Indonesia vows to assist Rohingya refugees humanely amid surge of arrivals

Rohingya refugees gather and rest at a beach in Pidie district in Indonesia’s Aceh province on Dec. 10, 2023. (AFP)
Rohingya refugees gather and rest at a beach in Pidie district in Indonesia’s Aceh province on Dec. 10, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 10 December 2023
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Indonesia vows to assist Rohingya refugees humanely amid surge of arrivals

Rohingya refugees gather and rest at a beach in Pidie district in Indonesia’s Aceh province on Dec. 10, 2023. (AFP)
  • Over 1,200 Rohingya refugees have arrived in Aceh since mid-November
  • Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees

JAKARTA: Indonesia will continue to handle the influx of Rohingya refugees humanely, the National Refugee Task Force said on Sunday, after the latest batch of people from the minority group arrived in the westernmost province of Aceh amid a pushback from local residents. 

Two boats carrying more than 300 Rohingya refugees docked at different beaches in Aceh Besar and Pidie districts in the early hours of Sunday. Most are women and children who left their refugee camps in Bangladesh last month and had been adrift for weeks in the Andaman Sea. 

More than 1,200 Rohingya refugees have arrived in Aceh since mid-November and were met with some opposition from local authorities and residents, who threatened to push them back to sea. 

The safety of the Rohingya is a priority for the government, Indonesia’s National Refugee Task Force said. 

“We will continue to handle the Rohingya refugees humanely, even when many local residents are rejecting them,” Eros Shidqy Putra, a member of the task force, told Arab News. 

“Our main priority is their safety. For Aceh residents, we are also trying to raise awareness about the refugee situation.” 

The mostly Muslim Rohingya have faced decades of suffering in Myanmar and are described as the “world’s most persecuted minority” by the UN. 

In 2017, more than 730,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh following a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military that the UN said amounted to genocide. For the last six years, the refugees lived in squalid and overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar where humanitarian aid has dwindled, facing rising insecurity and uncertainty. 

Over 3,500 Rohingya attempted deadly sea crossings in 2022, more than 340 of whom died or went missing, highlighting the “growing sense of desperation” among them in both Myanmar and Bangladesh, the UN said earlier this year. 

The Indonesian government suspected human trafficking behind the recent escalation in boat arrivals, President Joko Widodo said on Friday, as he promised to work with international organizations to address the issue. 

Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, but has a history of taking in refugees on humanitarian grounds when they arrive on the country’s shores.

This year’s arrivals prompted a backlash on social media and some pushback from people in Aceh, but the rejection of Rohingya refugees has been around since 2018, according to Geutanyoe, an Aceh-based humanitarian organization which has worked with Rohingya refugees for over a decade. 

Geutanyoe director Al-Fadhel said the opposition in Aceh has mostly been protests against the official handling of refugees in the province, which does not have permanently designated shelters to host them. 

“In Aceh, the handling of refugees has always been on an emergency basis,” Fadhel told Arab News in a phone interview. “So the rejection has mostly been a form of protest on the silence of the local government, and the absence of a good mechanism to handle the arrival of refugees in Aceh.”

There was no opposition during programs organized by Geutanyoe, which saw participation of the local community and the Rohingya, he said, adding that the handling of the refugee situation in Aceh must prioritize protection for both local residents and the Rohingya.

“The refugee situation is a humanitarian issue that we must address, to which we must give our assistance. But there are also legal aspects that we must uphold, because in their arrivals there must be people who are involved in smuggling, and this needs to be sorted.”


Maverick left-winger Galloway, an advocate of a free Palestine, wins in English town

Maverick left-winger Galloway, an advocate of a free Palestine, wins in English town
Updated 01 March 2024
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Maverick left-winger Galloway, an advocate of a free Palestine, wins in English town

Maverick left-winger Galloway, an advocate of a free Palestine, wins in English town
  • The maverick won over many of Rochdale’s Muslim community by attacking both Labour and Britain’s governing Conservatives for supporting Israel in its war against Hamas
  • His victory underlines the divisions in Britain over the Israel-Hamas war, which is in its fifth month and has brought protesters onto British streets in support of both sides

LONDON: Veteran left-wing political maverick George Galloway won a vote to become the new lawmaker for the English town of Rochdale on Friday, vowing to be a thorn in the side for the opposition Labour Party before a national election it is tipped to win.

