Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder

Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder
Filipino workers returning home from Kuwait wait to be processed upon their arrival at Manila International Airport on Feb. 18, 2018. (AFP/File)
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Updated 03 February 2023

Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder

Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder
  • In 2018 and 2020, Manila banned worker deployment to the Gulf state after murder cases
  • Philippine president says government will review bilateral labor agreement with Kuwait

MANILA: The Philippines is tightening rules for the deployment of workers to Kuwait after the brutal murder of a migrant Filipino worker last month sent shockwaves across the Southeast Asian nation.
The charred body of the 35-year-old maid, Jullebee Ranara, was found abandoned in a desert in late January and repatriated to the Philippines last week. Kuwaiti police have since arrested and charged the 17-year-old son of her employer over the killing.
Ranara was one of more than 268,000 overseas Filipino workers living in Kuwait. Most are women employed as domestic helpers.
After Ranara’s murder, the Philippine Migrant Workers Office in Kuwait suspended the accreditation of new recruitment agencies in the Gulf country, while President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced on Monday that the Philippine government is scheduling meetings with Kuwaiti authorities to review the bilateral labor agreement to “see if there are any weaknesses in the agreement that allowed this (murder) to happen” and provide more protection to overseas Filipino workers.
“The Philippine government’s priority is to seek justice for our deceased compatriot,” Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Eduardo Jose De Vega told Arab News on Thursday.
“The Department of Migrant Workers is reviewing the records of the currently accredited agencies and is imposing stricter rules for deployment in the meantime.”
Ranara’s murder is not the first such incident in Kuwait to shock the Philippines, which in 2018 imposed a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country after the killing of Filipino domestic helper Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer in an abandoned apartment.
The ban was partially lifted the same year, after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers. In May 2019, Filipino maid Constancia Lago Dayag was killed in Kuwait, and a few months later, another employee, Jeanelyn Villavende, was tortured to death by her employer. The Philippines again imposed a worker deployment ban in January 2020, which was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to death.
The Philippine government is not considering another ban, despite calls from Filipinos outraged by the recent gruesome killing.
According to migrant work expert Emmanuel Geslani, a ban “may result in more harm than good” by leading to human trafficking.
“Any deployment ban always leads workers to illegal recruitment syndicates enticing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) eager to find work in the oil-rich country of Kuwait,” he told Arab News.
“OFWs who are victims of human trafficking will be devoid of the protection of the Migrant Workers Office and the labor agreement forged by both countries.”


