When Nabila was a judge in Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, she granted divorces to women whose husbands were sometimes jailed for assaulting or kidnapping them. Some of the men threatened to kill her after they had served their time, she said.
In mid-August, as the Taliban poured into Kabul and seized power, hundreds of prisoners were set free. Men once sentenced in Nabila’s courtroom were among them, according to the judge. Like the other women interviewed for this article, her full name has been withheld for her protection.
Within days, Nabila said, she began receiving death threat calls from former prisoners. She moved out of her house in Kabul and went into hiding as she sought ways to leave Afghanistan with her husband and three young daughters.
“I lost my job and now I can’t even go outside or do anything freely because I fear these freed prisoners,” Nabila said by phone from a safe house. “A dark future is awaiting everyone in Afghanistan, especially female judges.”
gains made by women over the past two decades. Female judges and lawyers have left the courts under Taliban pressure, abruptly erasing one of the signal achievements of the United States and allied nations since 2001.
The women have not only lost their jobs, but also live in a state of perpetual fear that they or their loved ones could be tracked down and killed.
worked in Afghanistan for several years. She said she is representing 13 female lawyers and judges who are trying to leave the country.
nearly 90 percent of women experienced some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime, according to a 2008 study by the United States Institute of Peace.
These judges helped to bring some reform to many courts, particularly in urban areas, delivering justice to growing numbers of women and girls beaten and abused by husbands or male relatives.
The women defied a legal system that favored husbands, granting divorces to Afghan wives who in many cases would previously have been doomed to stay in abusive marriages. Among those now in hiding are former lawyers and judges who defended abused women or pursued cases against men accused of beating, kidnapping or raping women and girls.
the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15. She is trying to leave Afghanistan with her mother and two brothers, one of them a former government soldier, she said.
“I lost my job, and now my whole family is at risk, not just me,” Behista said.
shot and killed on their way to work in Kabul.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be. One spokesman told The Times that the group wanted to forget its past, but that there would be some restrictions.
Male judges and police officers often resisted reforms to the justice system, and pressured women to rescind their complaints from the court. A Human Rights Watch report released in August said the system had failed to provide accountability for violence against women and girls and had undermined progress to protect women’s rights.
The report said landmark legislation passed in 2009, the Elimination of Violence Against Women law, was often sabotaged by male officials despite some progress in bringing justice to victims under the law.
World Bank, more than half of all Afghan women lack national ID cards compared with about 6 percent of men. And for many of the women who do have documents, theirs efforts to escape are complicated by a husband or child who does not.
To assist Afghan women, Ms. Motley suggested reviving Nansen Passports, first issued in 1922 to refugees and stateless people after World War I and the Russian Revolution.
Some female judges and lawyers have managed to escape Afghanistan. Polish authorities recently helped 20 women and their families leave, Justice Glazebrook said, and 24 female judges have been evacuated to Greece since August, according to the Greek foreign ministry.
November 2016 suicide bomb attack on the German consulate.
“I was getting threats for the past five years,” Friba said.
In 2014, she secured a divorce for her sister who had been forced to marry a Talib at age 17 under the movement’s first regime. Her sister has since fled to Egypt with their three children. “He is still after her,” she said.
Mr. Karimi, a member of the Taliban cultural commission, denied that the former judges and lawyers were at risk. He said they were covered by a general amnesty for all Afghans who served the previous government.
“To those people who are living in hiding: We are telling them that they should feel free, we won’t do anything to you,” Mr. Karimi said. “It’s their own country. They can live very freely and easily.”
Justice Glazebrook rejected this.
“These women believed in their country, believed in human rights and believed in the importance of the rule of law and their duty to uphold it,” she said.
As a result, she said, “They are at risk of losing their lives.”
Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting from Athens, and Ruhullah Khapalwak from Vancouver.
Once a relatively small criminal operation that operated in the countryside and trafficked in stolen cars, the gang expand its criminal activities in the chaotic months following the president’s assassination, said Mr. Jean, the human rights group director. By forging alliances with other armed groups, it was able to control an area stretching from the east of Port-au-Prince to the border with the Dominican Republic — a territory so vast that the police are unable to pursue gang members.
Three Recent Crises Gripping Haiti
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The abduction of U.S. missionaries. Seventeen people, including five children, associated with an American Christian aid group were kidnapped on Oct. 16 by a Haitian gang as they visited an orphanage. The brazenness of the abductions has shocked officials. The whereabouts and identities of the hostages remain unknown.
The aftermath of a deadly earthquake. On Aug. 14, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 2,100 people and leaving thousands injured. A severe storm — Grace, then a tropical depression — drenched the nation with heavy rain days later, delaying the recovery. Many survivors said they expected no help from officials.
The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. A group of assailants stormed Mr. Moïse’s residence on July 7, killing him and wounding his wife in what officials called a well-planned operation. The plot left a political void that has deepened the nation’s turmoil as the investigation continues. Elections that were planned for this year are likely to be delayed until 2022.
