Protests in Denmark as Syrian refugees have asylum denied

A boy waves Danish flags as he joins fellow migrants, mainly from Syria, on Padborg station. Denmark has taken in around 32,000 Syrians since the start of their country’s conflict. (Reuters/File Photo)
A boy waves Danish flags as he joins fellow migrants, mainly from Syria, on Padborg station. Denmark has taken in around 32,000 Syrians since the start of their country’s conflict. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 20 May 2021

Protests in Denmark as Syrian refugees have asylum denied

A boy waves Danish flags as he joins fellow migrants, mainly from Syria, on Padborg station. Denmark has taken in around 32,000 Syrians since the start of their country’s conflict. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Amnesty: ‘Risk that Syrian families will be divided even though they have lived in Denmark for years’
  • Govt wants to reduce asylum seeker numbers to zero, cap ‘non-Western’ people living in certain areas

LONDON: A decision by the Danish government to potentially deny thousands of Syrian refugees the right to remain has been met with protests across the country.

Denmark has taken in around 32,000 Syrians since the start of their country’s conflict over a decade ago. Of those, about 5,000 were only granted temporary protected status.

In 2019, Copenhagen claimed that Damascus and several other Syrian regions were safe for refugees to return to.

The Danish government has expanded the number of areas in recent months, and recently began proceedings to return 380 people whose permanent asylum applications have been denied, with 900 having their status placed under review.

Protests broke out in 25 major towns and cities on Wednesday evening, with the largest outside Copenhagen’s town hall. 

The Danish government has also started offering other Syrian refugees £25,000 ($35,000) if they choose to leave of their own accord.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen earlier this year said she wanted to reduce asylum seeker numbers to zero.

The center-left coalition government has also announced plans to cap the number of “non-Western” people living in certain parts of the country.

But Denmark is unable to enact forced deportations of Syrians because despite claiming areas controlled by the Assad regime to be safe, Copenhagen refuses to cooperate with it on due to its poor human rights record.

This has led to Denmark setting out plans to build a special detention center on the island of Langeland specifically to house people whose asylum has been refused but who cannot be returned home.

Various groups have said the government’s latest moves leave many Syrians, denied the right to remain in Denmark, with no real choices.

Refugees who have returned to Syria have faced arrest and torture by the regime, with some disappearing altogether into its notorious prison system.

Young men, meanwhile, also face conscription if they return. Remaining in Denmark, though, could mean an indefinite stay in a detention center.

Lisa Blinkenberg, a senior policy adviser for Amnesty International in Denmark, said Syrians who lost appeals to stay in the country are being left in limbo.

“There’s a risk that Syrian families will be divided in the future, even though they have lived in Denmark for years,” she told The Times.


Canary islanders flee as volcano vents its fury

Canary islanders flee as volcano vents its fury
Updated 21 sec ago

Canary islanders flee as volcano vents its fury

Canary islanders flee as volcano vents its fury
LOS LLANOS DE ARIDANE, Spain: Throwing a handful of belongings into her car alongside goats, chickens and a turtle, Yahaira Garcia fled her home just before the volcano erupted, belching molten lava down the mountainside.
She and her husband, who live near the Bodegon Tamanca winery at the foot of La Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma, decided to leave on Sunday afternoon just before the eruption kicked off.
“We decided to leave even before they gave the evacuation order after a really terrible night of earthquakes... my house shook so much it felt like it was going to collapse,” the 34-year-old told AFP by phone.
“We were on our way when we realized the volcano had erupted.” He left in his car and she took hers to go and pick up her parents and their animals: four goats, two pigs, 20 chickens, 10 rabbits, four dogs and a turtle.
“I am nervous, worried, but we are safe,” Garcia said.
In residential areas flanking the volcano, hundreds of police and Guardia civil officers were charged with evacuations, with the work continuing well into the night, police footage showed.
“This is the police. This is not a drill, please vacate your homes,” they shouted through loud speakers, their vehicles flashing blue lights on the drive through dark streets.
Elsewhere, the footage showed officers evacuating goats in pick-up trucks in an area which is above all agricultural.
They also filmed the slow collapse of a building whose walls caved in under a wall of red hot lava.
Although some 5,500 people have been evacuated and “around 100 homes destroyed,” there have so far been no reports of injuries.
As the lava beat an unstoppable path down the mountainside, Angie Chaux, who wasn’t home when the alarm was raised, rushed back to try and salvage some possessions.
“When we got there, the road was closed and the police gave us three minutes to get our things,” said the 27-year-old.
It was 4:30 am and there were people and cars everywhere.
“Right now, we’re watching the news and the lava is 700 meters from our home. I’m really worried because I don’t know what’s going to happen to it.”
Miriam Moreno, another local resident, said they had been ready to leave when the order came with emergency backpacks stocked with food and water.
“You can hear a rumble as if planes were flying overhead and see smoke out of the window although at night you could actually see the lava about two kilometers away,” she said, admitting they were worried about “toxic gases.”
For the evacuees, it is an anguished wait to see what happens with no-one sure when they will be able to go home — or what they will find when they get there.
“The worst of it is the anxiety about losing your home. My house on the beach is fine for the moment but I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back,” said 70-year-old Montserrat Lorenzo from the coastal village of El Remo.
And experts do not know how long the volcano will remain active nor when the flow of lava, which officials said was “about six meters (20 feet) high,” will stop.
“Now they are saying the volcano could continue erupting for three months... we don’t know when the volcano will settle down,” said Garcia.
Volcanology expert Stavros Meletlidis from Spain’s National Geographic Institute said it was too early to say.
“There are volcanoes in the Canary Islands that have erupted for days and others that have continued for several years,” he told Spain’s public television.

