What is it like when an asylum centre opens near you?

Ajit Atwal
Image caption Ajit Atwal says there was little consultation with locals before asylum seekers were housed in the area

Each year, thousands of asylum seekers are rehoused across the UK. But in some areas residents say they are not happy with the influx, or the lack of communication.

“It’s a fantastic area, very-close knit community. One of those areas where all the neighbours are on first name terms with each other,” Ajit Atwal tells the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.

He was a vocal opponent of a plan to convert a student halls of residence in Derby into an Initial Accommodation Centre for 225 asylum seekers.

Hundreds of people signed a petition against the centre, but it opened and the first arrivals began moving in last month.

Ajit says they have had little information from private security firm G4S, which runs the centre.

Image caption The Initial Accommodation Centre will house 225 asylum seekers once it is fully occupied

“They should’ve consulted with people and given reassurance that ‘we’re here to work with you and any concerns you’ve got come to us directly. You can get on with life and the refugees here can get on with their life’.”

In recent years private security firm G4S has housed more asylum seekers than any other provider.

Asylum seekers are only supposed to be in Initial Accommodation Centres for a maximum of 19 days, while the Home Office decides whether they are destitute – before they are housed elsewhere in the country.

A multi-billion pound government contract to provide initial and longer term accommodation for the next 10 years is currently out to tender and G4S is hopeful of getting the green light.

But they have faced criticism.

Image caption Mark Harris says he was told of the centre “out of the blue”

“I picked this area for [many reasons] – it’s close to town, [good for] my future, it’s everything it provides for me,” says Mark Harris, who says he is worried about his property and his family.

“Then one day I get told out of the blue, now’t to do with me, ‘Oh by the way you’re having 240 asylum seekers on your doorstep and guess what, you can’t do anything about it’.”

Janet Fuller, who manages an advice centre for Derby’s refugees and asylum seekers, recognises such concerns, but is keen to point out that those entering the country are “vetted very strongly” by the Home Office.

G4S said in a statement that prior to the centre opening it “held a public consultation event and gave regular statements to local newspapers who covered the planning process”, and later attended a public meeting to update residents on its progress.

“The feedback from the vast majority of local residents has been positive”, it added.

‘Treated like slaves’

Many asylum seekers say they have also been ill-treated by G4S and the dispersal system, having been sent to an unfamiliar part of the country.

“Usually the G4S people, they give you accommodation where no-one else wants to live and life is very difficult – crime is very high, there’s prostitution, addiction,” says one female asylum seeker.

She did not want to be named for fear of reprisals from the firm for speaking out.

She claims that when in need of help, G4S had ignored her attempts to contact them.

“They don’t contact us, they don’t reply to our problems, they don’t solve our problems,” she says.

“They don’t return our phone calls… they think we are just like slaves, that whatever we [are given] we will accept.”

‘Don’t call them back’

Jen – not her real name – used to work at a G4S call centre on the Compass contract, which provides accommodation to asylum seekers in the Midlands and the north of England.

“I wanted to help people because you do get to know people’s situations and people’s stories.

“Most people would want to do good in that situation, but you can’t there [at G4S],” she explains.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption “Jen” says one of her colleagues pretended not to understand asylum seekers who phoned for help

“I’ve heard a senior person say that if an asylum seeker hasn’t got credit [on their phone] to not call them back.

“There was a woman who I used to work with, she’d pretend that she couldn’t understand somebody and put the phone down on them.”

G4S said in its experience employees “act in a professional manner and actively listen to asylum seekers’ concerns in order to support them with issues that they raise”.

“Whenever we find to the contrary we always investigate and take action,” it added.

The firm said all its front line staff “have access to telephone interpreters and use them frequently”, adding: “There is no instruction to or acceptance of not calling a service user back.”

‘Infested by rats’

But campaigners like John Grayson – an expert on asylum housing – says the company is unfit to do the job.

“A good minority of the housing, 30% at least, is in appalling, atrocious conditions.

