At least 7 dead as refugee boat sinks off Greek island

BoatInternational Organisation for Migration says more than 300 refugees and migrants have died this year in total while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe [File: Kostis Ntantamis/AP Photo]

A boat carrying dozens of refugees and migrants to a Greek island from the nearby Turkish coast has capsized, leaving seven people dead, including two children.

Greece’s coastguard said 57 people had been rescued on Tuesday, while seven people – two girls, four women and a man – were pulled from the water unconscious and later confirmed dead.

A search and rescue operation in the area off the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos was called off after all those on board had been accounted for, the coastguard said.

There were no further passengers reported missing.

It was not immediately clear why the boat capsized, and the coastguard did not provide further details on the incident or the nationality of the refugees and migrants.

Greece became one of the main gateways for refugees entering Europe in recent years, many of them fleeing conflict in countries like Syria and Afghanistan, in the continent’s worst migration crisis since World War II.

The number of people heading to the Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast has decreased significantly since the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, dropping from 875,000 in 2015 to under 40,000 a year in 2017 and 2018, according to Frontex, the European Union’s border force.

However, hundreds of people continue to make the treacherous journey.

Although the distance from Turkey is short, smugglers often use unseaworthy boats and pack them way beyond capacity, leading to many sinking or capsizing.

Nearly 10,700 refugees and migrants have reached Greece so far this year by sea, and 39 people have lost their lives while attempting the journey, the UNHCR said.

The influx of migrants and refugees to Greece was drastically curtailed by a 2016 accord between Turkey and the EU.

Greece is hosting some 70,000 mostly Syrian refugees and migrants who have fled their countries since 2015 and crossed over from neighbouring Turkey.

More than 300 refugees and migrants have died this year in total while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/06/dead-refugee-boat-sinks-greek-island-190611095725520.html

“This tragedy is a painful reminder that people continue to take perilous journeys to reach the Greek Aegean islands,” said Philippe Leclerc, the UNHCR representative in Greece.

“Redoubled efforts are needed to ensure safe and legal ways to reach Europe, so people stop risking their lives in the hands of ruthless traffickers and smugglers.”

‘Reaching end game’: New paper on climate change raises alarm

Climate changeProtesters march demanding urgent measures to combat climate change in Kolkata, India last week [Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters]

A climate change paper grabbed headlines this week with its terrifying prediction of what the world will be in 30 years’ time – absent drastic and immediate change to human societies.

“World of outright chaos,” “Climate apocalypse,” “We’re all gonna die,” the media banners blared.

The sobering headlines and equally disconcerting stories beneath described a “scenario analysis” by an Australian think-tank, Breakthrough National Center for Climate Restoration.

The paper portrayed what the year 2050 will look like if urgent action to build carbon-neutral energy systems around the world fails to come to fruition in the next 10 years.

It’s worse than any of the apocalyptic Hollywood horror films making the rounds.

One billion people displaced and fighting desperately for survival, with half the world’s population subjected to “lethal heat” conditions for more than 20 days a year – “beyond the threshold of human survivability”.

Drought, wildfires, and floods collapse entire ecosystems as two billion people struggle for potable water. Mega-cities such as Mumbai, Hong Kong, Lagos, and Manila are largely abandoned because of massive floods.

“This scenario provides a glimpse into a world of ‘outright chaos’ on a path to the end of human civilisation and modern society as we have known it,” said the paper, co-authored by Ian Dunlop, a former chair of the Australian Coal Association, and David Spratt, a long-time climate researcher.

‘The end game’

Spratt told Al Jazeera the eye-catching headlines were “somewhat over the top”, but he maintained the dire warnings were legitimate.

“We are reaching the end game, there are not a lot of pieces left on the chess board. We have to take action really fast,” said Spratt.

He challenged climate scientists, including those from the leading Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to be more forthright with the global public about the calamity awaiting humanity if nothing is immediately done to halt the pumping of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the Earth’s atmosphere.

The planet is currently on track for a 4.5 degree Celsius increase in global temperature as CO2 emissions continue to rise each year.

Dunlop noted the IPCC set a target of staying below a 1.5C increase in the coming decades. “This IPCC analysis assumes only a 50-66 percent chance of meeting the targets. Not good odds for the future of humanity,” he wrote this week.

Asked about the criticism, IPCC’s Nina Peeva responded: “We can’t comment on individual papers on climate science. Our job is to inform policymakers about the current state of knowledge on climate change… If this paper was published in a peer-reviewed journal, it will probably be considered in the next assessment appearing in 2021.”

