Philippines resumes deployment of over 400 OFWs to Saudi Arabia

Philippines resumes deployment of over 400 OFWs to Saudi Arabia
Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) wearing protective masks standby outside the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 May 2021

Philippines resumes deployment of over 400 OFWs to Saudi Arabia

Philippines resumes deployment of over 400 OFWs to Saudi Arabia
  • Workers were left stranded at Manila airport due to ambiguity over payment of COVID-19 test costs after reaching Kingdom

MANILA: A day after more than 400 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) were prevented from leaving for Saudi Arabia due to ambiguity over who would bear the costs for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tests and quarantine measures upon their arrival in the Kingdom, the Philippine government said on Saturday that the deployments had been resumed.

“The temporary suspension of deployment to the Kingdom is hereby lifted,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a statement.

He added that the Saudi government had assured the Philippines that “foreign employers and agencies will shoulder the costs of institutional quarantine and other COVID-19 protocols upon arrival in the KSA.”

The Saudi Embassy in Manila also confirmed the development with a post on Twitter, expressing the Saudi “government’s keenness to protect departing workers from the costs of precautionary protocols.”

On Friday, hundreds of Saudi-bound Filipino workers — unaware of the suspension order issued by the labor department on Thursday afternoon — found themselves stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the capital region, Metro Manila.

Cielo Villaluna, a spokesperson for the Philippine Airlines, said that 283 OFWs were stopped from boarding the Manila-Riyadh flight, while 120 were not accepted on its Manila-Dammam flight.

Bello said that after the Kingdom’s assurance, he had advised the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to immediately lift the ban on deployment and provide the necessary clearance to all OFWs traveling to the Kingdom.

“I understand that the suspension order drew confusion and irritation among our affected departing OFWs. Again, I apologize for the inconvenience and momentary anguish that it may have caused our dear OFWs. It was in the best interest of our OFWs that such a decision had to be made,” he added.

In a radio interview on Saturday, Bello explained that he was compelled to order the temporary deployment ban to “protect the OFWs” after learning about Saudi quarantine rules whereby OFWs needed to be tested and quarantined for 10 days after arrival at the cost of $3,500 each.

“That’s fine with me if that is their protocol there, but it’s not clear who will pay for it? ... I was told that the employer would shoulder the cost, but where is the order?” Bello said.

For clarification on the matter, Bello said he spoke with Saudi Ambassador to the Philippines Abdullah Al-Bussairy on Friday night and asked the Saudi government to ensure employers bear the COVID-19 expenses for the OFWs. He received a notification from the Saudi government on Saturday morning, mandating foreign employers to shoulder the COVID-19 costs for all OFWs upon arrival.

Bello assured the OFWs who were not allowed to leave on Friday that his office would provide all necessary assistance, including the “extension of their travel documents and re-booking of their flights.”

Meanwhile, he also spoke about a similar issue faced by OFWs in Qatar, who were required to pay $3,500 for COVID-19 tests and quarantine costs.

“The moment I get a formal notice, I will do the same [as the labor department did in the case of Saudi-bound OFWs],” Bello said.


American nurse convicted of killing 4 men with air injections

American nurse convicted of killing 4 men with air injections
Updated 7 sec ago

American nurse convicted of killing 4 men with air injections

American nurse convicted of killing 4 men with air injections
  • Prosecutors said during closing arguments that Davis “liked to kill people.”
  • Defense attorney says the hospital had issues and that Davis was a scapegoat

TYLER, Texas: A Texas nurse was convicted Tuesday of capital murder in the deaths of four patients who died after prosecutors say he injected them with air following heart surgeries.

The Smith County jury deliberated for about an hour before finding William George Davis, of Hallsville, guilty of capital murder involving multiple victims. Prosecutors planned to seek the death penalty during the sentencing phase, which was scheduled to start Wednesday.
Davis, 37, was accused of injecting air into the four patients’ arteries after they underwent heart surgery at the Christus Trinity Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler in 2017 and 2018. During recovery from their surgeries, the four — John Lafferty, Ronald Clark, Christopher Greenway and Joseph Kalina — suffered unexplained neurological problems and died.
During the trial, Dr. William Yarbrough, a Dallas-area pulmonologist and professor of internal medicine, explained to the jury how injecting air into the arterial system of the brain causes brain injury and death.
Yarbrough said he was able to determine there was air in the arterial system of the victims’ brains by viewing images from brain scans — something he said he had never before observed in his decades in medicine.
He ruled out blood pressure problems or any other causes of death besides the injection of air, and said it must have happened after the surgeries because the complications occurred while the patients were in recovery.
Defense attorney Phillip Hayes told the jury that the hospital had issues and that Davis was a scapegoat who was only charged because he was there when the deaths occurred.
Prosecutor Chris Gatewood said during closing arguments that Davis “liked to kill people.” And prosecutor Jacob Putnam said the hospital hadn’t changed any of its procedures and hadn’t had any similar incidents since Davis left.


Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee

Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee
Updated 19 October 2021

Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee

Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee
  • Hazrat Wali was stabbed to death last week when a fight broke out near his college
  • He is believed to have been the 25th teenager murdered in London this year

LONDON: A boy, 16, has been charged with murder over the fatal stabbing of an 18-year-old Afghan refugee, Hazrat Wali, in London last week.

The 16-year-old from Hammersmith and Fulham, London, appeared in court via video link from the young offender’s institution where he is being held.

He confirmed his identity and was told that his plea hearing would be held on Jan. 11, 2022. Wali’s brother and foster mother attended the brief hearing on Tuesday. 

The youth defendant was remanded into custody until his next court appearance.

Police are continuing to investigate the stabbing, which is said to have occurred when a fight broke out in a field near Wali’s college in west London.

Wali was an Afghan refugee who came to Britain two years ago, according to the Evening Standard. An unnamed relative told the free London daily newspaper: “He came here to study, he was living all on his own in London. His immediate family are all back in Afghanistan.

“I saw him in hospital. He had a fight is all that I had heard,” the relative added.

Witnesses say a teacher from the school ran over to give the teenager CPR in an attempt to save his life. While he administered first aid, Wali is said to have told the teacher the identity of the person that stabbed him. Wali died in hospital soon after.

Wali is believed to have been the 25th teenager murdered in London this year.


Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister

Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister
Updated 19 October 2021

Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister

Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister
  • Thousands of migrants -- most of them from the Middle East -- have crossed or tried to cross over from Belarus into eastern EU states since the summer
  • Almost 6,000 soldiers are serving on the Polish-Belarusian border, said Poland's defence minister on Twitter

WARSAW: Poland has 6,000 soldiers deployed along the border with Belarus to help stop an influx of migrants, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Tuesday.
Thousands of migrants — most of them from the Middle East — have crossed or tried to cross over from Belarus into eastern EU states since the summer.
The EU suspects this is an effort coordinated by the Belarusian regime in retaliation against EU sanctions and has called the use of migrants a “hybrid attack.”
“Almost 6,000 soldiers from the 16th, 18th and 12th divisions are serving on the Polish-Belarusian border,” Blaszczak said on Twitter.
“The soldiers provide support to border guards by protecting the country’s border and not allowing it to be illegally crossed,” he said.
Border guards are reporting hundreds of attempted crossings every day and accuse Belarusian border guards of helping the migrants cross.
The government has implemented a state of emergency which bans journalists and humanitarian workers from the area and is planning a border wall.
Charities have criticized the government’s hard-line approach, particularly its pushback policy, and have warned of the growing danger for vulnerable migrants crossing through forests in the freezing cold.


‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief

‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief
Updated 19 October 2021

‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief

‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief
  • Warning of ‘lone wolf’ attacks follows murder of British MP by man believed to have been radicalized online
  • Nick Aldworth: ‘lt’s become the new norm within terrorism: People self-radicalizing and then deciding to do something about it’

LONDON: The former head of Britain’s counterterrorism operations has warned that a “wave of terrorism” was heading from Europe to the UK and that Britain should raise its terror threat level accordingly.

Nick Aldworth, the UK’s ex-counterterrorism national coordinator, also told Sky News that individuals carrying out “lone wolf” attacks after being radicalized in their bedrooms were becoming the new norm.

His comments came just days after Ali Harbi Ali, believed to be an Islamist extremist radicalized online, murdered Conservative Party MP David Amess.

Authorities faced an “enormous challenge” in identifying potential attackers such as Ali that had been radicalized at home, Aldworth said.

“It’s become the new norm within terrorism: People self-radicalizing and then deciding to do something about it.

“We live in a democratic society, we don’t live in a surveillance society where the authorities can, without cause, tap your phone and monitor your internet usage. It’s an enormous challenge and an enormously resource-intensive challenge.

