New employment scheme with Saudi Arabia sparks hope among Sri Lankan workers

Sri Lankan workers prepare to depart from Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka on Feb. 5, 2023. (Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment)
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Sri Lankan workers prepare to depart from Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka on Feb. 5, 2023. (Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment)
Sri Lankan workers prepare to depart from Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka on Feb. 5, 2023. (Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment)
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Sri Lankan workers prepare to depart from Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka on Feb. 5, 2023. (Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment)
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Updated 28 March 2023
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New employment scheme with Saudi Arabia sparks hope among Sri Lankan workers

New employment scheme with Saudi Arabia sparks hope among Sri Lankan workers
  • Skill Verification Program expected to give Sri Lankans due recognition, higher salaries
  • Sri Lankans say new deal will open more opportunities, bring in more foreign exchange

COLOMBO: Sri Lankans are hopeful that a new employment scheme with Saudi Arabia will help ease their country’s economic crisis, professionals and labor officials told Arab News, as they expect it to boost the nation’s manpower exports to the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka recently signed an agreement on the Skill Verification Program which aims to improve the professional competence of employees in the Saudi labor market and streamline the recruitment process of skilled workers from the island nation.

Under the deal — which covers 23 professions, including electricians and auto mechanics — Saudi employers will recognize accreditations issued by Sri Lanka’s Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission.

“The TVEC has embarked on the assessment process where Saudi Arabia would tell us their manpower needs and Sri Lanka would choose the right candidates for the right courses,” commission director, Dr. Lalithadheera K. Arachchige, told Arab News on Tuesday.

For many years, Sri Lankan professionals have been working in Saudi Arabia without recognition of their professional certification and often enrolled in jobs below their qualifications. The new deal is expected to change that.

Abdul Nazar, managing director of Colombo-based recruitment company Air Kings Group who used to work in Jeddah, said Saudi Arabia had previously not recognized professionals from Sri Lanka “unless they have gone through the technical skill tests processed by the Saudi government.”

He told Arab News: “The new facility will enable the migrant workers to claim their salaries according to their professional qualifications which will help our country to earn increased volume of foreign exchange to our national coffers.”

The deal coincides with the Kingdom’s launch of various megaprojects and its growing need for foreign workers.

“In Saudi Arabia, because of Vision 2030, there is a dearth for skilled workers where we can creep in and get the needed foreign exchange to Sri Lanka,” Nihal Gamage, president of the Sri Lanka Cultural Forum in Riyadh, told Arab News. “This is a God-sent opportunity.”

The program was also expected to encourage more Sri Lankans to look for jobs in the Kingdom, due to the extra perks they would receive.

“Both countries will benefit. Saudi Arabia is getting more qualified people and at the same time we are getting the high perks,” Senarath Yapa, spokesman of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, told Arab News.

Only around 40 percent of Sri Lankan migrant workers departing for the Kingdom are recognized as skilled workers, Yapa said.

H.P.A. Kumarasinghe, a Sri Lankan professional who works as a chief accountant at Riyadh-based ABV Rock Group, expected the agreement to help ease the economic crisis in his home country.

Sri Lanka has been seeking foreign employment opportunities for its professionals as it is facing its worst financial crisis since gaining independence in 1948 and is in desperate need of foreign currency.

“I really believe this new program will help ease the crisis in Sri Lanka more broadly,” Kumarasinghe told Arab News.

“This was a long overdue deal, but there’s a saying that it’s better late than never, so in this point of view I believe it is a remarkable agreement between Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia.”


Canada calls on India to cooperate in murder probe of Sikh leader, declines to share evidence

Canada calls on India to cooperate in murder probe of Sikh leader, declines to share evidence
Updated 22 September 2023
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Canada calls on India to cooperate in murder probe of Sikh leader, declines to share evidence

Canada calls on India to cooperate in murder probe of Sikh leader, declines to share evidence
  • Canada has said it has credible allegations linking Indian agents to murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June
  • Nijjar supported an independent Khalistani state for Sikhs, was designated by India as a “terrorist” in July 2020

NEW YORK: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday called on India to cooperate with an investigation into the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia and said Canada would not release its evidence.

Trudeau said on Monday that Ottawa had credible allegations linking Indian government agents to the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June, prompting an angry reaction from New Delhi. Nijjar, 45, was a Canadian citizen.

