St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship scheme gets a lift from coronavirus pandemic

St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship scheme gets a lift from coronavirus pandemic
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St. Kitts has been relatively unscathed by COVID-19. The island was placed on lockdown on March 31 after its number of cases rose to eight. (Supplied)
St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship scheme gets a lift from coronavirus pandemic
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St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship scheme gets a lift from coronavirus pandemic
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Updated 12 August 2020

St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship scheme gets a lift from coronavirus pandemic

St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship scheme gets a lift from coronavirus pandemic
  • Holders of passport of Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis have visa-free access to 156 countries
  • Citizenship by Investment program proves attractive to individuals of high net worth and their families

DUBAI: If you have been dreaming of getting away from the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, you can — provided you have some cash in hand.

For the starting sum of $150,000, you can buy your citizenship of the pristine Caribbean islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis.

With their pure white sands, swaying palm trees and sparkling blue waters, the islands offer the affluent both a welcome retreat and a secondary citizenship.

The Citizenship by Investment (CBI) program grants citizenship to individuals of high net worth and their families, who get in addition visa-free access to 156 countries, including EU member states and the UK.

Seemingly for this reason, the St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program has witnessed a notable increase in applications from the Arab world during the pandemic.

St. Kitts has been relatively unscathed by COVID-19. The island was placed on lockdown on March 31 after its number of cases rose to eight.

The lockdown was lifted on April 27, but the government has imposed the mandatory use of masks while outdoors.

To date, there have been 15 COVID-19 cases and no deaths.

“We have been seeing an increase in interest recently from the Middle East, especially as the lockdowns ease,” Les Khan, CEO of the St. Kitts and Nevis CBI Unit, told Arab News.

“Most of our applicants from the Middle East are families. Due to the pandemic, these individuals want to have the flexibility to travel and visit their families and children overseas with ease.”

Moe Alhaj, CEO of Migrate World Ltd, said, “There’s been a notable increase — of around 40 percent — in applicants from the Arab world during the pandemic.”

Migrate World Ltd is one of the authorized representatives for the St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship program for the Middle East and Africa regions.

Nationals of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are not allowed to hold dual citizenships.

“The individuals that the program caters to in the Middle East are largely from Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia,” added Alhaj. The program does not accept applicants from Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea.

Due to the current global restrictions in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, applications are being received electronically.

The highest number of applications following those from the Middle East come from China, the program spokesperson told Arab News.

Launched in 1984, the St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program’s initial purpose was to assist the islands’ economy, which had suffered due to the collapse of its sugar industry.

“The CBI program began as a way to stimulate foreign direct investment into the country,” explained Khan.

There are currently around eight countries that offer citizenship by investment, but the St. Kitts and Nevis program is by far the oldest. In the Caribbean, there are currently around five other programs of this nature.

FASTFACT

The St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship affords visa-free travel to 156 countries, including EU and UK

“The St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program has become recognized as the platinum brand,” said Khan.

All other programs — such as the Canadian visa program and the US EB-5 investor visa — came in the wake of this one and are largely residence programs, Khan explained.

“This means that you invest a lot of money, get residency and after five to seven years, you obtain citizenship. In the case of the St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program, you get citizenship after three months.

“One of the main reasons why people want this citizenship is to able to travel with a passport that allows them visa-free access to numerous countries,” Khan said.

“Secondly, citizenship acts as an insurance policy; a second passport gives individuals flexibility. Thirdly, people are looking for alternative lifestyles. Where else would you want to be other than in the Caribbean, on one of the finest islands?”

Education is also an important factor to consider, especially for parents who are looking to enroll their children in a different environment.

“There are multiple reasons why people want another citizenship,” said Alhaj.

“Some do it for work mobility, so that they don’t have to obtain a visa to attend a meeting in the UK or elsewhere in Europe. With the St. Kitts passport, you can hop on a plane and go directly to Europe or to the UK or to the many other countries that are part of the visa-free list.”

“Another aspect that lures applicants is the lifestyle — the vacations that St Kitts and Nevis offers,” said Alhaj. “There is also healthcare access for individuals with long-term issues.”

Alhaj said the process of application is straightforward and takes anywhere from three to six months.

“This is after a due-diligence process that runs a check from all government agencies around the world to make sure that the individual is in good standing and hasn’t been arrested before,” he explained.

The checks also involve looking out for money laundering instances by the applicant and whether they have been or are on any sanctions lists.

