29 Nigerians who were initially stranded in Lebanon have been successfully evacuated to the country.
The Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), disclosed this on Saturday evening.
Among them is Temitope Arowolo who was said to have been wrongly accused of murder by her Lebanese employer and Peace Busari who was put on sale on Facebook by her Syrian Employer in Lebanon.
They were rescued by the Nigerian mission in Lebanon.
72 Passengers from Lebanon have arrived Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja today 11th July.
29 are Nigerian girls working as domestic staff in Lebanon who had since wanted to return home, including Temitope Arowolo and Peace Busari who was put on sale in Lebanon. 1/2. pic.twitter.com/nXM0IOdBHx
The evacuees who landed in Abuja this afternoon were received by representatives from the Nigeria Diaspora Commission, the chairperson of the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora and the Special Assistant to the Oyo State government.
In an exclusive interview with Channels TV, Peace Busari confirmed that was indeed put up for sale by her employer who has since been arrested by the Lebanese government.
Meanwhile, NIDCOM has also disclosed that an Air Peace aircraft is in the process of evacuating stranded Nigerians in Malaysia and Thailand, the Nigerians In Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) has said.
“Chartered @airpeace flight APK-7813 conveying Stranded Nigerians from Malaysia and Thailand departing Kaula Lumpur to Abuja and Lagos today with Evacuees from Malaysia and Thailand onboard,” the commission said in a tweet.
This is the first evacuation from both countries since the coronavirus pandemic instigated lockdowns across the world, according to NIDCOM.
It also noted that all evacuees have tested negative to COVID-19 and will proceed on a 14-day self-isolation on arrival.
Thousands of Nigerians have been evacuated back home from across the world since the pandemic disrupted world travel.
Dabiri-Erewa said the flight back home had received support from the Chairman of the Diaspora Committee at the House of Representatives, Tolu Akande-Sadipe, the Director-General of National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, Julie Okah-Donli, the Nigerian mission in Lebanon and the Lebanese ambassador to Nigeria.
Finally ! Coming home !!!!!!Temitope , held behind by her employers and not allowed to board the last evacuation flight from Lebanon ,and Peace Busari, put up for sale on Facebook a few months back https://t.co/9qR95MqVgzpic.twitter.com/3DQXTJsRuv
Years ago Ahlam had escaped poverty in Lebanon for a better life in Europe, but then a family tragedy forced her back home to a country now in the throes of a raging economic crisis.
In the northern port city of Tripoli, a web of electric wires hangs low over a narrow street as men sit around a table drinking coffee in the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighbourhood.
Inside her small flat in a dilapidated building there, 54-year-old Ahlam leans over the kitchen sink and rinses dishes, her hair and slim body draped in black.
“I escaped the poverty and deprivation we lived under in Bab al-Tebbaneh, only to return back to extreme poverty,” she told AFP, fatigue visible on her emaciated face.
Ahlam is one of thousands in Tripoli now struggling to put food on the table, as Lebanon’s worst economic crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war has rapidly deepened in recent weeks.
The downturn has sparked unprecedented protests nationwide against a ruling elite widely deemed incompetent and corrupt, which includes wealthy politicians from Tripoli.
Ahlam and her husband, seeking better chances abroad, had in 2015 sold all their furniture to join the migrant route to Europe.
They paid a trafficker to take them by sea to Europe, her husband leaving first before Ahlam followed two weeks later on a boat packed with migrants from Syria, Sudan and Afghanistan.
She eventually made it to Germany where she reunited in the Cologne area with one of her sons and they lived a “dignified life” for around two years.
But the death of her other son forced the couple to return to Tripoli to help take care of his wife and two children, so three years ago Ahlam arrived back to build up her life again from scratch.
– ‘Borrow to buy bread’ –
Ahlam found work in the villa of a well-off Tripoli family, earning a monthly wage of 500,000 Lebanese pounds.
That would once have been equivalent to around $330 before the start of the downturn late last year, but it would now fetch barely $100 on the black market.
“My income can only buy me vegetables,” Ahlam said. “I sometimes have to borrow money to buy oil and bread.
“Many days, we just eat leftovers,” she said.
Food prices have risen by more than 70 percent since the autumn, according to the non-governmental Consumer Protection Association.
The inflation has been a blow in a country where more than 45 percent of the population now lives below the poverty line and about one third of the workforce is unemployed.
But Lebanese in Tripoli, long a poorer city with a history of sectarian violence, are among the hardest hit.
According to a 2015 study by the United Nations, 57 percent of the city’s population already lived at or below the poverty line and 26 percent suffered extreme poverty.
