2 Russians seek asylum after reaching remote Alaska island

2 Russians seek asylum after reaching remote Alaska island
Map showing the general location of the remote Alaska island in the Bering Sea, where two Russians reportedly fleeing compulsory military service have sought refuge. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 07 October 2022

2 Russians seek asylum after reaching remote Alaska island

2 Russians seek asylum after reaching remote Alaska island

JUNEAU, Alaska: Two Russians who said they fled the country to avoid military service have requested asylum in the US after landing in a small boat on a remote Alaska island in the Bering Sea, US Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office said Thursday.
Karina Borger, a spokesperson for the Alaska Republican senator, said in an email that the office has been in communication with the US Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection and that “the Russian nationals reported that they fled one of the coastal communities on the east coast of Russia to avoid compulsory military service.”
Thousands of Russian men have fled since President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization to bolster Russian forces in Ukraine. While Putin said the move was aimed at calling up about 300,000 men with past military service, many Russians fear it will be broader.
Spokespersons with the US Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection referred a reporter’s questions to the US Department of Homeland Security public affairs office, which provided little information Thursday. The office, in a statement, said the people “were transported to Anchorage for inspection, which includes a screening and vetting process, and then subsequently processed in accordance with applicable US immigration laws under the Immigration and Nationality Act.”
The agency said the two Russians arrived Tuesday on a small boat. It did not provide details on where they came from, their journey or the asylum request. It was not immediately clear what kind of boat they were on.
Alaska’s senators, Republicans Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, on Thursday said the two Russians landed at a beach near the town of Gambell, an isolated Alaska Native community of about 600 people on St. Lawrence Island. Sullivan said he was alerted to the matter by a “senior community leader from the Bering Strait region” on Tuesday morning.
Gambell is about 200 miles (320 kilometers) from the western Alaska hub community of Nome and about 36 miles (58 kilometers) from the Chukotka Peninsula, Siberia, according to a community profile on a state website. The remote, 100-mile (161-kilometer) long island, which includes Savoonga, a community of about 800 people, receives flight services from a regional air carrier. Residents rely heavily on a subsistence way of life, harvesting from the sea fish, whales and other marine life.
A person who responded to an email address listed for Gambell directed questions to federal authorities. A message seeking comment also was sent to the Consulate General of Russia in San Francisco.
Sullivan, in a statement, said he has encouraged federal authorities to have a plan in place in case “more Russians flee to Bering Strait communities in Alaska.”
“This incident makes two things clear: First, the Russian people don’t want to fight Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” Sullivan said. “Second, given Alaska’s proximity to Russia, our state has a vital role to play in securing America’s national security.”
Murkowski said the situation underscored “the need for a stronger security posture in America’s Arctic.”
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Wednesday, as initial details of the situation were emerging, said he did not expect a continual stream or “flotilla” of people traversing the same route. He also warned that travel in the region could be dangerous as a fall storm packing strong winds was expected.
It is unusual for someone to take this route to try to get into the US.
US authorities in August stopped Russians without legal status 42 times who tried to enter the US from Canada. That was up from 15 times in July and nine times in August 2021.
Russians more commonly try to enter the US through Mexico, which does not require visas. Russians typically fly from Moscow to Cancun or Mexico City, entering Mexico as tourists before getting a connecting a flight to the US border. Earlier this year, US authorities contended with a spate of Russians who hoped to claim asylum if they reached an inspection booth at an official crossing.
Some trace the spike to before Russia invaded Ukraine, attributing it to the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny last year.
 


On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art

On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art
Updated 01 December 2022

On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art

On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art
  • Bangladeshi cartoonist Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy engaged refugees in drawing mural
  • He asked kids in Bhasan Char to picture their lives, fears, dreams

DHAKA: When Sona Maher’s family escaped a military crackdown in Myanmar, they arrived in Bangladesh with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, and the images of blood and destruction she is still trying to forget.

The 14-year-old is one of more than 1 million Muslim Rohingya who in 2017 fled persecution, rape, and death at the hands of the Myanmar army.

Most of them found safety in neighboring Bangladesh, of which a southeastern part has since become the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Initially settled in the squalid camps of Cox’s Bazar, Meher’s family last year joined a group of nearly 30,000 Rohingya who Bangladeshi authorities have relocated to Bhasan Char, a remote island in the Bay of Bengal.

Before and when the relocation started, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and rights groups criticized the project on the grounds of safety and Bhasan Char’s livability, as it is prone to severe weather and flooding. But it is also where Maher and other children found solace — in art.

“I witnessed the atrocities by the Myanmar military in my neighborhood in Rakhine. Houses were burnt down, people were killed brutally all around me,” she told Arab News.

“I remember those horrific days and sometimes try to show those incidents in my drawings. I forget the pain when I see the colors of my drawings. It inspires me to hope for a new life, new dreams. I want to get rid of those horrible memories. Life is better now.”

