Sri Lanka says economy collapsed, pins last hopes on IMF

Sri Lanka says economy collapsed, pins last hopes on IMF
Women wait in a queue to buy kerosene in Colombo, Sri Lanka, June 11, 2022, as the country faces the worst economic crisis in decades. (AP Photo)
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Updated 22 June 2022

Sri Lanka says economy collapsed, pins last hopes on IMF

Sri Lanka says economy collapsed, pins last hopes on IMF
  • PM says ‘only option’ for the country is an IMF bailout
  • Sri Lanka cannot even purchase imported fuel due to heavy debts of its petroleum corporation

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s prime minister said on Wednesday its debt-laden economy has collapsed after months of shortages of food, fuel and electricity and is unable to even pay for essentials such as oil imports.  

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

“We are now facing a far more serious situation beyond the mere shortages of fuel, gas, electricity and food. Our economy has faced a complete collapse. That is the most serious issue before us today,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament.

Wickremesinghe, who took office in May and is also the finance minister, said the government had failed to act in time to turn the situation around as the country’s foreign reserves plunged.

“We lost out on this opportunity. We are now seeing signs of a possible fall into the very bottom,” the prime minister said. “The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation is $700 million in debt. As a result, no country or organization in the world is willing to provide fuel to us. They are even reluctant to provide fuel for cash.”

There have been extreme shortages of fuel, food and, lately, medicines, which has brought the health system to the verge of collapse. Sri Lanka’s inflation rate is now running at 40 percent.

Sri Lanka has been supported mainly by Indian loans amounting to $4 billion, and government officials from New Delhi will arrive in Colombo on Thursday to discuss further assistance. But Wickremesinghe said these were “not charitable donations” and Sri Lanka cannot remain dependent on the neighboring country.

“We have sought more loans from India, but India cannot continue to lend us. We also need to work out a system to pay off loans,” he said, adding that “the only safe option” for the country was an International Monetary Fund bailout.

“This is our only option. We must take this path. Our aim is to hold discussions with the IMF and arrive at an agreement to obtain an additional credit facility.” While the government expects to sign an agreement with the IMF in July, it may take months before any relief is felt.

“We are targeting to reach a staff-level agreement with the IMF by mid-July. Disbursement of funds will require board approval, which will take many more months and also be subject to progress shown on the debt restructuring front,” Murtaza Jafferjee, economist and chairman of the Colombo-based think tank Advocata Institute, told Arab News.

“We have been to the fund 16 times before, so they are no strangers to us. The fund invariably gets bad press and politicians try to paint them as the bogeyman, but they are here by our invitation. What they are recommending is to get us back to a sustainable path and, if we agree to it, they will provide some interim funding for us to meet our short-term needs.”

Tighter fiscal policy and other reforms agreed with the IMF could bring macro stabilization, but it will take years for Sri Lanka’s economy to rebound from the crisis.

“I am expecting an economic contraction between 5-10 percent of the gross domestic product. In the formal sector, this will mean establishments will go out of business and people will lose jobs,” Jafferjee said.

“Sri Lankans will have to face many deprivations for a few years until we mend ourselves.”


‘UK should prevent Albanians from claiming asylum,’ says immigration minister

‘UK should prevent Albanians from claiming asylum,’ says immigration minister
Updated 11 sec ago

‘UK should prevent Albanians from claiming asylum,’ says immigration minister

‘UK should prevent Albanians from claiming asylum,’ says immigration minister
  • Balkan country is ‘demonstrably safe,’ Robert Jenrick argues

LONDON: The UK should prevent Albanian migrants from seeking asylum in Britain, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick has said.

Sky News reported that Jenrick, who assumed the ministerial role on Oct. 25 as part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet, said that Albanians should be “excluded from the right to claim asylum.”

He added that Britain should tighten its policy toward the Balkan country because it is a “demonstrably safe” place, describing the numbers of Albanians arriving in the UK as “unsustainable.”

Albanian nationals made up more than one-third of the 33,000 people who crossed the English Channel in boats from January to September this year.

Amid growing pressure on the government to tackle the migrant crisis, Jenrick said that the Albanian factor was now the “number one priority.” 

He told GB News: “Albania is a demonstrably safe country. It is very hard to see how an Albanian should be able to successfully claim asylum here in the UK.

