Sri Lanka president says all-party government key to resolving crisis

Sri Lanka president says all-party government key to resolving crisis
Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt payments in April due to a severe shortage of foreign currency, which led to a shortage of critical imports. (Reuters)
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Updated 31 July 2022

Sri Lanka president says all-party government key to resolving crisis

Sri Lanka president says all-party government key to resolving crisis
  • IMF bailout alone will not solve crisis, president says
  • Tourism vital to bringing in more dollars, addressing economic crisis

COLOMBO: President Ranil Wickremesinghe has pushed for an all-party government to resolve Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis in memory, as the new leader expects an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to be delayed after unrest over the past weeks.

The island nation of 22 million people, struggling with daily power cuts and shortages of essential goods such as fuel, food and medicines, saw anti-government protests that began in March spread across the country and culminate in the resignation of former president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in early July.

Wickremesinghe was elected by parliament on July 20 to complete the five-year term of Rajapaksa, who fled to Singapore after demonstrators stormed his official residence and occupied several key government buildings in protests over economic hardship.

“The best way to solve the problems of the country is through an all-party government,” Wickremesinghe said during a meeting on Saturday with the influential monks of the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, one of Buddhism’s most sacred shrines.

He had invited members of parliament to join discussions for a unity government just a day earlier, he said, as assistance from the IMF alone will not be enough for the debt-laden country.

Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt payments in April due to a severe lack of foreign currency, which led to a shortage of critical imports that have persisted in the country.

The South Asian country has held discussions with the IMF for a bailout, but reaching a staff-level agreement that would be key for that has been pushed back due to the turmoil of recent weeks, the president said.

“Nothing happened since July 9 until now. Now it has been delayed until the end of August and we are expecting to get it approved by September only,” Wickremesinghe said.

The IMF’s rescue package would not be enough to pull the country out from the crisis, he said.

“Just because we take money from the IMF, do not think that all problems will be solved. Our debts have increased. How will we pay these debts?”

“We need more foreign exchange and need new ways to bring in forex to the country.”

Murtaza Jafferjee, economist and chairman of the Colombo-based think tank Advocata Institute, told Arab News on Sunday that an all-party government would help to reach the political consensus needed to carry out the necessary reforms in Sri Lanka.

“Furthermore, the more competent MPs who can help with the economy are with the SJB, thus he wants them to come over,” Jafferjee said, referring to the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya.

Reviving the country’s once-thriving tourism industry would be key, Jafferjee said, as travelers bringing in dollars would help to reduce shortages in the island nation.

“The sector that can have the fastest rebound is tourism, but the bad publicity is not helping our cause,” he said.

Tourism was a key source of Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves.

In 2019, the South Asian country welcomed more than 1.9 million tourists. As COVID-19 restrictions upended the hospitality industry, the number dropped to less than 200,000 last year. But activity is slowly picking up again, as 380,000 tourists have arrived in the country in the first half of 2022, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.

The upcoming winter season for countries in the northern hemisphere is usually the peak season for Sri Lanka’s tourism.

“So one hopes that there will be a retraction of the travel warnings that will make people more comfortable with travel to the country,” Jafferjee said.


NEOM offers Sri Lankan workers ‘lifetime opportunity,’ minister says

NEOM offers Sri Lankan workers ‘lifetime opportunity,’ minister says
Updated 17 sec ago

NEOM offers Sri Lankan workers ‘lifetime opportunity,’ minister says

NEOM offers Sri Lankan workers ‘lifetime opportunity,’ minister says
  • Manusha Nanayakkara ‘blown away’ by Saudi megaproject on visit to Kingdom
  • Smart city presents opportunities for construction, engineering, IT professionals, he says

COLOMBO: Saudi Arabia’s NEOM smart city offers a great opportunity for Sri Lankan professionals and skilled workers, a government minister from the South Asian nation said on Friday.

Labor and Foreign Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara visited the site of the megaproject in northwestern Tabuk province last month during an official visit to the Kingdom.

