UN: Millions driven from homes in 2020 despite COVID-19 crisis

UN: Millions driven from homes in 2020 despite COVID-19 crisis
Among recent hotspots, hundreds of thousands of people were newly displaced in Mozambique, above, last year, the UNHCR says. (AP)
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Updated 18 June 2021

UN: Millions driven from homes in 2020 despite COVID-19 crisis

UN: Millions driven from homes in 2020 despite COVID-19 crisis
  • Cumulative total of displaced people has risen to 82.4 million – roughly the population of Germany
  • UNHCR said now 1 percent of all humanity is displaced, and there are twice as many forcibly displaced people than a decade ago

GENEVA: The UN refugee agency says war, violence, persecution and human rights violations caused nearly 3 million people to flee their homes last year, even though the COVID-19 crisis restricted movement worldwide as countries shut borders and ordered lockdowns.
In its latest Global Trends report released on Friday, UNHCR says the cumulative total of displaced people has risen to 82.4 million – roughly the population of Germany. It marks the ninth straight annual increase in the number of people forcibly displaced.
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said conflict and the impact of climate change in places such as Mozambique, Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Africa’s broad Sahel area were among the leading sources of new movements of refugees and internally displaced people in 2020.
They added hundreds of thousands more people to the overall count, which has for years been dominated by the millions who have fled countries such as Syria and Afghanistan due to protracted wars or fighting.
“This is telling, in a year in which we were all locked down, confined, blocked in our homes, in our communities, in our cities,” said Grandi in an interview before the report’s release. “Almost 3 million people have had to actually leave all that behind because they had no other choice.”
UNHCR, which has its headquarters in Geneva, said that 99 of the more than 160 countries that closed their borders because of COVID-19 didn’t make exceptions for people seeking protection as refugees or asylum-seekers.
Grandi acknowledged the possibility that many internally displaced people who couldn’t leave their own countries will eventually want to flee abroad once borders start reopening, if the pandemic eases.
“A good example is the United States where already we have seen a surge in people arriving in recent months,” Grandi said, and referred to the US provision called Title 42 that let US authorities temporarily block people seeking asylum from entry for health reasons. “Title 42 will be lifted eventually – and I think this is the right thing to do – but this will have to be managed.”
Asked about US Vice President Kamala Harris’ recent trip to Central America, where she told would-be migrants to the US “do not come,” Grandi expressed hope that the remark was not reflective of overall US policy.
“I think that messaging indeed, as it was reported, is stark, and maybe shows only one part of the picture now,” Grandi said, adding that he had heard a “more complex response” from other officials in Washington when he was there recently.
Among recent hotspots, Grandi said hundreds of thousands of people were newly displaced in Mozambique and the Sahel last year, and up to 1 million in the Tigray conflict that started in October.
“I’m worried that if the international community is not able to stop these conflicts, we will continue to see the rise in the numbers,” he said.
The report said that at the end of last year there were 5.7 million Palestinians, 3.9 million Venezuelans and an additional 20.7 million refugees from various other countries displaced abroad. Another 48 million people were internally displaced in their own countries. Some 4.1 million more sought asylum.
Turkey, a neighbor of Syria, has taken in the most refugees in absolute numbers – 3.7 million – a figure more than twice that of the No. 2 host country, Colombia, which borders Venezuela. Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan was third.
UNHCR said now 1 percent of all humanity is displaced, and there are twice as many forcibly displaced people than a decade ago. Some 42 percent of them were aged under 18, and nearly 1 million babies were born as refugees between 2018 and 2020.
“Many of them may remain refugees for years to come,” it said.


COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount

COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount
Updated 46 min 3 sec ago

COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount

COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount
  • A resurgent virus has returned with a vengeance, buoyed by stalling vaccination rates and deadly new mutations

BEIJING: Authorities in China’s Wuhan said Tuesday they would test the city’s entire population for COVID-19, as the virus returned to the place where it first emerged and the highly contagious Delta variant drove tightening lockdowns worldwide.
A resurgent virus has returned with a vengeance, buoyed by stalling vaccination rates and deadly new mutations even in places which had long touted their successes in overcoming the worst of the pandemic.
China brought domestic cases down to virtually zero after the coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, allowing the economy to rebound and life to return largely to normal.
But a fresh outbreak has thrown that record into jeopardy, as the fast-spreading Delta variant reaches dozens of cities after infections among airport cleaners in Nanjing sparked a chain of cases that have been reported across the country.
In Wuhan — where the virus first emerged in December 2019 and which faced a grueling lockdown in the early months of the pandemic — authorities said they were launching a mass-testing program for all 11 million residents.
And across China, authorities have confined the residents of entire cities to their homes, cut domestic transport links and rolled out mass testing in recent days as the country battles its largest coronavirus outbreak in months.
Millions are also still under movement restrictions in Australia, where troops Monday hit the streets of the country’s largest city of Sydney and surrounding areas, which are entering the sixth week of a lockdown set to run until the end of August.
Authorities have been struggling to stop the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant in the city — and to ensure that residents follow containment rules — with more than 3,600 cases recorded since mid-June.
With about 15 percent of Australia’s 25 million people fully vaccinated, authorities are still relying on lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus.


Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member

Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member
Updated 03 August 2021

Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member

Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member
  • Patarasa was brother-in-law of slain terrorist leader Isnilon Hapilon

MANILA: Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar ordered an “intensified cleansing” of police ranks on Monday after a civilian personnel member was identified as a key member of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

In a statement, Eleazar said that police intelligence operatives arrested Masckur Adoh Patarasa, also known as “Makong” and “Omair Sali Taib,” on Friday in Jolo, Sulu.

According to the PNP chief, Patasar is the brother-in-law of the slain Daesh leader in Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon, and an alleged finance and logistics officer of the ASG, considered the most violent militant group in the southern Philippines.

“Patarasa is an active non-uniformed personnel (NUP) of the PNP presently assigned at the Banguingui municipal police station, Sulu PPO, but was also a finance and logistics liaison officer of Dawlah Islamiyah and ASG and was included in the martial law arrest order no. 1 during the Marawi siege in 2017,” Eleazar said.

“Patarasa was arrested in Barangay Asturias, Jolo, Sulu at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, July 30, during an intelligence-driven police operation ... He is the subject of arrest warrants ... as an accused in seven separate cases of kidnapping and serious illegal detention,” he added.

Intelligence information on the suspect showed that “in May 2017, Patarasa, together with an unidentified individual linked with the ASG, planned to transact the sending of funds to Abu Sayyaf members fighting in Marawi City through his brother-in-law Isnilon Hapilon.”

Hapilon, also known as Abu Abdullah Al-Filipini, and named on the US’ most wanted list, was killed during the Marawi siege.

At that time, he was reported to be the Daesh emir or commander in the Philippines.

Eleazar said that Patarasa joined the ASG in 2001 under Khadaffy Janjalani in Basilan and later worked for ASG senior leader Radullan Sahiron in Sulu.

He was also reported to have direct contact with Malaysian terrorist Amin Baco, alias “Abu Jihad,” who was among those touted to have replaced Hapilon as the Daesh leader in the region.

“Deeper background investigation also disclosed that Patarasa received funds from Almaida Salvin, a designated terrorist included in the US Treasury’s sanctions list ... through (one) Merhama Sawari,” the PNP chief said without providing more details.

Salvin was arrested in Zamboanga City in April 2019 for the illegal possession of explosives, while Sawari was among four militants killed in a shootout with police in Paranaque City on June 20 last year.

Eleazar said that they were not discounting the possibility that Patarasa may have leaked information to the ASG, resulting in the failure of some police operations in Sulu.

“I am glad that our personnel were able to arrest the subject person; this still forms part of the intensified cleanliness policy that we are implementing. Cleanliness of the ranks should be maintained to regain the trust and confidence of the people in our organization,” Eleazar said.

He also ordered the PNP Internal Affairs Service (IAS) to fast-track dismissal proceedings against the suspect.

Further investigations are also being conducted to determine if other PNP personnel have links to the ASG or are involved in criminal or terroristic activities.

“We would also like to find out how Patarasa managed to enter the PNP despite having a string of cases and warrants of arrest under his name in connection with his being a member of the ASG,” Eleazar said, noting that intelligence information showed the suspect continued to carry out his role in the ASG while employed with the PNP.

Citing Patarasa’s case, Eleazar stressed the importance of cleansing the police ranks at the start or during the recruitment process. “This is one of the reasons why we thoroughly have to screen those who want to join the PNP, whether as a policeman or as a civilian employee.”

Eleazar commended police officers involved in Patarasa’s arrest, saying, “Your action is a reflection of our campaign to keep the organization free from persons with ill motives.”

He also urged all PNP members “to join hands in keeping the police organization respectable and true to its mandate to serve and protect the people.”