In terms of documentation, applicants need to submit birth and marriage certificates, bank statements, reference letters, utility bills, and title deeds or rental agreements, among other documents. They must also undergo a medical check-up, which includes taking an HIV test.

With regard to the cost of obtaining citizenship, Alhaj explained that the applicant could choose between two options — a contribution option that starts at $150,000 in addition to other fees, and a real-estate option that begins at $200,000 and includes investment in property or in the shares of a resort on the islands.

The contribution amount, he informed, increases depending on the size of the family that is applying.

“For the life-changing services you’re getting, these are very inexpensive options,” said Alhaj.

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@rebeccaaproctor


Italian police bust migrant-smuggling cell

Italian police bust migrant-smuggling cell
Updated 8 min 45 sec ago

Italian police bust migrant-smuggling cell

Italian police bust migrant-smuggling cell
  • 5 people arrested, 2 Iraqi Kurds under house arrest
  • Most of the migrants smuggled were Kurds from Syria, Iraq

ROME: Italian police have dismantled an organization in the country’s northeast that worked to illegally smuggle hundreds of migrants from Kurdish areas into Europe in exchange for large sums of money.

Five people were arrested in the city of Trieste, near the border with Croatia and Slovenia. Two Iraqi Kurds were also put under house arrest.

Operation Hub began a year ago in several Italian cities and was extended abroad, said Massimo De Bortoli, an anti-mafia prosecutor in Trieste.

Italian police said the organization aided and abetted illegal immigration to Europe, especially Germany and France. Most of the migrants were Kurds from Syria and Iraq.


Kremlin calls NYT report on planned US cyberstrikes on Russia ‘alarming’

Kremlin calls NYT report on planned US cyberstrikes on Russia ‘alarming’
Updated 09 March 2021

Kremlin calls NYT report on planned US cyberstrikes on Russia ‘alarming’

Kremlin calls NYT report on planned US cyberstrikes on Russia ‘alarming’
  • The report said the US was planning a series of covert counterstrikes on Russian networks

MOSCOW: The Kremlin on Tuesday said it was alarmed by a report in the New York Times that said the United States was planning a series of covert counterstrikes on Russian networks, saying such strikes would amount to cyber crimes.
The report, on March 7, said the United States was planning a series of covert counterstrikes on Russian networks in response to the hacking of SolarWinds software that US officials say was conduced by Russia, something Moscow denies.
“This is alarming information,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “This would be pure international cyber crime.”


Academic held in Iran for two years says imprisonment pushed her to brink of suicide

Academic held in Iran for two years says imprisonment pushed her to brink of suicide
Updated 09 March 2021

Academic held in Iran for two years says imprisonment pushed her to brink of suicide

Academic held in Iran for two years says imprisonment pushed her to brink of suicide

CANBERRA: A British-Australian academic who spent two years detained in Iran said on Tuesday she was kept in solitary confinement for seven months, in what she described as "psychological torture" that left her contemplating suicide.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was detained in Iran in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison on espionage charges, was released late last year in exchange for three Iranians who had been detained abroad.
Speaking for the first time publicly, Moore-Gilbert said she was kept in a 4 square meter cell with only a telephone to communicate with prison guards.
"You go completely insane. It is so damaging. I felt physical pain," Moore-Gilbert told Sky News Australia.
Moore-Gilbert, a specialist in Middle East politics at the University of Melbourne, said her mental health deteriorated after two weeks.
"I thought if I could, I would kill myself."
After nine months imprisonment, Moore-Gilbert was sentenced to 10 years in prison, which she sought to oppose through a series of hunger strikes.
In her most daring opposition, however, Moore-Gilbert said she once attempted to escape.
"One day I was just like, ‘You know what? I’m going to do it. I have nothing to lose’," Moore-Gilbert told Sky News.
"There were spikes on part of the wall, so I just took some socks with me and put them over my hands and then grabbed onto them, hoping they weren’t too sharp."
Once on the roof of the prison, Moore-Gilbert said she could have scaled down the walls and made a run for a nearby town. However, she said she decided not to proceed as she was in a prison uniform, didn't speak the local language and feared the consequences of being caught.
Eventually she was released in a prisoner swap and back in Australia, Moore-Gilbert said she is focused on her recovery.


