Migrants seek Europe, driven by post-war misery

Migrants seek Europe, driven by post-war misery
Syrian Kurd Bushra, who only gave her first name, poses for a photograph in Minsk, Belarus, Sept. 22, 2021. Bushra set out on the perilous trip to Europe through Belarus. (AP)
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Updated 21 December 2021

Migrants seek Europe, driven by post-war misery

Migrants seek Europe, driven by post-war misery
  • More than 78,000 Syrians have applied for asylum in the EU so far this year, a 70 percent increase from last year

GIESSEN, Germany: She had already walked for 60 hours through the wet, dark forests of Poland, trying to make her way to Germany, when the 29-year-old Syrian Kurd twisted her knee.

It wasn’t the first setback in Bushra’s journey.

Earlier, her road companion and best friend had fainted in a panic attack as Polish border guards chased them. They hid in ditches and behind trees as her friend tried to regain her breath, but it was no good. They turned themselves in and the guards dumped them back across the border into Belarus.

They quickly returned, bedraggled and wet, on the same trail. After twisting her knee, Bushra persevered. For two more days, she dragged her right foot behind her through the rain and freezing temperatures of the forests. Finally, they reached a Polish village where a car took them across the border into Germany — for a life she hopes will be free.

“I put up with the unbearable pain. Running away from something is sometimes the easiest thing,” Bushra said in the central German town of Giessen, where she applied for asylum as a refugee. “There is no future for us in Syria.”

Bushra, who asked that her last name be withheld for her own safety, is the face of the new Syrian migrant. More Syrians are leaving home, even though the 10-year-old civil war has wound down and conflict lines have been frozen for years.

They are fleeing not from the war’s horrors, which drove hundreds of thousands to Europe in the massive wave of 2015, but from the misery of the war’s aftermath. They have lost hope in a future at home amid abject poverty,  rampant corruption and wrecked infrastructure, as well as continued hostilities, government repression and revenge attacks by multiple armed groups.

More than 78,000 Syrians have applied for asylum in the EU so far this year, a 70 percent increase from last year, according to EU records. After Afghans, Syrians are the largest single nationality among this year’s nearly 500,000 asylum applicants so far.

Nine out of 10 people live in poverty in Syria. Around 13 million need humanitarian assistance, a 20 percent increase from the year before. The government is unable to secure basic needs, and nearly 7 million are internally displaced.

Roads, telecommunications, hospitals and schools have been devastated by the war and widening economic sanctions are making reconstruction impossible.

The coronavirus pandemic compounded the worst economic crisis since the war began in 2011. Syria’s currency is collapsing, and minimum wage is barely enough to buy 5 pounds of meat a month, if meat is even available.

Crime and drug production are on the rise while militias, backed by foreign powers, operate smuggling rackets and control entire villages and towns.

The numbers are far below the levels of 2015, but desperate Syrians are racing to get out. Social media groups are dedicated to helping them find a way. 

Users ask where they can apply for work or scholarship visas. Others seek advice on the latest migration routes, cost of smugglers, and how risky it would be to use assumed identities to get out of Syria or enter other countries.


Japan condemns Israel for its illegal settlement construction

Japan condemns Israel for its illegal settlement construction
Updated 9 sec ago

Japan condemns Israel for its illegal settlement construction

Japan condemns Israel for its illegal settlement construction

TOKYO: The Japanese government deplored Israel’s decision to advance plans to construct over 4,000 housing units in settlements on the occupied territories in the West Bank and urged Israel to reverse the decision and fully freeze its settlement activities.

“The Government of Japan remains seriously concerned by and deeply deplores the continued settlement activities by the government of Israel despite repeated calls from Japan and the international community,” an official statement by the foreign ministry said.

Japan stressed that Israel’s illegal settlement plans “violates the international law and undermine the viability of a two-state solution” and called on the Israelis to refrain from actions that escalate tensions.

