Category Archives: Europe

EU unveils sweeping climate change plan

Wind turbines are seen near the coal-fired power station Neurath, Germany
Renewable energy, like wind power, is gradually replacing coal in many EU countries

The European Union has announced a raft of climate change proposals aimed at pushing it towards its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

A dozen draft proposals, which still need to be approved by the bloc’s 27 member states and the EU parliament, were announced on Wednesday.

They include plans to tax jet fuel and effectively ban the sale of petrol and diesel powered cars within 20 years.

The proposals, however, could face years of negotiations.

The plans triggered serious infighting at the European Commission, the bloc’s administrative arm, as the final tweaks were being made, sources told the AFP news agency.

“By acting now we can do things another way… and choose a better, healthier and more prosperous way for the future,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

“It is our generational task… [to secure] the wellbeing of not only our generation, but of our children and grandchildren. Europe is ready to lead the way.”

The measures are likely to push up household heating bills, as well as increase the cost of flights in the EU. Financial assistance will be available for people to install insulation and make other long-term changes to their homes.

“We’re going to ask a lot of our citizens,” EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said. “We’re also going to ask a lot of our industries, but we do it for good cause. We do it to give humanity a fighting chance.”

Opposition is also expected from some industry leaders, such as airlines and vehicle manufacturers, as well as from eastern member states that rely heavily on coal.

One EU diplomat told Reuters that the success of the package would rest on its ability to be realistic and socially fair, while also not destabilising the economy.

“The aim is to put the economy on a new level, not to stop it,” they said.

The measures, billed as the EU’s most ambitious plan yet to tackle climate change, have been named the Fit for 55 package because they would put the bloc on track to meet its 2030 goal of reducing emissions by 55% from 1990 levels.

By 2019, the EU had cut its emissions by 24% from 1990 levels.

Some of the key proposals include:

  • Tighter emission limits for cars, which are expected to effectively end new petrol and diesel vehicle sales by 2035
  • A tax on aviation fuel, and a 10-year tax holiday for low-carbon alternatives
  • A so-called carbon border tariff, which would require manufacturers from outside the EU to pay more for importing materials like steel and concrete
  • More ambitious targets for expanding renewable energy around the bloc
  • A requirement for countries to more quickly renovate buildings that are not deemed energy efficient

But corporate lobby BusinessEurope denounced the plan, saying it “risks destabilising the investment outlook” for sectors such as steel, cement, aluminium, fertilisers and electric power “enormously”.

And Willie Walsh, head of the International Air Transport Association, said: “Aviation is committed to decarbonisation as a global industry. We don’t need persuading, or punitive measures like taxes to motivate change.”

At the same time, environmentalist campaigners have said the proposals don’t go far enough.

“Celebrating these policies is like a high-jumper claiming a medal for running under the bar,” Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss said in a statement.

“This whole package is based on a target that is too low, doesn’t stand up to science, and won’t stop the destruction of our planet’s life-support systems.”

Climate campaigner Greta Thunberg said that unless the EU “tears up” its proposals, “the world will not stand a chance of staying below 1.5C of global heating”.

In September the EU Commission set out its blueprint for reaching the 55% reduction by 2030, and said at least 30% of the EU’s €1.8tn (£1.64tn; $2.2tn) long-term budget would be spent on climate-related measures.

The targets are part of a global effort to tackle climate change by cutting atmospheric pollution, especially carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The Paris climate deal, signed in 2016, aims to keep global temperature rise well under 2C, and preferably within a maximum rise of 1.5C, to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-57833807

Flash floods batter Bavaria as European death toll rises to 184

Firefighters work in an area affected by floods caused by heavy rainfalls in the center of Bad Muenstereifel, Germany, July 18, 2021. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

BERCHTESGADEN/BISCHOFSWIESEN, – Flash floods hit southern Germany on Sunday, killing at least one person, turning roads into rivers and adding to the flooding devastation that has claimed the lives of more than 180 people across Europe in recent days.

Some vehicles were swept away and swathes of land were buried under thick mud as the Berchtesgadener Land district of Bavaria became the latest region to be hit by record rainfall and floods.

Hundreds of rescue workers were searching for survivors in the district, which borders Austria.

“We were not prepared for this,” said Berchtesgadener Land district administrator Bernhard Kern, adding that the situation had deteriorated “drastically” late on Saturday, leaving little time to for emergency services to act.