Ahlam said she would return to Germany in a heartbeat if she could.
“I no longer feel like I’m part of this country… I’d be ready to try again, just to flee this bankrupt country where we live humiliated.”
– ‘State abandoned us’ –
Tripoli emerged as a vibrant protest hub in the nationwide demonstrations from October last year, earning the city the title the “bride of the revolution”.
After the Lebanese currency plunged to record lows last week, angry protests erupted again, with standoffs between security forces and demonstrators leaving dozens wounded in Tripoli.
In recent months, scores of protesters have rallied outside the homes of politicians in Tripoli against what they describe as the government’s neglect of the port city and its residents.
“All officials in Lebanon are thieves… We should be angry,” said Fayad Darwish, a 55-year-old father of seven whose income has evaporated because of the de-facto devaluation.
Tripoli’s economic struggles were long compounded by sectarian violence.
From 2007 to 2014, the city was the scene of frequent clashes between Sunni residents of the Bab al-Tebbaneh district, and Alawite residents of neighbouring Jabal Mohsen.
With a high number of school dropouts or unemployed among the young men of Bab al-Tebbaneh, many were paid to take up arms while others joined jihadist groups in Syria or resorted to taking and dealing drugs.
“This area has paid heavily in blood for battles that have nothing to do with us,” said Abu Mohammad, a 70-year-old resident.
“We are worried about our youth and the possibility they may slide back into violence and take up weapons again because of growing poverty.”
In a former frontline street near Bab al-Tebbaneh, a group of young men passed around a joint.
Taking a drag, one of men, aged in his twenties, said: “We have nothing else to do.”
“We are all unemployed here,” his friend chimed in. “The state has abandoned us.”
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun was due to convene the country’s top security council on Monday after days of angry protests over a deepening economic crisis.
Hundreds of demonstrators clashed with security forces at the weekend across the Mediterranean nation whose currency has collapsed amid the worst financial crisis since Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.
Relative calm returned on Sunday evening, with protesters holding a peaceful rally in Beirut while dozens marched to a central square in the northern city of Tripoli, AFP reporters said.
That came after three nights of violence in which demonstrators, angered by sky-rocketing prices and the government’s apparent inability to tackle the crisis, had blocked highways and scuffled with security forces.
In Tripoli, young men attacked banks and shops and threw rocks at security forces who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. Medical services reported dozens of injured.
The latest wave of demonstrations come almost eight months after the start of a mass protest movement over Lebanon’s crumbling economy and perceived official corruption.
The Lebanese lira plumbed new lows on Thursday, hitting 5,000 to the dollar for the first time.
The next day authorities vowed to pump greenbacks into the market to limit the rout. A Beirut money-changer told AFP on Monday that the dollar was selling for 4,200 liras.
Aoun’s office announced he was due to discuss the latest developments with the country’s top security body including ministers and military officials on Monday afternoon.
“President Aoun will convene the High Defence Council on Monday afternoon to study the security situation after the latest developments,” his office said on Twitter.
Lebanon’s economic crisis, which has led to soaring unemployment and forced the country to default on its sovereign debt for the first time, has sparked an outpouring of anger at a political elite seen as incompetent and nepotistic.
The government has put together a reform package to relaunch the economy and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund to attract desperately needed financial aid.
Inflation is expected to top 50 percent this year, in a country where 45 percent of the population live under the poverty line and over a third of the workforce are out of jobs.
The economy has been hit hard by years of war in neighbouring Syria.
On Saturday in Tripoli, protesters blocked trucks suspected of smuggling food products into Syria.
But the UN World Food Programme in statement said it had sent the convoy of 39 trucks carrying food aid bound for the war-torn country.
After the Lebanese pound hit a new low Thursday, down around 70 percent from its official rate, protesters took to the streets after sundown, setting tyres on fire and blocking roads including in the capital Beirut.
Demonstrators chanted against a government that has been unable to arrest the economic decline, as well as against the governor of the central bank, Riad Salame.
“Riad Salame, game over,” read the front page of the Al-Akhbar newspaper close to Shiite movement Hezbollah on Friday morning.
“Revolution of hunger,” the Jumhuriya daily said.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab chaired an “urgent” cabinet meeting, also attended by the central bank governor, as well as representatives of the banking association and money changing syndicate, the National News Agency said.
A syndicate spokesman said the central bank had agreed to “inject dollars” into the market, hoping to reverse the decline in the pound’s unofficial exchange rate.
