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‘We lost everything’: Syrian refugees caught up in Beirut blast | News



Beirut, Lebanon – More than two weeks after the Beirut blast that killed half of her family, Dima Steif, a 16-year-old Syrian refugee from Idlib, is still in shock.

Dima’s face is gaunt and emotionless as she recalls August 4, the day she lost her mother Khaldi and two sisters, 22-year-old Latifa and 13-year-old Jude.

Her 18-year-old sister Diana was wounded while her father was not home at the time of the explosion.

“We were at home, talking and laughing, when we heard the first explosion. We thought it was a fire, but then the next blow came and the whole earth shook underneath us,” said Dima, as she hugged a shaggy red stuffed animal that belonged to Jude.

Along with a printed scarf that Latifa used to wear and her own journal, the stuffed toy was among a few things Dima managed to pull out from the rubble of her family’s home days after the blast.

“The roof had already collapsed before we could get out of the house,” said Dima, who lived in Karantina, a poor Beirut neighbourhood near the port. They had come to Lebanon in 2014 after escaping the civil war in Syria.

Dima and her father have been temporarily staying at a hotel paid for by an aid organisation, while Diana is undergoing treatment in a Beirut hospital. 

Dima’s family members were among many Syrian refugees who lost their lives on August 4.

A statement by the Syrian embassy on August 8 said 43 Syrians – almost a quarter of the approximately 180 victims – died when nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded at Beirut’s port.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said it received reports of the deaths of 89 registered Syrian refugees.

Omer Elnaiem, head of communications at the UNHCR, said: “The organisation has only confirmed 14 so far.”  

‘Lost everything’

Basma Tabaja, deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Lebanon, said Syrians were particularly affected by the incident.

“A lot of Syrians worked at the port in offloading and loading cargo. Others lived in Karantina. That’s why many died or were injured,” said Tabaja.

Fatima Abumaghara, 35, fled Aleppo with her family in 2013. Her husband, Abdel Qader Balusso, died in the Beirut blast, leaving behind four young children.

The 43-year-old labourer was working in Karantina at the time of the explosion. After his death, Fatima said life was no longer worth living.

“We lost everything of meaning. Their father, the most valuable thing, is gone,” Fatima said as her two daughters, Nurulhuda, 13, and Farah, 18 months, huddled around her.

“The blast was even worse than what we experienced in Syria. At least, back there, we knew we might not live to see another day. But we never expected this here.”

In addition to the shock and a “constant struggle” to make ends meet before that, Fatima said her family has been the victim of discrimination since they moved to Lebanon.

“Life in Lebanon has been difficult every day,” said Fatima, explaining that, as Syrians, her children are regularly bullied at school and humiliated by their neighbours.

“We put up with all that for the sake of the kids’ future, but we’ve now lost any sense of safety and security.” 

The exact number of Syrian refugees who died in the blast remains unclear [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Already vulnerable

There are nearly one million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, having moved there since the start of the civil war in 2011, according to the UNHCR.

Thousands of them were affected by the blast, said Jihan Kaisi, executive director of Lebanese NGO the Union of Relief and Development Associations (URDA).

“And at least 100 Syrian families have been severely impacted. They now need everything from food and medicine to home rehabilitation,” said Kaisi.

The UNHCR promised $35m to help 100,000 people affected by the blast, regardless of their nationality. But Syrian refugees and migrant workers remain more vulnerable than others, say aid organisations.

“Syrian refugees were already part of the most vulnerable sector in the Lebanese society,” said UNHCR’s Elnaeim.

“In recent months, the coronavirus pandemic and deepening financial crisis pushed the number of refugees living under extreme poverty in Lebanon from 50 to 75 percent,” he added, referring to a prolonged economic crisis and lack of basic services that sparked mass anti-government protests that have continued since last October.

“After the blast, they’ve been pushed further down.”

Tabaja agreed, saying that “Syrian refugees have an added layer of vulnerability”.

“It is harder for them to find work or adequately paid jobs,” she said, explaining that access to healthcare was another obstacle.

Although the Lebanese government promised to provide free hospital treatment to everyone affected by the explosion, media reports indicated that some hospitals have refused to treat Syrian refugees.

Syrian refugee story - Dima [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Dima lost her mother Khaldi and two sisters, 22-year-old Latifa and 13-year-old Jude in the blast. [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera] 

‘Wish I had died’

Fatima has spent her days since the blast trying to reach relief organisations to help her family.

Meanwhile, Dima – who stopped attending school two years ago after her father could no longer afford the school bus fees – has divided her time between visiting her sister in hospital and taking part in aid distributions near the port.

“Going to the hospital and volunteering keep me busy, but nothing can really take my mind off my sisters and mother,” said Dima, as she looked away and clutched the red toy more tightly.

“I just wish I’d remained under the rubble and died with them.”