Maher took part in an art project run by Bangladeshi cartoonist Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy and the UNHCR, and art education NGO Artolution, who asked Rohingya children to picture their lives, fears, and dreams in a huge wall painting.

It took eight days, 50 participants, and long hours of consultation to complete the 50-meter-long mural last month.

“It was not just another pretty picture on the wall. We wanted to offer mental healing through art therapy with the engagement of the community,” Tanmoy told Arab News.

“Initially we experienced some reluctance … At this point, we started the paintings with brushes and colors. A few Rohingyas came forward to watch the process.”

Soon, they too began to paint.

A dominant motif appearing in their drawings was a boat.

“Most of the Rohingyas came up with the idea of drawing boats,” Tanmoy said. “They hold their dreams of returning to their homeland, and of a journey toward a better future.”

For those who participated in the project, such as 17-year-old Anowar Sadek, expressing themselves through art came with some sense of solace.

“Whenever I hold the painting materials, it helps me forget the agonies I witnessed earlier in Rakhine,” he said. “The paintings give me much comfort and pleasure.”

But both the children and art educators know that the comfort will be only temporary as long as they remain without a place that they can call home. And isolation in Bhasan Char also adds to their distress.

“My heart filled with joy when I painted the wall with colors … I want to continue painting throughout my life,” Roksana Akter, a 12-year-old who joined the mural project, said.

“But I have many friends and relatives in Cox’s Bazar. I didn’t see them for a long time. It’s the saddest part of my life at this moment.”


Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials

Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials
Updated 01 December 2022

Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials

Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials
  • Border service: ‘An overall air raid alert is in place in Ukraine. Go to shelters’

Air raid alerts were issued across all of Ukraine on Thursday following warnings by Ukrainian officials that Russia was preparing a new wave of missile and drone strikes.
“An overall air raid alert is in place in Ukraine. Go to shelters,” country’s border service wrote on Telegram messaging app.


Biden should stop arms shipments to far-right Israeli government, ex-diplomats say

Biden should stop arms shipments to far-right Israeli government, ex-diplomats say
Updated 01 December 2022

Biden should stop arms shipments to far-right Israeli government, ex-diplomats say

Biden should stop arms shipments to far-right Israeli government, ex-diplomats say
  • Washington Post op-ed calls for ‘unprecedented’ action to curb annexation of West Bank, support two-state solution
  • Daniel Kurtzer, Aaron David Miller warn US: ‘Have no dealings with Ben-Gvir, Smotrich’

LONDON: US President Joe Biden has been urged by two former diplomats to halt arms shipments to Israel if the weapons are used in an offensive capacity against Palestinians.

Describing the incoming administration of Benjamin Netanyahu as “the most extreme government in the history of the state,” Daniel Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel, and Aaron David Miller, a US Middle East peace negotiator, wrote in the Washington Post that Biden should take the “unprecedented and controversial” decision to reconsider Washington’s military support for Israel.

They warned that Netanyahu’s government could seek to annex or “change the status of the West Bank,” and “build infrastructure for settlers that is designed to foreclose the possibility of a two-state solution,” adding: “Israel should be told that, while the US will continue to support its ally’s legitimate security requirements, it will not provide offensive weapons or other assistance for malign Israeli actions in Jerusalem or the occupied territories.”

The pair also wrote that Biden should end Washington’s protection of Israel in international diplomatic forums, such as the UN Security Council, where it regularly vetoes motions that criticize Israel.

They said this break with protocol was justified as Netanyahu had “brought to life the radical, racist, misogynistic and homophobic far-right parties” to form his coalition, including Itamar Ben-Gvir as national security minister, whom they described as a “convicted inciter of hatred and violence” who will have “far-reaching authority for the West Bank, Jerusalem and mixed Arab-Jewish cities in Israel proper” as part of his remit.

The elevation of Bezalel Smotrich to a potential role overseeing the Civil Administration was also criticized given that he “has called for the expulsion of Arabs” and will have a say in the running of the West Bank.

“Biden should also make it clear to Israel that his administration will have no dealings with Ben-Gvir, Smotrich or their ministries if they continue to espouse racist policies and actions,” Kurtzer and Miller said.

“For a US president to put pressure on a democratically elected Israeli government would be unprecedented and controversial. But Israel has never before embarked on such a dangerous course. Political will matters, and this is a moment for Biden to show American strength and resolve.”

Ben-Gvir’s presence in the government has drawn widespread criticism at home and abroad, with outgoing Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz warning that the US-armed Israeli border police could be used as a “private army” in the occupied territories.

The Washington Post article added that the White House should not focus solely on Israel, adding that the administration need to apply pressure the Palestinians to “curb violence and terrorism,” and pave the way to holding open and fair elections.


