Leading refugee advocate tells faith leaders they ‘must do more’

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Updated 18 August 2023
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Leading refugee advocate tells faith leaders they ‘must do more’

Leading refugee advocate tells faith leaders they ‘must do more’
  • Rally your congregations, urges MedGlobal’s Dr. Zaher Sahloul
  • Addresses gathering of 10,000 leaders, activists hosted by Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago

CHICAGO: The head of one of the world’s leading aid organizations told religious leaders at a gathering in Chicago this week that they were “not doing enough” to raise public awareness of the globe’s growing refugee crisis.

Dr. Zaher Sahloul, president and founder of MedGlobal, which organizes relief and medical support for refugees around the world including in the Middle East, said public concerns for vulnerable groups have been pushed aside over the past few years. This was because of an increase in violence, conflict, natural disasters and the effects of people campaigning on social media for individual concerns.

Addressing a gathering of nearly 10,000 religious leaders and activists at a convention hosted by the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, Sahloul said the refugee problem was a crisis that continues to worsen. He urged those in attendance to rally their congregations to increase public awareness, empathy and support.

“I blame our faith leaders and policymakers. Maybe social media has a role also because we are bombarded by many crises and people are fixated on certain things. And maybe we are numbed as a society or global community because you have ... wildfire in Maui that killed 95 people. You have wars everywhere. You have Ukraine. You have climate change. You have all kinds of stuff. And then the refugees,” Sahloul said, noting that all three major religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, prescribe great care for refugees.

“I blame faith leaders because they are not making this a priority to their communities. So, we are not hearing that much in churches, in temples, in synagogues or in mosques about refugees despite the refugee crisis. We are not paying attention. In order to sympathize with people you have first of all to know that these people are suffering and then you need to pay attention and educate your community and tell them this is important in our tradition. It is not happening.”

Citing an example, Sahloul alleged that the Russian Orthodox Church was taking sides in the Ukraine war rather than speaking out in defense of refugees.

During an appearance on The Ray Hanania Radio Show Wednesday Aug. 16, Sahloul said tragedies involving refugees have become “so common” that they do not receive the urgency or the heightened attention that they had in the past. The refugee crisis, he said, has become “normalized.”

“It’s huge, boiling under the surface as they say. Right now we have more displaced people and refugees than ever since World War II,” Sahloul said.

“So, some of the estimates from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is that we have about 100 million displaced persons in the world. When we talk about displaced persons, we have to differentiate that from refugees. Refugees are the ones, the persons displaced outside of their country, while a displaced person could be also displaced within their country. We can give an example in Syria because we have a civil war that started 13 years ago, half of the population of Syria are displaced inside their country. So, someone from Damascus lives in Idlib, in Raqqa or in Homs because their areas was completely destroyed or was unsafe and now they are displaced within their countries.”

Sahloul said there are about 30 million refugees, mostly from the Middle East, with Syria being the primary nation of origin.

“(The) refugee is the person who fled their countries because of persecution or because of war. For whatever reason, civil war or external war, to other countries. And there are about 30 million refugees today most of them are from the Middle East,” Sahloul said.

“Syria is still the first country in terms of exporting refugees. There are 6.5 million Syrian refugees, that means people who left Syria to neighboring countries and beyond neighboring countries to Europe and other countries. (That’s) 6.5 million in a country, Syria, that has a population of 22 million. That means one-third of that population left Syria and they are outside of Syria because of the war.”

Sahloul said the top three countries of origin for refugees are Syria with 25 percent, Ukraine and Afghanistan.

But Sahloul said there are also refugees from Sudan, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Eritrea and Myanmar, which includes the Rohingya community. The largest refugee camp is of Rohingyas in Bangladesh with more than 750,000 people.

