UK immigration fee hikes face criticism

UK immigration fee hikes face criticism
Junior doctors hold placards at a picket line outside St. Thomas’ Hospital in London on July 13, 2023 in the biggest walkout in the history of the UK’s state-funded National Health Service. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 15 July 2023
Follow

UK immigration fee hikes face criticism

UK immigration fee hikes face criticism
  • Sunak ruled out tax increases or government borrowing to fund the rise
  • Hikes in the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) and visa fees would raise £1 billion

LONDON: The UK’s oldest medical union on Saturday hit out at government plans to increase the amount migrant workers pay to use the state health care service, to cover public-sector wage increases.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government this week approved recommendations to boost wages of teachers, doctors and police by between 5.0 to 7.0 percent.
Sunak ruled out tax increases or government borrowing to fund the rise but instead said hikes in the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) and visa fees would raise £1 billion.
Doctors in Unite, which represents junior doctors, general practitioners and hospital consultants, said it was “appalled” at the move, as it would see migrants pay double to use the NHS.
Most employees in the UK have National Insurance contributions deducted at source on their salaries, which pays for the National Health Service, as well as state pension and unemployment schemes.
“Just like other workers, migrants contribute to NHS funding through general taxation. Doubling the NHS surcharge to over £1,200 ($1,570) per year is an unjust additional penalty,” Doctors in Unite said.
“Migrants are effectively ‘taxed twice’ to access the same service,” it added, calling the move “immoral and divisive.”
The IHS, initially brought in to prevent “medical tourism,” is now paid by most migrants under tighter post-Brexit entry rules.
It is paid per person in addition to visa fees for stays of more than six months.
Over-18s pay £624 per year while students and under-18s pay £470 per year.
The government has proposed raising the IHS for adults to £1,035, and £776 at the reduced rate.
Work and visit visas will go up by 15 percent, while the cost of student and leave-to-remain visas among others will rise by at least 20 percent.
Net migration in the UK hit a record 606,000 in 2022, according to official figures released in May, heaping pressure on the government, which has pledged to cut dependency on foreign labor.
Sunak has described legal immigration levels as “too high,” and is separately battling record levels of asylum claims from migrants crossing the Channel in small boats.
Critics warn the IHS increases — paid for by individuals or their companies — could worsen under-staffing in many sectors, and prompt high-skilled workers and students to go elsewhere.
Migrant and refugee charity Praxis has accused ministers of treating people born outside the UK as “cash cows” at a time when they were struggling to repay already high visa renewal fees.
Genomics research center The Wellcome Sanger Institute said it spent more than £300,000 in immigration fees for its employees in 2022.
“These proposed increases create further barriers for global talent... and will have a detrimental effect on UK and global science,” said head of policy Sarion Bowers.


Putin states Russian conditions for Ukraine peace talks

Putin states Russian conditions for Ukraine peace talks
Updated 55 min 9 sec ago
Follow

Putin states Russian conditions for Ukraine peace talks

Putin states Russian conditions for Ukraine peace talks
  • Russia peace proposal is not about temporary ceasefire, but for completely ending the conflict
  • Putin says West’s ‘theft’ of Russia’s assets will not go unpunished

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Russia would cease fire and enter peace talks if Ukraine dropped its NATO ambitions and withdrew its forces from four Ukrainian regions claimed by Moscow.
Putin said Russia was ready to guarantee the safe withdrawal of Ukrainian units in order to enable this to happen.
He was speaking on the eve of a summit in Switzerland where more than 90 countries and organizations are due to discuss a possible path toward peace in Ukraine. Russia has not been invited and says the gathering is a waste of time.
Russia controls nearly a fifth of Ukrainian territory in the third year of the war, and Ukraine says peace can only be based on a full withdrawal of Russian forces and the restoration of its territorial integrity.

