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Desperation drives thousands of Afghans a day across borders

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Desperation drives thousands of Afghans a day across borders

HERAT, Afghanistan — Over the course of an hour on a recent night, the bus waiting in the Herat station filled with passengers. Mostly young men, they had no luggage, just the clothes on their backs, maybe a bag with some bread and water for the long road ahead of them.

That road is leading them to Iran.

Every day, multiple buses rumble out of Afghanistan’s western city of Herat, carrying hundreds of people to the border. There they disembark, connect with their smugglers and trek for days, sometimes crammed into pickup trucks bumping through wastelands, sometimes on foot through treacherous mountains in the darkness, eluding guards and thieves.

Once in Iran, most will stay there to look for work. But a few hope to go farther.

“We’re going to get to Europe,” said Haroun, a 20-year-old sitting in the bus next to his friend Fuad. Back in their village there is no work. “We have no choice, the economy here is a wreck. Even if it means our death on the way, we accept that.”

Afghans are streaming across the border into Iran in accelerating numbers, driven by desperation. Since the Taliban takeover in mid-August, Afghanistan’s economic collapse has accelerated, robbing millions of work and leaving them unable to feed their families. In the past three months, more than 300,000 people have crossed illegally into Iran, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, and more are coming at the rate of 4,000 to 5,000 a day.

The European Union is now bracing for a potential swell in Afghans trying to reach its shores at a time when EU nations are determined to lock down against migrants in general.

So far, a post-Taliban surge of Afghan migrants to Europe hasn’t materialized. Afghan entries into the EU have “remained mostly stable,” according to an EU weekly migration report from Nov. 21. The report noted that some Afghans who arrived in Italy from Turkey in November told authorities they had fled their country after the Taliban takeover.

But a significant portion of migrants likely intend to stay in Iran, which is struggling to shut its doors. It already hosts more than 3 million Afghans who fled their homeland during the past decades of turmoil.

Iran is stepping up deportations, sending 20,000 or 30,000 Afghans back every week. This year, Iran deported more than 1.1 million Afghans as of Nov. 21 — 30% higher than the total in all of 2020, according to the International Organization for Migration. Those deported often try again, over and over.

In Afghanistan, the exodus has emptied some villages of their men. In Jar-e Sawz, a village north of Herat visited by The Associated Press, an elderly man was the only male left after all the younger men left.

One smuggler in Herat — a woman involved in the business for two decades — said that before the Taliban takeover, she was transporting 50 or 60 people a week into Iran, almost all single men. Since the August takeover, she moves around 300 people a week, including women and children.

“The country is destroyed so people have to leave,” she said, speaking on condition she not be named because of her work. “I feel like I’m doing the right thing. If some poor person asks me, I can’t refuse them. I ask God to help me help them.”

She charges the equivalent of almost $400 per person, but only about $16 up front, with the rest paid after the migrant finds work. The pay-later system is common in Herat, a sign that there are so many migrants, smugglers can accept some risk that some will be unable to pay. Along the way, smugglers pass out bribes to Taliban, Pakistani and Iranian border guards to turn a blind eye, she said.

Everyone going gives the same reason.

“There is nothing here. There is no work and our families are hungry,” said Naib, a 20-year-old who was pausing with a group of migrants one night in a desolate area within sight of the Iranian border outside Herat. “We go crawling if we have to. There is no other choice.”

Afghanistan was already one of the poorest countries in the world before the Taliban takeover, and the economy has deteriorated the past year, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and a punishing drought since late 2020.

When the Taliban came to power on Aug. 15, the main artery keeping Afghanistan’s economy alive — international donor funds — was severed. With the Taliban government unable to pay salaries, hundreds of thousands of state employees found themselves with no livelihoods. With funding for projects gone, many jobs vanished across the labor market.

Farid Ahmed, a 22-year-old in Herat, used to go to a main square each day to be hired by building contractors for a day’s work. Previously, he found work most days. “Now we wait all day and no one comes to hire us,” he said.

So last month, he took his wife and their two young daughters — ages 8 months and 2 years — across the border. From a relative already there, he heard that a Tehran weaving factory had jobs for him and his wife.

The crossing was a nightmare, he said. They had to walk for three hours in the darkness with several hundred other people across the border. In the cold and darkness, his daughters were crying. Once in Iran, they were almost immediately caught by police and deported.

Back home, nothing has changed. He goes to the square every day but finds no work, he said. So he will try taking his family again. “After winter,” he said. “It’s too cold now for the children to cross.”

Herat, Afghanistan’s third largest city, is a main hub for Afghans from other parts of the country making their way to Iran.

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Experience the best Colorado offers at the Timbers at the Pinery

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Experience the best Colorado offers at the Timbers at the Pinery

Homebuyers can find the “quintessential Colorado experience” at the Timbers at the Pinery near Parker.

“People land at DIA and think they’re in Kansas,” says Trent Getsch at Timbers at The Pinery. “But then they see a place like the Timbers and say, ‘This is what we were hoping for.’”