He said that the public often confuses terms when addressing refugees noting there are different categories of people who have left their homes for various reasons — they are Refugees, Displaced Persons, Economic Migrants and Forced Humanitarian Migrants.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions was launched during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This featured among its many displays, a huge exhibit called “Street in Cairo”  with 26 buildings, including a mosque and shops. In addition, there was also a “typical” Arab home featured, that of the leading gold merchant Gamal Al-Din Al-Dhahabi, and an Egyptian Luxor Temple.

The Ray Hanania Radio show is broadcast every Wednesday on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Washington D.C. on WDMV AM 700 radio.

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.


Indonesian president secures UAE deal on new capital’s financial center

Indonesian president secures UAE deal on new capital’s financial center
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Indonesian president secures UAE deal on new capital’s financial center

Indonesian president secures UAE deal on new capital’s financial center
  • Widodo awarded Order of Zayed for strengthening UAE-Indonesian relations
  • First phase of the new capital megaproject is scheduled for completion in 2024

JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo secured a deal during his UAE trip to involve Dubai’s financial hub in the new capital project, Nusantara, his office said on Thursday.

Widodo arrived in the UAE on a two-day working visit on Tuesday and was hosted by the Gulf state’s president, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

The two countries agreed to “significant bilateral cooperation in various sectors,” Indonesia’s Cabinet Secretariat said in a statement, as it listed eight agreements signed during the trip, including in the areas of renewable energy, tourism ecosystems, payments systems, and the “MoU (memorandum of understanding) between the international financial hub Dubai International Financial Centre Authority and the Nusantara National Capital Authority.”

Southeast Asia’s largest economy is relocating its capital to Borneo island to replace the overcrowded and sinking Jakarta on Java island, with the $33 billion megaproject scheduled for completion in 2045.

The mammoth undertaking is expected to mostly rely on private investors, with government funding planned to cover 20 percent of the total expenditure.

“In the field of strategic investment, the UEA’s contribution is increasingly significant in the development of the Indonesian Capital City,” Widodo said on X.

While construction works are underway and the central government expected to begin operations in the new city in 2024, the new capital has begun work on its financial center area, where Indonesia’s largest state-owned banks — Bank Mandiri, Bank Rakyat Indonesia, and Bank Negara Indonesia — broke ground on their new corporate offices earlier this year.

The financial center will cover 260 hectares within the city’s broader business district.

Through the MoU between Dubai International Financial Centre and Nusantara Capital City Authority, Indonesia and the UAE are “forming a new framework to ultimately grow the two financial ecosystems,” DIFC governor Essa Kazim said, the UAE state news agency reported on Thursday.

“As the UAE and Indonesia collaborate and innovate to drive economic growth and social impact in both countries, DIFC as MEASA’s (the Middle East, Africa, and Southern Asia) global leading financial center, is perfectly positioned to facilitate significant opportunities by way of this strategic partnership,” he said.

The ambitious move to relocate the capital from Jakarta about 2,000 km away in the middle of a forest is a flagship project for Widodo, who officially launched it in 2019.

The first phase of construction is scheduled for completion in 2024, in what has been widely seen as the president’s attempt to seal his legacy before the end of his second and final term in office in October this year.

During the UAE trip, Sheikh Mohamed presented Widodo with the Order of Zayed for his efforts in strengthening UAE-Indonesian relations.

The order is the highest civilian honor in the UAE and is bestowed upon leaders and heads of state.

During Widodo’s second term, the countries signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in July 2022 — Indonesia’s first free trade deal with a Middle Eastern country.

“Building upon the close and enduring ties between the UAE and Indonesia, we explored opportunities to further expand our economic partnership,” Sheikh Mohamed said on X.

“I extend my sincere thanks to President Widodo for his tireless efforts during his time in office to strengthen the bonds between our two nations.”