He also met his Saudi counterpart, Human Resources and Social Development Minister Ahmed bin Sulaiman Al-Rajhi, to discuss ways to boost labor relations and find employment opportunities for skilled Sri Lankan workers on some of the huge infrastructure projects being implemented under Saudi Vision 2030.

“NEOM is a futuristic concept and I was blown away by looking at the amount of work that has gone into it,” Nanayakkara told Arab News. “Also, once the project is complete it will trigger a significant transformation in traditional tourism and modern living.”

He added: “NEOM offers a substantial amount of job opportunities in various categories and I am trying to orient as many aspiring migrant workers to capitalize on this.”

Some of the best opportunities were for construction, engineering, IT and urban planning professionals, he said.

“Sri Lanka produces world-class engineers, architects and city planners. They can contribute their technical and creative capabilities. Projects like NEOM are rare in the world and it will be a lifetime opportunity for most of them.”

Sri Lanka is keen to find work overseas for its professionals as it is facing its worst financial crisis since gaining independence in 1948 and in desperate need of foreign currency.

The island nation of 22 million people officially defaulted on its debts in April and without foreign currency reserves has been left unable to pay for imports. Most of its citizens are facing daily power cuts and shortages of basic commodities.

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

“(An) Immediate contribution, without a doubt, would be foreign remittance,” Nanayakkara said, adding that involvement in NEOM would also bring long-term benefits for Sri Lankan workers.

“The expertise and experience they gain by being employed by NEOM will add to their credentials as professionals.”

 


Husband of Daesh bride Shamima Begum disputes ‘grooming’ claims

Husband of Daesh bride Shamima Begum disputes ‘grooming’ claims
Updated 02 December 2022

Husband of Daesh bride Shamima Begum disputes ‘grooming’ claims

Husband of Daesh bride Shamima Begum disputes ‘grooming’ claims
  • Yago Riedijk says he and then schoolgirl ‘agreed on the conditions of marriage’
  • Begum is appealing a British government decision to strip her of her citizenship

LONDON: The husband of Daesh bride Shamima Begum has insisted his marriage to the British schoolgirl was a happy one, the Daily Mail reported.

Yago Riedijk, who was 23 when he married Begum, then 15, said the couple enjoyed a good marriage in Syria, despite claims from Begum she was groomed and trafficked.

Begum left her east London home in February 2015 and married Dutch convert and Daesh soldier Riedijk days after arriving in Syria.

The couple had three children, all of whom died of disease or malnutrition.

Lawyers for Begum, who is appealing a British government decision to strip her of her citizenship, told the special immigration court there was “overwhelming” evidence she was groomed and trafficked by Daesh for the purpose of “sexual exploitation and marriage to an adult male.”

Nick Squires KC, a member of Begum’s legal team, told the Special Immigration Appeals Commission: “In doing so, she was following a well-known pattern by which ISIS (another term for the terror group) cynically recruited and groomed female children as young as 14 so that they could be offered as wives to adult men.”

However, Riedijk, who was speaking in an interview from prison in northern Syria, said the marriage was consensual and, initially at least, a happy one.

“Basically, I was looking for marriage and a friend of mine came to me and said ‘there’s a sister looking for marriage, are you interested?’ I took him up on his offer.

“We had a talk, we agreed on the conditions of marriage,” he said.

It was “not really something big or anything important, it was small things like going out shopping, things like this,” he added.

“Basically she asked for some freedoms, which I agreed to give her — going shopping, seeing her friends, very, very basic stuff. We agreed on a dowry — all she asked for was an English translation of the Quran, which I agreed to.”

Following Daesh’s ousting from the last of the territory it had seized across Syria and Iraq in March 2019, the British government said Begum was a risk and rescinded her citizenship.

MI5, the UK’s security service, concluded that Begum’s travel to Syria was voluntary and she had “demonstrated determination and commitment” to joining the terror group.

Female recruits to Daesh were likely to have been radicalized and were probably given military training to fight in defense of the group, it said in a statement.

“They were exposed to routine acts of extreme violence, which would be likely to have had the effect of desensitizing individuals, and encouraging them to view violent terrorist activity as an acceptable and legitimate course of action.

