Pakistanis abandon hopes of reaching Europe after boat tragedies

Pakistanis abandon hopes of reaching Europe after boat tragedies
In this picture taken on July 18, 2023, Pakistani worker Muhammad Naeem Butt sits with his children at his home in Khuiratta. (AFP)
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Updated 25 July 2023
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Pakistanis abandon hopes of reaching Europe after boat tragedies

Pakistanis abandon hopes of reaching Europe after boat tragedies
  • The International Organization for Migration has declared the Mediterranean passage the world’s most perilous migration route
  • Around 1,728 migrants have gone missing there this year alone, surpassing the 1,417 disappearances recorded in 2022

KHUIRATTA: After spending weeks in Libya trying to reach Europe illegally, Mohammed Naeem Butt turned back — abandoning a journey that has already cost hundreds of Pakistani lives this summer.

Shoveling sand onto a truck surrounded by Pakistan’s Kashmir Valley, he says he ended his treacherous bid for a better life when an overloaded fishing trawler sank off the coast of Greece last month.

Up to 350 Pakistanis were believed to be among the 600 who drowned, including 24 from Butt’s hometown of Khuiratta in the lush Kashmir Valley.

“Looking back, I realize that the risk I took was not worth it,” Butt said.

Butt is one of several men from Khuiratta who told AFP the disaster prompted them to give up on the journey after reaching Libya.

“Life is defined by the quality time you spend with your children and spouse, not the amount of money you possess,” he said.

Tens of thousands of young men have handed over family fortunes to agents who smuggle them to Europe, from where remittances — even more valuable since Pakistan’s economy slumped into crisis last year — can be wired home.

Butt sought help from friends and family, and his wife sold her precious wedding jewelery to scrape up the 2.2 million rupees (around $7,500) he needed to pay the human traffickers organising the trips.

The first legs of his journey were uneventful — commercial flights to Dubai and Egypt, then overland to Libya, where his ordeal really started.

He spent two months in a makeshift shanty camp with 600 other migrants, waiting for the day they would be put on a cargo ship to make the journey across the Mediterranean.

Instead, they were crowded onto a rickety fishing boat and spent eight days floundering in international waters, where they were first fired on, then rammed, by a Libyan naval vessel, Butt said.

They only stayed afloat because the navy ship abandoned them when a storm struck, he added — but it returned days later to tow them back to port, where they were thrown in jail.

“They gave us the minimal amount of food to keep us alive ... a plate of macaroni or boiled rice would be shared among five people,” Butt said.

“They were brutal people.”

While he was in jail, news reached his hometown of the migrant boat sinking off Greece, causing heartbreak and distress.

“I can’t explain the pain and anguish I went through for a week,” Butt’s wife Mehwish Matloob said.

“I felt as though my entire world had crumbled before me,” the 31-year-old said, clutching a shawl.

Butt finally got out of jail and was able to contact his family to tell them he was alive.

The International Organization for Migration has declared the Mediterranean passage the world’s most perilous migration route.

Around 1,728 migrants have gone missing there this year alone —surpassing the 1,417 disappearances recorded in 2022.

Zafar Iqbal Ghazi of Kashmir’s Human Rights Forum group said more than 175 youngsters from Khuiratta alone left illegally for Europe last year, and he believes any recent pause after the boat incident in Greece will only be temporary.

Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency said 69 smuggling agents had been arrested since a crackdown was launched last month, but prosecutions will be difficult.

“The challenge lies in the fact that most of these youngsters possess valid visas for Dubai, which they use as a starting point to reach Libya,” one FIA official said, speaking anonymously to AFP.


