More than 50 migrants died in 2021 while crossing Panama jungle

The Darién Gap is a break across the North and South American continents within Central America, consisting of a large watershed, forest and mountains. (Shutterstock)
The Darién Gap is a break across the North and South American continents within Central America, consisting of a large watershed, forest and mountains. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 07 October 2021

More than 50 migrants died in 2021 while crossing Panama jungle

More than 50 migrants died in 2021 while crossing Panama jungle
  • Most of the bodies were found in the Darien Gap, a stretch of jungle on the border of Panama and Colombia
  • About 70,000 people have crossed the gap this year alone, equalling the total for the previous 5 years

PANAMA CITY: More than 50 migrants have died since the start of the year while trying to cross the Panama jungle in an effort to reach the US, the Panamanian prosecutor’s office said Wednesday.
“The Institute of Forensic Medicine and Forensic Sciences of Panama has registered 53 migrant deaths in different circumstances in the province of Darien,” Jose Vincente Pachar told AFP.
This figure is far higher than in previous years, when between 20 and 30 bodies on average were found in the Darien Gap, a 575,000-hectare) stretch of jungle on the border of Panama and Colombia.
The jungle corridor is the most dangerous stage of the journey to the United States, as migrants face not only natural threats such as snakes and difficult terrain, but also criminals who routinely rob and rape travelers.
It is “very possible the number of deaths will increase,” because the flow of migrants through the Darien Gap has surged in 2021, Pachar warned.
Since the start of the year, about 70,000 people have crossed the Darien Gap, according to Panamanian authorities — a number almost equivalent to the previous five years combined.
While the number of migrants crossing the jungle dropped considerably in the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, the influx is on the rise again.
On September 24, Panama’s attorney general’s office reported that 10 bodies, including two children, had been discovered.
Colombia on Tuesday asked Panama to “facilitate” entry into its territory for underage or pregnant migrants in order to prevent them from trying to cross the Darien Gap.


UN’s Guterres expresses ‘clear commitment’ to North Korea denuclearization

UN’s Guterres expresses ‘clear commitment’ to North Korea denuclearization
Updated 51 min 57 sec ago

UN’s Guterres expresses ‘clear commitment’ to North Korea denuclearization

UN’s Guterres expresses ‘clear commitment’ to North Korea denuclearization
  • UN leader: The goal is a ‘fundamental objective to bring peace, security and stability to the whole region’

SEOUL: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday expressed his “clear commitment” to North Korea’s denuclearization during his visit to Seoul, weeks after Pyongyang said it was “ready to mobilize” its nuclear deterrent.
Guterres arrived in Seoul on Thursday following a trip to Japan, where he gave a speech to mark the 77th anniversary of the world’s first nuclear bomb attack in Hiroshima. He has also been to Mongolia.
“I would like to reaffirm our clear commitment to the full, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, of the DPRK,” he said at his meeting with South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol, using North Korea’s official name.
The goal is a “fundamental objective to bring peace, security and stability to the whole region,” Guterres told Yoon, according to footage broadcast by local media.
Guterres’s comments come as Washington and Seoul officials have repeatedly warned that the North is preparing to carry out what would be its seventh nuclear test.
On Thursday, Pyongyang blamed Seoul for a COVID-19 outbreak in the North and threatened to “wipe out” Seoul’s authorities.
Pyongyang has conducted a record-breaking blitz of weapons tests so far this year, including firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range for the first time since 2017.
Last month, the North’s leader Kim Jong Un said his country was “ready to mobilize” its nuclear deterrent in any future military conflict with the United States and Seoul.
Guterres delivered a stark warning against the horrors of atomic weapons in New York at a key nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference last week, which he reiterated in Japan on Monday.
“We are witnessing a radicalization in the geopolitical situation that makes the risk of a nuclear war again something we cannot completely forget,” he said at a press conference in Tokyo.