Eager young Albanians risk everything for new future in UK

Eager young Albanians risk everything for new future in UK
Updated 7 sec ago

Eager young Albanians risk everything for new future in UK

Eager young Albanians risk everything for new future in UK
  • UK interior minister Suella Braverman has described the arrivals as an ‘invasion on our southern coast’ — words that Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama blasted as a ‘crazy narrative’
  • Britain is attractive to Albanians because it has a better economy and higher-paying jobs than neighboring countries such as Greece or Italy
BAJRAM CURRI, Albania: Monika Mulaj’s son was in his second year of college in Albania, studying to become a mechanical engineer, when he resolved to make a daring change: He told his parents he would leave his lifelong home for a new future in Britain.
“We had tried to fulfil all his requests, for books and clothing, food and a bit of entertaining. But he was still dissatisfied,” said Mulaj, a high school teacher in the northeastern town of Bajram Curri, which is in one of the country’s poorest regions.
Five years later, her now 25-year-old son is working two jobs in Britain and hardly thinks of returning to his homeland. “Albania is in regress,” he complains to his mother.
His path has been shared in recent years by thousands of young Albanians who have crossed the English Channel in small boats or inflatable dinghies to seek work in the UK. Their odyssey reflects the country’s anemic economy and a younger generation’s longing for fresh opportunities.
In 2018, only 300 people reached Britain by crossing the channel in small boats. The number rose to 45,000 in 2022, in part because of arrivals from Albania, a country in southern Europe that is negotiating for membership in the European Union.
Other migrants were from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Unlike many countries that fuel migration, Albania is considered safe by UK officials.
Britain is attractive to Albanians because it has a better economy and higher-paying jobs than neighboring countries such as Greece or Italy. Many Albanians also have family ties in the UK. Birmingham, for instance, has a large immigrant population from the Albanian town of Kukes, on the border with Kosovo.
The deputy mayor of Bajram Curri, Abedin Kernaja, said young people leave because of low wages and the difficulty of building “a comfortable family life.” His two sons are in the UK
Xhemile Tafaj, who owns a restaurant on a scenic plateau outside town, said “young people have no money to follow school, no job to work, no revenue at all.”
In such an environment, “only old men have remained and soon there will be empty houses,” Tafaj said.
Northeastern Albania is known for its natural Alpine beauty and green sloping landscape. The region is also famous for chestnuts, blueberries, blackberries and medicinal plants, as well as wool carpets and other handmade goods.
But those products offer scant job opportunities. The only jobs are at town halls, schools and hospitals, plus a few more at cafes and restaurants.
Petrit Lleshi, who owns a motel in Kukes, has struggled to find waiters for two years.
“I would not blame a 25-year-old leaving because of the low salaries here,” Lleshi said. “What our country offers is not enough to build a proper life.”
Few migrants seek a visa. They generally pay smugglers 5,000 to 20,000 euros ($5,300 to $21,200) for the dangerous, illegal crossing.
Many migrants undertake the trip with the expectation of a secure job, only to find after arriving in the UK that they must work in cannabis-growing houses for up to two years to pay back the trafficking money, according to reports by Albanian news outlets.
The steady stream of migrants has provoked clashes between British and Albanian leaders in recent months.
UK interior minister Suella Braverman has described the arrivals as an “invasion on our southern coast” — words that Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama blasted as a “crazy narrative” and an attempt to cover up for the UK’s failed border policies.
Albania also publicly protested what it called a “verbal lynching” by another UK official who made comments about Albanian immigrants. Rama accused the new UK Cabinet of scapegoating Albanians because it “has gone down a blind alley with its new policy resulting from Brexit.”
Rama was is in London Thursday for talks on immigration with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and accused UK officials of “singling out” Albanians for political purposes. “It has been a very, very disgraceful moment for British politics,” he told the BBC.
Sunak’s spokesman has said the UK welcomes and values Albanian migrants who come to the country legally, but that large numbers making illegal boat journeys to the UK are straining the asylum system.
In a statement after the meeting, Sunak and Rama welcomed progress to date following a taskforce action on organized crime and new UK guidance designating Albania a safe country, with around 800 migrants returning to Albania since December.
They also decided to create a joint team to assess Albania’s prison capacity until the end of April “with a view to returning all eligible Albanian nationals in the UK prison system.”
Rama has argued that easing visa requirements would help reduce the number of people arriving illegally.
In response to the spike in migration, some agencies are investing in programs that aim to offer opportunities to both countries — jobs for eager Albanians and a supply of remote workers for businesses in the UK
Elias Mazloum of Albania’s Social Development Investment group said that immigration is “a cancer.”
“We are offering chemotherapy after a lot of morphine used so far only has delayed immigration,” he said.
Under his project, 10 companies in Ireland will employ 10 young Albanians to work remotely in an apprenticeship paying 500 euros ($530) per month in the first year. Participants get a certificate from Ireland’s Digital Marketing Institute and then are hired remotely for 1,000 euros ($1,060) per month.
The vision is for the project to help establish a remote-work ecosystem in the region.
“Albania, and in particular the northeast region, has the advantage of working from a blank canvas” to attract digital nomads and encourage its young people to stay, said Declan Droney, a business trainer and consultant in Galway, in the west of Ireland.
A British project in Kukes supports small and midsize businesses in tourism and agriculture and will open a school teaching different professions.
The Albanian government has also offered incentives. Young couples who launch a small business will be exempt from taxes for up to three years, and couples who return from the UK will receive 5,000 euros ($5,300).
Mazloum’s organization has negotiated with Vodafone Albania to offer free high-speed Internet to remote workers.
“The eyes cannot get enough from the beauty of this place — the food, the fresh air. This added to very hospitable people, ambitious youth who like to work hard,” Mazloum said. “Imagine if you give a little hope to the people here, what they could make this place.”

Pentagon: Budget readies US for possible China confrontation

Pentagon: Budget readies US for possible China confrontation
Updated 23 March 2023

Pentagon: Budget readies US for possible China confrontation

Pentagon: Budget readies US for possible China confrontation
  • ‘This is a strategy-driven budget,’ US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.
  • The testimony comes on the heels of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow

