Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster

Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster
Rescue workers have recovered seven more bodies on Monday after a boat carrying religious pilgrims capsized in Bangladesh, taking the death toll to 32 with scores still missing. (AFP)
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Updated 27 September 2022

Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster

Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster
  • Death toll has risen to 67 as of Tuesday afternoon, local official says
  • Boat accident is the worst waterway disaster to hit the South Asian nation this year

DHAKA: Almost as soon as the boat started moving to take passengers to the other side of the Karatoya River, where many Hindu devotees were heading to celebrate the Durga Puja festival at a popular temple, the small vessel began to tremble.
The 15-minute journey to cross the river in northern Bangladesh that Sunday afternoon quickly turned into a tragedy, taking less than four minutes before the boat began to sink.
“There had been a huge rush of passengers, and people were all in a hurry to get on the boat. Not a single inch of space was empty,” Ramesh Chandra, a 40-year-old farmer from the northern Panchagarh district, told Arab News on Tuesday.
Chandra, who boarded the boat with his 35-year-old wife Shyamoli Rani Shimuli and his 11-year-old daughter Surovi Rani, said it had all happened suddenly.
“Soon after the boat started moving, it was trembling because of the overload,” he said.
When Chandra realized the boat was sinking, he took his daughter’s hands and swam toward the river bank. But his wife, who was wearing a traditional sari, did not make it.
“My wife knew swimming very well, but she unfortunately failed to manage it as she was wearing a sari, which wrapped her whole body immediately when it got wet,” Chandra said.
He is now left alone to raise his daughter and 13-year-old son Saurov, who had been at home when the incident occurred.
“I don’t know what to do now, how I will be able to raise my children alone without their mother,” Chandra said.
Shimuli’s body was recovered on Sunday evening, and she was cremated the following day. As the family mourns the tragic loss, they also have to grapple with other losses in the extended family.
Chandra said his niece and sister were also killed in the accident, and authorities were still searching for his nephew on Tuesday.
The worst waterways disaster to hit the South Asian nation this year had killed at least 67 people as of Tuesday afternoon, comprising 30 women, 20 children, and 17 men, Mohammad Jahurul Islam, Panchagarh district administrator, told Arab News.
“Our divers are working to trace the (missing) bodies. Rescue operations will continue until we can address the last complaint reported,” Islam said.
Islam said aid was given to the families of the deceased victims to cover expenses for the funeral rites.
Dipankar Roy, who heads the committee investigating the accident, told Arab News that they have conducted interviews with eyewitnesses, survivors, and other concerned parties.
“Our investigation over this tragic incident is almost over. We hope to submit the report by 10 a.m. on Wednesday at the latest,” Roy said.
Hundreds of people die each year in ferry accidents across Bangladesh, as accidents commonly occur due to lax safety standards. In April 2021, at least 35 people were killed after an overcrowded ferry collided with a cargo vessel and sank on the Shitalakhsya River outside the capital Dhaka.
The villages along the Karatoya River were overwhelmed with grief, as many residents mourn the deaths of relatives, friends, and neighbors in the boat accident.
Tarun Kumar Barman, a 35-year-old farmer from Panchagarh, said his village alone had lost eight people to the tragedy. His nine-year-old niece and 48-year-old sister were among the victims.
“All of them were from the Hindu community and had intended to make offerings in the temple on the occasion of Mahalaya,” Barman told Arab News, referring to the beginning of Durga Puja celebrations.
“The whole village is overwhelmed with mourning now. People forgot their daily routines. We are extremely shocked,” he said. “It’s a dead village now. We cremated the bodies one after another. None of us was ready for a situation like this.”


UK home secretary reportedly plans blanket asylum ban on migrants from Albania

UK home secretary reportedly plans blanket asylum ban on migrants from Albania
Updated 06 December 2022

UK home secretary reportedly plans blanket asylum ban on migrants from Albania

UK home secretary reportedly plans blanket asylum ban on migrants from Albania
  • Suella Braverman is said to be drawing up legislation to make it easier to automatically reject and expel asylum seekers from countries the UK categorizes as “safe” to live
  • More than 12,000 Albanian migrants have arrived in the UK on small boats this year, representing about a quarter of all such Channel crossings, The Times reported

LONDON: A blanket ban on asylum seekers from countries designated by the UK as being “safe” places to live is proposed by British Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

Under plans to tackle what the UK government describes as a “migrant crisis,” she is said to be drawing up legislation that will make it easier to automatically reject and expel asylum seekers from such countries whether or not their claims are “unfounded.”

Experts said the move is designed primarily to target Albanian migrants. More than 12,000 have arrived in the UK on small boats this year, representing about a quarter of all such Channel crossings, The Times reported.

Under the new legislation, the report added, countries would be designated as “safe” based on the rules that already apply to an existing Home Office “white list.” This list needs to be updated given that it currently includes Ukraine, and Braverman would have the power to add or remove other countries, the newspaper said.

The “white list” is seen by observers as a mechanism to allow the British government to target Albanian migrants while avoiding falling foul of any laws by singling out a single nationality.