Families cry foul over Myanmar’s crackdown

Families cry foul over Myanmar’s crackdown
Updated 09 March 2021

Families cry foul over Myanmar’s crackdown

Families cry foul over Myanmar’s crackdown
  • Activists accuse security forces of detaining family members of suspects

YANGON: Protests erupted in several cities across Myanmar on Sunday, with several more planned for today, after an official from the party of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi died overnight after “fainting” in police custody.

The family of Khin Maung Latt, a 58-year-old Muslim man from Yangon, however, rejected the claims saying that he was healthy “with no injuries at all” when police detained him on Saturday night.

“We were informed by the police on Sunday morning that he had died after fainting and that the body was being kept at a military hospital in Yangon,” one of Latt’s relatives, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, told Arab News.

Soon, Family members, accompanied by a lawyer and community leader, went to the hospital and found Latt’s head “covered”
in blood.

“His body had multiple injuries, especially the head. He was healthy and had no injuries at all when soldiers took him” she said.

Latt, a member of the ruling National League for Democracy party (NLD), was among several detained by police who, reinforced by soldiers, moved throughout Yangon, firing shots and arresting dissidents.

Anti-military protests reached fever pitch after the deaths of dozens of protesters, with rally organizers saying “security forces were intent on breaking the back of the anti-coup movement with wanton violence and sheer brutality.”

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), at least 50 people have died during the security forces’ recent crackdown, with 1,790 arrested, charged or sentenced during the anti-coup movement, which began on Feb. 1.

While the number of detained persons remains unknown, it included Latt, other protest leaders, striking government staff and members of vigilante groups guarding neighborhoods.

AAPP spokesperson Tun Kyi, who helped Latt’s family with the funeral process, said that it was “possible” that Latt’s death was as a result of torture.

“Citing the injuries on his body, he was beaten and tortured,” Kyi told Arab News

“Troops took him alive and returned the dead body. This is the democracy promised by the military dictatorship,” he added.

Myanmar has been in a state of unrest for more than a month after military leaders seized power, overthrowing the civilian government led by Suu Kyi.

The coup followed a landslide win by  the  NLD in the November general election, but the army rejected the results, citing poll irregularities and fraud.

During the takeover, the military detained key government leaders — including Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and several prominent activists — and declared a state of emergency, along with an announcement that the country would be under military rule for at least a year.

Myanmar has witnessed widespread protests ever since, with thousands ignoring a ban on public gatherings.

Yangon, the country’s largest city, witnessed one of the deadliest incidents last week after security forces opened fire on the mostly peaceful protesters in the North Okalapa township’s outskirts, killing at least 38, according to a UN report.

Witnesses said that after increasing their crackdown on anti-coup protesters, security forces were escalating late-night raids in cities and towns across the country as well.

Tun Kyi said security forces were “acting lawlessly” during the crackdown and night raids, adding that in many cases, “when the targeted persons could not be found, they detained family members instead.

“They (security forces) took family members as hostages, looted and destroyed the private properties. They are acting like terrorists,” he added.

Latt served as a campaign leader for Sithu Maung, one of the NLD’s two Muslim lawmakers, who contested and won a seat in the lower house of Parliament representing Yangon’s Pabedan township.

His father, Peter, a former political prisoner and member of the NLD party in Yangon’s Hlaing township, was detained on Sunday night during a raid.

“They took my father hostage,” said Maung, who was issued an arrest warrant by the junta for his involvement in the Committee Representing Phyidaungsu Hluttaw which ousted lawmakers formed to represent the country’s Parliament after the Feb. 1 military coup.

He expressed grave concern over his father’s situation, especially after Khin Maung Latt’s death. 

“Khin Maung Latt was like my uncle. Now he has died of torture during overnight detention, so I am greatly concerned (that something) similar will happen to my father,” he told Arab News over the phone from a safe place on Monday.

“The junta is using all possible means to make people bow to them, but we will never let it happen. They have a gun; we have unity,” he said.

Maung added that the junta was responding to the opposition movement with “panic” because “they know they are going to lose anyway.

“After more than one month of the coup, it has not been recognized by most foreign countries while facing opposition from all sectors in the country. Its administrative mechanism has not functioned yet due to the non-recognizing and non-participation of the government staff and people,” he said.

Despite the deadliest crackdown by security forces, the anti-coup movement is gaining momentum across the country.

In Yangon, tensions were high after anti-coup protesters regrouped after being forcefully dispersed by stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and, eventually, live ammunition.

Meanwhile, the Hlaing Thar Yar township of Yangon, where most of the areas garment factories are located, has yet to experience violence despite daily protests by thousands of people, mostly industrial workers.