The Canadian government has amassed both human and signals intelligence in a months-long investigation into the Sikh separatist leader’s murder, CBC News separately reported on Thursday citing sources.

Traditional Canadian allies have so far taken a relatively cautious approach to the matter. Political analysts said this was partly because the United States and other major players see India as a counterweight to the growing influence of China.

“There is no question that India is a country of growing importance and a country that we need to continue to work with ... and we’re not looking to provoke or cause problems,” Trudeau said in a press conference in New York on the sidelines of the annual high-level United Nations General Assembly. “But we are unequivocal around the importance of the rule of law and unequivocal about the importance of protecting Canadians.”

“That’s why we call upon the government of India to work with us to establish processes to discover and to uncover the truth of the matter.”

The CBC report said, citing Canadian sources, that no Indian official, when pressed behind closed doors has denied the allegation that there is evidence suggesting Indian government involvement in Nijjar’s death. 

India’s Ministry of External Affairs did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the CBC report.

The report said the intelligence included communications involving Indian officials, among them Indian diplomats present in Canada, adding that some of the intelligence was provided by an unidentified ally in the Five Eyes alliance.

Five Eyes is an intelligence-sharing network that includes the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The United States is in touch with both Canada and India over Ottawa’s allegations, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday, confirming for the first time that Washington was talking to New Delhi about the matter.

“There’s not some special exemption you get for actions like this,” Sullivan told reporters when asked about Trudeau’s statement about possible Indian involvement. “It is a matter of concern for us, it is something we take seriously.”

US President Joe Biden and several members of the Five Eyes raised the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when they met at the G20 this month, the Financial Times reported on Thursday.

The Indian foreign ministry said Canada had not shared any specific information about the murder. Nijjar supported a Sikh homeland in the form of an independent Khalistani state and was designated by India as a “terrorist” in July 2020.

“As a country with a strong and independent justice system, we allow those justice processes to unfold themselves with the utmost integrity,” Trudeau replied when asked when Canada would release the evidence it had.

India on Thursday suspended new visas for Canadians and asked Ottawa to reduce its diplomatic presence in the country. Trudeau did not respond when asked about these measures.

Speaking separately, an Indian trade official said there was no reason for Canadian pension funds to back out of investing in the country.


US, UK signal support for EU windfall tax plan on using frozen Russian assets for Ukraine reconstruction

US, UK signal support for EU windfall tax plan on using frozen Russian assets for Ukraine reconstruction
Updated 22 September 2023
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US, UK signal support for EU windfall tax plan on using frozen Russian assets for Ukraine reconstruction

US, UK signal support for EU windfall tax plan on using frozen Russian assets for Ukraine reconstruction
  • Per EU estimates, windfall profit from Russia’s frozen assets in Europe could provide $3.27 billion a year to rebuild Ukraine
  • British FM says Russia must be made to bear the costs of reconstruction of Ukraine as a consequence of its invasion

WASHINGTON: US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and British Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt signaled support on Thursday for a European Union plan to impose a windfall tax on profits generated by frozen Russian sovereign assets to help finance the reconstruction of Ukraine.

A Treasury spokesperson said Yellen called the EU plan a “sensible” proposal.

Yellen, who discussed frozen Russian assets with Ukrainian officials during her visit to Kyiv in February, told Bloomberg News reporters and editors that Washington was discussing the idea with the EU, the spokesperson said.
Hunt told Reuters in a telephone interview from Los Angeles that he supported the EU’s idea of diverting interest earnings from the assets to Ukraine’s reconstruction.
“We have to find a way that doesn’t have unintended consequences,” Hunt said. “And I think the most interesting discussions are really about how to use the interest income generated by (frozen) assets to go toward that reconstruction without actually seizing the assets themselves.”
But Hunt said it was important to ultimately force Russia to bear the costs of reconstruction of Ukraine as a consequence of its invasion and “to make it clear to Russia that those assets are frozen until there’s a fair settlement made with the reconstruction costs.”
Yellen has repeatedly voiced support for Ukrainian demands that Russia should pay for the damage it has done to Ukraine, but has also pointed to significant legal obstacles halting moves to fully seize the $300 billion in Russian central bank assets frozen by sanctions.
EU officials have estimated that the windfall profit from Russia’s frozen assets in Europe could provide 3 billion euro ($3.27 billion) a year to rebuild Ukraine.

