Connect with us

firing

The Syrian refugee on the UK’s coronavirus front lines |NationalTribune.com

London, United Kingdom – Once a week, Hassan Akkad has a recurring nightmare. He is in Syria. He is stuck. And he cannot leave. “My happy memories of Syria are overridden by nightmares,” he tells Al Jazeera, in an interview on Skype. “It’s sad that this is how it seeps into my brain from my subconscious.”…

The Syrian refugee on the UK’s coronavirus front lines |NationalTribune.com

London, United Kingdom – Once a week, Hassan Akkad has a recurring nightmare.
He is in Syria. He is stuck. And he cannot leave.
“My happy memories of Syria are overridden by nightmares,” he tells Al Jazeera, in an interview on Skype. “It’s sad that this is how it seeps into my brain from my subconscious.”
Those happy memories are road trips to Latakia, barbecues in Ghouta, the countryside that surrounds Damascus, gathering with friends and “goofing around” and sitting around the family dinner table with his loved ones, his grandparents.
The Damascus native, now 32, was in his early 20s just before the war broke out.

Hassan Akkad, a 32-year-old Syrian refugee, works on the UK’s coronavirus front lines disinfecting London’s COVID-19 wards [Raymond Bobar/Al Jazeera]

When anti-government protests swelled on the streets, Akkad, then a high-school English teacher, took part and filmed the rallies. 
He was detained twice, for two weeks each time.
“The first time in prison was the worst, that’s when I was tortured. I still have a scar on my wrist, it was smashed so I have a titanium pin in it.”
On the second occasion, he was put in solitary confinement. When he got out, he was banned from working and lost his teaching job.
Although he had never wanted to leave, he did not feel safe.
He fled, at first staying in the Middle East. In September 2015, after a punishing 87-day journey across Europe, he arrived in London.
He filmed the dangerous voyage, including the moment everyone on board his packed dinghy, along with children, nearly drowned. His footage was included in a documentary series – Exodus: Our Journey to Europe – which went on to win a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award.
In England, he received legal asylum and kindness. Families in Brixton and Hitchin gave him a room in their homes.
For the past five years, he has worked in film and TV production and for Choose Love, a refugee advocacy organisation.
I think, to me, that is the worst part of this pandemic – that people are dying alone.
Hassan Akkad, filmmaker, campaigner and hospital cleaner

But almost two months ago, his career path took a sharp turn.
He now works as a cleaner at Whipps Cross in Leytonstone, east London, one of the capital’s busiest hospitals, in a COVID-19 ward.
“It’s not charity. It’s minimum wage but I’m still being paid,” he says. “I don’t have a debt to pay. Refugees don’t have a debt to pay because it’s our right to seek refuge.
“But I have been treated very well by the public so far. When I showed up here, I was in a bad physical and mental state – they helped me on my feet. Leytonstone is my adopted home. Nationality doesn’t dictate our kindness. It’s what I want to do, I want to help my neighbours, the patients and the staff.”
He signed up after googling “urgent coronavirus front-line jobs”.
“It led me to a link. Five hospitals were urgently looking for cleaners and one of them was Whips Cross,” which is about a mile from his home.
He had read a study about how the virus was found on a cruise ship 17 days after infected passengers had left.
“I connected the dots, I figured out they urgently need cleaners because of this – it survives on surfaces, and NHS staff and patients were contracting it. I didn’t even think twice. I ran it by my fiancee, didn’t tell my parents, and went to the induction. I only wanted to know if I would be provided with PPE. They said yes. The rest is history.”
Before taking up the cleaning job, filled with a desire to help amid the pandemic, he had delivered groceries to people self-isolating and had volunteered to work on British farms amid fears of food shortages, “but I never heard back”.

Akkad, pictured in a selfie in personal protective equipment (PPE) [Courtesy: Hassan Akkad]