After running a pro-Palestinian campaign, Galloway won over many of Rochdale’s Muslim community by attacking both Labour and Britain’s governing Conservatives for supporting Israel in its war against Hamas, making a foreign conflict the major issue — unusual in a by-election when local concerns usually dominate.
Elected to parliament for the seventh time, Galloway will be an irritant to Labour, a party he once belonged to before being ejected for criticizing then-prime minister Tony Blair over the Iraq War. He even went so far as saying the assassination of Blair would be “morally justified” for Britain’s involvement.
His victory underlines the divisions in Britain over the Israel-Hamas war, which is in its fifth month and has brought protesters onto British streets in support of both sides.
More than 30,000 people have been killed during Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, Palestinian health authorities say. This follows an attack by Hamas militants in southern Israel on Oct. 7, when Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 254 taken hostage.
British lawmakers have faced threats to do more to bring an end to the fighting in Gaza.
With the national election later this year, Galloway’s return to parliament will be short-lived but explosive. He has accused Labour leader Keir Starmer of being in the “pocket of Israel.”
Galloway won 12,335 votes compared with 6,638 for second-placed David Tully, an independent candidate. The former Labour candidate, Azhar Ali, came fourth after the opposition party pulled its support from him after he was recorded espousing conspiracy theories about Israel.
“(Labour leader) Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza,” Galloway said in his victory speech.

Turnout was low at 39.7 percent.
It will be the first time Galloway’s left-wing Workers Party of Britain has been represented in parliament.
For some in Rochdale, a former cotton mill town near to Manchester, the so-called by-election, triggered by the death of Labour lawmaker Tony Lloyd last month, had failed to offer them a clear choice of someone determined to help their town, ranked in the top 5 percent most deprived English local authorities in 2019.
Galloway also campaigned to reinstate maternity services in Rochdale but it was his message on Gaza that rang loudest.
He has vowed to speak out on Gaza in parliament, challenging Labour, which initially gave full backing to Israel following the Oct. 7 attack. The party has since shifted its position to call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.
It is a headache Starmer could do without. He has struggled to maintain party unity over its position on Gaza. He avoided having to put the divisions on show last week when his party was allowed to put forward its own stance on a ceasefire.
Galloway, a colorful figure who became well known after he impersonated a cat on a reality television show in 2006, will try to exploit Labour’s divisions.
“I will go into the House of Commons like a tornado... if you elect me. (Prime Minister) Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer will be terrified as they see me coming through the doors,” he told voters, according to the Times newspaper.


Colombia pauses buying Israeli weapons and president calls war in Gaza ‘genocide’

Colombia pauses buying Israeli weapons and president calls war in Gaza ‘genocide’
Updated 01 March 2024
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Colombia pauses buying Israeli weapons and president calls war in Gaza ‘genocide’

Colombia pauses buying Israeli weapons and president calls war in Gaza ‘genocide’
  • Israel had earlier suspended security exports to Colombia in a diplomatic spat over online messages by Colombia’s president against Israel’s siege of Gaza
  • Colombia, a key US ally and one of Israel’s closest partners in Latin America, but ties cooled since Gustavo Petro became the country’s first leftist president in 2022

BOGOTA, Colombia: Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro announced Thursday his government is suspending purchases of weapons from Israel after Palestinians say Israeli troops fired at people seeking food in Gaza, marking an escalation of tensions between both countries over the Israel-Hamas war.

Describing the deaths as “genocide,” Petro said he blamed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the violence around the aid convoy. Health officials in Gaza say at least 112 people were killed, bringing the war’s death toll to more than 30,000 people. Israel said many of the dead were trampled in a chaotic stampede for the food.
Petro’s statement came months after Israel suspended security exports to Colombia in a diplomatic spat over online messages by Colombia’s president comparing Israel’s siege of Gaza to the actions of Nazi Germany.
“Asking for food, more than 100 Palestinians were killed by Netanyahu,” Petro said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “This is called genocide and is reminiscent of the Holocaust even if the world powers do not like to recognize it. The world must block Netanyahu. Colombia suspends all purchases of weapons from Israel.”
Colombia has been a key US ally for years and one of Israel’s closest partners in Latin America. Relations with Israel and the US have cooled since Petro was elected as the country’s first leftist president in 2022, although Bogota and Washington have stayed on relatively good terms despite differences over US drug policy and Venezuela.
Colombia uses Israeli-built warplanes and machine guns to fight drug cartels and rebel groups, and both countries signed a free trade agreement in 2020.
Colombia deepened its military ties with Israel in the late 1980s by purchasing a group of Kfir fighter jets capable of using laser-guided bombs. They were used by Colombia’s air force in numerous attacks on remote guerrilla camps that debilitated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, helping push the group into peace talks that resulted in its disarmament in 2016.
Weeks after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel that sparked the current war in Gaza and killed some 1,200 people, Petro also recalled Colombia’s ambassador to Israel as he criticized the country’s military offensive.
Since the conflict began, Colombia has repatriated more than 300 of its citizens on humanitarian flights. One of its air force planes also carried humanitarian aid to Egypt to be delivered to the Palestinian population.