British FM says it was important to ultimately force Russia to bear the costs of reconstruction of Ukraine as a consequence of its invasion


China, at UN, presents itself as a member of the Global South as alternative to a Western model

China, at UN, presents itself as a member of the Global South as alternative to a Western model
Updated 22 September 2023
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China, at UN, presents itself as a member of the Global South as alternative to a Western model

China, at UN, presents itself as a member of the Global South as alternative to a Western model
  • “Global South” is loosely defined as referring to nations around the world that are less developed and less rich than what have typically been called “first-world nations”
  • China was not included in the list of 125 nations, led by Brazil and India, that have identified themselves part of the Global South

UNITED NATIONS: China told assembled world leaders Thursday that it considers itself part of the Global South, saying it identifies with the goals and challenges of less-developed nations and offering them an alternative to what it has long called “Western hegemony.” The message came from a second-tier official after the country’s powerful president, Xi Jinping, skipped the annual UN meeting again.
Xi sent Vice President Han Zheng to deliver a policy statement at the General Assembly’s leaders’ meeting that covered the government’s usual positions with familiar language but appeared to focus on building coalitions around its approach to development and international relations.
“As the largest developing country, China is a natural member of the Global South. It breathes the same breath with other developing countries and shares the same future with them,” Han said. He also said China supports those nations’ development path “in keeping with their national conditions.”
The loosely defined term “Global South,” which has come up frequently at the United Nations this year, identifies nations around the world that are less developed and less rich than what have typically been called “first-world nations.” They’re not necessarily in the Southern Hemisphere; many, in fact, are not.
Leaders of a number of larger developing nations, including Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and India’s Narendra Modi, have of late pitched themselves as leaders around whom the Global South could coalesce. Just Tuesday, Lula told leaders at the UN meeting that “Brazil is back” in a speech widely received as Global South-focused maneuvering. And Modi in January hosted a “Voice of the Global South” virtual summit.
China, too, has loosely cast itself in a similar role for more than a decade — and more so since Xi launched the “Belt and Road Initiative” to drive Chinese development, infrastructure and influence in other nations, particularly developing ones. The sprawling project has been widely touted but has encountered bumps along the way.
“China,” Han promised, “will remain a member of the big family of developing countries.”
That statement is in keeping with Beijing’s attempts to balance — often adeptly — the benefits of continuing to be a developing nation with the advantages of being a major global economic and diplomatic power and counterbalance to the West.
For decades, since the start of the “reform and opening up” launched by Deng Xiaoping after Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, China has positioned its approach to both domestic and international affairs as an alternative to “Western hegemony.” That counternarrative is a frequent cornerstone of its international identity. Han’s “Global South” statements Thursday match that longtime sensibility.
And China benefits from association with the Global South, which allows it to style statements as if it speaks for many nations — nations that may not be strong enough to object if such a powerful government mischaracterizes them.
Whether China and its $18 trillion GDP should actually be considered part of the Global South is a frequently debated matter. In January, at Modi’s summit, 125 countries were included but China wasn’t one of them. That may have had more to do with China’s often-tense relations with India than with its attitude toward the concept in general.
Xi was one of four leaders of permanent UN Security Council members who did not show at the United Nations this week. France’s Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Rishi Sunak and Russia’s Vladimir Putin also skipped it; US President Joe Biden, leader of the host nation, was the only permanent Security Council member to deliver a speech.
Han Zheng’s presence at the United Nations came at a time when China’s diplomatic operation appears to be in a bit of disarray.
Many expected Foreign Minister Wang Yi to come to the General Assembly and possibly pave the way for a Xi-Biden meeting. Wang attended and delivered the speech last year. In the months since, a newly appointed foreign minister came and went with some mystery, and Wang took the role on again.
Han, in his speech, covered China’s usual topics in such meetings. Among them:

  • He reiterated that Taiwan, the island off China’s coast that has its own independent government, is historically a part of China and always will be — a frequent message to the United States and the world. The island and the mainland split in 1949 after a civil war.
  • He said China supported human rights “suited to our national conditions in response to the needs of our people.” Beijing’s repressive policies toward ethnic Uyghurs in the western region of Xinjiang and its policies toward dissent, including in the special administrative region of Hong Kong, come under frequent Western scrutiny.
  • He said, as China has many times before, that a cease-fire and peace talks are the only path to ending war in Ukraine. China has tread a delicate line in the 18 months since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.