This story was originally published on Arab News Japan


North Korea mobilizes army, steps up tracing amid COVID-19 wave

North Korea mobilizes army, steps up tracing amid COVID-19 wave
Updated 17 May 2022

North Korea mobilizes army, steps up tracing amid COVID-19 wave

North Korea mobilizes army, steps up tracing amid COVID-19 wave
  • Isolated country is grappling with its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak
  • The WHO has warned the virus may spread rapidly in North Korea

SEOUL: North Korea has mobilized its military to distribute COVID-19 medications and deployed more than 10,000 health workers to help trace potential patients, as it fights a sweeping coronavirus wave, state media outlet KCNA said on Tuesday.
The isolated country is grappling with its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak, which it confirmed last week, fueling concerns over a major crisis due to a lack of vaccines and adequate medical infrastructure.
The state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters reported 269,510 more people with fever symptoms, bringing the total to 1.48 million, while the death toll grew by six to 56 as of Monday evening, KCNA said. It did not say how many people had tested positive for COVID-19.
The country has not started mass vaccinations and has limited testing capabilities, raising concerns that it may be difficult to assess how widely and rapidly the disease is spreading and verify the number of confirmed cases and deaths.
“The numbers are simply unreliable, but the sheer numbers of people having fever are worrisome,” said Lee Jae-gap, a professor of infectious diseases at Hallym University School of Medicine.
He said that the death count would surge over time, but that Pyongyang might be tempted to keep the publicly available numbers low to avoid a political crisis.
“I don’t think the North Korean regime can afford to release any surging death toll, which would sour public sentiment.”
Gauging COVID-19 deaths from outside North Korea would require comparing excess mortality figures long after the wave dies down, but the North does not conduct annual census studies, said Eom Joong-sik, a professor of infectious diseases at Gachon University Gil Medical Center in South Korea.
KCNA reported enhanced virus control efforts. It said “a powerful force” of the army’s medical corps was immediately deployed to improve the supply of medicines in the capital Pyongyang, the center of the epidemic, following an order by leader Kim Jong Un.
The team’s mission was aimed at “defusing the public health crisis” in Pyongyang, it said.
Some senior members of the ruling Workers’ Party’s powerful politburo visited pharmacies and medicine management offices to check supply and demand, KCNA said in another dispatch, after Kim criticized ineffective distribution of drugs.
“They called for establishing a more strict order in keeping and handling the medical supplies, maintaining the principle of prioritising the demand and convenience of the people in the supply,” KCNA said.
Tracing efforts were also intensified, with some 11,000 health officials, teachers and medical students joining an “intensive medical examination of all inhabitants” across the country to locate and treat people with fever.
Still, various sectors of the national economy are maintaining production and construction, while taking thorough anti-virus measures, KCNA added. Kim had ordered that limited activity be allowed in each city and county.
The World Health Organization has warned the virus may spread rapidly in North Korea, which had no vaccination program and declined international help.
Many of the medicines being distributed there are painkillers and fever reducers such as ibuprofen, and amoxicillin and other antibiotics — which do not fight viruses but are sometimes prescribed for secondary bacterial infections. Home remedies such as gargling salt water have also been encouraged.
South Korea offered working-level talks on Monday to send medical supplies, including vaccines, masks and test kits, as well as technical cooperation, but said the North had not acknowledged its message.
An official at Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which handles cross-border affairs, said on Tuesday that there had been no reply yet from the North but that the office plans to “wait without pressing for a response.”
The US State Department said it was concerned about the outbreak’s potential impact on North Koreans, and supports vaccine aid to the country.
“We strongly support and encourage the efforts of US and international aid and health organizations in seeking to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19 ... and to provide other forms of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable groups in the country,” a spokesperson said.
The spokesperson confirmed that the US envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, had a phone call with South Korea’s new nuclear negotiator, Kim Gunn, without elaborating.


Beijing locks down more people in China’s zero COVID-19 fight

Beijing locks down more people in China’s zero COVID-19 fight
Updated 17 May 2022

Beijing locks down more people in China’s zero COVID-19 fight

Beijing locks down more people in China’s zero COVID-19 fight
  • In Beijing, the number of cases has held steady but new clusters have popped up in different parts of the city