“(Daesh) was committed to perpetuating violence against those who it viewed as enemies of Islam, including the UK.”


Indonesian farm workers left stranded in debt in UK, embassy warns

Indonesian farm workers left stranded in debt in UK, embassy warns
Updated 02 December 2022

Indonesian farm workers left stranded in debt in UK, embassy warns

Indonesian farm workers left stranded in debt in UK, embassy warns
  • Over 1,450 paid vast sums to recruitment agents for fruit picking jobs in Britain
  • One employer ‘very concerned’ about payments demanded by third-party agents

LONDON: More than 200 Indonesian fruit pickers have since July sought help from their nation’s embassy in London after wracking up huge debts traveling to the UK for work, only to find their jobs being cut short, the mission said on Friday.

The true number of Indonesians struggling in the industry was likely to be much higher, it added, with more than 1,450 of them sent this year by a company called AG Recruitment to work on six-month seasonal worker visas.

An embassy official told The Guardian newspaper that initially people “started coming to us with problems about the targets on farms.”

But the official added: “Currently, most people are contacting us because there’s no more work at the farms. They try to transfer, but AG tells them there’s no other work.”

One worker told The Guardian he had borrowed £4,650 ($5,700) in Java to pay an agent to take him to the UK, but that his job at Castleton Farm in Scotland paid only about £200 per week. When he was dismissed after just two months he still owed £1,700.

Ross Mitchell, managing director of Castleton Fruit Ltd., said the farm had employed 106 Indonesian workers this year, 70 of whom were still on site, working an average of just under 42 hours per week, with an average weekly gross pay of about £450, excluding costs such as accommodation.

He added he was “very concerned” about “payment demanded by third-party agents” and that the company relied on “approved agents to have carried out due diligence to ensure that the workers are not paying excessive fees.”

“We had hoped the relevant bodies would have dealt with this issue,” he told The Guardian.

An investigation by the paper in August revealed Indonesian workers were regularly taking on debts of up to £5,000 to work in the UK for a single fruit picking season.

AG Recruitment, which has no presence in Indonesia, used Jakarta-based Al Zubara Manpower to source workers, which in turn used third-party brokers who charged the high fees to prospective workers, The Guardian said.

AG Recruitment denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of the practice, but has since been investigated by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, a UK government agency.

A GLAA spokesperson told The Guardian: “Where there are allegations of labor exploitation we will investigate and take appropriate action if our licensing standards are not being fully adhered to … Scheme operators are fully aware of their responsibilities to workers.”

AG director Douglas Amesz said: “Workers should never pay fees to anyone to receive a job in the UK; this is UK law. However, unfortunately this is not law in all the countries we have historically recruited from so we are actively working to educate citizens abroad that they should never pay anyone fees to receive a job in the UK or anywhere else.”

Yulia Guyeni, director of Al Zubara, said: “We send workers based on the request from AG. We only charge based on the placement agreement the workers signed.

She added: “It is not our responsibility (to check the debts of workers) as we do not encourage them to have debt. They are old enough and should be responsible to realize the consequences of debt.”

Castleton Farm supplies fruit to some of the UK’s biggest supermarket brands. In a statement, the British Retail Consortium said the supermarkets “are concerned by these allegations and are investigating as a matter of urgency.”


EU bans cough syrup chemical over severe allergies

EU bans cough syrup chemical over severe allergies
Updated 02 December 2022

EU bans cough syrup chemical over severe allergies

EU bans cough syrup chemical over severe allergies
  • The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended that treatments containing pholcodine should be withdrawn from sale
  • "Use of pholcodine in the 12 months before general anaesthesia... is a risk factor for developing an anaphylactic reaction"