“The police are in a situation of powerlessness,” Mr. Jean said.
The 400 Mawozo gang accounted for 60 percent of the kidnappings from July to September, Mr. Jean said. They are held responsible for kidnapping five priests and two nuns this year, and are also believed to have killed Anderson Belony, a well-known sculptor who had worked to improve his community, according to local news reports.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the State Department was working with the F.B.I., the Haitian national police, churches and other groups to get the hostages released. But he noted that the kidnappings were “also indicative of a larger problem, and that is a security situation that is, quite simply, unsustainable.”
Mr. Blinken said the United States would continue to support the Haitian police and community programs in their efforts to stem gang violence. “But it’s a very challenging, and long-term process,” he said.
Gangs have gained so much power that they have taken on a nearly institutional role in some communities, said Mr. Vorbe, the political party leader, substituting for the police or providing basic services like road cleaning.
“They have stepped in for the state,” he said.
The growing gang presence, and now the attack on a group of missionaries, have cast a pall over other aid organizations and projects in the country.
In Fond Parisien, about 20 minutes from where the kidnapping took place, is another mission project called Redeemed Vocational School, which teaches trades like auto mechanics, sewing, and computer skills. The group had been planning to build a larger school building, but the violence has made it harder to travel and get supplies, said Kenlyn Miller, 46, the chairman of the school’s board in Gambier, Ohio.
An informal network that includes former government and military officials is working around the clock to fulfill a pledge to save Afghans who put their lives on the line for America.
FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Rex Sappenfield does not sleep well. A former Marine who served in Afghanistan, he is tormented by the fate of his interpreter, an Afghan with a wife and three young children to whom Mr. Sappenfield made a battlefield promise: We will never abandon you.
Now a high school English teacher who tries to instill a sense of rectitude in his students, Mr. Sappenfield has thought about his pledge every day since the United States pulled out of Afghanistan on Aug. 30.
“We broke a promise, and I just feel terrible,” Mr. Sappenfield, 53, said. “I said it to the faces of our Afghan brothers: ‘Hey guys, you can count on us, you will get to come to the United States if you wish.’”
But if America has withdrawn from Afghanistan, Mr. Sappenfield and many other veterans have not. He is part of an informal network — including the retired general who once commanded his unit, retired diplomats and intelligence officers and a former math teacher in rural Virginia — still working to fulfill a promise and save the Afghan colleagues who risked their lives for America’s long fight in Afghanistan.
the American evacuation.
“I tell my students in 11th grade that they are the only ones who can betray their integrity,” Mr. Sappenfield said. “It’s theirs to give away if they choose to lie or cheat. But in this case, someone else broke my word for me. It just irritates the heck out of me.”
If Not Me, Then Who?
Did our service matter?
The question gnawed at Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson as he drafted a letter in August to the men and women with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade who fought alongside him in Afghanistan. “Nothing,” he wrote, “can diminish your selfless service to our nation.”
Nothing — not the Taliban’s sweeping takeover after two decades of war, not the desperate Afghans falling from planes, not disbelief that Afghanistan had fallen overnight to the same enemy that the Americans had vanquished 20 years ago.
“I felt I had to say to the guys, ‘Hey, get your heads up,’” said General Nicholson, who retired as a three-star in 2018. Recalling the 92 Marines who died under his command in Helmand Province, the 2,461 American service members overall who died in Afghanistan and the untold treasure lost, he wrote to his fellow Marines:
“You raised your hand and said, ‘IF NOT ME, THEN WHO?’”
the fall of Kabul on Aug. 15, the network worked with soldiers and intelligence officers on the ground in Afghanistan. She showed The Times a list of Afghan names, including large families, a few marked in purple with the words “GOT OUT!!!”
their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be. One spokesman told The Times that the group wanted to forget its past, but that there would be some restrictions.
“Among Americans there is no shared scar tissue from the wars,” said J. Kael Weston, a retired foreign service officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside General Nicholson and has been part of the network. “A culture gap opened up.”
In rural Virginia, Ms. Hemp and others are still working to save more Afghans. She has three young grandchildren and doesn’t have to do this, given that many Americans have already forgotten Afghanistan, or scarcely paid attention to it before.
“I was raised with the Golden Rule, an honor code,” she said. “You do not lie to people. You honor your promises.”
She looked out at her crab apple tree and the rolling green fields. “People today don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. ‘Choices have consequences’ is now ‘choices have consequences for everyone but me.’ People are just so angry.”
On many days, Mr. Sappenfield speaks on Zoom with P, the interpreter. They exchange videos of their children but more often they talk about fear and frustration. The fear is about the Taliban. The frustration is with the State Department, which has been slow walking his visa application for many years.
“They are not taking any action,” P said in a Zoom call. “I feel hopeless. I feel I will be killed in front of my kids.”
