MANILA: Philippine lawmakers are calling on the government to review labor agreements with Kuwait after increasing reports of abuse, including a brutal murder, of Filipino migrant workers.
The murder of 35-year-old maid Jullebee Ranara, whose charred body was found abandoned in a desert in late January, had sent shockwaves across the Philippines. She was one of over 268,000 Filipino workers living in Kuwait, a group of mostly women employed as domestic helpers.
After Ranara’s murder, Philippine authorities tightened rules for recruitment agencies in Kuwait. In another case that emerged in the media recently, a Filipina worker in Kuwait was reportedly paralyzed after trying to escape her abusive employer.
“There is growing clamor for a review of all labor agreements entered by the Philippines with countries of destination to determine specific guidelines and mechanisms needed for the protection of their human rights,” lawmaker Marissa Magsino said in a resolution introduced in the House of Representatives on Monday.
The agreements, Magsino said, must not only ensure the welfare of overseas Filipino workers and guarantee their access to legal support but also “provide for serious consequences” in cases of abuse.
She told Arab News on Tuesday that such bilateral labor agreements are very important, “especially with Kuwait,” where about 100 overseas Filipino workers were now at a shelter, waiting for repatriation.
“They are those who were maltreated, abused, and then they ran away (from their employer),” the lawmaker, who is also a member of the House’s Overseas Workers Affairs committee, said.
“The only reason why they are in the shelter is that it’s the last recourse for them to seek refuge, to be able to run away from their abusive employers.”
Ranara’s murder was not the first such incident in Kuwait, where the 2018 killing of a Filipina domestic helper, Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment, led to the Philippines imposing a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country.
The ban was partially lifted that same year after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers.
But it was again introduced in January 2020, after the 2019 killings of Filipina maid Constancia Lago Dayag and Jeanelyn Villavende, who was tortured by her employer to death.
The ban was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to hanging.
According to Sen. Rafael Tulfo, another ban might be needed following the latest incidents. He has also called for a “tighter screening process on foreign employers to avoid abuse and maltreatment of (Overseas Filipino Workers),” his office said in a statement on Monday.
“The senator,” the statement said, “maintained that his proposed deployment ban to Kuwait can be used as a leverage when the Philippine government sits down with Kuwait for bilateral talks.”
North Korea test-fires 2 more missiles as tensions rise
The allies last week completed an 11-day exercise that included their biggest field training in years
Updated 27 March 2023
SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missile toward waters off its eastern coast Monday, adding to a recent flurry in weapons tests as the United States prepared to deploy an aircraft carrier strike group to neighboring waters to step up military exercises with the South.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missiles flew cross-country after being fired from a western inland area south of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang but didn’t immediately release specific flight details. Japan’s coast guard said it believed both weapons landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
The launches were the North’s seventh missile event this month and underscore heightening military tensions in the region as the pace of both North Korean weapons tests and the US-South Korea joint military exercises has accelerated in recent months in a cycle of tit-for-tat responses.
The allies last week completed an 11-day exercise that included their biggest field training in years. But North Korea is expected to further step up its testing activity as the United States moves an aircraft carrier group to the peninsula this week for another round of joint drills.
North Korea has fired more than 20 ballistic and cruise missiles across 11 launch events this year as it tries to force the United States to accept its nuclear status and negotiate a removal of sanctions from a position of strength.
North Korea’s launches this month included a flight-test of an intercontinental ballistic missile and a series of short-range weapons intended to overwhelm South Korean missile defenses as it tries to demonstrate an ability to conduct nuclear strikes on both South Korea and the US mainland.
The North last week conducted what it described as a three-day exercise that simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean targets as leader Kim Jong Un condemned the US-South Korean joint military drills as invasion rehearsals. The allies say the exercises are defensive in nature.
The North’s tests also included a purported nuclear-capable underwater drone that the North claimed is capable of setting off a huge “radioactive tsunami” that would destroy naval vessels and ports. Analysts were skeptical about the North Korean claims about the drone or whether the device presents a major new threat, but the tests underlined the North’s commitment to expand its nuclear threats.
Following the North’s announcement of the drone test on Friday, South Korea’s air force released details of a five-day joint aerial drill with the United States last week that included live-fire demonstrations of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. The air force said the exercise was aimed at verifying precision strike capabilities and reaffirming the credibility of Seoul’s “three-axis” strategy against North Korean nuclear threats — preemptively striking sources of attacks, intercepting incoming missiles and neutralizing the North’s leadership and key military facilities.
