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Some slept, some cried, all were now refugees: inside one of the last Afghan airlifts | Global development

Voice Of EU



The American marine shouted “push!”. And hundreds of people did, shoving inside the Boeing C-17 military aircraft; tumbling over, then pulling their bodies into tight huddles on the floor to let as many others in as possible.

As the rear door closed and the deafening engines started, lifting the heavy plane off the runway at Kabul’s international airport, people broke down wailing; crying. Now refugees.

Military aircraft are far noisier inside than passenger planes and almost windowless, so the plane heading for a Qatari military base did not grant its 400 passengers a last view of the Hindu Kush mountain range.

Most on board had lived comfortable lives, weeks filled with work and weekends with family and friends – with visits to suburban gardens or parks, drinking the traditional iced yoghurt beverage “dough” during the hot summers. Their lives were dignified, happy even, despite the war. They had not wanted to leave their homes, but their lives tilted overnight when the Taliban advanced, taking the Afghan capital on 15 August.

Afghans fleeing their country are being evacuated from Kabul airport after the Taliban took over the city.
As the deadline for withdrawal neared the US and UK sent reinforcements to Kabul to evacuate diplomats, soldiers and citizens as well as thousands of Afghans. Photograph: Stefanie Glinski

US troops left on Tuesday, evacuating their 5,400 troops sent in to help facilitate the mass evacuations that began just days prior to the Taliban’s takeover of the capital and turned into one of history’s biggest airlifts.

For the Qatar-bound passengers last weekend, the journey had already been unbearably hard – with crowds of thousands to push through at the airport’s gates, where bombs were expected and then detonated – but the most difficult part was still ahead: the process of claiming asylum in a foreign country, of living in a camp, of facing discrimination and rejection, of starting a new life out of the single small suitcase they were allowed to bring. Of being a refugee. Escape was undesired but necessary; leaving their homeland a tough and quick decision to be made.

Three young men sat in the crowd, wearing matching button-down shirts, their heads bowed, fingers wiping silent tears from their eyes. Former Afghan soldiers travelled in the uniform of an army that effectively no longer exists, looking not all that different from the US soldiers representing the country that signed a deal with the Taliban in February 2020.

Around 400 people sit crammed on the Boeing C-17, a US military aircraft heading from Kabul to Doha.
People sit crammed on the floor of a Boeing C-17, a US military aircraft travelling from Kabul to Doha. Photograph: Stefanie Glinski/The Guardian

Of those on board, many said they had been awake for several days in a row waiting at the airport, so as the engines rumbled and ice-cold air blasted in through huge pipes, the discomfort was nonetheless bearable. Sleep overcame many; bodies leaning against those of strangers or piled on top of other people’s legs, eyes covered by T-shirts or scarves. Some stood for the duration of the three-hour flight, watching movies from computer screens. Others – like a young father of four – never stopped weeping.

The US did not prioritise comfort on the C-17: this was an evacuation, so the soldiers thought practically. Accommodating as many as possible was the aim, even if it meant shoving people tightly on to the plane; even if a mix of male and female strangers were touching in a close space – usually unthinkable in Afghan culture.

All knew that thousands remained behind, some waiting under a scorchingly hot sun, sitting amid piling rubbish consisting of empty water bottles and full nappies. Children developed skin rashes, diarrhoea, heatstrokes. The two-year-old daughter of an Afghan interpreter who had worked for the US was trampled to death in a crowd outside the airport. Last Thursday, as many as 170 Afghans were killed in a suicide bombing and gun attack near the gates.

Some children on the flight remained cheerful. “I’m going to Kandahar,” said Arzam, a three-year-old girl heading to the US, who believed she was off to a place in southern Afghanistan she had heard of.

Arzam, is going to the US but believes she is travelling to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
Arzam is going to the US, but believed she was travelling to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. Photograph: Stefanie Glinski

The sun had risen when the C-17 touched down at the al-Udeid airbase in Qatar, humid air rushing in as the door opened. The heat sat heavily, causing beads of sweat to form on people’s foreheads.

A mother stood up, holding the hands of her two adult sons, watching blank-faced as US soldiers unloaded people’s few belongings.

Passengers were not allowed to disembark until a uniformed American had set up a camera, filming the new arrivals walking off the plane. Almost 30,000 arrived at the al-Udeid transit hub in the past weeks, housed in large air-conditioned tents that offer shelter but little privacy, as documents are processed. Several colourful bouncy castles have been blown up outside for the children.

In the camp, communities have formed, organised around elders who listen and pass on the needs of those in the giant tent city: more blankets are needed, lost luggage still has not been found, toilets are overflowing.