“We have a returns agreement, which was signed a year ago, and 1,000 Albanians have gone back already. We are looking at what we can do there. We are also pursuing the diplomatic channels.

“We can’t have 1 million people entering the country in a single year and net migration of half a million — it’s just not sustainable.

“What I’m concerned about is there are people coming to universities here as a backdoor way of bringing their families into the UK and staying here for a prolonged period.

“A very significant number of people use this as a route to a life in the UK. This is a big driver of net migration.”

PM Sunak and his Albanian counterpart Edi Rama recently discussed efforts to end policies that have led to Britain being unable to efficiently deport failed Albanian asylum seekers.

But the Albanian leader also warned that the UK should avoid blaming Albanians and using migrants as an “excuse” for government failures.


US intel chief thinking ‘optimistically’ for Ukraine forces

US intel chief thinking ‘optimistically’ for Ukraine forces
Updated 04 December 2022

US intel chief thinking ‘optimistically’ for Ukraine forces

US intel chief thinking ‘optimistically’ for Ukraine forces
  • Russia’s military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure and pressing an offensive in the east

KYIV: The head of US intelligence says fighting in Russia’s war in Ukraine is running at a “reduced tempo” and suggests Ukrainian forces could have brighter prospects in coming months.
Avril Haines alluded to past allegations by some that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisers could be shielding him from bad news — for Russia — about war developments, and said he “is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia.”
“But it’s still not clear to us that he has a full picture of at this stage of just how challenged they are,” the US director of national intelligence said late Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.
Looking ahead, Haines said, “honestly we’re seeing a kind of a reduced tempo already of the conflict” and her team expects that both sides will look to refit, resupply, and reconstitute for a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive in the spring.
“But we actually have a fair amount of skepticism as to whether or not the Russians will be in fact prepared to do that,” she said. “And I think more optimistically for the Ukrainians in that timeframe.”
In recent weeks, Russia’s military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure and pressing an offensive in the east, near the town of Bakhmut, while shelling sites in the city of Kherson, which Ukrainian forces liberated last month after an 8-month Russian occupation.
In his nightly address on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lashed out at Western efforts to crimp Russia’s crucial oil industry, a key source of funds for Putin’s war machine, saying their $60-per-barrel price cap on imports of Russian oil was insufficient.
“It is not a serious decision to set such a limit for Russian prices, which is quite comfortable for the budget of the terrorist state,” Zelensky said, referring to Russia. He said the $60-per-barrel level would still allow Russia to bring in $100 billion in revenues per year.
“This money will go not only to the war and not only to further sponsorship by Russia of other terrorist regimes and organizations. This money will be used for further destabilization of those countries that are now trying to avoid serious decisions,” Zelensky said.
Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, the United States and the 27-nation European Union agreed Friday to cap what they would pay for Russian oil at $60 per barrel. The limit is set to take effect Monday, along with an EU embargo on Russian oil shipped by sea.
Russian authorities have rejected the price cap and threatened Saturday to stop supplying the nations that endorsed it.
In yet another show of Western support for Ukraine’s efforts to battle back Russian forces and cope with fallout from the war, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland on Saturday visited the operations of a Ukrainian aid group that provides support for internally displaced people in Ukraine, among her other visits with top Ukrainian officials.
Nuland assembled dolls out of yarn in the blue-and-yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag with youngsters from regions including northeastern Kharkiv, southern Kherson, and eastern Donetsk.
“This is psychological support for them at an absolutely crucial time,” Nuland said.
“As President Putin knows best, this war could stop today, if he chose to stop it and withdrew his forces — and then negotiations can begin,” she added.


Indonesia’s Semeru volcano erupts, people warned to stay away

Indonesia’s Semeru volcano erupts, people warned to stay away
Updated 04 December 2022