For more than a decade, P has been caught in the Catch-22 labyrinth of the State Department’s Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, application process. He has already had two visa interviews — on March 3, 2020, and April 6 of this year — at the now closed U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Yet in a Sept. 21 email to Ms. Hemp, a foreign service officer wrote that P still needed another interview. “Obviously,” the officer added, “that will not be happening in Kabul.”
He concluded, “Sorry this is so murky and chaotic.”
Ms. Hemp responded bluntly. “In this day and age of online meetings, zoom conference calls, FaceTime calls, Messenger video chat, why can’t they do an online interview?” she wrote.
The foreign service officer checked with a colleague in Washington, who confirmed that, given the closure of the embassy in Kabul, there was no way for P to get another interview unless he managed to leave Afghanistan.
“Then the SIV case can be transferred to that country,” the officer wrote. “So, it seems to be a Catch-22 situation.”
Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said on Capitol Hill last month that only about 3 percent of the Afghans evacuated to the United States during the American withdrawal actually have special immigrant visas.
P’s application was first submitted in April 2010, when Mr. Sappenfield’s unit was rotating out of Helmand. Had the process not been so labyrinthine, P would have gotten out of Afghanistan before it fell to the Taliban. Now he is trapped.
In an email, a State Department spokeswoman said the effort to help people like P was “of utmost importance” but acknowledged that “it is currently extremely difficult for Afghans to obtain a visa to a third country” in order to have a visa interview.
P has not given up.Every day there is a different word on flights. So far, none have had a spot for him.
Ms. Hemp, Mr. Sappenfield, Mr. Britton and General Nicholson haven’t given up, either.
“Since the weather is changing, people are asking me to find blankets and warm clothes for their families in Afghanistan,” Ms. Hemp wrote recently. “Of course, they continue to ask when their loved ones will be evacuated. No clue, probably never, but I don’t dare tell them that.”
Mr. Sappenfield, a religious man, also recently wrote: “Haunted by the promises I made but my government wouldn’t allow me to keep, I ponder my own Judgment Day.
“Irreverently, perhaps, I am hoping for a front row seat when that day of reckoning comes for those responsible for these crimes against humanity.”
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Children on their way to school, street vendors selling their wares, priests mid-sermon — few Haitians, rich or poor, are safe from the gangs of kidnappers that stalk their country with near impunity. But the abduction this weekend of 17 people associated with an American missionary group as they visited an orphanage shocked officials for its brazenness.
On Sunday, the hostages, five of them children, remained in captivity, their whereabouts and identities unknown to the public. Adding to the mystery was a wall of silence from officials in Haiti and the United States about what, if anything, was being done to secure their release.
“We are seeking God’s direction for a resolution, and authorities are seeking ways to help,” the missionary group, Christian Aid Ministries, an Ohio-based group founded by Amish and Mennonites that has a long history of working in the Caribbean, said in a statement.
The authorities identified the gang behind the kidnappings as 400 Mawozo, an outfit infamous for taking abductions to a new level in a country reduced to near lawlessness by natural disaster, corruption and political assassination. Not content to grab individual victims and demand ransom from their family members, the gang has taken to snatching people en masse as they ride buses or walk the streets in groups whose numbers might once have kept them safe.
President Jovenel Moïse. Violence is surging across the capital, where by some estimates, gangs now control roughly half of the city. On a single day last week, gangs shot at a school bus in Port-au-Prince, injuring at least five people, including students, while another group hijacked a public bus.
According to the Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights, which is based in Port-au-Prince, this year alone, from January to September, there were 628 people reported kidnapped, including 29 foreigners.
“The motive behind the surge in kidnappings for us is a financial one,” said Gèdèon Jean, executive director of the center. “The gangs need money to buy ammunition, to get weapons, to be able to function.”
That means the missionaries are likely to emerge alive, he said
“They are going to be freed — that’s for sure,” Mr. Jean said. “We don’t know in how many days, but they’re going to negotiate.”
abducted 10 people in Croix-des-Bouquets, including seven Catholic clergy members, five of them Haitian and two French. The group was eventually released in late April. The kidnappers demanded a $1 million ransom, but it is unclear if it was paid.
Haitians have been driven to despair by the violence, which prevents them from making a living and keeps their children from attending school. In recent days, some started a petition to protest gang violence, singling out the 400 Mawozo gang and calling on the police to take action. But the police, underfunded and lacking political support, have been able to do little.
Transportation workers called a strike for Monday and Tuesday in Port-au-Prince to protest insecurity — an action that may turn into a more general strike, with word spreading across sectors for workers to stay home to denounce violence that has reached “a new level in the horror.”
“Heavily armed bandits are no longer satisfied with current abuses, racketeering, threats and kidnappings for ransom,” the petition says. “Now, criminals break into village homes at night, attack families and rape women.”
Christian Aid Ministries’ compound in Haiti overlooks the bay of Port-au-Prince, in a suburb called Titanyen.
On a visit there Sunday, three large delivery trucks could be seen on the sprawling grounds surrounded by two fences reinforced with concertina wire. Chickens, goats and turkeys could be seen near small American-style homes with white porches and mailboxes, and laundry hung out to dry.
