Rohingya refugees hope for better life as Bangladesh moves them to remote island

Rohingya refugees hope for better life as Bangladesh moves them to remote island
Rohingya refugees make their way to their new home on an island in the Bay of Bengal. (Supplied)
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Updated 31 December 2020

Rohingya refugees hope for better life as Bangladesh moves them to remote island

Rohingya refugees hope for better life as Bangladesh moves them to remote island
  • UN Refugee Agency not involved in relocation to island vulnerable to severe weather, flooding

DHAKA: A second group of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh were on Tuesday taken to an island in the Bay of Bengal to start new lives, despite UN concerns for their welfare.

The Bangladeshi navy provided transport for 1,804 Rohingya Muslim refugees — members of an ethnic and religious minority group who have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar — to the isolated Bhashan Char island from overcrowded makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar.

They followed a first group of 1,642 relocated to the island, 30 km from the mainland, in early December.

Under the $370 million relocation project, the Bangladeshi government has built housing units and infrastructure on Bhashan Char for 100,000 Rohingyas to take pressure off the main refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar that already hosts more than 1.1 million people.

However, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it had not been involved in the relocation operation and expressed concerns over the vulnerability of the island — which only emerged from the sea 20 years ago — to severe weather and flooding.

Mohammed Deen Islam, 35, one of those who arrived on the island on Tuesday, told Arab News: “We are being provided with living room in buildings made of concrete. Here we have far better accommodation facilities compared with the squalid camps at Cox’s Bazar. It’s a very beautiful place.

“Some of my relatives came here earlier at the first attempt of relocation. Seeing the facilities here, they invited me to come,” he said, adding that he had voluntarily applied for relocation with his wife and four children.

Another Rohingya refugee, Nurul Islam, 39, said his relatives who had moved to the island in the first group told him it offered better opportunities to earn a living.

“From my relatives who came here in the first batch, I heard that there were huge livelihood opportunities here on this island. I want to start a new life here and will start fishing as I have previous experience for this job,” he added.

Monowara Begum, 27, told Arab News: “We want peace and happiness. I heard that Bhashan Char was a safer place to live and that is why I volunteered to come here.

“In recent months, there were several incidents of clashes among different Rohingya groups at Cox’s Bazar and sometimes it became unsafe,” she said.

The Bangladeshi government said it was well-prepared to improve the well-being of refugees through relocation and the creation of job opportunities in areas such as cattle rearing, poultry farming, agriculture, and fishing. 

“We will start these livelihood activities once the relocation process is completed and the Rohingyas are settled in their new place,” said Mohammed Shamsuddoza Noyon, additional refugee relief and repatriation commissioner of the Bangladeshi government.

“We have already handed over the keys to the new houses to the refugees who landed on Tuesday. Initially, they will be provided with cooked food but shortly they will receive gas stoves and food aid to cook their own meals,” he told Arab News.

He added that the initiative had been supported by local NGOs and that 20 health workers were on the island to provide medical help. 

“So far around 30 local aid agencies have enrolled to work for the wellbeing of the Rohingyas and the number is increasing gradually,” Noyon said.

But the relocation program has faced opposition from aid groups, especially the UNHCR, which said it had not been involved in the process and was concerned as to whether those going to the island had made the move through their own free will.

“The UN has not been involved in preparations for the movement or the identification of refugees for relocation. The UN has emphasized that Rohingya refugees must be able to make a free and informed decision about relocating to Bhashan Char based upon relevant, accurate, and updated information,” said UNHCR spokesman, Mostofa Mohammed Sazzad Hossain.

He added that the refugee agency had asked Bangladeshi authorities for an assessment of the island’s condition.

In 1991, nearly 143,000 people in coastal areas of Bangladesh were killed by a cyclone that produced a tidal wave more than four meters high.

The government, however, claims the island is safe as it had built a two-meter-high embankment to protect the housing area.

“The UN’s request to undertake assessments has been under consideration by the government for some time,” Hossain said, adding that the agency required the assessment to decide whether it could be engaged in operations on the island.

“The UN would need to carry out this work before being able to decide on its operational engagement on the island. We would look forward to having substantive discussions on this important matter soon,” he said.