Indonesia’s Semeru volcano erupts, people warned to stay away

Indonesia’s Semeru volcano erupts, people warned to stay away
  • Semeru volcano on Java island spews a column of ash 1.5km into the air
  • Indonesia has the largest population globally living in close range to a volcano
JAKARTA: Indonesia’s Semeru volcano on Java island erupted early on Sunday, spewing a column of ash 1.5km into the air, prompting authorities to warn residents to stay away from the eruption area.
Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency, BNPB, warned residents not to conduct any activities within 5km of the eruption center and to stay 500 meters from riversides due to risks of lava flow.
Japan’s Meteorology Agency said was monitoring for the possibility of a tsunami there after the eruption, public broadcaster NHK reported.
The volcano began erupting at 2:46 a.m. (1946 GMT on Saturday), BNPB said in a statement. Videos posted on social media showed grey ash clouds in nearby areas.
BNPB did not immediately respond to Japan’s warning of tsunami risk.
Indonesian authorities have distributed masks to local residents, BNPB said in a statement, adding that volcanic activity remained at level III, below the highest level of IV.
With 142 volcanoes, Indonesia has the largest population globally living in close range to a volcano, including 8.6 million within 10km.

Daesh claims attack on Pakistani envoy in Kabul

Taliban fighters stand guard near to the site of attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP)
Taliban fighters stand guard near to the site of attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP)
Updated 04 December 2022

Daesh claims attack on Pakistani envoy in Kabul

Taliban fighters stand guard near to the site of attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP)
  • “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will not allow any malicious actors to pose a threat to the security of diplomatic missions in Kabul,” it said in a statement, vowing to find and punish those responsible

KABUL: The Daesh group claimed responsibility Saturday for an attack on Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul, which Islamabad decried as an “assassination attempt.”
A security guard was wounded in the attack Friday in the Afghan capital.
In a statement cited by jihadist monitor SITE, Daesh’s regional chapter said it had “attacked the apostate Pakistani ambassador and his guards.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has called it “an assassination attempt” on the head of the mission, and demanded an investigation.
A Kabul police spokesman said one suspect had been arrested and two light weapons seized after security forces swept a nearby building.
Although Pakistan does not officially recognize Afghanistan’s Taliban government, it kept its embassy open even as the hard-line group took over in August last year, and maintains a full diplomatic mission.
An embassy official told AFP a lone attacker “came behind the cover of houses and started firing,” but that the ambassador and other staff were safe.
A spokesman for Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said they strongly condemned the “failed attack.”
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will not allow any malicious actors to pose a threat to the security of diplomatic missions in Kabul,” it said in a statement, vowing to find and punish those responsible.
Pakistan has complicated relations with the Taliban, with Islamabad long accused of supporting the hard-line group even while backing the US-led invasion of Afghanistan that toppled them following the 9/11 attacks.
Pakistan is home to more than a million Afghan refugees, and the porous border they share is frequently the scene of clashes.
Since returning to power, the Afghan Taliban have insisted they would not allow foreign militant groups to operate from home soil.
 

 


Concern as English local authority admits 39 Albanian child migrants missing

Concern as English local authority admits 39 Albanian child migrants missing
Updated 04 December 2022

Concern as English local authority admits 39 Albanian child migrants missing

Concern as English local authority admits 39 Albanian child migrants missing
  • FOI request shows 20 percent of 2022 intake ‘disappeared’ while in Kent County Council care

LONDON: Up to 20 percent of Albanian child migrants relocated to an English council in 2022 have been classified as disappeared after going missing, the BBC reported.

Kent County Council admitted 197 unaccompanied Albanian child migrants up to Oct. 31, but figures show that 39 have gone missing.

Officials said that the council is working closely with the UK Home Office to protect and safeguard vulnerable migrant children.

It comes as figures revealed that almost 12,000 Albanians crossed into the UK this year.

The number is an almost 4,000 percent increase on last year’s figure.

Ecpat UK, a campaign group that aims to protect vulnerable children, described the figures obtained by the BBC through a Freedom of Information request as “concerning.”

Head of policy, advocacy and research Laura Duran said that the 20 percent figure represented a “really high” number of missing children.

“We’re really concerned they are at risk of exploitation or have effectively been trafficked,” she said.

“They could be facing labor exploitation in different industries such as construction or car washes. They could be criminally exploited in drug distribution or in cannabis farms, or they could be sexually exploited.”

In a statement, Kent County Council said: “While all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are vulnerable to exploitation, research and experience evidences that some nationalities are particularly vulnerable and can go missing from local authority care very quickly.

“Kent County Council has used both established safeguarding protocols, including the National Referral Mechanism, and initiated multi-agency strategies to minimize the risks for these children as much as possible.

“The council continues to take a proactive role in safeguarding all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in its care.”