Lebanese media reported the rate had reached up to 6,000 pounds per dollar on the black market on Friday, compared to the official peg of 1,507 in place since 1997.
After a meeting with Diab and President Michel Aoun, parliament speaker Nabih Berri spoke of unnamed measures to bring the exchange rate below 4,000 pounds to the dollar.
Another government gathering is planned at the presidential palace in the afternoon.
– Central bank chief under fire –
Tensions have grown recently between the Hezbollah-backed government and the central bank’s governor.
Experts say the cabinet would like to see Salame removed from the position he has held since 1993.
Protesters accuse Salame of having encouraged a policy of increasing state borrowing over the decades that they say benefited only the country’s banking and political elite.
Anger against banks has also risen in recent months, after they banned all transfers abroad and gradually restricted dollar withdrawals, forcing those in need to buy the greenback at much higher rates on the black market.
“Several currents taking part in the protests want to topple the central bank governor and hold him accountable for the financial” crisis, analyst Imad Salamey said.
“Hezbollah wants to change the central bank chief,” the Lebanese American University professor told AFP. Others, including civil society, are calling for the government to step down.
Hezbollah supporters joined the demonstrations late Thursday, despite usually being against the protest movement since October 17.
The previous government headed by Saad Hariri stepped down under street pressure just weeks into those demonstrations, and Diab’s cabinet started working earlier this year.
Analyst Hilal Khachan said Lebanese had recently returned to the streets because they feel nothing has changed.
“The economic situation has further deteriorated… The middle class has been obliterated,” said the professor at the American University of Beirut, referring to their major loss of income.
“But I don’t think the government will collapse,” he said.
– Traders strike –
The central bank late Thursday hit out at “baseless” information on social media of “exchange rates at levels far from reality, which mislead citizens”.
Lebanon — one of the most indebted countries in the world with a sovereign debt of more than 170 percent of its GDP — went into default in March.
It started talks with the International Monetary Fund last month in a bid to unlock billions of dollars in financial aid, but these are still ongoing.
Unemployment has soared to 35 percent nationwide, with Lebanese living in the impoverished port city of Tripoli especially affected.
Traders in the northern city called for a “general strike” on Friday over “heavy losses” and their “plummeting buying power”.
Lebanon enforced a lockdown in mid-March to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, which dealt a further blow to businesses already reeling from the raging economic crisis.
The Mediterranean country has recorded some of the lowest rates in the Middle East since the start of the pandemic, with just 1,402 cases of COVID-19, including 31 deaths as of Thursday.
The Federal Government on Sunday evacuated 69 Nigerian citizens who were stranded in Lebanon.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, who made the announcement via his official Twitter handle said they were evacuated with the support of the Lebanese government and the Lebanese community in Nigeria.
Those evacuated include 50 female victims of trafficking and 19 other persons who were stranded in Lebanon.
“With the financial and logistic support of the Lebanese Government and Lebanese community in Nigeria, 50 trafficked Nigerian girls and 19 stranded Nigerians were successfully evacuated from #Lebanon and arrived in Nigeria today.
“Profound gratitude to Ambassador Houssam Diad, Lebanese Ambassador in Nigeria and Ambassador Goni Zannabura, Nigerian Ambassador in Lebanon,” Onyeama tweeted.
The Federal Government, as part of its efforts to evacuate Nigerians who are stranded abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic evacuated no fewer than 300 Nigerians from the UK weeks back.
A total of 160 Nigerians were also evacuated from the United States, 256 others from Dubai, and 292 from Saudi Arabia.
Lebanon’s parliament voted to legalise growing marijuana for medical use on Tuesday, amid an economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawmakers met in a 1,000 seat conference hall to maintain appropriate social distancing, while outside anti-government protesters demonstrated in a vehicle convoy.
As the country struggles with a battered economy, MPs also approved the re-allocation of $40 million from a World Bank loan to help fight COVID-19, which has officially infected 677 people and killed 21 nationwide.
Outside the venue, dozens of demonstrators sought to revive a massive anti-government protest movement that had rocked Lebanon from October, before the virus forced a nationwide shutdown.
They drove a noisy convoy of cars covered in slogans, drivers honking their horns and passengers brandishing the national flag and leaning out of the windows — while wearing face masks.
Another item on the agenda of the three-day session were proposals for a divisive general amnesty, but that motion was sent back for revision by a parliamentary committee.
“Today, instead of passing a general amnesty law… they could pass a law on the independence of the judiciary,” said Jad Assaileh, a young demonstrator.
“We want to recover the stolen money,” he said, referring to allegations that Lebanon’s ruling elite transferred billions out of the country while regular citizens were prevented from withdrawing their savings by the banks.