British public were failed by flawed planning for COVID pandemic, inquiry finds

A person holds a placard with an image of former PM Rishi Sunak promoting the government’s “Eat out to help out” scheme.
A person holds a placard with an image of former PM Rishi Sunak promoting the government’s “Eat out to help out” scheme.
Updated 11 min 56 sec ago
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British public were failed by flawed planning for COVID pandemic, inquiry finds

A person holds a placard with an image of former PM Rishi Sunak promoting the government’s “Eat out to help out” scheme.
  • Britain recorded one of the world’s highest number of fatalities from COVID with more than 230,000 deaths reported by December 2023
  • Nation’s finances are still suffering from economic consequences

LONDON: Britain let down its citizens by leaving the nation ill-prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic because of significantly flawed planning and failures by ministers and scientific experts, a public inquiry concluded in a scathing report on Thursday.
Britain recorded one of the world’s highest number of fatalities from COVID with more than 230,000 deaths reported by December 2023, while the nation’s finances are still suffering from the economic consequences.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered an inquiry in May 2021, and its first report, which examined the nation’s preparedness for an outbreak, was damning.
“Had the UK been better prepared for and more resilient to the pandemic, some of the financial and human cost may have been avoided,” the report by the inquiry chair, former judge Heather Hallett, said in the report.
“The inquiry has no hesitation in concluding that the processes, planning and policy of the civil contingency structures within the UK government and devolved administrations and civil service failed their citizens.”
The inquiry found there had been a “lack of adequate leadership” with “groupthink” clouding expert advice. Ministers had not been given a broad enough range of opinions, and then had failed to sufficiently challenge what they did receive.
A flawed 2011 strategy, which had underpinned the nation’s preparations for such an emergency, had prepared for only one type of pandemic — influenza.
It was outdated, had focused on dealing with the impact of an outbreak rather than trying to prevent its spread, and had not taken into account the economic and social impact, the report said. That strategy was virtually abandoned on its first encounter with COVID.
“The Secretaries of State for Health ... who adhered to the strategy, the experts and officials who advised them to do so, and the governments of the devolved nations that adopted it, all bear responsibility for failing to have these flaws examined and rectified,” the report said.
Radical reform
Hallett made 10 recommendations, saying preparation for a civil emergency should be treated the same way as a threat from a hostile state.
“There must be radical reform. Never again can a disease be allowed to lead to so many deaths and so much suffering,” she said in her introduction to the report.
Her inquiry’s first module has only examined Britain’s preparedness, and later reports will provide assessments of the more politically charged issues of decision-making during the pandemic against a backdrop of widespread accusations of government incompetence.
Johnson himself was forced from office in July 2022, with revelations of parties during COVID lockdowns among the many scandals that ended his premiership. A parliamentary committee later concluded he had misled lawmakers over the parties.
Rishi Sunak, the finance minister during the pandemic who later became prime minister, was also fined for breaking lockdown rules at the time.
“We know that for lives to be saved in the future, lessons must be learnt from the mistakes of the past,” Brenda Doherty said on behalf of the campaign group COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK ahead of the report’s release.
“Sadly, nobody knows the true cost of the government’s failure to prepare as we do.”


Passenger train derails in India, killing at least 2 passengers and injuring 20 others

Passenger train derails in India, killing at least 2 passengers and injuring 20 others
Updated 29 min 24 sec ago
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Passenger train derails in India, killing at least 2 passengers and injuring 20 others

Passenger train derails in India, killing at least 2 passengers and injuring 20 others
  • Last year, a train crash in eastern India killed over 280 people in one of the country’s deadliest accidents in decades
  • In June, a cargo train rammed into a passenger train in the eastern state of West Bengal, killing nine people and injuring dozens of others

LUCKNOW, India: A passenger train derailed on Thursday in northern India, killing at least two passengers and injuring 20 others, a railroad official said. The cause of the accident is being investigated.
Naveen Kumar, a state relief commissioner, said rescuers and ambulances have reached the site of the accident.
The train was on its way to Dibrugarh, a town in northeastern Assam state, from the northern city of Chandigarh when it derailed near the town of Gonda, causing some coaches to overturn.
Television images showed scores of passengers standing next to derailed coaches waiting for rescuers.
In June, a cargo train rammed into a passenger train in the eastern state of West Bengal, killing nine people and injuring dozens of others. Investigators said the driver of the cargo train, who was among the dead, disregarded a signal and caused the collision.
Last year, a train crash in eastern India killed over 280 people in one of the country’s deadliest accidents in decades.
More than 12 million people ride 14,000 trains across India daily, traveling on 64,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) of track. Despite government efforts to improve rail safety, several hundred accidents happen annually, most blamed on human error or outdated signaling equipment.


