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British man and his wife rescued from Philippine militants

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Maj Gen Corleto Vinluan with Wilma and Allan Hyrons after their rescue in the Philippines. Photograph: Armed Forces of the Philippines/AP

Troops in the Philippines have rescued a British national and his Filipina wife who were abducted by gunmen at a beach resort last month and taken to the jungle hideouts of local militants allied with Islamic State.

The regional military commander said troops had located the Abu Sayyaf captors of Allan and Wilma Hyrons in the mountainous hinterlands off Parang town, Sulu province, and rescued the couple safely after a gun fight.

“There was a running gun battle. They left the two behind because they could not drag them any more. They scampered in different directions but our troops are in pursuit,” Lt Gen Cirilito Sobejana said.

The Hyrons were not hurt in the 10-minute battle, the military said, and no ransom was paid to their captors.

A picture released by the military showed the couple talking to generals and other army officers in Sulu. Sobejana said the couple would undergo medical checkups and be interviewed by military officials.

Gunmen abducted the couple in October as villagers watched in shock from their beach resort in southern Zamboanga del Norte province, triggering a massive search. They owned a college in the town of Tukuran, where they have lived for years.

Military offensives against ransom-seeking militant groups such as Abu Sayyaf have reduced abductions in recent years but they continue to occur.

Sobejana said three Indonesian fishermen abducted recently off Malaysia’s Sabah state, on northern Borneo island near the sea border with the southern Philippines, were in the hands of Abu Sayyaf militants in Sulu.

Abu Sayyaf gunmen have staged kidnappings in and around Sabah in the past, prompting a regional security alarm.

The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said: “I am pleased to confirm that both Alan and Wilma Hyrons are safe and well and being looked after by the Philippine authorities … Foreign Office officials have been in close contact with Alan and Wilma’s family throughout this ordeal.”

The rescue of the Hyrons came after the military had inflicted successive battle defeats recently on Abu Sayyaf, which is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the US and the Philippines.

Troops killed a “high-value” but little-known Abu Sayyaf commander, Talha Jumsah, on Friday near Patikul in Sulu. Jumsah acted as a key Isis link to local jihadists and helped set up a series of suicide attacks in Sulu this year.

Five Abu Sayyaf militants, including two commanders, were killed by troops on Sunday in a separate clash in Sulu. One of those commanders, Sibih Pish, had been blamed for previous ransom kidnappings.

Abu Sayyaf emerged in the late 1980s as an offshoot of the decades-long Muslim separatist insurgency in the south of the largely Roman Catholic country.

After losing its commanders early in battle, Abu Sayyaf rapidly degenerated into a small but brutal group blamed for ransom kidnappings and beheadings. Most of its militant factions have pledged allegiance to Isis.

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/25/british-man-and-his-wife-rescued-from-philippine-militants

‘This is meant to be a caring country?’: refugees battle the cold in Madrid

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Venezuelan immigrants (l-r) Daniel, Yevely, Miguel Salazar, Vitoria, Iesta, Primari and Caren Ramirez shelter together in central Madrid. Photograph: Denis Doyle/The Guardian

On Monday night, a group of newcomers to Madrid put their children to bed. In the absence of a roof, walls or mattresses, they wrapped them in blankets and tucked them into open suitcases to guard against the cold of the streets.

Had it not been for the intervention of a neighbourhood volunteer network who paid for a hostel, the two families who had fled violence in their home country of El Salvador would have spent the whole night outside the city’s overwhelmed emergency shelter coordination centre.

As temperatures in the Spanish capital plummet, rain falls and the city prepares to host next month’s UN climate summit, authorities are unable to provide basic shelter and protection to dozens of migrants and asylum seekers, including children. The number of people arriving in the Madrid region to seek asylum has almost doubled over the past year, rising from 20,700 to 41,000.

The Salvadoran families ended up sleeping on the floor of a church in the south of the city where volunteers have spent the last 25 years working with immigrants, refugees, young people and people with drug problems. On Wednesday night alone, the centre fed and sheltered two dozen men, women and children from Venezuela, El Salvador, Colombia and Yemen.

“We know that this isn’t our country and we can’t expect anything but I just felt sad when we ended up on the street,” said one Salvadoran woman, who would not give her name for fear of reprisals from the criminal gangs that drove her family overseas.