There was also a guard dog and a sign in Creole that forbid entry without authorization.
Because the area is so poor, at night the compound is the only building illuminated by electric lights, neighbors said. Everything else around it is plunged in darkness.
The Mennonites, neighbors said, were gracious, and tried to spread out the work they had — building a new stone wall around the compound, for instance — so everyone could earn a little and feed their families. They would give workers food and water and joke with them. And Haitians would often come in for Bible classes.
Usually, children could be seen playing. There are swings, a slide, a basketball court, and a volleyball court. It was very unusual, neighbors said, to see it so quiet. Sundays, especially, it is bustling.
But not this Sunday.
Andre Paultre, Oscar Lopez, Ruth Graham, Patricia Mazzei and Lara Jakes contributed reporting.
Facebook knew that an ad intended for a 13-year-old was likely to capture younger children who wanted to mimic their older siblings and friends, one person said. Managers told employees that Facebook did everything it could to stop underage users from joining Instagram, but that it could not be helped if they signed up anyway.
In September 2018, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Instagram’s founders, left Facebook after clashing with Mr. Zuckerberg. Mr. Mosseri, a longtime Facebook executive, was appointed to helm Instagram.
With the leadership changes, Facebook went all out to turn Instagram into a main attraction for young audiences, four former employees said. That coincided with the realization that Facebook itself, which was grappling with data privacy and other scandals, would never be a teen destination, the people said.
Instagram began concentrating on the “teen time spent” data point, three former employees said. The goal was to drive up the amount of time that teenagers were on the app with features including Instagram Live, a broadcasting tool, and Instagram TV, where people upload videos that run as long as an hour.
Instagram also increased its global marketing budget. In 2018, it allocated $67.2 million to marketing. In 2019, that increased to a planned $127.3 million, then to $186.3 million last year and $390 million this year, according to the internal documents. Most of the budgets were designated to wooing teens, the documents show. Mr. Mosseri approved the budgets, two employees said.
The money was slated for marketing categories like “establishing Instagram as the favorite place for teens to express themselves” and cultural programs for events like the Super Bowl, according to the documents.
Many of the resulting ads were digital, featuring some of the platform’s top influencers, such as Donté Colley, a Canadian dancer and creator. The marketing, when put into action, also targeted parents of teenagers and people up to the age of 34.
LEIGH-ON-SEA, England — For the second time in little more than five years, a British lawmaker meeting with constituents was killed in full view of the public, this time in a genteel seaside town, where the victim, a Conservative Party member of Parliament, was fatally stabbed on Friday inside a church.
The attack, which the authorities declared a terrorist attack early Saturday, stunned Britain’s political establishment, raising questions about the security of lawmakers at a time when the country is already on edge, unnerved by shortages of food and fuel, and frayed by a political culture that has become increasingly raw and combative in the aftermath of Brexit.
“The early investigation has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism,” the police said.
The lawmaker, David Amess, 69, was a long-serving member of the House of Commons known for his soft-spoken manner and hard-line views on Brexit. He was engaged in the everyday political routine of meeting with constituents when the attack occurred in Leigh-on-Sea, on the mouth of the Thames, about 40 miles east of London.
a right-wing extremist targeted her outside a meeting with constituents.
In 2010, another Labour lawmaker, Stephen Timms, was stabbed twice in the abdomen by an Islamist extremist, but survived.
Photographs taken at the scene showed a number of emergency responders and a cordoned-off area around the church. The police said that officers had responded to reports of a stabbing shortly after 12:05 p.m., and that Mr. Amess had died at the scene.
the Brexit referendum, and the assailant, Thomas Mair, an unemployed gardener, was sentenced to life in prison.
on Twitter. “Attacking our elected representatives is an attack on democracy itself,” he wrote. “There is no excuse, no justification. It is as cowardly as it gets.”
Across the political spectrum, lawmakers and other prominent Britons recalled Mr. Amess’s gentle manner and work on behalf of animals.
“He was hugely kind and good,” said Carrie Johnson, the wife of the prime minister, on Twitter. “An enormous animal lover and a true gent. This is so completely unjust. Thoughts are with his wife and their children.”
“Heartbroken,” wrote Tracey Crouch, a fellow Conservative lawmaker. “I could write reams on how Sir David was one of the kindest, most compassionate, well liked colleagues in Parliament. But I can’t. I feel sick. I am lost. Rest in Peace. A little light went out in Parliament today. We will miss you.”
In Leigh-on-Sea, known for its annual regatta and folk festival, news of the attack reverberated through normally tranquil tree-lined streets.
“This doesn’t really happen, this is a nice quiet area,” said Alysha Codabaccus, 24, who lives in an apartment a few doors down from the church. “I mean, it literally happened in a church.”
At Mojo’s Seafood, a small white shack that serves fresh fish from the nearby coastline, the customers expressed horror and sadness. One remarked on the impact on Mr. Amess’s family. “He’s got five kids,” the man said quietly.