Follow Arwa Ibrahim on Twitter @arwaib

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Another blow as Judge throws out Kiggundu’s lawyer Muwema



When court sat on Friday to hear the Kiggundu’s application to stop independent audit, he did not have a written application, and Justice Henry Adonyo instead ordered the plaintiff’s lawyer Fred Muwema to go make a written application seeking court to dismiss the audit and return to court on September 30 for a hearing of the application. But this adds more pressure on Kiggundu who is choking with the loans.

On 31 August, the judge ordered the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda (ICPAU) to carry out and independent audit into the accounts of the businessman and financial statements exchanged between the two parties, and present a report to court.

When asked by journalists why he has filed for an application seeking dismissal of the audit, Fred Muwema had this to say. “We are saying that let the validity and legality of those credit facilities (loans) be decided first before you can audit” He said.

The ruling on the application of the main suit to determine whether the businessman owes loan arrears to the bank is set for 5th October 2020, after which a date for hearing of the case will be set.


Hamis Kiggundu through his companies Ham enterprises and Kiggs International (U) ltd sued DTB branches in Kenya and Uganda for deducting money from his accounts something which the bank contends and said they only acted as per the loan agreement of deducting 30% from Kiggundu’s accounts to recover the credit facilities rendered to him between February 2011 and September 2016

But Court documents filed by the bank in their defense shows that Kiggundu, between February 2011 and September 2016, was granted various credit facilities by the said DTB Banks.

First, via Ham Enterprises Limited, Kiggundu obtained a loan of $6,663,453 and another Sh2.5bn from the DTB (U) to finance his projects in the real estate business.

Later, according to New Vision, he got a facility worth $4.5m through Kiggs International (U) Limited from DTB (K) and mortgaged his properties, which include Plot 328 located at Kawuku on Block 248 Kyadondo, three plots that include 36, 37 and 38 on Folio 1533 Victoria Crescent II situated in Kyadondo and land on Makerere Hill Road on LRV 3716 Folio 10 Plot 923 Block 9.

Documents show that as of January 21, 2020, Kiggundu was in default on payment obligations of $6.298m on the loan facility of $6.663m, as well as sh2.885b on the demand overdraft facility of sh1.5b and the temporary demand overdraft facility of sh1b.

The banks say that Kiggundu was in default on the payment of another $3.662m out of a total loan facility of $4m and another $458,604 on a loan facility of $500,000, as of January 21, 2020.

The DTB consequently served him with a demand notice to either pay up or lose the assets that he submitted as collateral security. The bank threatened to attach a plot on Makerere Hill Road and other prime commercial properties.

Analysts says that Kiggundu’s lawyer is playing delaying tactics aimed at stopping the independent audit as ordered by the court earlier. Kiggundu had wanted court to believe his own audit of loan transactions, but that would amount to injustice to the banks that gave him money-DTB Uganda and DTB Kenya.

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Minister Rukutana charged with attempted murder, remanded




The state minister for Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana has been remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district.

Rukutana appeared before Ntungamo Grade One magistrate Nazifah Namayanja this afternoon from where he was charged with seven offences related to attempted murder, assault, malicious damage, and threatening violence.

Rukutana was captured in a video that went viral on social media showing him grabbing a gun from one of his bodyguards and started shooting at a vehicle belonging to supporters of his political rival Naome Kabasharira. At the time of the incident, Rukutana had just lost the Rushenyi country NRM flag to Kabasharira.

The prosecution alleges that on September 5, 2020, at Kagugu village in Ntungamo district, Rukutana and others still at large assaulted Julius Niwamanya and threatened to kill or injure him together with three others. The others are Stuart Kamukama, Dan Rwibirungi, and Moses Kamukama. 

It is also alleged that Rukutana also willfully and unlawfully damaged a motor vehicle registration number UAR 840X Toyota Rav 4 type which belongs to Moses Muhumuza.

According to the Judiciary public relations officer, Jameson Karemani, Rukutana has not taken a plea of these charges against him since they can only be tried by the chief magistrate who was not in court today.

As a result, the magistrate decided to send him to Kyamugorani, awaiting his return to court on Tuesday.      

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Lira district headquarters closed over COVID-19




Lira district headquarters have been closed after one staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week. 

On Monday morning, district staff were blocked at the gate with only the deputy chief administrative officer, his secretary and the receptionist allowed access to their offices. 

Paul Samuel Mbiiwa, the deputy chief administrative officer says that only heads of department will be allowed at the headquarters while the rest will work from home. He adds that the restriction will help to curb the spread of the virus.

“You see corona is not a joke. We have taken a step at fighting it and that is why you are seeing the staff outside. Even in my office here I do not want people to come if there is anything we can discuss on the phone.”

Francis Okello Olwa, a senior community development officer who doubles as the district spokesperson says that the entire district offices will be fumigated and closed for two days.

Health authorities in the district are planning to take samples from all the staff because they could have interacted with the one who tested positive. Currently, there are 19 COVID-19 patients under treatment at Lira regional referral hospital.     

On Sunday four health workers at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Dr Patrick Odongo, a senior medical officer at the hospital also succumbed to the virus.  

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