North Korea already is coming off a record year in weapons testing, launching more than 70 missiles in 2022, when it also set into law an escalatory nuclear doctrine that authorizes pre-emptive nuclear strikes in a broad range of scenarios where it may perceive its leadership as under threat.
Australia’s Latitude says 7.9 million driver license numbers stolen in data theft
The firm, which provides consumer finance services to major Australian retailers Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi , alerted last week that it had unearthed further evidence of information theft
Updated 16 min 30 sec ago
OTTAWA: Digital payments and lending firm Latitude Holdings said on Monday it has determined that 7.9 million Australian and New Zealand driver license numbers were stolen in a large-scale information theft on March 16.
Apart from the 7.9 million driver license numbers stolen, the Australian fintech firm also identified about 53,000 passport numbers were stolen and less than 100 customers had a monthly financial statement stolen.
A further 6.1 million records dating back to at least 2005 were also stolen.
“We are rectifying platforms impacted in the attack and have implemented additional security monitoring as we return to operations in the coming days,” Chief Executive officer Ahmed Fahour said in a statement.
Latitude shares fell 1.7 percent to A$1.19 in early trade.
The firm, which provides consumer finance services to major Australian retailers Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi , alerted last week that it had unearthed further evidence of information theft.
Earlier this month, the Melbourne-based company took its platform offline and said the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Cyber Security Center were looking into the attack.
Several Australian firms have reported cyberattacks over the past few months, and experts say this is due to an understaffed cybersecurity industry in the country.
Last year, some of Australia’s largest companies reported data breaches, prompting authorities to step up efforts to bolster cybersecurity and implement stricter data-sharing rules to prevent breaches in the future.
Customers who choose to replace their stolen ID document will be reimbursed, the company said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia’s ‘vision and generosity are very well-suited’ to WHO’s work on global health issues, says WHO Foundation CEO
Anil Soni says Middle East’s humanitarian and health crises need both ‘immediate assistance and long-term solutions’
Praises aid agency KSrelief’s ‘incredible model’ and Saudi Vision 2030’s focus on nonprofit efforts and philanthropy
Updated 27 March 2023
LONDON: The WHO Foundation was set up in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic to marshal new resources from philanthropists, foundations, businesses, and individuals to support the World Health Organization’s mission.
Both WHO, which is a specialized agency of the UN, and the WHO Foundation are based in Geneva but the latter is a non-profit, grant-making body that is legally independent from WHO.
Anil Soni joined as CEO with a 20-year track record of improving healthcare in poorer countries and a goal to raise $1 billion a year by 2023. He told Arab News, in a written interview, how his foundation supports and complements WHO’s efforts while respecting its intergovernmental nature.
Arab News: Can you describe how the WHO Foundation arranges support from donors and how the money is spent by WHO?
Anil Soni: The WHO Foundation’s purpose is to be a bridge between the lifesaving and vital work of WHO and the various communities that can help power that work through their engagement, partnership and of course, generosity.
We are raising resources from multiple partners from the private sector and beyond to help WHO deliver lifesaving medicines and supplies to people in need.
World challenges such as the Turkiye-Syria earthquakes, the food crisis in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa and the conflict in Ukraine are great examples of where we are facing crises that affect all of us and have to come together.
Such adversities cannot be tackled by any single sector alone. WHO is part of several international organizations of the United Nations, but the UN and the governments are not enough. We have to make sure we are collaborating with individuals and businesses too.
All contributions matter, even small ones, as these add up to enabling life-changing initiatives. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a campaign called “Go Give One.” Five dollars bought a vaccine, the same amount of money that could go into buying a cup of coffee. Businesses and philanthropists were donating millions of dollars, and that’s important, but every single contribution counts.
In terms of how we mobilize the money, we do it in several ways. We are brokering catalytic, transformative ways of engaging with philanthropists and businesses looking for opportunities to contribute to change and be part of the solution.
In the case of the earthquakes that affected millions and led to more than 50,000 life losses (the biggest death toll in over a decade since the Haiti earthquake), WHO continues to procure and quickly deliver lifesaving tools in Turkiye and Syria.
One of our closest partners is Spotify. Spotify created an opportunity for its listeners to contribute to the relief efforts in Turkiye and Syria by helping direct individuals (Spotify users) to our donation webpage.