BEIJING: Authorities in Beijing restricted more residents to their homes on Tuesday in a now 3-week-long effort to control a small but persistent COVID-19 outbreak in the Chinese capital.
Seven adjoining areas in the city’s Fengtai district were designated lockdown zones for at least one week, with people ordered to stay at home in an area covering about 4 by 5 kilometers. The area is near a wholesale food market that was closed indefinitely on Saturday following the discovery of a cluster there.
The added restrictions come as Shanghai, China’s largest city, slowly starts to ease a citywide lockdown that has trapped most of its population for more than six weeks. The twin outbreaks in Beijing and Shanghai, the country’s most prominent cities, have focused attention on whether China can sustain its strict “zero-COVID” approach, as many other countries adapt to the fast-spreading omicron variant and ease restrictions.
China recorded 1,100 new cases on Monday, the National Health Commission said Tuesday. Of those, about 800 were in Shanghai and 52 were in Beijing. The daily number of new cases in Shanghai has declined steadily for more than two weeks, but authorities have been moved slowly to relax restrictions, frustrating residents.
In Beijing, the number of cases has held steady but new clusters have popped up in different parts of the city. City spokesperson Xu Hejian said that Beijing’s top priority is to screen people related to the cluster at the wholesale food market and isolate those who test positive. A second wholesale food market in Fengtai district was shut down Tuesday.
Most of Beijing is not locked down, but the streets are much quieter than usual with many shops closed and people working from home.


Taiwan’s president condemns California church shooting

Taiwan’s president condemns California church shooting
Updated 17 May 2022

Taiwan’s president condemns California church shooting

Taiwan’s president condemns California church shooting
  • President Tsai Ing-wen condemns ‘any form of violence’, extends her condolences to those killed and injured
  • Suspect apparently has a grievance with the Taiwanese community, police say

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s president has condemned the shooting at a Taiwanese church in California by a man reportedly driven by hatred of the island, while a lawmaker from her ruling party questioned whether Chinese propaganda was a motivating factor behind the violence.
President Tsai Ing-wen’s office issued a statement Tuesday saying she condemned “any form of violence,” extended her condolences to those killed and injured and had asked the island’s chief representative in the US to fly to California to provide assistance.
David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, was expected to appear in California state court Tuesday on suspicion of murder and attempted murder. Police said he hid firebombs before Sunday’s shooting at a gathering of mostly elderly Taiwanese parishioners at the church in Orange County outside Los Angeles. One man was killed and five people wounded, the oldest 92. A federal hate crimes investigation is also ongoing.
Chou, a US citizen, apparently had a grievance with the Taiwanese community, police said. Chou was born in Taiwan in 1953, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported, citing the head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles, Taiwan’s de-facto consulate in the city.
According to Taiwanese media, Chou had ties to a Chinese-backed organization opposed to Taiwan’s independence, although details could not immediately be confirmed.
China claims Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary and regularly denounces Tsai, her ruling Democratic Progressive Party and their foreign supporters in increasingly violent terms.
Tensions between China and Taiwan are at the highest in decades, with Beijing stepping up its military harassment by flying fighter jets toward the self-governing island.
In Taiwan, DPP legislator Lin Ching-yi said “ideology has become a reason for genocide” in a message on her Facebook page.
Lin said Taiwanese need to “face up to hateful speech and organizations” backed by China’s ruling Communist Party, singling out the United Front Work Department that seeks to advance China’s political agenda in Taiwan and among overseas Chinese communities.
The US is Taiwan’s chief political and military ally though it doesn’t extend the island formal diplomatic ties in deference to Beijing.
Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s de-facto ambassador, on Monday tweeted that she was “shocked and saddened by the fatal shooting at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in California.”
“I join the families of the victims and Taiwanese American communities in grief and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded survivors,” Hsiao wrote.
Chou’s hatred toward the island, documented in hand-written notes that authorities found, appears to have begun when he felt he wasn’t treated well while living there.
A former neighbor said Chou’s life unraveled after his wife left him and his mental health had been in decline.
Chou’s family appeared to be among the roughly 1 million refugees from mainland China who moved to Taiwan at around the time of the Communist sweep to power on the mainland in 1949.
The former Japanese colony had only been handed over to Nationalist Chinese rule in 1945 at the end of World War II, and relations between mainlanders and native Taiwanese were often tense.
Separated by language and lifestyle, incidents of bullying and confrontation between the sides were frequent.
Many mainlander youth, who were concentrated in the major cities, joined violent organized crime gangs with ties to the military and Chinese secret societies, in part to defend themselves against Taiwanese rivals.
The Presbyterian Church is the most prominent of the Christian dominations in Taiwan and was closely identified with the pro-democracy movement under decades of martial law era and later with the Taiwan independence cause.