Timbers at the Pinery offers luxurious custom homes nestled in a forest of ponderosa pine trees on large-acre lots that provide spectacular mountain views, plus plenty of open space and extensive trails for walking and biking.

With a shortage of available homes in the Denver area, the development is working to provide inventory, Getsch says. But the Timbers’ ranch homes typically sell before they’re listed.

Right now, four homes are under construction, and five custom lots are available for immediate sale. It’s not too late to select some of the finishing touches for the homes under construction, or buyers can start from the beginning and choose one of the Timbers’ 13 builders to develop their home.

If you still want to move into a new home in 2022, Getsch has a few options for you to consider.

Available homes

For example, the 4,740-foot Sterling Home walkout ranch is available now for $2,075,000. The four-bedroom, five-bath house features a main floor master suite with adjoining laundry, a chef’s kitchen, a secondary/prep kitchen, a great room, an informal dining room, and a covered deck. The lower level includes a large family room, three bedrooms, three baths, and a covered patio.

Another option for buyers to consider is a 5200-square-foot walkout ranch from Summerwood Homes for $2.4 million that will soon hit the market.

Or you could consider the 5,000-square-foot JW Luxury Homes walkout ranch on an acre and a quarter that will be ready for move-in this fall.

The Timbers’ ranch homes appeal to everyone from young families with kids to active empty nesters, Getsch says.

“One-level living is appealing and with a finished basement, you can have more bedrooms, more bathrooms, and a family room. They’re functional for entertaining and transcend any particular demographic,” he says.

The Timbers draws a mix of people relocating to Colorado and buyers who want to move away from the Denver metro’s congestion.

Appealing amenities

In addition to spectacular views and lots of open space, the Timbers is conveniently located 25 minutes from the Denver Tech Center and 40 minutes from Denver International Airport.

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YouTube pulls Billy Long Senate campaign ad over election fraud claim

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YouTube pulls Billy Long Senate campaign ad over election fraud claim

A week after Republican Missouri congressman Billy Long released a Senate campaign ad claiming the 2020 presidential election was rigged, YouTube has removed the ad for violating its guidelines.

Long responded late Thursday by accusing YouTube and other tech companies of censoring conservative candidates and public figures.

YouTube spokeswoman Ivy Choi says the website prohibits “content uploaded after official election results were certified advancing false claims that widespread fraud, errors, or glitches changed the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.”

Long is the latest Republican to do battle with YouTube.

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Nuggets Journal: Nikola Jokic paused his game to learn of All-Star news

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Nuggets Journal: Nikola Jokic paused his game to learn of All-Star news

NEW ORLEANS – The joysticks were calling, but so was his wife, Natalija.

That’s where Nikola Jokic found himself Thursday evening only moments before TNT was set to announce the All-Star starters. Like the dutiful husband that he is, Jokic caved to the marital pressure.

“I was playing the game, like, ughhh,” Jokic said at Friday’s shootaround prior to Denver’s game against the Pelicans. “I was kinda watching on the phone with Natalija, and I was playing the video game. And then after they select me, I was like, ‘Oh, bye, bye.’”

Pressed on which game could possibly take his attention away from his fourth consecutive All-Star appearance, Jokic declined to share.

“Waste of time,” he said.

But more important than the news itself?

“No, no, I mean, I was just real into the game,” Jokic said. “It was a funny moment yesterday. Today, Natalija still doesn’t talk to me.”

Jokic celebrated with an international dinner, as he called it, Thursday night in New Orleans. He was accompanied by teammate Facu Campazzo and the team’s Brazilian strength coaches, Felipe Eichenberger and Claus Souza. Jeff Green crashed the party.

The whole sequence was quintessential Jokic and yet another indication of how comfortable he is in his own skin, doing what he wants on his own time. Jokic is hardpressed to be impressed, especially by himself.

Don’t be fooled by his antics. Jokic cares a lot about the selection, even if it was a safe assumption weeks ago. It means he gets to represent the Nuggets, his family, his friends and his native country. The fan votes revealed Jokic finished fifth in the entire NBA behind LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Serbia loves me, seems like,” he said.

But perhaps more importantly, only three players – Durant, Antetokounmpo and James – garnered more respect from their peers in terms of the player vote. Jokic’s 167 votes barely trailed James’ 171.

Jokic was appreciative of that aspect.

Like Jokic, Nuggets coach Michael Malone wasn’t waiting with bated breath over the news. He was preparing for the Pelicans, not sitting on his phone or setting his clock to the TNT announcement.

“It’s almost getting to the point where that’s expected,” said Malone, who acknowledged it’s still something worth celebrating even if it’s become somewhat commonplace.

“It gives us a tremendous amount of pride,” he said.

Now if it would only yield a more favorable whistle, was the part he didn’t say but might’ve wanted to.

For Jokic, Thursday’s news means he gets to participate in the NBA’s banner weekend, alongside the best basketball players in the world. His goal?

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