Crisis-hit Sri Lanka allows younger women to work abroad

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka allows younger women to work abroad
Sri Lanka closed schools and halted non-essential government services during two-week shutdown to conserve fast-depleting fuel reserves. (AFP)
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Updated 21 June 2022

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka allows younger women to work abroad

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka allows younger women to work abroad
  • Remittances from overseas Sri Lankan workers have been key source of foreign exchange for the country
  • Facing the worst economic crisis in decades, Sri Lanka lacks foreign currency to buy essential commodities

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka on Tuesday reduced to 21 the minimum age at which women can go abroad to work as the country’s bankrupt economy is in desperate need of foreign currency inflows.

For months, Sri Lanka has lacked the foreign currency to buy all that it needs from abroad. The country of 22 million people last month defaulted on a multimillion-dollar foreign debt payment, deepening its worst crisis since it gained independence in 1948.

There have been extreme shortages of fuel, food, and lately also a lack of medicines, which has brought the health system to the verge of collapse. Inflation is now running at 40 percent.

Remittances from overseas Sri Lankan workers have long been a key source of foreign exchange for the country.

The most important source of inflows is the Middle East, which is home to more than 1 million Sri Lankan nationals — 66 percent of the country’s migrant workers. To work in the Middle East, however, women were previously required to be a minimum of 23 years old.

The age limit has been lowered to 21 years on a recommendation made by the Ministry of Foreign Employment, Mass Media Minister Bandula Gunawardena told reporters, adding that the rules have been eased to “get more job opportunities and earn more dollars for the country at a time it is facing a severe economic crisis.”

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that Sri Lanka will need $5 billion during the next six months to tide it over the economic turmoil.

Remittances from Sri Lankans used to bring in about $7 billion a year before coronavirus lockdowns in 2020. During the pandemic, they dropped to $5 billion in 2021, and as the country went bankrupt, not more than $3 billion was expected this year.

The decision to expand the country’s migrant workforce to younger women was immediately welcomed by manpower agencies who are expecting an increase in offers for household staff.

“Most of the sponsors who hire maidservants prefer to have young maids between 21 and 25 since they are energetic and their output of work is much more than the elderly women,” Saheed Mohamed Jaufer, managing director of New Kingdom Manpower in Colombo, told Arab News.

“This is a welcome sign since more young women can go for foreign employment.”

But the move may also have adverse social consequences for the country itself.

Fawaza Thaha, president of the Young Muslim Women’s Association, said that while the government’s efforts to address the economic crisis have been appreciated, the new age limit “would attract the young girls and they would discontinue their studies to earn their money in foreign currencies.”

“The outcome will be young girls abandoning their studies for the sake of greener pastures, which is not a healthy sign for developing countries such as Sri Lanka,” she told Arab News.


After 5 years in no man’s land, last group of Rohingya enters Bangladesh

After 5 years in no man’s land, last group of Rohingya enters Bangladesh
Updated 13 sec ago

After 5 years in no man’s land, last group of Rohingya enters Bangladesh

After 5 years in no man’s land, last group of Rohingya enters Bangladesh
  • When hundreds of thousands of refugees fled Myanmar in 2017, some remained on border with Bangladesh
  • Recent clashes in the area raised security concerns, with Bangladeshi authorities moving to register about 4,000 refugees

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities on Saturday began registering thousands of Rohingya refugees who entered the country after spending the past five years in no man’s land.

Although Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it has hosted and provided humanitarian support to 1.2 million Rohingya Muslims, most of whom fled neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.

A majority of the refugees live in squalid camps in Cox’s Bazar district, a coastal region in the country’s southeast and the world’s largest refugee settlement. But one group settled in no man’s land near the hilly Bandarban district neighboring Myanmar.

After fleeing their country of origin, more than 4,000 members of the group remained in the area, hoping that they would be able to return home. But as the situation in Myanmar failed to improve and Bangladesh in 2019 decided to stop receiving more Rohingyas, they were trapped, living in makeshift tents they raised in the unowned territory.

Earlier this month, most of the shelters were burnt down during armed clashes that triggered security concerns and a decision by Bangladeshi authorities to register the group’s members.

