‘You killed my son!’: Mum confronts Syrian regime

Crying with grief and anger, Fatima Khan stormed forward in a hallway at the United Nations in Geneva and shouted: "You killed my son!"

'You killed my son!': Mum confronts Syrian regime
Fatima Khan talks to Syrian journalists at the UN. Photo: Philippe Desmaze/AFP

As Syria's warring sides held a sixth day of UN-brokered peace talks, the mother of a British doctor who died in the custody of President Bashar al-Assad's regime confronted his aides on Thursday.
Syria says that Abbas Khan, 32, was found hanging in a prison cell on December 16th 2013, and that he committed suicide.
His relatives are adamant he was murdered by his captors.
Having travelled from Britain to Switzerland and obtained a visitor's pass to the UN's European offices — where the talks were under way behind closed doors — Fatima Khan waited for hours for delegates to emerge and speak to journalists in the garden.
She seized her chance when top Assad aide Buthaina Shaaban came out for the cameras.
Shaaban appeared caught off guard, asking who the distraught woman was.
"The doctor's mother," responded a man in the crowd.
Shaaban did not comment on Khan's charge, simply murmuring: "Let's get away from here."
Khan was ushered away by UN security guards, as reporters from across Syria's divide traded barbs.
A pro-regime journalist told her to get lost, sparking an irony-laced reaction from an anti-regime rival: "In Syria you lay down the law, but not here! So the doctor killed himself? Are you sure you didn't kill him?"
Khan, the father of two children, was detained in November 2012 in the war-ravaged city of Aleppo just 48 hours after entering Syria from Turkey without a visa to help treat victims of hospital bombings.
"For five months he was in a civil prison, and for eight months he was in a torture prison, where they are torturing and killing thousands of people," his mother told AFP.
She received a Syrian visa and visited him behind bars in July 2013.
"When I saw him in prison, he told me, 'Mummy, look, I'm a doctor, I'm a humanitarian aid worker, and look what they did to me," she said.

"So imagine what they're doing to their own people.'"
Despite saying the world should be rid of the Assad regime, Khan denied she had become an opposition tool.
"I'm not representing the opposition, I'm representing half a million mothers inside Syria," she told AFP.

'Caught with a medical kit, not a weapon'

The Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011 after a crackdown on pro-democracy protests and morphed into a war that has killed more than 130,000 people and driven millions from their homes.
The regime spotlights the role of hardline Islamists from Syria and abroad that are fighting it, and slaps the "terrorist" label on the entire opposition.
The opposition Free Syrian Army, which is itself fighting the jihadists as well as Assad, says that is an excuse for regime brutality.
Khan had been due at a terrorism court the day after his body was found.

His mother rejected suggestions that he had an ulterior motive for entering Syria.
"He was not caught with a weapon, he was caught with a medical kit," she said, adding that he had a return flight booked from Turkey on November 24th, 2012.
"If they don't understand what a doctor's profession is, if they don't know what a humanitarian aid worker is, then they should not be in power."
Khan worked at London's Royal Orthopaedic Hospital.
His mother, an Indian immigrant, tearfully recalled the sacrifices that helped him achieve that.
"We were very poor, we were working hard, I used to cook and sell food to have some money for private tuition," she said.
Khan's body was escorted from Syria on December 22nd by the Red Cross to family members waiting in Lebanon.
Arriving back in Britain, the body underwent a CT scan and a post-mortem, before his burial on December 26th.
A British inquest to establish the cause of death is due on February 27th.

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Is Basel the best Swiss city for foreigners and Geneva the worst?

Switzerland’s cities usually nab top rankings in international quality of living studies. But in a new survey, only one Swiss town made it to the top 10. Here’s why.

Basel is Switzerland’s best city for international workers. Photo by Nadine Marfurt on Unsplash
Basel is Switzerland’s best city for international workers. Photo by Nadine Marfurt on Unsplash

Basel is ranked in the 9th place out of 57 cities surveyed in the new Expat City Ranking 2021.

Carried out by InterNations, the annual survey rates cities around the world in terms of advantages they offer to foreign nationals who move there for professional reasons.

READ MORE: The best commuter towns if you work in Basel

The survey, which polled 12,420 people for its 2021 edition, ranks cities based on criteria such as Quality of Urban Living, Getting Settled, Urban Work Life, Finance & Housing, and Local Cost of Living, along with their sub-categories.