WASHINGTON: The US military must be ready for possible confrontation with China, the Pentagon’s leaders said Thursday, pushing Congress to approve the Defense Department’s proposed $842 billion budget, which would modernize the force in Asia and around the world.
“This is a strategy-driven budget — and one driven by the seriousness of our strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in testimony before the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense.
Pointing to increases in new technology, such as hypersonics, Austin said the budget proposes to spend more than $9 billion, a 40 percent increase over last year, to build up military capabilities in the Pacific and defend allies.
The testimony comes on the heels of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow, which added to concerns that China will step up its support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and increasingly threaten the West.
China’s actions, said Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “are moving it down the path toward confrontation and potential conflict with its neighbors and possibly the United States.” He said deterring and preparing for war “is extraordinarily expensive, but it’s not as expensive as fighting a war. And this budget prevents war and prepares us to fight it if necessary.”
Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, pressed the defense leaders on Xi’s meeting with Putin and its impact on US competition with China, which he called “the elephant in the room.” The US, he said, is “at a crucial moment here.”
The growing alliance between China and Russia, two nuclear powers, and Xi’s overtures to Putin during the Ukraine war are “troubling,” Austin said.
He added that the US had not yet seen China provide arms to Russia, but if it does, “it would prolong the conflict and certainly broaden the conflict potentially not only in the region but globally.”
Milley, who will retire later this year, said the Defense Department must continue to modernize its forces to ensure they will be ready to fight if needed. “It is incumbent upon us to make sure we remain No. 1 at all times” to be able to deter China, he said.
Two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan eroded the military’s equipment and troop readiness, so the US has been working to replace weapons systems and give troops time to reset. It’s paid off, Milley told Congress.
“Our operational readiness rates are higher now than they have been in many, many years,” Milley said. More than 60 percent of the active force is at the highest states of readiness right now and could deploy to combat in less than 30 days, while 10 percent could deploy within 96 hours, he said.
Milley cautioned that those gains would be lost if Congress can’t pass a budget on time, because it will immediately affect training.
Members of the panel, including Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., also made it clear that while they support the ongoing US assistance to Ukraine, “the days of blank checks are over.” And they questioned the administration’s ultimate goal there.
Milley said the intent is to make sure that Ukraine remains a free and independent country with its territory intact, maintaining global security and the world order that has existing since World War II.
“If that goes out the window,” he said, “we’ll be doubling our defense budgets at that point, because that will introduce not an era of great power competition, that will begin an era of great power conflict. And that will be extraordinarily dangerous for the whole world.”
The hearing was likely one of Milley’s last in front of Congress. His four-year term as chairman — capping a 43-year military career — ends in October. While many members took the opportunity to thank him for those years of service, it was also an opportunity to press him on one of the darkest moments of his chairmanship — the loss of 13 service members to a suicide bomber at Abbey Gate during the chaotic American evacuation from Afghanistan.
Questions remain about the bombing, and Republicans have criticized President Joe Biden’s decision to completely withdraw from Afghanistan in August 2021. During an intense two-week evacuation, which took place as Kabul fell to the Taliban, US forces got more than 120,000 personnel out of the country, but paid a large price in the lives of US service members and Afghans. The withdrawal also left behind many Afghans who worked with and supported US troops during the war, and efforts to get them out continue.
“I can think of no greater tragedy than what happened at Abbey Gate. And I have yet to fully reconcile myself to that entire affair,” Milley told the panel members. He called the end state, which left the Taliban in control of the country, a strategic failure.
But that “did not happen in the last 19 days or even the last 19 months. That was a 20-year war,” Milley said. “There were decisions made all along the way which culminated in what the outcome was. And there’s many many lessons to be learned.”


UK: Man charged over 2 fire attacks on people near mosques

UK: Man charged over 2 fire attacks on people near mosques
Updated 23 March 2023

UK: Man charged over 2 fire attacks on people near mosques

UK: Man charged over 2 fire attacks on people near mosques
  • The West Midlands Police force said Mohammed Abbkr was charged over attacks in London and Birmingham
  • Abbkr, a resident of Birmingham who is originally from Sudan, appeared in court in the city on Thursday

LONDON: British police have charged a 28-year-old man with two counts of attempted murder after men were set on fire near mosques.
The West Midlands Police force said Mohammed Abbkr was charged over attacks in London and Birmingham, central England.
Abbkr, a resident of Birmingham who is originally from Sudan, appeared in court in the city on Thursday. He wasn’t asked to enter a plea and was ordered detained until his next hearing on April 20.
Abbkr is alleged to have sprayed a substance on two men and set it alight in separate incidents — one near an Islamic center in the Ealing area of west London on Feb. 27 and another near a mosque in Birmingham on Monday.
The Birmingham victim, 70-year-old Mohammed Rayaz, remains in a hospital with severe injuries. Hashi Odowa, 82, who was attacked in Ealing, suffered severe burns to his face and arms.
Counterterrorism officers supported the investigations, but police said officers were “keeping an open mind as to any potential motivation.”


