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Croatian border police accused of sexually assaulting Afghan migrant | Migration and development

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A woman from Afghanistan was allegedly sexually abused, held at knifepoint and forced to strip naked by a Croatian border police officer, during a search of a group of migrants on the border with Bosnia.

The European commission described it as a “serious alleged criminal action’’ and urged the Croatian authorities “to thoroughly investigate all allegations, and follow up with relevant actions”.

According to a dossier from the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), the incident occurred on the night of 15 February, in Croatian territory, a few kilometres from the Bosnian city of Velika Kladuša.

In the report, seen by the Guardian, the woman said she tried to cross the border with a group of four others, including two children, but they were stopped by an officer who allegedly pointed a rifle at them. The Afghans asked for asylum. However, according to the witnesses, one of the officers tore the papers apart and laughed.

“He insulted us, slapped the elderly man who was with us and the children, and told us to empty our pockets and show them our bags,” said the woman. “Then he took me aside and started to search me,” she said. “I insisted that he should not be touching me. He asked me why. I told him because I am a woman and a Muslim and it’s haram. The officer slapped me over the head and told me: ‘If you are Muslim, why did you come to Croatia, why didn’t you stay in Bosnia with Muslims?’”

The officer allegedly removed the woman’s headscarf and jacket.

“After he removed my jacket, he started to touch my breasts, and I started to cry,” said the woman. “I gave the police officer 50 euros that I had in my pocket, hoping that he would stop touching me. The officer ordered me to remove all my shirts and I refused. He continued to touch me on my breasts and behind, and I cried a lot. The officer told me to stop crying while gesticulating that he would strangle me if I continued. I was scared but I stopped crying.”

A blocked-off crossing on the border of Bosnia and Croatia, in the northern Bosnian village of Bosanska Bojna.
A blocked-off crossing on the border of Bosnia and Croatia, in the northern Bosnian village of Bosanska Bojna. Photograph: Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty

Minutes later a police van arrived and the migrants were ordered to get inside and driven for about 20 minutes before being told to get out.

An officer again asked the woman to strip naked.

“I objected and I was slapped hard in the face and told: ‘strip naked,’” she said. “I had six T-shirts and three pairs of pants on me. I removed all but one shirt and trousers and I covered myself with a blanket. An officer approached me and started to touch me over the blanket. He felt my clothes and slapped me, saying I needed to remove everything, even underwear. The officer started to search and touch me, while I was naked. He then asked me if I loved him. He told me: ‘I love you, do you love me? Do you want me to take you somewhere to be with me?’.

“I was scared and in tears. He asked to take me to the forest and asked me if I understood what he meant. I gestured to him that I didn’t understand. I did. The officer then grabbed my shoulder and pushed me in the direction of another officer. They both had flashlights on the forehead and I couldn’t see well. The officer that had touched me pulled out a knife and put it on my throat. He told me that, if I ever said anything to anyone, he would kill me, and, if I ever came back to Croatia, I would meet my end, in the forest, under him.”

The officer allegedly hit the woman again and the other members of the group on their faces, heads and legs. Then the officers reportedly ordered them to walk to Bosnia.

“The testimony is truly shocking,” said Charlotte Slente, DRC secretary general. “Despite the lower number of pushbacks recorded by the DRC in 2021, the patterns of reported violence and abuse at the Croatia-BiH [Bosnia-Herzegovina] border remain unchanged.”

“Once again, this underscores the urgent need for systematic investigations of these reports,” Slente added. “Despite the European commission’s engagement with Croatian authorities in recent months, we have seen virtually no progress, neither on investigations of the actual reports, nor on the development of independent border monitoring mechanisms, to prevent violence at the EU’s external borders. It really is time to turn rhetoric into reality – and ensure that truly independent border monitoring is put in place to prevent these abuses and ensure that credible and transparent investigations can effectively hold perpetrators of violence and abuse to account.”

The European commission said it expected the Croatian authorities to thoroughly investigate all allegations, and follow up with relevant actions.

“We are in contact with the Croatian authorities, which have committed to investigate allegations of mistreatment at their external borders, monitor the situation closely and keep the commission informed on progress made. The commission is assisting them in this task, financing an independent monitoring mechanism, implemented by Croatia, involving different stakeholders, such as NGOs and international organisations.’’

A group of migrants in a Croatian forest after crossing the Bosnia-Croatia border near the town of Velika Kladusa, in December 2020.
A group of migrants in a Croatian forest after crossing the Bosnia-Croatia border near the town of Velika Kladuša, in December 2020. Photograph: Marc Sanye/AP

According to the DRC, since May 2019 almost 24,000 migrants have been illegally pushed back to Bosnia – 547 between January and February 2021.

Hundreds of migrants walk the snowy paths of the Balkan route daily, in an attempt to reach central Europe. Most are stopped by Croatian police, searched, often allegedly robbed and, sometimes violently, pushed back into Bosnia, where, for months, thousands of asylum seekers have been stranded in freezing temperatures.

The Border Violence Monitoring Network said dozens of women and young girls have reported being “searched everywhere” by male Croatian police officers.