Similar protests took place in the cities of Sidon and Tripoli.
The vote to legalise the growing of cannabis for medical use was aimed at boosting revenues for the crippled economy.
Lebanon previously banned growing, selling and consuming cannabis, but illicit production in the country’s east has developed over decades into a multi-million-dollar industry.
Lawmakers also passed a law to fight corruption in the public sector and set up a national body in charge of stamping out graft.
Discord over amnesty plan
The proposal for a general amnesty to free thousands of detainees and to suspend arrest warrants for thousands more remains a contentious issue.
Supporters — which include Shiite movements Hezbollah and Amal as well as the Sunni Future Movement — say an amnesty could lessen overcrowding in jails housing 9,000 prisoners.
But its detractors, including the president’s Christian parliamentary bloc, say the bill is merely an attempt to boost popular support.
The amnesty has long been a demand of the families of some 1,200 so-called “Islamist detainees”, most of whom hail from the Sunni-majority city of Tripoli, where the former premier’s Future Movement is dominant.
They are accused of carrying out crimes including fighting and assaulting the army, taking part in clashes in the city, and planning explosives attacks.
Families have also clamoured for the release of thousands more detainees from the eastern regions of Baalbek and Hermel, where Hezbollah and the parliament speaker’s Amal Movement are powerful.
Most of these are accused of drug-linked crimes including growing hashish illegally, or other offences such as stealing cars.
Lebanon’s worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war is now compounded by the lockdown. Poverty has risen to 45 percent of the population, according to official estimates.
Protests had petered out after a new government took office in January, and demonstrators have largely remained at home since the coronavirus lockdown started mid-March.
But on Friday, hundreds again protested in Tripoli to mark six months since the street movement started to demand an overhaul of a ruling class widely deemed inept and corrupt.
One of the most indebted countries in the world with a debt equivalent to 170 percent of its GDP, Lebanon defaulted on payments for the first time last month.
As the country faces an acute liquidity crisis, banks have banned transfers abroad and gradually restricted dollar withdrawals until suspending them last month.
The Lebanese pound has for decades been pegged to the dollar, but in recent months lost half of its official value on the black market.
The official exchange rate remains 1,507 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.
The banks earlier this month set their rate at 2,600 pounds to the dollar, but money changers were offering more than 3,200 pounds for the greenback on Tuesday on the black market.
On Tuesday, the central bank asked banks to allow depositors with foreign currency accounts to withdraw their savings in Lebanese pounds at the “market rate”, likely to signify 2,600 pounds to the dollar.
Millions in Lebanon risk food insecurity due to a coronavirus lockdown unless the government provides urgent assistance, Human Rights Watch warned Wednesday.
Lebanon in mid-March ordered residents to stay at home and all non-essential businesses to close to halt the spread of COVID-19, which has officially infected 575 people and killed 19 nationwide.
Before the pandemic erupted, Lebanon was struggling with its worst economic crisis in decades, with 45 percent of the population facing poverty according to official estimates.
Lockdown measures to slow the spread of the virus have made matters worse with “millions of Lebanon’s residents… at risk of going hungry”, HRW said in a statement.
Lebanon is home to 4.5 million people, and also hosts around 1.5 million Syrians who have fled the nine-year war next door, most of whom rely on aid to survive.
“The lockdown… has compounded the poverty and economic hardship rampant in Lebanon before the virus arrived,” said HRW senior researcher Lena Simet.
“Many people who had an income have lost it, and if the government does not step in, more than half the population may not be able to afford food and basic necessities.”
The economic crisis since last year had already caused many people to lose their jobs or take salary cuts, and stay-at-home measures to counter the virus have now prevented even more from earning a wage.
Media has carried reports of a taxi driver who set his car on fire after security forces fined him for breaking the lockdown rules.
And an unemployed Lebanese construction worker unable to afford rent offered to sell his kidney, in an image widely shared online.
HRW Lebanon researcher Aya Majzoub said many families are struggling due to a lack of savings.
The government has said it will pay out 400,000 Lebanese pounds (less than $150 at the market rate) to the most vulnerable.
HRW said the government should also consider suspending rent and mortgage payments throughout the lockdown.
Majzoub said Syrian refugees were also affected.
“Many of them were seasonal workers — they worked in agriculture, they worked in the service industry — and they’re not able to do that anymore,” she said.
But their ability to cope will depend largely on international aid, as before the pandemic.
The World Bank last week said it had re-allocated $40 million from its support to Lebanon’s health sector to fight the virus, including for tests and ventilators.