US intelligence warnings

Congressional testimony from two US government intelligence analysts on Wednesday seemed to corroborate Breakthrough’s grim climate change analysis.

Peter Kiemel, from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told a House committee investigating the global effects of climate change on national security that it played a role in the bloody civil wars in Syria and Libya, and will do the same in the future.

Just prior to the outbreak of Syria’s devastating war in 2011, the region suffered one of the most severe droughts in its history, quadrupling rural-to-urban migration and causing food riots.

Climate change impacts on food and water systems were also “catalysts for social breakdown and conflict” in the Maghreb and the Sahel, contributing to the European migration crisis, Breakthrough’s paper said.

“We already have seen water crises exacerbate social unrest in and emigration from fragile states in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Kiemel.

“As the climate changes, disputes over water and access to arable land are likely to grow, prompting more such local conflicts.”

Rod Schoonover, a senior State Department analyst, told members of the House Intelligence Committee no nation would be immune from the ravages of climate change.

“Most countries, if not all, are already unable to fully respond to the risks posed by climate-linked hazards under the present conditions,” said Schoonover.

“Absent extensive mitigating factors or events, we see few plausible future scenarios where significant harm does not arise from the compounded effects of climate change.”

The Washington Post reported on Friday that Trump administration officials ordered the words “possibly catastrophic” erased from Schoonover’s written statement.

What can’t be deleted is a 2007 climate change security report titled The Age of Consequences, co-authored by former CIA director James Woolsey. Its wording leaves no doubt about the threat to the human species.

“Armed conflict between nations over resources, such as the Nile and its tributaries, is likely and nuclear war is possible. The social consequences range from increased religious fervour to outright chaos,” the study warned.

Race against time

While the immense challenge of abruptly ending fossil fuel use seems extremely daunting, there are reasons for hope.

Spratt and others noted the technology to shift away from fossil fuels to clean energy is already in place, and more could be done if government budgets were allocated towards decarbonisation.

“We have the technological and economic capacity. If we would have made the shift in 2009, we would be all right today,” said Spratt.

Climate watchers say what is desperately needed is political leadership worldwide to rein in C02-burning corporations and shift the global economic system to green technology.

Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told USA Today the technology for a carbon-free economic system is already in place.

“We’re not waiting for solutions. We’re simply waiting for political will to understand that the solutions are here. Clean energy is not a matter of waiting, it’s a matter of implementing,” said Patz.

But with US President Donald Trump, who denies human-induced climate change and oversees the world’s largest economy, there is ample reason for serious concern.

The winds of change are blowing, however, as climate change protest movements sprout up worldwide.

In the US, the world’s second largest CO2 emitter after China, presidential candidate Joe Biden announced a $5 trillion climate proposal on Tuesday as part of his campaign for 2020. The same day, Hollywood actor Robert Downey Jr said he would launch a new hi-tech venture called the Footprint Coalition to combat climate change.

On Thursday, US billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would spend $500m in the “fight of our time” to move the US away from carbon energy.

Breakthrough’s paper stated “a massive global mobilisation” of resources was needed in the next decade to build a zero-emissions industrial system.

So can humanity save itself with the clock ticking down fast?

Admiral Chris Barrie – the former chief of Australia’s defence forces who wrote the foreword to Breakthrough’s paper – said human societies must act collectively to survive.

“A doomsday future is not inevitable, but without immediate drastic action, our prospects are poor.”

India: six guilty of child rape and murder that outraged nation

IndiaA bus carrying the accused arrives at court in Pathankot, Jammu and Kashmir state, on Monday. Photograph: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images

An Indian court has convicted six men of involvement in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state last year, in a case that sparked outrage and criticism of the country’s ruling party after some of its members opposed charges being laid.

The girl, from a nomadic Muslim community that roams the forests of Kashmir, was drugged, held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January 2018.

The abduction, rape and killing of the child was part of a plan to remove the minority nomadic community from the area, the 15-page charge sheet said.

Among those accused were a Hindu priest and police officers, raising communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims in the area.

“This is a victory of truth,” the prosecution lawyer M Farooqi said outside the court. “The girl and her family have got justice today. We are satisfied with the judgment.”

The prosecution was seeking the death penalty for three men – the priest Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar – who were convicted of rape and murder, he said.

Three others, Surinder Kumar, Tilak Raj and Anand Dutta, were convicted of lesser crimes of destroying evidence.

AK Sawhney, a lawyer leading the legal team representing the accused, said they planned to appeal against the verdict.

The trial, held in private, began more than a year ago in Pathankot, a town about 45 miles from Rasana village in Kathua district, where the incident happened.