Azerbaijan seizes large heroin shipment bound for Europe

Azerbaijan seizes large heroin shipment bound for Europe
Updated 20 September 2021

Azerbaijan seizes large heroin shipment bound for Europe

Azerbaijan seizes large heroin shipment bound for Europe
  • Customs officers in the town of Bilasuvar inspected a car travelling from Iran to EU member Latvia
  • Criminal groups have previously used "Azerbaijan's occupied territories" as a drugs' transit route

BAKU: Azerbaijan has impounded more than half a ton of heroin, one of the biggest ever seizures in the country situated on a major smuggling route to Europe, officials said Monday.
The state customs committee said in a statement that its officers in the town of Bilasuvar — the Caucasus nation’s south-east — inspected a car traveling from Iran to EU member Latvia.
The statement added that 527.6 kilogrammes, about 1,160 pounds, of “heroin were found during the inspection.”
The committee said that criminal groups have previously used “Azerbaijan’s occupied territories” as a drugs’ transit route.
It referred to territories in the Nagorno-Karabakh region that were under the de-facto control of neighboring Armenia until last November, when Yerevan ceded the disputed lands to Baku following a deadly six-week war.
According to the committee, since the “restoration of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity” criminal groups have started using Azerbaijan’s customs and border points to smuggle drugs.
Azerbaijan has in the past reported numerous incidents involving drug traffickers attempting to cross over from Iran, with hundreds of kilogrammes of heroin seized annually.
The oil-rich ex-Soviet Caspian nation lies on a major drug smuggling route from Afghanistan and Iran to Europe and Russia, according to the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report released by the US Department of State.


Korean superstars BTS address UN General Assembly

Korean superstars BTS address UN General Assembly
Updated 20 September 2021

Korean superstars BTS address UN General Assembly

Korean superstars BTS address UN General Assembly
  • Pop group delivered speech that emphasized the youth’s hope and optimism in addressing global challenges
  • They also performed their hit song “Permission to Dance” in the General Assembly hall

NEW YORK: K-pop supergroup BTS addressed the UN General Assembly on Monday and performed a song ahead of a day of high-level dialogue about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

BTS are designated by the UN as special presidential envoys for future cultures and generations, and have taken a leading role in advocating for youth worldwide — particularly on environmental issues.

In a powerful speech delivered on Monday in the UN’s Headquarters, the Korean group said that the COVID-19 pandemic had been “a time to discover how precious each and every moment we had taken for granted was.”

And among the most special of those moments, they said, were those spent in nature — “I shudder to think about mourning the earth,” they added.

“Climate change is an important problem. But talking about what the best solution might be — that’s not easy. It’s a topic that is tough to draw conclusions about. But there are many young people who have an interest in environmental issues, and choose it as their field of study,” said the group’s members.

“I hope we don’t just consider the future as grim darkness. We still have many pages in our story, and we shouldn’t talk as if the ending is already written.”

After their speech, BTS performed their hit song “Permission to Dance” inside the General Assembly hall and the grounds of the UN headquarters.

BTS have been vocal in their advocacy on behalf of the youth, with a particular emphasis on climate change and environmental issues — and the group’s millions of dedicated fans have followed their lead, raising cash for forests and environmental disaster victims alike. 

The group delivered their speech ahead of a day of focus on the SDGs in the UN and a behind-closed-doors meeting between leaders, convened by British PM Boris Johnson, which will gather leaders to discuss how to best build consensus on environmental issues. 

