UN chief hails migrants’ role in responding to COVID crisis, boosting economies

UN chief hails migrants’ role in responding to COVID crisis, boosting economies
Medical staffs tend a man affected with the COVID-19 in the wards of a nursing home of Kaysesberg, eastern France, on Dec.18, 2020. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
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Updated 19 December 2020

UN chief hails migrants’ role in responding to COVID crisis, boosting economies

UN chief hails migrants’ role in responding to COVID crisis, boosting economies
  • Just as migrants are integral to our societies, they should remain central to our recovery’

NEW YORK: This year, International Migrants Day has a special poignancy to it. The millions who were forced by conflict and economic hardship to abandon their homes, family and friends in 2020 have done so amid a pandemic that has made visible the world’s deep-seated inequalities.

From braving harsh winters in makeshift camps to venturing into the sea looking for a safe haven in foreign lands, the most vulnerable are too often left to fend for themselves.

“Millions upon millions of people have experienced the pain of separation from friends and family, the uncertainty of employment and the need to adapt to a new and unfamiliar reality,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “These are emotions felt by migrants around the world every day.”

But it was by underlining “the outsized role” they have played on the frontlines of the pandemic’s response that Guterres has chosen to honor the world’s migrants this year.

While they remain invisible, “societies have come to appreciate their dependence on migrants,” he said.

Migrants have been the first to respond to the pandemic, he added, “from caring for the sick and elderly to ensuring food supplies during lockdowns. Just as migrants are integral to our societies, they should remain central to our recovery.”

The UN chief called for migrants to be included in every country’s pandemic response and vaccination campaigns, “irrespective of their legal status.”

He urged the world to implement the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the first, intergovernmental agreement to cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner.

The agreement was adopted after the September 2016 New York Declaration by 193 heads of state and government who committed to protect the safety, dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, regardless of their migratory status.

The leaders also called for supporting host countries, combating xenophobia, integrating migrants and strengthening global governance of migration.

Guterres urged the international community to “reimagine human mobility, enable migrants to reignite economies at home and abroad, and build more inclusive and resilient societies.”

Antonio Vitorino, director-general of the UN’s International Organization for Migration, hailed migrants globally as “champions of resilience when times are tough.”

He said: “The dedication and entrepreneurial spirit (among migrants) we have seen this year reminds us that, as we move from pandemic response to recovery over the coming months, migrants will be an integral part of that return to normal life.”

He added: “Economically disadvantaged, many have become stranded, unable to return home, while still more have been forced to return without due regard for their safety. At the extremes, migrants may be prey to the criminals who would exploit their vulnerability for profit.”

Vitorino urged countries to intensify efforts to grant migrants access to social services and ensure they do not get left behind.

The nearly 300 million migrants are major contributors to host countries’ local economies, while their remittances also support millions back home.

“States should consider migrant workers’ positive assets who bring labor, skills and diversity to host communities,” said Felipe Gonzales Morales, UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. “Migrants and their families should be fully integrated in national plans to build back better.”

Established by the UN General Assembly in 2000 and observed every year since, International Migrants Day is, in Vitorino’s words, a reminder that “human rights are not ‘earned’ by virtue of being a hero or a victim, but are an entitlement of everyone, regardless of origin, age, gender and status.”

He added that this year, “support and protection are needed if migrants are to contribute fully to their, and our, recovery.”


Biden, UK's Johnson talk trade and trains in White House meeting

Biden, UK's Johnson talk trade and trains in White House meeting
Updated 22 September 2021

Biden, UK's Johnson talk trade and trains in White House meeting

Biden, UK's Johnson talk trade and trains in White House meeting
  • Johnson took the Amtrak train from the United Nations General Assembly in New York to Washington for the meeting