“My view, from what we’re seeing, is there are similarities this year with what we saw in 2016 and 2017 of a slowly developing wave of terrorism in Europe that’s starting to move toward the UK.

“My belief is we must be quite close to moving up a threat level back to severe (meaning an attack was highly likely),” he added.

During 2016 and 2017, five deadly terror attacks took place in Britain, including the Manchester Arena bombing which killed dozens of people, many of them children, and the murder of MP Jo Cox.

Amess’ killing has prompted renewed scrutiny on the effectiveness of Britain’s counter-radicalization program, Prevent, because Ali had previously been referred to it.

British Home Office figures show there were more than 6,200 referrals to the Prevent scheme in England and Wales in the year up to March 2020.

Aldworth said that the Prevent program was currently not receiving enough referrals from friends and family, who were best placed to notice changes in people’s behavior.

“Typically, about 30 percent of referrals come from education … about 30 percent come from the police, and about 30 percent come from a disparate number of places including health.

“The interesting point is that only between 2 and 5 percent come from family and friends, and the workplace. Of course, that’s the point you would expect changes in people’s behavior to be most observable. That’s where the gap in the market is,” he added.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Prevent is going through an independent review right now. It’s timely to do that. We obviously constantly have to learn not just from incidents that have taken place but how we can strengthen our programs.

“We want to ensure that it is fit for purpose, robust, doing the right thing. But importantly learning lessons, always building upon what is working, and addressing any gaps or issues where the system needs strengthening,” she added.


UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover

UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover
Updated 19 October 2021

UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover

UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover
  • Sir Laurie Bristow’s urgent cables raise questions over British handling of mass evacuation
  • Two months before the takeover, Bristow predicted the Taliban would ‘escalate its campaign’ only after international military withdrawal was irreversible

LONDON: Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, sent repeated warnings of the imminent Taliban threat ahead of the militant group’s takeover of the country, diplomatic cables show.

The revelations prove that the UK was aware of the threat posed by the Taliban, raising questions over the decision to evacuate from the war-torn country.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab embarked on a holiday to Crete at the time of the takeover, despite the urgent messages sent by Bristow.

A freedom of information request saw the cables relayed to The Times newspaper, which revealed in detail the messages sent by Bristow and his deputy, Alex Pinfield.

A cable sent on June 28 saw the ambassador note that US aerial firepower was the central force deterring the Taliban from entering Afghan cities. Bristow said: “It (The Taliban) is unlikely to do so while it perceives a threat from US airpower.

“From a Taliban perspective, doing so would risk provoking a slowing or a reversal of the US withdrawal, as well as taking significant casualties for little gain.

“It is more likely that the Taliban will wait until it believes international military withdrawal is irreversible before escalating its campaign.”

But US President Joe Biden, less than a week later, on July 2, ordered a military withdrawal from Bagram Airfield in eastern Afghanistan.

A month later, on Aug. 2, the effects of the declining US presence in the country were seen in a cable sent by Bristow, where he said: “The gloves are off ... we are entering a new, dangerous phase of the conflict.”

When the Taliban appeared prepared to stage an assault on their first city, he added, warning: “If that happens, the impact on already fragile political unity, military, and public confidence and sentiment will be significant.

“The UK legacy in Helmand may add fuel to the public debate in the UK over relocating those who have worked for us during the last two decades in Afghanistan.”

The ambassador also warned of the threat posed to the capital, Kabul, which until the takeover was largely insulated from the conflict raging elsewhere in the country.

In response to the revelations, a government source said: “While the situation in Afghanistan was clearly deteriorating, the Taliban’s final advance on Kabul was significantly faster than anyone predicted.

“Despite an extremely difficult situation on the ground, months of intensive cross-government planning allowed us to deliver the biggest evacuation in living memory, bringing 15,000 people, including 7,000 British nationals and their families, to safety.”

Another source defended the government’s decisions, saying that Bristow’s cables were only “a fraction of the advice going to ministers.”

As a result of The Times report, Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, himself a former army officer, demanded that the UK Foreign Office reveal the full extent of the decisions it made in light of Bristow’s warnings.

Smith said: “I’m glad the ambassador was telling the Foreign Office but the question now is what did Raab do and did anybody in the government say to the US ‘this is going to be a disaster if you close Bagram?’

“Did we, at any stage, say to them ‘Do not close Bagram?’”