India probes illegal immigration after tragedy near Canada border

India probes illegal immigration after tragedy near Canada border
There are over one million Indians registered in Canada, a preferred destination for those coming from the Asian subcontinent legally, or otherwise. (AFP)
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Updated 27 January 2022

India probes illegal immigration after tragedy near Canada border

India probes illegal immigration after tragedy near Canada border
  • Hundreds of Indians, mostly from the western states of Punjab and Gujarat, attempt to cross the US-Canada border each year

MUMBAI: Indian police have detained six people in a crackdown on illegal immigration after four Indians were found frozen to death near the border between the United States and Canada last week, officials said on Thursday.
Hundreds of Indians, mostly from the western states of Punjab and Gujarat, attempt to cross the US-Canada border each year, braving harsh weather conditions in search of a better life and job opportunities in the West.
Police in Gujarat said they identified the four, belonging to a single family, after law enforcement agencies on the border provided photographs of passports and other belongings.
“We are now trying to nab the human traffickers who managed to send this family and others abroad via illegal channels,” said police official A.K. Jhala in the state capital of Gandhinagar.
The six detained by police were running a travel and tourism company in the state, he added.
US authorities have charged a US man with human trafficking after the four — a man, woman, baby and teenager — were found dead in the Canadian province of Manitoba, a few yards north of the frontier with Minnesota.
They were among four families from the same village who had traveled to the border this month.
Officials said they got separated from the group of 18 people and were probably caught in a blizzard, resulting in a tragedy described as “mind-blowing” by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The situation came to light only when the group was intercepted by authorities and one of them was found to be carrying a backpack with baby supplies, although there was no infant among them.
“The nexus of human trafficking runs deep, often involving local politicians too,” said Jhala, adding that people even sell their land and homes to fund efforts to get to the United States or Canada.
A foreign ministry official in the Indian capital of New Delhi said authorities were coordinating with border officials in the United States and Canada to investigate the illegal immigration case.


US-Taliban deal biggest factor in collapse of Afghan forces, watchdog says

US-Taliban deal biggest factor in collapse of Afghan forces, watchdog says
Updated 6 sec ago

US-Taliban deal biggest factor in collapse of Afghan forces, watchdog says

US-Taliban deal biggest factor in collapse of Afghan forces, watchdog says
  • Withdrawal ‘destroyed’ the morale of the Afghan military as it was dependent on US military support
WASHINGTON: The biggest factor that led to the collapse of the Afghan military in August last year was the US decision to withdraw forces and contractors from Afghanistan through an agreement with the Taliban signed by the Trump administration and executed by the Biden administration, a US watchdog report concluded.
The withdrawal “destroyed” the morale of the Afghan military as it was dependent on US military support, according to an assessment by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, which was made public late Tuesday.
“SIGAR found that the single most important factor in the ANDSF’s (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) collapse in August 2021 was the US decision to withdraw military forces and contractors from Afghanistan through signing the US-Taliban agreement in February 2020 under the Trump administration, followed by President Biden’s withdrawal announcement in April 2021,” the report said.
Under US President Joe Biden’s Republican predecessor Donald Trump, the United States made a deal with the Islamist Taliban to withdraw all American forces.
After the signing of the deal, the US military support to Afghan forces came down, which also included a drop in air strikes in 2020 after a record high level in the previous year, the report added.
“Limiting airstrikes after the signing of the US-Taliban agreement the following year left the ANDSF without a key advantage in keeping the Taliban at bay,” John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said.
The Taliban overran Afghanistan in August as the former Western-backed government collapsed with surprising speed and the last US troops withdrew.
Biden had argued the war in Afghanistan needed to be brought to a close after 20 years of fighting that had cost American lives, drained resources and distracted from greater strategic priorities.
The US Congress created the office of SIGAR to provide an oversight of reconstruction projects and activities during the war in Afghanistan.
“Many Afghans thought the US-Taliban agreement was an act of bad faith and a signal that the US was handing over Afghanistan to the enemy as it rushed to exit the country,” Sopko said.

Finland, Sweden submit application to join NATO

Finland, Sweden submit application to join NATO
Updated 28 min 17 sec ago

Finland, Sweden submit application to join NATO

Finland, Sweden submit application to join NATO
  • Sweden and Finland were both neutral throughout the Cold War
  • Ratification of all 30 allied parliaments could take up to a year

BRUSSELS: Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the NATO alliance on Wednesday at allied headquarters, a decision spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and setting in motion an accession process that is expected to take only a few weeks.

Sweden and Finland were both neutral throughout the Cold War, and their decision to join NATO is one of the most significant changes in Europe’s security architecture for decades, reflecting a sweeping shift in public opinion in the Nordic region since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.

“This is a historic moment, which we must seize,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a short ceremony in which the Swedish and Finnish ambassadors to the alliance handed over their application letters, each in a white folder embossed with their national flag.

“I warmly welcome requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners, and your membership in NATO will increase our shared security,” Stoltenberg said. The alliance considers that the accession of Finland and Sweden would hugely strengthen it in the Baltic Sea.

