Uprooted again: Venezuela migrants cross US border in droves

Uprooted again: Venezuela migrants cross US border in droves
While some are government opponents, the vast majority are escaping long-running economic devastation. (AP)
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Updated 28 June 2021

Uprooted again: Venezuela migrants cross US border in droves

Uprooted again: Venezuela migrants cross US border in droves
  • Last month, 7,484 Venezuelans were encountered by Border Patrol agents along the US-Mexico border

DEL RIO, Texas: Marianela Rojas huddles in prayer with fellow migrants after trudging across a slow-flowing stretch of the Rio Grande and nearly collapsing when she stepped on American soil for the first time.
“I won’t say it again,” interrupts a US Border Patrol agent, giving orders in Spanish for Rojas and a group of 14 other Venezuelans to get into a detention van. “Only passports and money in your hands. Everything else — earrings, chains, rings, watches — in your backpacks.”
It’s a frequent scene across the US-Mexico border at a time of swelling migration. But these aren’t farmers and low-wage workers from Mexico or Central America, who make up the bulk of those crossing. Among them are bankers, doctors and engineers from Venezuela, and they’re arriving in record numbers as they flee turmoil in the country with the world’s largest oil reserves and pandemic-induced pain across South America.
Two days after Rojas crossed, she left detention and got a bus out of the Texas town of Del Rio. The 54-year-old fled hardship in Venezuela a few years ago, leaving a paid-off home and career as an elementary school teacher for a fresh start in Ecuador.
But when the housecleaning work she found dried up, she decided to uproot again.
“It’s over, it’s all over,” she said on the phone to loved ones. “Everything was perfect. I didn’t stop moving for one second.”
Last month, 7,484 Venezuelans were encountered by Border Patrol agents along the US-Mexico border — more than all 14 years for which records exist. The surprise increase is a harbinger of a new type of migration that has caught the Biden administration off guard: pandemic refugees.
Many of the nearly 17,306 Venezuelans who have crossed the southern border illegally since January had been living for years in other South American countries, part of an exodus of millions since President Nicolás Maduro took power in 2013.
While some are government opponents, the vast majority are escaping long-running economic devastation marked by blackouts and shortages of food and medicine.
With the pandemic still raging in parts of South America, they relocated again. Increasingly, they’re being joined at the US border by people from the countries they initially fled to — like Ecuador and Brazil — as well as far-flung nations hit hard by the virus, like India and Uzbekistan.
Compared with other migrants, Venezuelans garner certain privileges — a reflection of their firmer financial standing, higher education levels and US policies that have failed to remove Maduro but nonetheless made deportation all but impossible.
The vast majority enter the US near Del Rio, a town of 35,000, and don’t evade detention but turn themselves in to seek asylum.
Like many of the dozens of Venezuelans The Associated Press spoke to this month in Del Rio, 27-year-old Lis Briceno had already migrated once before. After graduating with a degree in petroleum engineering, she couldn’t get hired in the oil fields near her hometown of Maracaibo without declaring her loyalty to Venezuela’s socialist leadership. So she moved to Chile a few years ago, finding work with a technology company.
But as anti-government unrest and the pandemic tanked Chile’s economy, her company shuttered. Briceno sold what she could to raise the $4,000 needed to get to the US
“I always thought I’d come here on vacation, to visit the places you see in the movies,” Briceno said. “But doing this? Never.”
While Central Americans and others can spend months getting north, most Venezuelans reach the US in as little as four days.
“This is a journey they’re definitely prepared for from a financial standpoint,” said Tiffany Burrow, who runs the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition’s shelter in Del Rio, where migrants can eat, clean up and buy bus tickets to US cities.
They first fly to Mexico City or Cancun. Smugglers promoting themselves as “travel agencies” on Facebook claim to offer hassle-free transport to the US for about $3,000.
The steep price includes a guided sendoff from Ciudad Acuna, where the bulk of Venezuelans cross the Rio Grande and which had been largely spared the violence seen elsewhere on the border.
“If you’re a smuggler in the business of moving a commodity — because that’s how they view money, guns, people, drugs and everything they move, as a product — then you want to move it through the safest area possible charging the highest price,” said Austin L. Skero II, chief of the US Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector.
Once in the US, Venezuelans tend to fare better than other groups. In March, Biden granted Temporary Protected Status to an estimated 320,000 Venezuelans, protecting them from deportation and allowing them to work legally.
Also, Venezuelans requesting asylum — as almost all do — tend to succeed, partly because the US government corroborates reports of political repression. Only 26 percent of asylum requests from Venezuelans have been denied this year, compared with an 80 percent rejection rate for asylum-seekers from poorer, violence-plagued countries in Central America, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
“I can write their asylum requests almost by heart,” said Jodi Goodwin, an immigration attorney in Harlingen, Texas, who has represented over 100 Venezuelans. “These are higher-educated people who can advocate for themselves and tell their story in a chronological, clean way that judges are accustomed to thinking.”
Even Venezuelans facing deportation have hope. The Trump administration broke diplomatic relations with Maduro in 2019, so air travel is suspended, even charter flights, making removal next to impossible.
Briceno said that if she had stayed in Venezuela, she would earn the equivalent of $50 a month — barely enough to scrape by.
“The truth is,” Briceno said, “it’s better to wash toilets here than being an engineer over there.”


