Philippines repatriates over 300,000 OFWs since onset of COVID-19 outbreak

13,537 OFWs were brought back last week. (AFP/File)
13,537 OFWs were brought back last week. (AFP/File)
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Updated 15 December 2020

Philippines repatriates over 300,000 OFWs since onset of COVID-19 outbreak

Philippines repatriates over 300,000 OFWs since onset of COVID-19 outbreak
  • Government aiming to facilitate return of 70,000 to 80,000 more workers

MANILA: More than 300,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been repatriated by the government in the past 10 months, with plans to facilitate the return of thousands more who have been impacted by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in their host countries, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Monday.
The DFA statement added that 13,537 OFWs had been brought home last week, the highest weekly total since repatriation efforts began in February.
“This is the biggest repatriation effort in the history of the DFA and of the Philippines,” Sarah Lou Arriola, DFA undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs, said in a statement.
“We thank the indefatigable efforts of our DFA personnel who have been working 24/7 since February. We also thank our Foreign Service Posts and our partner government agencies for their invaluable contribution to the DFA’s repatriation efforts,” she added.
With the latest arrivals, the number of overseas Filipino returnees reached 300,838, out of which 90,621 are sea-based workers, while 210,217 (69.88 percent) worked on the land.
One of the 59 flights facilitated by the DFA in the past week was a Philippine Airlines chartered flight, which transported 319 distressed Filipino workers from Dammam, Saudi Arabia.
It was the fifth DFA-chartered flight to repatriate stranded Filipinos from Saudi Arabia’s eastern region.
The department, through its embassy in Port Moresby, also assisted in the safe return of OFWs from the Solomon Islands, while a collaboration with the Philippine Embassy in Amman resulted in the successful repatriation of 18 Filipinos from Jordan.
The DFA assured Filipinos who remain stranded abroad that the agency was working “doubly hard to ensure they will be given a chance to return to the Philippines.”
In a televised interview on Friday, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Administrator Hans Cacdac said the government aimed to repatriate 70,000 to 80,000 more OFWs by the end of the year.
He added that the number could go higher as more OFWs sought to be home during the holiday season.
Upon their arrival in the Philippines, all returnees are being aided by the government to travel back to their respective provinces.
At the same time, OFWs whose employment was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic are given a one-time cash assistance of P10,000 ($200) under the Department of Labor and Employment’s “Abot-Kamay ang Pagtulong” program.
The government has allocated P1.8 billion to benefit repatriated OFWs and those in the host country.
Also, the government will be providing a one-time educational, financial assistance of P30,000 to student dependents of displaced or deceased OFWs as well.
Last week, the government partnered with a private company to help OFWs resume normalcy by giving them access to livelihood assistance to establish a small business, such as sari-sari stores, eateries, meat-processing units, water-refilling station, and farms to raise livestock.
 


Taliban asks EU for help with Afghanistan’s airports

 US adviser, right, inspect UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter blade rotor system with Afghan Pilot at Kandahar Airfield south of Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP file photo)
US adviser, right, inspect UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter blade rotor system with Afghan Pilot at Kandahar Airfield south of Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP file photo)
Updated 5 sec ago

Taliban asks EU for help with Afghanistan’s airports

 US adviser, right, inspect UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter blade rotor system with Afghan Pilot at Kandahar Airfield south of Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP file photo)
  • The Taliban reiterated they would uphold human rights “in line with Islamic principles” and would welcome back diplomatic missions that had closed, according to the statement

BRUSSELS: The Taliban asked for help in keeping Afghanistan’s airports running in weekend talks with EU officials that also raised “grave concern” about the humanitarian situation in their country, according to an EU statement late Sunday.
Both sides sent senior officials to the Qatari capital Doha for the talks, which happened just ahead of two weeks of negotiations between the US and the Taliban due to start Monday, also in Doha.
The EU’s European External Action Service (EEAS) said in its statement that “the dialogue does not imply recognition by the EU of the interim (Taliban) government but is part of EU’s operational engagement, in the interest of the EU and the Afghan people.”
The Taliban delegation was led by interim foreign minister Amir Khan Mutaqqi, accompanied by the interim ministers for education and health, the acting central bank governor, and officials from the foreign, finance and interior ministries and the intelligence directorate.
The EU side was headed by the EU special envoy for Afghanistan Tomas Niklasson, with officials from the EEAS and the European Commission’s service handling humanitarian aid, international partnerships, and migration.

