UK government cuts free medication, toiletries for Afghan asylum seekers

Home Secretary Priti Patel watches as a refugee has her fingerprints taken after arriving from Afghanistan on a evacuation flight at Heathrow Airport. (Reuters/File Photo)
Home Secretary Priti Patel watches as a refugee has her fingerprints taken after arriving from Afghanistan on a evacuation flight at Heathrow Airport. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 06 February 2022

UK government cuts free medication, toiletries for Afghan asylum seekers

Home Secretary Priti Patel watches as a refugee has her fingerprints taken after arriving from Afghanistan on a evacuation flight at Heathrow Airport. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • It was revealed that the Home Office is spending £4.7 million ($6.36 million) per day housing asylum seekers in hotels and providing for them

LONDON: Asylum seekers in Britain being housed in hotels have been told by the UK Home Office to pay for non-basic toiletries themselves, a letter has revealed.

People fleeing the Taliban, some of whom worked for the British military or authorities, say the latest move from the British government shows that it “does not care” about them anymore.

It was revealed that the Home Office is spending £4.7 million ($6.36 million) per day housing asylum seekers in hotels and providing for them — an estimated £127 per person.

Faiz Mohammad Seddeqi, 30, a former guard at the British Embassy in Kabul, is one such evacuee from Afghanistan and has been staying at one of the hotels for almost six months.

He was evacuated with his wife and son during the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan in August last year.

“When we see this kind of reaction and decision from the Home Office, it means ‘from onward we don’t care about you and we are not concerned about you — you need to manage everything by yourself,’” he said.

He said that the hotel in Watford where he and his family are staying is “not very clean” and that the food they are given is “not good.”

The letter he received, addressed from the Afghanistan Resettlement Arrivals Project at the Home Office, reads: “Until now, in addition to your Universal Credit payments and the accommodation and meals provided in the bridging hotels, we have also provided some additional items.

“I am writing to inform you that from Feb. 11 we will no longer provide those additional items and you will need to purchase these for yourself using your Universal Credit payments.”

According to the letter, asylum seekers will still receive “main meals,” including “baby food and baby milk,” but will no longer receive “complimentary snacks, toiletries (aside from basic toiletries) or over-the-counter medication.”

The letter added: “You will need to pay your own transport or taxi fares to appointments,” referencing the Home Office’s desire for those being resettled to find work.

“All hotel residents continue to receive fully furnished accommodation, including a choice of three meals a day, constant access to drinking water, basic toiletries and their utility costs are covered,” a Home Office spokesperson said.

Some 25,000 asylum seekers and 12,000 Afghan refugees are now staying in hotels in the UK, the Home Office told the Home Affairs Committee this week.

At the session, MPs were told that the UK government was “optimistic” that it can find a revised way of working with councils on managing costs.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel said that the current policy toward housing the evacuees was “thoroughly inadequate,” adding: “We do not want people in hotels.”

She said that the government and local authorities were “absolutely struggling” to move Afghan refugees into more suitable, permanent accommodation, because the infrastructure to do so is “insufficient.”


African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency
Updated 21 sec ago

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency
  • The majority of those cases are in Europe. No deaths beyond Africa have been reported

HARARE: Health authorities in Africa say they are treating the expanding monkeypox outbreak there as an emergency and are calling on rich countries to share the world’s limited supply of vaccines in an effort to avoid the glaring equity problems seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monkeypox has been sickening people in parts of central and west Africa for decades, but the lack of laboratory diagnosis and weak surveillance means many cases are going undetected across the continent. To date, countries in Africa have reported more than 1,800 suspected cases so far this year including more than 70 deaths, but only 109 have been lab-confirmed.
“This particular outbreak for us means an emergency,” said Ahmed Ogwell, the acting director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control.
“We want to be able to address monkeypox as an emergency now so that it does not cause more pain and suffering,” he said.

