UK ‘urged to boost monitoring of Islamic schools’ in new report

UK ‘urged to boost monitoring of Islamic schools’ in new report
Muslim worshippers gather for Friday prayer on the streets outside the mosque of the Muslim centre in east London. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 30 March 2023

UK ‘urged to boost monitoring of Islamic schools’ in new report

UK ‘urged to boost monitoring of Islamic schools’ in new report
  • Bloom consultation likely to support calls for stricter state oversight of unregistered madrasas
  • Muslim leaders say the government has failed to engage with religious community

LONDON: Britain should do more to monitor Islamic groups and schools, crack down on forced marriages and help people to leave oppressive religious groups, a government consultation is reported to recommend.

The report, to be released within weeks, is set to be what the Guardian described on Wednesday as “the most sweeping review of the relationship between faith and the state in recent times”. It is led by Colin Bloom, a former head of the Conservative Christian Fellowship who was appointed in 2019 to review the government’s engagement with various faiths. 

Several sources have told the Guardian that the report, which is due to be published by the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities, will call for the monitoring of unregistered faith schools, where there are concerns about abuse and radicalization.

It however also warns that such measures risk clashes with faith leaders, who have previously resisted attempts by ministers to intervene in religious affairs.

Other sections will also call on the government to do more to combat forced marriages and offer more help to those attempting to leave oppressive religious groups. 

The recommendations are likely to boost calls for stricter monitoring of Islamic groups by Secretary of State for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove. 

The Muslim Council of Britain told the Guardian: “There remains a lack of any meaningful engagement by government with diverse British Muslim communities.

“We would hope that the Bloom report recognizes how vital it is for the government to establish meaningful engagement with British Muslim communities more broadly and the key role Muslim-led representative bodies can play in facilitating this.”

In the past, Conservative ministers have attempted to regulate such schools before but were forced to back down due to protests from mainstream religious groups. 

Following the “Trojan horse” scandal in 2015, the then-Prime Minister David Cameron wanted to crack down on Islamic madrasas by allowing inspectors to visit any institution where children are taught for more than six hours a week. 

Islamic groups claimed they were being unfairly singled out premised on shaky evidence of systemic radicalization within their community. 

Cameron reportedly abandoned the plans after Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby warned that it would make running Sunday schools more difficult.

Some of the Bloom proposals will also be intended to strengthen religion as a core component of British society. This includes providing resources for religious education in schools and increased funding for chaplains in prisons, schools, and universities. 

“I have never seen a report on religion and the state which is this comprehensive,” one source familiar with large parts of the report told the Guardian.

“Colin [Bloom] has gone in-depth into many areas of public and religious life from which ministers normally stay well away,” they added.

Richy Thompson, the director of public affairs at Humanists UK, said: “In the past, the government has sometimes been nervous about tackling problems caused by religious groups, but those problems can extend to the most extreme forms of abuse. 

“If this report is to see the government change tack here, then that is to be welcomed.”


Before-and-after satellite images show profound toll of Ukraine dam collapse

Before-and-after satellite images show profound toll of Ukraine dam collapse
Updated 08 June 2023

Before-and-after satellite images show profound toll of Ukraine dam collapse

Before-and-after satellite images show profound toll of Ukraine dam collapse
  • Before the Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper River broke, farm fields appear green and crossed by peaceful streets and farm roads and dotted with trees
  • Afterward, only metal roofs and treetops poke above the murky water

KHERSON, Ukraine: Before-and-after images of the area downstream from a dam that collapsed Tuesday vividly show the extent of the devastation of a large, flooded swathe of southern Ukraine.
Before the Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper River broke, farm fields appear green and crossed by peaceful streets and farm roads and dotted with trees. Afterward, only metal roofs and treetops poke above the murky water. Greenhouses and homes are almost entirely submerged.
The pre-collapse satellite photos were taken in May and early June. Photos of the same area taken after the dam collapsed clearly show how much of it has become unlivable. Brown water as high as people covers much of the territory captured in the images.
Paired with exclusive drone footage of the Ukrainian dam and surrounding villages occupied by Russia, the before-and-after satellite images illustrate the profound changes wrought by the disaster.
Ukraine has warned since last October that the hydroelectric dam was mined by Russian forces, and accused them of touching off an explosion that has turned the downstream areas into a waterlogged wasteland. Russia said Ukraine hit the dam with a missile. But while the AP footage clearly shows the extent of the damage to the region, it offered a limited snapshot of the partially submerged dam, making it difficult to categorically rule out any scenario.
Experts have said the structure was in disrepair, which could also have led to its collapse.