Another Salvadoran woman had brought her two children to Spain after the gang demanding money from the family gave them an ultimatum: “The money you don’t pay us is the money you use to bury your children.”

She said they had spent much of the money they had on searching for accommodation as far away as Ávila, a 90-minute bus ride from Madrid. “We’ve found some wonderful people here, who’ve been so helpful, but I just don’t understand how this is meant to be a caring country, judging by all this,” she said.

They are among the luckier ones. A small camp has sprung up outside the Samur emergency shelter headquarters, where, cocooned in anoraks and sleeping bags, a handful of young Venezuelans were waiting for somewhere warm and dry to sleep. “Come into the living room,” said one, pointing to the pile of cardboard and blankets that covered the pavement.

Daniel Pérez, 29, who used to earn his living repairing medical equipment in a town close to the border with Colombia, said he was applying for asylum despite the improvised accommodation. “We were in the Red Cross shelter for a few days but we’ve been camping here for three days,” he said. “The first night was really difficult because we had nothing and it was -1C – we’re not used to such cold.”

Like all the migrants and refugees the Guardian spoke to, Pérez and his friends had been overwhelmed by the kindness of local people, who had been handing out blankets, buying them food and making them soup.

And no matter how cold it got, said Pérez, he would rather be on the streets of Madrid than back in his troubled country. “This generation of Venezuelans just can bear it any longer,” he said. “We realised that we’re not trees, rooted to the spot, and that we can move away. We’ll get through this because it’s still better to be here than in Venezuela. All this is just temporary.”

Javier Baeza, the priest who runs the San Carlos Borromeo parish centre that took in the Salvadorans, teases and jokes with his guests. But he is deeply angry over the lack of care and has reported the protection failure to the public ombudsman.

“People come here and they’re disappointed because they think the image of a country with basic human rights is real and they’re profoundly mistreated,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s a capacity problem – the problem is the lack of political will at every level. There’s no political will from the government for immigrants to be looked after properly, the Madrid regional government isn’t doing anything at all, and Madrid city council doesn’t have the will to help 100 people in one of the world’s greatest capitals.”

On Thursday, the conservative mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, wrote to Spain’s acting prime minister – the Socialist leader, Pedro Sánchez – claiming that central government’s inaction had triggered the collapse of an already overstretched system.

The mayor also asked Sánchez to find 1,300 emergency places to help guarantee refugees were treated with dignity and respect. The government, however, insists the council needs to do more to deal with the emergency.

Consuelo Rumí, Spain’s secretary of state for migration, said other major Spanish cities such as Barcelona managed to allocate sufficient resources to vulnerable arrivals, adding that it was Madrid city council’s responsibility to help those currently on the streets.

“Madrid city council, which serves a population of 4 million people, just can’t have so few resources on the street,” she said. “Until someone has actually formalised their asylum application, they’re someone who’s on the street and who needs to be looked after by the city council. They just can’t have such scant resources on the street, especially at this time of year.”

A spokeswoman for the regional government said it was a matter for the central government and the city council.

Ana Zamora, a volunteer with the Red Solidaria de Acogida (Solidarity Welcome Network), which has been working to help people find shelter, said “totally ineffective management” meant the relevant authorities were failing in their basic duty of care

“The people sleeping rough are all seeking international protection and none of them is getting the help to which, in theory, they’re entitled,” she said. “These people have no other option – they’ve spent all their money on getting here and they have no more.”

While the political squabbles continued, one of the Salvadoran mothers sat crying in a parish 5,000 miles (8,000km) from home, thinking about the church where her family used to worship, where they would donate food and toys to the poor.

My daughter is confused by all this and she asked if we were poor now,” she said. “We’re not asking for luxury, we’re not even asking for comfort. We came to Spain because we’d been told we would be protected here.”

Migration in Spain

Sánchez won huge plaudits in June last year after one of his first acts in office was to announce that the country would take in the 630 migrants and refugees stranded onboard the rescue ship Aquarius.

Sánchez said Spain had a duty to help avert a humanitarian catastrophe while his foreign minister, Josep Borrell, called for an end to “ostrich politics” when it came to the issue of migration.

In 2018, 56,480 migrants and refugees reached Spain by sea, with 769 people dying in the attempt. The record number of arrivals to Spain, partly driven by the closure of other European routes, placed huge strain on the country’s reception infrastructure.