 


Surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada led to allegations around Sikh killing, official says

Surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada led to allegations around Sikh killing, official says
Updated 22 September 2023
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Surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada led to allegations around Sikh killing, official says

Surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada led to allegations around Sikh killing, official says

TORONTO: The allegation of India’s involvement in the killing of a Sikh Canadian is based on surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada, including intelligence provided by a major ally, a Canadian official familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The official said the communications involved Indian officials and Indian diplomats in Canada and that some of the intelligence was provided by a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance, which includes the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, in addition to Canada.
The official did not say which ally provided intelligence or give specific details of what was contained in the communications or how they were obtained. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation first reported the intelligence.
Earlier Thursday, India stopped issuing visas to Canadian citizens and told Canada to reduce its diplomatic staff as the rift widened between the once-close allies over Ottawa’s allegation that New Delhi may have been involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a 45-year-old Sikh separatist, in a Vancouver suburb in June.
Ties between the two countries have plunged to their lowest point in years since Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday there were “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the assassination.
Nijjar, a plumber who was born in India and became a Canadian citizen in 2007, had been wanted by India for years before he was gunned down outside the temple he led in the city of Surrey.
Speaking Thursday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Trudeau acknowledged the complicated diplomatic situation he faces.
“The decision to share these allegations on the floor of the House of Commons was not done lightly,” he said. “There is no question that India is a country of growing importance and a country that we need to continue to work with.”
“We are not looking to provoke or cause problems but we are unequivocal around the importance of the rule of law and unequivocal about the importance of protecting Canadians.”
The bombshell allegation set off an international tit-for-tat, with each country expelling a diplomat. India called the allegations “absurd.”
Canada has yet to provide public evidence to back Trudeau’s allegations, and Canada’s UN ambassador, Bob Rae, indicated that might not come soon.
“This is very early days,” Rae told reporters Thursday, insisting that while facts will emerge, they must “come out in the course of the pursuit of justice.”
“That’s what we call the rule of law in Canada,” he said.
On Thursday, the company that processes Indian visas in Canada announced that visa services had been suspended until further notice.
The suspension means Canadians who don’t already have visas cannot travel to India. Canadians are among the top travelers to India: In 2021, 80,000 Canadian tourists visited the country, according to India’s Bureau of Immigration.
Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi blamed the visa suspension, which includes visas issued in third countries, on safety issues.
“Security threats being faced by our High Commission and consulates in Canada have disrupted their normal functioning. Accordingly, they are temporarily unable to process visa applications,” Bagchi told reporters. He gave no details on the alleged threats.
The announcement quickly rippled across Canada, especially among people with ties to India.
Sukhwinder Dhillon, a 56-year-old grocery store owner in Montreal, said he had a trip planned to India to see family and sort out his deceased father’s estate. Dhillon, who came to Canada in 1998, said he makes the trip every two or three years and has lost two immediate family members since he was last home.
“My father passed, and my brother passed,” Dhillon said. “I want to go now. ... Now I don’t know when we’ll go.”
Bagchi, the Indian foreign ministry spokesman, also called for a reduction in Canadian diplomats in India, saying they outnumbered Indian diplomats in Canada.
The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi said Thursday that its consulates in India are open and continue to serve clients. It said some of its diplomats had received threats on social media, adding that Canada expects India to provide security for its diplomats and consular officers working there.
On Wednesday, India warned its citizens to be careful when traveling to Canada because of “growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate-crimes.”
India’s security and intelligence branches have long been active in South Asia and are suspected in a number of killings in Pakistan. But arranging the killing of a Canadian citizen in Canada, home to nearly 2 million people of Indian descent, would be unprecedented.
India has criticized Canada for years over giving free rein to Sikh separatists, including Nijjar. New Delhi had accused him of links to terrorism, which he denied.
Nijjar was a local leader in what remains of a once-strong movement to create an independent Sikh homeland, known as Khalistan. A bloody Sikh insurgency shook north India in the 1970s and 1980s until it was crushed in a government crackdown in which thousands of people were killed, including prominent Sikh leaders.
While the active insurgency ended decades ago, the Indian government has warned that Sikh separatists are trying to stage a comeback and pressed countries like Canada, where Sikhs comprise over 2 percent of the population, to do more to stop them.
At the time of his killing, Nijjar was working to organize an unofficial Sikh diaspora referendum on independence from India.
New Delhi’s anxieties about Sikh separatist groups in Canada have long been a strain on the relationship, but the two have maintained strong defense and trade ties and share strategic interests over China’s global ambitions.
In March, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government summoned the Canadian high commissioner in New Delhi, its top diplomat in the country, to complain about Sikh independence protests in Canada.
Signs of a broader diplomatic rift emerged at the summit of the Group of 20 leading world economies hosted by India earlier this month. Trudeau had frosty encounters with Modi, and a few days later Canada canceled a trade mission to India planned for the fall. A trade deal between the two is now on pause.
On Wednesday, India’s National Investigation Agency said it has intensified its crackdown on Sikh insurgents operating in India.
It announced rewards of up to 1 million rupees ($12,000) for information leading to the arrest of five insurgents, one of whom is believed to be based in neighboring Pakistan. It accused them of extorting money from businesses for a banned Sikh organization, the Babbar Khalsa International, and of targeted killings in India.