THE HAGUE: Cough medicines containing the chemical pholcodine should be banned due to the risk of potentially deadly allergic reactions in people under general anaesthetic, the European Union’s drug regulator said Friday.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended that treatments containing pholcodine, which is used in adults and children to treat dry coughs, should be withdrawn from sale.
“Use of pholcodine in the 12 months before general anaesthesia... is a risk factor for developing an anaphylactic reaction” to muscle relaxants in the anaesthetic, the Amsterdam-based watchdog said.
Anaphylactic shock is a “sudden, severe and life-threatening allergic reaction,” it added.
Medicines with the chemical were “being withdrawn from the EU market and will therefore no longer be available by prescription or over the counter.”
Opioid-based pholcodine has been used as a cough medicine since the 1950s.
Medicines containing the chemical are currently authorized in the EU countries of Belgium, Croatia, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Slovenia, under brand names including Dimetane, Biocalyptol and Broncalene.
France had said in September that pholcodine could be banned due to the risk of allergies.
In April 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when a dry cough was one of the main symptoms of the disease, French authorities had recommended against the use of syrups with pholcodine.
The EMA in January had recommended updating packaging to warn of the risk of allergies, based on new data.


UK refugee scheme resettled just 4 Afghans since Taliban takeover, data shows

UK refugee scheme resettled just 4 Afghans since Taliban takeover, data shows
Updated 02 December 2022

UK refugee scheme resettled just 4 Afghans since Taliban takeover, data shows

UK refugee scheme resettled just 4 Afghans since Taliban takeover, data shows
  • Program aimed to resettle 5,000 vulnerable people during first year of operation
  • Second policy for Afghans who supported the UK military has helped 6,500 people

LONDON: One of the UK’s programs to house Afghan refugees has resettled just four people since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August last year, The Independent reported.
The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, one of two UK government programs for the urgent relocation of vulnerable Afghan refugees, aimed to resettle 5,000 people in Britain within its first year of operation.
However, Home Office data shows that while about 6,500 Afghans had been welcomed as part of a second scheme — the Afghan Relocation Assistance Policy — only four had been resettled as part of ACRS.
The more successful ARAP targeted Afghans who worked with and supported British military operations during the country’s near two-decade civil war.
ACRS, which launched in January, aims to help Afghans who “assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for values such as democracy, freedom of speech, and rule of law,” the government said.
Unlike ARAP, the scheme receives referrals for vulnerable Afghans directly from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Due to safety issues within Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover, many of the potential targets of the scheme have already fled to neighboring countries, including Pakistan and Iran.
They have since been left in limbo, however, awaiting responses from the UK government amid warning calls from the UNHCR.
A former high-ranking Afghan prosecutor who has resided in Pakistan since the fall of Kabul has been unable to relocate to the UK despite having family members there.
He said: “I am constantly terrified; I am worried that I will go to jail. I don’t know what is going to happen.”
His lawyer, Deena Patel, said that the prosecutor’s case had been referred to the UNHCR but that progress has been slow.
She added: “The number of four Afghans (relocated through ACRS) is highly believable. The prosecutor’s case was a strong case on merit.
“He should have been relocated under pathway two, but he’s been waiting months on end.
“This is just taking way too long. The UNHCR have to do a refugee assessment in each case, if they are not even speeding up this process then they are not going to make a referral to the Home Office.
“We know the crisis that this is causing — a large proportion of those arriving (in the UK) illegally are Afghans. What can you do if there is no legal route?”
The opposition Labour Party’s shadow immigration minister, Stephen Kinnock, said: “Britain owes a debt of gratitude to courageous Afghans who served British interests in Afghanistan, and it is a debt that must be honored.
“UN figures show that since last summer at least 160 Afghans have been killed through reprisal attacks.”
The government “must urgently clear the asylum backlog at home, while working more effectively with the UNHCR to keep the promise they made last autumn to bring vulnerable Afghans to safety,” he added.
Mary Atkinson, campaigns officer at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, described the latest Home Office ACRS figures as “disgraceful.”
She added: “We shouldn’t allow this government to get away with its shameful abandonment of the Afghan people — we need a fully functioning Afghan resettlement scheme now.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has made one of the largest commitments to support Afghanistan of any country and, so far, we have brought more than 22,800 vulnerable Afghans to safety.
“However, the situation is complex and presents us with significant challenges, including safe passage out of the country for those who want to leave and who are eligible for resettlement in the UK.”