Fake jobs agency listing Mideast posts shut down by Philippine government

Fake jobs agency listing Mideast posts shut down by Philippine government
Updated 12 August 2022

Fake jobs agency listing Mideast posts shut down by Philippine government

Fake jobs agency listing Mideast posts shut down by Philippine government
  • Kharem’s International advertised bogus positions
  • Unwitting victims duped into advance, placement fees

DUBAI: The Philippine migrant workers office on Friday said it shut down an illegal recruitment agency in Manila after discovering it had been listing non-existent jobs in the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries.

Kharem’s International, an unregistered and unlicensed company, had listed jobs for domestic workers, beauticians and on-call cleaners in the region, Secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers Susan V. Ople said in a statement.

However, the agency’s bogus job offerings were only discovered after unwitting victims complained of being charged placement fees and other ‘advance’ payments.

Legitimate overseas job offers, as well as the registered and authorized recruitment agencies that handle them, can be verified with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, or POEA, a government agency responsible for the management of work programs in the country.

Emmanuel S. Geslani, an expert on the Philippine government’s overseas employment program, said the practice of unscrupulous recruitment agencies sending Filipino workers abroad to take up non-existent jobs has been prevalent, and there must be tighter enforcement measures to close these firms.

“Of course it also has to do with the breakdown of the departure process at airports,” Geslani told Arab News, as recruitment agencies work in cahoots with some dishonest Philippine immigration officials so victims could leave the country.

“A worker without a properly processed documentation, such as an OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate), cannot just depart from an airport. Even those leaving for Dubai, for example, on the pretext of being tourists can be closely checked as immigration officers have opportunities to interview them, and even authority to hold their departure,” Geslani said.

Meanwhile, six alleged illegal recruiters were also apprehended earlier after offering non-existent overseas jobs to 235 victims.

One suspect, Vegloure Ragotero, was accosted and apprehended by 109 of her victims after they chanced upon her while they were on their way to file a complaint at the POEA main office.

Charges of large-scale illegal recruitment, a non-bailable offense under Republic Act No. 10022, otherwise known as the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, are being prepared against Ragotero and other suspects.


First export of wheat under UN deal as two more ships leave Ukraine

First export of wheat under UN deal as two more ships leave Ukraine
Updated 46 min 1 sec ago

First export of wheat under UN deal as two more ships leave Ukraine

First export of wheat under UN deal as two more ships leave Ukraine
  • Belize-flagged Sormovsky left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port, carrying 3,050 tons of wheat
  • Marshall Island-flagged Star Laura departed from Pivdennyi, carrying 60,000 tons of corn

ISTANBUL: Two more ships left Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Friday, including one laden with the first Ukrainian wheat to be exported under a UN-brokered deal, Turkey’s defense ministry said.

A total 14 ships have now departed from Ukraine over the past two weeks, following the deal with Russia to allow a resumption of grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, after they were stalled for five months due to the war.

The agreement, brokered by the United Nations along with Turkey, was reached last month amid fears that the loss of Ukrainian grain supplies would lead to severe food shortages and even outbreaks of famine in parts of the world.

The Belize-flagged Sormovsky left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port on Friday, Turkey’s defense ministry said, carrying 3,050 tons of wheat to Turkey’s northwestern Tekirdag province.

It was the first shipment of wheat from Ukraine, which, along with Russia, accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports before Feb. 24, when Moscow launched what it describes as a “special operation” to demilitarise its neighbor.

Ukraine has some 20 million tons of grain left over from last year’s crop, while this year’s wheat harvest is also estimated at 20 million tons.

The Marshall Island-flagged Star Laura also departed from the port of Pivdennyi, bound for Iran with 60,000 tons of corn aboard, the ministry said.

So far most of the cargoes under the deal have carried grain for animal feed or for fuel.

There have yet to be shipments to countries most at risk from the global food crisis, although on Thursday Ukraine said a ship is due to come into port that is scheduled to take grain to Ethiopia.

As part of the UN deal, all ships are inspected in Istanbul by the Joint Coordination Center, where Russia, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN personnel work.

The Razoni, the first ship to depart Ukraine under the deal, docked in Turkey on Thursday and was headed to Egypt on Friday, Refinitiv ship tracker data showed, after its initial buyer in Lebanon refused delivery.

