Tensions mount in Rohingya camps ahead of planned relocation to Myanmar

Rohingya refugee children who are among those being relocated from a camp near the Bangladesh Myanmar border wait at the Balukhali refugee camp, 50 kilometers (32 miles) from, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Sunday. (AP)
Updated 21 January 2018
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Tensions mount in Rohingya camps ahead of planned relocation to Myanmar

GUNGDUM: Tensions mounted on Sunday at refugee camps in Bangladesh holding hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims over an operation to send them back to Myanmar, from where they have fled following a military crackdown.
Dozens of refugees stood holding cloth banners opposing their transfer as UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee visited camps along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border over the weekend. Some refugee leaders said Bangladesh military officials had threatened to seize their food ration cards if they did not return.
Under an agreement signed last week, Myanmar is set to receive Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh at two reception centers and a temporary camp near their common border starting on Tuesday and continuing over the next two years.
The refugees refuse to go back unless their safety can be guaranteed and Myanmars grant their demands to be given citizenship and inclusion in a list of recognized ethnic minorities. They are also asking that their homes, mosques and schools that were burned down or damaged in the military operation be rebuilt.
Over 655,500 Muslim Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after the Myanmar military cracked down in the northern part of Rakhine state in response to militant attacks on security forces on Aug. 25. The UN described the operation as ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, which Myanmar denies.
Rohingya elders told Reuters that Bangladeshi army officials have called or met them over the last two days, asking them to prepare lists of families from their camps for repatriation. Four of them said they were among more than 70 camp leaders – representing thousands of refugees – who met army officers at the Gungdum camp on Saturday.
“When we said we cannot provide the lists because people are not ready to return, they asked us to bring their WP cards,” said Musa, a leader at the Gungdum camp, referring to relief cards provided by the UN’s World Food Programme.
Rashedul Hasan, a spokesman for the Bangladesh army, said he was not aware of army men threatening to take away food cards.
Hundreds of refugees queue up at relief centers across the camps each morning to collect food using the cards. These centers are managed by the Bangladesh army.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has repeatedly said Rohingya returns need to be voluntary.
“UNHCR has not been part of discussions (on repatriation) to date, but has offered support to engage in the process to ensure that the voices of refugees are heard,” Caroline Gluck, a senior protection officer for the agency, said by email on Saturday.
“The pace of returns should be determined by the refugees themselves.”


Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

Updated 17 August 2018
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Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

  • The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country
  • According to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part in the state funeral, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend

GENOA: Grieving relatives wept over the coffins of dozens of victims of Genoa’s bridge disaster Friday amid growing fury over a planned state funeral, while rescuers pressed on with their tireless search for those missing in the rubble.
The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country, with Italian media reporting that some outraged families would shun Saturday’s official ceremonies.
Italy’s government has blamed the operator of the viaduct for the tragedy and threatened to strip the firm of its contracts, while the country’s creaking infrastructure has come under fresh scrutiny.
Authorities plan a state funeral service on Saturday at a hall in Genoa, coinciding with a day of mourning.
Relatives who gathered at the hall on Friday embraced and prayed over lines of coffins, many adorned with flowers and photographs of the dead.
But according to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend.
“It is the state who has provoked this; let them not show their faces, the parade of politicians is shameful,” the press cited the mother of one of four young Italians from Naples who died.
The father of another of the dead from Naples took to social media to vent his anger.
“My son will not become a number in the catalogue of deaths caused by Italian failures,” said his grieving father, Roberto.
“We do not want a farce of a funeral but a ceremony at home.”
Despite fading hopes of finding survivors, rescue workers said they had not given up as they resumed the dangerous operation to search through the unstable mountains of debris.
“Is there anyone there? Is there anyone there?” one firefighter shouted into a cavity dug out of the piles of concrete and twisted metal, in a video published by the emergency services.
Between 10 and 20 people are still missing, according to Genoa’s chief prosecutor.
Ten people remain in hospital, six of them in a serious condition.
Hundreds of rescuers are using cranes and bulldozers to cut up and remove the biggest slabs of the fallen bridge, which slammed down onto railway tracks along with dozens of vehicles.
“We are trying to find pockets in the rubble where people could be — alive or not,” fire official Emanuele Gissi told AFP.
Officials say about 1,000 people in all are working on the disaster site, 350 of them firefighters.
The populist government has accused infrastructure giant Autostrade per L’Italia of failing to invest in sufficient maintenance and said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini demanded that the company offer up to 500 million euros ($570 million) to help families and local government deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
The dead also include children, one as young as eight, and three Chileans and four French nationals.
The French nationals, all in their 20s, had traveled to Italy for a music festival, and other victims included a family setting off on holiday and a couple returning from their California honeymoon.
More than 600 people were evacuated from around a dozen apartments beneath the remaining shard of bridge.
On Thursday evening the first residents of some buildings in the affected area were allowed to return home, though others are too badly damaged to save.
The Morandi viaduct dates from the 1960s and has been riddled with structural problems for decades, leading to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.
Its collapse prompted fears over aging infrastructure across the world.
Italy has announced a year-long state of emergency in the region.
Autostrade, which operates and maintains nearly half of Italy’s motorways, estimates it will take five months to rebuild the bridge.
It denies scrimping on motorway maintenance, saying it has invested over one billion euros a year in “safety, maintenance and strengthening of the network” since 2012.
Atlantia, the holding company of Autostrade which is 30 percent owned by iconic fashion brand Benetton, has warned that the government would have to refund the value of the contract, which runs until at least 2038.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Autostrade “had the duty and obligation to assure the maintenance of this viaduct and the security of all those who traveled on it.”
The disaster is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of a faltering economy.
Senior government figures have also lashed out at austerity measures imposed by the European Union, saying they restrict investment.
But the European Commission said it had given Rome billions of euros to fix infrastructure.