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

More than 200 Indonesian fruit pickers have since July sought help from their nation’s embassy in London after wracking up huge debts. (AFP/Getty Images/Bloomberg)
More than 200 Indonesian fruit pickers have since July sought help from their nation’s embassy in London after wracking up huge debts. (AFP/Getty Images/Bloomberg)
Short Url
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.”


Chilean wildfires destroy hundreds of homes, endanger world’s smallest deer

Chilean wildfires destroy hundreds of homes, endanger world’s smallest deer
Updated 21 sec ago

Chilean wildfires destroy hundreds of homes, endanger world’s smallest deer

Chilean wildfires destroy hundreds of homes, endanger world’s smallest deer
  • Wildfires sparked by high temperatures had now spread to over 300,000 hectares in south-central Chile

CHILLAN, Chile: Forest fires across south-central Chile that have left 24 people dead and swallowed up hundreds of houses spread into new areas on Wednesday after raging overnight, burning up the habitats of vulnerable woodland animals.
“We call on everyone who can to take care of the forests which are currently on fire, and also of our animals, specimens of vital importance,” said Valentina Aravena, the manager at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Chillan.
Chile’s national forests association CONAF said on Wednesday the area affected by the fires had now spread to over 300,000 hectares (741,315 acres), an area nearly twice the size of Greater London.
Authorities said some 2,180 people have been injured and 1,180 houses have been destroyed, with most of the deaths and damages in the south-central Biobio, Araucania and Ñuble regions.
Late on Wednesday, Interior Minister Carolina Toha said the government would declare a curfew in some provinces starting on Thursday. She had earlier warned of a shortage of water tanks and urged providers to make them available.
In the rehabilitation center in Chillan, the capital of the Ñuble region, veterinarians treated burns on animals native to the woodlands, such as monito del monte, a small nocturnal marsupial, and pudus, the world’s smallest deer.
Aravena said these were essential species that helped spread seeds.
“We try to stabilize them, treat them, relieve pain from the burns they suffered, and ideally rehabilitate them so they can return to the wild,” she said.
In the vicinity of the nearby city of Quillon, local Enrique Narvaez watched firefighters at work overnight.
“The 2011 wildfire burnt down my house, all the trees, everything,” he said. “I don’t want to go through the same again now.”
Chilean President Gabriel Boric thanked his Brazilian counterpart who offered $672,000 in aid and said he was sending air force jet with firefighting equipment, personnel and experts. Spain, Colombia and Mexico are also giving assistance.
Chilean pulp and wood panel manufacturer Arauco, the forestry arm of Empresas Copec, said 40,000 hectares (98,842 acres) of its plantations could be potentially affected, though the possible extent remained unclear.
A day earlier, a Chilean minister warned that high temperatures forecast for this week could further complicate the situation. 


US forces returning to Philippines to counter China threats

US forces returning to Philippines to counter China threats
Updated 40 min 21 sec ago

US forces returning to Philippines to counter China threats

US forces returning to Philippines to counter China threats
  • The Philippine Constitution prohibits permanent basing of foreign troops in the country but allows temporary visits by foreign troops under security pacts

SUBIC BAY, Philippines: Once-secret ammunition bunkers and barracks lay abandoned, empty and overrun by weeds — vestiges of American firepower in what used to be the United States’ largest overseas naval base at Subic Bay in the northern Philippines.
But that may change in the near future.
The US has been taking steps to rebuild its military might in the Philippines more than 30 years after the closure of its large bases in the country and reinforcing an arc of military alliances in Asia in a starkly different post-Cold War era when the perceived new regional threat is an increasingly belligerent China.
On Feb. 2, the longtime allies announced that rotating batches of American forces would be granted access to four more Philippine military camps aside from five other local bases, where US-funded constructions have picked up pace to build barracks, warehouses and other buildings to accommodate a yet-unspecified but expectedly considerable number of visiting troops under a 2014 defense pact.
Manila-based political scientist Andrea Chloe Wong said the location of the Philippine camps would give the US military the presence it would need to be a “strong deterrent against Chinese aggression” in the South China Sea, where China, the Philippines and four other governments have had increasingly tense territorial rifts — as well as a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan, which Beijing views as its own territory to be brought under Chinese control, by force if necessary.
Around the former US Navy base in Subic, now a bustling commercial freeport and tourism destination northwest of Manila, news of the Philippine government’s decision to allow an expanded American military presence rekindled memories of an era when thousands of US sailors pumped money, life and hope into the neighboring city of Olongapo.