Ratification of all 30 allied parliaments could take up to a year, diplomats say.

Turkey has surprised its allies in recent days by saying it had reservations about Finnish and Swedish membership. Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that he thought the issues could be resolved.

“We are determined to work through all issues and reach rapid conclusions,” Stoltenberg said, noting strong support from all other allies.


Half a million Indians flee floods in northeast brought by rain

Half a million Indians flee floods in northeast brought by rain
Updated 18 May 2022

Half a million Indians flee floods in northeast brought by rain

Half a million Indians flee floods in northeast brought by rain
  • One of the world’s largest rivers, the Brahmaputra, burst its banks in Assam over the last three days, inundating more than 1,500 villages

GUWAHATI, India: More than 500,000 people have fled their homes in India’s northeastern state of Assam to escape heavy floods triggered by pre-monsoon rains that drowned seven, authorities said on Wednesday, as they warned the situation could worsen.
One of the world’s largest rivers, the Brahmaputra, which flows into India and neighboring Bangladesh from Tibet, burst its banks in Assam over the last three days, inundating more than 1,500 villages.
Torrential rains lashed most of the rugged state, and the downpour continued on Wednesday, with more forecast over the next two days.
“More than 500,000 people have been affected, with the flood situation turning critical by the hour,” Assam’s water resources minister, Pijush Hazarika said, adding that the seven drowned in separate incidents during the last three days.
Soldiers of the Indian army retrieved more than 2,000 people trapped in the district of Hojai in a rescue effort that continues, the state’s health minister, Keshab Mahanta, said.
Water levels in the Brahmaputra were expected to rise further, national authorities said.
“The situation remains extremely grave in the worst-hit Dima Hasao district, with both rail and road links snapped due to flooding and landslides,” said Assam’s revenue minister, Jogen Mohan, who is overseeing relief efforts there.
Cities elsewhere in India, notably the capital, New Delhi, are broiling in a heat wave.


Australian election polls show race tightening in final campaign stretch

Australian election polls show race tightening in final campaign stretch
Updated 18 May 2022

Australian election polls show race tightening in final campaign stretch

Australian election polls show race tightening in final campaign stretch
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison describes the pre-polling trends as ‘really encouraging’
  • Opposition leader Anthony Albanese blames government mismanagement for the slow rise in wages and inflation shock

SYDNEY: Australia’s national election has become too close to call, polls out on Wednesday showed, as the ruling conservative coalition narrowed the gap with the main opposition Labour Party, three days before the country decides on a new government.
Center-left Labor’s lead over the Liberal-National coalition has shrunk to 51-49 percent on a two-party preferred basis from 54-46 percent two weeks ago, a poll done for the Sydney Morning Herald showed. A Guardian poll indicated Labor’s lead had dipped to 48-46 percent from 49 percent-45 percent two weeks ago.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the pre-polling trends as “really encouraging,” while Labor acknowledged the election would be “incredibly close.”
With Australia going to the polls on Saturday, rising living costs have dominated the final stretches of the campaign with voters rating it as the most critical issue in some polls.
Australian wage growth ticked up by only a fraction last quarter, data out on Wednesday showed, even as a tightening labor market and record vacancies heightened competition for workers.
But consumer price inflation has risen twice as fast as wages, keeping real income in the red.
“I have been very candid with Australians about the economic challenges we’re facing ... Labor has no magic bullet on this, they have no magic pen or magic wand,” Morrison told reporters from the marginal Labor-held seat of Corangamite in Victoria.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese blamed government mismanagement for the slow rise in wages and inflation shock.
“Australian workers are paying the price for a decade of bad policy and economic failures while Scott Morrison says he should be rewarded with another three years because he is just getting started,” Albanese said.
Nearly 6 million voters out of an electorate of 17 million have already cast their ballots through postal votes or early in-person voting, official data showed.
An additional 1.1 million postal votes have been received so far versus the 2019 election. The Electoral Commission has flagged a clear winner may not emerge on election night if it is a close contest due to time required to count all postal votes.


Global pollution kills 9 million people a year, study finds

Smoke rises from the Duvha coal-based power station owned by state power utility Eskom, in Mpumalanga province, South Africa.
Smoke rises from the Duvha coal-based power station owned by state power utility Eskom, in Mpumalanga province, South Africa.
Updated 18 May 2022

Global pollution kills 9 million people a year, study finds

Smoke rises from the Duvha coal-based power station owned by state power utility Eskom, in Mpumalanga province, South Africa.
  • Pollution kills about the same number of people a year around the world as cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke combined, the study said