“Our committee has started the verification process for these people who sheltered at the Naikhyangchari border area,” Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mizanur Rahman told Arab News.

The committee comprises representatives of the RRRC, police, intelligence and the Bandarban district administration, who are verifying the identity of the group’s members amid a rise in cross-border crime and drug trafficking.

“We have to identify if there are any criminals or people wanted by law enforcement agencies,” Rahman said.

“Nothing is decided yet about the relocation or shelter of these people. But it’s for sure, there will be no more new camps for these people at their current location. They should be relocated to some other places. But the place is yet to be decided.”

According to Asif Munir, a migration expert and former official of the International Organization for Migration, the Rohingya are most likely to be relocated to Cox’s Bazar or to Bhasan Char — an island in the Bay of Bengal, where Bangladesh has moved 30,000 refugees since December 2020 to take pressure from other, already overcrowded camps.

“It is unprecedented in the world that hundreds of people have been living in no man’s land for more than five years ... these Rohingya were the last batch when the Rohingya exodus began in 2017. They have been living close to the Myanmar border.

“Since they entered Bangladesh territory, considering humanitarian grounds, there is no other option except sheltering them here,” Munir told Arab News.

“Since we have noticed several incidents of clashes between armed groups in the border area in recent times, it would endanger the lives of these people.”


Moscow says 14 killed in Ukraine strike on eastern hospital

Moscow says 14 killed in Ukraine strike on eastern hospital
Updated 28 January 2023

Moscow says 14 killed in Ukraine strike on eastern hospital

Moscow says 14 killed in Ukraine strike on eastern hospital
  • "The Ukrainian armed forces deliberately attacked the building of a district hospital”, said Russia’s defense ministry in a statement

MOSCOW: Russia’s defense ministry on Saturday accused the Ukrainian army of striking a hospital in the eastern Lugansk region, leaving 14 dead and injuring 24 others.
On Saturday morning in the town of Novoaidar, “the Ukrainian armed forces deliberately attacked the building of a district hospital” with a US-made HIMARS multiple-launch rocket system, the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry added that 14 were killed and 24 wounded among the “hospital patients and medical staff.”
It said that the hospital has been providing “necessary medical assistance to the local population and military personnel for many months.”
“A deliberate missile strike on a known active civilian medical facility is, without doubt, a grave war crime by the Kyiv regime,” the ministry said.


Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police
Updated 28 January 2023

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police

NEW DELHI: Two Indian Air Force fighter jets crashed Saturday in an apparent mid-air collision while on exercises around 300 kilometers (185 miles) south of the capital New Delhi, police at the crash site told AFP.
Both aircraft had taken off in the morning from the Gwailor air base, around 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of where they came down.
“We have located the wreckage of one of the planes and found an injured pilot in the Pahadgarh forests,” officer Dharmender Gaur told AFP from the scene of the crash.
“The other plane has likely fallen further away from the site and we have sent teams to locate it.”
The air force was investigating whether the planes had collided in mid-air, local broadsheet the Hindustan Times reported.
The Su-30 was carrying two pilots and the Mirage jet had one on takeoff, according to the report.
“I have instructed the local administration to cooperate with the air force in quick rescue and relief work,” Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tweeted.
“I pray to god that the pilots of the planes are safe.”
The crash is the latest in a string of aviation accidents involving India’s military air fleet.
Five army soldiers were killed last October when their helicopter crashed in Arunachal Pradesh state, near the country’s militarised and disputed border with China.
It was the second military chopper crash in the state that month, coming weeks after a Cheetah helicopter came down near the town of Tawang, killing its pilot.
India’s defense chief, General Bipin Rawat, was among 13 people killed when his Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter crashed while transporting him to an air force base in December 2021.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is grappling with the urgent task of overhauling India’s outdated armed forces.
Its military establishment is fretting over a growing assertiveness by China along its vast Himalayan frontier, which in 2019 sparked a lingering diplomatic freeze after a deadly high-altitude confrontation between troops of both countries.
India unveiled its first locally built aircraft carrier last year as part of government efforts to build an indigenous defense industry and reduce reliance on Russia, historically its most important arms supplier.
An effort to reform military recruitment to trim down India’s bloated defense payroll stalled last year after a backlash from aspiring soldiers, who burned train carriages and clashed with police in fierce protests.