The EU statement said the Taliban vowed to stick by its promise of “amnesty” for Afghans who had worked against it during the two decades of Western-oriented rule up to the hasty exit and evacuation by the US and its allies in August.
The Taliban side also re-committed to allowing Afghans and foreigners to leave if they wish so, but “requested assistance for maintaining operations of airports” so that could happen.
“The two sides expressed grave concern about the worsening humanitarian situation in Afghanistan as winter is arriving,” the statement said, adding that the EU would continue supplying humanitarian aid.
The EU side pressed the Taliban to create an “inclusive government,” foster democracy, ensure girls had equal access to schooling, and prevent Afghanistan serving as a base for any group “that threatens the security of others.”
It also suggested that, if the Taliban met EU conditions, that could unlock extra financing for Afghanistan’s cash-strapped new rulers but only “for the direct benefit of the Afghan people.”
The Taliban reiterated they would uphold human rights “in line with Islamic principles” and would welcome back diplomatic missions that had closed, according to the statement.


Venezuela President Maduro brands EU electoral observers ‘spies’

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (R) applauding next to former Cuban President Raul Castro (L) during the inauguration ceremony of the Fidel Castro Ruz Center in Havana, on November 25, 2021. (AFP)
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (R) applauding next to former Cuban President Raul Castro (L) during the inauguration ceremony of the Fidel Castro Ruz Center in Havana, on November 25, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 21 min 23 sec ago

Venezuela President Maduro brands EU electoral observers ‘spies’

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (R) applauding next to former Cuban President Raul Castro (L) during the inauguration ceremony of the Fidel Castro Ruz Center in Havana, on November 25, 2021. (AFP)
  • Voting last weekend was the first time in 15 years that the EU sent a mission to observe Venezuelan elections

CARACAS: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday denounced members of the European Union’s (EU) electoral observation mission who monitored voting last weekend as “spies,” and accused them of looking to “stain” the regional elections on their preliminary report.
Local and regional elections enjoyed better conditions than during previous voting, the EU mission said on Tuesday, though they raised concerns about arbitrary bans on candidates for administrative reasons, delays in opening voting centers and “extended use of state resources in the campaign.”
“They looked to stain the electoral process (in a report) and they couldn’t. A delegation of spies — they weren’t observers — wandered freely around the country, spying on the country’s social, economic and political life,” Maduro said during a broadcast on state television.
The mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Voting last weekend was the first time in 15 years that the EU sent a mission to observe Venezuelan elections. The team included 1,000 observers who monitored voting in 22 out of 23 elections and the full report will be presented in two months.
In this election, opposition politicians contested votes for the first time since 2017. However, they were roundly beaten, picking up just three our of 23 governorships and 117 mayoral positions, with the ruling party winning 210 mayoral races.
Several mayoral races had yet to be called, and one governor’s office — in Barinas state, a Chavismo stronghold — has not been called either.
“The European Union couldn’t stain the electoral process, it was impeccable, beautiful,” Maduro said.
The President will hold meetings in “the coming hours” with opposition governors, he said, without giving further details. He also suggested the ruling Socialists could have lost in a few states and municipalities due to voters punishing the party at the polls.
While the ruling party picked up the most governorships, votes for the Socialists dwindled to fewer than 4 million, according to figures from the country’s electoral authority, down from the 5.9 million it won during regional elections in 2017. 


Omicron variant detected in more countries as scientists race to find answers

Omicron variant detected in more countries as scientists race to find answers
Updated 29 November 2021

Omicron variant detected in more countries as scientists race to find answers

Omicron variant detected in more countries as scientists race to find answers
  • Thirteen cases found in Netherlands, couple arrested
  • S.African doctor says Omicron patients have 'very mild' symptoms