While Qatar is a transit hub, Afghans have, in the past week, arrived in dozens of countries around the world. The UK, South Korea, Uganda, Germany, Mexico, Ukraine, France and Colombia are part of a long list.

As Afghans again flee the Taliban regime, they are again a nation uprooted and scattered.

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Global Affairs

Climate crisis leaving ‘millions at risk of trafficking and slavery’ | Global development

Voice Of EU



Millions of people forced to leave their homes because of severe drought and powerful cyclones are at risk of modern slavery and human trafficking over the coming decades, a new report warns.

The climate crisis and the increasing frequency of extreme weather disasters including floods, droughts and megafires are having a devastating effect on the livelihoods of people already living in poverty and making them more vulnerable to slavery, according to the report, published today.

Researchers from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Anti-Slavery International found that drought in northern Ghana had led young men and women to migrate to major cities. Many women begin working as porters and are at risk of trafficking, sexual exploitation and debt bondage – a form of modern slavery in which workers are trapped in work and exploited to pay off a huge debt.

Boys at lathes turning aluminium pots
Children working in an aluminium pot factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Up to 85 million children work in hazardous jobs around the world. Photograph: NurPhoto/Getty

One woman, who migrated to Accra from northern Ghana, used to farm until the land was ruined by flooding and she was forced to move. For seven years she has worked as a porter (kayayie), carrying items on her head.

She said: “Working as a kayayie has not been easy for me. When I came here, I did not know anything about the work. I was told that the woman providing our pans will also feed us and give us accommodation. However, all my earnings go to her and only sometimes will she give me a small part of the money I’ve earned.”

She dropped a customer’s items once and had to pay for the damage, which she could not afford. The woman in charge paid up on condition that she repay her. She added: “I have been working endlessly and have not been able to repay.”

A woman from Bangladesh
A woman from the Sundarbans in Bangladesh, who moved to Kolkata after a cyclone to support her family. Now she cannot return to home without her employer’s permission. Photograph: Somnath Hazra

In the Sundarbans, on the border between India and Bangladesh, severe cyclones have caused flooding in the delta, reducing the land available for farming. With countries in the region tightening immigration restrictions, researchers found that smugglers and traffickers operating in the disaster-prone region were targeting widows and men desperate to cross the border to India to find employment and income. Trafficking victims were often forced into hard labour and prostitution, with some working in sweatshops along the border.

Fran Witt, a climate change and modern slavery adviser at Anti-Slavery International, said: “Our research shows the domino effect of climate change on millions of people’s lives. Extreme weather events contribute to environmental destruction, forcing people to leave their homes and leaving them vulnerable to trafficking, exploitation and slavery.”

The World Bank estimates that, by 2050, the impact of the climate crisis, such as poor crop yields, a lack of water and rising sea levels, will force more than 216 million people across six regions, including sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and Latin America, from their homes.

The report is a stark warning to world leaders in advance of the Cop26 UN climate summit in Glasgow in November and calls on them to make sure efforts to address the climate emergency also tackle modern slavery. The report says labour and migrant rights abuses are disregardedin the interests of rapid economic growth and development.

Ritu Bharadwaj, a researcher for the IIED, said: “The world cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking that’s being fuelled by climate change. Addressing these issues needs to be part and parcel of global plans to tackle climate change.”

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Putin faces test of popularity in Russian election

Voice Of EU



Russians head to the polls on Friday for parliamentary elections in a test of authority for president Vladimir Putin, whose United Russia party is polling at a near-historic low of just 30 percent. There are few legitimate international observers, after the ODIHR, a Warsaw-based European monitoring body, declined to go because authorities refused to give them proper access. But some pro-Russian MEPs, such as France’s Thierry Mariani, are going anyway.

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‘It helped me get away from crime’: Cape Town’s College of Magic – a photo essay | Global development

Voice Of EU



To fans of JK Rowling’s books, the story may sound somewhat familiar: a young boy living in difficult circumstances is enrolled in a mysterious school far from home, where his life is changed for ever by the transformative power of magic.

Anele Dyasi’s story is no fairytale, though, and the school in question is not Hogwarts, but the College of Magic in Cape Town, a unique institution that has been training some of the continent’s most skilled illusionists since the 1980s.

Confetti falls on performers from College of Magic at the end of a show at the Artscape theatre centre, Cape Town.
Jugglers from the College of Magic.
Emilie van den Hooyen, a performer and student at the College of Magic, has her face painted before a performance at the Artscape theatre centre.
Ayabonga Tshofui, a College of Magic student, has his face painted before a performance at the Artscape theatre centre.