Sunday’s death brought Germany’s death toll to 157 in its worst natural disaster in almost six decades, and the European toll to 184.

About 110 people have been killed in the worst-hit Ahrweiler district south of Cologne. More bodies are expected to be found there as the flood waters recede, police say.

The European floods, which began on Wednesday, have mainly hit the German states of Rhineland Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia as well as parts of Belgium. Entire communities have been cut off, without power or communications.

In North Rhine-Westphalia at least 46 people have died, while the death toll in Belgium stood at 27.

The German government will be readying more than 300 million euros ($354 million) in immediate relief and billions of euros to fix collapsed houses, streets and bridges, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told weekly newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

“There is huge damage and that much is clear: those who lost their businesses, their houses, cannot stem the losses alone.”

There could also be a 10,000 euro short-term payment for businesses affected by the impact of the floods as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told the paper.

POWER OUT

Scientists, which have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours, said it would still take several weeks to determining its role in these relentless rainfalls.

In Belgium, which will hold a national day of mourning on Tuesday, water levels were falling on Sunday and the clean-up operation was underway. The military was sent in to the eastern town of Pepinster, where a dozen buildings have collapsed, to search for any further victims.

Tens of thousands of people are without electricity and Belgian authorities said the supply of clean drinking water was also a big concern.

Emergency services officials in the Netherlands said the situation had somewhat stabilised in the southern part of Limburg province, where tens of thousands were evacuated in recent days, although the northern part was still on high alert.

“In the north they are tensely monitoring the dykes and whether they will hold,” Jos Teeuwen of the regional water authority told a press conference on Sunday.

In southern Limburg, authorities are still concerned about the safety of traffic infrastructure such as roads and bridges battered by the high water.

The Netherlands has so far only reported property damage from the flooding and no dead or missing people.

In Hallein, an Austrian town near Salzburg, powerful flood waters tore through the town centre on Saturday evening as the Kothbach river burst its banks, but no injuries were reported.

Many areas of Salzburg province and neighbouring provinces remain on alert, with rains set to continue on Sunday. Western Tyrol province reported that water levels in some areas were at highs not seen for more than 30 years.

Parts of Switzerland remained on flood alert, though the threat posed by some of the most at-risk bodies of water like Lake Lucerne and Bern’s Aare river has eased.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210718103001-svycb/

Climate Leaders Celebrate as European Investment Bank Chief Declares ‘Gas Is Over’

Climate Leaders Celebrate as European Investment Bank Chief Declares 'Gas Is Over'
President of the European Investment Bank Werner Hoyer holds a press conference in Brussels, Belgium on Jan. 30, 2020. Dursun Aydemir / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Noted author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben was among the first to celebrate word that the president of the European Investment Bank on Wednesday openly declared, “To put it mildly, gas is over” — an admission that squares with what climate experts and economists have been saying for years if not decades.

Dr. Werner Hoyer, president of the EIB — the investment bank publicly owned by the European Union’s member states — made the comments while presenting a review of the institution’s 2020 operations at a press conference in Luxembourg.

Calling a future break with fracked gas “a serious departure from the past,” Hoer added that “without the end to the use of unabated fossil fuels, we will not be able to reach the climate targets” to which the EU states — and therefore the bank — have committed.

McKibben and others responded to the comments as the most recent promising signal that the financial world is catching up with the climate science that demands a rapid and profound shift away from fossil fuels.

“President of the EIB, Werner Hoyer, clearly knows what’s up,” tweeted Oil Change International. “We agree. Time to #StopFundingFossils.”

Greenpeace EU also heralded the news and stated: “There’s nothing clean about gas — it’s not a ‘transition fuel’ or a ‘bridge fuel,’ it’s a dirty fossil fuel just like coal and oil. It’s time to stop bankrolling the #ClimateEmergency and stop public money back gas projects.”

Others emphasized what a historic shift the comment represents from even just a few years ago:

While many European climate groups and financial watchdogs have criticized the EU member states and the EIB itself for not moving forward fast enough with proposed reforms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Hoyer said Wednesday that the shift away from fossil fuels is paramount and that even the Covid-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across the continent must not act as a roadblock.

“We have achieved unprecedented impact on climate, preparing the ground for much more,” Hoyer said in his remarks. “But the risk of a recovery that neglects climate and the environment remains.”