It was also seized on by conservative and far-right parties who sought to make it a political issue. The far-right, anti-immigration Vox party, which won 52 seats in this month’s general election, has accused unaccompanied foreign children of being “a serious problem in our neighbourhoods”.

Its messages are a far cry from those of the former Madrid mayor Manuela Carmena, whose administration famously hung a banner on city hall reading: “Refugees welcome.”

Vox’s leader, Santiago Abascal, said this week the party was looking into the possibility of abandoning the landmark UN convention on the rights of the child so that Spain would be able to deport all irregular immigrants regardless of their age.

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/22/refugees-battle-cold-madrid-spain-migration-crisis

Ocean Viking rescues 94 people off Libya’s coast

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Ninety-four refugees and migrants, including four pregnant women, have been rescued by charity ship Ocean Viking 42 nautical miles (78km) off the coast of Libya [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]

Onboard the Ocean Viking – Ninety-four refugees and migrants, including four pregnant women, have been rescued by a charity ship off the coast of Libya.

The Ocean Viking, operated jointly by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF), carried out Tuesday’s rescue mission after being notified of a boat in distress at 4am local time (03:00 GMT).

“We were copied on an email sent to the Libyan coastguard by AlarmPhone this morning. As a result, we altered our course towards the potential boat in distress and arrived in the area 90 minutes later,” Nicholas Romaniuk, search and rescue coordinator for SOS Mediterranee, told Al Jazeera onboard the Ocean Viking.

The people rescued 42 nautical miles (78km) off Libya’s coast include 56 adults – 45 male and 11 female – and 38 children, of which at least 29 were unaccompanied. Four of the children are aged below five, with the youngest less than one-year-old.

“The weather conditions were not terrible for us but if it’s a rubber boat you’re on, one that is not certified to carry any weight, it can be deadly with the waves,” Romaniuk said. People were in danger of dying on that boat so we didn’t hesitate to send our rescue boats out, hand out life jackets to stabilise the situation before making sure everyone was transferred onboard the Ocean Viking.”

More than 1,000 people have been feared drowned in the Mediterranean this year, according to the International Organization of Migration (IOM). Almost 700 of those have been recorded in the central Mediterranean, with refugees and migrants embarking on the dangerous journey to Europe from Libya.

“Everyone’s condition is stable,” said Michael Fark, the MSF’s project coordinator onboard the Ocean Viking, adding that one of the women was heavily pregnant.

“We will continue to monitor her situation. People are resting now as they are quite tired from the journey and the emotions they have gone through.”

A Libyan coastguard boat approached the Ocean Viking following the successful embarkation of the refugees and migrants, ordering it to alter course before asking for details about the operation.

“As they approached us, they contacted us and asked for information regarding the rescue,” Romaniuk said.

“We are in international waters and out of any jurisdiction but due to the situation out here, we complied. It was the responsible thing to do.”

The Ocean Viking has rescued more than 1,000 people since it started operations in August this year.

Last year, the Aquarius, another joint operation run by SOS and MSF, was forced to shut down after rescuing almost 30,000 refugees and migrants in the central Mediterranean.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/11/ocean-viking-rescues-94-people-libya-coast-191119115225387.html

Venice hit by another ferocious high tide, flooding city

Screenshot_2019-11-15 Venice hit by another ferocious high tide, flooding city

VENICE (Reuters) – Venice was inundated by exceptionally high water levels on Friday just days after the lagoon city suffered the worst flood in more than 50 years.

The central St. Mark’s Square was submerged and closed to tourists, while shops and hotels were once more invaded by rising waters bringing fresh misery to the fragile city.

Local authorities said the high tide peaked at 154 cm (5.05 ft), slightly below expectations and significantly lower than the 187 cm level reached on Tuesday — the second highest tide ever recorded in Venice.

But it was still enough to leave 70% of the city under water, fraying the nerves of locals who faced yet another large-scale clean-up operation.

“We have been in this emergency for days and we just can’t put up with any more,” said Venetian resident Nava Naccara.

The Italian government declared a state of emergency for Venice on Thursday, allocating 20 million euros ($22 million) to address the immediate damage. Mayor Luigi Brugnaro predicted on Friday the costs would be vastly higher.

