New US travel restrictions are still ‘Muslim ban’: rights groups

This file photo taken on June 29, 2017 shows people taking part in a rally to protest restrictive guidelines issued by the US on who qualifies as a close familial relationship under the Supreme Court order on the Muslim and refugee ban at Union Square in New York. (AFP / EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ)
Updated 25 September 2017
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New US travel restrictions are still ‘Muslim ban’: rights groups

WASHINGTON: US rights groups on Monday blasted the new, open-ended version of President Donald Trump’s travel restrictions as a masked Muslim ban and pledged to keep fighting it in courts.
Despite the removal of Sudan from the expiring 90-day ban on six mainly-Muslim countries, and the addition of Chad, Venezuela and North Korea for tight restrictions or bans, activists and legal experts said Trump’s intent remained the same, to sharply cut off the flow of Muslim visitors and immigrants into the United States.
“This ban is not any better than the previous one,” said Zahra Billoo of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“The fact that Trump has added North Korea — with few visitors to the US — and a few government officials from Venezuela doesn’t obfuscate the real fact that the administration’s order is still a Muslim ban,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“President Trump’s original sin of targeting Muslims cannot be cured by throwing other countries onto his enemies list.”
Late Sunday the White House issued a new executive order to replace the expiring 90-day temporary ban on travelers from Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Somalia and Libya.
The ban, which Trump has been fighting to put in place since days after he became president in January, has been repeatedly delayed and watered down in a series of court challenges and appeals.
At the end of June, the Supreme Court allowed it finally to be implemented, with restrictions, together with a 120-day ban on refugees.
The new order Sunday, which has no expiration date, targeted eight countries but was less uniform.
North Korea, Chad, Syria, Yemen, and Libya face full bans, until they can improve their information collection on their own citizens and boost cooperation with US security authorities, who say the main target is to prevent potential terrorists from entering the country.
For Iran, an exception was left for students and exchange visitors. For Somalia, new immigrants are blocked but business, official and personal temporary visitors will be allowed, though subject to tougher vetting.
With Venezuela, only officials from certain key ministries and government agencies, and their families, are banned.
In Caracas, the foreign ministry called the US action “psychological terrorism” aimed at bringing down Venezuela’s leftist government.
The original ban is due to be heard at the Supreme Court on October 10, focusing in part on whether Muslims were targeted from the beginning.
The new order could shape the way the issue is addressed, possibly even mooting the case.
“Religion, or the religious origin of individuals or nations, was not a factor,” a senior government official told reporters on Sunday.
“The inclusion of those countries, Venezuela and North Korea, was about the fact that those governments are simply not compliant with our basic security requirements.”
But critics called that “window dressing.” One noted there were only eight visitors last year from North Korea, which does not have diplomatic relations with the United States.
Adding Chad, North Korea and Venezuelan government officials “does little to undercut the argument that the government is imposing a ban based on religion,” said Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law.
In addition, lawyers say Trump has over-extended his executive powers on placing limits on immigration.
“He’s basically rewriting the immigration law, entirely,” said Justin Cox, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center and one of the lawyers making the arguments against the travel ban at the Supreme Court.
“If he can indefinitely ban people from these countries, he can indefinitely ban guest workers, he can indefinitely ban Mexicans, do basically whatever he wants,” Cox said.


Families bury victims as Tanzania ferry disaster toll passes 200

Updated 23 September 2018
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Families bury victims as Tanzania ferry disaster toll passes 200

  • Divers were also set to continue their grim search in the waters around the boat
  • With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometers, Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya

UKARA, Tanzania: Grieving families were on Sunday preparing to bury victims of Tanzania’s devastating ferry disaster, with more than 200 confirmed dead after the crowded boat capsized in Lake Victoria.
Hopes were fading of finding any more survivors three days after the ferry sank on Thursday, even after rescuers pulled out an engineer who had managed to find refuge in an air pocket in the upturned vessel.
“We are going to start burying bodies not yet identified by relatives,” said John Mongella, governor of Mwanza region, where the MV Nyerere ferry had been coming in to dock on the island of Ukara.
“The (burial) ceremony will be overseen by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, in the presence of clergy members of different denominations,” Mongella said Saturday on TBC 1 public television.
Divers were also set to continue their grim search in the waters around the boat, where late Saturday they were watched by anxious crowds gathered just meters (yards) away on Ukara’s shore.
Mongella said 218 people had been confirmed dead, while 41 escaped the tragedy with their lives — a total figure far above the official capacity of the boat, which was in theory only able to carry 101 passengers.
One survivor was an engineer who shut himself into a “special room” with enough air for him to stay alive until he was found, said local lawmaker Joseph Mkundi.
Transport Minister Isack Kamwelwe said on Saturday that 172 of the victim’s bodies had been identified by relatives.
State television cited witnesses reporting that more than 200 people had boarded the ferry at Bugolora, a town on the larger Ukerewe Island. It was market day, which usually sees the vessel packed with people and goods.
Witnesses told AFP the ferry sank when passengers rushed to one side to disembark as it approached the dock. Others blamed the captain, saying he had made a brusque maneuver.
Dozens of wooden coffins lined the shore on Saturday, waiting to be seen by families as police and volunteers sought to keep hundreds of curious locals at bay.
Aisha William came to collect the body of her husband. “He left on Tuesday around noon, but he never came home. I do not know how I am going to raise my two children,” she said.
Ahmed Caleb, a 27-year-old trader, railed at a tragedy “which could have been prevented. I’ve lost my boss, friends, people I went to school with,” he sighed.
The aging vessel, whose hull and propellers were all that remained visible above water, was also carrying cargo, including sacks of maize, bananas and cement, when it capsized.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Friday ordered the arrest of the ferry’s management and declared four days of national mourning.
In a speech broadcast on TBC 1, Magufuli said “it appears clear that the ferry was overloaded,” adding that the government would cover the funeral expenses of the victims.
With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometers, oval-shaped Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
It is not uncommon for ferries to capsize in the lake, and the number of fatalities is often high due to a shortage of life jackets and the fact that many people in the region cannot swim.