“It’s been like that since 2012 when they took over the contract. It hasn’t got any better,” he says.

“We’re still coming across houses with rats, terrible damp, bed bugs.”

In January 2017, a Home Affairs Committee report found some asylum seekers had been placed in accommodation infested by rats, mice and insects after arriving in the UK, and called the conditions a “disgrace”.

G4S said all its properties were subject to inspections to ensure they met the standards set by the Home Office.

“There are over 4,000 inspections conducted every month by G4S and the Home Office, and local authorities also conduct random, no-notice inspections,” it said.

“We always take complaints about the accommodation we provide very seriously.”

But Mr Grayson is adamant that G4S should not be given the 10-year contract.

“There could be legal action to stop them,” he says.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection and we are committed to providing safe and secure accommodation while applications are considered.

“The Home Office maintains an active partnership with local authorities across the UK and funds Strategic Migration Partnerships to plan for the most appropriate dispersal of asylum seekers and increase the number of areas who can support people seeking asylum.

Watch the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel.



Florida shooting: How teenagers started a political campaign in 30 days

Cameron Kasky standing on a car Image copyright Getty Images

“Someone’s shooting up the school at Stoneman Douglas.”

These were the first panicked words over the phone from a student when a gunman entered his Florida high school on Valentine’s Day.

The 911 responder replied: “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. What’s happening?”

“Someone’s shooting up Marjory Stoneman Douglas.”

“Someone is doing what? Hello? Hello? Hello?”

The student is whispering now: “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is being shot up.”

“It’s being shot up? Are you at the school?”

The caller whispers something.

“I can’t hear you,” says the responder. “Are you at the school?”

There’s a pause. Then the caller hangs up.

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Media captionFootage posted on social media captures the moment the gunman opened fire

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Media captionThese are some of the messages students sent their loved ones during the shooting

The day everything changed

That Valentine’s Day, the lives of 3,300 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School pupils in Parkland, Florida, changed forever.

The shooter killed 17 people. Others are still fighting for their lives in hospital.

It’s become an almost unremarkable event in modern America: This was already the sixth school shooting of 2018 in the US.

But this time was different. Because instead of just accepting it for part of daily life, this group of 16, 17 and 18-year-olds decided that guns were tearing apart communities and that too many innocent people were dying.

This is the story of how they started a political movement in just a month.

They have a clear message: “Never Again”.

Image copyright Getty Images

The seed of the campaign was planted less than 24 hours after the attack.

Gathering in a local park with candles, students were embracing their friends, talking to the media or grieving quietly.

“That’s when we all held hands together and said ‘This is where there’s going to be change. This is where it’s going to be different’,” Jared, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, tells Newsbeat.

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Media captionFred Guttenberg said he couldn’t remember if he had told his daughter Jaime that he loved her

That was a Thursday. By the weekend, the Never Again movement was up and running.

It was amplified on social media with hashtags including #NeverAgain, #MarchForOurLives, #WhatIf and #IWillMarch.

But this time, it was much more than an online movement which politicians could ignore.

Tweeting “thoughts and prayers” wouldn’t be enough this time.

It was a real movement, with real people, in real life.

Image copyright Getty Images

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Media captionStudent to lawmakers “Shame on you”

Calling ‘BS’ on gun culture

Never Again would culminate with a demonstration on Washington DC which the campaign was calling the March For Our Lives.

Its first major piece of media coverage came on the Saturday with an emotionally charged speech by Emma Gonzalez.

“[To] companies trying to make caricatures of the teenagers these days, saying that all we are is self-involved and trend-obsessed, and they hush us into submission when our message doesn’t reach the ears of the nation: We are prepared to call BS,” she cried.

“They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence,” she added. “We call BS.”