FASTFACT

Globally, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last week, WHO said its emergency committee concluded that the expanding monkeypox outbreak was worrying, but did not yet warrant being declared a global health emergency. The UN health agency said it would reconsider its decision if the disease continued spreading across more borders, showed signs of increased severity, or began infecting vulnerable groups like pregnant women and children.
Globally, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.
The majority of those cases are in Europe. No deaths beyond Africa have been reported.
Within Africa, WHO said monkeypox has spread to countries where it hasn’t previously been seen, including South Africa, Ghana and Morocco. But more than 90% of the continent’s infections are in Congo and Nigeria, according to WHO’s Africa director, Dr. Moeti Matshidiso.
She said that given the limited global supplies of vaccines to fight monkeypox, WHO was in talks with manufacturers and countries with stockpiles to see if they might be shared.
The vaccines have mainly been developed to stop smallpox, a related disease — and most are not authorized for use against monkeypox in Africa.
Vaccines have not previously been used to try to stamp out monkeypox epidemics in Africa; officials have relied mostly on measures like contact tracing and isolation.
“We would like to see the global spotlight on monkeypox act as a catalyst to beat this disease once and for all in Africa,” she said at a press briefing Thursday.
WHO noted that similar to the scramble last year for COVID-19 vaccines, countries with supplies of vaccines to stop monkeypox are not yet sharing them with African countries.
“We do not have any donations that have been offered to (poorer) countries,” said Fiona Braka, who heads WHO’s emergency response team in Africa. “We know that those countries that have some stocks, they are mainly reserving them for their own populations.”
WHO said last month it was working to create a mechanism to share vaccines with countries with the biggest outbreaks, which some fear could see vaccines go to rich countries like Britain, Germany and France, some of the agency’s biggest donors and who already have their own supplies.
While monkeypox cases in Europe and North America have been mostly identified in men who are gay, bisexual or sleep with other men, that is not the case in Africa.
WHO’s Tieble Traore said that according to detailed data from Ghana, the numbers of monkeypox cases were almost evenly split between men and women.
“We have not yet seen spread among men who have sex with men,” he said.
Among monkeypox cases in Britain, which has the biggest outbreak beyond Africa, the vast majority of cases are in men.
Scientists warn that anyone is at risk of catching monkeypox if they come into close, physical contact with an infected patient or their clothing or bedsheets.
In Africa, monkeypox has mainly been spread to people from infected wild animals like rodents or primates.
It has not typically triggered widespread outbreaks or rapid spread between people.


Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 
Updated 01 July 2022

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 
  • Enrique Manalo, a career diplomat, began his foreign service career in 1979
  • Prior to his new appointment, he served as the Philippine ambassador to the UN in New York 

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appointed Manila’s UN Ambassador Enrique Manalo as the country’s new foreign affairs secretary, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Friday.  

Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator, won a landslide victory in May’s presidential election and was sworn into office on Thursday.

He has vowed to open a new chapter in the country’s history and said his administration would have an independent foreign policy. 

Manalo is a career diplomat who has been serving as the Philippine permanent representative to the UN in New York and had twice served as the department’s undersecretary.  

“President Marcos appointed Secretary Manalo in view of his long and distinguished career in the Philippine Foreign Service and his vast experience in diplomacy,” the DFA said in a statement. 

Marcos preferred a career diplomat to helm the department, the DFA said, so that the Philippines could “effectively advance its interests [on] the international stage in the face of formidable challenges.” 

Manalo took his oath on Friday at the presidential palace in Manila but will need a few days “to wind up affairs in his previous post,” press secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said in a text message to reporters. 

His appointment is seen as reflecting Marcos’ choice to have an official who “truly understands the external challenges and opportunities” faced by the Philippines, Victor Andres Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute, a research consultancy firm in Manila, told Arab News.

“A senior career foreign service officer brings that to the office,” he said.

“I hope Secretary Manalo focuses on broadening our engagements and partnerships with countries that believe in a multipolar world and a rules-based international order.”

Manalo, whose career in foreign service began in 1979, had also served as acting secretary of the DFA for two months in 2017 as well as Philippine ambassador to the UK and Belgium.

His appointment and that of other officials in Marcos’ cabinet would have to be approved by the appointments commission of the Philippine House of Representatives. 


Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island
Updated 01 July 2022

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island
  • Russian air force SU-30 planes twice conducted strikes with phosphorus bombs on Zmiinyi island
  • The Russian defence ministry on Thursday described the retreat as "a gesture of goodwill"

KYIV: Ukraine’s army accused Russia of carrying out strikes using incendiary phosphorus munitions on Snake Island Friday, just a day after Moscow withdrew its forces from the rocky outcrop in the Black Sea.
“Today at around 18:00... Russian air force SU-30 planes twice conducted strikes with phosphorus bombs on Zmiinyi island,” it said in a statement, using another name for Snake Island.
The Russian defense ministry on Thursday described the retreat as “a gesture of goodwill” meant to demonstrate that Moscow will not interfere with UN efforts to organize protected grain exports from Ukraine.
The Ukrainian army on Friday accused the Russians of being unable to “respect even their own declarations.”
Its statement was accompanied by a video that showed a plane drop munitions at least twice on the island, and what appeared to be white streaks rising above it.
Phosphorus weapons, which leave a signature white trail in the sky, are incendiary weapons whose use against civilians is banned under an international convention but allowed for military targets.
Ukraine has accused Russia of using them several times since it invaded its neighbor in late February, including on civilian areas, allegations Moscow has denied.
Ukraine claimed the Russians were forced to retreat from the island after coming under a barrage of artillery and missile fire.
Snake Island became famous after a radio exchange went viral at the start of the war, in which Ukrainian soldiers respond using bad words to a Russian warship that called on them to surrender.


In rare animal rights push, Pakistan to work with PETA on ‘critical’ reforms

Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
Updated 01 July 2022

In rare animal rights push, Pakistan to work with PETA on ‘critical’ reforms

Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
  • Government on Thursday banned testing, surgeries on live animals at veterinary schools in Islamabad
  • Country says it will amend British-era regulations with ‘Pakistan’s first comprehensive animal welfare law’

ISLAMABAD: Shalin Gala, vice president at global animal rights advocacy group PETA, on Friday hailed “landmark” reforms in Pakistan that banned tests and surgeries on live animals for veterinary education, and said the organization would be working with the government on more critical reforms in training that would spare the lives of animals.