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Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China
Updated 28 January 2023

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China
  • “I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” says US Air Mobility Command chief
  • Says Taiwan’s presidential elections next year would offer China an excuse for military aggression

WASHINGTON: A four-star US Air Force general has warned of a conflict with China as early as 2025 — most likely over Taiwan — and urged his commanders to push their units to achieve maximum operational battle readiness this year.
In an internal memorandum that first emerged on social media on Friday, and was later confirmed as genuine by the Pentagon, the head of the Air Mobility Command, General Mike Minihan, said the main goal should be to deter “and, if required, defeat” China.
“I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” Minihan said.
Laying out his reasoning, Minihan said Taiwan’s presidential elections next year would offer Chinese President Xi Jinping an excuse for military aggression, while the United States would be distracted by its own contest for the White House.
“Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025,” he added.
The memorandum also calls on all Mobile Command personnel to go to the firing range, “fire a clip” into a target and “aim for the head.”
A Pentagon spokesperson responded to an AFP email query about the memo saying, “Yes, it’s factual that he sent that out.”
Senior US officials have said in recent months that China appears to be speeding up its timeframe to seize control of Taiwan, a self-governing democracy claimed by Beijing.
China staged major military exercises in August last year, seen as a trial run for an invasion after a defiant visit of solidarity to Taipei by then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who at the time was second in line to the White House.
The United States switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but sells weapons to Taiwan for its self-defense.
A growing number of US lawmakers have called for ramping up assistance, including sending direct military aid to Taiwan, saying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underscores the need for early preparation.
 


Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff
Updated 28 January 2023

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff
  • Biden has not yet declared he is running again but is widely expected to do so, potentially pitting him again against Trump in 2024

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Friday named his former top Covid-19 aide Jeff Zients to White House chief of staff — one of the most crucial positions in an administration gearing up for a likely re-election campaign.
Zients replaces Ron Klain, who saw Biden through the first two years of his term in the post, arguably the most powerful behind-the-scenes job in any US administration. The swap will take place on February 8, a day after Biden delivers his State of the Union address to Congress.
The departure of Klain, who has worked with Biden throughout his decades-long Washington career — from senator to vice president, then victor over Donald Trump in 2020 — will deprive the 80-year-old president of an especially close, trusted aide.
Chiefs of staff do everything from managing access to the president, setting his agenda, communicating with political power brokers and acting as a constant crisis manager and sounding board for ideas.
“During the last 36 years, Ron and I have been through some real battles together. And when you’re in the trenches with somebody for as long as I have been with Ron, you really get to know the person. You see what they’re made of,” Biden said in a statement.
Klain is credited with masterminding the intricate, behind-the-scenes negotiations between the White House and lawmakers in Congress that has seen Biden get a string of landmark bills passed, often against expectations in the last two years.
Until November’s midterm elections, Democrats held a razor-thin majority in both houses of Congress and Klain was instrumental in preventing the various party factions from splitting at key moments.
On Twitter, Biden described Klain as a “once in a generation talent with fierce intellect and heart.”

Zients, who oversaw the vast Covid-19 pandemic response when Biden took office, is considered a skilled technocrat, who does not have the deep political connections of Klain but will aim to make sure that the earlier legislative victories are followed through.
“A big task ahead is now implementing the laws we’ve gotten passed efficiently and fairly,” Biden said.
“When I ran for office, I promised to make government work for the American people. That’s what Jeff does,” Biden said. “I’m confident that Jeff will continue Ron’s example of smart, steady leadership.”
Biden has not yet declared he is running again but is widely expected to do so, potentially pitting him again against Trump in 2024.
Zients will also be taking over just as Republicans flex their muscles in the House of Representatives, where they won their own tiny majority in November. With the hard-right of the party in the ascendant, Biden is due to face a series of aggressive investigations into his policies and the business activities of his son Hunter.
Biden is also currently embroiled in a Justice Department probe after the discovery of a small number of classified documents in his house and at a former office. The White House says the documents were accidentally mislaid after Biden’s time as vice president to Barack Obama.
Trump is also under investigation for handling secret documents, although in his case they number in the hundreds and the Republican repeatedly refused to cooperate with authorities on the matter.