Greece: 71 migrants aboard boat reaching southern island

Migrants gather on a beach after their arrival on the southern island of Kythera, Greece. The southern island is not a usual destination for asylum-seekers. (File/AP)
Migrants gather on a beach after their arrival on the southern island of Kythera, Greece. The southern island is not a usual destination for asylum-seekers. (File/AP)
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Updated 20 August 2022

Greece: 71 migrants aboard boat reaching southern island

Greece: 71 migrants aboard boat reaching southern island
  • Some 170 people, the vast majority from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, had arrived at Kythera on another two sailing boats on Wednesday

ATHENS: Greek authorities on Friday raised to 71 the number of migrants aboard a sailboat that reached the southern island of Kythera a day earlier, the third crammed vessel to do so in two days.
The boat, a sailing catamaran, was located in the early hours of Thursday off Kythera’s western coastline.
The coast guard said seven women and 12 minors were among the 71 people aboard.
Nine were from Iran and the rest from Iraq.
On Thursday, the coast guard had said initial indications were that the boat had been carrying 67 people.

Humanitarianism is very important, but the people who wish to come to the EU due to the inequalities that exist in the world are hundreds of millions.

Notis Mitarachi, Migration minister

Some 170 people, the vast majority from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, had arrived at Kythera on another two sailing boats on Wednesday.
The coast guard said five people were arrested on suspicion of migrant smuggling — three Turkish nationals who had been on board the first vessel, and two Russian nationals on the second.
Located off the southern tip of the Peloponnese, Kythera isn’t a target destination for the thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Most attempting to make it into the EU cross from the Turkish coast to nearby Greece’s eastern Aegean islands.
But with Greek authorities increasing patrols in the area and facing persistent reports of push-backs — summary and illegal deportations of new arrivals back to Turkey without allowing them to apply for asylum — more people are attempting a much longer and more dangerous route directly to Italy.
Greek authorities deny they carry out pushbacks.
On Friday, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said on Greece’s Skai radio that migration flows into Greece were at their lowest in a decade last year, with 8,500 people arriving in the country in 2021.
Skai radio quoted him as saying that 2022 was expected to see the second-lowest number of arrivals in the past 10 years, with around 7,000 people having arrived so far.
Greece has been widely criticized by aid groups, asylum seekers and some European politicians for using heavy-handed tactics, particularly pushbacks, to keep arrival numbers down.
“Humanitarianism is very important, but the people who wish to come to the EU due to the inequalities that exist in the world are hundreds of millions,” Skai quoted Mitarachi as saying.
“We’re not speaking of a closed Europe, but nor of a Europe in which traffickers decide who gets in.”
Mitarachi repeated that a 38-km fence along Greece’s northeastern land border with Turkey would be extended by another 80 km.
Greek authorities came under withering criticism last week over a group of mainly Syrians who had been trapped for days on an islet in the Evros River that runs along the Greek-Turkish border in Greece’s northeast.
Greek officials insist the islet is on the Turkish side of the border.
Police on Monday said they found 38 people on the Greek side of the border, away from the river.
The group told authorities a five-year-old girl had died of a scorpion sting on the islet during the ordeal.
Mitarachi said earlier this week that Greece would work with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent for the recovery of the child’s body.


Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US
Updated 19 sec ago

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US
Tallinn, Estonia: Estonia has agreed to buy six HIMARS rocket systems from the United States worth over $200 million, the state defense investment agency said on Saturday.
It is the largest arms purchase in the country’s history.
Estonia, which neighbors Russia, has increased defense spending since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, as has its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Lithuania.
The HIMARS systems delivered to Ukraine are widely seen as one of the most effective tools in its arsenal, as the pro-Western country fights back against Russian troops.
Magnus-Valdemar Saar, director general of the Estonian Center for Defense Investments (ECDI), signed a contract on Friday with the United States’ Defense Security Cooperation Agency to boost the country’s indirect fire capability, the ECDI said in a statement.
Estonia will also “procure ammunition, communications solutions, as well as training, logistics, and life-cycle solutions,” said armament category manager Ramil Lipp.
The ECDI did not provide details on how many rockets were ordered but said the purchase included those which can strike targets at a distance of 300 kilometers (186 miles), and rockets of shorter range.
The first deliveries will arrive in 2024.
Lithuania last month said it would buy eight HIMARS rocket systems from the United States for $495 million.

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan
Updated 42 min 26 sec ago

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan
  • New 2-tier system being considered to reduce country’s 150,000-person backlog
  • Syrian, Afghan applications have 98% success rate in UK: Home Office

LONDON: The UK is to establish a two-tier asylum system to speed up claims from people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, in plans set to be announced next week.

The country faces a significant backlog of 150,000 applications driven in part by mass migration of people from places such as Albania, which is considered a safe country. 

A huge number of people have taken to crossing the English Channel illegally in small boats to reach the UK, which has placed enormous burden on the state’s ability to house and support asylum-seekers.

The UK Home Office says by the end of the year it expects at least 50,000 people to have arrived in the country to claim asylum. 

Its figures also show that around 98 percent of applications from people fleeing Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea, 87 percent from people from Sudan and 82 percent of Iranians — who make up around a third of the backlogged asylum claims in total — end up being approved.