In response, the Croatian interior ministry said the police would investigate the allegations but that in preliminary checks there was no recorded dealings with “females from the population of illegal migrants” on the day in question.

It added: “With their humane acts of saving the lives of hundreds of migrants by pulling them out of minefields, ravines, rescuing them from drowning, carrying them for miles through snowstorms, the Croatian police showed, not only an organised and professional approach in the protection of the state border of the Republic of Croatia and the external border of the EU, but, above all, dedication and humanity.

“The persistent portrayal of the Croatian police as a brutal and inhumane group prone to robberies and abuse of illegal migrants has now become commonplace without a single [piece of] evidence.

“In order to achieve their objective, migrants are ready to use all means and even consciously risk their lives and the lives of their family members, knowing that the Croatian police will save them when they find themselves in such danger. In addition, if the Croatian police prevent them from illegally entering, they are ready to falsely accuse those same police of abuse and denying access to the system of international protection.

“After being hurt by accident, or in mutual physical conflicts, migrants always say that it was the police of the country they wish to enter that beat them.”

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Sacred ground: the ancient grove where Yoruba traditions are reborn | Global development

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Through the dim forest, a slow procession of hundreds of people largely dressed in white, some in a trance, others singing fervently, heads towards the Osun River. As they have every August for 700 years, Yoruba people gather here at the Osun-Osogbo sacred grove, a Unesco world heritage site in south-west Nigeria, for an ancient festival celebrating their traditional spirituality.

An Osun priestess on her way to the grove.
Osun priestesses wait for the worshippers to arrive.
Yoruba traditions are still practised by a devout minority.
An arugba, or virgin, leads a procession.

  • Clockwise from top: an Osun priestess on her way to the grove; a group of priestesses wait for the worshippers to arrive; an arugba, or virgin, leads a procession; Yoruba traditions are still practised by a devout minority

Yoruba religious practitioners, adorned with cowrie shells, some with crosses or Islamic beads, pray for protection and offer sacrifices. In a region where Christianity and Islam are dominant, Yoruba traditions have often been cast as demonic – a legacy of colonial violence against Indigenous faiths – but are practised by a devout minority and hold a wide significance for people of varying faiths.

Recent years have seen a growing appreciation of Yoruba spirituality among the younger generation, with more young people becoming practitioners and Ifá priests.

The festival attracts visitors from across the Yoruba-dominated south-west, along with diasporas from South America and the Caribbean.

The two-week Osun festival attracts visitors from across the Yoruba-dominated south-west, along with diasporas from South America and the Caribbean, as well as tourists. Osun, the goddess of the river, is said to have appeared to an ancient warrior, instructing him to bring Yoruba people out of famine, into safety in Osogbo city. In return, they would offer a yearly festival.

Osunnike Ogundele, one of the grove custodians.
Osunnike Ogundele, one of the grove custodians.

Osunnike Ogundele, 53, wears a shimmering green and gold lace dress, her hair braided with cowrie shells. “I’ve been here all my life,” she says, explaining her mother’s influence, and her own guidance for her children.

“My fondest memories of the grove are our mothers before us who passed on the knowledge we have now. There was so much to learn from just observing them and we are trying our best to pass this on to our daughters too,” she says. “Osun answers all prayers, no one cries to her without leaving with a smile.”

Osunniti Sikiru, 32, a Muslim and Osun priestess, is one of a number of custodians of the grove. She describes how, for Yoruba people, cultural heritage should be understood as predating the advent of Abrahamic religion in the region.

Osiniti Sikiru, another grove custodian.

“Most of our forefathers weren’t Christians or Muslims,” she says. “There’s a big misconception that as a Muslim one can’t combine it with Osun worship. Water is very symbolic in Islam and Osun worship, both emphasise purity. I am still a practising Muslim, I still pray five times a day, my son is named Ibrahim, but Osun worship precedes most religions in Yoruba land.”

Princess Adeola Iya Osun, 47, another priestess, chimes in. “One of my daughters is a pastor and my son actively goes to the church, but what I try to preach is a symbiotic relationship between faiths.”

Princess Adeola Iya Osun.
Princess Adeola Iya Osun.

There have been concerns that the Osun River, seen as having healing powers, has been contaminated, sparking fears for the health of the worshippers who wash and drink here. Local media investigations allegedly found dangerous levels of lead, lithium, aluminium and iron, caused by the activities of artisanal miners and large companies.

Last year, pictures of the polluted river caused uproar and demands for government action. A warning by the state authorities not to drink from the river came on the penultimate day of this year’s festival, sparking further anger. Some chose to drink anyway, knowing the river was contaminated, believing they would be protected from ill-health.

An overview of the packed grove during the festival.
Water from the Osun River is believed to have healing powers.
Osun priestess prepares a sacrifice to be offered to the river goddess.
A ram is slaughtered and its blood drained into the river.

Pollution is a serious worry for those attempting to maintain the integrity of the grove and its surroundings.

A committee of custodians leads these efforts, clearing the litter, while preserving the architecture and stone carvings.

Osuntunmishe Oluwo, a local healer.

