UK foreign aid cut came at ‘worst moment in history’: Opposition MP

UK foreign aid cut came at ‘worst moment in history’: Opposition MP
Ground staff unload medical aid from an aircraft sent from the UK upon its arrival at an airport in New Delhi, India. (File/AFP)
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Updated 22 May 2022

UK foreign aid cut came at ‘worst moment in history’: Opposition MP

UK foreign aid cut came at ‘worst moment in history’: Opposition MP
  • Humanitarian aid in 2021 stripped back by 51%, hammering countries including Yemen, Somalia
  • Charities call for change in policy as Ukraine war puts 1.7bn worldwide at risk of hunger

LONDON: The UK’s humanitarian aid budget was slashed by 51 percent last year, disproportionately affecting some of the world’s neediest countries, including Yemen and Somalia, at the “worst moment in history,” according to a senior MP with the main opposition Labour Party.

The government had pledged to cut total overseas aid from 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to 0.5 percent in November 2020.

Figures show that the cut saw the UK send £744 million ($929 million) overseas last year in humanitarian aid, down from £1.53 billion the previous year.

The total overseas aid spend was £11.5 billion, down 21 percent from the £14.48 billion in 2020.

War-torn Yemen suffered one of the deepest cuts, with its pool of aid falling 63 percent to £82 million, from £221 million in 2020.

The UN estimates that as many as 24 million people, including 13 million children, require aid of some kind across the country.

Somalia, also devastated by conflict, saw its humanitarian aid from the UK slashed by 41 percent to £71 million, from £120 million the previous year.

Both countries have been hit hard by acute food shortages, exacerbated in recent months by spiking prices as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The Eastern European neighbors represent almost a third of global wheat exports, and are vital producers of agricultural fertilizers. 

The UK has dipped into its finances to find an additional £220 million in aid for Ukraine, but the UN says the war could put as many as 1.7 billion people worldwide at risk of poverty and starvation.

Yemen in particular faces famine, with the UN estimating that 17.4 million people are already food insecure. East Africa is also affected by drought, with 23 million people requiring food aid.

Sarah Champion, chair of the House of Commons international development committee, told The Observer: “It would be hard to consider a worse moment in history for the government to be cutting its foreign aid budget.

“We are the only member of the rich country G7 grouping to be doing so. It is having a damaging effect on our international standing — and the survival chances of some of the poorest people on the planet.”

Sam Nadel, head of government relations at charity Oxfam, told the paper: “The government is cutting aid at a time we have war in Ukraine, the Covid pandemic and millions of people in Africa on the brink of starvation. 

“It’s the most horrific timing. It’s also shortsighted because aid helps tackle global challenges, which helps the UK in the long term.”

Another charity, Action Against Hunger, is calling for an additional package of £750 million in aid for African countries affected by war, drought and the coronavirus pandemic. 

Kate Munro, the charity’s head of advocacy, told The Observer: “It saves money to act early in a crisis.”

Last week, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced a new international development strategy to target British aid more directly at areas around the world that needed it. 

The Foreign Office said in a statement: “Stepping up our life-saving humanitarian work to prevent the worst forms of human suffering around the world is one of the top priorities the foreign secretary laid out in the UK’s international development strategy this week.

“We will prioritize humanitarian funding levels at £3 billion over the next three years, to remain a global leader in crisis response, including in Africa.”


British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’

British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’
Updated 12 sec ago

British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’

British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’
  • Over 180 teachers for the educational outfit suddenly given permission to come to Britain but still lack clear travel route

LONDON: Over 180 teachers at the British Council risk being stranded in Afghanistan after being given permission by the UK government to apply to come to Britain but still lacking a clear route for traveling to the country, The Guardian reported.

Former colleagues and MPs campaigned for the recovery of the contractors, horrified that they had been left behind as full-time British Council staff were extracted amid fears that they would face punishment from the Taliban for teaching values that do not align with the new Kabul administration.

Of the teachers stuck in Afghanistan, 85 have been classified as being at “very high risk,” while another 90 workers have been listed at “high risk.” Many have reportedly gone into hiding fearing the Taliban’s crackdown.

Joe Seaton, a former British Council employee who worked alongside many of the teachers in Afghanistan, told the Guardian that no evacuation plan has been drawn up for the contractors despite 11 months passing since the fall of the city to the Taliban.

Having originally not been afforded the right to be recovered to Britain, the UK government suddenly announced last month that British Council contractors will now be allowed to apply to come to the UK with their families. A decision was expected in August.

Seaton said: “We are finally making some progress, but there does not yet seem to be any clear arrangements on how to get them out. This is a key question. How long will it take to get them out? Every day is another day in grave danger, and so far, all government efforts at processing former British Council staff have been very slow and clunky. The government needs to massively speed up on processing the individual cases.”

He added that the British Council did not have a full list of contractors who worked with them, which he had provided to the organization: “I have given the British Council lists of the contractors on several occasions as they did not have the information.”

Seaton, who speaks to the contractors stuck in Afghanistan on a near-daily basis via WhatsApp, told The Guardian that, following the government’s decision, they were “optimistic, but worried this might be another false dawn.”

The Home Office decision in June ruled that British Council contractors, staff at GardaWorld and former Chevening Scholars could come to Britain with their families so long as the total number of refugees applying in this category to the Foreign Office did not exceed 1,500. Problems with housing have mired the government’s attempts to process Afghan refugees, with the average Afghan family significantly larger than the space afforded by a typical British house.

They have been told to make applications online, but the Home Office Minister for Afghan Resettlement conceded that this would be difficult in many parts of the country.

The British Council said: “We have a full and comprehensive list of our former colleagues and have shared that list with relevant government departments.

We know our former colleagues are living in increasingly desperate circumstances, as the situation in the country continues to deteriorate.

