global development

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The coronavirus pandemic had a radical effect on migration, limiting movement despite increasing levels of internal displacement from conflict and climate disasters, the UN’s International Organization for Migration said in a report on Wednesday.

Though the number of people who migrated internationally increased to 281 million in 2020 – 9 million more than before Covid-19 – the number was 2 million lower than expected without a pandemic, according to the report.

“We are witnessing a paradox not seen before in human history,” said IOM director general, António Vitorino. “While billions of people have been effectively grounded by Covid-19, tens of millions of others have been displaced within their own countries.”

Internal displacement caused by violence, conflict and disasters increased to 40.5 million from 31.5 million. Globally, the IOM said governments implemented a total of 108,000 restrictions on international travel, alongside internal restrictions on movement, disrupting migration during the pandemic.

Prior to the report’s release, Vitorino told IOM member states on Monday that international cooperation was needed to ensure people were not stripped of the option of migrating when they needed to.

He also pointed out that people from countries with low levels of vaccination could be excluded from emigrating. “We must acknowledge the deep impacts the Covid-19 pandemic has had for people on the move: people stranded in transit, families separated across borders, migrants left unemployed but unable to afford the return home,” said Vitorino.

“The resulting complex patchwork of measures, frequently changing in scope and application, has placed a chilling effect on cross-border mobility, particularly for those unvaccinated.”

The report said conditions were particularly harsh for people from developing countries working in the Middle East and south-east Asia, with the pandemic affecting their incomes and housing, while they were also often excluded from access to healthcare and welfare.

However, the feared 20% drop in remittances – which can be a key lifeline to poor families during crises – that was predicted by the World Bank in April 2020 did not materialise and had been much lower, at 2.4%. This might be partly related to people being forced to send money to their families through formal routes, the report suggested, because options such as carrying cash were blocked off, as well as many working in jobs on the frontline of the pandemic that continued despite lockdowns.

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