President Vladimir Putin also said  that the West’s seizure of Russian sovereign assets was theft and would not go unpunished.
Putin, speaking at a meeting with Foreign Ministry officials, said the way the West had treated Moscow showed that “anyone” could be next and fall victim to a similar Western asset freeze.
Putin spoke a day after the leaders of the Group of Seven major democracies agreed on an outline deal to provide $50 billion of loans for Ukraine using interest from Russian sovereign assets frozen after Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in 2022 in what it called a special military operation.


Greece migrant boat disaster relatives demand answers, one year on

Greece migrant boat disaster relatives demand answers, one year on
Updated 14 June 2024
Follow

Greece migrant boat disaster relatives demand answers, one year on

Greece migrant boat disaster relatives demand answers, one year on
  • Up to 700 migrants from Pakistan, Syria and Egypt were crammed in Libya into a fishing trawler bound for Italy

ATHENS: Demonstrators were due to rally in Athens on Friday to mark the anniversary of a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants off Greece and demand answers about the causes of the disaster and the fate of relatives.
Up to 700 migrants from Pakistan, Syria and Egypt were crammed in Libya into a fishing trawler bound for Italy. It capsized off southwestern Greece on June 14, 2023, even though the Greek coast guard had been monitoring it for hours.
Some 104 survivors were rescued but only 82 bodies were recovered. The catastrophe, one of the worst Mediterranean boat disasters on record, raised searching questions about how the European Union is trying to stem flows of migrants.
“I wake up to nightmares. Even now, I swear by God, my body still hurts,” said one Egyptian survivor called Mohamed. “We, thanks to God, are alive ... Where are the rest of the bodies?“
Survivors and activists were planning rallies in Athens, London, Paris and Berlin. In the Pakistani city of Lalamousa, victims’ relatives prepared a memorial ceremony.
Survivors say the coast guard caused the ship to capsize when it tried to tow the vessel in the early hours of the morning. Authorities say the movement of migrants on board tipped the overcrowded boat over.
A year on, a probe by a naval court into the coast guard’s role is still at a preliminary stage, frustrating survivors, relatives and rights groups. Greece’s shipping minister has called for patience.
Pantelis Themelis, commander of Greece’s Disaster Victim Identification unit, said 74 of the 82 dead had been identified. But many more families from Africa, the Middle East and Asia have sent DNA samples to Greece for checks to no avail.
Hasan Ali, an Athens resident from Pakistan, said his brother Fahad was among the missing, and their parents back in Pakistan would not accept that he could be dead.
“My mother and father are waiting for him,” Ali said. “They say he’s alive, that he’s in Greece.”


Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return

Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return
Updated 14 June 2024
Follow

Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return

Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return
  • Wednesday’s dawn blaze quickly engulfed a housing block home to some of the many foreign laborers servicing the oil-rich gulf state’s economy
  • Most of Kuwait’s 4 million population is made up of foreigners, many from South and Southeast Asia working in construction and service industries