“The fight against climate change cannot wait until the pandemic is over,” he added. “The [Covid-19] crisis is not a reason to stop tackling the climate and environmental challenges facing humanity.”

https://www.ecowatch.com/european-investment-bank-fossil-fuels-2650067861.html?rebelltitem=5#rebelltitem5

‘Shocking’ abuse of migrants forced to pick strawberries in Spain, U.N. says

Workers dust strawberries during harvest at a farm in Palos de la Frontera, southwest Spain February 27, 2009. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

BARCELONA, – Spain must urgently protect thousands of women brought over from Morocco as essential workers to pick strawberries during the new coronavirus pandemic in abysmal conditions and without basic hygiene, a United Nations rapporteur said on Wednesday.

About 3,000 Moroccan women travel to Spain, which provides more than half of Europe’s fruit and vegetables, to harvest strawberries in southern Huelva province each year, despite decades of complaints of exploitation, unpaid wages and abuse.

“These workers have been deliberately put at risk during the pandemic,” said Olivier De Schutter, who became the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in March.

“Poor housing conditions, overcrowded settlements, poor access to water and sanitation … no ventilation of work spaces … absence of cleaning of any surfaces or objects – this is the most shocking,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

De Schutter said the situation amounted to forced labour, as the migrant women were coerced to work in unsafe conditions that violated international human rights standards and domestic laws.

A spokeswoman for the ministry of labour and social economy said that it was inspecting the working conditions of migrant agricultural workers across Spain, regardless of their country of origin.

“The Inspectorate of Labour and Social Security, an autonomous agency of the Ministry of Labour and Social Economy, has programmed a specific campaign for this year, as with previous years, to check working conditions,” she said.

“The Inspectorate applies the regulation for the protection of workers’ rights with the forcefulness that the situation requires in each case.”

GARDEN OF EUROPE

Morocco and Spain signed an agreement in 2001, granting women temporary visas to harvest fruit in Spain, promising much higher wages than they could earn at home in north Africa.

“Morocco is very much at fault for not diligently ensuring that the workers’ rights are met,” De Schutter said, adding that the strawberry pickers in Huelva were “just one example of a widespread phenomenon in Spain”.

Last year, 10 Moroccan women filed a lawsuit claiming they had been trafficked, assaulted and exploited while picking strawberries in Huelva. It has yet to reach a verdict.

Eight rights groups lodged an appeal with the U.N. last month, asking it to investigate the conditions for Moroccan migrants on Spanish farms working without gloves, masks or social distancing protections against COVID-19.

“Many consumers depend on Spain – it really is the garden of Europe – and yet a large proportion of our fruit and vegetables come from workers living in these substandard conditions,” said De Schutter, a Belgian legal scholar.

The women migrants – many of whom had left their children behind in Morocco – systematically did unpaid overtime, yet as seasonal workers were completely powerless, he said.

“These women are misinformed about what they can expect in Spain. Obviously they don’t speak Spanish and they are not able to stand up for their rights as they cannot form unions,” De Schutter said. “They are very vulnerable to being exploited.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20200701174043-qljpu/

Catholic schools step in to feed children over summer break

Manchester United and England soccer player Marcus Rashford. Credit: Jose Breton – Pics Action/Shutterstock.

CNA Staff, – England soccer star Marcus Rashford won praise when he persuaded the government Tuesday to extend a free school meal voucher scheme to cover the summer break. 

The Manchester United forward’s campaign will allow parents to claim vouchers for around 1.3 million children in England during the six-week holiday.

While Catholic charities welcomed the breakthrough, they said that the new measure alone would not be enough to ensure that children have enough to eat when schools close next month. 

Anna Gavurin, coordinator of the Caritas Food Collective at Caritas Westminster, said in a statement June 16: “In the last few weeks we have seen many schools setting up their own food banks and food parcel delivery schemes to support families who are struggling.” 

“Even with free school meal vouchers available, schools are seeing a level of need so great that they have been forced to provide direct food relief themselves.”

The Caritas Food Collective seeks to tackle food poverty across the Diocese of Westminster, which covers all of London north of the River Thames. It has been working closely during the coronavirus pandemic with St. Bernadette’s Primary School in Kenton, Harrow, a suburban area of Greater London. 

Headteacher David O’Farrell told CNA that the organization was helping him to provide food vouchers for hard-to-reach families who don’t qualify for free school vouchers.  

“Marcus Rashford was right: we can’t stop doing that in the summer holidays because that’s the worst time to turn off that tap. But the problem is that it doesn’t reach everybody because not everyone’s on the free school meals register,” he said June 16, the day of the government U-turn.