At the entrance of the ward he works in, there are three signs.
One warns staff not to enter unless they are wearing PPE, another says visitors are not allowed in and a third is a reminder – that you are about to enter a COVID-19 ward.
There are 18 beds. At the height of the epidemic, the ward was full – not a single empty bed for weeks amid a rush of coronavirus patients needing oxygen masks to survive.
“Today we had 10 patients, instead of 18,” says Akkad. “[But] I think it’s too early to ease the lockdown. Everyone is worried about a second wave.”
The UK – Europe’s worst and the world’s second most affected country in terms of deaths – is in the midst of easing its coronavirus lockdown.
COVID-19 has killed about 35,000 people in the country and infected more than 240,000, although these figures are widely understood to be lower than the actual toll.
For eight hours a day, wearing gloves, two masks and plastic aprons, Akkad disinfects toilets and mops floors with a powerful, chlorine-heavy detergent. He takes the rubbish out and places it in a special dumpster for virus-contaminated waste. He meticulously wipes down “all the hotspots” – light switches, door handles, windows, doors, sinks.
“Anything you can touch with your hand has to be cleaned,” he says. 
“We use disposable mops – every hospital now has changed all the procedures in terms of cleaning. You can’t use the same mop twice – you use it for a bit and then it goes in the bin.
“When a patient gets discharged or sadly passes away, we do a ‘terminal cleaning’,” a thorough process to control the spread of infections.
“We go to that bed, take out the mattress, and wipe and disinfect every inch of the bed frame. And then we clean that area, so when we have a new patient, they don’t come to a contaminated bed.”
The entire cleaning process takes place at least three times a day.
I cringe when I see government ministers clapping.
Hassan Akkad, filmmaker, campaigner and hospital cleaner

“In my first week, I was quite shocked. It’s different from when you see it on the telly, to actually being there. And the reason why it’s called the front line … that’s where you are face to face with the pandemic.
“You do see dying patients, every week I would see dying patients. That was a shock to the system.”
Several patients and at least one doctor at Whipps Cross University Hospital, Dr Habibhai Babu, known to colleagues as Babu, have died of coronavirus.
As in much of the rest of the world, strict measures to contain the spread of infection mean coronavirus patients die alone.
“The pandemic has changed our rituals. Everything has changed. For me personally, I have always been distant from my family. Social distancing isn’t a new thing to Syrians, due to the war and hard visa systems. My parents attended my engagement party on Skype. I attended my brother’s wedding in Iraq on Skype. This is very familiar to me.”
Holding back tears, he said: “I’ve witnessed two patients saying goodbye to their loved ones on Skype. It is one of the toughest things I’ve ever experienced in my life. 
“The patients are not aware that they are dying, their loved ones are. They [the relatives] were informed by staff, so that’s why they have arranged for this call. 
“We are around those patients, we don’t leave their sides. But for them to pass away without their relatives, their daughters and husbands and children around them, it’s incredibly hard, a very hard thing to witness. 
“I think to me, that is the worst part of this pandemic – that people are dying alone.”
As well as tens of thousands of patients, dozens of NHS workers have died from COVID-19, many of whom are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
In Akkad’s ward, he is one of the three male staff – two cleaners and a doctor. The rest are women, including grandmothers.
They come from more than 10 different countries.
“We are united by a mission or goal to combat this unprecedented healthcare crisis and help these patients,” Akkad says.
But as the national conversation focuses on the deaths of doctors and nurses, Akkad notes that hospital cleaners and others at the “bottom of the pyramid” often encounter even greater risk.
“The people who slide under the radar are cleaners, porters, ward hosts and healthcare assistants. Ninety-nine percent are from an immigrant background and on minimum wage. They risk their lives. You cannot work from home if you are a cleaner or a porter.”
While he appreciates the public’s embrace of front-line NHS workers, which has seen Britons clap on their doorsteps each week to show their appreciation, he baulks at the UK government’s handling of the crisis.
“They have failed on every level,” he says. “The UK has the second-highest number of deaths [after the US]. They were very slow on implementing the lockdown, prioritising the economy over people’s lives.
“I cringe when I see government ministers clapping.”
Looking ahead, he says he will continue in the role for as long as he is needed, “as long as I physically and emotionally can”.
But he has already started to feel an effect on his body. 
“I have injuries in my wrists from prison in Syria. Physically I have started to hurt. There is a shooting pain in my wrists because of too much mopping.
“I am going to try to recover. Emotionally, thank God, I have a therapist. Without one, I wouldn’t be able to do this.”
In the months before the pandemic took hold, much of the West was witnessing rising populism. There were reports of growing xenophobia and anti-migrant attacks in post-Brexit England, images on the news of crowded US-run immigration detention centres, and people fleeing war and persecution faced an increasingly hostile reception on Europe’s borders.
While the pandemic is often naively misinterpreted as a great leveller – “self-isolating in Yorkshire isn’t like self-isolating in Idlib or Moria, or Yemen or Gaza”, says Akkad, there is some reason for hope.
“I don’t think we can go back to that,” he says, of the atmosphere before the global health crisis.
“There will be positive things coming out this pandemic and one of them could be that the world will be more open to migrants and refugees, and realise the value that they have in their host communities.
“I hope that the world will be kinder.”
Continue Reading…