Venezuela retakes prison from gang in massive operation involving 11,000 troops backed by tanks

Venezuela retakes prison from gang in massive operation involving 11,000 troops backed by tanks
Updated 22 September 2023
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Venezuela retakes prison from gang in massive operation involving 11,000 troops backed by tanks

Venezuela retakes prison from gang in massive operation involving 11,000 troops backed by tanks
  • The multinational gang Tren de Aragua had gradually taken control of the prison of 1,600 and turned into its main base
  • Venezuelan officials said the gang leaders had mistreated other prisoners and kept them in “a kind of slavery”

MARACAY, Venezuela: Bitcoin mining machines and rocket launchers were among the astonishing contraband found in a Venezuelan prison recaptured from a gang that had turned it into a playground kitted out with a pool, a nightclub and a zoo.

Venezuelan authorities showed off the loot on Thursday after seizing control of the Tocoron prison in a massive operation involving more than 11,000 police and soldiers backed up by tanks and armored vehicles.

One soldier was killed in the operation, which had been planned for more than a year, said Interior and Justice Minister Remigio Ceballos.
The facility hit in Wednesday’s raid had served as the headquarters of the Tren de Aragua gang that operates in Venezuela and other Latin American countries.
Ceballos said sniper rifles, explosives, rocket launchers and grenades were seized, along with cocaine, marijuana and expensive motorbikes.
The wives or girlfriends of inmates who had been living inside with them were kicked out.
At a press conference outside the prison, authorities displayed buckets of bullets, heaps of machine gun ammunition belts and machines used to mine the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
On Wednesday, AFP saw officers carrying televisions, microwaves and air conditioners out of the jail as angry women outside shouted, “That’s ours!.”
Ceballos said zoo animals kept at the facility died in a fire started by prisoners. He did not say which creatures had lived there, or how many.
The minister added that four prison guards were arrested as suspected accomplices of the gang members who had lived it up behind bars.
“There will be no impunity. We will act against all the criminals and accomplices,” said Ceballos, hailing a “successful operation that allowed us to strike a blow against criminal groups.”

After declaring it had taken control of the prison, the government began evacuating its 1,600 inmates to other locations.
On Wednesday, the government said some prisoners had managed to flee during the clampdown.
Ceballos said the gang leaders had mistreated other prisoners and kept them in “a kind of slavery.”
Surrounded by riot police, dozens of relatives gathered outside the facility for news of the inmates being transferred.
“Where is my son?” cried Doris Colmenares, who said he had escaped during Wednesday’s raid but turned himself in shortly thereafter.
Tren de Aragua, Venezuela’s most powerful home-grown gang, is involved in crime countrywide and has spread its tentacles to Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and Bolivia.
According to an investigation by Venezuelan journalist Ronna Risquez, it has some 5,000 members.
The gang emerged a decade ago, and is involved in kidnappings, robberies, drug trafficking, prostitution, extortion and illegal gold mining.
The InSight Crime think tank said the gang is also a major player in migrant smuggling.
Risquez said Tocoron had been entirely in the hands of the gang and described the prison as a “hotel” for the gang leaders, with a bank, baseball field, and a restaurant.
This was confirmed by several of the women evicted from the prison.
The gang’s leader is Hector Guerrero Flores, who was serving a 17-year sentence in the prison for murder and drug trafficking, said Carlos Nieto, coordinator of A Window for Freedom, a prison rights NGO.
Authorities have not commented on his whereabouts.