FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Monday:  July 28, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Asylum (2)

Monday
Sep102012

Australia asylum seekers pour in as others sent to Nauru (REPORT) 

(Video: Al Jazeera English)

(September 11, 2012) - Australia's ruling Labor party still hopes its asylum seeker people-swap deal with Malaysia will succeed, with Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirming the government would continue to ‘‘vigorously prosecute’’ the  arrangement.

As the government prepares to send the first handful of asylum seekers to Nauru, and boats continue to pour into Australian waters at record levels, Mr. Bowen said the Malaysia deal was still part of his calculations.

"We have been in contact with our Malaysia counterparts at various levels," he said.

(PHOTO: Aerial view of Nauru Island, South Pacific/Wikipedia)The final legislation designating Nauru as an offshore processing location was introduced yesterday as another four boats carrying a combined 265 people were intercepted. This made eight boats since Friday and 2150 asylum seekers on 36 boats arriving in Australia since August 13.

On that day the government announced it would reopen Nauru and Manus Island and warned anyone intercepted after that day risked being taken offshore.

Nauru will have a final capacity for 1500 people, including 500 by the end of this month, and Manus Island is being set up to accommodate 600, for a total offshore capacity of 2100 when both camps are set up.

It will be impossible to send to the camps all that have arrived since August 13, meaning people will be selected from among those who have already arrived. The government hopes it will deter others. The opposition called this a lottery, and said the government must undertake that everyone who arrives from now be sent to Nauru.

''If the government says they are now in a position to send people there for processing then send people there they must,'' the opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, said. "Any exceptions on those the government sends to Nauru will only dilute what is already a half-hearted message that this government is sending out to people smugglers.''

The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, announced a military team was en route to Papua New Guinea to begin setting up the Manus Island camp. He said there were enough temporary facilities on Nauru to send people there by the end of the week.

(PHOTO: More asylum seekers arrive at Christmas Island, South Pacific/Sharon Tisdale)They will be flown there and they will have no idea how long they will stay. The government has yet to finalize the ''no advantage'' period, which will require asylum seekers, even those who are found to be refugees, to spend as long on Nauru and Manus Island as they would if they had stayed in a refugee camp. This period will be several years.

The legislative instrument tabled by Mr. Bowen says it is estimated 704 asylum seekers have died at sea since October 2009, and the cost to the budget over the next four years due to the surge in arrivals is not more than $5 billion.

The imminent transfer of asylum seekers offshore is also not deterring asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Pakistan arriving in Indonesia en route to Australia.

An Afghan refugee in Cisarua, south of Jakarta, told the Herald that only days ago a new group of refugees arrived after flying from Quetta, Pakistan.

"They are coming little by little. Four days ago, 20 people came to Jakarta Airport," said refugee Alemzadeh, who is in Cisarua waiting for a boat to Christmas Island. "They know [about the new policy], but they don't stop. They say it's too dangerous to stay in Pakistan."

Alemzadeh said that for perhaps 15 days after the government's policy was announced, the influx from the war-torn regions had stopped, but it had now resumed. The recent drowning of more than 100 Hazara asylum seekers had also not deterred them.

- This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald by Phillip Coorey and Michael Bachelard and Jessica Wright.

Thursday
Apr072011

Why People-Smugglers Aren't All Bad (Opinion/Blog)

- by Andrew Thomas

Asylum seekers, Christmas Island/ CREDIT: Safecom.org(April 7, 2011) Last week was not a good one for Australian attempts to establish a pan-Asia framework for assessing asylum applications.

At a conference in Bali, prime minister Julia Gillard’s plan for a processing centre on Timor-Leste failed to gain traction.

A "regional co-operation framework" with a "centre or centres" was cited as an aspiration. Nothing, though, was fixed.

Promises of a centre somewhere, one day, do not convey the urgency the Australian government claims it has. Politically in Australia, the consensus is that quick action is needed.

Boats full of asylum seekers keep arriving. A fortnight ago, the detention centres on Christmas Island burned after riots over application delays and overcrowding; hundreds of detainees temporarily roamed loose.

Opposition parties used the images to claim policy towards asylum seekers was broken. When I saw the images, I was reminded of the five days I spent on Christmas Island in the wake of the sinking of a boat, just off it, which killed around 50 in December last year.

In fact, "sinking" is too bland a term to describe what happened to that vessel and its passengers. After the boat’s engines failed it was pushed towards razor-sharp cliffs then pummeled against them by five metre waves.

Once the boat was smashed, the passengers were hammered direct – some straight against the rocks, others caught between what remained of their boat and the cliffs.