“Venice was destroyed the other day. We are talking about damage totaling a billion euros,” Brugnaro said in a video posted on Twitter. “This is a state of emergency, but we are managing it.”

Sirens wailed across Venice from the early morning hours, warning of the impending high tide, and the crypt beneath St. Mark’s Basilica was swiftly inundated.

After Friday’s high waters, forecasters predicted tides of up to 110-120 cm during the weekend. In normal conditions, tides of 80-90cm are generally seen as high but manageable.

The mayor has blamed climate change for the ever-increasing flood waters that the city has had to deal with in recent years, with the mean sea level estimated to be more than 20 cm higher than it was a century ago, and set to raise much further.

Groups of volunteers and students arrived in the city center to help businesses mop up, while schools remained closed, as they have been most of the week.

At the city’s internationally renowned bookshop Acqua Alta — the Italian for high water — staff were trying to dry out thousands of water-damaged books and prints, usually kept in boats, bath tubs and plastic bins.

“The only thing we were able to do was to raise the books as much as possible but unfortunately even that wasn’t enough … about half of the bookshop was completely flooded,” said Oriana, who works in the store.

A flood barrier designed to protect Venice from high tides is not expected to start working until the end of 2021, with the project plagued by the sort of problems that have come to characterize major Italian infrastructure programs — corruption, cost overruns and prolonged delays.

 

 

 

 

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-italy-weather-venice/venice-hit-by-another-ferocious-high-tide-flooding-city-idUSKBN1XP0T5

‘We failed to reach Europe – now our families disown us’

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Most of the West African migrants who fail to reach Europe eventually return to their own countries, but it can be a bitter homecoming. In Sierra Leone, returnees are often rejected by relatives and friends. They’re seen as failures, and many stole from their families to pay for their journey.

Some readers will find this story disturbing

Fatmata breaks into sobs when she remembers the six months she spent in slavery as the “wife” of a Tuareg nomad who seized her in the Sahara desert.

“They call him Ahmed. He was so huge and so wicked,” she says. “He said, ‘You are a slave, you are black. You people are from hell.’ He told me when somebody has a slave, you can do whatever you want to do. Not only him. Sometimes he would tell his friend, ‘You can have a taste of anything inside my house.’ They tortured me every day.”

That was only the beginning of the horrors Fatmata, aged 28, from Freetown, Sierra Leone, experienced as she tried to cross West Africa to the Mediterranean. She eventually escaped from Ahmed, but was recaptured by traffickers who held her in their own private jail in Algeria.

After she and other migrants broke out, Fatmata, deeply traumatised, decided to abandon her dreams of a new life in Europe – and go back to where she started. She applied to an intergovernmental agency, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which pays the fares for migrants who want to return home.

Last December, she arrived back in Freetown, by bus from Mali – after nearly two years away. But there were no emotional reunions, no welcomes, no embraces. Nearly a year later, Fatmata hasn’t even seen her mother – or the daughter, now eight, she left behind.

“I was so happy to come back,” she says. “But I wish I had not.”

When she got back, she called her brother. But his reaction terrified her. “He told me, ‘You should not even have come home. You should just die where you went, because you didn’t bring anything back home.'”

After that, she says, “I didn’t have the heart to go and see my mother.”

But her family didn’t reject her just because she was a failure. It was also because of how she funded her journey.

She stole 25 million leones – about US $2,600 at today’s exchange rate, but then worth a lot more – from her aunt. It was money her aunt had given her to buy clothes, that could then be resold as part of her trading business. Her aunt regularly trusted her in that way.

“I was only thinking how to get the money and go,” Fatmata says, though she adds that she’s not a selfish person. “If I had succeeded in going to Europe, I decided that I would triple the money, I would take good care of my aunt and my mum.”

But Fatmata’s aunt’s business never recovered from the loss of the money. And – to make things even worse – the theft has caused a rift between the aunt and her sister, Fatmata’s mother, whom she falsely accuses of being in on Fatmata’s plan.

“I’m in pain, serious pain!” her mother says, when I visit her. “The day I set eyes on Fatmata, she will end up in the police station – and I will die.”

It’s a story that’s repeated in the families of many of the 3,000 or so Sierra Leoneans who have returned in the last two years after failing to reach Europe.

