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Flying into hostile territory: Somalia experiences boom in air travel :CNN

muqdishoairport(CNN) -- In Somalia, getting from point A to B can be a perilous business. Towns are remote, the roads that link them are poor and prone to attack, while the coastline is manned by pirates.
So why are so many airline operators eager to launch routes to Mogadishu?
Despite Somalia's many security woes, the aviation industry is experiencing an uptick. Mogadishu's Aden Abdulle International Airport -- which was essentially out of commission prior to 2010 following years of civil war, in-fighting and a reign of terror brought on by Al Qaeda -backed terrorist group Al Shabaab -- has been expanding.
"Before 2010, there wasn't really an airport, just a runway. Now, we have 35 flights a day. The airport is booming," says Sean Mendis, Aden Abdulle's station manager
Security in the country is an on-going concern, though it has improved. Al Shabaab was forced out two years ago, allowing some local businesses to reopen and Aden Abdulle to beef up its security, which is currently under the purview of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the Somalia Civil Aviation and Meteorology Authority, the Somali police and the Somali National Security Agency.
"The airport is very different from the town. There are 17,000 troops protecting it. We have four x-ray machines and several security checks passengers have to pass through before boarding a plane," explains Mendis.
These measures has given confidence to a range of carriers. Jubba Airways -- Somalia's unofficial national carrier -- has expanded its network and fleet considerably, and several neighboring outfits, like African Express and Fly540, have daily flights throughout the country.

Last month, Air Uganda started flying three times a week to Mogadishu, and last year, Turkish Airways became the first major commercial airline to service the Somali capital in over 20 years. Mendis envisions more international carriers, particularly some of the Middle East's heavy hitters, launching routes soon.
Watch: Turning around African aviation
Still, violence remains an everyday reality. Last month a car bomb was driven into a convoy of AMISOM troops near the airport.
If anything, the country's lack of infrastructure and stability is actually boosting the airline industry.
"The population is sparsely distributed throughout the territory. Traveling by land is dangerous -- not just because the roads are bad, but because of highway robbery. Police checkpoints charge you $50 just to pass through. For ordinary people, as well as UN peacekeepers, flying domestically is really the best way to go," says Christos Shepherd, head of business development and start-up airlines at aviation consulting firm Mango Aviation Partners.
For big carriers, like Turkish Airlines, flying to Somalia represents a bigger strategy of gaining a foothold in Africa as a whole. In 2012, the airline expanded its network to include 15 destinations throughout the continent.
"The most important geographic part of the world over the next 100 years will be Africa. In this respect, any destination (we fly to) in Africa will create more effective results than, say, a destination in Europe," says Ali Genc, Turkish Airlines' senior vice president of media relations.

Despite the increase in competition, airfares remain remarkably high. Even low-cost carriers charge upwards of $500 for internal flights.
"For the airlines operating these routes, the costs are very high -- much higher than they would be flying similar-sized aircraft with the same number of passengers in Europe, because you don't have the infrastructure, plus you're paying a premium to pilots and crew for being in a place they don't want to be," says Shepherd.
Read more: The worst airports for delays
According to Ruben Gamero, the director of operations for African Express, combat pay is a common incentive for pilots.
"All operators flying to Somalia have to be given a special permit, because the country is considered a hostile destination. We take into account every factor and calculated risk, and have never been involved in any unsafe or unstable situation," he says.
Surprisingly for a country whose economy is in shambles, there are plenty of passengers willing to pay the fare.
"Somalis are very resilient, and they get a lot of money from the diaspora," explains Mendis, who adds that U.N. and NGO traffic keeps the demand for seats high. African Express cites 90% occupancy, and Turkish Airlines says the load factor is increasing.
"Judging by the amount of traffic the airport is seeing, I'd say there's plenty of profits to be had," says Mendis.


I'll return to Somalia as doctor, says straight A GCSE girl :LONDON EVENING STANDARD