The SDGs are a set of 17 goals aimed at delivering the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which “provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.”

Poverty alleviation, climate action, preservation of nature and gender equality are among the 17 goals, which will be discussed throughout Monday and the rest of the week by world leaders and their UN delegates.  

Speaking ahead of BTS’ appearance, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the COVID-19 pandemic was putting the SDGs “further out of reach” and that “only by recovering together can we get the Sustainable Development Goals back on track.” 

But first, he said, “we need to end this pandemic.”


Trudeau future on the line as Canadians vote in pandemic election

Trudeau future on the line as Canadians vote in pandemic election
Updated 20 September 2021

Trudeau future on the line as Canadians vote in pandemic election

Trudeau future on the line as Canadians vote in pandemic election
  • Trudeau called the snap election hoping to parlay a smooth Covid-19 vaccine rollout into a new mandate to steer the nation's pandemic exit
  • At 49, Trudeau has faced tougher bouts and come out unscathed

OTTAWA, Canada: Voters lined up Monday to cast ballots in Canadian elections that are headed for a photo finish, with liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s bid for a third term threatened by rookie conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s strong challenge.
Trudeau called the snap election hoping to parlay a smooth Covid-19 vaccine rollout — among the best in the world — into a new mandate to steer the nation’s pandemic exit, without having to rely on opposition party support to pass his agenda.
But the contest, after a bumpy five weeks of campaigning, appears set for a repeat of the close 2019 general election that resulted in the one-time golden boy of Canadian politics clinging to power, yet losing his majority in parliament.
A sudden surge in Covid-19 cases led by the Delta variant late in the campaign, after the lifting of most public health measures this summer, has also muddied the waters.
Voting across Canada’s six time zones started early in the Atlantic island province of Newfoundland and was to wrap up in westernmost British Columbia at 7:00 p.m. (0200 GMT).
At 49, Trudeau has faced tougher bouts and come out unscathed.
But after six years in power, his administration is showing signs of fatigue, and it’s been an uphill battle for him to convince Canadians to stick with his Liberals after falling short of high expectations set in his 2015 landslide win.
Douglas O’Hara, 73, casting a vote in Trudeau’s Montreal electoral district of Papineau, told AFP he was “very disappointed” with the prime minister.
Although he believes Trudeau “did a half-decent job” managing the pandemic, he reminded that the leader had pledged not to go to the polls until the outbreak had subsided.
“Then as soon as he gets a chance (when) he thinks he’s going to get a majority, he calls an election,” O’Hara said. “I really believe he lied to us.”
Jennifer Hardy, 38, also expressed disappointment with the incumbent. “I’m actually embarrassed and ashamed because I voted for him last time. I’m here to rectify that. I think he’s ruining this country.”
Entering the final stretch, the two main political parties that ruled Canada since its 1867 confederation were neck and neck with about 31 percent support each, and four smaller factions nipping at their heels.
An estimated 27 million Canadians are eligible to vote to select 338 members of Parliament. To keep his job, Trudeau’s Liberals must win a plurality of seats and take at least 170 for a majority.
Due to the pandemic, a significant number of mail-in ballots (1.2 million) are expected, which could mean the results may not be known Monday evening.
Pollster and former political strategist Tim Powers advised not counting Trudeau out. “I still think Justin Trudeau will win a minority government,” he told AFP.
“But is that a win for him?” he added, suggesting Trudeau may be turfed as leader if the Liberals fare poorly at the ballot box.
The 36-day campaign saw the contenders spar over climate actions, indigenous reconciliation, affordable housing, Afghanistan, mandatory Covid-19 inoculations and vaccine passports.
Rivals criticized Trudeau for calling the election during a pandemic.
Meanwhile, the 48-year-old O’Toole was knocked for his backing of Alberta and two other Tory-led provinces’ loosening of public health restrictions too soon, with Covid outbreaks now forcing their overwhelmed hospitals to fly patients across Canada for care.
At rallies, Trudeau was dogged by what he described as “anti-vaxxer mobs,” including one that threw stones at him.
O’Toole, meanwhile, fumbled over gun control and was warned by Beijing, according to Chinese state media, that his proposed hard line on China — Canada’s second-largest trading partner, with whom relations have soured over its detention of two Canadian nationals — would “invite counterstrikes.”
Overall, commented Max Cameron, a professor at the University of British Columbia, “this hasn’t been a polarizing election. There’s actually a lot of clustering around the middle.”
O’Toole, a relative unknown who became Tory leader only last year, tracked his party to the political center, forcing the Liberals to compete for votes on the left with the New Democrats and Greens, as well as the separatist Bloc Quebecois.
The Conservatives, however, also saw their support clawed in the final week by former foreign minister Maxime Bernier’s far right People’s Party.


