Bangladesh sends more Rohingya refugees to remote island despite UN concerns

Bangladesh sends more Rohingya refugees to remote island despite UN concerns
Rohingya refugees are seen on a Bangladesh's Navy ship as they are being relocated to Bhashan Char Island in the Bay of Bengal, in Chittagong on January 29, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 29 January 2021

Bangladesh sends more Rohingya refugees to remote island despite UN concerns

Bangladesh sends more Rohingya refugees to remote island despite UN concerns
  • Move to ease pressure off Cox’s Bazar

DHAKA: Almost 1,800 Rohingya refugees were relocated to a remote island in Bangladesh on Friday, despite UN concerns about how safe and voluntary the move is.

The Bangladeshi navy relocated the group from camps in Cox’s Bazar to Bhasan Char, which is in the Bay of Bengal and 30 kilometers from the mainland.

Bangladesh says it has built housing units and infrastructure on Bhasan Char for 100,000 refugees to take the pressure off Cox’s Bazar, which already hosts more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees. The Rohingya are members of an ethnic and religious minority group who fled violence and persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine State during a military crackdown in 2017.

Two similar relocation efforts took more than 3,440 Rohingya Muslims to the island in December. But the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is concerned about the island’s vulnerability to severe weather and flooding.

“A total of 1,776 Rohingyas have been relocated to Bhasan Char,” Rear Admiral Mozammel Haque, Chattogram area commander of the navy, told Arab News. “They were brought to Chattogram from the Cox’s Bazar camp on Thursday and stayed here in the transit camp for one night. At around 9:45 a.m., four ships carrying the Rohingyas started sailing toward the island,” he said, adding that another group of 1,500 refugees would be transported to Bhasan Char on Saturday.

The UNHCR has been voicing its concerns about whether the relocation is not only safe, but voluntary.

“We are aware of reports that the government of Bangladesh may soon relocate another group of refugees to Bhasan Char,” Mostafa Mohammad Sazzad Hossain, UNHCR spokesman in Dhaka, told Arab News. “The UN has not been part of this process.”

He said the UN had asked to conduct an assessment on the safety and sustainability of life on Bhasan Char, but that the agency had still not received government permission to carry out the evaluation.

“We emphasize that all movements to Bhasan Char must be voluntary and based upon full information regarding the conditions of life on the island and the rights and services that refugees will be able to access there,” Hossain added.

Authorities said the Rohingya were happy to start their new lives on the island.

According to Haque, those who left for Bhasan Char on Friday seemed “very excited for having the new home.”

“It was like a picnic to them,” he added. “The newly arrived Rohingyas have already received the keys for their homes in the island. We will provide them with cooked food for the next three days and after that all the families will begin cooking at their home since every family is provided with a cylinder gas stove.”

The Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC), the government body overseeing the wellbeing of Rohingyas at Cox’s Bazar, said refugees had shared their good experiences from the island with others.

“Rohingyas who are already in Bhasan Char have shared their good experiences over living conditions in the island with their relatives at Cox’s Bazar refugee camp,” RRRC additional commissioner Mohammad Shamsuddouza told Arab News. “It inspired the new batches to come up for the relocation and we organized the relocation accordingly,” he said, adding that everything was on a voluntary basis. “With their personal belongings many of them carried chicken and goats to travel with the ship since there are huge scopes of livelihood in the island.”

Some 30 local aid agencies are supporting the refugees on the island.

Dr. Mohammad Arfin Rahman, a medical officer at the NGO Gonoshasthaya Kendra, told Arab News that advanced medical facilities should reach Bhasan Char soon, while a 20-bed government-run health complex was currently available to them on the island.


Save the Children decries rising death toll from Israeli strikes

Palestinan children eat as families took shelter at a United Nations (UN) school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 17, 2021. (AFP)
Palestinan children eat as families took shelter at a United Nations (UN) school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 17, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 42 min 55 sec ago

Save the Children decries rising death toll from Israeli strikes

Palestinan children eat as families took shelter at a United Nations (UN) school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 17, 2021. (AFP)
  • Charity: On average, 3 Palestinian children have been wounded every hour since fighting broke out
  • ‘Dropping bombs where you know you’ll cause high levels of civilian casualties is a war crime,’ Palestine Solidarity Campaign tells Arab News

LONDON: The number of children killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza has reached 58, Save the Children said on Sunday night, adding that on average three have been wounded every hour since fighting broke out.