NEW DELHI: A new study blames pollution of all types for 9 million deaths a year globally, with the death toll attributed to dirty air from cars, trucks and industry rising 55 percent since 2000.
That increase is offset by fewer pollution deaths from primitive indoor stoves and water contaminated with human and animal waste, so overall pollution deaths in 2019 are about the same as 2015.
The United States is the only fully industrialized country in the top 10 nations for total pollution deaths, ranking 7th with 142,883 deaths blamed on pollution in 2019, sandwiched between Bangladesh and Ethiopia, according to a new study in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health. Tuesday’s pre-pandemic study is based on calculations derived from the Global Burden of Disease database and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle. India and China lead the world in pollution deaths with nearly 2.4 million and almost 2.2 million deaths a year, but the two nations also have the world’s largest populations.
When deaths are put on a per population rate, the United States ranks 31st from the bottom at 43.6 pollution deaths per 100,000. Chad and the Central African Republic rank the highest with rates about 300 pollution deaths per 100,000, more than half of them due to tainted water, while Brunei, Qatar and Iceland have the lowest pollution death rates ranging from 15 to 23. The global average is 117 pollution deaths per 100,000 people.
Pollution kills about the same number of people a year around the world as cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke combined, the study said.
“9 million deaths is a lot of deaths,” said Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College.
“The bad news is that it’s not decreasing,” Landrigan said. “We’re making gains in the easy stuff and we’re seeing the more difficult stuff, which is the ambient (outdoor industrial) air pollution and the chemical pollution, still going up.”
It doesn’t have to be this way, researchers said.
“They are preventable deaths. Each and every one of them is a death that is unnecessary,” said Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the George Washington University School of Public Health, who wasn’t part of the study. She said the calculations made sense and if anything. was so conservative about what it attributed to pollution, that the real death toll is likely higher.
The certificates for these deaths don’t say pollution. They list heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, other lung issues and diabetes that are “tightly correlated” with pollution by numerous epidemiological studies, Landrigan said. To then put these together with actual deaths, researchers look at the number of deaths by cause, exposure to pollution weighted for various factors, and then complicated exposure response calculations derived by large epidemiological studies based on thousands of people over decades of study, he said. It’s the same way scientists can say cigarettes cause cancer and heart disease deaths.
“That cannon of information constitutes causality,” Landrigan said. “That’s how we do it.”
Five outside experts in public health and air pollution, including Goldman, told The Associated Press the study follows mainstream scientific thought. Dr. Renee Salas, an emergency room doctor and Harvard professor who wasn’t part of the study, said “the American Heart Association determined over a decade ago that exposure to (tiny pollution particles) like that generated from the burning of fossil fuels is causal for heart disease and death.”
“While people focus on decreasing their blood pressure and cholesterol, few recognize that the removal of air pollution is an important prescription to improve their heart health,” Salas said.
Three-quarters of the overall pollution deaths came from air pollution and the overwhelming part of that is “a combination of pollution from stationary sources like coal-fired power plants and steel mills on one hand and mobile sources like cars, trucks and buses. And it’s just a big global problem,” said Landrigan, a public health physician. “And it’s getting worse around the world as countries develop and cities grow.”
In New Delhi, India, air pollution peaks in the winter months and last year the city saw just two days when the air wasn’t considered polluted. It was the first time in four years that the city experienced a clean air day during the winter months.
That air pollution remains the leading cause of death in South Asia reconfirms what is already known, but the increase in these deaths means that toxic emissions from vehicles and energy generation is increasing, said Anumita Roychowdhury, a director at the advocacy group Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi.
“This data is a reminder of what is going wrong but also that it is an opportunity to fix it,” Roychowdhury said.
Pollution deaths are soaring in the poorest areas, experts said.
“This problem is worst in areas of the world where population is most dense (e.g. Asia) and where financial and government resources to address the pollution problem are limited and stretched thin to address a host of challenges including health care availability and diet as well as pollution,” said Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, who wasn’t part of the study.
In 2000, industrial air pollution killed about 2.9 million people a year globally. By 2015 it was up to 4.2 million and in 2019 it was 4.5 million, the study said. Toss in household air pollution, mostly from inefficient primitive stoves, and air pollution killed 6.7 million people in 2019, the study found.
Lead pollution — some from lead additive which has been banned from gasoline in every country in the world and also from old paint, recycling batteries and other manufacturing — kills 900,000 people a year, while water pollution is responsible for 1.4 million deaths a year. Occupational health pollution adds another 870,000 deaths, the study said.
In the United States, about 20,000 people a year die from lead pollution-induced hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease, mostly as occupational hazards, Landrigan said. Lead and asbestos are America’s big chemical occupational hazards, and they kill about 65,000 people a year from pollution, he said. The study said the number of air pollution deaths in the United States in 2019 was 60,229, far more than deaths on American roads, which hit a 16-year peak of nearly 43,000 last year.
Modern types of pollution are rising in most countries, especially developing ones, but fell from 2000 to 2019 in the United States, the European Union and Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s numbers can’t quite be explained and may be a reporting issue, said study co-author Richard Fuller, founder of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution and president of Pure Earth, a non-profit that works on pollution clean-up programs in about a dozen countries.
The study authors came up with eight recommendations to reduce pollution deaths, highlighting the need for better monitoring, better reporting and stronger government systems regulating industry and cars.
“We absolutely know how to solve each one of those problems,” Fuller said. “What’s missing is political will.”