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussed the dangers of climate change and bantered about the joys of rail travel on Tuesday during an Oval Office meeting aimed at highlighting the US-British alliance.
Biden told the visiting prime minister, who once worried his warm relationship with former President Donald Trump would hurt relations under the US Democratic leader, that he looked forward to coming to the United Kingdom for a conference on global warming later this year.
"It's fantastic to see the United States really stepping up and showing a lead, a real, real lead," Johnson said, referring to the issue of global warming. Under Biden, the United States has renewed pledges to cut greenhouse gases and promised to finance projects to combat climate change.
Johnson took the Amtrak train from the United Nations General Assembly in New York to Washington for the meeting. "They love you," Johnson said to Biden, seemingly referring to the US railway staff. Biden was a regular train commuter for over 30 years.
"We're going to talk about trade," Biden said when asked about a potential UK-US trade agreement, which would be of great significance for post-Brexit Britain.
Johnson first met Vice President Kamala Harris, who said the United States and Britain are more interconnected than ever before. Tackling the pandemic, dealing with climate change and upholding democracy around the world remained top priorities for both countries, Harris said.
Johnson praised the US military's role in the "Kabul airlift" and thanked the US government for lifting a ban last year on imports of British beef imposed after an outbreak of mad cow disease.
"I want to thank the US government, your government, for the many ways in which we are cooperating now, I think, at a higher and more intense level than at any time I can remember," Johnson said.
Johnson's team regards the visit as a triumph, demonstrating that Britain can thrive on the world stage after its divorce last year from the European Union. It comes amid a US rift with EU rival France, in which Britain played a crucial part.
A submarine deal the United States and Britain recently announced with Australia came at France's expense, prompting France to withdraw its ambassadors to the United States and Australia and cancel a defense meeting with Britain.
France continues to see Britain as the junior partner in the long-running "special relationship" between the United States and Britain, some say, years after former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was ridiculed for supporting US President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq in March 2003.


Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over govt’s back-to-school plans

Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over govt’s back-to-school plans
Updated 21 September 2021

Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over govt’s back-to-school plans

Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over govt’s back-to-school plans
  • Classroom return ‘experiment’ in low-risk COVID-19 areas draws mixed reactions

MANILA: Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s thumbs-up for a limited return to classrooms for students in areas with low numbers of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases has been criticized by worried parents and teachers.

The leader’s approval for the resumption of in-person classes in “low risk” parts of the Philippines on Tuesday drew mixed reactions with some objectors urging the government to reconsider its decision.

The government said on Monday that for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak it would reopen nearly 120 schools as part of a “pilot” project.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque pointed out that the move was necessary because otherwise, “we might lose a generation if we don’t have face-to-face (classes).”

According to a report by the UN children’s agency UNICEF, the Philippines was among 17 countries globally where schools had remained completely shut throughout the pandemic, highlighting what it described as “18 months of lost learning.”

Benjo Basas, national chairperson of the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition, an umbrella organization of public-school teachers’ associations, told Arab News that the Philippines’ decision was “untimely and dangerous” given the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country, and would only put further pressure on an overwhelmed healthcare system.

He said: “Our government has yet to fix its COVID-19 response, and the more than 20,000 new cases posted almost every day over the past week can attest to that. If in-person classes will push through, it’s like putting people at risk, especially the children.”

On Tuesday, Filipino health authorities reported 16,361 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 2,401,916. Of those, 2,193,700 (91.3 percent) people had recovered, while 37,074 (1.54 percent) had died.

Basas pointed out that any resumption of face-to-face classes should be carefully planned, and the Department of Education must guarantee the safety of all participants before questioning who would be held accountable if someone gets infected at school.

“While we agree that there is no better alternative to face-to-face learning, the current pandemic situation does not allow for this. Education can be delayed. What is more important at the moment, is the lives and health of everyone,” he added.

During a press conference, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the pilot scheme would cover 100 public schools and 20 private institutions, limiting class sizes to 12 learners in kindergarten, 16 in grades one to three, and 20 at senior high school level.

Meanwhile, the classes would be limited to three- to four-hour sessions based on “consent from parents and guardians. If there are changes in the risk assessment, then we will stop it,” she added.

As per guidelines released on Monday, public schools would need to pass a “readiness assessment” before reopening while private schools would be subject to a joint validation by the departments of education and health.

The guidance said: “We reiterate our demand for a science-based and evidence-based risk assessment for all participating schools. These shall help determine their present condition and urgent needs for the safe conduct of in-classroom learning, which the government shall immediately address.”

Some parents, however, have said they would refuse to allow their children to become part of an “experiment.”

Lee Reyes, 36, who has three children in grade school, told Arab News she would never risk the health and safety of her sons and daughter.

“For what reason? (To protect them from) COVID-19? If some adults, despite being vaccinated, still get infected, what about unvaccinated children? Also, kids are kids. Grown-ups tend to forget social distancing, and some even take off their masks. So, no. I would rather spend time helping my children learn their lessons from home,” she said.