Faroe Islands mass dolphin slaughter casts shadow over tradition

Faroe Islands mass dolphin slaughter casts shadow over tradition
Updated 20 September 2021

Faroe Islands mass dolphin slaughter casts shadow over tradition

Faroe Islands mass dolphin slaughter casts shadow over tradition
  • The magnitude of the catch in the large fjord came as a shock as fishermen targeted a particularly big school of dolphins
  • Critics say that the Faroese can no longer put forward the argument of sustenance when killing whales and dolphins

COPENHAGEN: Every summer in the Faroe Islands hundreds of pilot whales and dolphins are slaughtered in drive hunts known as the “grind” that residents defend as a long-held tradition.
The hunt always sparks fierce criticism abroad, but never so much as last week when a particularly bountiful catch saw 1,428 dolphins massacred in one day, raising questions on the island itself about a practice that activists have long deemed cruel.
Images of hundreds upon hundreds of dolphins lined up on the sand, some of them hacked up by what appeared to be propellers, the water red with blood, shocked some of the staunchest supporters of the “grind” and raised concern in the archipelago’s crucial fishing industry.
For the first time, the local government of the autonomous Danish archipelago located in the depths of the North Atlantic said it would re-evaluate regulations surrounding the killing of dolphins specifically, without considering an outright ban on the tradition.
“I had never seen anything like it before. This is the biggest catch in the Faroes,” Jens Mortan Rasmussen, one of the hunter-fishermen present at the scene in the village of Skala, told AFP.
While used to criticism, he said this time round it was “a little different.”
“Fish exporters are getting quite a lot of furious phone calls from their clients and the salmon industry has NOW mobilized against dolphin-hunting. It’s a first.”
The meat of pilot whales and dolphins is only eaten by the fishermen themselves, but there is concern that news of the massacre will hit the reputation of an archipelago that relies considerably on exporting other fish including salmon.
Traditionally, the Faroe Islands — which have a population of 50,000 — hunt pilot whales in a practice known as “grindadrap,” or the “grind.”
Hunters first surround the whales with a wide semi-circle of fishing boats and then drive them into a bay to be beached and slaughtered by fishermen on the beach.
Normally, around 600 pilot whales are hunted every year in this way, while fewer dolphins also get caught.
Defending the hunt, the Faroese point to the abundance of whales, dolphins, and porpoises in their waters (over 100,000, or two per capita).
They see it as an open-air slaughterhouse that isn’t that different to the millions of animals killed behind closed doors all over the world, said Vincent Kelner, the director of a documentary on the “grind.”
And it’s of historical significance for the Faroe Islanders: without this meat from the sea, their people would have disappeared.
But still, on September 12, the magnitude of the catch in the large fjord came as a shock as fishermen targeted a particularly big school of dolphins.
The sheer number of the mammals that beached slowed down the slaughter which “lasted a lot longer than a normal grind,” said Rasmussen.
“When the dolphins reach the beach, it’s very difficult to send them back to sea, they tend to always return to the beach.”
Kelner said the fishermen were “overwhelmed.”
“It hits their pride because it questions the professionalism they wanted to put in place,” he added.
While defending the practice as sustainable, Bardur a Steig Nielsen, the archipelago’s prime minister, said Thursday the government would re-evaluate “dolphin hunts, and what part they should play in Faroese society.”
Critics say that the Faroese can no longer put forward the argument of sustenance when killing whales and dolphins.
“For such a hunt to take place in 2021 in a very wealthy European island community... with no need or use for such a vast quantity of contaminated meat is outrageous,” said Rob Read, chief operating officer at marine conservation NGO Sea Shepherd, referring to high levels of mercury in dolphin meat.
The NGO claims the hunt also broke several laws.
“The Grind foreman for the district was never informed and therefore never authorized the hunt,” it said in a statement.
It also claims that many participants had no license, “which is required in the Faroe Islands, since it involves specific training in how to quickly kill the pilot whales and dolphins.”
And “photos show many of the dolphins had been run over by motorboats, essentially hacked by propellers, which would have resulted in a slow and painful death.”
Faroese journalist Hallur av Rana said that while a large majority of islanders defend the “grind” itself, 53 percent are opposed to killing dolphins.