German Turks warn of racism in angry World Cup post-mortem

Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan present signed jerseys of their clubs to Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Reuters)
Updated 12 July 2018
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German Turks warn of racism in angry World Cup post-mortem

  • Before the World Cup started Mesut Ozil and his team mate Ilkay Gundogan posed for photos with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
  • Ozil a key player in Germany’s victorious campaign in Brazil in 2014 and Gundogan endured jeers and boos on the pitch in Russia

BERLIN: Since Germany humiliatingly crashed out of the World Cup, a team member with Turkish roots has faced a hailstorm of criticism that Muslim and migrant groups charge is openly racist.
Mesut Ozil, 29, quickly become a scapegoat for far-right populists, but the storm escalated when even German football bosses, rather than defend him, suggested the squad may have been better off without him.
At the heart of the storm is a political controversy that flared before the World Cup started, when Ozil and his team mate Ilkay Gundogan posed for photos with Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The incident sparked heated debate on whether the young men felt greater loyalty to their birth country Germany or to Turkey, the ancestral home of their families and of a three-million-strong minority group.
While Gundogan, 27, who plays for Manchester City, voiced dismay about the controversy, Ozil, an Arsenal midfielder, further infuriated critics by staying silent on the Erdogan affair.
Ozil, a key player in Germany’s victorious campaign in Brazil in 2014, and Gundogan endured jeers and boos on the pitch which, according to Bild daily, reduced Gundogan to tears in the locker room.
But the anger escalated after Germany’s shock first-round defeat to South Korea dismayed the football-mad nation.
First off the mark was the anti-Islam and anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has long railed against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming stance to refugees.
AfD lawmaker Jens Maier charged bluntly that “Without Ozil we would have won!” in a tweet that also featured a picture of a smiling Ozil and the words “Are you satisfied, my president?“
The far-right AfD has risen to prominence with such shrill provocations, repeatedly suggesting that the national team should be made up of white, ethnic Germans.
But Muslim and other minority groups see the broader finger-pointing as a sign of a dangerous societal drift to the right at a time when immigration is a hot-button political issue.
Cihan Sinanoglu of the Turkish community in Germany told news agency DPA that the charges of disloyalty confirmed many Germans in their belief that “integration and multiculturalism have failed.”
The issue came to a head last week when German Football Association (DFB) bosses, rather than try to defuse the situation, suggested the team may have done better without Ozil.
The head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, called for DFB president Reinhard Grindel and team director Oliver Bierhoff to resign.
Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia state, where the players grew up, also slammed the DFB chiefs.
“The notion that a photo with Erdogan is to blame for the defeat against football giants South Korea,” he said, “is an idea only DFB officials could come up with — after three weeks of pondering the issue.”
Greens party politician Cem Ozdemir said that, although the Erdogan picture was a “grave mistake,” it did not justify the “clearly racist criticism” and accused the DFB of “cowardice.”
Author Baha Gungor said Ozil “is suffering the fate of hundreds of thousands of Turkish-born young people in Germany, who have totally integrated but, because they are also committed to their Turkish roots, always end up back in the crossfire.”
Speaking to a Cologne newspaper, he cited a similar example from France where player Karim Benzema, who has Algerian roots, had once remarked: “If I score, I am a Frenchman. If I miss, I am an Arab.”
He pointed out that after racist attacks against Swedish international Jimmy Durmaz, who has Syrian roots, the entire Swedish team had backed their teammate and shouted “Fuck Racism.”
“And in Germany? Here, the racism raining down on the two players is still met with silence, a scapegoat is being sought by those who want to distract from their own failure.”
Ozil’s 50-year-old father Mustafa told newspaper Bild am Sonntag that Bierhoff’s “insult ... serves to save his own skin” but had left his son “crestfallen, disappointed and offended.”
“We used to say that if we win, we win together. But now that we lost, we lost because of Ozil?“
“If I were in his place, I would say thank you, but I’m done. The hurt has been too much. In Mesut’s place, I would step down.”