Another mother, Lei, 50, also voiced concerns over the safety of her children, one at college and vaccinated, and the other in junior high school and unjabbed.

She said: “If my eldest child has to commute every day, there is a risk. Or even if I let her stay at the dorm. Although I know I need to teach her to be independent, now is not the best time during a pandemic and the flu season.”

In a Facebook post, parent Bella Mel, said: “Better safe than sorry. Because if our children get sick, it will only be them who will suffer. And there’s no Department of Education to help shoulder the hospital bills. So why push for it? Let’s just accept this is the new normal.”


Adopt Urdu, learn Arabic ‘just like our ancestors,’ Pakistan’s top court says

Adopt Urdu, learn Arabic ‘just like our ancestors,’ Pakistan’s top court says
Updated 21 September 2021

Adopt Urdu, learn Arabic ‘just like our ancestors,’ Pakistan’s top court says

Adopt Urdu, learn Arabic ‘just like our ancestors,’ Pakistan’s top court says
  • ‘We will lose our identity,’ Supreme Court warns over the government’s failure to make Urdu official language, despite a 2015 order

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has said that Pakistan risked losing its identity due to the federal government’s failure to adopt Urdu as the official language of the Muslim-majority South Asian nation.

On Monday, a three-member bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial presided over the hearing in a contempt of court case. In 2015, the top court ordered that the government adopt Urdu as its official language.

“Without a mother tongue and national language, we will lose our identity,” Justice Bandial was quoted by the Express Tribune newspaper as saying as he heard a case filed by lawyer Kokab Iqbal against Urdu not being used in Pakistan as the official language.

“In my opinion, we should also learn Persian and Arabic, just like our ancestors.”

“Article 251 of the Constitution mentions the mother language along with the regional languages,” the acting chief justice said as he also sought a reply from the Punjab government for failing to introduce Punjabi as an official language in the province.

The court sent notices to the federal and Punjab governments and adjourned the hearing for a month.

In June, Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered that all official events and proceedings be held in Urdu.

“Henceforth, all the programs events/ceremonies arranged for the prime minister shall be conducted in the national [Urdu] language,” a notification issued in English by the prime minister’s office said. “Further necessary action to implement the above directions of the prime minister shall be taken by all concerned accordingly.”

Passed in 1973, the Pakistani Constitution specifies that the government must make Urdu the national language within 15 years. The law is yet to be implemented, and English has remained the choice for official communication. While dozens of languages are spoken in Pakistan, Urdu is its lingua franca, even though it is the first language of less than 10 percent of Pakistanis.

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Taliban names Afghan UN envoy, asks to speak to world leaders

Taliban names Afghan UN envoy, asks to speak to world leaders
Updated 21 September 2021

Taliban names Afghan UN envoy, asks to speak to world leaders

Taliban names Afghan UN envoy, asks to speak to world leaders
  • Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi made the request in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday
  • The move sets up a showdown with Ghulam Isaczai, the UN ambassador in New York representing Afghanistan’s government ousted last month by the Taliban

UNITED NATIONS: The Taliban have asked to address world leaders at the United Nations in New York this week and nominated their Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as Afghanistan’s UN ambassador, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi made the request in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday. Muttaqi asked to speak during the annual high-level meeting of the General Assembly, which finishes on Monday.
Guterres’ spokesperson, Farhan Haq, confirmed Muttaqi’s letter. The move sets up a showdown with Ghulam Isaczai, the UN ambassador in New York representing Afghanistan’s government ousted last month by the Taliban.
Haq said the rival requests for Afghanistan’s UN seat had been sent to a nine-member credentials committee, whose members include the United States, China and Russia. The committee is unlikely to meet on the issue before Monday, so it is doubtful that the Taliban foreign minister will address the world body.
Eventual UN acceptance of the ambassador of the Taliban would be an important step in the hard-line Islamist group’s bid for international recognition, which could help unlock badly needed funds for the cash-strapped Afghan economy.
Guterres has said that the Taliban’s desire for international recognition is the only leverage other countries have to press for inclusive government and respect for rights, particularly for women, in Afghanistan.
The Taliban letter said Isaczai’s mission “is considered over and that he no longer represents Afghanistan,” said Haq.
Until a decision is made by the credentials committee Isaczai will remain in the seat, according to the General Assembly rules. He is currently scheduled to address the final day of the meeting on Sept. 27, but it was not immediately clear if any countries might object in the wake of the Taliban letter.
The committee traditionally meets in October or November to assess the credentials of all UN members before submitting a report for General Assembly approval before the end of the year. The committee and General Assembly usually operate by consensus on credentials, diplomats said.
Others members of the committee are the Bahamas, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Sweden.
When the Taliban last ruled between 1996 and 2001 the ambassador of the Afghan government they toppled remained the UN representative after the credentials committee deferred its decision on rival claims to the seat.
The decision was postponed “on the understanding that the current representatives of Afghanistan accredited to the United Nations would continue to participate in the work of the General Assembly,” according to the committee report.