Of the four Swiss cities analysed in the study — Geneva, Zurich, Basel, and Lausanne — only Basel was highly rated, and is one of only three European cities ranked in the top 10 (the others are Prague, in 7th place, and Madrid in 10th).

This is why

A popular destination for international employees because of its pharmaceutical industry, including giants like Roche and Novartis, Basel ranked well across all categories.

For instance, it is in the 1st place for its public transportation network, in a 2nd position in terms of Quality of Urban Living, and in 3rd for Safety & Politics.

All expats in Basel (100 percent) are satisfied with public transportation, versus 69 percent globally. The public transportation system is excellent”, one respondent said.

Nearly all participants (97 percent) feel safe there, against 84 percent globally. The city also performs well in the Urban Work Life Index (6th), particularly for the state of the local economy, which is in the 1st place and the working hours (8th); additionally,  75 percent are happy with their working hours, compared to 66 percent globally.

More than four in five expats (84 percent) find their disposable household income enough or more than enough to cover their expenses (versus 77 percent globally), and 77 percent are satisfied with their financial situation (against 64 globally).

Where Basel is doing less well is in the  Finance & Housing Index (34th place), though it still ranks ahead of other Swiss cities: Zurich (37th), Lausanne (39th), and Geneva (53rd).

But the city ranks 48th in the Local Cost of Living Index: 69 percent of foreigners living there are dissatisfied with the cost of living, more than double the global average (34 percent).

The Getting Settled Index (39th) is another of Basel’s weak points. Internationals struggle with getting used to the local culture: more than one in four respondents (26 percent) state that they find this difficult — this figure is 18 percent 1globally.

It is worth mentioning that in the 2020 InterNations survey, Basel ranked in the 24th place, so it progressed impressively this year.

What about Geneva?

Switzerland’s most “international” city due to the presence of a number of United Nations agencies and multinational companies, places near the bottom of the ranking, in the 47th place.

“It has the worst results among the Swiss cities included in the report and is the only one that does not rank in the global top 10 of the Quality of Urban Living Index”, InterNations said.

Similar to the other Swiss cities, Geneva ranks among the top 10 for political stability (1st) and in the bottom 10 for the affordability of healthcare (56th). However, it lags behind for all other factors, with expats particularly dissatisfied with the local leisure options (23 percent versus 14 percent globally).

“Interestingly, the comparably low quality of life does not make Geneva any easier to afford: on the contrary, it is the worst-ranking city worldwide in the Local Cost of Living Index (57th) and by far the worst-rated Swiss city in the Finance & Housing Index (53rd)”, the report noted.

It added that “while Geneva comes 26th in the Finance Subcategory, it ranks 55th in the Housing Subcategory, only ahead of Dublin (56th) and Munich (57th). Expats find housing in Geneva unaffordable (87 percent  vs. 39 percent globally) and hard to find (63 percent vs. 23 percent globally).”

READ MORE: Why is Geneva’s rent the highest in Switzerland?

Geneva has a fairly average performance in the Urban Work Life Index (28th) but receives worse results in the Getting Settled Index (43rd). It ends up in the bottom 10 of the Feeling Welcome (52nd), Local Friendliness (50th), and Friends & Socializing (48th) subcategories.

“It is certainly not easy to integrate into the local culture and community,” said one respondent. In fact, 35 percent find the locals generally unfriendly, against 16 percent globally).

The difficulty is making friends in Switzerland is a well-known phenomenon among the international community.

READ MORE: ‘Suspicious of the unknown’: Is it difficult to make friends in Switzerland?

Maybe this is also why they find it hard to get used to the local culture (32 percent versus  18 percent globally) and do not feel at home — 33 percent compared to 19 percent  globally).

Zurich and Lausanne

The two other Swiss cities with a high proportion of international residents fall between the “best” and the “worst”, with Lausanne in the 21st place and Zurich in the 34th.

“All of them rank among the bottom 10 worldwide for the local cost living but among the top 10 for the local quality of life— except for Geneva, which lands in 21st place.”, the survey noted.

This InterNations chart shows how the four the cities are doing in each category. Please click here for a larger version of the chart. 

Image: Internations

You can find out more about each of the four cities from these links. 

READ MORE: Ten things Zurich residents take for granted

Zurich versus Geneva: Six big differences between Switzerland’s two biggest cities

Swiss town ranked the ‘world’s best small city’