WHO rushes supplies to Ukraine, readies to tackle disease in flood areas

WHO rushes supplies to Ukraine, readies to tackle disease in flood areas
Updated 08 June 2023

WHO rushes supplies to Ukraine, readies to tackle disease in flood areas

WHO rushes supplies to Ukraine, readies to tackle disease in flood areas
  • Russia and Ukraine have traded blame for the bursting of the Soviet-era Kakhovka hydroelectric dam
  • "The impact of the region's water supply sanitation systems and public health services cannot be underestimated," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing

GENEVA: The World Health Organization has rushed emergency supplies to flood-hit parts of Ukraine and are preparing to respond to an array of health risks including trauma, drowning and waterborne diseases like cholera, officials said on Thursday.
Russia and Ukraine have traded blame for the bursting of the Soviet-era Kakhovka hydroelectric dam, which sent waters cascading across the war zone of southern Ukraine in the early hours of Tuesday, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes.
“The impact of the region’s water supply sanitation systems and public health services cannot be underestimated,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing.
“The WHO has rushed in to support the authorities and health care workers in preventive measures against waterborne diseases and to improve disease surveillance.”
Asked specifically about cholera, WHO technical officer Teresa Zakaria said that the risk of an outbreak was present since the pathogen exists in the environment. She said that the WHO was working with Ukraine’s health ministry to put mechanisms in place to ensure that vaccines can be imported if needed.
“We are trying to address quite a wide range of health risks actually associated with the floods, starting from trauma to drowning, to waterborne diseases but also all the way to the potential implications of disruption to chronic treatment,” she added.
The huge Kakhovka Dam on the Dnipro River separates Russian and Ukrainian forces and people have been affected on both sides of its banks. WHO’s Emergencies Director Mike Ryan said the WHO has offered assistance to Russian-controlled areas but that its operational presence was “primarily” on the Ukrainian side.
He said Russian authorities had given them assurances that people living in areas it occupies were being “well monitored, well cared for, well fed (and) well supported.”
“We will be delighted to be able to access those areas and be able to monitor health as we would in most situations wish to do,” he said, adding it would be for the Ukrainian and Russian authorities to agree how that could be achieved.


UK unveils new sanctions targeting Russia’s ally Belarus

UK unveils new sanctions targeting Russia’s ally Belarus
Updated 08 June 2023

UK unveils new sanctions targeting Russia’s ally Belarus

UK unveils new sanctions targeting Russia’s ally Belarus
  • London said the new curbs would hit Belarus exports that have been funding the administration of authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko
  • The UK is now banning imports of gold, cement, wood and rubber from Belarus, and blocking exports of banknotes and machinery

LONDON: Britain announced Thursday new sanctions against Belarus, its latest punishment for the eastern European country’s support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and suppression of anti-government activists.
London said the new curbs would hit Belarus exports that have been funding the administration of authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, an ally of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, and “crack down on Russia’s efforts to circumvent sanctions.”
Western countries have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Moscow, and its neighbor to the west Minsk, following the launch of the Russian war in Ukraine in February last year.
The UK is now banning imports of gold, cement, wood and rubber from Belarus, and blocking exports of banknotes and machinery, alongside goods, technologies and materials that could be used to produce chemical and biological weapons.
The measures also give Britain grounds to prevent designated Belarusian media organizations from spreading propaganda and disinformation in the UK, including over the Internet.
Social media companies and Internet service providers will be required to restrict access to the websites of sanctioned Belarusian media organizations, as occurs with sanctioned Russian outlets.
The new legislation also expands sanctions criteria, giving the UK government the basis to target a broader range of Belarusians, such as Lukashenko’s aides, advisers and ministers.
“This new package ratchets up the economic pressure on Lukashenko and his regime which actively facilitates the Russian war effort and ignores Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement.
“Our support for Ukraine will remain resolute for as long as it takes and the UK will not hesitate to introduce further measures against those who prop up Putin’s war.”
Belarus has been ruled by Lukashenko since 1994.
The UK was among a number of Western countries that imposed sanctions on Lukashenko’s government for its suppression of mass anti-government protests in 2020.
Western countries then imposed various new sanctions last year over its role in Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine.
Lukashenko has allowed Russia to use Belarusian territory and airspace to conduct missile and drone strikes against Ukraine, as well as providing training and logistical support to Moscow’s forces.