Under the proposals, those from the likes of Afghanistan and Syria will now be prioritized and their processes streamlined, removing things such as follow-up interviews after initial approval, and security and identity checks. 

It is thought that this will allow more deserving refugees to start their lives in the UK, as it will allow them to find work and their own accommodation.

Applications from Albanians, meanwhile, will also be dealt with quicker, with a deal to be struck between London and Tirana to expedite the process of deporting those whose applications are denied.

One source told The Times that the new scheme is being overseen directly by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has “completely taken control of the policy” from Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who had previously gone on record to say speeding up application processes based on nationality “wouldn’t be the right way to go.”

The source said: “He’s got teams of Home Office officials working directly to him, and Suella has been sidelined.”

A Home Office source told The Times that the department is looking at “focusing resources on very high grant rate cases.”


Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth
Updated 03 December 2022

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth
  • Catering course gave Ismet Shehu chance to serve late monarch during Diamond Jubilee celebrations
  • ‘Can you imagine that? A poor boy from the countryside serving lunch to the queen of England?’

LONDON: An Albanian who traveled to Britain hidden in a truck has told the Daily Mail that he served lunch to the late Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Ismet Shehu, now 32, made the dangerous journey aged 17 after traveling to Italy and then France, where in Lille he entered the back of a truck heading for Britain.

Shehu entered the construction and hospitality industries after arriving in the UK, working low-wage jobs before signing up to a university course teaching high-end catering in London.

That course, as part of its training program, offered a small group of students — including Shehu — the opportunity to serve lunch to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during the 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Now back in Tirana, the Albanian capital, Shehu has used his experience in hospitality to open a range of successful restaurants.

He told the Mail: “Can you imagine that? A poor boy from the countryside serving lunch to the queen of England?

“It was such an honor for me to do that and all just a couple of years after getting into the country hiding in the back of a lorry. It was the most frightening experience of my life.”


Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport
Updated 03 December 2022

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport
  • Slight relaxation of COVID-19 testing requirements comes even as daily virus infections reach near-record highs

BEIJING: Local Chinese authorities on Saturday announced a further easing of COVID-19 curbs, with major cities such as Shenzhen and Beijing no longer requiring negative tests to take public transport.
The slight relaxation of COVID-19 testing requirements comes even as daily virus infections reach near-record highs, and follows weekend protests across the country by residents frustrated by the rigid enforcement of anti-virus restrictions that are now entering their fourth year, even as the rest of the world has opened up.
The southern technological manufacturing center of Shenzhen said Saturday that commuters no longer need to show a negative COVID-19 test result to use public transport or when entering pharmacies, parks and tourist attractions.
Meanwhile, the capital Beijing said Friday that negative test results are also no longer required for public transport from Dec. 5. However, a negative result obtained within the past 48 hours is still required to enter venues like shopping malls, which have gradually reopened with many restaurants and eateries providing takeout services.
The requirement has led to complaints from some Beijing residents that even though the city has shut many testing stations, most public venues still require COVID-19 tests.
The government reported 33,018 domestic infections found in the past 24 hours, including 29,085 with no symptoms.
As the rest of the world has learned to live with the virus, China remains the only major nation still sticking to a “zero-COVID” strategy which aims to isolate every infected person. The policy, which has been in place since the pandemic started, led to snap lockdowns and mass-testing across the country.
China still imposes mandatory quarantine for incoming travelers to the country, even as its infection numbers are low compared to its 1.4 billion population.
The recent demonstrations, the largest and most widely spread in decades, erupted Nov. 25 after a fire in an apartment building in the northwestern city of Urumqi killed at least 10 people.
That set off angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other anti-virus controls. Authorities denied that, but the deaths became a focus of public frustration.
The country saw several days of protests across various cities, including Shanghai and Beijing, with protesters demanding an easing of COVID-19 curbs. Some demanded Chinese President Xi Jinping step down, an extraordinary show of public dissent in a society over which the ruling Communist Party exercises near total control.
Xi’s government has promised to reduce the cost and disruption of controls but says it will stick with “zero-COVID.” Health experts and economists expect it to stay in place at least until mid-2023 and possibly into 2024 while millions of older people are vaccinated in preparation for lifting controls that keep most visitors out of China.
While the government has conceded some mistakes, blamed mainly on overzealous officials, criticism of government policies can result in punishment. Former NBA star Jeremy Lin, who plays for a Chinese team, was recently fined 10,000 yuan ($1,400) for criticizing conditions in team quarantine facilities, according to local media reports.
On Friday, World Health Organization emergencies director Dr. Michael Ryan said that the UN agency was “pleased” to see China loosening some of its coronavirus restrictions, saying “it’s really important that governments listen to their people when the people are in pain.”


Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says

Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says
Updated 03 December 2022

Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says

Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says
  • Capture of the town would have limited operational value
  • But it can potentially allow Russia to threaten Kramatorsk and Sloviansk

Russia is likely planning to encircle the Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut with tactical advances to the north and south, Britain’s defense ministry said on Saturday.
The capture of the town would have limited operational value but it can potentially allow Russia to threaten Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, the ministry added in a daily intelligence update.
“There is a realistic possibility that Bakhmut’s capture has become primarily a symbolic, political objective for Russia,” the ministry said in the update posted on Twitter.