UN special envoy meets Bangladeshi officials as pressure to repatriate Rohingya grows

UN special envoy meets Bangladeshi officials as pressure to repatriate Rohingya grows
Rohingya refugees gather to mark the second anniversary of the exodus at the Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on August 25, 2019. (REUTERS/File Photo)
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Updated 25 August 2022

UN special envoy meets Bangladeshi officials as pressure to repatriate Rohingya grows

UN special envoy meets Bangladeshi officials as pressure to repatriate Rohingya grows
  • Noeleen Heyzer’s trip to Bangladesh follows her visit to Myanmar
  • Bangladeshi PM called on UN last week to start repatriation of Rohingya refugees

DHAKA: The UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer met with Bangladeshi officials on Wednesday amid growing pressure for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees.

Although Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it has been hosting and providing 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.

Despite multiple attempts from Bangladesh over the past years, a UN-backed repatriation process has been failing to take off.

Heyzer arrived in Bangladesh on Monday, after her visit to Myanmar last week.

“The UN envoy to Myanmar visited the Rohingya camps at Cox’s Bazar on Tuesday. She witnessed the facilities over there that Bangladesh has provided to the Rohingya refugees,” Shamsud Douza Nayan, additional commissioner of Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission, told Arab News.

“Today’s meeting was to discuss the issues about the well-being of the Rohingyas.”

Heyzer inspected facilities provided to Rohingya refugees in the camps, where no work is available, sanitation is poor and access to education limited.

Her arrival in Bangladesh follows the visit of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, whom Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called upon to repatriate the Rohingya.

When Bachelet asked Hasina to increase opportunities for education and work for the Rohingya in Bangladesh, the prime minister said such initiatives would not be possible to implement in Cox’s Bazar but could be pursued in Bhasan Char, a remote camp island in the Bay of Bengal, where Bangladeshi authorities have shifted over 20,000 refugees since December 2020 to take pressure off Cox’s Bazar.

Before and during the relocation process, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and rights groups criticized the camp island project on the grounds of safety and Bhasan Char’s livability, as the island, 68 km from the mainland, is prone to severe weather and flooding.

As international financial support for hosting the Rohingya has decreased since 2020, the pressure on Bangladesh has been also economic, multiplying the challenges the developing country battered by the COVID-19 pandemic is already facing. Hosting Rohingya refugees costs Bangladesh an estimated $1.2 billion a year.

Security in Rohingya settlements has come under the spotlight in recent weeks after two refugee community leaders were shot dead earlier this month, reportedly by an insurgent group active in the camps, which has been accused of killing scores of opponents and local community leaders since last year.

Reports of criminal organizations using refugees as drug traffickers have also been on the rise.

In an appeal to donors, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that international support for Rohingyas is “well short of needs.”

The UNHCR said its 2022 response plan sought $881 million for more than 1.4 million people, including Rohingya refugees and host communities, but so far was funded at only 49 percent.


Russia says ties with US still in ‘crisis’ despite prisoner swap

Russia says ties with US still in ‘crisis’ despite prisoner swap
Updated 2 min 19 sec ago

Russia says ties with US still in ‘crisis’ despite prisoner swap

Russia says ties with US still in ‘crisis’ despite prisoner swap
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov: relations between the two countries remained in a ‘sorry state’
  • Moscow-Washington tensions lately soared over range of issues

MOSCOW: Russia said Friday that its ties with the United States were still in “crisis” despite a prisoner swap involving US basketball star Brittney Griner and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Tensions between Moscow and Washington have soared in recent months over a range of issues, peaking after President Vladimir Putin sent troops into pro-Western Ukraine.
“It is probably wrong to draw any hypothetical conclusions that this could be a step toward overcoming the crisis that we currently have in bilateral relations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Izvestia newspaper.
Ties “continue to remain in a sad state,” he said, adding that talks with US authorities allowed “a Russian citizen, who was basically held captive by the Americans for 14 years... to return to his country.”
Dubbed the “Merchant of Death,” Bout was released Thursday in a prisoner swap in Abu Dhabi involving WNBA star Griner, 32, who was jailed in Russia for possessing vape cartridges with cannabis oil.
Bout, 55, was accused of arming rebels in some of the world’s bloodiest conflicts.
He was arrested in an American sting operation in Thailand in 2008, extradited to the United States and sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison.
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Russian emergency services battling massive fire in Moscow suburb