The charity called for an immediate ceasefire, and warned that for survivors, the “physical and mental wounds will last a lifetime.”

More than 1,000 people, including 366 children, have been injured. This amounts to roughly three children hurt every hour in Gaza since airstrikes began, Save the Children said. Two children in Israel have also died.

“My family and I have had to evict our home in the last few days because of the endless bombardments,” Mazen Naim, a Gaza-based communications officer at Save the Children, told Arab News.

“Everyone around me is breaking down. The children have been crying for days on end and are in a state of constant terror,” he added.

“There’s nowhere safe, and thousands of families have been displaced. How can we even begin to recover from this kind of loss?”

Ben Jamal, director of the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign, told Arab News: “There’s no excuse for dropping bombs on areas where you know you’ll cause high levels of civilian casualties. This is a war crime.”

He said: “Israel also knows the fact that 50 percent of Gaza’s population are children means bombing will cause high levels of child deaths. That knowing this, it continues its bombing is abhorrent.”

He added: “It violates international law and is unethical and inhumane in every way, shape and form. We call on all governments to stop arming Israel’s massacres by immediately ceasing all arms sales.”

Save the Children warned that Gaza’s roughly 2 million residents are experiencing a “triple shock” of catastrophe: “Bombardments are continuing, and health facilities and civilian infrastructure could soon be left without the power needed to deliver crucial supplies and emergency treatment. In addition, critically ill and injured children are unable to leave Gaza for treatment.”

The latest damage to infrastructure, Save the Children said, has left 480,000 people — roughly a quarter of Gaza’s inhabitants — with limited or no access to clean and safe drinking water.

To alleviate the humanitarian crisis, it called for an end to Israel’s 14-year blockade that prevents goods and people from moving freely in and out of the small, densely populated territory.

“The government of Israel and all parties must allow aid workers to reach children with life-saving support, as well as the unimpeded entry of essential supplies and fuel,” Save the Children said.

“It is critical to seek a just solution that addresses the underlying causes of this violence, that upholds equal rights for both Palestinian and Israeli children, and that will end the decades-long occupation as the only sustainable resolution to the conflict. This will ensure that all children in the region can live in peace.”


More members of US Congress speak out against the war on Gaza

More members of US Congress speak out against the war on Gaza
The dome of the US Capitol is seen in Washington, DC. (AFP file photo)
Updated 17 May 2021

More members of US Congress speak out against the war on Gaza

More members of US Congress speak out against the war on Gaza
  • While careful not to assign blame for the conflict, 28 senators issued a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire
  • Ex-congressman said he is ‘proud’ of those who spoke up but most others are under the influence of pro-Israel lobby groups and afraid to do so

WASHINGTON: Twenty-eight US senators, led by newly elected Democrat Jon Ossoff of Georgia, issued a joint statement on Sunday night calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Israeli war against Gaza.

Treading the political boundaries very carefully, in their short statement they did not assign blame for the ongoing conflict. It was signed by an all-Democratic group of mostly liberal or progressive senators, including Dick Durbin of Illinois, who is the number two Democratic leader in the Senate, and former presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are known for their outspoken support for Palestinian rights.

“To prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories, we urge an immediate ceasefire,” the senators said.

In less than a week of war more than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes — mostly civilians, including 47 children — and more than 500 people have been wounded, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer did not sign the statement. Instead he echoed the stance of President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi in reiterating unequivocal support for Israel by stating that it “has the right to defend itself.”

The statement by the 28 senators came days after 25 Democratic members of House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, before the war started, denouncing the demolition by Israel of homes in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, especially the Sheikh Jarrah area, and ongoing plans to evict Palestinians to make room for Jewish settlers.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who signed Ossoff’s letter, previously issued his own statement, at the start of the war, in which he said that while he endorses Israel’s “right to self defense,” he supports the rights of Palestinians to live in peace and security alongside Israelis.

“Both Israelis and Palestinians have a right to live in security, a right to self-determination and a right to have their human rights protected,” he said.

The response in the House was led by progressive congresswoman Marie Newman of Illinois, who was joined by representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Cori Bush of Missouri, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana, as well as traditional pro-Palestinian Democrats such as Bobby Rush of Illinois and Betty McCollum of Minnesota, a senior member of the party who chairs the Defense Appropriations Committee.