More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza
Updated 20 July 2024
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More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza
  • Rides will run across London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales

LONDON: For three weeks, more than 1,200 people will be cycling in cities across the UK, calling on the newly-elected Labour government to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and to end arms sales to Israel.
The Big Ride was founded in 2015 by activists seeking to combine a passion for cycling with solidarity for Palestine.
This year’s events start on Saturday and run until Aug. 10 in London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales.
The grassroots organization will also be raising funds for Palestinian charities, including the Middle East Children’s Alliance, The Amos Trust, and the Gaza Sunbirds para cycling team, which continue their work in Gaza amidst the ongoing conflict.
Ellen Logan, one of the organizers of The Big Ride, said: “For years we’ve witnessed the daily oppression of the Palestinian people — discrimination, subjugation, and inhumanity. And now we’ve spent the last 10 months watching a live-streamed genocide. Everyone should be outraged and campaigning for an end to this violence.”
Logan added: “We use our bikes and freedoms to raise awareness and provide crucial aid for children and disabled cyclists on the ground in Gaza.”
A recent letter published in British medical journal, The Lancet, estimated the actual death toll in Gaza could be as high as 186,000.
British actress Maxine Peake, who is participating in the cycling event, said: “The Big Ride for Palestine has been raising awareness of this for nearly 10 years now. This year, more riders than ever have signed up, so please join a Big Ride near you.”
 


Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount
Updated 20 July 2024
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Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount
  • Supreme Court hearing on contentious job quotas expected on Sunday
  • At least 103 people dead, including 44 killed in Dhaka on Friday alone

DHAKA: The Bangladeshi military was deployed to the streets to impose a nationwide curfew on Saturday, after more than 100 people were killed in clashes between police and students protesting government job quotas.

The curfew follows a communications blackout that has left the country of 170 million cut off from the world. Television channels were off air and most local news websites were down as the government shut internet services a day earlier.

“Army members will operate in aid to the civil administration under the guidance of district administrators and city commissioners,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kamal told Arab News.

In the capital, the military joined riot police and thousands of Border Guard personnel after the Dhaka Metropolitan Police banned all gatherings amid increasing numbers of casualties.

Students have been demonstrating since the beginning of July against a rule that reserves a bulk of government jobs for the descendants of those who fought in the country’s 1971 liberation war.

At least 103 people have been killed in the past five days and thousands injured, according to a count based on reports in the local media. On Friday alone, at least 44 people were killed in Dhaka, which saw intense clashes between protesters, government supporters and security forces.

Air Commodore (Rtd) Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, a security analyst, told Arab News that the nationwide military-backed curfew and the amount of violence across the country were “something unprecedented.”

He was referring to reports that numerous administration offices were set on fire and government vehicles vandalized on Friday. On Thursday, the headquarters of a state-owned television station was set ablaze.

“We have not seen such vandalism earlier in the country where many significant government establishments were vandalized and set on fire,” Choudhury said.

The government abolished the controversial quota system after student protests in 2018, but the High Court reinstated it in June, triggering protests.

An appeal hearing is expected at the Supreme Court on Sunday morning.

Under the quota system, 56 percent of public service jobs are reserved for specific groups, including women, marginalized communities and children and grandchildren of freedom fighters — for whom the government earmarks 30 percent of the posts.

These quotas, which reserve hundreds of thousands of government jobs, hit young people directly.

The country’s unemployment rate is the highest among people aged between 15 and 29 — more than a fourth of Bangladesh’s population — who constitute 83 percent of the total unemployed.


Trump to hold first campaign rally after assassination attempt

Trump to hold first campaign rally after assassination attempt
Updated 20 July 2024
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Trump to hold first campaign rally after assassination attempt

Trump to hold first campaign rally after assassination attempt
  • Trump and Vance will take the stage in Grand Rapids with the Republican Party unified behind them after this week’s nominating convention