Dyasi, who grew up in the sprawling township of Khayelitsha, where violent crime is rife and opportunities are few and far between, was 10 when the college began to train him in the ways of magic and sleight of hand. Within four years he was representing South Africa at magic competitions as far afield as Las Vegas and Beijing and had become a role model for a new generation of budding magicians.

Anele Dyasi.

“I think of it more as a college of life,” says Dyasi, now 23, and a teacher at the college. “It helped me get away from the crime and gangsterism.”

Dyasi says the most important things he learned in his six years as a student at the college had less to do with magic and more to do with self-confidence and effective communication: skills that he feels have left him in a good position to face life’s challenges.

Deyna Viret, a College of Magic student, practises a juggling routine in her dressing room ahead of a show at the Artscape theatre centre.
Illusionist Khanya Rubushe, a College of Magic student, before a performance at the Artscape theatre centre.

On this particular Saturday, clad in a flamboyant polka-dot blazer over a plain white T-shirt, he is teaching closeup card magic to a class of fifth-year students who scrutinise every move of his fingers as they try to figure out the trick. Outside the window, younger students are juggling with batons and doing circuits around the car park on unicycles.

Students practise outside the college

Less research has been done on the educational benefits of learning magic than other performing arts such as music, dance or circus. But the studies that do exist have linked it to physical and psychological benefits such as improved focus, a greater ability to solve problems and think laterally, better interpersonal skills, increased self-worth and an enhanced aptitude for teamwork.

David Gore, founder and director of the College of Magic.

“When we started out we never thought of all the spin-off benefits,” says David Gore, founder and director of the college. “We didn’t realise just how powerful magic was as a tool.”

The college’s students frequently give public performances at local venues, and Gore says he has observed how, within a matter of months, first-year students who arrived at the college shy and recalcitrant routinely end up being confident enough to perform on stage in front of hundreds of strangers.

Anele Dyasi enters the college dove coop

  • Above: Anele Dyasi enters the college’s dove coop. Right: students help each other prepare for a performance
    Below: a box of diabolos, batons and other juggling props, and face paints

College of Magic students Emilie van den Hooyen and Maelle Oudejans help each other get ready for a performance at the Artscape theatre centre.
Equipment used in magical and circus tricks lies in a box at the College of Magic.
Face paints on a table backstage during a performance.

Gore was just 19 when he and a colleague marched into the offices of a local newspaper wearing top hats and tailcoats and announced that they were starting a school for magicians. The newspaper published a story and before long 34 children had signed up. In the 40 years since, several thousand more students have come and gone through the hallways of the ramshackle Victorian mansion that houses the college.

A student juggles outside the college.
Students leave a classroom with walls covered with posters of illusionists.
Magic students walk downstairs after class.
Puppets, photographs and posters on the walls of the college

Built in the late 1800s, the building has a distinctively Hogwarts-esque feel, replete with crooked staircases, secret doorways hidden behind bookshelves, and a special enclosure for the rabbits and doves occasionally used in performances.

“It’s a lot more fun than my other school,” says Duma Mgqoki, a fourth-year student and aspiring magician, who says he enjoys wowing the other children in his neighbourhood with the tricks he learns at the college.

Duma Mgqoki practices a card trick.

While many of the college’s alumni have careers in magic and its associated arts, performing at children’s parties or corporate functions, or becoming TV entertainers, others say the college helped prepare them for a range of non-magical careers.

“Growing up, I went through a lot of trauma and depression. But here I felt free,” says Anela Gazi, a recent graduate of the college from Mfuleni township, who is starting her own shoe-cleaning company.

“This place prepared me for everything. It made me grow. It made me strong. I didn’t even know I could become the person I am now,” she says.

Anela Gazi.

  • ‘This place prepared me for everything. It made me grow. It made me strong,’ says Anela Gazi, a recent graduate

At the college, students from some of the city’s most underprivileged townships are learning alongside others from the wealthiest suburbs.

Twenty-seven years after the end of apartheid, Cape Town remains one of the world’s most divided cities, and many schools, indeed whole neighbourhoods, offer little in the way of ethnic diversity.

Students attend class.

“We believed what we were offering should be available to everyone, and we did that from day one,” says Gore, who flouted the laws of the apartheid regime in the 1980s by insisting on teaching multiracial classes.

The college operates as a nonprofit organisation, and helps to find sponsors to cover the fees of those who could not otherwise afford the courses. It also arranges transport to enable those from more distant areas to attend.

Performers from the College of Magic at the Artscape theatre centre, Cape Town.

“This is the rainbow nation,” says Dyasi after his class, pointing up at the building behind him. “We don’t judge each other here. Everyone is here to achieve the same thing: to become better magicians. It brings out the best in everyone.”

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