KOCHI: Grieving families kept a solemn vigil in the terminal of an Indian airport Friday as the bodies of dozens of migrant workers killed in a Kuwait building fire returned home.
Wednesday’s dawn blaze quickly engulfed a housing block home to some of the many foreign laborers servicing the oil-rich gulf state’s economy.
Fifty people died in the resulting inferno, 45 of them Indians, with dozens more hospitalized and anguished relatives back home frantically chasing news of whether their loved ones had perished.
“We held on to hope till the last minute that maybe he got out, maybe he’s in the hospital,” Anu Aby, the neighbor of 31-year-old victim Cibin Abraham, told AFP.
Aby said that Abraham had been due to return to his home in Kerala state in August for his child’s first birthday.
Abraham had been on the phone to his wife just an hour before the fire began, he added.
Others sat in a waiting area at Kochi airport in India’s south, wiping away tears as the Indian Air Force plane carrying the remains of their relatives touched down.
Most of oil-rich Kuwait’s population of more than four million is made up of foreigners.
Many of them are from South and Southeast Asia working in construction and service industries, and living in overcrowded housing blocks like the one that went up in flames on Wednesday.
Nearly 200 people were living in the building and many of the dead and injured suffocated from smoke inhalation after being trapped by the flames, according to a fire department source.
The bodies of many of the dead were charred beyond recognition and needed to be formally identified through DNA testing before they were repatriated.
One Kuwaiti and two foreign residents have been detained on suspicion of manslaughter through negligence of security procedures and fire regulations, authorities in the Gulf state said Thursday.
On Wednesday, Interior Minister Sheikh Fahd Al-Yousef vowed to address “labor overcrowding and neglect,” and threatened to close any buildings that flout safety rules.
Three Filipinos were also among the dead, with the country’s migrant workers secretary Hans Leo J. Cacdac saying authorities in Manila were in touch with next of kin.
The blaze was one of the worst seen in Kuwait, which borders Iraq and Saudi Arabia and sits on about seven percent of the world’s known oil reserves.
In 2009, 57 people died when a Kuwaiti woman, apparently seeking revenge, set fire to a tent at a wedding party when her husband married a second wife.


Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return

Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return
Updated 11 min 10 sec ago
Follow

Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return

Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return
  • Wednesday’s dawn blaze quickly engulfed a housing block home to some of the many foreign laborers servicing the oil-rich gulf state’s economy

KOCHI: Grieving families kept a solemn vigil in the terminal of an Indian airport Friday as the bodies of dozens of migrant workers killed in a Kuwait building fire returned home.
Wednesday’s dawn blaze quickly engulfed a housing block home to some of the many foreign laborers servicing the oil-rich gulf state’s economy.
Fifty people died in the resulting inferno, 45 of them Indians, with dozens more hospitalized and anguished relatives back home frantically chasing news of whether their loved ones had perished.
“We held on to hope till the last minute that maybe he got out, maybe he’s in the hospital,” Anu Aby, the neighbor of 31-year-old victim Cibin Abraham, told AFP.
Aby said that Abraham had been due to return to his home in Kerala state in August for his child’s first birthday.
Abraham had been on the phone to his wife just an hour before the fire began, he added.
Others sat in a waiting area at Kochi airport in India’s south, wiping away tears as the Indian Air Force plane carrying the remains of their relatives touched down.
Most of oil-rich Kuwait’s population of more than four million is made up of foreigners.
Many of them are from South and Southeast Asia working in construction and service industries, and living in overcrowded housing blocks like the one that went up in flames on Wednesday.
Nearly 200 people were living in the building and many of the dead and injured suffocated from smoke inhalation after being trapped by the flames, according to a fire department source.
The bodies of many of the dead were charred beyond recognition and needed to be formally identified through DNA testing before they were repatriated.
One Kuwaiti and two foreign residents have been detained on suspicion of manslaughter through negligence of security procedures and fire regulations, authorities in the Gulf state said Thursday.
On Wednesday, Interior Minister Sheikh Fahd Al-Yousef vowed to address “labor overcrowding and neglect,” and threatened to close any buildings that flout safety rules.
Three Filipinos were also among the dead, with the country’s migrant workers secretary Hans Leo J. Cacdac saying authorities in Manila were in touch with next of kin.
The blaze was one of the worst seen in Kuwait, which borders Iraq and Saudi Arabia and sits on about seven percent of the world’s known oil reserves.
In 2009, 57 people died when a Kuwaiti woman, apparently seeking revenge, set fire to a tent at a wedding party when her husband married a second wife.