Russian emergency services battling massive fire in Moscow suburb
Updated 09 December 2022

Russian emergency services battling massive fire in Moscow suburb

Russian emergency services battling massive fire in Moscow suburb
  • Fire broke out at Mega Khimki shopping center
  • “arson” suspected as possible cause of blaze

 MOSCOW: Russian firefighters on Friday battled a massive blaze the size of a football pitch which broke out overnight in a shopping center in a Moscow suburb, emergency services said.
“In the Moscow region, firefighters are putting out a fire the size of 7,000 square meters (75,300 square feet),” Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations said on Telegram.
The fire broke out at the Mega Khimki shopping center in Moscow’s northern suburb of Khimki.
Russian news agencies quoted sources in emergency services saying “arson” was suspected as a possible cause of the blaze.
“Deliberate acts, as in arson, is being considered,” the Interfax news agency quoted a source as saying.
Videos on social media showed a huge fire, with people fleeing the burning building into a parking lot.
Mega Khimki, a large shopping and entertainment center, is about 7 kilometers from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. The fire is ongoing as of 9 am local time (0600 GMT).


Sri Lanka’s Parliament approves budget amid economic crisis

Sri Lanka’s Parliament approves budget amid economic crisis
Updated 09 December 2022

Sri Lanka’s Parliament approves budget amid economic crisis

Sri Lanka’s Parliament approves budget amid economic crisis

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Parliament approved a budget Thursday that includes reforms aimed at improving the country’s finances as it attempts to recover from its worst economic crisis.

The 5.82 trillion rupee ($15 billion) budget includes a 43 billion rupee ($117 million) relief package for those affected by the crisis.

The budget provides for a restructuring of state-owned enterprises, reduced subsidies for electricity, and tax increases to boost state revenue based on proposals by the International Monetary Fund under a preliminary $2.9 billion bailout plan.

Unsustainable government debt, a severe balance of payments crisis and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a shortage of essentials such as fuel, medicine and food, and soaring prices have caused severe hardships for most Sri Lankans. Many have lost their jobs because businesses have become unsustainable.

The government announced in April that it was suspending repayment of nearly $7 billion in foreign debt due this year. It has since entered a preliminary agreement with the IMF, which has agreed to provide $2.9 billion over four years depending on the willingness of Sri Lanka’s creditors to restructure their loans.

Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt exceeds $51 billion, of which $28 billion has to be repaid by 2027.

The economic meltdown triggered a political crisis in which thousands of protesters stormed the official residence of the president in July, forcing then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and later resign.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who succeeded Rajapaksa, has somewhat reduced the shortages of fuel and cooking gas, but power outages continue, along with shortages of imported medicines.


Frustration in Romania and Bulgaria after Schengen rejection

Frustration in Romania and Bulgaria after Schengen rejection
Updated 08 December 2022

Frustration in Romania and Bulgaria after Schengen rejection

Frustration in Romania and Bulgaria after Schengen rejection
  • Now some observers warn that both countries face a rising tide of euroscepticism as they remain outside the coveted zone
  • At Giurgiu, on the Romanian-Bulgarian border, a queue of trucks several kilometres begins forming from dawn