North Korea launching more trash balloons: Seoul military

North Korea launching more trash balloons: Seoul military
Updated 18 July 2024
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North Korea launching more trash balloons: Seoul military

North Korea launching more trash balloons: Seoul military
  • This is the eighth round of trash-carrying balloons launched by Pyongyang since late May
  • In response to the trash balloons, Seoul has fully suspended a tension-reducing military deal

SEOUL: North Korea is launching more balloons believed to be carrying trash toward the South, Seoul’s military said Thursday, in the latest round of a tit-for-tat balloon war between the two Koreas.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North was “launching (suspected) trash balloons aimed at the South once again,” adding they were currently floating across the border.
“Citizens are advised to be cautious of falling debris. If you find any fallen balloons do not touch them and report them to the nearest military unit or police station,” it added.
Seoul city authorities issued an alert to residents Thursday, saying “a suspected balloon from North Korea is confirmed to have entered the airspace of Northern Gyeonggi province. Citizens should be cautious of outside activities.”
This is the eighth round of trash-carrying balloons launched by Pyongyang since late May.
The nuclear-armed North has already sent more than a thousand of the balloons south, calling it retaliation for ones carrying anti-regime propaganda floated northwards by activists south of the border.
In response to the trash balloons, Seoul has fully suspended a tension-reducing military deal and restarted some propaganda broadcasts from loudspeakers along the border.
It has also carried out live-fire drills in some border areas.
The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said last week that more “dirty leaflets” from South Korean “scum” had been found in the North’s territory along the border, warning they would pay “a very high price.”
Kim Yo Jong, a key regime spokesperson, went on to say that North Korean military personnel were “now making an all-out search, throwing into fire and disposing of the found rubbishes,” according to a statement from the official Korean Central News Agency.


Italy sends humanitarian flight with aid for Gaza population

Italy sends humanitarian flight with aid for Gaza population
Updated 18 July 2024
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Italy sends humanitarian flight with aid for Gaza population

Italy sends humanitarian flight with aid for Gaza population
  • Aid includes over 60 tons of food, hygiene kits and sanitary equipment, along with 150 tents
  • The flight, which departed from the southern city of Brindisi, has landed in the Jordan capital of Amman from where the materials will be delivered to Gaza

ROME: Italy has sent food supplies and health equipment for the Gaza population aboard a humanitarian flight that landed in Jordan, a statement said on Thursday, as part of Rome’s “Food for Gaza” initiative to help civilians there.
Aid includes over 60 tons of food, hygiene kits and sanitary equipment, along with 150 tents. The flight, which departed from the southern city of Brindisi, has landed in the Jordan capital of Amman from where the materials will be delivered to Gaza.
“With this operation we give a tangible demonstration of the attention that the Italian government is dedicating to the humanitarian situation in the Strip,” Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said.
He added Italy was committed “to do everything possible to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian population in Gaza.”
The Food for Gaza initiative is led by Italy together with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food program (WFP) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
On Wednesday, the US military announced that its mission to install and operate a temporary, floating pier off the coast of Gaza was complete, formally ending an effort to bring humanitarian aid to Palestinians.
Italy said in May it would allocate 30 million euros ($32.8 million) in the Food for Gaza plan, as it resumed funding for the United Nations’ Palestinian relief organization UNRWA.
UNRWA faced criticism over allegations that some of its staff were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that triggered the Gaza war. ($1 = 0.9151 euros)