At one time, relatives often raised the money to send someone, but there’s less willingness to do that now that stories of imprisonment and death along the route have multiplied. Now, many would-be migrants keep their plans secret, and take whatever money they can, sometimes even selling the title deeds to the family land.

 

 

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-50391297

 

Catholic couple brings the love of family to young people with mental illness

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Austin and Catherine Mardon meet Pope Francis Nov. 6. Credit: Vatican Media.

.- For Catholic couple Austin and Catherine Mardon, mental illness is personal.

Austin has schizophrenia, Catherine has PTSD, and together they foster children and young adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Austin and Catherine have been married since 2003. Both are writers, and their experiences have led them to devote themselves to working on behalf of people with mental illnesses, many of whom, they said, end up without a family and living on the street.

The Mardons met Pope Francis after the general audience Nov. 6. They were inducted, in 2017, into the Pontifical Order of Pope Saint Sylvester, a papal Order of Knighthood, for their work on behalf of the disabled.

A native of Oklahoma, Catherine told CNA she has always remembered what one of her childhood teachers, a Carmelite nun, once said: “We don’t help people because they’re Catholic, we help people because we’re Catholic and we’re called to do it.”

“Look around,” she said. There are people in need of love and support all around, but “don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid” to reach out.

Austin, a Canadian, is an assistant adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of Alberta.

A scientist by education, Austin was part of a NASA meteorite recovery expedition to the Antarctic in the 1980s at the age of 24. Unfortunately, the extreme difficulties of the expedition affected him mentally and physically.

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/catholic-couple-brings-the-love-of-family-to-young-people-with-mental-illness-61780

Corpus Christi bishop donates bone marrow to save a mother’s life

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Credit: drpnncpptak/Shutterstock.

.- This week, Bishop Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi reflected on bone marrow donations and the life of the mother whom he helped save.

Before he became a bishop, Michael Mulvey joined the Be the Match Registry, the world’s largest register for bone marrow transplants (BMT), which is run by the National Marrow Donor Program.

After the organization discovered a match, South Texas Catholic reported, Mulvey, 70, traveled to San Antonio to make a peripheral stem cell donation. He had matched with a mother who had been diagnosed with a type of blood cancer.

Although Mulvey has never met the woman, he said he was humbled by the experience and expressed gratitude to be able to contribute to the well-being of this mother and her family.

“Knowing that because of the life I have been given by God – I was able to give back and make a big difference in this person’s life, in the life of her children and her family is something I have thought of quite often,” he told South Texas Catholic Nov. 5.

Mulvey said he was introduced to Be the Match in 2004, while he was a priest of the Diocese of Austin. There, he had met Leticia Mondragon, a donor development and engagement specialist with GenCure who partners with Be the Match.

“When I was assigned in Austin years ago, one of our very charitable and active parishioners was signing up people for Be the Match,” said Bishop Mulvey, according to South Texas Catholic. “I appreciated her commitment and dedication to this cause, and after hearing more about the registry, I signed up.”

BMT replaces unhealthy bone marrow with healthy marrow from an outside source. The procedure is used to cure cancers in the blood as well as diseases in the bones and immune system. Among other illnesses, BMT has been used for leukemia, aplastic anemia, and sickle cell disease.

According to South Texas Catholic, Mondragon said the process to sign up is more convenient than in the past, noting that people may apply through their smartphone.

Unlike blood donations, a match for BMT does not focus on blood type, but ethnicity. Mondragon expressed hope that the new system will add more “people of all ethnic backgrounds” to the registry.

She stressed the importance of BMT donors, stating that life-threatening disorders are discovered every few minutes, and thanked the bishop for his contribution.

“Every three minutes someone is diagnosed with a life-threatening blood cancer or blood disorder, such as leukemia or lymphoma,” said Mondragon, according to South Texas Catholic.

“We are thankful Bishop Mulvey wanted to share his story because it is so important that we have leaders like him promoting our global life-saving mission,” she further added.

Bishop Mulvey described the experience not only as an opportunity for charity but as a spiritual encounter.

“St. Matthew says what you have received as a gift, give as a gift,” said Bishop Mulvey, South Texas Catholic reported. “We must always remember that everyone’s life is a gift and true gratitude is expressed when you are willing to give back and share what you have.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/corpus-christi-bishop-donates-bone-marrow-to-saves-a-mothers-life-52562