Lee Jordison, who works at a butcher shop 100 yards from the church, said he had heard sirens and seen armed officers running up the street, shattering the typical autumn afternoon quiet, and had known instantly that something was very wrong. He said a shaken woman had told him that people ran from the church screaming, “Please get here quick, he’s not breathing!”
Mr. Jordison said he had met Mr. Amess a few times. “He always used to visit our shop,” he said. “He was a very nice guy from the time I met him. He had a lot of time for the community.”
Megan Specia reported from Leigh-on-Sea, and Stephen Castle and Mark Landler from London.
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Armed clashes between sectarian militias transformed Beirut neighborhoods into a deadly war zone on Thursday, raising fears that violence could fill the void left by the near-collapse of the Lebanese state.
Rival gunmen, chanting in support of their leaders, hid behind cars and dumpsters to fire automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at their rivals. At least six people were killed and 30 wounded. Residents cowered in their homes, and teachers herded children into the hallways and basements of schools to protect them from the shooting.
It was some of the worst violence in years to convulse Beirut, aggravating the sense of instability in a small country already buffeted by devastating political and economic crises and inviting recollections of its civil war that ended more than three decades ago.
Since the fall of 2019, Lebanon’s currency has plummeted more than 90 percent in value, battering the economy and reducing Lebanese who were comfortably middle class to poverty. The World Bank has said Lebanon’s economic collapse could rank among the three worst in the world since the mid-1800s.
Grave fuel shortages in recent months have left all but the wealthiest Lebanese struggling with prolonged power blackouts and long lines at gas stations. The country’s once vaunted banking, medical and education sectors have all suffered profound losses, as professionals have fled to seek livelihoods abroad.
A huge explosion in the port of Beirut last year killed more than 200 people and exposed the results of what many Lebanese see as decades of poor governance and corruption. The Covid-19 pandemic has only aggravated the economic distress and sense of despair.
The fighting on Thursday was part of the continuing fallout from the port explosion.
Two Shiite Muslim parties — Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group, and the Amal Movement — had organized a protest calling for the removal of the judge charged with investigating the blast and determining who was responsible.
As the protesters gathered, gunshots rang out, apparently fired by snipers in nearby high buildings, according to witnesses and Lebanese officials, and protesters scattered to side streets, where they retrieved weapons and rejoined the fray.
posts on Twitter, saying that the clashes had been caused by “uncontrolled and widespread weapons that threaten citizens in every time and place,” a reference to Hezbollah’s vast arsenal.
His group accused Hezbollah of exploiting sectarian tensions to derail the port investigation over fears it could be implicated.
Hassan Diab, who, along with his cabinet, resigned after the port explosion.
There had been hope that Mr. Mikati would bring some stability as his new government took shape. But at the same time, tensions over the port investigation grew deeper.
The blast at the port was caused by the sudden combustion of some 2,750 tons of volatile chemicals that had been unloaded into the port years before, but more than a year later no one has been held accountable.
The judge investigating the explosion, Tarek Bitar, has moved to summon a range of powerful politicians and security officials for questioning, which could result in criminal charges against them.
Hezbollah has grown increasingly vocal in its criticism of Judge Bitar, and his inquiry was suspended this week after two former ministers facing charges lodged a legal complaint against him.
Families of the victims condemned the move, with critics saying that the country’s political leadership was trying to shield itself from accountability for the largest explosion in the turbulent country’s history.
On Monday, the judge had issued an arrest warrant for Ali Hussein Khalil, a prominent Shiite member of Parliament and a close adviser to the leader of the Amal party. The warrant leveled serious accusations against Mr. Khalil.
“The nature of the offense,” the document read, is “killing, harming, arson and vandalism linked to probable intent.”
On Tuesday, the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah issued some of his most scathing criticism of Judge Bitar, accusing him of “politically targeting” officials in his investigation and calling for a protest on Thursday.
When Hezbollah followers joined the protests to call for the judge’s removal, witnesses said, the sniper shots rang out.
Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, and Marc Santora from London. Reporting was contributed by Hwaida Saad and Asmaa al-Omar from Beirut, and Vivian Yee and Mona el-Naggar from Cairo.
ALGECIRAS, Spain — No one knew the man’s name when he washed ashore. His body had floated in the ocean for weeks, and it then sat much of the summer unidentified in a refrigerator in a Spanish morgue.
He was one among thousands lost at sea during what has been a record year for migrant drownings in Spain. And he might have been sent with the other unclaimed dead to an unmarked grave if Martín Zamora had not figured out that the body had a name, and a life.
He was Achraf Ameer, 27, a mechanic from Tangier. He had been missing for weeks when Mr. Zamora reached his family by WhatsApp. He had found their son’s body. He could bring it to them in Morocco, for a price.
“Sometimes, I get the feeling that some years ahead — in 30, 40, 50 years, I don’t know how many — they will look at us like monsters,” he said. “They’ll see us all as monsters because we just let people die this way.”
tracks the deaths. The International Organization for Migration, a United Nations body that keeps a more conservative count, has recorded more than 1,300 deaths so far this year.
