Two Indonesian hostages freed in Philippines

This photo taken on Jan. 19, 2018 shows two Indonesian men (names unavailable) who were freed after being held hostage for more than a year, in the town of Jolo, Sulu province on the southern island of Mindanao.(AFP)
Updated 20 January 2018
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Two Indonesian hostages freed in Philippines

JOLO: Two Indonesian fishermen have been released by extremists after more than a year in captivity in the southern Philippines, police said Saturday.
There were no official comments on the physical condition of the two who were snatched from their fishing vessel in the waters between the southern Philippines and Malaysia in November 2016, a police statement said.
The two were reportedly turned over by a "concerned citizen" late Thursday to a former governor on the southern island of Jolo, a longtime haunt of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group, some of whose members have pledged allegiance to Daesh, the statement added.
The ex-governor called the police who picked up the two. Officials would not say if ransom, a frequent motive for such abductions, was paid in this case.
The Abu Sayyaf is a loose network of militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, and has earned millions of dollars from banditry and kidnappings-for-ransom, often targetting foreigners.
The group is based in the strife-torn southern islands like Jolo but its members have sometimes crossed the southern maritime borders to carry out attacks in Malaysia.
This has prompted Malaysia and Indonesia to join forces with the Philippines in boosting its sea patrols in the area.
Indonesian embassy officials could not be contacted for comment.
Abu Sayyaf members were among the Muslim armed groups who rampaged through the southern city of Marawi in May, resulting in a five-month long battle that left more than a thousand dead.
In another incident in the southern Philippines, about 10 extremists clashed with soldiers before dawn Saturday, the military said.
There was no confirmation of casualties on either side but troops later recovered grenades, rockets and a black Daesh flag.


Rohingya volunteers get UN training to deal with monsoon threat 

Rohingya refugee men make sand bags in preparation for the upcoming monsoon season in Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Bangladesh. (AFP / Munir Uz Zaman)
Updated 33 min ago
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Rohingya volunteers get UN training to deal with monsoon threat 

  • UNHCR identifies 24,000 Rohingya refugees at ‘high risk’ of landslides and floods as Bangladesh’s monsoon season approaches.
  • Volunteers in refugee camps are being trained as first responders in emergency by the UN agency.

DHAKA, Bangladesh: “Initially we were a bit scared, but after acquiring disaster preparedness skills, we are feeling stronger,” said Nur Mohammad Majhi, a Rohingya community outreach member, in the refugee camp of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. 

Majhi is one of the several Rohingya refugees who have received disaster training from UNHCR to deal with landslides and floods in the approaching monsoon season.

“We want to stand by the people, stand with courage and be ready to rescue if needed,” Majhi told Arab News.

The UNHCR has completed training for 400 Rohingya safety unit volunteers, who will be deployed as first responders in emergency situations such as search-and-rescue activities during floods and landslides. The volunteers will work closely with other government emergency services.

Another 300 Rohingya volunteers will complete their training next week. 

“We are extremely concerned about the physical safety of tens of thousands of Rohingyas who live in overcrowded settlements in Bangladesh and the danger of an ‘emergency within an emergency,’” Caroline Gluck, UNHCR senior spokesperson at Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News.

The emergency response training has changed the mindset of the Rohingya refugees and given them confidence to deal with accidents and large-scale emergencies. 

“We’ve learnt a lot. Most people still don’t know what help is out there and we can help them,” said Ayub Khan, a Rohingya outreach member who recently attended a psychological first-aid training course run by the UNHCR.

“Now we can share the knowledge, the information we have. We can help people to worry less and bring some comfort,” Khan said. 

“I had no clue what to do during landslides. I had sleepless nights during the past few weeks fearing the natural disasters of the rainy season,” said Jamila Khatun, a refugee in Balukhali camp. “Now I feel much better and confident as the volunteers have educated me on how to tackle these emergencies.” 

The UNHCR has adopted an integrated approach to deal with this emergency. Volunteers in different groups have received separate training on basic awareness and mitigation, psychological first aid, and emergency and cyclone preparedness. 

Despite the extensive humanitarian support for Rohingyas, the UN agency has said 200,000 Rohingyas living on hill slopes face risky conditions. “Out of these, 24,000 are at high risk of landslides,” Gluck said. 

Agencies have relocated more than 21,800 refugees to safer locations, according to Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG). The UNHCR is trying to relocate some families inside the existing settlements to lessen the risks. 

The UNHCR is also working to stabilize slopes and improve pathways with sandbags and bamboo. Together with the World Food Program, UNHCR is also improving drainage and widening a canal to improve water flow and avoid flooding. 

“We have been working with the Bangladesh authorities to build and pave the main arterial road from the north to south of the biggest settlement, Kutupalong-Balukhali, which is crucial for access and a lifeline for aid,” said Gluck.

Bangladesh is now home to 1.3 million Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar in the wake of military offensives in Rakhine state last year.

About 100,000 Rohingyas will be moved to the island of Bhashan Char in the Bay of Bengal this summer, authorities said.