EU to aid Lithuania amid swelling migrant flows

Ylva Johansson. (Supplied)
Ylva Johansson. (Supplied)
Updated 03 August 2021

EU to aid Lithuania amid swelling migrant flows

Ylva Johansson. (Supplied)
  • Lithuania has accused Belarusian authorities of organizing the border crossings

LONDON: EU officials have pledged millions of euros to Lithuania to help it tackle a migrant crisis that it blames on the government of neighboring Belarus and its President Alexander Lukashenko.
Ylva Johansson, the EU commissioner of Home Affairs arrived in Lithuania on Sunday, a day on which a record 287 people walked into the EU territory from neighboring Belarus — more than three times as many as in the whole of last year.
“This is a provocation of the Lukashenko regime. We must show that there is no free access to EU territory,” Johansson said.
“Lithuania, the EU, the Schengen states must prevent illegal access to this area. That is why we, the whole EU, support Lithuania to defend our common external border with Belarus,” said Johansson.
So far this year, 3,832 migrants have been detained in Lithuania. That compares with 81 for the whole of 2020. More than two-thirds of the arrivals are Iraqi citizens.
Iraqi airlines have increased flights from Baghdad to Minsk from two to four a week from this month and are also starting flights from Basra, Irbil and Sulaymaniyah.
Lithuania has accused Belarusian authorities of organizing the border crossings.
It says the influx is an act of retaliation by Lukashenko.

This is a provocation of the Lukashenko regime. We must show that there is no free access to EU territory.

Ylva Johansson

Since his election to a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the West denounced as rigged, he has cracked down on opposition protests in his country, and his main election challenger fled to Lithuania.
The Lithuanian state border guard service announced on Monday that its capacity to accommodate new immigrants has reached its limit and urged the government to relocate people to other facilities.
“We have managed this until now, but I must admit we have reached the limit of our possibilities” said director of the service Rustamas Liubajevas.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte expressed hope the European Commission will be able to handle the rapidly deteriorating situation.
“The first task is to reduce the potential of the flow itself. The biggest expectation here is for the EU to be able to use its negotiating position with the Iraqi government” said Simonyte.
Johansson promised Lithuania would not be left alone.
“I will send a delegation that will spend a few days here to discuss in detail the possibility of funding a good border protection system that includes monitoring and protection against illegal migrants,” she said, adding that €20-30 million will be allocated to this purpose by 2022.
The Lithuania government wants to build a physical barrier with Belarus, which it estimates will cost more than €100 million.
EU funding is not usually permitted to finance the building of border barriers or fences.
“We will eventually build it no matter how much aid is sent by the EU. The border must be protected” Simonyte said.

 


Germany to offer COVID-19 shots for all kids over 12

Germany to offer COVID-19 shots for all kids over 12
Updated 02 August 2021

Germany to offer COVID-19 shots for all kids over 12

Germany to offer COVID-19 shots for all kids over 12
  • ‘Everybody who wants can get vaccinated in the summer — we have enough vaccines for all age groups’ said German Health Minister
  • Children and teenagers can decide to get vaccinated after a medical consultation

BERLIN: Germany will start offering coronavirus vaccinations for all children and teenagers aged 12 and older, top health officials said Monday.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said after a meeting with the 16 German state health ministers that “we keep our promise: everybody who wants can get vaccinated in the summer — we have enough vaccines for all age groups.”
“Therefore, children and teenagers ... can decide to get vaccinated after a medical consultation and thus protect themselves and others,” he added.
The government’s push to get Germany’s youth vaccinated comes two months after the European Medicines Agency recommended that the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech be expanded to children 12 to 15. Last week, the EU drug regulator also cleared the vaccine made by Moderna for the same age group.
So far, however, the country’s standing committee on vaccination, the Stiko, has been reluctant to give the go-ahead for all youngsters and only explicitly recommended the vaccination for the age group between 12 and 16 if they suffer from certain chronic illnesses. The committee says that not enough study results are yet available on possible long-term effects of the vaccine on the younger ones, but has also said it may update its recommendation as more data becomes available.
But as schools across the country are starting to open again after the summer vacations, and given the vulnerability of young unvaccinated people to the quickly spreading delta variant, pressure has been mounting to get more children 12 and older vaccinated. Politicians have been lobbying to get the younger ones immunized against COVID-19 quickly to prevent renewed school closures in the fall.
Therefore, the 16 state top health officials on Monday decided that healthy children and teenagers should now also be able get the jab at vaccination centers or their pediatricians’ practices. As for all age groups, the vaccinations remain voluntary.
So far, 20 percent of those between 12 and 17 have received at least one shot in Germany and nearly 10 percent are fully vaccinated.
The country’s family minister said the decision “is an important step so that children and teenagers can be protected from a coronavirus infection in the best possible way.”
“Many parents have been insecure about whether they should vaccinate their children because so far there was no clear recommendation,” Christine Lambrecht added. “The decision for a broad vaccination offer for those aged between 12 to 17 can now help them.”
There are large disparities in the access to vaccination for youths across Europe. While countries like Estonia, Denmark and France are actively encouraging families to vaccinate their children before the new school year begins, others such as Sweden and the United Kingdom have yet to begin mass vaccinations for those under 18.
Also Monday, state health ministers decided to start offering booster shots for especially vulnerable groups in September. They said all people who got vaccinated with the AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson shots could get a refresher shot with an mRNA vaccine such as Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna from September on.