UK authorities are also expected to use a second “partial designation” list that declares certain countries to be “safe” for men but not for women and children, such as Ghana, Nigeria, Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali and Sierra Leone.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has condemned the proposals, warning that they would breach the UK’s international obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

“Everybody has the right to seek asylum from persecution in another country and there is no such thing as an ‘illegal asylum seeker,’” said UNHCR’s representative to the UK, Vicky Tennant.

“The indefinite detention of those seeking asylum, based solely on their mode of arrival, would punish people in need of help and protection and constitute a clear breach of the United Kingdom’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.”

A Home Office source told The Times: “This list dates back to 2002, when it was introduced by (a) Labour (government). Despite being on this list, the UK still continues to accept people claiming asylum from these countries based on their individual cases.”


Spanish twin chefs earn third Michelin star

Spanish twin chefs earn third Michelin star
Updated 05 December 2022

Spanish twin chefs earn third Michelin star

Spanish twin chefs earn third Michelin star

BARCELONA: When they were just eight years old, Spanish twins Sergio and Javier Torres set a goal — they wanted to become chefs who were among the top in their field.

To achieve this, they strategically split up to get training in different esteemed kitchens around the world, published books on cooking and presented a popular TV show.

The plan worked.

Over four decades after they surprised their family by saying they wanted to be chefs, Sergio and Javier’s Barcelona restaurant, Cocina Hermanos Torres, was awarded a third Michelin star last month.

“We developed a plan, that I think is a perfect plan,” a smiling Javier, 51, said at the restaurant, one of only 13 in Spain and Portugal with the top three-star ranking from the prestigious French guide.

“When we started to go out of Barcelona, we thought that Sergio would take one path, I would take another, and we would never coincide until we were ready,” he added. The journey took the twins — who grew up in a working-class Barcelona neighborhood — to different elite restaurants in Spain, Switzerland and France.

Before moving to Paris where he worked with top French chef Alain Ducasse, Sergio spent two years at the award-winning Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier which is also run by twins — Jacques and Laurent Pourcel.

“We were separated but every month we met up in a restaurant, ate well, we spent the little money we had and developed the next steps of our strategy,” said Sergio as he sat beside his brother.

Each brother specialized in different areas — one learned to cook meat and vegetables, the other fish and bread, he added.

Both siblings credit their grandmother for their passion for cooking.

She was part of a wave of people who moved from the southern region of Andalusia to the more industrialized Catalonia in the northeast in search of a better life following Spain’s devastating 1936-39 civil war.

“Our grandmother looked after us, and since she was in the kitchen all day we literally grew up in a kitchen,” said Sergio.

After earning two Michelin stars with their previous project “Dos Cielos” and becoming familiar faces thanks to their participation in a cooking show, they decided to open Cocina Hermanos Torres in 2018.

The twins visited some 200 possible locations before settling on an industrial building near Barcelona’s iconic Camp Nou football stadium.

They invested nearly 3 million euros to convert it into the restaurant, which seats a maximum of 50 people at tables with no wall separating them from the three workstations where staff prepare meals.

“We wanted to reflect what we experienced in our childhood, which was a kitchen and a table, and everyone around the table,” said Javier.


Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal

Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal
Updated 05 December 2022

Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal

Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal
  • Bangladesh, GCC signed memorandum establishing framework for cooperation
  • Energy security one of top priorities for Bangladesh amid recent power crisis

DHAKA: Bangladesh is planning to tap into cooperation possibilities with Gulf countries, focusing on energy and food security after a recent agreement on future partnerships with the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Dhaka and the GCC — an intergovernmental economic union of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — signed a memorandum establishing a framework for cooperation on Nov. 18.

The deal was reached on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue regional security conference in Bahrain by Bangladeshi Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen and GCC Secretary-General Dr. Nayef bin Falah Al-Hajraf.

“Energy cooperation is one of our topmost priority issues which will be discussed during joint consultation. Besides, boosting political cooperation will also be a priority area,” Iqbal Hussain Khan, director general of West Asia at the Bangladeshi Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Arab News over the weekend.

He added that as Gulf countries had lately been focused on ensuring food security, Bangladesh — a major seafood and vegetable exporter — would also try to identify potential areas of cooperation in that sector.

“We will sit with GCC authorities for detailing the cooperation areas and fixing the road map within the shortest possible time which is mutually convenient for both the parties,” Khan said.

“We have huge potential for boosting cooperation with Gulf countries since nowadays regional organizations are becoming stronger.”

More details and specific proposals are expected to be announced after upcoming talks between Bangladeshi and GCC authorities.

“Let the discussions begin first. Very soon we will contact the GCC to start the first round of discussions,” Khan added.

The cooperation was likely to help Bangladesh with energy security.

Bangladesh, which is dependent on imported liquefied natural gas, has been struggling with an energy crisis for the past couple of months. In early October, some 80 percent of its 168 million people were left without electricity after a grid failure, which occurred when more than one-third of the country’s gas-powered units were short of fuel.