LONDON/AMSTERDAM: The Omicron coronavirus variant spread around the world on Sunday, with new cases found in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia even as more countries imposed travel restriction to try to seal themselves off.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was not yet clear whether Omicron, first detected in Southern Africa, is more transmissible than other variants, or if it causes more severe disease.
"Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection," WHO said.
It said understanding the level of severity of Omicron "will take days to several weeks".
The detection of Omicron triggered global alarm as governments around the world scrambled to impose new travel curbs and financial markets sold-off, fearing the variant could resist vaccinations and upend a nascent economic reopening after a two-year global pandemic.
In its statement, the WHO said it was working with technical experts to understand the potential impact of the variant on existing countermeasures against COVID-19, including vaccines.
Britain said it will convene an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers on Monday to discuss the developments.
Dutch health authorities said 13 cases of the variant were found among people on two flights that arrived in Amsterdam from South Africa on Friday. Authorities had tested all of the more than 600 passengers on the flights and found 61 coronavirus cases, going on to test those for Omicron.
"This could possibly be the tip of the iceberg," Health Minister Hugo de Jonge told reporters.
Dutch military police said they arrested a married couple who left a hotel where they were in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19, and were attempting to flee the country.
Omicron, dubbed a "variant of concern" last week by the WHO that is potentially more contagious than previous variants, has now been detected in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, France, Canada and South Africa.
Many countries have imposed travel bans or curbs on Southern Africa to try to stem the spread. Financial markets dived on Friday, and oil prices tumbled.
A South African doctor who was one of the first to suspect a different coronavirus strain said that symptoms of Omicron were so far mild and could be treated at home.
Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of South African Medical Association, told Reuters that unlike with Delta, so far patients have not reported loss of smell or taste and there has been no major drop in oxygen levels with the new variant.
In the most far-reaching effort to keep the variant at bay, Israel announced late on Saturday it would ban the entry of all foreigners and reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days. Officials hope that within that period there will be more information on how effective vaccines are against Omicron.
The top U.S. infectious disease official, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told President Joe Biden on Sunday it will take about two weeks to have more definitive information about the transmissibility and other characteristics of Omicron, the White House said in a statement, adding that Fauci believes existing vaccines "are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases of COVID".
Biden will give an update on the new variant and the U.S. response on Monday, the White House said.
In Britain, the government has announced measures including stricter testing rules for people arriving in the country and requiring mask wearing in some settings.
More countries announced new travel curbs on southern African nations on Sunday, including Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
South Africa has denounced the measures as unfair and potentially harmful to its economy, saying it is being punished for its scientific ability to identify coronavirus variants early.
South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday that his government was considering imposing compulsory COVID-19 shots for people in certain places and activities, and he slammed rich Western countries for what he called their knee-jerk imposition of travel bans.
"The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant," Ramaphosa said. "The only thing (it) ... will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to ... the pandemic."
Omicron has emerged as many countries in Europe are already battling a surge in COVID-19 infections, with some reintroducing restrictions on social activity to try to stop the spread.
The new variant has also thrown a spotlight on huge disparities in vaccination rates around the globe. Even as many developed countries are giving third-dose boosters, less than 7% of people in poorer countries have received their first COVID-19 shot, according to medical and human rights groups.


Students paralyze traffic in Bangladeshi capital

Students paralyze traffic in Bangladeshi capital
Updated 29 November 2021

Students paralyze traffic in Bangladeshi capital

Students paralyze traffic in Bangladeshi capital
  • The country has one of the highest numbers of road traffic deaths in the world

DHAKA: Thousands of Bangladeshi students took to the streets of Dhaka on Sunday, blocking the capital city’s main intersections and paralyzing traffic to demand enforcement of road safety laws.

Bangladesh has one of the highest numbers of road traffic deaths in the world, according to World Health Organization estimates. 

Data from the Accident Research Institute of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology shows that road accidents in the country claimed the lives of 3,558 people between January 2020 and June this year.

In 2018, young Bangladeshis protested across the country for over a week after two students were killed by a speeding bus. The protest prompted the government to enact a new road transportation law that increased the punishment for death due to negligent driving to five years.

But demonstrators said the 2018 law had not been implemented as the current road safety protests gained momentum last week, after a college student was killed by a garbage truck.

“How many more lives will be required to restore discipline in streets? We have given time to the authorities but nothing has been changed so we returned on streets again,” Jisan Ahmed, a college student, told Arab News while protesting in the Dhanmondi area of Dhaka.

The protesting students are also demanding a discount on transit fares.

“We want a 50 percent discount on fare in public transports and the authorities have to fulfil the demand by Tuesday. We will stage protest in front of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority building if our demands are not met within 48 hours,” another student protester, Antor Hasan, said.

Nur Mohammad Mazumder, chairman of the authority, said more discussions were needed with transport operators to find a solution to student demands.

“Already we had two meetings where a number of issues were discussed,” he said, adding it may take “some time” to resolve the issues.