Somalia’s president, prime minister agree to speed up election

Somalia’s president, prime minister agree to speed up election
Updated 9 sec ago

Somalia’s president, prime minister agree to speed up election

Somalia’s president, prime minister agree to speed up election
  • Somalia was meant to choose a new president this month
  • Somalia has had only limited central rule since a dictator was toppled 30 years ago
MOGADISHU: Somalia’s president and prime minister resolved a dispute over appointments to security bodies, allowing a stalled process to elect a new parliament and president to go ahead, the government spokesman said late on Thursday.
Somalia was meant to choose a new president this month, culminating a complicated indirect election process that would also select a parliament.
But that was halted during a dispute between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble over who would head the National Intelligence Service Agency.
The president and the prime minister had each appointed a different candidate to replace the head of the agency, who was suspended last month after an agent went missing.
Under the agreement, the president’s appointee will now take up the post in an acting capacity, while the man chosen by the prime minister will be given a different role as a state minister. A separate disagreement over who would head the internal security ministry was also resolved, the spokesman said.
Somalia has had only limited central rule since a dictator was toppled 30 years ago, and has never conducted a free election.
Under the indirect electoral process, regional councils are meant to choose a senate, which could be completed this week. Clan elders will then pick members of a lower house of parliament, now set to take place next month. The parliament will pick a new president at a date that has not yet been set.
Roble and Mohamed clashed in April https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/somalias-political-leaders-sign-agreement-resolving-impasse-out-elections-2021-05-27, when the president unilaterally extended his four-year term by two years, prompting army factions loyal to each man to seize rival positions in the capital, Mogadishu.
The confrontation was resolved when the president put Roble in charge of security and organizing the delayed elections. (Writing by Duncan Miriri Editing by Peter Graff)

Mumbai cinemas reopen after 18 months as life swings back

Mumbai cinemas reopen after 18 months as life swings back
Updated 54 min 16 sec ago

Mumbai cinemas reopen after 18 months as life swings back

Mumbai cinemas reopen after 18 months as life swings back
  • Theaters opened to half capacity, following the guidelines released last month
  • Mumbai city has been one of the country’s worst-affected by the pandemic

MUMBAI, India: Movie theaters in India’s entertainment capital Mumbai reopened on Friday after more than 18 months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, the last of the many virus restrictions to go amid a decline in infections.
Theaters opened to half capacity, following the guidelines released last month, but struggled to lure the public back and mostly re-released earlier hits. Many shows were running with fewer audiences, movie ticketing portal BookMyShow showed.
To minimize the danger of the virus, only those with COVID-19 vaccination certificates or with a “safe status” on the state-run health app will be allowed to enter the theaters. Masks and temperature checks are mandatory and no food or beverages will be allowed inside.
Theaters elsewhere in the country are already running shows.
Mumbai city has been one of the country’s worst-affected by the pandemic but has gradually reopened following a decline in both COVID-19 cases and deaths. Cinemas there, however, are among the last public places to reopen — a hugely symbolic move in the country’s financial capital also known for its Bollywood film industry.
Every year, the $2.8 billion industry produces more than 2,000 films. Bollywood’s success over the years has embedded moviegoing into India’s contemporary culture and been a boon for the economy.
The restrictions imposed on movie theaters to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have hurt operators. But the industry is expected to rebound. Indian filmmakers have lined up major big-ticket releases ahead of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, when sales peak and audiences flock to theaters.
The return to cinemas in Mumbai comes a day after India celebrated its one billionth COVID-19 vaccine dose. About half of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people have received at least one dose while around 20 percent are fully immunized, according to Our World in Data.
India witnessed a crushing coronavirus surge earlier this year but life has swung back to normal. Markets buzz with activity, foreign tourists are allowed again and the country is gearing up to celebrate Diwali.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said India’s vaccine drive is an example of what it can achieve if the citizens and the government come together with a common goal. He said the milestone has silenced India’s critics.
“Injecting 1 billion doses is not a mere figure but a reflection of the country’s determination. India has scripted a new chapter in its history. The world will now take India more seriously after this landmark,” Modi said in a speech that was televised live across the country.
Modi also exhorted people to buy Indian-made goods to boost the economy, which is expected to gain from the festival season purchases.
“There are some among us who only trust foreign brands even for everyday necessities. The success of Made in India vaccines is a paradigm shift,” he said.