Helena Maleno Garzón, who heads Caminando Fronteras, said Spain’s situation was especially perilous because it is the only European country with smuggling routes on both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. “These include some of the most dangerous routes which are now being used,” she said.
Dozens of boats have gone down this year near the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off West Africa.
Migrant boats also are tempted by the narrowness of the Gibraltar Strait, only nine miles wide in one section, despite strong currents that sink many boats. Some migrants drown only hours after leaving Africa, their bodies later washing ashore on beaches in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia.
The Spanish media sometimes carry stories about the latest bodies. Then, when the headlines recede, Mr. Zamora’s work begins.
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The body is the mystery. The clothes are often the only clues.
“It can be hard to identify someone’s face,” Mr. Zamora said. “But a shoe, a jersey, a T-shirt — suddenly a family member will recognize it, because it once was a gift.”
His first clue came in 1999, when he found a note inside the clothes of a dead Moroccan man. Back then, the government was outsourcing to funeral homes the job of burying unclaimed remains in a field alongside the local cemetery.
Mr. Zamora was on call when that body and 15 others were discovered on the beaches. He brought the corpses back to his mortuary and discovered the damp note with a phone number in Spain.
He called and a man on the other end of the line claimed to know nothing. But a few days later, Mr. Zamora recalled, the same man called back and admitted he was the brother-in-law of the young man who had drowned.
“I told him, ‘I’ll make you a deal: I’ll charge you half the price to get the body home, but you have to help me look for the rest of the families,’” Mr. Zamora said.
The man agreed to guide him to the region in southeastern Morocco where his brother-in-law had lived. Mr. Zamora first took care of the body of the young man, embalming it and sending it back to Morocco. Then he got permission from a local judge to take the clothes of the other dead migrants to Morocco.
Mr. Zamora and the relative went from village to village, carrying a large rack on which they hung the clothes of the dead migrants, along with rings and other personal effects, which they took to markets where they knew people would go.
After two weeks they had identified the remaining 15 relatives and repatriated every body.
Mr. Zamora realized he had a solution to what had been seen as a lost cause in Spain. Yet it costs thousands of euros to repatriate the bodies. And the families that he was meeting had far less than he did.
“You find the family, you get the father and the mother, they take you to where they live and you see it’s a tin shack on the side of a mountain with two goats and a rooster, and they tell you they want their son back,” he said. “What do you do? Be a businessman or be sentimental?”
Mohammed El Mkaddem, an imam at the mosque in Algeciras which makes collections for the families of the dead, said he understood Mr. Zamora’s constraints. “In the end, they run a funeral home and it’s a business,” said the imam. “But they do what they can, and we’re thankful for it.”
José Manuel Castillo, the director of the city morgue in Algeciras, said Mr. Zamora filled a gap left by the authorities. “Someone has to take care of the paperwork and the repatriation of the bodies, and if it’s Martín Zamora, that is great,” he said.
Even in the heat of southern Spain, Mr. Zamora wears a tie and loafers, looking more like a lawyer than an undertaker. On a recent afternoon, he was working on a body with his son, Martín Jr., 17.
“They found him in his work clothes,” Martín Jr. said of the corpse. “Maybe he went straight from work into the boat.”
The boy wandered off for a moment, and Mr. Zamora began to speak, almost to himself. His son was 15 the first time they worked together, after a boat carrying 40 people capsized off the coast of Barbate, just north of Algeciras, leaving 22 dead.
He was afraid his son would have nightmares, but Martín Jr. wanted to work, he said.
“No father wants his son to see these things,” Mr. Zamora said. “But this is the world we live in.”
A Mechanic From Tangier
Just before the summer, Mr. Zamora said he received a WhatsApp message from a man who identified himself as Yusef and said he worked at a mosque in the city of La Linea, across the border from the Rock of Gibraltar.
“There were two boys we don’t know if they are alive or dead — surely they are dead,” began the voice message. “The family was looking everywhere and I said we would ask someone we know who is involved in this kind of thing.”
The next message contained a picture of three men in a dinghy with homemade life vests, taken moments before they left Morocco. One was Achraf Ameer, the illiterate mechanic from Tangier.
With that, Mr. Zamora contacted the local authorities, who had a body in the morgue. They gave Mr. Zamora photographs of the man’s clothes, and Mr. Zamora — helped by Yusef — located Mr. Ameer’s sister in Tangier and showed her a photo of the clothes. These days, Mr. Zamora rarely needs to make the trips to Morocco that he used to, making identifications from afar.
“The paint on his clothes was the paint he has on his clothes at work,” the sister, Soukaina Ameer, 28, said in a telephone interview from Tangier.
She said her brother had tried once before to cross into Spain, only to be deported. This time, he didn’t tell anyone but left cryptic hints when the family began making plans to move to a new home.
“He was always telling us: ‘I won’t be living with you in the new house,’” Ms. Ameer recalled.