Each donation directly supports relief efforts for those affected, including mental health services, physical rehabilitation, medicines, and other tools or commodities needed to reduce the risk or respond to communicable diseases from poor access to hygiene, clean water, and health services.
Q: Aid agencies have been criticized over the perception of unfair aid distribution and assistance in earthquake-hit areas, particularly in relation to Syria and its different areas of control. How can aid in this complicated context be made more equitable?
A: Often, people at risk and in need are in environments that are the subject of intense political debate or literally in the crossfire of conflict. This is one of the reasons why WHO’s work is so important, as it operates everywhere. It is a UN agency that is itself a collaboration between member states. Hence, all the world’s governments participate in the operations and governance of WHO.
501,000 People who died from tuberculosis in Africa in 2021.
43,000 Excess deaths caused by hunger and poor health in Somalia in 2022.
57,300 Deaths in Turkiye and Syria caused by Feb. 6 earthquakes.
Furthermore, WHO’s emergency teams are in all regions of the world, so they continue to operate in Syria through years of conflict and are one of the few that have done so. It is crucial not to be biased against people’s needs because of the nature of a political situation or conflict. Quite the opposite, this is about healthcare, delivering medical services, and doctors whose job is not to deal with politics but to ensure people in need receive adequate healthcare.
I was really inspired by Dr. Tedros (Adhanom Ghebreyesus), the head of WHO, who visited Syria last month. He was the first UN principal to enter northwest Syria in over a decade because of the conflict. In the first hours after the earthquakes, WHO distributed 183 metric tons of supplies to more than 200 health facilities inside northwest Syria from partner warehouses in Azaz and Idlib.
Following this, WHO delivered 297 metric tons of emergency supplies and essential medicines to earthquake-affected areas of the country, allowing 3,705,000 treatments, including ones for trauma management, diabetes, and pneumonia.
Q. What are the main healthcare challenges facing the Middle East and North Africa region? How can mobilizing additional funding for WHO address these challenges? Can this go beyond monetary assistance to address the structural issues behind health inequality?
A: That’s the aspiration because otherwise, we will continue to face these emergencies and inequitable needs. The MENA region is striking at the moment because it is home to a number of simultaneous humanitarian and health crises that need both immediate assistance and long-term solutions.
Events such as the earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria, the conflict in Syria and the cholera outbreaks in Lebanon and Syria are acute and products of climate change or long-term dynamics that require sustained response and commitment.
The region now more than ever is uniquely positioned to support with its burgeoning economic prosperity among residents and the public and private sectors. It is vital to raise the necessary resources and awareness of how every single contribution plays a huge role in tackling humanitarian crises, which is what we do at the WHO Foundation.
But equally important is the need to address the structural issues and the systemic reasons behind inequalities and fully leverage the resources of some of our partners. For example, we’re not just looking to our partners as a source of capital. We are also looking into how they can help us mobilize humanitarian efforts through their platform, talent, ability and own supplies.
I mentioned Spotify earlier. They helped us engage millions of listeners to gather resources to build up local health systems and become better prepared for emergency response.
So, part of what we’re trying to do in terms of raising those resources and brokering these partnerships is not just responding in the moment of an emergency but also ensuring that the underlying health systems are being built up, that there are community healthcare workers and adequate supplies.
We think about long-term financing and building systems strong enough to allow us to be agile in our response to an emergency or even help predict future crises (that is, potential disease outbreaks).
Q. How is the WHO Foundation helping to improve global preparedness? Does this apply merely to COVID-19 and readiness for future pandemics or does it include other emerging health threats (environmental, nutritional, etc.)? How can states like Saudi Arabia prepare?
A: WHO and the WHO Foundation work collaboratively and proactively to improve preparedness. For example, we are setting up emergency hubs in Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa to bolster health security across the African continent. This helps ensure lifesaving medical supplies and equipment are shipped within 24-48 hours of the declaration of an emergency, reducing deployment time by up to 60 days.
These regional emergency hubs work closely and cooperatively with governments for a joint emergency response, prepositioning of medical supplies and equipment, training facilities, and infectious diseases monitoring. But these emergency hubs are not limited to tending to diseases. They also help boost living quality, such as ensuring a continued supply of clean water to avoid risks of waterborne diseases like cholera.