US suspends food aid to Ethiopia, says it is not reaching needy

US suspends food aid to Ethiopia, says it is not reaching needy
Updated 08 June 2023

US suspends food aid to Ethiopia, says it is not reaching needy

US suspends food aid to Ethiopia, says it is not reaching needy
  • The United States is by far the largest humanitarian donor to Ethiopia
  • More than 20 million people need food aid, most of them due to drought and a recently-concluded war

NAIROBI: The US Agency for International Development (USAID) said on Thursday it was suspending food aid to Ethiopia because its donations were being diverted from people in need.
A spokesperson said in a statement that USAID had determined, in coordination with the Ethiopian government, that a “widespread and coordinated campaign is diverting food assistance from the people of Ethiopia.”
The statement did not say who was behind the campaign.
The United States is by far the largest humanitarian donor to Ethiopia, where more than 20 million people need food aid, most of them due to drought and a recently-concluded war in the northern Tigray region.
According to an internal briefing by a group of foreign donors to Ethiopia seen by Reuters, USAID believes the food has been diverted to Ethiopian military units.
“The scheme appears to be orchestrated by federal and regional government entities, with military units across the country benefiting from humanitarian assistance,” said the document from the Humanitarian and Resilience Donor Group (HRDG), which includes USAID.
Spokespeople for the Ethiopian government and military did not immediately respond to requests for comment. USAID declined to comment on the report.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the issue on Thursday with Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen on the margins of a conference in Saudi Arabia.
The State Department said afterwards that Blinken welcomed a commitment by Ethiopia’s government to work with the United States to conduct a full investigation.
The USAID spokesperson said the agency intended to resume food assistance as soon as it was confident in the integrity of the system.
USAID and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) had already suspended food aid to the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray last month in response to information that large amounts of aid there were being diverted.
A two-year war in Tigray between the federal government and forces led by the region’s dominant political party ended in a truce in November after killing tens of thousands of people and creating famine-like conditions for hundreds of thousands.
In the 2022 fiscal year, USAID disbursed nearly $1.5 billion in humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia, most of it food aid.
The HRDG briefing document, which was circulated among donors on Wednesday, recommended that Ethiopia’s government allow donors to deliver aid through “alternative modalities” like cash transfers.
It also urged donors to call on Ethiopia’s government to make a public statement condemning the diversion and demanding that aid workers not be harassed.
Ethiopia’s food crisis has deepened in recent years as a result of the war in Tigray and the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in decades.
WFP is also investigating “systemic” food diversion across Ethiopia, according to an email sent last week by the agency’s deputy director to staff in Ethiopia.
A WFP spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Scottish boy who died following ‘playground incident’ named

Scottish boy who died following ‘playground incident’ named
Updated 08 June 2023

Scottish boy who died following ‘playground incident’ named

Scottish boy who died following ‘playground incident’ named
  • Hamdan Aslam, 14, taken to hospital on Tuesday
  • Police say investigation ongoing

LONDON: A 14-year-old boy who died after a “playground incident” with another pupil at a school in Scotland has been named.

Hamdan Aslam was taken to hospital on Tuesday after emergency services were called to St Kentigern’s Academy in Blackburn, Bathgate, West Lothian. He was later pronounced dead. 

Police Scotland said they were told of the incident at 1:20 p.m. Tuesday, adding: “Officers were called to a report of concern for a 14-year-old boy at a school in the Bathgate area.

“He was taken by ambulance to hospital for treatment, but died a short time later. His family have been informed and inquiries are ongoing to establish the full circumstances of the death.”

The police did not comment further, but sources told Sky News “no criminality” occurred in the incident, which involved two pupils.

The local Bathgate Mosque said in a statement: “During these difficult moments, the (Aslam) family needs our support and prayers.

“We ask Allah to grant Hamdan the highest rank in Jannah and provide the family with sabr (patience) to bear this loss. It is crucial that we refrain from making assumptions and speculations regarding this tragedy.”

St Kentigern’s Academy headteacher, Andrew Sharkey, said pupils and staff were receiving support, with the school having previously confirmed an “isolated incident” had occurred. 

Local Member of the Scottish Parliament Fiona Hyslop tweeted: “My deepest condolences are with the family and friends of the pupil who has died at St Kentigern’s Academy in my constituency.

“I hope those closest to him are given the privacy they deserve at this tragic time. Pupils and staff I am sure will be supported through this period.”

The nearby St John the Baptist Parish Church, Fauldhouse, posted to its congregation on Facebook: “Can you please keep the family and friends of the young S3 pupil who sadly passed away after an incident at St Kentigern’s Academy in your thoughts and prayers.”