German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death
Updated 18 sec ago

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death
  • The convicted man, an Iraqi citizen, was ordered to pay the girl's family $57,000
  • It was the first genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by Daesh of the Yazidis

BERLIN: A former member of the Daesh group was convicted by a German court on Tuesday of genocide and committing a war crime over the death of a 5-year-old Yazidi girl he had purchased as a slave and then chained up in the hot sun to die.
The Frankfurt regional court sentenced Taha Al-J., an Iraqi citizen whose full last name wasn’t released because of privacy rules, to life imprisonment and ordered him to pay the girl’s mother 50,000 euros ($57,000).
German news agency dpa quoted the presiding judge, Christoph Koller, saying it was the first genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by Daesh of the Yazidi religious minority.
The defendant’s lawyers had denied the allegations made against their client.
His German wife was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison over the girl’s death.
The girl’s mother, who survived captivity, testified at both trials and took part as a co-plaintiff.
“This is the moment Yazidis have been waiting for,” said lawyer Amal Clooney, who acted as a counsel for the mother. “To finally hear a judge, after seven years, declare that what they suffered was genocide. To watch a man face justice for killing a Yazidi girl — because she was Yazidi.”
Zemfira Dlovani, a lawyer and member of Germany’s Central Council of Yazidis, also welcomed the verdict.
“We can only hope that it will serve as a milestone for further cases to follow,” she told The Associated Press, noting that thousands of Yazidi women were enslaved and mistreated by the Daesh group. “This should be the beginning, not the end.”
The United Nations has called the Daesh assault on the Yazidis’ ancestral homeland in northern Iraq in 2014 a genocide, saying the Yazidis’ 400,000-strong community “had all been displaced, captured or killed.” Of the thousands captured by IS, boys were forced to fight for the extremists, men were executed if they didn’t convert to Islam — and often executed in any case — and women and girls were sold into slavery.
According to German prosecutors, Al-J. bought a Yazidi woman and her 5-year-old daughter Reda as slaves at an Daesh base in Syria in 2015. The two had been taken as prisoners by the militants from the northern Iraqi town of Kocho at the beginning of August 2014 and had been “sold and resold several times as slaves” by the group already.
The defendant took the woman and her daughter to his household in the Iraqi city of Fallujah and forced them to “keep house and to live according to strict Islamic rules,” while giving them insufficient food and beating them regularly to punish them, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege that toward the end of 2015, Al-J. chained the girl to the bars of a window in the open sun on a day where it reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) and she died from the punishment. The punishment was allegedly carried out because the 5-year-old had wet the bed.
Al-J. was arrested in Greece and extradited to Germany two years ago.
German authorities took on the case under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the country to try particularly serious crimes even if they were committed elsewhere and there is no direct link to Germany.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad, who is herself a survivor of atrocities committed by Daesh, said the verdict was “a win for survivors of genocide, survivors of sexual violence, and the entire Yazidi community.”
“Germany is not only is raising awareness about the need for justice, but is acting on it,” she said in a statement. “Their use of universal jurisdiction in this case can and should be replicated by governments around the world.”


4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired
Updated 30 November 2021

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired
  • Law enforcement responded about 9 p.m. Monday and medics confirmed that the four were dead inside the home in Allen County
  • The investigation was in the preliminary stages

FORT WAYNE, Indiana: The bodies of four people were found at a home in northeastern Indiana following a report of shots being fired, authorities said.
Law enforcement responded about 9 p.m. Monday and medics confirmed that the four were dead inside the home in Allen County, near Fort Wayne, sheriff’s Cpl. Adam Griffith said at the scene.
One person described as a witness was uninjured, Griffith said, and investigators interviewed that person.
The investigation was in the preliminary stages Monday night, Griffith said, but authorities didn’t believe there was any current danger to the public. Circumstances of the deaths weren’t immediately given.
Additional information was expected to be released Tuesday.


Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT
Updated 30 November 2021

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT
  • Dozens of civilians were killed in successive airstrikes
  • A US legal officer ‘flagged the strike as a possible war crime’ but the leadership are alleged to have taken no action

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon launched a fresh probe Monday into a 2019 airstrike that killed civilians in Syria, two weeks after a New York Times investigation claimed the US military concealed dozens of non-combatants’ deaths.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin instructed Army General Michael Garrett to “review the reports of the investigation already conducted into that incident” and “conduct further inquiry into the facts and circumstances related to it,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Garrett’s three-month review will assess “civilian casualties that resulted from the incident, compliance with the law of war, record keeping and reporting procedures,” Kirby added.
It will also probe whether measures taken after the earlier investigation were effectively implemented, if “accountability measures” should be taken and if “procedures or processes should be altered.”
According to a Times investigation published mid-November, a US special force operating in Syria — sometimes in complete secrecy — bombed a group of civilians three times on March 18, 2019, near the Islamic State (IS) bastion of Baghouz, killing 70 people, mainly women and children.
The Times report says a US legal officer “flagged the strike as a possible war crime” but that “at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike.”
The Times found the strike “was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against the Islamic State,” but was never publicly acknowledged by the US military.
“The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified,” the report said, adding findings of a Pentagon probe were “stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike.”
A statement released by the Pentagon after the report said the initial investigation into the incident by the US Army Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, found the strikes were “self-defense,” “proportional” and that “appropriate steps were taken to exclude the presence of civilians.”
A US-led coalition and Kurdish-led allies announced the defeat of the IS proto-state, known as the “caliphate,” at the end of March 2019 after overcoming the last jihadist holdout of Baghouz.


India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening

India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening
Updated 30 November 2021

India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening

India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening
  • State governments warned last week that a recent fall in testing could undermine India’s efforts to contain the pandemic

BENGALURU: India’s health ministry said on Tuesday states should ramp up COVID-19 testing as the world battles the new coronavirus variant omicron, while some cities delayed the reopening of schools as a precautionary measure.
The ministry also said the omicron variant “doesn’t escape RT-PCR and RAT (testing),” appeasing some concerns among domestic health workers that changes in the spike protein of the virus could lead to conventional tests failing to detect the variant.
It comes as the ministry warned state governments last week that a recent fall in testing could undermine India’s efforts to contain the pandemic.
While India has not reported any omicron cases yet, authorities are studying the sample of a man who tested positive for COVID-19 after recently returning from South Africa to see if he is infected with the omicron or another variant.
Also on Tuesday, Mumbai’s municipal corporation said it was delaying reopening schools for younger children to Dec. 15 instead of Wednesday as a precautionary measure given the global situation involving omicron. In-person classes for senior students began about two months ago.
The city of Pune, which is also located in the western state of Maharashtra, has also postponed the reopening of schools, local media reported.
After battling a record jump in infections and deaths in April and May, cases have come down substantially in India.
Its COVID-19 cases rose by 6,990 on Tuesday — the smallest increase in 551 days — to 34.59 million. Only the United States has reported more total infections.
Deaths rose by 190, taking the total to 468,980, health ministry data showed.


Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says
Updated 30 November 2021

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says
  • About 63 percent of the population of about 11 million is fully vaccinated
  • Greece has recorded a spike in infections this month, with daily cases hitting record highs

ATHENS: Greece said on Tuesday it would make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for people aged 60 and over in a move to quell a resurgent virus that is burdening a frail health care system.
Authorities said those who failed to comply from Jan. 16 would face a recurring monthly fine of 100 euros.
Tuesday’s announcement marks an EU-wide first in targeting a specific age group. Other countries make vaccines mandatory for health workers and other high-risk groups of workers.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he struggled with the decision but it was necessary to protect more than half a million elderly Greeks who had failed to get the jab.
“Its the price to pay for health,” he said.
About 63 percent of Greece’s 11 million population is fully vaccinated. While vaccine appointments have picked up in recent weeks, health ministry data shows there are 520,000 people over the age of 60 who have failed to get a jab.
“We are focusing our efforts on protection of our fellow citizens and for this reason their vaccination will be mandatory from now on,” Mitsotakis told a cabinet meeting.
Syriza, Greece’s main opposition party, faulted the measures as being punitive and financially excessive.
“This hasn’t happened anywhere,” it said.
Mitsotakis did not say how authorities would enforce the rule. A 100 euro fine is a hefty chunk of the average monthly 730 euro pension.
“(The decision) tortured me, but I feel a heavy responsibility in standing next to those most vulnerable, even if it might fleetingly displease them,” he said.
Greece this month barred unvaccinated people from indoor spaces including restaurants, cinemas, museums and gyms as daily COVID-19 cases hit record highs.
It has recorded 931,183 infections and 18,067 deaths since the start of the pandemic last year.