x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The drownings of African migrants off the coast of Italy show the flawed focus of European nations, says Al Quds Al Arabi. Other views: who is financing radical groups in Syria and look for Iran's meddling in the Middle East

The disaster of the African migrant boat that sank off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, on Thursday morning with over 500 people on board sheds light, once again, on a humanitarian plight that has recurred time and again in the past three decades, an editorial in the London-based daily Al Quds Al Arabi noted on Saturday.

More than 300 people were killed in the incident that came only four days after 13 Eritrean migrants drowned off the coast of Sicily.

Last August, six Egyptian immigrants met the same fate in Italian waters and last week, 36 bodies, including seven children, of mostly Lebanese citizens, were recovered from the waters of the southern Indonesian coast where their boat sank as they attempted to make their way to Australia.

Every year, tens of thousands of desperate citizens from North African countries make the hazardous journey across the Mediterranean or the Atlantic to the coasts of southern Europe to escape destitution, wars and persecution.

There was an outpouring of grief from many European countries followed the Lampedusa tragedy, but hardly any real efforts were made towards finding real solutions to the problem.

“Rather than spend money to shut down borders, European countries ought to enhance the efficiency of search and rescue operations and the relief efforts for vessels in distress,” the paper observed.

“European countries lamenting the fate of those victims ought to protect the rights of immigrants regardless of their situation,” it added.

“The lucky ones” among those dreaming of a better life – those who avoided ending up in body bags and reached European shores – await another tragedy: they will be pursued, subjected to racist practices or deported.

Anti-immigration slogans and plans have become a dominant element in European and Australian election campaigns.

In fact, the Australian prime minister Tony Abbott centred his electoral campaign on his immovable stance on immigration.

In Greece, authorities stop people with “immigrant features” in the streets to inspect their papers.

London has recently seen vans with warning posters addressed to immigrants roam the streets of the city to intimidate people into leaving.

“Such inhumane practices against immigrants only exacerbate the discrimination and the violence to which they are subjected,” the paper said.

Western countries that are trying to combine their efforts to deter illegal immigration should also find ways to offer these people assistance.

This is one way to avoid another humanitarian disaster at sea.

Tightening security along coasts is not sufficient. Humanitarian action is also required.

Who is financing the extremists in Syria?

Outrage over the actions of some radical opposition groups in Syria isn’t sufficient. Nor is the western media’s continued coverage of their behaviour. In fact, it aids the Assad regime, which is using the extremists as an excuse for excessive brutality.

Tariq Al Homayed, a columnist in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat, posed the question: who is financing these groups?

What is suspicious about radical militant groups in Syria is that their operations don’t target the Assad regime as much as they target the Free Syrian Army which is fighting Bashar Al Assad and blocking the Iranian expansion into Syria through Hizbollah.

Some theories suggest that these factions are getting financial support from individual sources in some Gulf countries, mainly Saudi, Kuwait and Qatar. “But this doesn’t make sense. Individual support from Kuwait couldn’t be sufficiently substantial and Saudi imposes strict government control over money transactions as part of its war on terrorism,” he noted.

Suggestions that Qatari ambitions are behind the financing of the groups are also wrong, he added.

“Extremist groups in Syria are serving Mr Al Assad’s interests. There are parties that benefit from causing confusion within the ranks of the FSA and distorting the image of the revolution This is precisely what Al Assad wants and this is what serves Iran always,” Al Homayed concluded.

When there is a crisis, look for Iran’s input

Napoleon Bonaparte used to say “look for the woman” behind every crisis. Now, the world usually says: “Look for America”.

However in the Arab world and its ever-changing political climate, it is undeniably Iran that is found at the root of almost every political tension, said Elias Al Diri, a contributing columnist at the Lebanese daily newspaper Annahar.

“Iran is the non-imaginary axis around which events evolve. It is the main protagonist in our region and its suburbs,” he added.

In a mysterious turn of events in recent years Tehran has become Washington’s direct or indirect partner in the Middle East from Beirut – one of Tehran’s strongholds – to Iraq, the Gulf states and Arab Spring countries, he opined.

In recent days, the world media was busy with news of a possible visit by the Iranian president to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.

The visit hasn’t been confirmed and the Iranian side has agreed that strengthening ties with neighbouring Gulf states and mainly Saudi is among the new president’s priorities.

“Hence, the region, and specifically Lebanon, may witness unexpected transformations in the near future,” the writer surmised.

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem RMakarem@thenational.ae