The supreme court shifted the trial to the neighbouring state of Punjab after the girl’s family and lawyer said they faced death threats, and local lawyers and Hindu politicians, including some from the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, held protests against police filing charges.

India has long been plagued by violence against women and children. Reported rapes climbed 60% to 40,000 from 2012 to 2016, according to government statistics, and many more go unreported, especially in rural areas.

Eight people are accused of involvement in the case. The seventh man, named as Vishal, was found not guilty on Monday, Farooqi said, while the eighth, a juvenile, is awaiting trial.

Frightened and displaced, Papua children haunted by conflict

TeenageChildren sit on benches at a temporary school built for those feeling unrest in Nduga [Febriana Firdaus/Al Jazeera]

Wamena, Indonesia – Under the pine trees, a nine-year-old girl is sitting on a blue tarpaulin, rubbing her feet.

For the past six months, she’s been living in a church-run shelter after escaping the chaos that enveloped her village in Nduga, a remote highland region in the western part of the island of Papua.

“I was just sitting in my house and a ‘bomb’ dropped from the sky,” she said, recalling the bang of what could have been a grenade. “I fled with my family,” the young girl continued. “I saw houses were burning. We walked and slept like nomads in the jungle for three weeks.”

She is one of an estimated 35,000 civilians, many of them children, forced from their homes in the remote territory’s central highlands as the military attempted to root out Papuan independence fighters who attacked a road construction project in December last year, killing at least 17 people.

Major General Sisriadi, a spokesman for Indonesia’s armed forces, told Al Jazeera 600 troops had been sent to the area in what he described as a law enforcement operation to support the police.

“As mentioned in our constitution, we must defend our country’s land,” Sisriadi said. “We have to do anything to defend it.”

Indonesia took control of the vast and remote territory bordering Papua New Guinea in 1969 after a controversial referendum in which only 1,026 people were allowed to participate. The vote gave new momentum to the separatist West Papua National Liberation Army, which has continued the struggle for independence ever since.

The region is Indonesia’s poorest, despite its wealth of natural resources. Access to the area for foreign journalists remains restricted and even those who get permission to visit can run into trouble with the authorities.

Nduga, a mountainous area that is one of the world’s last pristine tropical forests, has been at the centre of much of the instability.

The local communities are indigenous Melanesian people, who are mostly Christian and speak their own languages rather than Bahasa Indonesia. Subsistence farmers, they live on their ancestral lands, growing crops and raising pigs, and supplementing their diet with leaves gathered from the forest and the wild boar that forage among the trees.

An investigation by the local administration into the military’s operations in Nduga in December alleged the armed forces had destroyed homes and churches in their bid to flush out the rebels.

Sisriadi accused the independence movement of using local villagers as cover, but none of the displaced people Al Jazeera met said they had been threatened by the rebels.

Theo Hesegem, a human rights activist who helped research the local administration’s report, told Al Jazeera that eyewitnesses who preferred not to be named had also told him that bombs had been dropped from helicopters on both December 4 and December 5. The military denies the allegations.

Desperate to escape the fighting, many people trekked through the forest for weeks to find safety surviving on leaves and ferns.

Innah Gwejangge, the head of Nduga Health Department whose team has been providing medical services to the displaced villagers, said many of the children were suffering from illnesses, including respiratory infections and diarrhoea brought on by their ordeal.

“They told me there was no food,” Gwejangge said. “They ate anything they could find, such as roots from trees. Some of them were naked. I saw babies wearing nothing, their parents put them inside noken [traditional woven bag] and covered them with leaves,” she added.

Hundreds of displaced people have found refuge in the 23 shelters set up by a local Protestant Church in the town of Wamena, the largest settlement in the central highlands.

In one shelter, dozens of children and adults are living in a single house with only one bathroom and kitchen. Most shelters provide a temporary home for between two and 10 families.

“They are still scared,” Dolu Bruangge, a volunteer, said of the displaced. “They don’t trust outsiders.”

Many are desperate to return home so they can get back to their land and what is left of their crops. Church volunteers have given them clothing and other basic necessities.

They have also built a school, staffed with teachers from the local authority. Inside, the students sit on wooden benches beneath a tin roof, surrounded by walls fashioned out of tarpaulin, which billows and rips when the wind picks up.

Jennes Sampouw, the head of Nduga’s educational department, said 695 students from 32 districts had now joined the emergency schools. His goal was to make sure the students could take part in the national exams that took place in April.

But the displaced children still find it difficult to get medical services because hospitals can only treat people who are registered locally.