Sea swamps Bangladesh at one of world’s fastest rates

Sea swamps Bangladesh at one of world’s fastest rates
Updated 14 June 2024
Follow

Sea swamps Bangladesh at one of world’s fastest rates

Sea swamps Bangladesh at one of world’s fastest rates
  • The three-part study calculated the low-lying South Asian nation was experiencing a sea level rise in places more than 60 percent higher than the global average

PATUAKHALI: After cyclone gales tore down his home in 2007, Bangladeshi fisherman Abdul Aziz packed up what was left of his belongings and moved about half a kilometer inland, further away from storm surge waves.
A year later, the sea swallowed the area where his old home had been.
Now, 75-year-old Aziz fishes above his submerged former home and lives on the other side of a low earth and concrete embankment, against which roaring waves crash.
“The fish are swimming there in the water on my land,” he told AFP, pointing toward his vanished village. “It is part of the advancing ocean.”
Government scientists say rising seas driven by climate change are drowning Bangladesh’s densely populated coast at one of the fastest global rates, and at least a million people on the coast will be forced to relocate within a generation.
“Few countries experience the far-reaching and diverse effects of climate change as intensely as Bangladesh,” Abdul Hamid, director general of the environment department, wrote in a report last month.
The three-part study calculated the low-lying South Asian nation was experiencing a sea level rise in places more than 60 percent higher than the global average.
By 2050, at present rates of local sea level rise, “more than one million people may have to be displaced,” it read, based on a quarter of a century of satellite data from the US space agency NASA and its Chinese counterpart CNSA.
Sea levels are not rising at the same rate around the world, due chiefly to Earth’s uneven gravity field and variations in ocean dynamics.
Study lead A.K.M Saiful Islam said Bangladesh’s above-average increases were driven by melting ice caps, water volumes increasing as oceans warm, and the vast amounts of river water that flow into the Bay of Bengal every monsoon.
The study provides “a clear message” that policymakers should be prepared for “mitigation and adaptation,” he said.
Islam, a member of the UN’s IPCC climate change assessment body, examined the vast deltas where the mighty Himalayan rivers of the Ganges and Brahmaputra reach the sea.
“In recent decades, the sea level rose 3.7 millimeters (0.14 inches) each year globally,” Islam added.
“In our study, we saw that the sea level rise is higher along our coast... 4.2 millimeters to 5.8 millimeters annually.”
That incremental rise might sound tiny. But those among the estimated 20 million people living along Bangladesh’s coast say the destruction comes in terrifying waves.
“It is closing in,” said fisherman Aziz about the approaching sea. “Where else can we escape?“
The threat is increasing.
Most of the country’s coastal areas are a meter or two above sea level, and storms bring seawater further inland, turning wells and lakes salty and killing crops on once fertile land.
“When the surge is higher, the seawater intrudes into our houses and land,” said Ismail Howladar, a 65-year-old farmer growing chilli peppers, sweet potatoes, sunflowers and rice.
“It brings only loss for us.”
Cyclones — which have killed hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh in recent decades — are becoming more frequent as well as growing in intensity and duration due to the impact of climate change, scientists say.
Shahjalal Mia, a 63-year-old restaurant owner, said he watches the sea “grasp more land” each year.
“Many people have lost their homes to the sea already,” he said. “If there is no beach, there won’t be any tourists.”
He said he had experienced cyclones and searing heatwaves grow worse, with temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).
“We are facing two, three, even four cyclones every year now,” he said.
“And I can’t measure temperatures in degrees but, simply put, our bodies can’t endure this.”
Bangladesh is among the countries ranked most vulnerable to disasters and climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index.
In April, the nation of around 170 million people experienced the hottest month, and the most sustained heatwave temperatures, in its history.
Last month, a cyclone that killed at least 17 people and destroyed 35,000 homes, was one of the quickest-forming and longest-lasting seen, the government’s meteorological department said.
Both events were pinned on rising global temperatures.
Ainun Nishat, from Brac University in the capital Dhaka, said that the poorest were paying the price for carbon emissions from wealthier nations.
“We cannot do anything for Bangladesh if other nations, notably rich countries, do not do anything to fight emissions,” he said.
Bangladesh is running out of time, Nishat added.
“It is becoming too late to prevent disasters,” he said. “We are unequipped to bring change.”