On the final day of the festival, visitors crowd the banks of the river to meet priests and priestesses for consultation and prayers. Baskets are laid out full of kola nuts, fruits and vegetables.

In a trance, a priestess bellows praises to the goddess, then shares messages and warnings. As devotees arrive for prayers, testimonies are shared by people who have attended for several years.

Iya Osun’s parents had challenges having children, she says. “My mother came to pray to Osun for a child. I’m a result of that answered prayer.”

As the festival ends, the crowds leave the grove and the dense forest, their prayers made, hoping to return next year with testimonies of their own.

Prayers at the edge of the river.

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UNSC Sanctions on Hiring of Workers From N.Korea Do Not Apply to Donbas – Moscow

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MOSCOW (Sputnik) – The UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea do not apply to the Donbas republics, Director of the Department of International Organizations at the Russian Foreign Ministry Pyotr Ilyichev said in an interview with Sputnik.

Earlier, the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), Denis Pushilin, said the republic is negotiating with Pyongyang on the arrival of builders from North Korea. In July, North Korea recognized the independence of the DPR and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR).

“The recruitment of labor from North Korea is subject to international restrictions established by UN Security Council resolutions. However, it must be taken into account that they apply to the member states of the world organization, which the people’s republics of Donbas are not,” Ilyichev said.

He said Russia will not force Donbas and North Korea to avoid cooperation.



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Polio is circulating again in the West: What we know so far about transmission in New York and London | Society

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The poliovirus is circulating again in the West. A virus that was on the way to global eradication has been detected in recent months in the wastewater of New York and London. This is not unusual, since it can appear in the fecal remains of vaccinated people with the attenuated pathogen. What’s different now is that the poliovirus – which causes the infectious disease polio – has been recorded in an adult in the United States, something that has not happened for a decade, and that samples from the United Kingdom suggest there is local transmission of the disease.

How did the virus get there? To answer this question, it is first necessary to understand the two types of vaccines that are used against polio. In countries where transmission is eradicated, an intramuscular vaccine is used. This contains the inactive virus, which is enough to prevent it from spreading in an environment where the pathogen is no longer circulating in the wild and most of the population is vaccinated. The second type of vaccine is made up of oral drops with a live attenuated virus, which is used in countries where polio continues to circulate. It produces antibodies in the blood, as well as the oral and intestinal mucosa. “With this vaccine, the immunized person would not develop the disease nor would they be able to infect others if they become infected with the wild virus,” explain researchers José Jiménez and Ana María Ortega-Prieto, from King’s College London, in an article in The Conversation.

The only two countries where polio remains endemic are Pakistan and Afghanistan, with 12 cases and one so far this year, respectively. Normally, when polio is detected in fecal remains in the wastewater, it comes from the excretion of people from these countries, which is not a major problem. What has happened now is that the virus is not just being detected in wastewater, it’s infecting people.

It’s still not fully confirmed that there is local circulation in London, but the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) has warned: “The poliovirus levels and the genetic diversity among the isolates suggests some level of virus transmission both in the areas where positive samples were found and in adjacent ones.”

Local circulation has been confirmed in New York, where one adult has been paralyzed due to the virus. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this case, is just “the tip of the iceberg.” “There are a number of individuals in the community that have been infected with poliovirus,” Dr. José Romero, from the CDC, told news network CNN. “The spread is always a possibility because the spread is going to be silent.”

As was seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, when a case is detected and its origin is unknown, it is normally a sign of uncontrolled transmission. “For every one case of paralytic polio identified, hundreds more may be undetected,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett in a statement. This is partly due to the fact that most people who contract the poliovirus are asymptomatic. Only in about 1% of cases does the virus cause problems: if it enters the central nervous system, it can cause paralysis and muscle atrophy.

What are the consequences of these outbreaks? In both London and New York, vaccination rates are lower than in the rest of their respective countries, meaning there is an elevated risk for children, who mainly affected by this disease. In London, authorities have already launched a vaccination campaign to offer booster doses to one million children between the ages of one and nine.

The road to polio eradication

The spread of polio is limited, at least in countries with high vaccination coverage. But these recent cases show that the virus still presents a risk and completely eradicating it is a complicated task, even if it seemed within reach.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was launched in 1988 with the aim of eradicating polio just as smallpox has been eradicated. In general terms, the program has been a success: the number of polio cases worldwide have dropped 99% since its creation.

Only Pakistan and Afghanistan, where Islamic fundamentalism makes vaccination campaigns difficult, report a few cases each year. And Nigeria, the other country where there is wild poliovirus (i.e. not the virus is transmitted by the attenuated vaccines), has not reported a single case since 2016.

The secret to this achievement is mass vaccination: first with the oral vaccine and then, when the country is already free of the disease, with the vaccine given by injection. Keeping vaccination levels high is key to curbing the virus.

According to UNICEF data, global vaccination levels dropped between 2019 and 2021 by 5%. In other words, 25 million children stopped receiving their doses. Vaccination rates are the lowest they have been in the last 30 years: 81% for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, which are considered a good indicator for other conditions. This means it is likely that polio coverage is at similarly low levels.

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