Shipping agent Toros, which managed the Razoni’s offloading in Turkey, said on Thursday that the ship would drop off 1,500 tons of its 26,527-ton load of corn in southern Turkey’s Mersin and the rest of it would go to Egypt.

The Rahmi Yagci, which left Ukraine on Tuesday for Istanbul, was anchored on the northern end of Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait on Friday, while the Mustafa Necati, which left for Italy on Sunday, was anchored on the southern end.

Four other vessels were approved for travel to Ukraine after being inspected by a JCC team in Istanbul. Turkey’s defense ministry said on Thursday that the ships that arrived in Ukraine were being loaded.

It was not immediately clear when they would leave. The UN has said the number of inbound ships was expected to grow as grain sales are agreed.


With gas pumps all but dry, Sri Lankans pedal through crisis

With gas pumps all but dry, Sri Lankans pedal through crisis
Updated 12 August 2022

With gas pumps all but dry, Sri Lankans pedal through crisis

With gas pumps all but dry, Sri Lankans pedal through crisis
  • Deep in economic disaster, country struggles with acute fuel shortages
  • As demand for two-wheelers soars, so does the bicycle black market

COLOMBO: Working in Colombo, Hashan Gunasekera has not gone home to see his family in Kandy since mid-April, as he has already given up on searching for gasoline to fuel his car.

A video production manager, Gunasekera, 32, used to drive three hours every week to spend Saturdays and Sundays at home, but for the past few months, he has not been able to drive, as his country — in the middle of the worst economic turmoil in memory — has run out of petrol.

Like many other middle-class Sri Lankans in the capital, he was forced to switch to a bicycle for his daily commutes.

“I have given up going home now,” Gunasekera told Arab News. “There is no use in even trying.”

The most basic bicycle he bought to reach his Colombo office cost him over 37,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($100) in June, but it had no gears and soon Gunasekera had to buy a new, slightly better one, which sold for 88,000 rupees — some three times more than before the crisis.

“A bike like this would have cost about 25,000 to 30,000 rupees last year,” he said.

Despite the soaring prices, the number of bikes on Colombo’s streets has increased manifold.

“The current market demand has greatly increased,” Sangeeth Suriyage, who runs Suriyage Bike Shop in Colombo, told Arab News, estimating that it may be even five times higher than last year.

“The market is able to meet a fair percentage of that demand," he said, adding that the supply-demand imbalance has fueled informal sales, with bicycles sold for at least double the current market price. “There is a thriving black market operating through people that buy and resell at exorbitant costs.”

Desperate Colombo residents in need of an accessible mode of transport are still willing to fork out the extra expense.

Marini, an English teacher based in Colombo, said she spent 188,000 rupees for a bike for her nephew to be able to go to school. 

“This was really expensive,” she said. “But given the current situation I considered it an investment.”

But the price is not the only problem. Bicycles are now joining the list of items the country is running out of.

At a shop in Borella, the largest suburb in Colombo, bikes sold like hot cakes last month, but now demand has outstripped supply, with import restrictions slapped on almost all commodities as the country’s foreign exchange reserves have dried.

“We are running out of bicycles,” one of the Borella shop’s sellers told Arab News. “After fuel was completely stopped for the past month and a half or so, crowds are coming to (buy) bicycles for adults. Before this, people came to buy bicycles for children, mostly.”

While the island nation of 22 million is seeking a $3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund to put its economy and public finances back on track, it is unlikely that the situation will get back to normal soon.

Some, like Hakiem Haniff, a 28-year-old marketeer who lives on the outskirts of Colombo, are trying to see positive aspects of having no choice but to take more exercise when transport options are limited.

But if it were to be long-term, he would like to see cycling infrastructure introduced in the city, which authorities promised earlier this year would be rolled out in Sri Lanka’s capital.

“If they want to take this thing seriously, they really need to invest in infrastructure so that more people will start cycling,” he said. “There’re no cycling lanes and it can be pretty crazy.”