In a rare move to ensure animal rights in Pakistan, the government on Thursday banned testing and surgeries on live animals at veterinary schools and industrial complexes in the federal capital, Islamabad, and announced a 15,000 rupee ($74) fine and jail term for animal cruelty offenders.

The decision came after widespread outrage in Pakistan over videos that went viral in May showing animals in various states of distress after allegedly being operated upon by veterinary students. Activists and members of the public have widely condemned the practices and called for action.

At veterinary schools around the world, the practice of using live animals to teach surgery has been on the decline in the last decade, but an Arab News investigation published on June 10 quoted students and university management saying live animals were being used to teach surgical skills, though they added proper procedures were followed.

“Pakistan’s landmark reforms will ban tests and surgeries on live animals for veterinary education and shift to sophisticated humane methods,” Gala told Arab News.

He said PETA was “delighted” to have shared recommendations for improving veterinary training with Salman Sufi, head of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s Strategic Reforms Unit.

“We look forward to our upcoming meeting with him to discuss further critical reforms in biomedical research and training that will spare animals’ lives and benefit patients, alike,” Gala added.

As Sufi introduced the ban on live testing of animals in Islamabad, he announced the government would introduce “Pakistan’s first comprehensive animal welfare law,” amending British colonial era regulations.

“Amendments for national level law are ready ... The bill will be tabled in the National Assembly during the next session (for debate and approval),” he said.

Citizens will be able to report any acts of animal cruelty through a hotline. A standard set of guidelines will also be announced to regulate pet markets across the country, Sufi said, adding that violators would be fined and their shops closed.

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Taliban chief pardons members of former administration in rare public appearance

Zabiullah Mujahid, left, the spokesman for the Taliban government, speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan
Zabiullah Mujahid, left, the spokesman for the Taliban government, speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan
Updated 01 July 2022

Taliban chief pardons members of former administration in rare public appearance

Zabiullah Mujahid, left, the spokesman for the Taliban government, speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan
  • Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada joined religious, tribal leaders at first loya jirga since Taliban takeover of Afghanistan
  • Gathering took place after number of ex-administration officials returned to Kabul following months of exile abroad

KABUL: The reclusive Taliban chief on Friday pardoned members of Afghanistan’s former Western-backed administration during a rare public appearance and joined thousands of religious and tribal leaders gathered in Kabul from throughout the country.

Some 3,500 representatives, including members of minorities, arrived in the Afghan capital on Thursday for the first loya jirga since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year, a grand assembly traditionally held by Afghans to reach a consensus on important political issues.

The conference took place after a number of former administration officials returned to Kabul following months of exile abroad and declared readiness to serve the country.

In Friday’s speech at the meeting’s venue, the Loya Jirga Tent at Kabul’s Polytechnic University, Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada said he had pardoned them but did not see their future in the country’s administration.

“I don’t hold them accountable for their past actions,” he told the loya jirga participants, the state-run Bakhtar News Agency reported.

“But amnesty doesn’t mean including them in the government.”

Most high-ranking officials left the country after its Western-backed government collapsed when the Taliban seized power in August, following the withdrawal of US-led forces after two decades of war.

Akhundzada has been the Taliban ultimate authority since 2016. Rarely seen in public, he has long kept a low profile. His last public appearance was in Kandahar city during Eid prayers in May, but the congregation could not see him and only heard his voice.

His direct appearance before the loya jirga participants was confirmed by government spokesmen and Abdul Wahid Rayan, the chief of Bakhtar News Agency.

“He sat on the stage facing the audience and gave his speech,” Rayan told Arab News.

During the Kabul gathering, Akhundzada called on investors to return to the country and gave them security assurances, saying that dependence on foreign aid could not revive the country’s economy.

Afghanistan has been facing an economic and humanitarian disaster since the Taliban takeover, which prompted the US and other donor states to cut off financial assistance, freeze the country’s $10 billion assets, and isolate it from the global banking system.

“I ask businessmen to come to Afghanistan without any fear and invest in making factories, because foreign aid will not help boost our economy,” Akhundzada said.

The loya jirga was called by the Taliban to forge national unity, as unacknowledged by foreign governments they have been under mounting pressure to form an inclusive government to win international recognition.

Prof. Naseer Ahmad Nawidy, political science lecturer at Salam University in Kabul, said Akhundzada’s speech had delivered, “clear messages about tolerance, unity, obedience, and solidarity to members of the Taliban while acknowledging their sacrifices.”

He told Arab News: “This is promising and will boost the confidence of the Taliban about their leadership.”

However, he added that no perspective was provided about the country’s future, including “women’s rights, girls’ education, economic opportunities, utilizing technical expertise of all Afghans in governance, and optimism to the youth.”