That speech seemed to change how the world’s media covered this latest shooting – instead of the killer being the main story, it became about the survivors who were fighting on behalf of their dead friends and teachers.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Activists orchestrated a Three Billboards-like stunt to send a message to Florida Senator Marco Rubio

Six days after the shooting, 100 students were on a bus, on a seven-hour trip to the state capital Tallahassee to meet politicians and representatives of the NRA (National Rifle Association).

A lot of people who watched the televised meeting may have been surprised by how articulate, outspoken and well informed the students were.

They held their own against some of the most influential people in America – on both sides of the gun control debate.

But you only had to hear them speak for a couple of minutes to realise that anyone underestimating these teens would be caught off guard.

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Media captionFlorida students have lobbied for tighter gun control measures
Image copyright Getty Images

More than a hashtag

Just a week after the shooting, and with the help of celebrities’ money, momentum had built.

Had this just been a hashtag, the chances are it would have died down by now.

Instead, the group of Florida teens taking on politicians and lobby groups had inspired young people around the country to start their own protests.

Schools nationwide were staging walkouts – many of them leaving class for 17 minutes to symbolise the 17 lives lost in Parkland.

They too were saying that enough is enough.

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Media captionStudents staged an anti-gun ‘lie-in’
Image copyright Getty Images

Change happens

The teenagers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas were putting more and more pressure on politicians to make a change.

They were clear that they didn’t want to ban guns. They just wanted more stringent checks on who was allowed to buy them.

The NRA, an organisation with five million members in the US, is against stricter gun laws.

One of its slogans is “from my cold dead hands” – referring to the only way people will be able to take their guns away.

But under the pressure of the Douglas students, the organisation found itself at the centre of a boycott.

Car rental companies, airlines and insurance companies stopped offering discounts to NRA members.

The changes kept on coming.

Two major US retailers announced new restrictions on gun sales.

Dick’s Sporting Goods said it would no longer sell assault-style rifles – and Walmart raised the minimum age for anyone buying guns or ammunition to 21 years.

Image copyright Getty/EPA
Image caption Some of the main students from the Never Again movement (clockwise from top left): Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin, Sarah Chadwick, Alfonso Calderon, Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg

‘They weren’t the ones who heard the gunshots’

As the movement grew, its opponents became more enthusiastic in their opposition. Much of it came online.

The main figureheads of Never Again were accused of being “crisis actors”, put up by the anti-gun lobby to try to ban guns.

They were told that it was too soon, and that they were disrespecting their deceased friends and teachers by making this a political movement.

They were told to leave the serious stuff to the adults.

Florida State Representative Elizabeth Porter said: “Do we allow the children to tell us that we should pass a law that says ‘No homework?'”

“If you’ve fallen victim to gun violence, I think you’re pretty eligible to talk about it,” Amanda, a 16-year-old student at the school, tells Newsbeat.

“We understand we’re just kids, but they can’t tell us that what we’re advocating is not right just because we’re too young.

“They weren’t the ones who heard the gunshots, they weren’t the ones who ran, they weren’t the ones who hid in closets, who hid behind desks, they weren’t the ones who were shot at, and they weren’t the ones who witnessed their peers die right in front of them. So they don’t have a say.”

Image copyright Getty Images

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Media captionParkland 17: Empty desks a memorial to students killed

Political progress

The momentum rolled on.

On 6 March, less than three weeks after the shooting, Florida senators voted to raise the age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21 and require a three-day waiting period for most weapons.

Three days later it was signed off by the governor of Florida.

If you were in doubt that this was as a direct result of political action by the students in the Never Again movement, the bill is called the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

Image copyright Joe Raedle

A new normal

Just over a month on from the attack on their high school, and the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas are trying to get back to normal.

“Inside the red gates of Douglas, we’re all normal kids. We’re just students, we’re not famous,” student Nikki tells Newsbeat.

“We see that things are different, but it’s a good kind of different.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption President Trump has met students and parents from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

A march for their lives

On Saturday 24 March, the Never Again students will be outside the home of the man they most need to convince – President Trump.

In the last month, he’s flip-flopped from one stance to the other.