Tlaib made a passionate plea from the floor of the House, during which she described her experience as a Palestinian who still has family in the occupied territories.

“I am the only Palestinian American member of Congress now, and my mere existence has disrupted the status quo,” she said. “(It is) so personal for me.

“I am a reminder to colleagues that Palestinians do indeed exist, that we are human, that we are allowed to dream. We are mothers, daughters, granddaughters. We are justice seekers and are unapologetically about our fight against oppressions of all forms.”

However, these “well meaning” individuals still represent a tiny minority of elected officials, according to former Democratic congressman Jim Moran.

He told Arab News that he is “proud of these members of Congress for speaking out” but added that “the vast majority of members … are under the influence of pro-Israeli lobby groups and are afraid to speak out.”

Moran said many member of Congress are “scared” to voice an opinion about the injustices the Palestinian people are subjected to by US ally Israel. He said the right wing of the Republican Party often targets progressive party members, and those who support Palestinians, financially and through disinformation campaigns.

Khaled Saffuri, a Washington-based political analyst and expert on US politics, said the latest efforts by some senators and representatives might not signal a major shift in the culture of Congress, which has historically supported Israel “no matter what its actions may be.”

But he told the Arab News that “despite being outnumbered and outgunned, these members of Congress deserve our respect and our support.”

 


UK launches first study into COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women

UK launches first study into COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women
Updated 17 May 2021

UK launches first study into COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women

UK launches first study into COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women
  • Scientists hope the assessment will provide more information on the immune response in pregnant women

LONDON: The first COVID-19 vaccine study for pregnant women has been launched in Britain.

It will assess the safety of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab in healthy pregnant women. Some 235 participants will be recruited for the study, which will take place at 11 sites across Britain.

Scientists hope the assessment will provide more information on the immune response in pregnant women, and to confirm if maternal antibodies are transferred to infants.

The participants will initially receive two doses of the vaccine or a placebo with a gap of 21 days between each jab. The placebo will be a saltwater solution, as is standard practice for vaccine trials.

The participants will answer questionnaires about their health and provide blood samples, complete an e-diary and receive extra monitoring throughout the assessment.

Volunteers will need to attend their site four times before their baby is born, and twice after the birth.

Dr. Chrissie Jones, the study’s chief investigator, said: “While we have a large amount of real-world data which tells us that it’s safe for pregnant women to receive approved COVID-19 vaccines, the data gathered from a controlled research study like this is important because it will give us more information about the vaccine immune response in pregnant women.”


UK MP accused of racism over tweet about pro-Palestinian protesters 

UK MP accused of racism over tweet about pro-Palestinian protesters 
Updated 17 May 2021

UK MP accused of racism over tweet about pro-Palestinian protesters 

UK MP accused of racism over tweet about pro-Palestinian protesters 
  • Michael Fabricant described London demonstrators as ‘primitives’ 
  • Anti-racism charity urges Conservative Party to suspend him

LONDON: Tory MP Michael Fabricant has been accused of racism for describing pro-Palestinian protesters in central London as “primitives.”

In a now-deleted tweet, he said: “These primitives are trying to bring to London what they do in the Middle East.”

Hope not Hate CEO Nick Lowles called on the Conservative Party’s Chief Whip Mark Spencer to suspend Fabricant following the tweet.

“Calling British Muslims ‘primitives’ is clearly racist. Implying ‘they’ are from the Middle East simply compounds the offence,” Lowles said.

“The tense situation requires steady leadership from people who want to bring communities together, not hateful racism that stirs up division, as Mr. Fabricant’s comment did.”

Lowles asked Spencer: “Can you reassure me, and all people who want to stamp out racism within mainstream political parties, that you will act by suspending Michael Fabricant from the whip and that you will fully investigate this latest appalling outburst?”

Sunder Katwala, director of the British Future think tank, tweeted: “Anybody who realises that it is racist to hold British Jews responsible for Israeli policy should also be able recognise the racism here in Michael Fabricant’s tweet.”

Fabricant has been tweeting regularly throughout the recent resurgence in violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

On Saturday, in reaction to a video of protesters being interviewed in London, and in reference to Britain’s secondary school qualifications, he tweeted: “Wonder if they have a GCSE between them.” 