They were pounded by waves and planks on one side, their bodies shredded by rocks on the other.

One Christmas Island local – long deep scratches down his legs where he’d been ripped while still on land – told me he was second man on a rope trying to haul up survivors: "The closest we got to saving anyone was seeing a man’s face come up just over the lip of the cliff. Then another massive wave came in and swept him away".

And yet, even with such tragedy I thought then, and still think now, that much of the rhetoric around asylum policy in Australia is misguided.

Disregard to human life

Take something that everyone seems to agree on - that those who organise such voyages are "evil".

This is what Julia Gillard said in the wake of the disaster: "The people smugglers who ply this evil trade, who seek to profit on human misery with callous disregard to human life ... are responsible" she said, "The government, of course, is responding to this evil trade".

But wait a moment. Like all industries that turn a profit – and people-smuggling by boat to Christmas Island is a growing one – business sustainability depends on a ready supply of customers.

Representatives from the department of immigration and from charities on Christmas Island were all quick to tell me how potential customers were misled: how the marketing for these voyages was false: passengers "cruise" to Australia on sophisticated vessels, goes the pitch, (not lurch across high seas in wooden buckets, liable to tip at any time).

Friendly Australian navy boats meet, then escort passengers to their new home (not line them up in rows and make them sit cross-legged on a barge), asylum applications are processed quickly – and always favourably – with customers ready to start their new lives Down Under in days (not wait months in cramped detention camps, in 30 degree heat, and 90 per cent humidity, deal with endless bureaucracy and agencies before facing the very real possibility of being flown, minus savings, from whence they’d come).

"Australia – a sophisticated land of dreams and we can get you there" ... for just $5,000, or $25,000, or $50,000. No one quite seems to agree on the going rate.

"Life savings" seems the established price. But who wouldn’t jump at that? If only customers knew the truth, is the mantra.

If only the evil smugglers were frank about their trade. But just consider for a moment if they were.

Here are some stats. For the financial year June 2009-June 2010, 118 boats made it to Christmas Island carrying a total of 5,592 people to shore alive. Two boats did sink killing 17.

Nevertheless, 99.7 per cent made it in one piece, just three in every thousand drowned.

For 2010 as a calendar year, including the December sinking, around 140 boats made it to shore carrying around 6,500. Even taking into account the 50 who died so horribly, around 99 per cent survived.

And what rewards for those who do. Over the last decade between 70 per cent and 97 per cent of those arriving by boat to Christmas Island have ultimately been assessed as valid refugees and been granted full protection visas – the first step to citizenship, and all the benefits of a new life in Australia that that brings.

Let's assume for a minute that people smugglers are unbelievably honest salesmen, and see whether their honest pitch would persuade: "Give us all your money and we will almost certainly deliver you safely – though perhaps not comfortably - to Australia.

Asylum politics

There, after what will be – we admit – a rough few months in a place akin to a prison, you'll very likely be given a pass to spend the rest of your lives living and working in one of the most pleasant countries on Earth.

No guarantees, and like all purchases it might not be for everyone ... but what do you say?"

Imagine you went to your (expensive) doctor with a major complaint and he said he could give you an operation.

It won't be pleasant, but it cures between 70 and 97 per cent of those that have it, and the worse your existing condition, the better your odds.

However, in a very small proportion of cases - less than 1 per cent - the operation kills. You'd probably take your chances.
If the condition was bad enough, you certainly would. And you wouldn’t label the doctor "evil" for trying.

It speaks volumes that it's thought many who've been granted asylum and now live and work in Australia are sending money back to relatives at home to pay for them to make the same voyage.

They know the deal: they've lived the honest pitch, yet still encourage others to do the same.

If an evil trade is one where the perpetrators negligently – willfully – put people in danger in pursuit of profit then perhaps people-smuggling is one.

But if an evil trade is one which promises one thing and then delivers something completely different, and where the "customers" would never sign up if they knew the evil truth, then I'm not sure people-smuggling counts.

A nasty trade, certainly, a risky one, no doubt. But evil? Most customers walk away having had the core service as promised.

In fact, what's arguably "evil" is getting asylum cases wrong and denying asylum to those that genuinely need it.

There is evidence that those who are ultimately refused asylum in Australia end up being murdered once they've been sent home.

In that sense, what matters far more than where claims are assessed is how they are: the rhetoric shouldn't concentrate on the place of the decision, but on the decision itself.

It never will of course. That, after all, is politics.

- by Andrew Thomas - originally published by Al-Jazeera April 3, 2011 under Creative Commons Licensing