He’s definitely pro-gun – something the Florida students would say is due to the $31m (£22m) the NRA spent on supporting Trump and attacking Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.

In the aftermath of the attack, he met some of the survivors of the attack.

He’s suggested arming teachers, said he would have run into the school without a gun to protect students – but he also suggested stronger gun reform.

He also went back on an earlier suggestion he would raise the national age to buy a gun.

President Trump also met video games company representatives to discuss violent content.

He’d previously said that violent games were “shaping young people’s thoughts”.

The games industry defended itself, saying there is no evidence to suggest a link between violent games and real-life violent actions.

It’s not been plain sailing for the students of Never Again – they still need to convince their president to enact stricter gun control.

Their wish to be the last ever school to be attacked by a gunman has already failed.

A 17-year-old girl, Courtlin Arrington, was killed by a classmate at Huffman High School in Birmingham, Alabama, exactly three weeks after the Parkland shooting.

The Florida gun control act which bears their school’s name also includes something many of them are against – a provision to arm some teachers in schools.

Image copyright Getty Images

The long term

And while momentum is still with them now, many key members will be going off to university this summer, disbanding all over the country.

That could make it a lot more difficult to keep the movement going in a few months’ time.

But they’re realistic about time. After all, this is an issue which previous presidents have tried and failed to tackle in the past.

“We understand that what we’re trying to achieve, we won’t get that today, probably not tomorrow or the day after,” says Amanda.

“It’s a long process. It would take years, even.”

But – as many students keep reminding their current politicians – many will be old enough to vote in this autumn’s mid-term elections.

“This is just the beginning,” Alyssa, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, tells Newsbeat.

“None of us are ready to give up until we see a change.

“We know change is happening.”

Follow Newsbeat on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 every weekday on BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra – if you miss us you can listen back here.



Gravesend nightclub: 13 people hurt as car drives into club

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Media captionBBC Radio 1Xtra DJ Reece Parkinson posted footage from the scene on Twitter

At least 13 people have been injured after a man drove a car into a busy nightclub.

It is believed the driver had been asked to leave the club in Gravesend after an earlier altercation.

Police were called at 23:47 GMT on Saturday after a Suzuki Vitara drove into Blake’s in Queen Street. A witness has described “a complete mess of panic and chaos”.

A 21-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.

Kent Police said several of those hurt have suffered broken bones but none of their injuries are described as life-threatening or life-changing.

As well as the 13 confirmed injured, officers believe several others may have left the scene.

Image caption Footage of the scene was posted on Twitter

Witnesses said a 4×4 had been driven into a tented area full of people.

Chloe Germaney, 18, said she heard a “massive bang” before seeing the 4×4 “driving into the club through the gates into the lounge, running people over”.

She said security shouted for people to run, adding: “Everyone ran for their lives back into the club, we got locked in, nobody knew what was going on.

“At that point I text my loved ones saying I’ve been in an incident and that I love them because I thought I wasn’t going to make it out alive.”

Ms Germaney said she has had flashbacks and “feels so paranoid I can’t even step outside”.

Footage posted on social media appeared to show a car inside a tented area with people being led to safety by police.

BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ Reece Parkinson tweeted: “A guy who didn’t get let in the club just drove his car inside and nearly killed us all.”

Image copyright Google
Image caption Eyewitnesses said a 4×4 was driven into a marquee area at Blakes nightclub

Sonny Powar said he saw two people get hit by the car before the driver was pulled from the vehicle.

“(A man) drove his 4×4 into the tent we was all in and ran people over, it stopped at my feet so any further and I could have died then he reversed up and we all ran,” he added.

“We ripped the tent wall apart and got out and called the police. It was a complete mess of panic and chaos.”

In a statement, Blake’s nightclub thanked the “heroic actions” of door staff and guests who it said apprehended the man “before further harm was caused”.

The club said it was “deeply saddened that injuries occurred” but was “grateful that no-one was fatally hurt”.