Seven killed in Rohingya refugee camp attack

Seven killed in Rohingya refugee camp attack
Updated 22 October 2021

Seven killed in Rohingya refugee camp attack

Seven killed in Rohingya refugee camp attack
  • The attackers shot dead some victims and stabbed others with knives

BALUKHALI, Bangladesh: Attackers killed at least seven people in an assault Friday on an Islamic seminary in a Rohingya refugee camp on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, police said.
The attackers shot dead some victims and stabbed others with knives, a regional police chief told AFP. The killings came amid mounting tensions after a Rohingya community leader was shot dead outside his office in the camps three weeks ago.


4 killed in Washington state shooting

4 killed in Washington state shooting
Updated 22 October 2021

4 killed in Washington state shooting

4 killed in Washington state shooting

TACOMA, Washington: Four people were killed in a shooting in Tacoma on Thursday afternoon, police said.
The Tacoma Police Department said on Twitter at about 5:30 p.m. that two females and one male had died at the scene and that a male was taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries.
At about 6:30 p.m., police said on Twitter that the person taken to a hospital had died from his injuries. The victims appeared to be adults, police told The News Tribune.
Police said the shooting happened on the 4200 block of Everett Street, near the city’s Eastside neighborhood.
Police spokeswoman Wendy Haddow told the newspaper that the shootings happened in an alley behind a residence and that at least one victim was found in the street in front of the residence.
Police called it an active scene and asked people to stay away from the area. Detectives and crime scene technicians were at the scene.
No further information was immediately available.


Eswatini bans protests as African mediation begins

Eswatini bans protests as African mediation begins
Updated 22 October 2021

Eswatini bans protests as African mediation begins

Eswatini bans protests as African mediation begins
  • At least 30 health workers were treated for gunshot injuries, the nurses’ union said
  • At least 30 people have died since June in some of the worst unrest in the southern African country’s history

MANZINI, Eswatini: Africa’s last absolute monarchy Eswatini on Thursday banned protests as regional mediators landed in the kingdom amid rumbling pro-democracy demonstrations.
A demonstrator died in hospital on Thursday from gunshot wounds suffered the day before when security forces opened fire on a protest, according to unions.
At least 30 health workers were treated for gunshot injuries, the nurses’ union said.
Railways workers led new protests on Thursday in the kingdom formerly known as Swaziland.
“Due to the spate of violent cases during protests, I have stopped all city and town municipals from issuing permits to hold protests,” Public Works Minister Prince Simelane told a news conference.
Internet access was limited, with Facebook completely shut off for a second day.
“Images that are coming from Eswatini are very disturbing indeed, and we can see that the political temperature is very hot,” Jeff Radebe, head of the mediators sent to the country by the 16-nation Southern African Development Community, told South Africa’s public broadcaster.
The Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union said in a statement that nurses and other workers who had converged on a public park in Mbabane, “were met with unprecedented show of force by the police and the army.”
“They were brutally dispersed and scattered all over the capital. As they were running, they were shot with live ammunition.”
The 30 injured were among more than 80 reported hurt on Wednesday in pro-democracy protests that have flared nationwide.
Radebe said the kingdom’s “issues are very complex,” and the team was “going there with an open mind, ensuring that we hear all views, so that at the end of the day the people of Eswatini... come up with a lasting solution.”
The latest flare-up in demonstrations has run for more than two weeks, spearheaded by students, civil servants and transport workers.
King Mswati III is Africa’s last absolute monarch, who enjoys flaunting his wealth and showering his 15 wives with lavish gifts.
Yet he rules over one of the poorest countries in the world, where nearly two-thirds of the population lives in poverty and a quarter of adults have HIV.

In a statement, the Communist Party of Swaziland said the situation at the largest government hospital in Mbabane on Wednesday resembled a “war zone.”
Hospital floors were “drenched in blood,” said the party, adding that police “invaded the hospital, shooting even nurses as they attended to the injured, worsening the situation.”
The nurse’s union said security forces kept shooting at nurses into the evening, even as they were traveling to work night shifts at hospitals.
“Clearly these blood-thirsty imbeciles, brood of vipers are hell-bent to kill nurses and the nation in defense of an ailing government,” the union said, calling on members not to treat any injured soldiers or police.
Five high-school students arrested during protests were arraigned on terrorism charges on Thursday for their role in the democracy push. Prosecutors accused them of burning down a police post.
At least 30 people have died since June in some of the worst unrest in the southern African country’s history.