Afghan president calls for ‘war against Taliban’ as peace hopes crumble

Afghan security personnel and Afghan militia fighting against Taliban, stand guard in Enjil district of Herat province on July 30, 2021. (AFP)
Afghan security personnel and Afghan militia fighting against Taliban, stand guard in Enjil district of Herat province on July 30, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 03 August 2021

Afghan president calls for ‘war against Taliban’ as peace hopes crumble

Afghan security personnel and Afghan militia fighting against Taliban, stand guard in Enjil district of Herat province on July 30, 2021. (AFP)
  • Taliban describe Ashraf Ghani’s speech, security plan as ‘nonsense’ bid to ‘control dire situation’

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Monday called for a national uprising and “war against the Taliban,” accusing the group of having no intention of working toward a negotiated peace settlement.

During a parliamentary session, Afghanistan’s leader also unveiled an American-supported security plan aimed at curbing Taliban advances.

The group has made major territorial gains in recent months after US-led foreign forces began withdrawing from Afghanistan on May 1 following 20 years of occupation.

But Ghani’s announcement has raised concerns in some quarters over the chances of a peace deal now ever being reached and only heightening the prospect of a prolonged conflict.

In his speech, which was broadcast live, Ghani said: “Our enemy not only took any step toward peace but also considered our sincerity and honesty as weakness.”

Details of his security plan have not yet been made public, but the president, whose second term in office is set to expire in 2024, pointed out that it would “change the situation of war in six months.”

In a statement on Monday, Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, described Ghani’s speech as “nonsense.”

He said: “It’s an attempt to control his fears and dire situation … declarations of war, accusations, and lies cannot prolong Ghani’s life, his time has run out, God willing.”

Ghani noted that his administration had shown “flexibility” and taken “steps that no government in the world would dare” for the sake of a “compromise” with the Taliban, such as releasing Taliban prisoners under a US-facilitated peace process that began in Doha, Qatar more than a year ago.

“Unfortunately, the conclusion in the rank of the republic, our negotiating team (for talks with the Taliban) is that the Taliban in their conscience have no belief for a lasting and just peace unless there is change on the war front,” Ghani, 72, said.

He added that his government had the “financial and political support of Washington” for the security plan and told MPs and senators to “mobilize” resources for “war against the Taliban.”

He said: “My concentration today is on national unity and oneness. Today, we are facing a major national test … every delegate and senator has ties with thousands of people. Use your strong networks today to form a national mobilization to give a decisive response to the enemy and their backers.”

Without directly naming the US, Ghani linked the current escalation of the war in Afghanistan to a “hasty process” of engaging in talks with the Taliban and exerting “pressure” on the Kabul government, which was sidelined from the subsequent Doha deal between former US President Donald Trump’s administration and the Taliban.

Violence has recently escalated throughout Afghanistan, with the Taliban capturing several districts and vital border crossings. The Pentagon has estimated that the group now controls more than half of Afghanistan’s 419 district centers.

As the remaining foreign troops continued to depart Afghanistan under a process expected to be completed in the next few weeks, Ghani said a lack of preparedness on the part of Afghan forces and weakness in its middle leadership ranks had led to loss of territory to the Taliban.

In recent days, the Taliban have concentrated their attacks on major cities in western Herat, Kandahar, and adjacent Helmand in the south.

The group’s advances in the past three months prompted Ghani to replace his security chiefs, impose night curfews in 31 of the country’s 34 provinces, and arm locals to fight the Taliban.

None of his controversial measures, however, appear to have been effective in driving the Taliban out of the captured areas.

Ghani told Parliament that Afghanistan was “facing a wave of unprecedented terrorism,” and accused the Taliban of being “more violent” and brutal than when the group ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 before being toppled from power in a US-led invasion.

Hamida Akbari, a lawmaker from Wardak province who was present for Ghani’s speech in Parliament, told Arab News that the president’s announcement would lead to a “prolonged war.”

He said: “(Ghani) made the announcement of war. We expected that he would have a new plan and thought he would try to reduce the tension. This means prolongation of the war.”

Some experts, however, said Ghani’s speech showed desperation to hang onto power.

Torek Farhadi, an analyst and adviser to former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told Arab News: “Ghani’s speech to Parliament sounded like a person who has lost a few chess games with friends and foes but is insisting on a last game where he promises to win.

“Afghans are not spectators; they are paying for both sides’ warmongering with their lives. Ghani should be thinking of passing power to a third side for salvaging of Afghanistan from the current crisis,” he said.