UK tells Syrian asylum seeker ‘safe’ to return home

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel makes a statement in the House of Commons in London. (File/AFP/UK Parliament)
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel makes a statement in the House of Commons in London. (File/AFP/UK Parliament)
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Updated 09 January 2022

UK tells Syrian asylum seeker ‘safe’ to return home

UK tells Syrian asylum seeker ‘safe’ to return home
  • The Home Office sent the Syrian asylum seeker a refusal letter in December
  • His lawyers are now appealing the government’s unprecedented decision

LONDON: A Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Britain has been told by the UK Home Office that he is safe to return to his war-torn country, The Guardian reported on Sunday.
The 25-year-old refugee sought sanctuary in the UK in May 2020 after fleeing mandatory enlistment into Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army in 2017. “He said that if he is forced back to Syria, he will be targeted as a draft evader, arrested, detained and killed,” the newspaper reported.
It would be the first time that the UK returns a refugee to Syria, which the UN Refugee Agency said in October was still “unsafe.”
The agency reiterated an appeal from Human Rights Watch that “all countries should protect Syrians from being returned to face violence and torture, and halt any forced returns to Syria.”
A refusal letter sent to the asylum seeker by the Home Office last month said: “I am not satisfied to a reasonable degree of likelihood that you have a well-founded fear of persecution.
“It is not accepted that you will face a risk of persecution or real risk of serious harm on return to the Syrian Arab Republic due to your imputed political opinion as a draft evader.”
His lawyers are now appealing the Home Office’s unprecedented decision.
The asylum seeker, who has not been named for his own protection, said: “I escaped from Syria in 2017 and I am looking for safety.
“I hope I will not be forced back to Syria. I am so tired of trying to find somewhere that I can be safe.”


Japan congratulates Somalia on electing a new president

Japan congratulates Somalia on electing a new president
Updated 10 sec ago

Japan congratulates Somalia on electing a new president

Japan congratulates Somalia on electing a new president

TOKYO: Japan on Monday congratulated Somalia on electing Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as a new president, and said it hopes Somalia will be able to make further progress in consolidating peace in the country. 

The foreign ministry in Tokyo said that in light of the 8th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 8), which will be held this year, Japan will continue its support for peace and stability in Somalia in collaboration with the international community.


Japan condemns Israel for its illegal settlement construction

Japan condemns Israel for its illegal settlement construction
Updated 26 min 37 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.