“Energy security is another big area of cooperation for Bangladesh. Through a long-term arrangement, during bilateral trade talks for a preferential trade agreement or free trade agreement, we must include the oil supply issues to be ensured,” Zahid Hussain, former lead economist at the World Bank in Dhaka, told Arab News.

He added that the future cooperation would also benefit Bangladeshi migrant workers — 90 percent of whom live and work in GCC countries.

“In the case of migrant labor exports, cooperation from the GCC nations will be very important. We need to work to reduce the cost of migration as well as increasing workplace safety, job security, and ensuring earning security,” he said.

“In the long run, it will benefit the GCC countries also since they also need migrant workers from this region.”


Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report

Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report
Updated 05 December 2022

Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report

Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report
  • Dominic Raab was moved to the Justice Ministry in the aftermath of the disastrous evacuation of British troops in 2021
  • Official: ‘One deputy director relayed the extraordinary information that … advice pertaining to the evacuation of Afghanistan had been delayed because (Raab) didn’t like the formatting’

LONDON: Afghans died as a result of the actions of the former UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, during the disastrous withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, a high-level meeting of officials was told, The Guardian reported on Monday.

Raab, who is now the justice secretary and deputy prime minister, faces allegations that his decisions during the withdrawal were partially responsible for the UK’s lackluster evacuation efforts.

According to the report, a meeting called to discuss Raab’s conduct during the 2021 evacuation was told that “people had died” in Afghanistan because the former foreign minister decided not to read crucial new information.

Raab is also facing allegations of bullying behavior towards staff and claims that while foreign minister, he blocked important communications with high-level officials in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. At the time of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Raab faced significant criticism about his personal conduct when he went on holiday to Greece at the height of the crisis.

An official present at the meeting, which took place on May 6, said: “There was a long discussion to clarify that his behavior stepped over the mark from forthright to unprofessional.

“One deputy director relayed the extraordinary information that, when Raab was at FCDO, people had died when advice pertaining to the evacuation of Afghanistan had been delayed because he didn’t like the formatting.”

The official also alleged that Raab arrived hours late to meetings with high-level staff because he was exercising. The minister also needlessly “snapped at and belittled” staff, the official said.

In separate evidence during an inquiry into Raab’s conduct, former FCDO official Raphael Marshall said that the former foreign minister took “hours to engage” in high priority cases.

As a result, some Afghans who might otherwise have been able to leave the country failed to arrive at Kabul airport in time for flights on British aircraft, he added.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said: “This is yet more evidence that suggests Dominic Raab created a toxic culture at the FCDO that could have put lives on the line during the disastrous evacuation from Afghanistan.”

Raab was moved from his position and given the Justice Ministry portfolio in the wake of the Afghanistan withdrawal. He has consistently denied the allegations against him and has taken partial credit for Britain’s evacuation of almost 17,000 Afghans.


Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors
Updated 05 December 2022

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors
  • A Swiss national and former professor at Oxford University, Ramadan has faced a string of rape and sexual assault allegations in France and Switzerland since 2017
  • The Swiss investigation has moved slowly, since Ramadan was initially in pre-trial detention in Paris over other rape allegations and could not be questioned

GENEVA: Embattled Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan will go on trial for rape in Geneva next year, over a case dating back more than 14 years, the prosecution said on Monday.
A Swiss national and former professor at Oxford University, Ramadan has faced a string of rape and sexual assault allegations in France and Switzerland since 2017.
The Geneva judiciary said in the current case Ramadan had been charged with rape and sexual coercion, and would be tried before the Geneva criminal court, confirming information first published by Swiss broadcaster RTS.
The accuser in this case, named simply “Brigitte” by Swiss media, has accused the now 60-year-old scholar of brutally attacking her on the evening of October 28, 2008.
The Muslim convert, who had met Ramadan a month earlier during a book signing, accuses him of subjecting her to sexual attacks, beatings and insults in a Geneva hotel room.
She waited a decade before coming forward, filing her complaint in April 2018.
Her lawyer, Francois Zimeray, told AFP his client was fearful as she brought the case.
“She feels no desire for revenge but is relieved and is putting her faith in the institutions,” he said, adding that he expected the trial to take place during the first half of 2023.
Ramadan’s lawyer, Guerric Canonica, meanwhile alleged on Monday that the prosecution had simply “copied the complaint without considering disqualifying elements.”
“It is now up to the judges to re-establish Mr. Ramadan’s complete innocence and we are serenely waiting for our day in court,” he told AFP.
Ramadan, who has previously filed a complaint against Brigitte for slander, is a father of four whose grandfather founded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
He was a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University until he was forced to take leave when rape allegations surfaced at the height of the “Me Too” movement in 2017.
The Swiss investigation has moved slowly, since Ramadan was initially in pre-trial detention in Paris over other rape allegations and could not be questioned.
After he was released in November 2018, he was put on probation and barred from leaving France.
Swiss prosecutors went to Paris to question him, and once the probation was partially lifted, Ramadan traveled to Geneva for witness hearings in 2020.