Last year, the Conservative Party said it would not take further action against Fabricant for suggesting in a now-deleted tweet that criticism of the party for allegations of Islamophobia would harm “Anglo-Muslim relations.”


Joy for UK pubs and hugs tempered by rise in virus variant

Joy for UK pubs and hugs tempered by rise in virus variant
Updated 17 May 2021

Joy for UK pubs and hugs tempered by rise in virus variant

Joy for UK pubs and hugs tempered by rise in virus variant
  • Prime minister sounded a cautious tone, warning about a more contagious COVID-19 variant that threatens reopening plans
  • Public health officials and government are urging people to continue to observe social distancing

LONDON: Drinks were raised in toasts and reunited friends hugged each other as thousands of UK pubs and restaurants opened Monday for indoor service for the first time since early January.
Yet the prime minister sounded a cautious tone, warning about a more contagious COVID-19 variant that threatens reopening plans.
The latest step in the UK’s gradual easing of nationwide restrictions also includes reopening theaters, sports venues and museums, raising hopes that Britain’s economy may soon start to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic.
Andy Frantzeskos, a chef at the Nopi restaurant in London’s Soho district, said he felt “a bit of anxiousness ... but more excitement than anything.”
“It’s been a long time coming since lockdown, so we’re all happy to be back and want to cook some good food,” he said.
The government is also relaxing guidance on close personal contact, such as hugging, and permitting international travel, although only 12 countries and territories are on the list of “safe” destinations that don’t require 10 days of quarantine upon return. Thousands of Britons got up early to check in for the first flights to Portugal, which is on the safe list.
But the rapid spread of a variant first discovered in India is tempering the optimism amid memories of how another variant swept across the country in December, triggering England’s third national lockdown.
Public health officials and the government are urging people to continue to observe social distancing, even though the situation is different now because almost 70 percent of the adult population has received at least one dose of vaccine.
“Please, be cautious about the risks to your loved ones,’’ Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a video posted on Twitter. “Remember that close contact such as hugging is a direct way of transmitting this disease, so you should think about the risks.”
Monday’s reopening allows people in England to go out for a drink or a meal without shivering in rainy outdoor beer gardens. Rules were also being eased in Scotland and Wales, with Northern Ireland due to follow next week.
The next phase in Britain’s reopening is scheduled for June 21, when remaining restrictions are set to be removed. Johnson has warned that a big surge in COVID-19 cases could scuttle those plans.
Confirmed new virus cases have risen over the past week, though they remain well below the peak reported in late December and early January. New infections averaged about 2,300 per day over the past seven days compared with nearly 70,000 a day during the winter peak. Deaths averaged just over 10 a day during the same period, down from a peak of 1,820 on Jan. 20.
Britain has recorded almost 128,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest figure in Europe.
Government scientific advisers say the new variant, formally known as B.1.617.2, is more transmissible than the UK’s main strain, though it is unclear by how much. Health officials, backed by the army, are carrying out surge testing and surge vaccinations in Bolton and Blackburn in northwest England, where cases of the variant are clustered.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade group UKHospitality, said almost 1 million people were returning to work on Monday, but that businesses were counting on the final step out of lockdown taking place as planned on June 21.
“We’ve already lost 12,000 businesses,” she said. “There’s been an almost 1-in-5 contraction in restaurants in city centers, 1-in-10 restaurants lost over the whole of the country. So these are businesses clinging on by their fingertips, and they have no fuel left in the tank. If those social distancing restrictions remain, they are simply not viable.”
Ian Snowball, owner of the Showtime Bar in Huddersfield, northern England, said it was nice to be inside again, rather than facing the island nation’s unpredictable weather.
“I don’t have to have a hoodie or a coat on any more — it’s great,’’ he said. “And hopefully we don’t have to go back outside again, hopefully this is the end of it now.”
Other Britons couldn’t wait to leave altogether.
Keith and Janice Tomsett, a retired couple in their 70s, were on their way to the Portuguese island of Madeira. They booked their holiday in October “on the off-chance” it could go ahead. They had followed all the testing guidelines and were fully vaccinated.
“After 15 months of being locked up, this is unbelievably good,” Keith Tomsett said. “It was even worth getting up at 3 o’clock this morning.”