WHO is always looking ahead, whether that’s analyzing trends in climate change or forecasting geopolitical outcomes, to anticipate better where our support will be most needed. We also work with governments and health leaders to help them navigate health crises their nation may have yet to experience.
Regarding Saudi Arabia, the vision and generosity of the Kingdom and its close collaboration with businesses and its people are very well-suited to this. As I understand it, particularly in the context of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is addressing how it can ensure that they recognize the interconnectedness between our well-being, the well-being of others, and the well-being of our neighbors. There’s a term in South Africa called “Ubuntu,” which means “I am because you are.”
It essentially recognizes interconnectedness and that the only way I will prosper is if I’m making sure that I’m being thoughtful about your needs because we depend on each other. I think this resonates with Saudi Arabia’s leadership role in the region and that supporting countries and communities inside and outside the Kingdom’s borders is essential to the welfare of the people in Saudi Arabia itself.
Q. What is your opinion of Saudi Vision 2030’s Health Sector Transformation Program? Do you believe its focus on equitable and accessible health care coincides with the WHO Foundation’s own mission and values?
A: Similarly to Saudi Arabia’s Health Sector Transformation Program, the WHO Foundation believes in equitable and accessible healthcare. To speak more broadly in terms of the Vision 2030, there’s also a focus on nonprofit efforts and a culture of strategic philanthropy.
Even though there’s the government’s leadership, the rest of the nation is encouraged to contribute, including businesses and individuals, to addressing national challenges and fostering development. This idea of everyone playing a role in achieving goals is consistent with our mission at the WHO Foundation.
We’ve had to react to so much these last years, such as a pandemic that much of the world didn’t predict, the effects of climate change even though it’s been brewing over time, and natural disasters that have periodicity and history.
If we look back, earthquakes and tsunamis have caused so much damage over the decades, and the question is, are we preparing for such catastrophic events? If all we’re doing is reacting and not preparing, the effects will be greater, and the loss will be unnecessary.
I say all of that because, when a government like Saudi Arabia works backward all the way from 2030, proactively and not just reactively, it sets an important lesson for all of us and demonstrates how much progress we could make by simply being prepared.
Q. What is the WHO Foundation’s assessment of Saudi Arabia’s role in supporting nations in the wider region, including the medical interventions of KSrelief? Does the Kingdom have a greater role to play in future humanitarian and disaster responses?
A: KSrelief is an incredible model, and we’re learning a lot from the existing collaboration between KSrelief, WHO and other international humanitarian partners. The generosity of KSrelief has been tremendous, but it’s not just about the number of dollars; they’re also thoughtful about the quality of aid and the policy frameworks necessary to ensure the positive impact intended. We want to replicate and build from this type of partnership and engagement.
Q. In what ways does the WHO Foundation want to mobilize greater private capital and public-private partnerships to advance the mission of WHO in Saudi Arabia and the wider region?
A: A part of what we are trying to do at the WHO Foundation is help stakeholders in Saudi and other countries in the region understand the critical role WHO plays. Though it was prominent throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO is not just about responding to the pandemic; it responds to various emergencies; it’s operating in settings other agencies are not; it’s thinking and preparing for future emergencies.
Last month, WHO released its Global Health Emergency Appeals, enhancing preparedness and response to 54 ongoing health emergencies. And, of course, there’s all the normative work of WHO, the degree to which it acts as the world’s FDA, CDC, and NIH.
We hope that by raising awareness and amplifying the understanding of WHO and its initiatives, we can engage the tremendous generosity of the region and mobilize regional stakeholders to help WHO achieve its humanitarian goals.
Philanthropy is a key tenet of Islam. What role can zakat play in the WHO Foundation’s fundraising work in the region?
A: I’ve been so blessed to have had the opportunity of getting to know different communities and faiths around the world and be inspired by different ones. Zakat is very inspiring and something I practice in my life. Even though I am a Hindu and an American, I allocate 5 percent of my income after tax to charity and to civic causes every year.
While zakat and sadaqah are particular elements of the Muslim faith, there’s great consistency between zakat and sadaqah and tithing. This culture of giving presents a tremendous opportunity to fund gaps in global humanitarian health crises and ensure help is directed to where it is most needed. I think the tradition of giving in faiths can inspire greater philanthropy, generosity, and collaboration in the future.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s embattled former Prime Minister Imran Khan has made a fresh call for snap elections as tens of thousands of his supporters gathered in the eastern city of Lahore until the early hours on Sunday.
The leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party addressed the massive crowd from a bulletproof container, the latest in a series of nationwide protests that the former premier has led since he was removed from power in a no-confidence vote in April last year.
Khan — who is facing dozens of cases, with charges against him ranging from terrorism to sedition — made another call for early elections, alleging at the rally that began on Saturday that the Pakistani establishment is behind a crackdown on PTI and trying to get him disqualified from politics.
“Only someone with a public mandate can make difficult decisions, someone who came through the vote of the people, whom the people trust in,” he said.
“A party that would form a government through a public mandate, through the vote of the public — that would be the first step.
“When a government would come for five years, then the people, the business community would have the confidence that there’s political stability.”
Khan laid out his economic recovery plan to “save” Pakistan, where inflation has risen to more than 46 percent, an all-time high.
The South Asian country of 220 million people is also reeling from dwindling foreign exchange reserves and a ballooning current account deficit.
Khan’s plan, which focuses on increasing exports and investment, also relies on fixing the government, which he said will help improve the investment climate in the country and bring in more dollars.
“Dollars flow in with increasing exports, but we never tried it,” he said. “We’ll divert the whole country toward exports. Whoever would bring dollars to the country by selling goods, they’ll be provided facilities.”
Since his removal from office, Khan has accused the recently retired Pakistani military chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, of orchestrating his ouster in collaboration with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and a US-backed “foreign conspiracy.” All three have denied the allegations.
“I ask Pakistan’s establishment: This is clear you’ve decided ... we won’t let Imran Khan win,” Khan said.
“Fine, don’t let (me) come to power, but tell (me) do you have any program to steer the country out of this destruction? Is there a roadmap?”
NEW DELHI: The first foreign investment in Jammu and Kashmir has ignited hopes for more opportunities in the restive Indian-administered region, local authorities and business leaders told Arab News, as Dubai’s Emaar Group is due to build a shopping mall and office complex in its largest city.
Dozens of Emirati businessmen participated in an investment summit organized by the UAE-India Business Council and the local government in Srinagar on March 19, where Emaar — Dubai’s largest listed developer — held the ground-breaking ceremony for the $60 million Mall of Srinagar.
“It was a historic India-UAE investor meet at Srinagar, which marked the new dawn of limitless possibilities. It was also a unique opportunity for free and frank exchanges of views on issues and opportunities for investment in the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” UIBC director general Mohsin Khan told Arab News.
“The constructive discussion, which was held on various sectors, particularly agricultural and allied sectors, hospitality, education, tourism and other industry sectors, will also explore and ground investment opportunities which will further strengthen our long-term partnership with (the) UAE and the rest of the Gulf countries,” said Khan.
Economic activity in Kashmir has plunged since the Indian government revoked its special autonomous status, and split it into two federally governed territories, promising security and reform in August 2019.
The Muslim-majority Himalayan territory is claimed in full but ruled in part by nuclear archrivals India and Pakistan, who have fought two wars over control of the territory. Indian-controlled Kashmir has for decades witnessed outbreaks of separatist insurgency to resist control from the government in New Delhi.
As Indian officials have tried for years to woo both domestic and foreign investors with little success, the latest development has sparked fresh hopes for business leaders in the region.
“We welcome the FDI investment meeting in Kashmir ... There is potential in lots of sectors. I hope more people will come for investment in Kashmir,” Javid Tenga, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News.
He also saw the immediate employment creation potential in the region where the unemployment rate is about 15 percent — double India’s average.
“There is a big opportunity in the tourism and horticulture sectors,” Tenga said. “Obviously, jobs will be created and our young boys are looking for jobs.”
Indian Emirati-based multinational conglomerate LuLu Group, which will be the anchor tenant of the Mall of Srinagar, said it is already planning more activities in Kashmir.
“We have earmarked 250 crore rupees ($30 million) in the first phase of investment in Jammu and Kashmir in setting up a hypermarket inside the Mall of Srinagar, as well as setting up a food processing center there to export to the Gulf market,” LuLu marketing and communications director V. Nandakumar, told Arab News.
Since last year, the conglomerate has been importing saffron, apples and dry fruits from the region. “The work for the food processing center has already begun and it should be ready by another one year,” Nandakumar said.
“The current climate there is very conducive to investment not only to us but many other companies in India and outside India are showing keen interests.”