He explained that in order to qualify for free school meals families needed to meet certain conditions.  

“One of them is that you forgo your Working Tax Credit,” he said. “My parents here are predominantly in low-paid jobs, such as cleaners, pizza places, chicken shops, betting shops, these types of things.”

“If they were to accept the free school meals offer, they would lose a huge amount of working credit. So people don’t take it.”

Around five years ago, O’Farrell decided to set up a food bank at the school, which has a significant number of Romanian, Polish and Sri Lankan students, and is located in one of the poorest wards in Harrow. 

With the help of a school governor who worked in the food industry, he converted a shed into a storage room for dry foods such as pasta and rice, as well as soup. When the governor left, the local parish, All Saints, Kenton, stepped in to help. 

But at every stage, O’Farrell said, some needy families felt unable to access the food because of “this huge issue of embarrassment.” He believed that the problem could be solved if schools gave parents vouchers they could redeem at local supermarkets. 

The Caritas Food Collective asked him to put his idea down in writing.
 
“I wrote it and I didn’t think I was going to hear [any more] about it,” he said. “Then all of a sudden we had lockdown and they wrote to me saying that they had put the plan into place. We were eligible for £500 worth of vouchers, which we’ve used. And we’re now on our second lot of £500.” 

“I reckon we’re supporting about 25 families at the moment. Every day now we have two or three families coming to use our food bank.”

He described the plight of one family which was made homeless recently when the landlord increased their rent. They were rehoused in a neighboring borough. O’Farrell sent the mother vouchers and invited her to visit the school food bank. When she collected the food, she broke down in tears.

“It was just the first act of kindness she had received,” he said. “She was so relieved because she was at the end of her tether. That was in week two or three of lockdown.”

Asked what motivated him to find new ways to help families, O’Farrell said: “Christian values are very important to me and very important to the way we run the school. It’s also my upbringing as well. I had to stand in the free school meals line with a different colored ticket to everyone else.

“But looking at these poor children, they are worse off. It’s our duty as Catholics, as Christians, to do something about it.”

O’Farrell underlined his gratitude to Caritas Westminster for its emergency food voucher scheme.

He said: “They’ve been brilliant. There’s an email here from Anna [Gavurin] saying that on Friday we’re getting a Hasbro toy delivery, because she’s got a link with them. So some of our children will be going home with brand new toys on Friday, which is lovely.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/catholic-schools-step-in-to-feed-children-over-summer-break-48402

Seminarian in Spain returns to roots as doctor amid pandemic

Doctor
Credit: Spotmatik Ltd/Shutterstock.

– While most of the students at the San Fulgencia Seminary in Cartagena, Spain, returned home when the country declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic, one seminarian felt a different calling.

With a background in medicine, first-year seminarian Abraham Martínez Moratón asked permission of the rector at his seminary to go back to work as a doctor to help treat COVID-19 patients in the regional healthcare system.

With permission granted, Martínez got in contact with his former employers at Queen Sofía Hospital. He began working March 16 at a facility in Monteagudo.

Martínez shared his experience in an article posted on the Diocese of Cartagena’s website.

“It was a blessing to go to work everyday and going down the Alicante highway to catch sight of the statue of Christ atop Monteagudo mountain. It was a huge gift to meet all the staff, we worked together as a team very well,” he said.

Martínez spent several weeks in Monteagudo and then was transferred to a facility in the Carmen neighborhood in Murcia.

There he was reunited with some of his former colleagues, who were surprised to see him again. “When they saw me they said, ‘This is a mirage, weren’t you in the seminary?’”

Martínez always felt his vocation in life was to help others, and from a young age he wanted to be a doctor. He said that returning to medicine has made him more aware of “growing in holiness day by day, seeing the face of Christ in the patients and praying more for them.”

Martínez said that the experience has reinforced his vocation.

“I want to be a disciple of Jesus, who is the physician of bodies and souls,” he reflected.

“I used to say to God: If I’m already helping you through medicine, why add on more things? But it’s also true that I always told him and I continue to tell him, whatever he wants for me.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/seminarian-in-spain-returns-to-roots-as-doctor-amid-pandemic-61538

Race of Fury – The West and the Soul of Africa Again

6C222A3A-F9CE-4A22-A54C-80031F286370

Holding summits for African heads of governments is fast becoming a recurrent event among the global power brokers. The EU has had about 5 of these summits, probably to massage and codify her colonial exploitative economic spree with Africa because nothing signfinicant has really emerged from those submits to enhance Africa’s fortune. Following the example of China in the recent past, Russia too had, for the first time, invited the African heads of governmens to a two-day Africa summit in Sochi from  23.-24 October, 2019. Over 40 African heads of government participated in the summit.