“We strive to create a safe and positive environment for all. Last night however, the unpredictable actions of one individual ruined a great occasion for all.”

Kent Fire and Rescue Service and ambulance crews were also called to the scene.

It is not being treated as a terror-related incident, police added.



Winter Paralympics: Britons Menna Fitzpatrick & Jen Kehoe win slalom gold

Britain’s Menna Fitzpatrick and guide Jen Kehoe claim gold in the women’s visually-impaired slalom at the Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang.

It is GB’s first gold of these Games and only their second Winter Paralympic gold.

READ MORE: Britons Menna Fitzpatrick & Jen Kehoe win slalom gold

Available to UK only.



Russia spy row: UK lab could be poison source, says ambassador

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Media captionVladimir Chizhov suggests UK lab could be nerve agent source

Russia’s EU ambassador has suggested a UK research laboratory could be the source of the nerve agent used in the attack on an ex-spy and his daughter.

Vladimir Chizhov told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show Russia had “nothing to do” with the poisoning in Salisbury of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

He said Russia did not stockpile the poison and that the Porton Down lab was only eight miles (12km) from the city.

The government dismissed his comments as “nonsense.”

Retired military intelligence officer Mr Skripal, 66, and Yulia, 33, remain critically ill in hospital after being found slumped on a bench in Salisbury city centre on 4 March.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has told MPs that Porton Down – Britain’s military research base – identified the substance used on them as being part of a group of military-grade nerve agents known as Novichok developed by the Soviet Union.

The Russian government has denied any involvement in the attack.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will come to the UK on Monday to test samples of the nerve agent.

Mr Johnson, speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, described Mr Chizhov’s claims as “satirical”, adding that it “is not the response of a country that really believes itself to be innocent”.

He said the UK had evidence that Russia, within the last 10 years, had been developing and stockpiling Novichok, as well as investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purposes of assassination.

Labour shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti reiterated Labour’s position that the incident was either a “loss of control” by the Russian state or a “malevolent directed attack”.

She told the BBC: “You’re not going to get co-operation from a state that’s deliberately targeted you but you might get co-operation even from a slightly embarrassed state if its lost control of its stock of chemical weapons.”

Image copyright EPA/ Yulia Skripal/Facebook
Image caption Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, are in a critical condition in hospital

Mr Chizhov told the BBC that Mr Skripal could “rightly be referred to as a traitor” but “from the legal point of view the Russian state had nothing against him”.

Asked how the nerve agent came to be used in Salisbury, he said: “When you have a nerve agent or whatever, you check it against certain samples that you retain in your laboratories.

“And Porton Down, as we now all know, is the largest military facility in the United Kingdom that has been dealing with chemical weapons research.

“And it’s actually only eight miles from Salisbury.”

But pressed on whether he was suggesting Porton Down was “responsible” for the nerve agent in the attack, Mr Chizhov said: “I don’t know. I don’t have any evidence of anything having been used.”

He said a number of scientists who claim to be responsible for creating some nerve agents “have been whisked out of Russia and are currently residing in the United Kingdom” but no stockpiles of chemical weapons had left the country after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

He added that there were “no stockpiles whatsoever” of nerve agents left in Russia.

Russia, he said, stopped producing chemical weapons in 1992 and destroyed all of its stockpiles last year.

The Foreign Office said there was “not an ounce of truth” in Mr Chizhov’s suggestion of a link to Porton Down.

A spokesperson said: “It’s just another futile attempt from the Russian state to divert the story away from the facts – that Russia has acted in flagrant breach of its international obligations.”

Russia ‘manipulation’

Mr Chizhov’s comments come after a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman said the UK was one of the most likely sources of the nerve agent, along with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden or possibly the United States.

Maria Zakharova said a large number of ex-Soviet scientists had gone to live in the West, “taking with them the technologies that they were working on”.

Czech foreign minister Martin Stropnicky said the claims were “unsubstantiated” and “a classic way of manipulating information in the public space”, while Sweden also “forcefully” rejected the suggestion.