“These children have a right to be protected by the country as mentioned in our children protection law,” Retno Listyarti of the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI), an independent agency, told Al Jazeera, stressing that trauma counselling was also crucial.

Fighting between the military and the separatists continues. On May 13, local media reported an officer had been killed after the rebels attacked an airfield in Nduga.

The continuing unrest means the children are unlikely to return home any time soon. But even when they do go back to their villages, the spectre of violence will continue to haunt them.

“I am afraid the soldiers will come back again,” said the nine-year-old girl.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/frightened-displaced-papua-children-haunted-conflict-190531060054648.html

Fake Saudi prince Anthony Gignac jailed for $8m fraud

Fraud

For years, Anthony Gignac lived a life of luxury fit for a royal.

He wore expensive jewellery, travelled in private jets or cars with diplomatic licence plates, and carried business cards referring to himself as “Sultan”.

But the story of the self-proclaimed prince finally unravelled on Friday, as he was jailed for 18 years for fraud.

A Florida judge said Gignac, 48, was a con man who posed as a Saudi royal to swindle $8 million (£6.3 million) from investors.

“Over the course of the last three decades, Anthony Gignac has portrayed himself as a Saudi prince in order to manipulate, victimise, and scam countless investors from around the world,” US Attorney Fajardo Orshan said in a statement.

“As the leader of a sophisticated, multi-person, international fraud scheme, Gignac used his fake persona – Prince Khalid Bin Al-Saud – to sell false hope. He sold his victims on hope for their families, careers, and future. As a result, dozens of unsuspecting investors were stripped of their investments, losing more than $8 million,” Ms Orshan added.

Born in Colombia, Gignac was adopted by a family in the US state of Michigan at the age of seven.

By 17, he had already started taking on the persona of a Saudi royal, using his alter-ego to con credit card companies, shop staff and investors.

According to court documents, he has been arrested 11 times in the past three decades for “prince-related schemes”.

From as early as May 2015, he has been using the name Khalid Bin Al-Saud, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida says.

To support his fraudulent persona, he purchased fake diplomatic licence plates and papers for his bodyguards. He wore traditional Saudi clothes and expensive rings and watches.

He often travelled on private jets or luxury yachts, and collected expensive artwork.

His fake life was chronicled on an Instagram account, where he shared photos of his dog sitting in designer bags and Saudi royals with captions like “my dad”.

When meeting with investors, he would refer to himself as a prince and demand that royal protocols such as gift giving were followed.

Prosecutors said Gignac used his fake royal persona to convince people to invest in non-existent business ventures around the world.

However, the scheme started to fall apart in May 2017, when he tried to invest in a luxury hotel in Miami.

Over the course of the negotiations, the hotel’s owners became suspicious of Gignac, in part because of his willingness to eat pork products that would normally be off-limits to a devout Muslim prince, the Miami Herald reports.

They then hired a private security group to investigate him, which ultimately led to a federal investigation.

Gignac pleaded guilty earlier this year to wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and impersonating a diplomat, court documents show.

In her statement, Ms Orshan said “justice spoke for the victims” in Friday’s verdict.

‘No priest may obey’ proposed law, California bishop says

PriestCalifornia State Capitol building in Sacramento. Via Shutterstock

– Bishop Michael Barber, S.J., of the Diocese of Oakland, California, has said he would sooner accept arrest and prison than comply with a state law that would force priests to violate the seal of confession. Barber made the statement in a letter released to the diocese on Tuesday. “I will go to jail before I will obey this attack on our religious freedom,” wrote Barber.

“Even if this bill passes, no priest may obey it. The protection of your right to confess to God and have your sins forgiven in total privacy must be protected. I urge you to contact your State Senator today to protest this bill.”

The bishop said he is entirely in favor of laws that protect children from abuse, and supports the work undertaken by the Church to ensure the safety of minors. But, he insisted, this support does not extend to Senate Bill 360, a proposed state law which would force priests and other religious ministers to report suspected cases of child abuse in violation of priest-penitent privilege.

Barber said that a local priest had come forward to tell him his teenage parishioners were now afraid to receive the sacrament of reconciliation out of fear the priest would go to the police with their sins. He called the bill “misguided,” and said it “does nothing to support our efforts” to promote safe environments.

Senate Bill 360 was amended to require the sacramental seal be violated in instances where a priest learns of or suspects abuse while hearing the confession of a fellow priest or colleague. The bill was originally drafted to require priests to violate the seal if they came to suspect abuse following the confession of any penitent whatsoever.