“Olongapo was like Las Vegas then,” Filipino businessman AJ Saliba told The Associated Press in an interview in his foreign currency exchange and music shop along what used to be Olongapo’s garish red-light strip.
“Noisy as early as noon with neon lights turned on and the Americans roaming around. Women were everywhere. Jeepney drivers, tricycles, restaurants, bars, hotels — everybody was making money — so if they will return, my God, you know, that’ll be the best news,” he said.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during his visit in Manila last week that Washington was not trying to reestablish permanent bases, but that the agreement to broaden its military presence under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was “a big deal.”
Visiting American military personnel could engage the Philippine military in larger joint combat-readiness trainings, provide help in responding rapidly to disasters and press efforts to help modernize Manila’s armed forces, Austin and his Philippine counterpart Carlito Galvez Jr. said.
“This is part of our effort to modernize our alliance, and these efforts are especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea,” Austin said at a news conference in Manila.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said the US military’s strengthening in the region was escalating tensions and risking peace and stability.
“Regional countries need to remain vigilant and avoid being coerced or used by the US,” Mao told reporters Feb. 2 at a briefing in Beijing.
Austin and Galvez did not reveal the four new locations where the Americans would be granted access and allowed to preposition weapons and other equipment. The Philippine defense chief said local officials, where the Americans would stay, had to be consulted.
In November, then-Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro disclosed that the sites included the strategic Subic Bay, where the Navy base was once a boon to the local economy. But two senior Philippine officials told the AP that Subic, where a Philippine navy camp is located, was not among the current list of sites where Washington has sought access for its forces, although they suggested that could change as talks were continuing. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
Subic freeport administrator Rolen Paulino said he has not been notified by the government that the former American naval base has been designated as a potential site for visiting US forces.
A renewed US military presence at Subic, however, would generate more jobs and raise additional freeport revenues at a crucial time when many Filipinos and businesses are still struggling to recover from two years of COVID-19 lockdowns and an economic recession wrought by coronavirus outbreaks, Paulino said.
“I see them as tourists,” he said of the US forces whose presence could boost economic recovery.
About the size of Singapore, the former American Navy base at Subic with its deep harbors, a ship repair yard and huge warehouses had been used to support the US war effort in Vietnam in the 1960s and ′70s. It was shut down and transformed into a commercial freeport and recreational complex in 1992 after the Philippine Senate rejected an extension of US lease.
A year earlier, the US Air Force withdrew from Clark Air Base near Subic after nearby Mount Pinatubo roared back to life in the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century and belched ash on the air base and outlying regions.

The American flag was lowered for the final time and the last batch of American sailors left Subic in November 1992, ending nearly a century of American military presence in the Philippines that began in 1898 when the US seized the archipelago in a new colonial era after Spain held the Southeast Asian nation as a colony for more than three centuries. Washington granted independence on July 4, 1946, but maintained military bases and facilities, including Subic.
China’s seizure in the mid-1990s of Mischief Reef, a coral outcrop within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines that extends into the South China Sea, “provided the first hint that the allies may have been too quick to downgrade their relationship,” said Greg Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The Philippine Constitution prohibits permanent basing of foreign troops in the country and their involvement in local combat but allows temporary visits by foreign troops under security pacts such as the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and a 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement.
The 1998 agreement allowed a large number of American forces to be deployed in the southern Philippines to help provide combat training and intelligence to Filipino forces battling the then-Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, which was blamed for deadly bombings and mass kidnappings for ransom, including three Americans — one of whom was beheaded and another shot and killed in a Philippine army rescue. The third survived.
There is still, however, domestic opposition to a US presence in the Philippines, which left-wing groups have criticized as neo-colonialism, reinforced by the 2014 killing of a Filipino transgender woman by a US Marine, Wong said.
Governor Manuel Mamba of northern Cagayan province, where Bacarro said the US has reportedly sought access for its forces in two local military encampments, vowed to oppose such an American military presence. Cagayan, located on the northern tip of the main Luzon island, lies across a narrow sea border from Taiwan, the Taiwan Strait and southern China.
“It’ll be very dangerous for us. If they stay here, whoever is their enemy will become our enemy,” Mamba told the AP by telephone, adding the Philippines could be targeted by nuclear weapons if the conflict over Taiwan boils over.
“You cannot really remove any presumption by anyone that the Philippines has a nuclear capability through the Americans, who will be here,” Mamba said.


Pope seeks release of Cubans arrested during 2021 protests

Pope seeks release of Cubans arrested during 2021 protests
Updated 09 February 2023

Pope seeks release of Cubans arrested during 2021 protests

Pope seeks release of Cubans arrested during 2021 protests
  • The Catholic Church has political influence in Cuba and on previous occasions has interceded successfully for the liberation of government opponents