US probes security risks posed by Chinese tech in cars

US probes security risks posed by Chinese tech in cars
Updated 01 March 2024
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US probes security risks posed by Chinese tech in cars

US probes security risks posed by Chinese tech in cars
  • The latest investigation concerns vehicles that constantly connect with personal devices, other cars, US infrastructure and their manufacturers — including electric and self-driving cars

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden announced an investigation Thursday into the national security risks posed by Chinese tech in cars, warning they could be used to collect sensitive data.
He has ordered the Commerce Department to conduct the probe, focusing on connected vehicles containing technology from “countries of concern” such as China, and to respond to threats.
“China is determined to dominate the future of the auto market, including by using unfair practices,” Biden said in a statement.
“China’s policies could flood our market with its vehicles, posing risks to our national security.”
Washington has been working to lower the US auto sector’s reliance on China, offering tax breaks for American-made electric vehicles and batteries, while trying to build up its domestic production capacity.
The latest investigation concerns vehicles that constantly connect with personal devices, other cars, US infrastructure and their manufacturers — including electric and self-driving cars.
As part of the probe, Commerce will collect information with a 60-day public comment period.
Authorities could eventually impose limits on some transactions but officials did not commit to a timeline.

The White House said connected vehicles collect vast amounts of data on drivers and passengers, log information on US infrastructure through cameras and sensors, and can be piloted or disabled remotely.
“New vulnerabilities” could arise if a foreign government gained access to their systems or data, it added.
“This is yet another acknowledgment by the Biden administration that critical and emerging technologies are set to shape both economic growth and national security,” Thibault Denamiel of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told AFP.
It is noteworthy that the new measure considers “risks associated by technology transfers into the United States,” he added.
Previous moves, such as outbound investment restrictions and semiconductor export controls, focused on transfers from the United States to foreign countries.

“China imposes restrictions on American autos and other foreign autos operating in China,” said Biden.
“Why should connected vehicles from China be allowed to operate in our country without safeguards?” he added.
While there are not many such vehicles containing China-made tech on US roads currently, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo stressed the need to “understand the extent of the technology in these cars.”
A senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity it is important to act before there are large numbers of these vehicles in the country, with China’s automobile export market growing rapidly and making strong inroads including in Europe.
In a January post-earnings conference call, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Chinese car companies were “the most competitive” globally, expecting that they would likely be successful outside China.
“If there are not trade barriers established, they will pretty much demolish most other car companies in the world,” he said.
The Alliance for American Manufacturing welcomed the investigation, calling for more to be done including higher tariffs and limiting EV tax credits.
In November, 14 members of Congress signed letters to 10 China-related companies involved in the auto sector — including Baidu, Didi Chuxing and AutoX — raising concerns over the handling of data collected when testing autonomous vehicles in the United States.
Besides autos, the White House said this week that Biden was issuing an executive order aimed at limiting the flow of sensitive US personal data abroad.


French President Macron calls for immediate ceasefire in Gaza

French President Macron calls for immediate ceasefire in Gaza
Updated 01 March 2024
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French President Macron calls for immediate ceasefire in Gaza

French President Macron calls for immediate ceasefire in Gaza

French President Emmanuel Macron called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza on Friday and said the situation in Gaza is “terrible.”
“Deep indignation at the images coming from Gaza where civilians have been targeted by Israeli soldiers. I express my strongest condemnation of these shootings and call for truth, justice, and respect for international law,” Macron said in a post on the social platform X, formerly known as Twitter.