Chemist Vil Mirzayanov, who revealed the existence of Novichok in the 1990s and later defected to the United States, said he was convinced Russia created the substance used in the attack.

He told the BBC: “Russia is the country that invented it, has the experience, turned it into a weapon. This is the country that has fully mastered the cycle.”

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Media captionA look around Porton Down, Britain’s military research base in to chemical and biological attacks

On Saturday, the Russian foreign ministry said UK staff would be expelled from Moscow within a week, in response to Britain’s decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats.

It also said it would close the British Council in Russia, which promotes cultural ties between the nations, and the British Consulate in St Petersburg.

The UK foreign secretary will meet his EU counterparts and Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg for talks in Brussels on Monday.

Mr Stoltenberg said he expects Germany’s Angela Merkel and other leaders to reassess their response to Russia at the next Nato summit in July.

He told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag: “Salisbury follows, by all appearances, a pattern we’ve observed for some years – Russia is becoming more unpredictable and more aggressive.”

Theresa May said the UK government would consider its next steps “in the coming days, alongside our allies and partners”.

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Media captionTheresa May: “We will never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens and others on British soil”

She said: “Russia’s response doesn’t change the facts of the matter – the attempted assassination of two people on British soil for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable.”

Addressing the Commons last week, Mrs May said the decision to point the finger at Moscow was also based on “Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations”.

On Saturday, counter-terrorism police renewed their appeal for sightings of Mr Skripal’s burgundy BMW 320D saloon car, registration HD09 WAO, in Salisbury on the morning of Sunday, March 4.



Sunderland midfielder Darron Gibson suspended after drink-driving charge

Republic of Ireland international Darron Gibson joined Sunderland from Everton in January 2017

Sunderland have suspended midfielder Darron Gibson after he was charged with drink-driving.

The Championship club said they had “commenced a full investigation into the matter” after Gibson, 30, was charged on Saturday.

“We expect the highest standard of behaviour from our players,” said Sunderland chief executive Martin Bain.

“Should any individual fall short of those standards then robust action must be taken.”

Former Manchester United and Everton player Gibson has not featured for the Black Cats since 1 January because of a groin injury.



Syria war: Turkey-backed forces oust Kurds from heart of Afrin

Kurdish statue pulled down in Afrin on 18 March 2018 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A statue of a Kurdish legendary figure in Afrin city was toppled with a bulldozer

Turkish-backed forces have taken full control of the centre of the Syrian-Kurdish city of Afrin.

Fighters waved flags and tore down the statue of a legendary Kurdish figure after claiming the city centre on Sunday.

The two-month Turkish-led operation aimed to rid the border region of a Kurdish militia that Turkey considers a terrorist group.

Activists say 280 civilians have died, although this is denied by Ankara.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Turkish forces and the Free Syrian Army entered Afrin on Sunday

Earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that “units of the Free Syrian Army… took control of the centre of Afrin this morning”.

He said operations were continuing to clear mines and any remaining resistance.

“Most of the terrorists have already fled with tails between their legs,” the Turkish president said.

“In the centre of Afrin, symbols of trust and stability are waving instead of rags of terrorists.”

  • How historical Afrin became a prize worth a war
  • Why the battle for northern Syria matters

Pictures and video footage emerged of forces tearing down a Kurdish statue with a bulldozer.

The monument depicted the blacksmith Kawa, a legendary figure for the Kurdish movement.

A statement on a Whatsapp group for the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces called it the “first blatant violation of Kurdish people’s culture and history since the takeover of Afrin”.

A Turkish armed forces Twitter page posted a video of troops displaying the nation’s flag in Afrin’s centre.

Mohammad al-Hamadeen, spokesman for the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), said they met no resistance as they entered Afrin on three fronts.

“Maybe it will be cleared by the end of the day – it is empty of [YPG] fighters, they cleared out,” he said.

However, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish and FSA fighters controlled around half of the city, with clashes continuing in some areas on Sunday morning.

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Civilians have fled Afrin in the past few days

Why has Turkey taken Afrin?

The Turkish assault on Afrin, named Operation Olive Branch, began on 20 January, with the aim of ridding the city and surrounding region of the YPG.

Turkey regards the YPG as an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in south-eastern Turkey for three decades.

The YPG denies any direct organisational links to the PKK – an assertion backed by the US, which is allied with the YPG in the battle against the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

  • Turkey targets Kurds: The 100, 300 and 700-word story
  • Who are the Kurds?

US plans to help form a Kurdish border force set alarm bells ringing in Ankara, and prompted the launch of Operation Olive Branch.

President Erdogan vowed to “suffocate” what he called a “terror army.”

Turkey also announced plans to push Kurdish forces from Manbij, another city near the border.

What is happening elsewhere in Syria?

The assault in the north-west coincides with a Syrian and Russian offensive on Eastern Ghouta, an enclave near Damascus.

The Syrian army is pushing into the area with the support of Russia bombing, and there are reports of civilian casualties.

The pro-government assault is said to have captured 70% of the enclave. Seizing it would be a major victory for President Assad.

  • Exodus as Syrian war rages on two fronts
  • Eastern Ghouta devastation seen from space



Snow and ice bring UK travel disruption

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Media captionBBC Weather’s Helen Willetts presents the forecast

Snow and ice are causing further disruption to road, rail and air travel in parts of the UK.

A Met Office amber warning of a possible risk to life is in place in south-west England, south-east and mid-Wales and the West Midlands all day.

Police say driving conditions are poor, with no safe routes across the Pennines and snow ploughs dispatched to the M62.

Lincolnshire Police said up to 35 vehicles were stuck overnight in snow drifts on the A158 near Edlington.

Officers spent seven hours digging and towing out all of the stranded vehicles on the stretch of road between Baumber and Horncastle.

Meanwhile, Bristol airport has closed until 12:00 GMT due to the weather.

Other airports, including Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, have urged passengers to check flight information before travelling due to possible disruption.

Great Western Railway, South Western Railway and Great Northern Rail have all reported delays and cancellations. Customers are encouraged to check National Rail Enquiries before leaving home.

Among the disruption caused by snow and ice:

  • There are no trains between Bedwyn and Newbury until 13:00 GMT, or between Exeter and Barnstaple until 12:00 GMT
  • South Western Railway warned freezing temperatures were causing numerous points failures, including at Eastleigh and Aldershot
  • Some rail replacement buses around Manchester are unable to run
  • Many roads have been blocked by snow and stranded vehicles, including the A38 northbound between Birmingham and Burton, the A3 southbound at Thursley, and the A331 Blackwater Valley Relief road
  • The Anglo-Welsh Cup final is one of a number of sporting events postponed

The Met Office’s amber warning for parts of Wales and south-west England will remain in place until 21:00 GMT.

Parts of south-west England could are likely to see 5-10cm of snowfall with the possibility for 15-25cm of snow on higher ground, particularly in Dartmoor.

Yellow “be aware” warnings for snow and ice affect much of the England and Wales, central and south-west Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland until Sunday evening.

Temperatures in the Scottish Highlands could drop as low as -8C later in the day.

Richard Leonard, Highways England’s head of road safety, said while gritters would be treating the roads “it is still important to drive to the conditions when snow is forecast”.

Cheshire Police warned there is currently “no route to safely cross the Pennines into Cheshire”. The A54, A537 Cat and Fiddle and B5470 are all closed or blocked by snow.

Bus company First South Yorkshire has been forced to cancel a number of services across the region due to conditions on the roads. Sheffield, in particular, is badly affected.

More than 100 flights to and from Heathrow were cancelled on Saturday and the airport warned of the potential for more disruption on Sunday.

“We’ve worked with our airlines to consolidate Sunday’s flight schedule, moving passengers on to fewer flights,” a spokesman said.