 SomaligirlA pupil who fled war-torn Somalia aged five when her father was killed said she hoped to return one day as a doctor after scoring 11 straight As in her GCSEs.
Najma Ahmed, now 16, could not speak a word of English when she arrived with her mother Weliye Salah and grandmother Maryam Muse. Her father Ali had been shot dead in a car robbery two years before and the situation in the country led the family to decide to flee.
Najma, who lives in Hackney, said it was hard at first but today she achieved seven A* and four A grades. She will go on to study biology, chemistry, physics and history at A-level with a view to training as a doctor.
She said: “It just wasn’t safe in Somalia with the civil war. I was petrified all the time. There used to be days when I didn’t eat I was so scared. My father was killed and some other people around us. The killing just became normal. That’s not right.
“I have always wanted to be a doctor. I have always wanted to help people, especially my own people who don’t have access to adequate health care. Hopefully, I will be able to serve my country — just give back what I have been given.”
She was one of scores of high achievers at Clapton Girls’ Academy. Another, Catherine Byrne, from Dalston, got 11 A* grades.
The 16-year-old, who spent Year 8 studying in France, also found the time to become a black belt in Aikido. She said: “It’s amazing, absolutely amazing. I’m so excited. It was a lot of hard work, but worth it.”
Meanwhile, pupils at the newly rebuilt £80 million Holland Park School were celebrating straight As after fearing they had not done as well as hoped in science.
Students said the science exams were much harder than the practice papers they had done.
Ellie MacCarthy, 16, from Fulham, was awarded A*s in product design and English literature and As in statistics, business and sciences. That  was on top of the subjects she took early in Years 9 and 10, getting A*s in geography, Spanish, RE and an A in maths.
She said: “I’m really excited, I wasn’t expecting to do so well, in science especially… I found the exams harder than the practice papers, especially science.”
Nearly half of pupils at the comprehensive did the English Baccalaureate, while 38 per cent of grades at the comprehensive were A* or A and 87 per cent of students got five GCSEs including maths and English.
Akesh Velappan, 16, was celebrating after getting six A*s and four As and he plans to study biology, chemistry, maths and geography at A-level. He said: “In science I thought some of the papers were more difficult but good preparation helped. I’m elated, really unbelievably happy.”
Sarah Batto, 16, from Ladbroke Grove, who got three A*s and six As, said: “I did better than I expected. I thought I was going to get a few Bs. Some science exams were hard, I thought I did so much worse.”
Headmaster Colin Hall said: “The children have met all our expectations and beyond. We are 25 per cent above what the government expectations would be of the school so we’re absolutely delighted.”

The Biggest Threat To Somalia In Two Decades

somaliamapTHE GOVERNMENT is coming under growing pressure to convince Barclays bank to reverse its decision to close the accounts of 250 UK money-transfer companies which allow people to send remittances to support families in various countries across the world, including Somalia, Pakistan, Ghana, Ethiopia and Poland.
More than $3.2bn of remittance a year is sent from the UK, and remittance amounts to some $530bn worldwide, which is more than the total global international development budget. This basically means that the diaspora of all nationalities are helping themselves and not relying on aid. People have come to the UK to make a better life for themselves but are also helping families back home, its vital support.
Barclays and the Government are being urged to find a solution which does not lead to the closure of this vital industry. Around 20 businesses in Harlesden alone could face closure and many of the Somali diaspora in Brent are worried that their families will no longer be able to afford an education and more worryingly not have enough to eat or drink. It is shocking that local papers are not covering this issue and the national papers are not covering it to the degree one would expect from such a catastrophe, is it because of the area it affects? If there was a war in those countries it would make the front page, yet instead of helping to prevent unrest but ensuring remittances continue many are burying their head in the sand.
Somalia presents a unique problem: it does not have a banking sector. That means not only will Somalia be affected when remittance flows stop, humanitarian aid organisations such as Oxfam will lose the ability to send money to the region. Some 40% of people in Somalia who depend on remittance would be affected by that decision.
Simply put there is no other legal way of sending money to Somalia. If these firms are closed, people will have to carry money from airport to airport, and all that’s achieved is that everyone will end up a criminal we cannot and we should not risk criminalising people who are simply trying to support their families”.
A number of countries have been making diplomatic representations. British-Somali Olympic and world champion runner Mohamed Farah wrote to Prime Minister David Cameroun and added his name to a petition calling on the bank to extend its deadline of August 12, asking his 800,000 Twitter followers to do the same. This among other campaigns was successful in convincing Barclays to extend the deadline by four weeks, but what happens then? The cynic in me thinks that it has been extended just so that Cameron and Clegg can make the announcement when Parliament returns.
Rushanara Ali MP has said: "Countries across Africa and Asia will be badly affected and none more so than Somalia... this decision will cost lives, quite apart from potentially triggering a new crisis in the region... shutting this vital lifeline risks giving people no other choice but to send money through dangerous and alternative methods out of desperation.
Oxfam UK is pressing the UK government to act pointing out that the impact of the decision will be felt by ordinary people, families and communities, and that aid agencies and charities will be left to plug the gap. It said if the bank wasn't prepared to find a solution then the government should.
They must find a way round this and quickly so what’s the solution? Long term countries will aim to develop their own regulated banking system, and maybe the expansion of mobile phone banking system will be the solution but all that is a long way off, therefore in the interim surely Cameron and Clegg’s Government can call on Lloyds, of which we the public own 39 per cent, and RBS, of which we own 81 per cent, to provide strictly regulated accounts for the remittances businesses.
Dawn Butler is a former Minister for Young Citizens and Youth Engagement.