Free bus rides driving safer births for Nepali women

Updated 17 July 2018
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Free bus rides driving safer births for Nepali women

  • The UN Population Fund says giving birth remains a leading killer of women of reproductive age in Nepal
  • A huge obstacle to safe deliveries is the Himalayan nation’s tough terrain, which often makes getting to a health facility a long and expensive journey

RAMECHHAP, Nepal: As a teenager Meera Nepali was terrified as she went into labor with her first child at home in a remote village, miles from a hospital with nobody but her mother-in-law to help.
“I was a scared, but that was the norm. We didn’t have doctors close by,” Nepali said of her three-day labor in Khadadevi village in Nepal’s hilly Ramechhap district.
This year however, she delivered her second child in a rural health center thanks to a small cash incentive that is getting pregnant women to hospital by paying their bus fares.
The Aama Surakshya, or “protection for mothers,” program has helped more than two million Nepali women access medical services in the impoverished country where dying in childbirth remains a very real risk.
The UN Population Fund says giving birth remains a leading killer of women of reproductive age in Nepal, where the risk of dying in childbirth is higher than anywhere else in South Asia except Afghanistan.
A huge obstacle to safe deliveries is the Himalayan nation’s tough terrain, which often makes getting to a health facility a long and expensive journey, as well as the paucity of clinics in many parts of the country.
“We found that one of the main reasons rural women did not go to a hospital during childbirth was because they did not have hard cash to pay for transportation,” said Suresh Tiwari, one of the original architects of the scheme.
The program was started in 2005 with British aid money but has since been taken over by the Nepal government.
Today, it covers not just transport but medical costs for mothers and babies and includes a cash bonus for attending antenatal check-ups.
2017 marked a milestone for the program: more Nepali women opted for hospital births over home deliveries for the first time on record, official figures show.
“The free service and transport incentive have been very effective in bringing women to health centers and hospitals where they can be saved in the case of complications,” said Tara Nath Pokharel, head of the government’s Family Health Division, which now runs the program.
Nepali, one of the beneficiaries, paid nothing for her three-day stay at a clinic in Ramechhap district, east of Katmandu, in January.
She was discharged with 1,000 rupees ($9) for transport plus a 400 rupee bonus for attending four antenatal appointments.
“I returned home in an ambulance. We hardly had to spend anything. I am really grateful for this facility,” Nepali said, cradling her young son in her arms.
The scheme is also saving lives outside the maternity wards, in part by tackling cultural obstacles.
Deeply patriarchal attitudes and traditional preferences for home births also see hospital visits dismissed as an unnecessary expense for poor families.
Sita Khatri went into labor weeks before her due date and, unable to walk the three hours to the nearest health center, gave birth to a healthy boy at home.
But the 27-year-old suffered a retained placenta, a painful and potential fatal complication of childbirth, and had to plead with her husband to take her to hospital.
“He said we don’t have money. I insisted, saying there are government facilities, we won’t have to spend too much,” Khatri said.
“It is better to go the hospital than to die at home.”
Eventually Khatri’s husband relented, and she was treated for free at a nearby clinic. The couple were also given 1,000 rupees to pay for transport.
But some women cannot be reached by road and must be carried, while others encounter poorly equipped facilities once they arrive, said Niliza Shakya, a doctor at a health center in Ramechhap.
“Some women still don’t have the decision-making power to say they want to go to a hospital, and health posts like ours are not equipped enough,” said Shakya.
Nepal managed to reduce maternal mortality by 71 percent between 1990 and 2015 — just missing out on an ambitious Millennium Development Goal to reduce the rate by three-quarters.
But it has a long way to go in improving the overall quality of its health care, said Binjwala Shrestha, a charity worker from the Safe Motherhood Network Federation of Nepal.
“Reaching the hospital alone is not enough,” she said.