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Greek prisons accused of abusing detainees

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Greek authorities have been accused of beating prison detainees, including allegations of asphyxiation whereby people are deprived of oxygen.

The charges were outlined in the annual overview report on Thursday (6 May) by the anti-torture committee at the human rights watchdog, Council of Europe.

The committee said it had received credible allegations of abuse during detention or questioning, noting that detained Roma and foreign nationals were especially at high risk.

“These included some allegations involving baton blows to the soles of the feet (falaka) and the application of a plastic bag over the head of a suspect during police interview,” stated the report.

The same committee had reached similar conclusions late last year, following an ad hoc visit in March to over a dozen police stations and migrant detention centres.

The visit coincided with Turkey shuffling thousands of potential asylum seekers to, and across, the Greek land border near Evros, amid widespread allegations of pushbacks.

At the time, it said detained migrants in the Evros region and on the island of Samos could amount to “inhuman and degrading treatment.”

Thursday’s probe also set out guidelines for the EU to help prevent such abuse.

The European Commission had proposed creating an “independent monitoring mechanism” to prevent illegal pushbacks at the border.

EU lawmakers and member states are currently formulating their own positions on the proposal.

Leading MEPs on the file previously said member states are unhappy with the idea, creating a possible deadlock between the co-legislators later on.

For it to be effective, the anti-torture committee says monitors will need to be allowed to carry out unannounced inspections and have access to all files.

It must also be free from any institutional connections with state authorities, it added.

The report had also looked at general population detainees, describing Greek prisons as overcrowded, understaffed, and prone to severe violence.

“Most cases of alleged police ill-treatment were not the subject of a criminal prosecution,” it noted.

Aside from Greece, the committee had also visited prisons in a handful of other EU member states including Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

Countries like Azerbaijan, Moldova, Turkey and Ukraine were also probed.

An overall assessment by the committee found that budget cuts, along with the impact of the Covid-19, has degraded prison conditions in general.

It said standards like clean drinking water, adequate food, decent sleep conditions, are among the basic minimum requirements that prisoners need to be provided with.

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EU to open new mission in Kabul

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The EU foreign service is to open a mission in Kabul by the end of November, the FT reported Sunday, citing sources. The representation would not be an embassy, as the EU has not recognised the Taliban government. The EU office is also to be used by member states’ diplomats. “There’s only so much you can do from Doha,” a source said. China, Russia, and Turkey never closed their embassies.

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‘Countdown to catastrophe’: half of Afghans face hunger this winter – UN | Hunger

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More than half of Afghanistan’s population is facing acute hunger as the country has been thrown into one of the world’s largest food crises.

Almost 23 million Afghans will be hungry due to conflict, drought and an economic downturn that is severely affecting livelihoods and people’s access to food as a harsh winter looms, the UN has warned; an increase of nearly 35% compared with last year.

“Afghanistan is now among the world’s worst humanitarian crises – if not the worst – and food security has all but collapsed. This winter, millions of Afghans will be forced to choose between migration and starvation,” the World Food Programme’s executive director David Beasley said, adding that “we are on a countdown to catastrophe”.

The Taliban takeover in August has contributed to the economic upheaval as billions of dollars in foreign aid payments – 40% of the country’s gross domestic product – have ceased and almost $10bn (£7.3bn) of Afghan central bank assets have been frozen.

Half of all Afghans will be facing crisis or emergency levels of acute food insecurity between this November and March next year, the UN report said.

As desperation grows, the number of beggars throughout Afghanistan’s major cities – including children – has risen as urban residents, for the first time, suffer similar rates of food insecurity to rural communities; a shifting pattern of hunger in the country.

Malnutrition ward at Kandahar’s Mirwais Hopsital.
Doctors on the malnutrition ward at Mirwais hospital in Kandahar said the hospital was struggling to cope with a rise in cases. Photograph: Stefanie Glinski/The Guardian

In the southern city of Kandahar, a traditional Taliban heartland, the malnutrition ward at Mirwais hospital was packed with women and children, most of them sharing beds with several others. The ward was stuffy and crammed. Mothers sat with their children while fathers or other male relatives – usually not allowed to enter – waited outside. Although the hospital is the biggest health facility in southern Afghanistan, it is poorly equipped.

“We have more than 70 children here and numbers are increasing,” said paediatrician Zainullah Zermal, adding that although malnutrition cases usually rise with the approach of winter, this year’s cases were alarming and the hospital was struggling to cope.

Many families had travelled significant distances to reach Kandahar, unable to access adequate healthcare nearer home. More than 2,000 clinics across the country have closed due to lack of funds.

Eighteen-month-old Memala shared her bed with another patient at Mirwais hospital, her body thin and frail, her gaze absent.

“We have travelled from Kandahar’s Zhari district,” her mother, who didn’t want to give her name, said; about an hour’s drive away. Zermal explained that, so far, most children had a good chance of survival, but he was worried about the coming weeks.

“We’re now seeing more families arriving from far away. Some of them travel for days to seek medical care as there are no hospitals near them. Winter is coming and that’s when malnutrition usually spikes.”

In Kabul’s Indira Gandhi children’s hospital, the biggest paediatric clinic in the country, doctors said about a dozen children were arriving each day, even though the city’s markets were still stocked with food.

“We don’t have money to afford it,” said Fereshta, a 30-year-old mother. Her six-month-old daughter Zahaba was underweight. Fereshta, who has five children, said that between worrying about money and not having enough to eat, she hadn’t been able to breastfeed her daughter properly.

Beggars on the streets in the capital Kabul.
Beggars are visible on almost every street corner in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Photograph: Stefanie Glinski/The Guardian

Only 5% of households have enough to eat every day, the UN said. Many families who fled fighting before the Taliban takeover can’t afford to go back home, instead remaining in makeshift camps with no source of income. About 3.5 million people remain displaced within the country.

During the Taliban regime between 1996 and 2001, millions of Afghans lived in poverty and on the brink of starvation, and fears are mounting that a similar situation could arise.

The “Islamic Emirate” on Sunday launched a wheat-for-work scheme, saying it would employ 40,000 casual labourers in Kabul who would be paid in wheat instead of cash. During the initiative, set to last for two months, the Taliban pledged to distribute 11,600 tonnes of wheat in the capital.

Cash is largely unavailable, and many government employees are waiting for unpaid salaries.

In Kabul, beggars are visible on almost every street corner. In the city centre, small children chase after shoppers, hoping for a piece of bread.

Setara Amiri, 43, has been begging for the past month. Her husband, who worked as a driver for the previous government, is unemployed. “My children are begging too,” she said, sitting on a busy Kabul pavement. The family used to get by, she said, but not now.

“Each morning I wake up, I worry that we won’t have food at night. I’m begging so my children won’t starve.”

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Timmermans cancels Moscow visit ahead of COP26

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European commissioner Frans Timmermans will not travel to Moscow to discuss climate action ahead of the crucial COP summit in Glasgow next month, The Moscow Times writes. “Due to agenda issues which meant it was not possible to meet all the relevant counterparts on the dates available, and the coronavirus situation, it was decided to postpone Mr Timmermans’ visit to Moscow until a later date,” a Commission spokesperson said.

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