Ukrainian troops evacuate from Mariupol, ceding control to Russia

After nightfall Monday, several buses pulled away from the steel mill accompanied by Russian military vehicles. (REUTERS)
After nightfall Monday, several buses pulled away from the steel mill accompanied by Russian military vehicles. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 May 2022

Ukrainian troops evacuate from Mariupol, ceding control to Russia

After nightfall Monday, several buses pulled away from the steel mill accompanied by Russian military vehicles. (REUTERS)
  • All of the evacuees will be subject to a potential prisoner exchange with Russia

KYIV/NOVOAZOVSK, Ukraine: Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday it was working to evacuate all remaining troops from their last stronghold in the besieged port of Mariupol, ceding control of the city to Russia after months of bombardment.
The evacuation likely marked the end of the longest and bloodiest battle of the Ukraine war and a significant defeat for Ukraine. Mariupol is now in ruins after a Russian siege that Ukraine says killed tens of thousands of people in the city.
With the rest of Mariupol firmly in Russian hands, hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians had holed up beneath the city’s Azovstal steelworks. Civilians inside were evacuated in recent weeks, and more than 260 troops, some of them wounded, left the plant for Russian-controlled areas late on Monday.
“The ‘Mariupol’ garrison has fulfilled its combat mission,” the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in a statement announcing evacuations.
“The supreme military command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel... Defenders of Mariupol are the heroes of our time,” it added. Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said 53 injured troops from the Azovstal steelworks were taken to a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk, some 32 kilometers (20 miles) to the east.
Another 211 people were taken to the town of Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists, Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar said. All of the evacuees will be subject to a potential prisoner exchange with Russia, she added.
It was not clear how many troops remained in Azovstal. Ukraine’s military said efforts were under way to evacuate those still inside.
Reuters saw five buses carrying troops from Azovstal arrive in Novoazovsk late on Monday. Some of the evacuated troops were wounded and carried out of the buses on stretchers. Some 600 troops were believed to have been inside the steel plant.
“We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an early morning address. “There are severely wounded ones among them. They’re receiving care. Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive.”
Arriving in Novoazovsk in a bus marked with Z, a symbol for Russia’s invasion, men could be seen stacked on stretchers on three levels. They stared out the windows without reacting. One man was wheeled out, his head tightly wrapped in thick bandages.
Since Russia launched its invasion in February, Mariupol’s devastation has become a symbol both of Ukraine’s resistance and of Russia’s willingness to devastate Ukrainian cities that hold out.
The first evacuations late on Monday came hours after Russia said it had agreed to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers to a medical facility in Novoazovsk.

LVIV EXPLOSIONS, KHARKIV FIGHTING
Moscow calls its nearly three-month-old invasion a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of fascists, an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.
Russia’s invading forces have run into apparent setbacks, with troops forced out of the north and the environs of Kyiv in late March. A Ukrainian counterattack in recent days has driven Russian forces out of the area near Kharkiv, the biggest city in the east.
Areas around Kyiv and the western city of Lviv, near the Polish border, have continued to come under Russian attack. A series of explosions struck Lviv early on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.
On Monday, Ukraine’s defense ministry troops had advanced all the way to the Russian border, about 40 km north of Kharkiv.
The successes near Kharkiv could let Ukraine attack supply lines for Russia’s main offensive, grinding on further south in the Donbas region, where Moscow has been launching mass assaults for a month yet achieving only small gains.

PUTIN CLIMBDOWN OVER NATO
Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared on Monday to climb down from threats to retaliate against Sweden and Finland for announcing plans to join the US-led NATO military alliance.
“As far as expansion goes, including new members Finland and Sweden, Russia has no problems with these states — none. And so in this sense there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion to include these countries,” Putin said.
The comments appeared to mark a major shift in rhetoric, after years of casting NATO enlargement as a direct threat to Russia’s security, including citing it as a justification for the invasion of Ukraine itself.
Soon before Putin spoke, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said Finland and Sweden were making a mistake that would have far-reaching consequences: “They should have no illusions that we will simply put up with it.”
Putin said NATO enlargement was being used by the United States in an “aggressive” way to aggravate an already difficult global security situation, and that Russia would respond if the alliance moves weapons or troops forward.
“The expansion of military infrastructure into this territory would certainly provoke our response. What that (response) will be — we will see what threats are created for us,” Putin said.
Finland and Sweden, both non-aligned throughout the Cold War, say they now want the protection offered by NATO’s treaty, under which an attack on any member is an attack on all.
“We are leaving one era behind us and entering a new one,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said, announcing plans to formally abandon militarily non-aligned status — a cornerstone of national identity for more than 200 years.