HAVANA: Pope Francis hopes Cuban authorities will release and grant amnesty to people arrested and sentenced after the historic protests that took place in 2021, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, who traveled to the island as the pontiff’s special envoy, said Wednesday.
During an act at the University of Havana to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit to the island, Cardinal Stella also said the Catholic Church hopes that Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and US President Joe Biden can hold talks amid current tense relations between the countries.
Stella, who arrived in Cuba in mid-January and will remain there until Feb. 10, recalled the figures of Father Félix Varela and José Martí, considered national heroes in Cuba, and emphasized the need for understanding among Cubans.
Asked by journalists about the possibility the Catholic Church could intercede to have Cuban authorities grant amnesty to people imprisoned during the 2021 protests, the first in decades on the island, Stella said he had talked with the pontiff about the issue before he trip to Cuba.
“The Church wants, seeks, has manifested this proposal (amnesty),” said Stella. “I think the issue is on the table... The Pope very much wants there to be a positive response, whether it is called amnesty, clemency, the words can be secondary, but it is important that the young people who at one point expressed their thoughts... they can go back to their homes.”
According to non-governmental groups, about 1,300 people were arrested following the protests. Some of the demonstrations turned violent, including looting and rioting, and one person was killed. Authorities reported about 700 sentences handed down related to the protests, with sentences ranging from a fine and community work to up to 30 years in prison for sedition.
The protests took place amid a severe economic crisis, shortages and blackouts. Human rights groups and some governments, including Washington, harshly criticized the island for what they considered the repression of free demonstrations by Cubans.
Meanwhile, Havana maintains that it did not repress opponents, but only punished illegal activities like rioting, vandalism, and sedition.
The Catholic Church has political influence in Cuba and on previous occasions has interceded successfully for the liberation of government opponents.
In 2010, thanks to the mediation of the Catholic Church and Spain’s government, a group of opponents who had been imprisoned since 2003 were released and some chose to leave the country.
The Cuban government accused anti-Castro groups based in Florida of promoting riots during the 2021 protests through social networks amid a complex economic situation caused by the paralysis during the pandemic and the increase in US sanctions during the administration of then-President Donald Trump.


Former UK medical student-turned-Daesh fighter wants to ‘face justice’ in Britain

Former UK medical student-turned-Daesh fighter wants to ‘face justice’ in Britain
Updated 08 February 2023

Former UK medical student-turned-Daesh fighter wants to ‘face justice’ in Britain

Former UK medical student-turned-Daesh fighter wants to ‘face justice’ in Britain
  • Ibrahim Ageed, 29, has been imprisoned in Syria for past 4 years
  • Brothers left final-year studies in Leicester to join terror group aged 21, 23

LONDON: An imprisoned former medical student from the UK who traveled to Syria to join Daesh has said that he hopes to return to Britain to “face justice,” the Daily Mail reported.
Ibrahim Ageed, 29, joined the terror group in 2015 aged 21, together with his brother, Mohammed, who was 23.
The pair left their final-year studies at the University of Medical Sciences and Technology in Leicester to travel to Turkiye and then Syria.
Ageed was captured and imprisoned after the collapse of Daesh in Syria and Iraq, and has spent the past four years in northeast Syria’s Al-Sina prison.
His story is similar to that of Shamima Begum, 23, who left London aged 15 with two school friends to join the terror group.
In an interview, Ageed claimed that it was his “right” to return to Britain, warning that Daesh “could make a comeback.”
He said: “I believe I’ll be subjected to the justice system, but I’m ready to face the music and I believe it’s my right, basically, to go back home.”
Ageed described being “completely isolated” while imprisoned, saying that people initially joined Daesh from around the world because they had “lost hope.”
He added: “Whether you can completely rid the world of these groups is a very difficult task.”


Swedish police blocks Qur'an burning protest

People hold copies of the holy Qur’an while taking part in a protest in Islamabad, Pakistan. (File/AFP)
People hold copies of the holy Qur’an while taking part in a protest in Islamabad, Pakistan. (File/AFP)
Updated 08 February 2023

Swedish police blocks Qur'an burning protest

People hold copies of the holy Qur’an while taking part in a protest in Islamabad, Pakistan. (File/AFP)
  • Police cited the risk that the protest could provoke terror attacks or attacks against Swedish interests
  • “Sweden has become a higher priority target for attacks,” a police decision said

STOCKHOLM: Swedish police on Wednesday denied permission for a protest involving the burning of a Qur'an, following a January demonstration that angered Turkiye, putting Sweden’s pending NATO application on hold.
Protests are rarely banned by Swedish police as they are considered as a right under freedom of assembly, but police cited the risk that the protest could provoke terror attacks or attacks against Swedish interests.
The demonstration permit request was made by a small, little-known Swedish association, Apallarkerna, and was aimed at protesting against NATO membership, and like the earlier protest staged far-right activist, Rasmus Paludan, would involve the burning of a Qur'an in front of Turkiye’s Stockholm embassy.
“The burning of the Qur'an outside Turkiye embassy in January 2023 can be determined to have increased threats against both the Swedish society at large, but also against Sweden, Swedish interests abroad and Swedes abroad,” the police decision, read by AFP, said.
“Sweden has become a higher priority target for attacks,” it continued.
At the end of January, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Sweden, which Ankara already accused of harboring Kurdish “terrorists,” could no longer expect Turkiye to ratify its NATO membership bid, as long as burnings of the Qur'an were allowed.
Turkiye and Hungary are the last holdouts to ratify Sweden’s NATO membership, after the Scandinavian country broke decades of military non-alignment and applied following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Qur'an burning, carried out by Paludan behind the protection of a police officers and in front of cameras, spurred anti-Swedish demonstrations in several Muslim countries.
Negotiations with Turkiye on NATO accession have been suspended since then.
On Wednesday, the Swedish security service, Sapo, warned of an increased terrorist threat to Sweden and Swedish interests.