The bill passed the California Senate on Thursday by an overwhelming margin, with legislators voting 30-2 in favor of the measure.

In a statement after that vote, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said he was “deeply disappointed” by the result and that, even with the amendments that had been made to it before the vote it “still denies the sanctity of confession to every priest in the state and to thousands of Catholics who work with priests in parishes and other Church agencies and ministries.”

The bill’s sponsor, California state Senator Jerry Hill (D-Calif. 13), has claimed that “the clergy-penitent privilege has been abused on a large scale, resulting in the unreported and systemic abuse of thousands of children across multiple denominations and faiths.”

The senator has claimed that such abuse has been revealed through “recent investigations by 14 attorneys general, the federal government, and other countries.”

Despite recent investigations into the clerical sexual abuse crisis in different countries and jurisdictions, no data exists establishing or indicating the use of sacramental confession either to facilitate or perpetuate the sexual abuse of minors.

Per Canon Law, priests who violate the seal of confession by sharing anything learned within the sacramental context to anyone, at any time, for any reason is subject to automatic excommunication and and further punishments, including loss of the clerical state.

Nusrat Jahan Rafi: 16 charged in Bangladesh for burning girl alive

MurderNusrat was doused with kerosene and set on fire on a rooftop

Sixteen people have been charged in Bangladesh over the shocking murder of a teenager who was burned to death after reporting sexual harassment.

Nusrat Jahan Rafi, 19, was doused with kerosene and set on fire on the roof of her Islamic school on 6 April, days after filing a complaint.

Headmaster Siraj Ud Doula, targeted in the complaint, is among those charged.

Police say he ordered her murder from prison when she refused to withdraw her accusations against him.

They described the preparations for the killing as being like a “military plan”.

The case sparked mass protests in Bangladesh and shone a spotlight on the vulnerability of victims of sexual assault and harassment in the country.

Ms Rafi filed a police complaint against Mr Doula in late March and he was arrested. On 6 April she attended the school to sit her final exams when she was allegedly lured to the roof of the school and set alight by a group of people wearing burkas, a one-piece veil that covers the face and body.

They had planned to make it look like a suicide, police said, but Ms Rafi – who suffered burns to 80% of her body – was able to give a statement before she died on 10 April.

Police in Feni, a small town some 160km (100 miles) outside the capital Dhaka, formally laid murder charges on Wednesday against the 16 accused. They include students at the madrassa and two local politicians from the governing Awami League party who were in prominent positions at the school.

Investigators are calling for the death penalty for all of the suspects. Police say that the principal has confessed in court that he ordered the murder.

They say that in total 12 of the accused have given statements of confession. The two local politicians have not admitted any involvement.

In the wake of Ms Rafi’s death, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged that every person involved in the killing would be brought to justice.

“None of the culprits will be spared from legal action,” she said.

What happened to Nusrat?

On 27 March, the 19-year-old accused the headmaster of the madrassa she attended of calling her into his office and repeatedly touching her in an inappropriate manner. She ran out before things could go any further.

She and her family went to the police on the same day and she gave a statement. At the police station, she was filmed by the officer in charge as she described the ordeal.

In the video she is visibly distressed and tries to hide her face with her hands. The policeman is heard calling the complaint “no big deal” and telling her to move her hands from her face. He has now been charged with illegally recording her statement and sharing it online.

The madrassa’s headmaster was arrested after Ms Rafi filed her complaint, triggering street protests locally demanding his release.

According to Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) chief Banaj Kumar Majumder, Mr Doula was visited in jail by associates whom he instructed to intimidate Nusrat’s family to withdraw the complaint.

When this failed, the principal is alleged to have ordered her to be killed if necessary. At a news conference on Tuesday, the PBI chief described careful planning – including the purchase of kerosene, burkas and gloves. The accused are alleged to have divided roles among themselves on 6 April, the day of the murder.

Some guarded the gates of the madrassa to make sure only students entered, while others kept watch in front of the specific building where Nusrat was to be attacked, Mr Majumder said.

According to a statement given by Nusrat, she was lured to the roof of that building by a fellow female student. She was allegedly told that one of her friends was being beaten up.

There, Mr Majumder said, she was pressured to withdraw the case and asked to sign a blank piece of paper. When she refused she was gagged and bound before being doused with kerosene and burned, he said.

In the ambulance, fearing she might not survive, she recorded a statement on her brother’s mobile phone and identified some of her attackers as students at the madrassa.

“The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath,” she can be heard saying in the video.

A trial date is yet to be set.

 

 

 

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-48441604