Just like China, Russia has the privilege of entering into the African political space as a non-colonialists but Russia had the added advantage of having supported African states in their struggle for independence. During the Cold War, it had close ties with socialist states like Guinea, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Angola. Those countries have now become the boosters for the rebuilding of Russian interest in Africa. Neither China nor Russia cares about human rights in Africa, but Russia in particular does not hide her thirst for arm sales, nor even shy away from helping autocratic regimes to sway national elections, as has been reported from DR Congo and Guinea while the Chinese unbriddled quest for mineral resources has no equal.

Obviously, both China and Russia are exploiting the vaccum created by the European colonialists from their lack of true and constructive commitment to Africa to market their respective products in Africa. But in the final analysis it is a race of fury for the control of Africa’s natural resources, the global digital economy and power.

The primary products offered to the African heads of governments by Russia during the most recent summit are worrisome. Among others, Russia has offered nuclear technology alongside weapons and mining expertise to Africa. As part of the summit, the Russian energy group Rosatom signed a preliminary agreement with Rwandato help her with the construction of an atomic research center and another contract with Ethiopia with the aim of building a high-performance nuclear power plant. Russia has granted Egypt a $ 25 billion loan for the construction of a nuclear power plant and is supplying enriched uranium for a research reactor. In South Africa. Rosatom had made a deal to build eight $75 billion nuclear power plants under former President Jacob Zuma, which was canceled after his removial from power. Truly, Africa needs power to drive her economic development but to suggest nuclear energy for Africa as an option considering its technical demands and environment threats is highly questionable and condenmnable. Rather than nuclear energy, is there no wisdom to suggest the development of the rich supply of sun and wind in Africa for solar and wind plants as alternatives for Africa that would be cheaper, cleaner and better.

However, it needs to be interrogated furher whether these summits are about the development of Africa or the exploitation and control of her resources. Like China and the European colonalists, Russia is fast leaving her foot print in Africa. In Guinea, Russian corporations exploit huge bauxite deposits and run a gold mine without paying taxes.

In Uganda, the Russian corporate group RT Global Resources is building an oil refinery for three billion Euros. Russian companies are planning platinum mines in Zimbabwe and want to develop one of the largest diamond deposits in Angola.

Russia could thus double its trade volume with Africa to $ 20 billion in 2019, though this remains modest when compared to China’s $ 300 billion.

Not only that, Russia is also strengthening its influence on the continent through military cooperation. Over the past four years, Russia has signed military cooperation agreements with 19 African states, to supply weapons and training. 40% of all military exports to Africa come from Russia, 17% from China and 11% from the US. At the Sochi summit, Putin declared his intention to double arms exports to Africa and on the spot signed a contract with Nigeria to supply Mi-35 combat helicopters. In the Central African Republic Russia is very present with 200 military advisors and a Russian is the security advisor to the president. The country is attractive because of its uranium and gold deposits. In an agreement with Mozambique Russia supports the fight against Islamist terrorists in the North and also granted a debt swap in exchange for access to the large oil and gas fields. In Sudan, instructors train the security forces and Russian soldiers supported them in the brutal suppression of demonstrations last June.

Often, military training is not carried out directly by the Russian army, but by mercenaries of the Wagner group, a private security company already notorious through its operations in Crimea and Syria. During the Sochi summit, President Wladimir Putin declared that, “Today, developing and strengthening mutually beneficial relations with African countries is one of the priorities of Russian foreign policy.” But only time will show what this new found love with Africa practically means

However, it is viewed that there is a debt crisis hanging over the neck of the continent. This new wave of interest is indeed a feast on the soul of the African continent. Every resource that the continent can boast of is targeted; the level of resource extraction is massive. In return, there is promise of infrastructural development. It is the replay of an old story. In the 1980s, most African countries fell into a “debt trap” that led to a “lost development decade”. The bail out by the International Monetary through the so-called HIPC initiative (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) came at a high cost, with the imposition of strict conditions which stifled all possibilities of development. With China’s billions of credits for infrastructure projects, Russia’s arms exports, and governments borrowing further billions on the financial markets, Africa is well on the way to a new debt crisis. Time will tell if the seemingly huge debt reliefs that China and Russia have granted to some African countries are worth the soul of the African continent which has become the main dish for the insatiable appetites of Russia, China and the powerful western countries.