The Afghanistan relocation schemes are run by the UK government. We have been pushing for progress with senior contacts within the UK government to ensure the earliest consideration of our former colleagues’ relocation applications.”


Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk
Updated 04 July 2022

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk
  • ‘Military units, including the East group and the West group, must carry out their tasks according to previously approved plans’

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to press ahead with Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine after troops took control of the entire Lugansk region.
“Military units, including the East group and the West group, must carry out their tasks according to previously approved plans,” Putin told Shoigu.


Singapore urged to halt hanging of Malaysian drug trafficker

Singapore urged to halt hanging of Malaysian drug trafficker
Updated 04 July 2022

Singapore urged to halt hanging of Malaysian drug trafficker

Singapore urged to halt hanging of Malaysian drug trafficker
  • Kalwant Singh, who was convicted in 2016 of bringing heroin into Singapore, is scheduled to be hanged Thursday
  • Activists: Death penalty has done little to stop drug traffickers and organized syndicates

KUALA LUMPUR: Anti-death penalty activists in Malaysia urged Singapore’s government on Monday to halt the execution of a convicted Malaysian drug trafficker this week, the second in less than three months.
Kalwant Singh, who was convicted in 2016 of bringing heroin into Singapore, is scheduled to be hanged Thursday, activists said. The execution of another Malaysian in late April sparked an international outcry because he was believed to be mentally disabled.
The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network delivered a statement to Singapore’s embassy urging that Kalwant’s execution be suspended to allow him an opportunity to file for clemency.
It said Kalwant, who was 23 when he was arrested in 2013, had been threatened with violence and forced to make drug deliveries to Singapore to repay a football gambling debt, and that factor was not adequately considered during his trial.
It said the death penalty has done little to stop drug traffickers and organized syndicates.
“The government of Singapore’s persistence in maintaining and utilizing the death penalty has only led to global condemnation and tarnishes Singapore’s image as a developed nation governed by the rule of law,” it added.
The hanging in April of Malaysian drug trafficker Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam sparked an international outcry because he was believed to be intellectually disabled with an IQ of 69. Another Malaysian drug trafficker who was to be hanged in April was given a reprieve pending the outcome of a legal challenge.
A Singapore activist, Kokila Annamalai, said convicted Singaporean drug trafficker Norasharee Gous is to be hanged on Thursday, the same day as Kalwant. She said they are the seventh and eighth executions scheduled this year. So far, two people including Nagaenthran have been hanged while four other executions were delayed by last-minute legal challenges, she said.


12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official

12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official
Updated 04 July 2022

12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official

12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official

BEIJING: Twelve bodies have been found following a shipwreck in the South China Sea over the weekend that left the crew of 30 missing, Chinese authorities said Monday.
“As of 3:30 p.m. on July 4, rescue forces found and recovered 12 bodies, suspected to be of victims who drowned, in an area around 50 nautical miles southwest of the site where the vessel sank,” said the Guangdong Maritime Search and Rescue Center in a notice.


Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police
Updated 04 July 2022

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police
  • A 22-year-old Danish man was arrested, Copenhagen police inspector Søren Thomassen told reporters

COPENHAGEN: Danish police said Monday that the suspect in a weekend shooting at a Copenhagen mall that left three dead, including two teenagers, was known to mental health services.
“Our suspect is also known among psychiatric services, beyond that I do not wish to comment,” Copenhagen police chief Soren Thomassen told a press conference.
Thomassen added that the victims appeared to have been randomly targeted and there was nothing to indicate it was an act of terror.
“Our assessment is that the victims were random, that it isn’t motivated by gender or something else,” Thomassen said.
The police chief could not yet comment on a motive, but said there seemed to have been preparation ahead of the attack and that the 22-year-old suspect was not aided by anyone else.
“As things stand, it seems he was acting alone,” he said.
The three killed have been identified as a Danish teenage girl and boy, both aged 17, and a 47-year-old Russian citizen residing in Denmark.
Another four were injured in the shooting: two Danish women, aged 19 and 40, and two Swedish citizens, a 50-year-old man and a 16-year-old woman.
Police confirmed that the suspected shooter was present at the mall at the time of the shooting and is known to the police “but only peripherally.”
They added that they believe videos of the suspect circulating since Sunday evening on social media to be authentic.

An ambulance and armed police are seen during the evacuation of people at the Fields shopping center in Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 3, 2022 after Danish media reported a shooting. (AFP)

In some of the images, the young man can be seen posing with weapons, mimicking suicide gestures and talking about psychiatric medication “that does not work.”
YouTube and Instagram accounts believed to belong to the suspect were closed overnight, AFP noted.
The shooting occurred Sunday afternoon at the busy Fields shopping mall, located between the city center and Copenhagen airport.
According to police, the shooter was armed with a rifle, a pistol and a knife, and while the guns were not believed to be illegal, the suspect did not have a license for them.
Witnesses quoted by the Danish media described how the suspect had tried to trick people by saying his weapon was fake to get them to approach.
“He was sufficiently psychopathic to go and hunt people, but he wasn’t running,” one witness told public broadcaster DR.
Other eyewitnesses told Danish media they had seen more than 100 people rush toward the mall’s exit as the first shots were fired.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen denounce the “cruel attack” in a statement late Sunday.

People embrace outside Fields shopping center, after Danish police said they received reports of a shooting at the site, in Copenhagen, Denmark, July 3, 2022. (Reuters) 

“Our beautiful and usually so safe capital was changed in a split second,” she said.
The shooting came just over a week after a gunman opened fire near a gay bar in Oslo in neighboring Norway, killing two people and wounding 21 others.
In February of 2015, two people were killed and five injured in Copenhagen in a series of Islamist-motivated shootings.