Chronicle of a Ukrainian woman’s journey from administration to military training

Chronicle of a Ukrainian woman’s journey from administration to military training
Updated 13 min 19 sec ago

Chronicle of a Ukrainian woman’s journey from administration to military training

Chronicle of a Ukrainian woman’s journey from administration to military training
  • When the war began, Natalia Sensova faced a tough choice: To leave the country or defend her home and children
  • Dedication to protecting her country has made Sentsova a role model for many other Ukrainian women

KYIV, Ukraine: Natalia Sentsova, a mother, wife and grandmother from Ukraine, lived a relatively ordinary life before the sudden escalation of the Russia-Ukraine war on Feb. 22, 2022.

She was just an employee of the Ukraine administration with a keen interest in guns. But everything changed when Russian bombing targeted her neighborhood in the capital, Kyiv. Like many other Ukrainians, she faced a difficult choice: To leave the country or stay and defend her home and children.

Initially, Senstova left for another city but felt that she had to return and protect her loved ones. She learned about the existence of a center for training civilians on weapons and combat since the tumultuous events of 2014 at Maidan Square in Kyiv.

Natalia Sintsova, with her grandson. (Supplied)

However, since spring of last year, she has been closely linked to the Military Training Center, where she completed her training and helped train others who wished to obtain the same skills.

Sentova’s decision to become a part of the military training center surprised and astonished her relatives and friends. Soon, she started training her children on the basics of using weapons and first aid.

Many of her friends followed her lead, and they, in turn, completed the military exercise. Natalia’s dedication to protecting her country has made her a role model for many women who aspire to defend their homes and children.

Sentsova’s story exemplifies the bravery and strength of Ukrainian women who have had to defend their homes and families. (AN photo by Ammar Abd Rabbo)

These days, she spends most of her days at the military training center and has developed a passion for using guns. Before the war, she was interested in guns, but since the war, the gun has become as basic as a toothbrush. She has no qualms about killing if necessary to protect her family and Ukraine. She says she will not go to the front lines, but will not hesitate to kill enemy soldiers if the need arises.

Sentsova’s story exemplifies the bravery and strength of Ukrainian women who have had to defend their homes and families. Natalia has not let the war change her feminine nature and approach. Despite the ongoing conflict and uncertainty about the future, Senstova says she remains committed to defending her country and preserving its independence.


Albanian PM brands Braverman’s comments on migrants ‘disgraceful’

Albanian PM brands Braverman’s comments on migrants ‘disgraceful’
Updated 23 March 2023

Albanian PM brands Braverman’s comments on migrants ‘disgraceful’

Albanian PM brands Braverman’s comments on migrants ‘disgraceful’
  • Edi Rama is in London for talks with UK counterpart Rishi Sunak
  • Braverman referred to Albanian migrants as ‘criminals’ in speech last year

LONDON: Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has criticized UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman for her comments on migrants from his country.

Rama, who is in the UK to hold talks with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, called Braverman’s references to “Albanian criminals” illegally crossing the English Channel last year “disgraceful.”

He told the BBC: “Unfortunately, we have seen ourselves and our community being singled out in this country for purposes of politics. It has been a very, very disgraceful moment for British politics.

“What has been (said) by members of the Cabinet, starting with the home secretary, (is) the singling out of our community, which is not something you do in our civilization, and is something that does not represent Britain at all,” he added. “We will always refuse to have this mix between some criminals and the Albanians as such because giving to the crime an ethnic seal is itself a crime.”

Rama said that he was satisfied, however, with Sunak and his approach to the situation.

“We have set up a clear path toward tackling together whatever has to be excluded from our relations and from our world of law and justice, but at the same time making sure that some rotten apples do not define the Albanian community here and our relations,” he said.

Between May and September 2022, UK government figures show that Albanians made up 42 percent of the volume of people crossing the English Channel illegally in small boats. The number of Albanians claiming asylum in the UK in the 12 months until June 2022 was 7,627 — about double the number of the previous 12-month period.

Braverman provoked ire in October last year after she referred to the small boat arrivals as an “invasion,” suggesting many were abusing the law to claim asylum, and adding that the opposition Labour Party would facilitate the boat arrivals if in power.

“Many of (the Albanian asylum-seekers) claim to be trafficked as modern slaves … the truth is that many of them are not modern slaves and their claims of being trafficked are lies,” she told the Conservative Party conference.

Meanwhile, the home secretary told MPs in the House of Commons: “If Labour were in charge they would be allowing all the Albanian criminals to come to this country. They would be allowing all the small boats to come to the UK; they would open our borders and totally undermine the trust of the British people in controlling our sovereignty.”