He left on April 13, she said, his boat likely sinking the same night. His body floated in the sea for much of April before it came ashore around the end of the month. For the rest of the spring and part of the summer, it was placed in a morgue, where it deteriorated from not being frozen.
And so on a sweltering day, Mr. Zamora loaded Mr. Ameer’s body into his hearse and, with his son, drove past pines and sunflower fields. The body was wrapped in blankets from the Red Cross, which had found him. A hospital tag was affixed to one leg. At the mortuary, Mr. Zamora and his son arrived dressed in hazmat suits and began embalming.
Ten pumps from a long needle into Mr. Ameer’s shoulder. Another 10 into his chest. After an hour, Mr. Zamora wrapped the body in a shroud which he covered in a green cloak and sprinkled it with dried flowers, recreating a Muslim rite that an imam had once shown him. Then he shut the lid on the coffin and he and his son took off their hazmat suits. The two were covered in sweat.
Yet the work hardly felt finished. In the adjoining room sat stacks of case files, people whose bodies Mr. Zamora was still trying to locate after their relatives had gotten in touch with him. There was an Algerian man, born in 1986. There were two Moroccans who had been lost at sea; and a Syrian man, who once had a wife and lived in Aleppo.
And there was a ringing from the other room, and with it, another possible lead.
“Martín, go get my phone,” Mr. Zamora said to his son, taking off his gloves.
Aida Alami contributed reporting from Rabat, Morocco, and José Bautista from Madrid.
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Its name translates into “floating island,” and for up to 100,000 desperate war refugees, the low-slung landmass is supposed to be home.
One refugee, Munazar Islam, initially thought it would be his. He and his family of four fled Myanmar in 2017 after the military there unleashed a campaign of murder and rape that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing. After years in a refugee camp prone to fires and floods, he accepted an invitation from the government of neighboring Bangladesh to move to the island, Bhasan Char.
Mr. Islam’s relief was short lived. Jobs on the island were nonexistent. Police officers controlled the refugees’ movements and sometimes barred residents from mingling with neighbors, or children from playing together outside. The island was vulnerable to flooding and cyclones and, until relatively recently, would occasionally disappear underwater.
So, in August, Mr. Islam paid human smugglers about $400 to ferry his family somewhere else.
“When I got the chance, I paid and left,” said Mr. Islam, who asked that his location not be revealed because leaving Bhasan Char is illegal. “I died every day on that island, and I didn’t want to be stuck there.”
worsened storms and sent sea levels rising. Human Rights Watch, in a recent report, said refugees and humanitarian workers alike fear that inadequate storm and flood protection could put those on the island at serious risk.
Nevertheless, the Bangladesh government has moved ahead with resettling Rohingya refugees there. They have built housing for more than 100,000 people, with a series of red-roofed dormitories checkering more than two square miles of the western side of the island.
The number of people trying to escape the island has become a growing problem. About 700 have tried to flee, according to the police, sometimes paying $150 per person to find rides on rickety boats. The police have arrested at least 200 people who attempted to leave.
The police cite safety concerns. In August, a boat carrying 42 people capsized, leaving 14 people dead and 13 missing.
“When we catch them, we send them back to the island,” said Abul Kalam Azad, a police officer in the port city of Chattogram on the southeastern coast of Bangladesh. “They say they are mostly upset for not having any job in Bhasan Char. They are eager to work and earn money.”
Some simply want to see their families again.
Last year, Jannat Ara left her hut in Cox’s Bazar for a dangerous sea journey to take a job in Malaysia that would provide food for eight members of her family. Her boat was intercepted by the Bangladesh navy. She was sent to Bhasan Char, where she lived with three other women.
Alone and desperate to leave, in May she seized the first chance she could get to escape. Her parents paid around $600 for the journey back to Cox’s Bazar, she said. She traveled for hours in pitch dark before arriving back at the camp.
“Only Allah knows how I lived there for a year,” Ms. Ara said. “It is a jail with red roof buildings and surrounded by the sea from all sides. I used to call my parents and cry every day.”
Human rights groups have questioned whether the refugees at Bhasan Char have enough access to food, water, schooling and health care. In an emergency, they say, the island also lacks an ability to evacuate residents.
“The fear is always there,” said Dil Mohammad, a Rohingya refugee who arrived on the island in December. “We are surrounded by the sea.”
But the biggest worry, Mr. Mohammad said, is the education of his children.
“My elder son used to go to the community school when we were in Cox’s Bazar,” he said, “but he is about to forget everything he learned, as there is no option for him to study in Bhasan Char.”
The fear of being stuck on the vulnerable island without any means of getting out has led to protests against Bangladeshi authorities by the refugees. The protests began in May, when U.N. human rights investigators paid a visit. They continued in August after the boat incident, with protesters carrying signs criticizing the Bangladesh government and appealing to the U.N. to get sent back to Cox’s Bazar.
Mr. Islam, the Rohingya refugee who fled in August, was one of the protesters. But he was already thinking about getting out.