COVID-

COVID-19: US passes ‘unfathomable’ 200,000 death toll |NationalTribune.com

Sorry, we can’t find the page that you are looking for. Don’t let that stop you from visiting some of our other great related content.EXPLORE MOREPalestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel dealsPalestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.At UN,…

COVID-19: US passes ‘unfathomable’ 200,000 death toll |NationalTribune.com

Sorry, we can’t find the page that you are looking for. Don’t let that stop you from visiting some of our other great related content.EXPLORE MOREPalestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel dealsPalestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.At UN, Qatar emir questions world inaction on Israeli occupationQatar’s leader says Israel continues to carry out ‘flagrant violation of international resolutions’.Lebanon: Hezbollah arms depot blast caused by ‘technical error’Lebanon’s official news agency said explosion took place in southern village of Ein Qana, about 50km south of Beirut.
Continue Reading…

Continue Reading

'internal

Iran says ‘internal agents’ may be responsible for Natanz blast |NationalTribune.com

Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year. On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the…

Iran says ‘internal agents’ may be responsible for Natanz blast |NationalTribune.com

Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year.
On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the roof to collapse and parts of the building were blackened by the blaze.
“One of the strong theories is based on internal agents being involved in the incident,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters at a news conference, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).

“The issue is being seriously reviewed by the country’s security organisations and we will announce the results after things are clear.”
It is the first time an Iranian official specifically pointed to the possibility of an inside job for the blast.
In late August, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization confirmed the damage to the facility was the result of “sabotage”.
“But how this explosion took place and with what materials … will be announced by security officials in due course,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said at the time, citing “security reasons” for not disclosing further information.
‘Sabotage is certain’
In early September, Kamalvandi announced Natanz saboteurs “have been identified” but refrained from discussing further details, including whether internal agents were complicit.
On Tuesday, Rabiei also reiterated that “sabotage is certain” but the incident still needs to be investigated due to its complexities.
The desert Natanz site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities regularly monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
Following the explosion, international media reports indicated Israel may have been behind the attack. Israel has been deliberately vague, neither confirming nor denying involvement while stressing the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.

“Everyone can suspect us in everything and all the time, but I don’t think that’s correct,” Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said days after the attack.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also said “Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear capabilities”, adding to that end, “We take actions that are better left unsaid.”
IAEA-Iran relations
September’s announcement that Iran knows the saboteurs behind the Natanz explosion came one week after IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited the country.
The trip was successful, leading to Iran granting access to two suspected former nuclear sites that the UN watchdog wished to inspect.
“In this present context, based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran,” the IAEA and Iranian officials said in a joint statement following the visit.
In a speech during the 64th session of the General Conference of the IAEA on Monday, the president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi referred to the Natanz incident.

“These malicious acts need to be condemned by the agency and member states,” he said via video conference, adding “Iran reserves its rights to protect its facilities and take necessary actions against any threat as appropriate.”
Salehi also urged the UN watchdog not to compromise its “impartiality, independence and professionalism”.
Iran, UN and the United States are locked in a major disagreement centred around the landmark 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, which US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in May 2018.
The US on Sunday declared it reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran, an announcement that was roundly rejected by the United Nations Security Council as lacking legal basis.
The US is trying to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire in October as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the nuclear deal.
Iran, which has always maintained it never pursued nuclear weapons, accepted the nuclear deal that removed all UN sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
The US reneged on the deal, unilaterally imposing a harsh campaign of sanctions that have hit almost all the productive sectors of the Iranian economy. US sanctions have also targeted Iranian officials and organisations.
In response, starting exactly one year after US sanctions were imposed and other parties failed to guarantee economic benefits promised Iran under the deal, Iran started gradually scaling back its nuclear commitments.

Continue Reading…

Continue Reading

firing

Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals |NationalTribune.com

Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel. Palestinians see the deals that the United…

Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals |NationalTribune.com

Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel.
Palestinians see the deals that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.
Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn nations breaking ranks and normalising relations with Israel.
Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.
“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council [of foreign ministers] at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.
In his remarks, he did not specifically name the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf Arab countries that share with Israel concern over Iran. He said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit had been informed of the Palestinian decision.

Palestinians rally against Bahrain-Israel normalisation

The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.
Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, in exchange for establishing ties with it.
In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Gaza-based Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.
Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.
Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies
Continue Reading…

Continue Reading

Trending