Bus owners said they feared facing losses if discounted fares were in place.

“We have to incur losses if the students are transported at 50 percent discounted rate,” Dhaka Road Transport Owners Association Secretary-General Enayet Ullah Khan said. “We will sit again tomorrow among ourselves to find a solution.”

According to the Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh, the fare issue was not a big problem.

“Operators actually don’t require any subsidies from the government in this regard,” the association’s secretary-general, Mozammel Hoque, said.

He expressed worry over the more significant issue that was deteriorating road safety.

“Many of the city buses don’t comply with the fitness parameters set by the authorities,” Hoque said, adding that the number of accidents had increased since the 2018 protests.

“In many cases we’re not witnessing the implementation of the law,” he told Arab News. “Things have taken a worse look as the number of road accidents have increased by around 10 percent.”


Unable to return to China, thousands of Pakistani students fear losing degrees

Unable to return to China, thousands of Pakistani students fear losing degrees
Updated 29 November 2021

Unable to return to China, thousands of Pakistani students fear losing degrees

Unable to return to China, thousands of Pakistani students fear losing degrees
  • About 28,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in Chinese educational institutions
  • China suspended the entry of foreigners in March 2020 to stop the spread of COVID-19

ISLAMABAD: More than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, Pakistani students say they fear losing their qualifications from Chinese universities as thousands remain stranded at home, unable to return to classes despite the government’s assurance of constant negotiations with Beijing.

About 28,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in Chinese educational institutions and most of them have been stuck in Pakistan since China suspended the entry of foreign nationals in late March 2020 to stop the spread of COVID-19.

For more than a year, the Pakistani government has been saying it remains in touch with Chinese authorities to help students return to their colleges and universities, but some of them are on the verge of losing hope.

“We are hopeless and fearful that our money, time, is wasted, and our future is at stake,” Aroosa Khan, a Karachi-based student who has completed two years of medicine in China, told Arab News on Saturday.

“We are around 7,000 medical students in China, out of which above 85 percent are now stuck in Pakistan due to the travel ban,” she said, expressing the concern that they would not be able to become good doctors if they could not practice at university hospitals and clinical labs.

As Pakistan does not recognize medical degrees obtained from online courses — provided by Chinese institutes to overseas students due to the travel ban — Khan is worried that years of study and thousands of dollars spent on education may be in vain.

“It is not our fault that we have been compelled to take virtual classes. The majority of these medical students are on self-financing where their families have spent around Rs5 million ($28,000),” she said. “They are under acute stress and have become patients of depression due to the uncertainty hovering over their future.”

The worries of medical students are shared by those enrolled in engineering courses.

Adam Ali, from Attock, who is pursuing a degree in artificial intelligence at a Chinese university, said that he had exhausted all avenues of help.

“We have met everyone in the Foreign Office, the foreign minister, the education minister and all other officials, but nothing happened despite tall claims. When we wrote to the Pakistani Embassy in China, they didn’t even respond to our emails,” he told Arab News.

“When this travel ban was imposed and we started online classes, at that time we were assured by our Foreign Office that we would be able to travel back to China through chartered flights for next semester by the end of July 2020. But nothing happened.”

Another engineering student, Jamal Nasir, from Sialkot, said that he had left his job to pursue a master’s degree on a Chinese university scholarship, but as online classes were introduced that facility was discontinued.

“I had a good job but left it to pursue my master’s on a scholarship, which included a monthly stipend. After resumption of online classes, they have stopped (the) stipend as well, which created a lot of financial issues,” he said. “Now neither I have a job nor (am I) completing my studies due to the travel ban.”

As students from some other countries, including South Korea, were allowed back to Chinese campuses in August 2020 as part of intergovernmental deals, Nasir asked why it was not possible for Pakistanis to follow suit.

“If they want, they can impose quarantine and other standard restrictions but at least allow professional degree students to take physical classes,” he said.

The Pakistani government says that it is trying to resolve the issue.

“The issue has been discussed at various levels with the Chinese authorities both in Beijing and Islamabad,” foreign office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar told Arab News.

“We are also exploring the possibility of addressing the issues of research, lab work, scholarship etc with the relevant Pakistani and Chinese authorities and institutions,” he said. “We are pursuing the matter and are continuously in touch with the Chinese side at all levels.”

The Chinese Embassy in Islamabad told Arab News it had “nothing to comment on the matter at this time.”

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