He lost three cousins during a killing spree carried out by the Myanmar military in Rakhine state in 2017. Once they arrived in Cox’s Bazar, he and his family built a hillside hut out of sticks and plastic tarpaulins and shared it with another family of three.
During hot summer nights, Mr. Islam said, he and the other man slept outside so that their children and wives could sleep comfortably inside.
The promise of an apartment on Bhasan Char held appeal. In January, while other families were forced to go there, he volunteered. They carried a few blankets and two bags of clothes.
He came to regret the decision. When he arrived back at Cox’s Bazar in August, he saw it with new eyes.
“I felt,” he said, “as if I was walking into my home.”
PARIS — The Catholic Church in France was once so powerful that it was considered a state within a state. In Roman Catholicism’s global hierarchy, France cemented its position as far back as the fifth century, when it became known as the “eldest daughter of the church.”
While Catholicism has ebbed across the Western world, its unrelenting decline in France is all the more striking given its past prominence. Now, a devastating church-ordered report on sexual abuse by the clergy released this week, after a similar reckoning elsewhere, was yet another degradation, further shaking what was once a pillar of French culture and society.
The report, which confirmed stories of abuse that have emerged over the years, shocked the nation with details of its magnitude, involving more than 200,000 minors over the past seven decades. It reverberated loudly in a country that has already been transformed, in recent generations, by the fall of Catholicism, and deepened the feeling of a French church in accelerating retreat.
The Rev. Laurent Stalla-Bourdillon, a priest and theologian in Paris, said that the church was still coming to grips with “the extent of its gradual marginalization in French society.”
especially in Germany and the United States. For some Catholics — who, in their lifetimes, have experienced the rapid shrinking of their faith in society and in their own families — the report added to a sense of siege.
“It’s perceived somewhat as an attack,” Roselyne Delcourt, 80, said after evening mass on Wednesday at Notre-Dame de Grâce of Passy, a parish in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris, a wealthy, conservative bastion. “But I don’t think it’s going to harm the church.”
Studies using data from the European Values Study have found that in 2018, only 32 percent of French people identified as Catholic, with fewer than 10 percent regularly attending mass.
Today, according its own statistics, the church celebrates half as many baptisms as two decades ago, and 40 percent of the marriages.
The number of priests in France has declined, but not the number of foreign ones, who are often called from abroad to fill the ranks of a declining priesthood — in a reversal of the colonial era during which the country was the biggest exporter of priests to Africa.
Successive governments curbed the church’s reach by pushing it out of schooling and other social functions it had traditionally performed. For decades, public schools were even closed on Thursdays to let students attend Bible study, according to this week’s report.
written a book on the sexual abuse scandals in France’s Catholic Church.
While middle-aged French may no longer practice their faith, many grew up attending church and understand its rituals, Mr. Liogier said. Today, many young French ignore basic facts about Catholicism, like the meaning of Easter, and are incapable of transmitting that knowledge to the next generation, he said.
Claire-Marie Blanchard, 45, a mother of four who teaches Bible study, has seen it firsthand.
“There are children who have never heard of Jesus, even children whose parents are Christian or Catholic,” said Ms. Blanchard at the Notre-Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse chapel in the Seventh Arrondissement of Paris. Her own son riled her when he did not baptize his newborn so the child could decide later.
“Being Catholic in France is complicated,” she said. “But we aren’t giving up.”
Feeling under siege, some practicing Catholics have grown increasingly conservative. In the 2017 presidential elections, the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, won the votes of 38 percent of practicing Catholics, compared with 34 percent of the total vote.
Éric Zemmour, the far-right writer and TV star who has been rising in the polls before the presidential elections next year, has long attacked Islam and gained popularity on the right by styling himself as a great defender of France’s Catholic culture — even though he is Jewish and his parents settled in France from Algeria.
Isabelle de Gaulmyn, a top editor at La Croix, France’s leading Catholic newspaper, said that the church’s decline might have made it reluctant to tackle the issue of sexual abuse head-on, for fear of adding to its existing challenges.
“The evolution was very brutal,” she said of the church’s drop in power. “So there is a bit of a feeling that it is a fortress under siege.”
That feeling is also fueled by a sense that the church is poor. Unlike its counterpart in Germany, which is supported by a government-collected tax, the French church receives no steady stream of subsidies and must rely almost exclusively on donations from worshipers, although, under France’s complex secularism law, the state pays for the upkeep of almost all church buildings
Victims of sexual abuse, who expect compensation from the church, are quick to point out that some dioceses have sizable real estate assets.
Olivier Savignac, who was sexually abused by a priest as a minor and who founded an association for victims, said that they wanted compensation to recoup years of medical bills, “not a small symbolic amount” covered by churchgoer donations.
“We want the dioceses to pay out of their pockets,” he added.
Many say the report has put the Church at a turning point — reform, or fade further.
“It’s now,” Father Stalla-Bourdillon said. “Not later.”