GRAND RAPIDS:Donald Trump will hold his first campaign rally on Saturday since he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt one week ago and fresh from his nominating convention where his takeover of the Republican Party was cemented.
Trump will appear in Grand Rapids, in the battleground state of Michigan, along with his new vice presidential pick, Ohio US Senator J.D. Vance. It will be their first campaign event together as the now official Republican presidential ticket.
Republican Party officials said during Trump’s nominating convention in Milwaukee this week that his brush with death last Saturday had changed him, and that when he made his acceptance speech on Thursday night he would call for national unity.
While Trump began the address with a call for unity and national healing, much of his speech was his well-known list of grievances and attacks on opponents.
It is unclear what type of a speech Trump will deliver on Saturday, but his diehard supporters typically flock to such events to hear Trump’s more traditional inflammatory rhetoric.
Trump and Vance will take the stage in Grand Rapids with the Republican Party unified behind them after this week’s nominating convention. In contrast, the Democrats are in turmoil and it is no longer certain that President Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee facing Trump in the Nov. 5 election.
Biden is facing mounting calls from many elected officials in his own party to step aside as the party’s White House candidate and to end his re-election bid, after his poor debate performance against Trump last month.
Biden is trailing in opinion polls and is behind in every swing state against Trump. Many Democrats fear he may have virtually no path to victory and that the party needs a new presidential candidate to take on Trump.
The rally in Grand Rapids will be in an indoor arena, unlike the event in Butler, Pennsylvania last weekend, which was outdoors. At that event, the gunman was able to scale the roof of a building outside the Secret Service perimeter before opening fire on Trump, clipping his ear, killing a rally-goer and wounding several others.
The US Secret Service, which is responsible for protecting Trump, declined to comment on security for the Grand Rapids event. An investigation is under way into the security failures at the Butler rally.
“The Secret Service does not discuss the means and methods used for our protective operations,” the agency said in a statement.
Trump gave a detailed account of his narrow brush with death in his convention speech on Thursday, telling the audience that he was only talking to them “by the grace of Almighty God.”


Senegal detains boat carrying 200 migrants

Senegal detains boat carrying 200 migrants
Updated 20 July 2024
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Senegal detains boat carrying 200 migrants

Senegal detains boat carrying 200 migrants

DAKAR: Senegal’s army said Saturday that it had intercepted a boat carrying over 200 migrants trying to reach Europe, after nearly 90 died when attempting the dangerous Atlantic crossing earlier this month.
The boat intercepted by the patrol boat in fishing waters near Lompoul in northwest Senegal on Friday was carrying 202 people, including five women and a minor, the army posted on X.
In early July, a boat carrying around 170 people who set off from Senegal capsized off the coast of Mauritania, killing nearly 90 people.
The disaster prompted Senegal’s President Ousmane Sonko to urge people not to risk the Atlantic Ocean’s currents in overcrowded vessels that often are not seaworthy.
But the route is increasingly used as authorities step up surveillance in the Mediterranean.
“I once again make a plea to the young: your solution is not to be found in boats,” Sonko told a crowd of youths in Saint-Louis.
“The future of the world is in Africa... the only continent that still has the significant scope for progress and growth.”
According to the Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras, more than 5,000 people died trying to reach Spain by sea in the first five months of this year, representing the highest daily average toll since it began keeping records in 2007.


Two killed in overnight strikes on Ukraine

Two killed in overnight strikes on Ukraine
Updated 20 July 2024
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Two killed in overnight strikes on Ukraine

Two killed in overnight strikes on Ukraine

KYIV: At least two people were killed and four wounded in a Russian airstrike overnight on Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region, the regional prosecutor said Saturday.
“Around 3:15 in the morning the enemy launched a missile attack on the town of Barvinkove, in Izium district,” the prosecutor said in a statement.
It listed the dead as two men aged 48 and 69 and said around 50 buildings were damaged in the strike, apparently by three Russian Iskander missiles.
Another strike hit an agricultural business in the village of Oleksiivka, it said, though there were no reported casualties.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been urging his nation’s allies to step up air defense support to be able to intercept Russian missiles and drones raining down daily on the country over nearly 30 months of conflict.
The death toll in a Russian strike Friday on a playground in the southern city of Mykolaiv rose to four, including one child, with 24 injured, its mayor Oleksander Senkevitch posted on Telegram.