Gatwick said passengers should check the status of their flights and also allow extra time for their journey to the airport.

Sunday’s City of Lincoln 10km run has been postponed after organisers deemed it “unsafe” due to poor weather. The Shrewsbury 10km run has also been called off, as have half marathons in Reading, Wigan and Wilmslow.

There will be no horse racing in Britain on Sunday as both Carlisle and Ffos Las were forced to abandon events due to the weather.

Football has also been affected with Derby’s Championship match against Cardiff being postponed.

The surrounding areas of Pride Park have been left in an unsafe condition following heavy overnight snowfall.

BBC Look North’s Sport Relief ‘Big 50 Sofa Challenge’ has been postponed due to heavy snow in West Yorkshire.

Presenters of the regional TV news programme were due to push the red Look North sofa 10 miles from Bradford to Haworth, but organisers called it off due to “treacherous” conditions.

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Media captionBBC Weather explains why temperatures are plummeting… again

The wintry snap dubbed the “mini beast from the east” brought the heaviest snow showers on Saturday to north-east England and the North Midlands, as well as parts of southern England – including Hampshire, Sussex and Kent.

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Media captionNo paws in the snow?
Image copyright PA
Image caption Roads across the UK have been blocked by stranded vehicles

A cold spell nicknamed “the Beast from the East” saw much of the UK and Europe blanketed in snow at the start the month.

Image copyright Met Office
Image caption Met Office weather warnings are in place for Sunday

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Firefighters tackle large blaze at Stalybridge mill

The fire at the mill in Stalybridge Image copyright Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service
Image caption People have been advised to keep away from the scene

More than 50 firefighters are tackling a blaze at a mill in Greater Manchester.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service said it was called to the mill in Clarence Street, Stalybridge, at 23:43 GMT on Saturday.

Five storeys of the mill were “well alight”, the service said.

Incident Commander Billy Fenwick said the fire had been “surrounded” by 06:00 on Sunday, and added that crews had stopped it from spreading.

“We are confident nearby buildings are safe from harm,” he added.

Mr Fenwick said firefighters would continue to tackle the blaze throughout Sunday and said a fire investigation team would attend to “try and establish a cause”.

The fire service said they did not believe anyone was in the mill, which is believed to be home to a number of small businesses, at the time.

Image copyright Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service

One of the tenants, cheerleading and dance class provider TCA Tycoons, posted on Facebook that it was “heartbroken”.

“This was not only where our cheer and dance programme was based, it was also a home and a safe place for so many parents and athletes,” it said.

Two aerial platforms are being used “to put water on the fire from height and to help control the plume of smoke”.

Mr Fenwick advised nearby residents to keep doors and windows closed as a precaution, to stop smoke entering their homes.

“Please also ensure you stay away from the nearby area and do not drive nearby – for both your safety and to make sure we can fight this fire,” he added.

Road closures are in place around Clarence Street and Tame Street.



Snow causes postponements in football, rugby union and racing across UK

BBC Weather’s Helen Willetts presents the weather forecast

Derby County’s game against Cardiff City in the Championship has been postponed because of heavy snow.

The Pride Park club said the weather had put the areas surrounding their stadium in an “unsafe condition”.

Two Women’s FA Cup quarter-finals (Arsenal v Charlton and Sunderland v Man City) and a WSL 2 game (Watford v Sheffield FC) are also off.

Additionally, the Anglo-Welsh Cup final between Bath and Exeter at Kingsholm has fallen foul of the weather.

The scheduled Super League game between Castleford and Wigan has also been called off “in the interest of both player and spectator safety”.

Sunday’s intended racing at Carlisle and Ffos Las has been snowed off, as has Southwell on Monday.

A resumption of the jump racing programme on Monday hinges on a 14:00 GMT inspection at Kelso.

And Tuesday’s planned fixtures at Exeter and Wetherby are also subject to inspections.

Derby County posted a picture of their stadium on social media