GIURGIU, Romania: After more than 10 years waiting to be admitted into the Schengen zone, Bulgaria and Romania were once more turned away after two EU countries vetoed their admission.
Now some observers warn that both countries face a rising tide of euroskepticism as they remain outside the coveted zone through which passport checks are not normally required.
Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca spoke of his “profound disappointment” after Austria blocked their admission.
In Bulgaria, President Rumen Radev regretted what he described as the “internal borders” he said were being put up with the European Union bloc.
Their failure to win admission to the Schengen’s vast zone of free movement means that the long lines at various border crossings will continue.
At Giurgiu, for example, on the Romanian-Bulgarian border, a queue of trucks several kilometers begins forming from dawn.
Jaded long-haul drivers speaking to AFP in early December in Giurgiu, on the Romanian side, told of long hours waiting for the customs checks before they could enter Bulgaria.
Alexandru Birnea, 36, a long-haul driver for 13 years, said joining the Schengen zone would improve the lives of thousands of truckers.
“We would like to avoid losing all this time and therefore money in endless queues so that we can get back to our families more quickly,” he said.
But his pessimism about the outcome of the vote turned out to be well founded.
The European Commission has long expressed its wish for a widened Schengen zone.
But while tourist hotspot Croatia received the green light on Thursday, Romania and Bulgaria were left out in the cold.
Both countries joined the European Union back in 2007, before Croatia. Both countries met the technical criteria set out by Brussels.
But both countries were asked to make progress on judicial reform and anti-corruption efforts and were monitored for improvements.
When that process ended, both countries were hopeful that they had cleared the final hurdle. improvements.
But Austria hardened its stance, denouncing an influx of asylum seekers that it said could grow if the Schengen zone expanded.
“The migratory flows do not pass through Romania,” but mainly through Serbia, Romanian Interior Minister Lucian Bode argued.
He pointing to the nearly 140,000 migrants on the western Balkan route recorded by the European agency Frontex since January.
Prime Minister Ciuca said Austria’s refusal was based on “incorrect” figures.
But for political analyst Sergiu Miscoiu, Austria’s veto was more a reflection of internal political pressures, given the rise in polls of the far right there.
The Netherlands finally changed its position and gave Romania the green-light after long being opposed. But it maintained its concerns about “corruption and human rights” in Bulgaria.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said last week that he wanted to be assured that no-one could “cross the border with a 50-euro note.”
Bulgarian Interior Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev rejected what he described as “insulting” remarks, especially given the “exceptional efforts” they had made to meet Brussels’ demands.
Bulgarian weekly magazine Capital commented: “We expect the impossible from the poorest and most corrupt country in the EU: don’t let migrants pass through (the country), but give asylum to every migrant who enters,” it remarked.
And analyst Miscoiu warned that a negative vote could “strengthen the euroskeptics, especially in Bulgaria, which has already had four elections in the past two years.”
Romanian president Klaus Iohannis also warned that rejection “might compromise European unity and cohesion, which we so need, especially in the current geopolitical context.”

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Indonesia hosts first conference to garner support for Afghan women’s education

Indonesia hosts first conference to garner support for Afghan women’s education
Updated 08 December 2022

Indonesia hosts first conference to garner support for Afghan women’s education

Indonesia hosts first conference to garner support for Afghan women’s education
  • Meeting in Bali co-organized by the governments of Indonesia and Qatar
  • Indonesia has made Afghanistan one of its priority foreign aid commitments

JAKARTA: Indonesia hosted on Thursday the first international conference to garner support for Afghan women’s education.

Afghan girls and women have been facing growing uncertainty since the Taliban took control of the country last year, with an estimated 3 million secondary school girls kept out of school for more than a year.

The International Conference on Afghan Women’s Education was held in Bali, co-organized by the governments of Indonesia and Qatar — the first such meeting to take place since the Taliban takeover, gathering representatives of 38 countries, international organizations, NGOs and academics.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has made Afghanistan one of its priority foreign aid commitments, with assistance directed mostly to support women’s empowerment and education.

“We cannot choose to remain idle, we must do something,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told a press conference.

“I firmly believe investing in women means investing in a brighter future, given the opportunity women can make a critical contribution to society.”

Marsudi said that creating conducive conditions for women’s participation in Afghan society was of critical importance, and urged participants to “encourage progress to establish an inclusive government that respects women’s rights” and “guarantee education for all.”

Under its new rulers, Afghanistan has been struggling to achieve growth and stability, as foreign governments have refused to recognize the Taliban and the aid-dependent Afghan economy has been in freefall following the suspension of billions of dollars in foreign aid.

As human rights violations against women and girls mounted steadily in the last year, restriction on women’s employment, in particular, was estimated to cost Afghanistan’s gross domestic product up to $1 billion, or about 5 percent, according to UN data.

The conference was a “good stepping stone,” Qatar’s assistant foreign minister, Lolwah Rashid Al-Khater, told participants at the Bali meeting.

Indonesia and Qatar are working together on a scholarship program dedicated to Afghan people and planning to create economic opportunities through microloans. The two governments are also keen on facilitating policies that would connect the Afghan private sector to their international counterparts.

“One message for the international community: Education is a basic right for all ... and it’s important for myself and my colleagues as well — me as a Muslim woman — to confirm that this is not part of a faith; preventing women from their basic rights is not part of the faith,” Al-Khater said.

“It is our obligation as Muslim-majority countries to confront that and to say to any actors that this does not represent us, this does not represent the faith of Islam.”