And it has also been discussing “assistance to help mitigate the impact of the economic and financial crisis on the poor through emergency social safety nets”, World Bank spokeswoman Zeina El-Khalil told AFP in March.
On Monday, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun urged the international community to provide financial assistance to back economic reforms.
At least 20 civilians were killed on Sunday as Syrian regime forces were poised to retake a key motorway connecting Damascus to second city Aleppo, after weeks of battles in the rebel-held Idlib region, a monitor said.
The regime and its Russian ally have been engaged in a fierce weeks-long offensive to take back the vital M5 artery which connects Aleppo, once Syria’s economic hub, to Damascus and the Jordanian border.
A section of the highway southwest of Aleppo city still lies under control of rebels and jihadists who dominate a shrinking, densely populated territory centred on neighbouring Idlib province.
Pro-regime forces have been chipping away at the area in an assault that has sent half a million people fleeing north towards the Turkish border.
Deadly raids on Sunday by regime ally Russia left 14 people dead, including nine in the village of Kar Nuran in southwestern Aleppo province, near the last stretch of the M5 still in rebel hands, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syrian air raids with crude barrel bombs also killed four civilians in the Atareb district east of Aleppo, while another died in artillery fire near the city of Jisr Al-Shughur, it said.
The last civilian was killed in regime airstrikes on Ketian village in southern Idlib.
Recapturing the M5 would allow traffic to resume between war-torn Syria’s main business hubs, helping the regime revive a moribund economy after nearly nine years of war.
After weeks of steady regime advances in Syria’s northwest, only a two-kilometer section of the M5 remains outside government control, according to the Observatory.
Pro-government forces were closing on Sunday on the last segment southwest of Aleppo, neighbouring Idlib, the Britain-based war monitor said.
“Regime forces have gained new ground and now control several villages near the motorway,” Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman told AFP.
Fighting was ongoing in the area early Sunday evening with bombing intensifying, he said.
Half a million displaced
Since December, Russian-backed government forces have pressed a blistering assault against Idlib, Syria’s last major opposition bastion, retaking town after town.
The violence has killed more than 300 civilians and sent some 586,000 fleeing towards relative safety nearer the Turkish border.
Some three million people are now trapped in the Idlib region, around half of whom have already fled other parts of the country.
The Syrian army said in a statement Sunday it had recaptured 600 square kilometres (232 square miles) in recent days, comprising “dozens of villages and locations” in south Idlib and west Aleppo provinces.
The Syrian government on Sunday approved a plan aimed at “progressively re-establishing services in liberated areas”, official news agency SANA reported.
That came a day after the army captured the Idlib town of Saraqeb, located on a junction of the M5, state media said.
Troops then pressed north along the motorway past Idlib’s provincial borders and linked up with a unit of Syrian soldiers in Aleppo province, according to the Observatory and state agency SANA.
It was the first time in weeks the two units joined up after waging separate offensives against rebels and jihadists in Idlib and Aleppo.
A little more than half of Idlib province remains in rebel hands, along with slivers of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.
Some 50,000 fighters are in the shrinking pocket, many of them jihadists but the majority allied rebels, according to the Observatory.
The United Nations and aid groups have appealed for an end to hostilities in the Idlib region, warning that the exodus risks creating one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of the nearly nine-year war.
Japanese prosecutors on Thursday issued arrest warrants for a former US special forces operative and two other people accused of helping former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn jump bail and flee the country.
The prosecutors also issued a warrant for Ghosn for leaving the country illegally, after he escaped to Lebanon via Turkey last month.
Warrants were issued for Michael Taylor, 59, reportedly a former US special forces operative-turned-security consultant, 26-year-old Peter Taylor, who local media identified as his son, and George Zayek, 60.
They are suspected of taking Ghosn to a hotel in Osaka, western Japan, and hiding him inside a case before taking him to Kansai airport where they allegedly helped him evade a security inspection.
The warrants are the first official confirmation of the reported details about how Ghosn slipped past security and jumped bail shortly after Christmas.
Ghosn has refused to confirm or deny the various reports on how he gave Japanese authorities the slip.
The escape of perhaps the most high-profile suspect on bail in Japan left officials red-faced and they have demanded Ghosn returns to face trial.
Lebanon does not have an extradition treaty with Japan.
Ghosn was arrested in November 2018 and faced four charges of financial misconduct, which he denies.
He has said he did not believe he would get a fair trial, and accused Nissan executives opposed to his plans to integrate the firm further with its French partner Renault of effectively cooking up the charges against him.