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Rare campus massacre shakes Russian city

Rare campus massacre shakes Russian city
Updated 21 September 2021

Rare campus massacre shakes Russian city

Rare campus massacre shakes Russian city
  • The attack , one of the worst in recent Russian history, has left Urals city of around one million people reeling from shock
  • School shootings are relatively unusual in Russia due to tight security at education facilities

PERM, Russia: Yuri Aydarov was about to start an algorithms class at his university in the central Russian city of Perm when he heard people running in the corridor.
Then he saw a gunman.
Aydarov, a lecturer at Perm State University, was one of the witnesses of a shooting spree in which an 18-year-old student killed six people and wounded nearly 30 on campus on Monday morning.
The attack — one of the worst in recent Russian history — has left the Urals city of around one million people reeling from shock.
Aydarov was able to protect his students by telling them to stay away from windows and forcing the auditorium doors shut with the help of a colleague.
He saw the black-clad shooter — identified as Timur Bekmansurov — walk by his auditorium through a window, saying he was wearing a “sort of helmet.”
“We stayed quiet,” Aydarov told AFP.
All 17 students and staff members who locked themselves in Aydarov’s auditorium survived.
Most of Bekmansurov’s victims — mostly aged between 18 and 25 — died in the corridor just outside.
After a day marred by chaos, staff and students at the university struggled to make sense of the violence.
Aydarov said that teachers from “around the world” who have survived similar ordeals have been reaching out to him on social media and it really “helps” him.
School shootings are relatively unusual in Russia due to tight security at education facilities and because it is difficult to buy firearms.
But the country has seen an increase in school attacks in recent years.
With lectures at the university canceled on Tuesday, students slowly emerged late from their dorms, traumatized by the mass shooting.
Holding back tears, they laid red carnations at a makeshift memorial at the gates of the university that they walk through every day.
Some recalled finding out there was an attacker in the building from social media, and not believing it before hearing shots.
Others were anxiously awaiting news from wounded classmates, with several of the most seriously injured airlifted some 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) west for further treatment in Moscow.
The deans of all of the city’s universities also laid flowers at the gates of the campus in a show of solidarity.
“We feel support from the whole of Russia and that really helps,” said politics lecturer Ksenia Punina.
The attacker lay in a hospital across town, heavily injured during his detention. He was reportedly on a ventilator and had his leg amputated.
In May, another teenage gunman killed nine people in a school in Kazan, which lies between Perm and Moscow.
“When this happened in Kazan, I thought this could never happen here in Perm, it’s always calm here,” said medicine student Maria Denisova.
In recent years, similar attacks also took place in Moscow-annexed Crimea and the far eastern city of Blagoveshchensk.
On the day of the Kazan attack, President Vladimir Putin called for a review of gun control laws.
But some in Perm said more should be done to prevent gun violence.
“If it’s so easy for a boy to get hold of (a gun), I think it should be stricter,” said 20-year-old Denisova.
The head of the chemistry department, Irina Moshevskaya, said violence was a “systemic problem in our society,” blaming it on popular online culture.
Just opposite the heavily guarded campus is a shop selling hunting guns. It was closed on the day after the attack.
Moshevskaya said that staff were able to lock students inside science labs, avoiding more deaths.
One chemistry lecturer “used her laptop bag to make sure her auditorium’s doors were tightly shut,” she said.
Some students complained that one lecturer had continued his class despite being told an active gunman was in the building.
On the other side of the city, dozens queued at a blood donation center, responding to calls on social media to help the victims.
Most people in Perm praised the quick response of everyone on the campus.
“From first-aid nurses to senior university staff, everyone rose to the occasion,” said engineering lecturer and former policeman Aleksei Repyakh.