“The forces mainly focus on cracking down on the protests in other townships, but we anticipate our turn would come soon,” Thar Zaw, an activist and a protest leader, told Arab News.

Striking workers, who had previously joined the demonstration in major protest sites across Yangon, including those stationed in Hlaing Thar Yar, said they were “prepared to defend themselves against security forces” with makeshift barricades on the streets.

“The protests here are even bigger now,” Thar Zaw told Arab News.

The country’s biggest trade unions have also called for an extended, nationwide strike until civilian rule is restored.

Moe Sandar Myint, founder of the Federation of General Worker Myanmar, said the garment sector was “already in danger since the coup.

“As long as the junta rules the country, there is no worker rights. So we, garment workers and industrial workers would continue the movement against the junta,” she told Arab News.

Myint has been in hiding since Feb. 6 after organizing and participating in an anti-coup rally in Yangon, the first mass protest since the coup took place.

“We are determined to fight till the end,” she said.


Hungary closes stores, schools to curb surge due to variants

Hungary closes stores, schools to curb surge due to variants
Updated 09 March 2021

Hungary closes stores, schools to curb surge due to variants

Hungary closes stores, schools to curb surge due to variants
  • The number of patients on ventilators in Hungarian hospitals has more than doubled in the last two weeks

BUDAPEST: Hungarians on Monday awoke to a new round of strict lockdown measures aimed at slowing a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths that are among the worst in the world.

A rapid rise in pandemic indicators since early February prompted Hungary’s government to announce the new restrictions, including closing most stores for two weeks and kindergartens and primary schools until April 7. Most services are also required to cease operations, and the government urged businesses to allow employees to work from home. Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and tobacconists can stay open.

Hungary’s high schools have been remote learning since November and its bars, restaurants and gyms have been closed since then as well.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has warned that the strain on the country’s hospitals will soon surpass any other period in Hungary since the pandemic began, and that failing to impose harsher restrictions now would result in a “tragedy.”

“The next two weeks will be difficult ... but if we want to open by Easter, we’ve got to close down,” Orban said Friday on a Facebook video.

The number of patients on ventilators in Hungarian hospitals has more than doubled in the last two weeks, with 806 patients on Monday compared to the previous peak of 674 in early December.

Deaths have also risen sharply. With nearly 16,000 confirmed deaths in a country of fewer than 10 million, Hungary has the 8th worst death rate per 1 million inhabitants in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals is also likely to break its previous record on Tuesday.

“We can see that the third wave is spreading very forcefully, mainly due to (virus) variants,” Hungary’s chief medical officer Cecilia Muller said Sunday. “We can’t do anything else now but break the
chain of infections.”

The new restrictions came as many Hungarian businesses were already struggling to make ends meet as shoppers stayed at home amid the surging cases. Zoltan Suto, the founder and owner of Hungarian fashion brand Griff Collection, said revenues were down 70 percent  through the winter thanks to cautious consumers avoiding crowds at shopping malls.

“I can’t pay rent. I can’t pay salaries or social contributions, not to mention the taxes,” Suto said, adding that a 50 percent  commercial tax break offered by the government meant little in the absence of revenues.

Last year’s pandemic-induced economic recession, which saw a 5.1 percent  decrease in Hungary’s GDP, led to the shuttering of five of Griff Collection’s 10 stores in Hungary, which employ around 80 people. Suto says his business suffered a loss of 200-300 million Hungarian forints ($645,000-$968,000) in 2020, and that the crisis will only deepen if the two-week closure that begins Monday is extended further.

Such economic pain has made Hungary’s government, which is facing an election next year, reluctant until now to introduce restrictions on businesses, even as COVID-19 cases and deaths have skyrocketed since early February.

Many parents scrambled over the weekend to alter work schedules and arrange for childcare, including Gyongyver and Szilard Brasnyo, a couple in Budapest who have two young daughters.

“We are lucky, my parents are coming over to help us out with the kids,” said Gyongyver, adding that her parents live in Serbia, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, and have already received two vaccine shots.

Szilard, who works from home, said they felt “exhausted” after a year of raising the children during a pandemic. But he was optimistic that Hungary’s ambitious vaccination program — which has given more than 1 million Hungarians a vaccine shot, the second-highest vaccination rate in the 27-nation European Union — would soon bring life back to normal.

Hungary has obtained vaccines from Russia and China as well as those approved by the EU.

“We’re really looking forward to having a much safer environment for all of us,” Szilard said.