UN chief urges demilitarized zone around Ukraine nuclear power plant

UN chief urges demilitarized zone around Ukraine nuclear power plant
Updated 11 August 2022

UN chief urges demilitarized zone around Ukraine nuclear power plant

UN chief urges demilitarized zone around Ukraine nuclear power plant
  • IAEA chief Rafael Grossi was due to brief the 15-member UN Security Council on the situation
  • Ukraine’s nuclear agency said Russian shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has damaged “several radiation sensors“

LONDON: UN chief Antonio Guterres on Thursday called for military activity around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power complex to end as Moscow and Kyiv blamed each other for a renewed shelling ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on the situation.
Russia seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in March after invading Ukraine on Feb. 24.
The plant is still run by its Ukrainian technicians and Ukraine’s Energoatom said the area was struck five times on Thursday, including near the site where radioactive materials are stored.
Guterres urged the withdrawal of military personnel and equipment and for no more forces or equipment to be deployed. He called for Russia and Ukraine not to target the facilities or surrounding area.
“The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarization to ensure the safety of the area,” Guterres said in a statement.
The United States supports calls for a demilitarized zone around Zaporizhzhia, a State Department spokesperson said on Thursday.
Meanwhile, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi was due to brief the 15-member UN Security Council on the situation later Thursday, at the request of Russia.
Russia’s Ambassador to International Organizations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, on Tuesday said that the IAEA was ready to visit Zaporizhzhia in June with Russia’s support.
“Unfortunately, at the very last moment the Department of Security of the UN Secretariat blocked the mission. We hope that the UN Secretary General will not allow this to happen again,” Ulyanov posted on Twitter.
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in response that the United Nations was committed to doing everything possible to get the IAEA technicians to Zaporizhzhia.
On Thursday, Ukraine’s nuclear agency said Russian shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has damaged “several radiation sensors.”
Energoatom said the new strikes were close to one of the Russian-controlled Ukrainian plant’s six reactors and there was “extensive smoke,” adding that “several radiation sensors are damaged.”
Moreover, Ukraine aims to evacuate two thirds of residents from areas it controls in the eastern battleground region of Donetsk before winter, partly out of concern people won’t be able to stay warm amid war-damaged infrastructure, the deputy prime minister said on Thursday.
The government plans to evacuate some 220,000 people out of around 350,000, including 52,000 children, Iryna Vereshchuk told a news conference.
Late last month Ukraine announced the mandatory evacuation of people from Donetsk region, which has been the scene of fierce fighting with Russia, to save civilian lives.
Although the authorities describe the evacuation as “mandatory,” residents can opt out by filling in a form declaring their intention to stay.
Since Aug. 1, 3,904 people had been evacuated, Vereshchuk said.
She said thousands should leave before winter comes because the fighting has destroyed power and heating infrastructure.
She added that evacuation might have to expand to other war-hit areas, such as Kherson, Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia regions.
Donetsk is part of the eastern region of Donbas, which Russia has said it aims to control completely.
In Copenhagen, a Ukraine donors’ conference of 26 countries pledged 1.5 billion euros (over $1.5 billion) more aid for training and equipment for Kyiv’s forces, the Danish defense minister said Thursday.
“All the participating nations here pledged for support, for training activities, demining activities, some with concrete donations,” Morten Bodskov said.
The exact amount promised by each of the 26 countries including France, Germany and the United States, was not published but Denmark announced a supplementary donation of $114 million for Ukraine, bringing its total support to Kyiv to $417 million.
Britain, which organized the conference with Denmark and Ukraine, promised nearly $300 million.
“Our partners know that we need funding and they articulated readiness to support us financially,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said as he welcomed the money.
The donors will meet again next month.
On the other hand, Estonia from next week will prevent most Russians from entering the country with visas issued by Estonian authorities, cutting off a popular route into Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone.
While exceptions apply, the Foreign Ministry for Estonia, a European Union member, said it will also cease to issue visas to Russians for work, study and business in the country.
The EU last month agreed a seventh round of sanctions against Russia since its invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday called on the West to impose a blanket travel ban on Russians in reaction to the ongoing war, an idea that angered Moscow.
The European Commission has questioned the feasibility of a blanket ban, saying certain categories such as family members, journalists and dissidents should always be granted visas.
(With AFP, AP and Reuters)