US Supreme Court’s move to hear Trump’s immunity claim gives him gift of delay

US Supreme Court’s move to hear Trump’s immunity claim gives him gift of delay
Updated 01 March 2024
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US Supreme Court’s move to hear Trump’s immunity claim gives him gift of delay

US Supreme Court’s move to hear Trump’s immunity claim gives him gift of delay
  • Trump’s lawyers have argued that he should be shielded from prosecution for his effort to reverse President Joe Biden’s election victory over him because he was president when he took those actions
  • Some legal experts criticized the Supreme Court, whose 6-3 conservative majority includes three Trump appointees, for undue delay

WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court appears likely to reject Donald Trump’s claim of immunity from prosecution for trying to undo his 2020 election loss, according to legal experts, but its decision to spend months on the matter could aid his quest to regain the presidency by further delaying a monumental criminal trial.
Trump’s lawyers have argued that he should be shielded from prosecution for his effort to reverse President Joe Biden’s election victory over him because he was president when he took those actions, a sweeping assertion of immunity firmly rejected by lower courts.
But the Supreme Court’s decision not to schedule its arguments on the issue until late April reduces the chances that a trial on election subversion charges brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith could be finished before the Nov. 5 US election. Trump is cruising toward the Republican nomination to challenge Biden, a Democrat.
Some legal experts criticized the Supreme Court, whose 6-3 conservative majority includes three Trump appointees, for undue delay.
“They could have set a more aggressive briefing and argument schedule, as Smith requested,” University of Michigan law professor Leah Litman said. “The immunity claims are also outlandish. They could have been rejected on the papers (legal briefs) if they wanted to be the one to decide it.”
“They’ll reject his immunity bid,” Litman added, but forecast that the soonest a decision would come is May.
Legal experts said the justices would need to rule by about June 1 to leave enough time for Trump’s trial on the charges to wrap up before Election Day.
Smith, seeking to avoid trial delays, had asked the justices on Dec. 11 to launch a fast-track review of the immunity claim. Trump asked the justices to not expedite the review, and on Dec. 22 they did what he requested, opting to let the matter play out in a lower court rather than resolving it right away.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Feb. 6 upheld US District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s Dec. 1 ruling rejecting the immunity claim. Trump on Feb. 12 asked the Supreme Court to freeze the D.C. Circuit ruling. On Feb. 14, Smith asked the justices to reject Trump’s bid to further delay the matter. It took the court two more weeks before it announced it would hear arguments in the matter, which it scheduled for the week of April 22.
The trial had been scheduled to start on March 4 before the delays over the immunity issue. Now no trial date is set.

Four prosecutions
The case is one of four criminal prosecutions Trump faces. A March 25 trial date has been set on charges in state court in New York involving hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. It is unclear when the other criminal cases will go to trial.
Trump has pleaded not guilty in all four cases, seeking to portray them as politically motivated.
“I should not have to go through any fake prosecutions before the election,” Trump wrote on social media on Feb. 19.
A criminal conviction could harm Trump’s election chances. In Reuters/Ipsos opinion polls, a quarter of Republicans and half of independents said they would not vote for Trump if a jury convicted him of a felony.
If he is elected and becomes president again next January, he could order an end to this case and a second brought by Smith concerning Trump’s handling of classified documents — or seek to pardon himself for any federal convictions.
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, who worked with Trump during the 2020 campaign, said of the delays in the trial timeline as the Supreme Court resolves the immunity matter: “It’s hard to overstate what a victory this is politically for the Trump legal team and for Donald Trump.”
“This is a great benefit to Trump in terms of the timeline of these cases, and how they may interact with the election, particularly in the fall,” O’Connell said.

Slowing things down
University of Michigan law professor Barbara McQuade, a former senior federal prosecutor appointed by President Barack Obama, said that a time frame for the election subversion trial “is manageable as long as the Supreme Court acts promptly, and remains mindful of the public’s right to a speedy trial.”
McQuade added that “it seems likely that the court will uphold the D.C. Circuit ruling against Trump.”
“I think that Trump’s arguments are pretty thin,” added Georgetown University law professor Erica Hashimoto.
Chutkan has promised to give Trump about 90 days to prepare for trial once the case returns to her courtroom, with a trial expected to last six to eight weeks. For a verdict to come before the election, the trial would need to start by around Sept. 1, McQuade said.
UCLA School of Law elections expert Richard Hasen said that if the Supreme Court’s ruling comes in late June, “it is not at all clear that there could be a trial before the election.”
“I’m also skeptical the judge would make Trump go to trial if he’s the general election candidate on the Republican side,” Hasen added.
Hasen forecast that the Supreme Court “is likely to reject Trump’s immunity argument on the merits.”
Delaying the trial gives Trump more time to rally supporters around his claim that the charges were politically motivated, an assertion that Reuters/Ipsos polls show is broadly held by Republican voters.
Some experts cite Trump’s long-established record of making strategic use of court delays for legal and political advantage.
Hasen noted that “given the weakness of Trump’s position, it’s reasonable to ask whether this is simply an attempt, now more likely to be successful, to run out the clock.”