China eases some COVID-19 controls

China eases some COVID-19 controls
Updated 01 December 2022

China eases some COVID-19 controls

China eases some COVID-19 controls
  • Major cities are easing testing requirements and controls on movement
  • With a heavy police presence, there is no indication of protests

BEIJING: More Chinese cities eased some anti-virus restrictions as police patrolled their streets to head off protests Thursday while the ruling Communist Party prepared for the high-profile funeral of late leader Jiang Zemin.
Guangzhou in the south, Shijiazhuang in the north, Chengdu in the southwest and other major cities announced they were easing testing requirements and controls on movement. In some areas, markets and bus service reopened.
The announcements didn’t mention last weekend’s protests in Shanghai, Beijing and at least six other cities against the human cost of anti-virus restrictions that confine millions of people to their homes. But the timing and publicity suggested President Xi Jinping’s government was trying to mollify public anger after some protesters made the politically explosive demand that Xi resign.
With a heavy police presence, there was no indication of protests. Notes on social media complained that people were being stopped at random for police to check smartphones, possibly looking for prohibited apps such as Twitter, in what they said was a violation of China’s Constitution.
“I am especially afraid of becoming the ‘Xinjiang model’ and being searched on the excuse of walking around,” said a posting signed Qi Xiaojin on the popular Sina Weibo platform, referring to the northwestern region where Uyghur and other Muslim minorities are under intense surveillance.
Protesters have used Twitter and other foreign social media to publicize protests while the Communist Party deletes videos and photos from services within China.
On Thursday, the government reported 36,061 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, including 31,911 without symptoms.
Meanwhile, Beijing was preparing for the funeral of Jiang, who was ruling party leader until 2002 and president until the following year. The party announced he died Wednesday in Shanghai of leukemia and multiple organ failure.
No foreign dignitaries will be invited in line with Chinese tradition, the party announced. It has yet to set a date for the funeral or announce how it might be affected by anti-virus controls.
Xi’s government has promised to reduce the disruption of its “zero COVID-19” strategy by shortening quarantines and making other changes. But it says it will stick to restrictions that have repeatedly shut down schools and businesses and suspended access to neighborhoods.
The protests began Friday after at least 10 people were killed in a fire in an apartment building in Urumqi in Xinjiang. That prompted questions about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other controls. Authorities denied that, but the deaths became a focus for public frustration.
The government says it is making restrictions more targeted and flexible, but a spike in infections since October has prompted local officials who are threatened with the loss of their jobs if an outbreak occurs to impose controls that some residents say are excessive and destructive.


Spain steps up security as Prime Minister’s office targeted in spate of letter-bombs

Spain steps up security as Prime Minister’s office targeted in spate of letter-bombs
Updated 01 December 2022

Spain steps up security as Prime Minister’s office targeted in spate of letter-bombs

Spain steps up security as Prime Minister’s office targeted in spate of letter-bombs
  • An “envelope with pyrotechnic material” addressed to Sanchez was received on Nov. 24
  • The device was “similar” to subsequent packages sent to Ukrainian embassy, a Spanish arms firm and air force base

MADRID: Spain has stepped up security at public and diplomatic buildings after a spate of letter-bombs were sent to targets including the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the Ukrainian embassy, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday.
The ministry said that an “envelope with pyrotechnic material” addressed to Sanchez was received on Nov. 24 and disarmed by his security team.
The device was “similar” to subsequent packages received by the Ukrainian embassy and a Spanish arms firm on Wednesday, it said, and a device intercepted at Spain’s Torrejon de Ardoz air force base in the early hours of Thursday morning.
The first letter-bomb was received and opened by a security officer at the Ukrainian embassy on Wednesday lunchtime and exploded, causing minor injuries to the official.
Ambassador Serhii Pohoreltsev told the Ukrainian news site European Pravda that the suspicious package addressed to him was handed to the embassy’s Ukrainian commandant.
“The package contained a box, which raised the commandant’s suspicions and he decided to take it outside – with no one in the vicinity – and open it,” Pohoreltsev was quoted as saying.
“After opening the box and hearing a click that followed, he tossed it and then heard the explosion...Despite not holding the box at the time of the explosion, the commandant hurt his hands and received a concussion.”
EU SATELLITE CENTRE ALSO TARGETED
After the first incident, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba ordered all of Kyiv’s embassies abroad to “urgently” strengthen security and urged Spain to investigate the attack, a Ukrainian ministry spokesperson said.
A second package was confirmed to have been received on Wednesday night at the headquarters of Spanish weapons manufacturer, Instalaza in Zaragoza, in northeastern Spain, police said.
Instalaza manufactures the C90 rocket launcher that Spain has supplied to Ukraine.
Spanish security forces found a third suspected explosive device hidden in an envelope mailed to a European Union satellite center located at an air force base in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, the defense ministry said.
After scanning the envelope by X-ray, air force security officers determined it contained “a mechanism,” the ministry statement said.
The satellite center supports the EU’s common foreign and security policy by gathering information from space intelligence devices, according to its website. EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell described such systems as “the eyes of Europe” in September.
Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported that another device had been sent to Spain’s Ministry of Defense in Madrid, but this has not yet been confirmed by the authorities.
Spain’s High Court, which specializes in terrorism offenses, has opened a probe into the attack.