 

 

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

5A0CBE47-AF72-499B-83FC-80356F6D635A

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

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

Mali

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

 

30 years after Berlin Wall fell, Catholics seek to recognize heroic Eastern European sisters

2637D87F-E096-4914-9C4B-416EE7DAA5E2Zofia Luszczkiewicz, left, and Anna Abrikosova (Courtesy of the Sisters of Mercy, Krakow/Catholic Newmartyrs of Russia)

WARSAW, POLAND — When the Polish church filed a document with the Vatican this August, proposing the beatification of 16 members of the Sisters of the Congregation of St. Catherine the Virgin and Martyr, it was a vivid reminder of the hardships inflicted on religious sisters under communist rule in Eastern Europe.

The nuns, aged 27 to 65, all died martyrs’ deaths at the hands of Soviet soldiers in the northeastern Warmia region during the 1945 reinvasion of Poland, and were among over 100 killed from the St. Catherine order alone.

It was just one of numerous brutal episodes involving Catholic nuns that, three decades after communism’s collapse and the Nov. 9 felling of the Berlin Wall, many now hope will become better known. A full account is needed, some Catholics say, in the interests of historical accuracy, as well as to illustrate the virtues involved in acts of testimony and martyrdom, and to ensure that the courage and endurance of religious sisters are accorded proper recognition

Even today, however, the tight control exercised over media appearances means few religious order leaders are prepared to talk to journalists. Requests by GSR for comments on communist-era suffering from Poland’s Conference of Higher Superiors of Female Religious Orders received no reply.

“Certainly, the situation of nuns was different here than in neighboring countries — the worst sufferings were confined to the 1940s and 1950s, after which planned repressions were abandoned in the face of resistance,” Malgorzata Glabisz-Pniewska, a Catholic presenter and expert with Polish Radio, said in a late October interview with GSR.

“But the whole story has hardly been told, even now, and the sisters involved have remained in the shadows while attention focused on the persecution of priests. It should be an inspiration for younger members of religious orders, as well as for the church and wider society,” she said.

The assault on sisters

When Eastern Europe was overrun by Stalin’s Red Army at the end of World War II, the newly installed communist regimes moved quickly to neutralize the Catholic Church.

Historians concur that religious orders were seen as secretive organizations threatening the officially atheist Communist Party’s absolute power, so they became key targets for repression.

Hundreds of books have been published about the communist-era persecutions. A few used as sources for this story include a new Polish-language book by Agata Puścikowska, War Sisters; a two-volume book in Slovak, co-edited by František Mikloško, Gabriela Smolíková and Peter Smolík, Crimes of Communism in Slovakia 1948-1989; and a Romanian book by C. Vasile, Between the Vatican and the Kremlin.

In Romania, Catholic orders were banned outright in 1949, their houses closed and ransacked; and while most nuns were sent to labor camps, a smaller number, mostly elderly and infirm, were moved to “concentration cloisters.”

In Bulgaria, where orders with foreign headquarters had already been outlawed, the Eucharistic sisters saw their Sofia chapel turned into a sports hall, while over a dozen surviving Carmelite nuns were given heavy prison terms.

Up to 700 Catholic convents in what was then Czechoslovakia were seized in a coordinated action in 1950, leaving an estimated 10,000 nuns incarcerated in prison and detention centers.

Many had qualified as teachers, doctors and translators but were set to work as farm laborers, weavers and fruit pickers when they refused to renounce their vows. Others were sent to “centralized convents” such as Bilá Voda in Moravia, which became home to about 450 incarcerated sisters from 13 orders.

In places like this, the orders continued recruiting and training members in secret, putting them through novitiates under cover of regular jobs.

In other countries, habited orders were later grudgingly permitted, but only after their schools, clinics and care homes had been seized and many nuns killed or imprisoned.

In Hungary, the regime opted for quick overnight swoops like Czechoslovakia’s, trucking nuns to internment centers and withdrawing legal status from at least 60 orders.

A petition to the government deplored how nursing sisters had been peremptorily sacked and others offered bribes to abandon their communities. But Hungary’s Culture Ministry was adamant: The orders were “nests of anti-state agitation.”

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/world/ministry/news/30-years-after-berlin-wall-fell-catholics-seek-recognize-heroic-eastern