Muslim immigrants face more scrutiny for US citizenship, report finds :AP

usamuslimLos Angeles: Civil liberties advocates said on Wednesday they have uncovered a government programme to screen immigrants for national security concerns that has blacklisted some Muslims and put their US citizenship applications on hold for years.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California said in a report that federal immigration officers are instructed to find ways to deny applications that have been deemed a national security concern. For example, they’ll flag discrepancies in a petition or claim they failed to receive sufficient information from the immigrant.
The criteria used by US Citizenship and Immigration Services to blacklist immigrants are overly broad and include travelling through regions where there is terrorist activity, the report said.
The ACLU learnt about the programme through requests for records after detecting a pattern in cases of Muslim immigrants whose applications to become American citizens had languished.
“It is essentially creating this secret criteria for obtaining naturalisation and immigration benefits that has never been disclosed to the public and Congress hasn’t approved,” said Jennie Pasquarella, an ACLU staff attorney and the report’s author. “I feel like ultimately this is just about politics. They don’t want to be seen as having granted citizenship to somebody who’s going to be the next Boston bomber,” she said.
It was not immediately clear how many immigrants have been reviewed under the programme, which began in 2008 and is formally known as the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Programme.
Background checks
Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the agency routinely checks the background of immigrants applying for benefits and puts the country’s safety, and the integrity of the immigration system, first. “We are vigilant in executing these responsibilities, and will not sacrifice national security or public safety in the interest of expediting the review of benefit applications,” Bentley said in a statement.
Under the programme, immigration officers determine whether a case poses a national security concern and confer with the appropriate law enforcement agency that has information about the immigrant. Officers then conduct additional research and put many cases on hold for long periods of time. Most applications are eventually denied, as the programme states that officers are not allowed to approve such cases without additional review, the report said.
Iranian math professor Mahdi Asgari started receiving visits from FBI agents after he applied for citizenship three years ago, the report said. At one point, agents asked him about his relationship with a fellow Iranian graduate student whom he now has little contact with.
Asgari is still waiting for a decision on his naturalisation application, the ACLU said.

Ex-Somali colonel, former US resident, ordered to pay $15M in damages in civil torture case

Magan_ColumbusCOLUMBUS, Ohio — A former Somali military colonel who left the United States while facing civil allegations that he tortured a human rights advocate was ordered by a federal judge on Tuesday to pay $15 million in damages.
Federal Judge Mark Abel awarded the compensation to Abukar Hassan Ahmed, who in a 2010 lawsuit said he endured months of torture in the 1980s during interrogations in Somalia. A judge had previously ruled that the former colonel, Abdi Aden Magan, was responsible for the torture.
Ahmed filed the lawsuit in April 2010, stating that Magan oversaw his detention and torture in Somalia in 1988. Ahmed said that three months of torture he endured make it painful for him to sit and injured his bladder to the point that he is incontinent.
Ahmed said the torture occurred when Magan served as investigations chief of the National Security Service of Somalia, a force dubbed the Black SS or the Gestapo of Somalia because of its harsh techniques used to gain confessions from detainees.
One of Ahmed's lawyers, Christina Hioureas, on Tuesday said the judge's ruling sends a message that the United States will not be a "safe harbor for those who commit human rights abuses." She said that properties owned by Magan could be seized to cover the $15 million.
Abukar_AhmedAhmed was a professor at the Somalia International University and a lawyer defending political dissidents when he was imprisoned and tortured. Ahmed in 2010 found out Magan was living in the United States through a Google search.
Magan lived for years in Ohio. He initially fought the lawsuit, brought by the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability, but stopped participating last year and now lives in Kenya. Court documents list Magan as representing himself. An email requesting comment sent Tuesday to the address listed for Magan on the court docket was undeliverable.
Magan had argued that the lawsuit was filed in the wrong country and too long after when Ahmed says the abuse happened. He also had said he faced his own ordeal in Somalia and fled after falling out of favor with the government.
In a 2011 court filing, the U.S. Department of State said Magan shouldn't be allowed to claim immunity. A legal adviser for the department, Harold Hongju Koh, wrote that Magan had been a resident of the U.S. since 2000.
Koh said that, "taking into account the relevant principles of customary international law, and considering the overall impact of this matter on the foreign policy of the United States, the Department of State has determined that Defendant Magan does not enjoy immunity from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts."
Ahmed is now legal adviser to the president of Somalia and divides his time between London and Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.


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