Greek island on strike to protest migrant policy

File photo showing migrants on Lesbos Island where residents and businesses went on strike for lack of refugees dispersal policy. (AFP)
Updated 03 May 2018

Greek island on strike to protest migrant policy

LESBOS: Greece: A general strike virtually shut down the Greek island of Lesbos on Thursday as residents protested a European Union migration policy that has left thousands of asylum-seekers stranded here.
Most businesses, shops, cafes and local government offices were shuttered in the main town of Mytilene. The only sign of normality was that police officers were still on duty, and the local tax office was open.
Two protest rallies were planned later in the day when Tsipras was due to speak at a conference. Stores were also closed in protest on the nearby island of Chios.
More than 15,000 migrants and refugees remain stuck on Lesbos, Chios, and three other islands, most staying in severely overcrowded camps.
“Thousands of people are still living in appalling conditions with limited access to medical facilities,” the aid group Doctors Without Borders. Conditions at the largest refugee camp in Lesbos, the group said “were putting the health and lives of people stranded on the island at risk.”
Additional police officers, including anti-riot units, have been sent to Lesbos and took up positions around Mytilene. Supporters and opponents of the government used vans fitted with loudspeakers to promote the protest as well as a speech planned by the prime minister later Thursday.
Under a 2016 EU-Turkey agreement, migrants arriving on Greek islands from Turkey are held on the islands facing deportation to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece. The deal has created a massive backlog.
Tension on the islands has been building as the number of migrants arriving from Turkey has risen sharply in recent weeks.
“The situation on the island is exceptionally difficult. We are feeling the effects of a long-term financial crisis and the way the refugee crisis has been handled,” Lesbos Mayor Spyros Galinos said.
“For there to be any talk of growth or recovery, we must first be lifted out of this emergency situation.”
The government has promised to move thousands of asylum-seekers to the mainland but says the effort will take several months to implement — requiring additional staff and more shelter sites around Greece.
In the meantime, the number of daily arrivals continues to rise on the island and Greece’s land border with Turkey
Authorities said 53 people believed to be from Iraq and Syria were picked up Thursday after a yacht used to smuggle them into the country ran aground on a remote mainland beach in northeastern Greece.
The 12-meter (40-foot) Turkish-flagged yacht ran aground on Molyvoti beach in the northeastern Rodopi region, far from any of the usual smuggling routes used to ferry migrants and refugees from Turkey to Greece.
The group was made up of 19 men, 11 women and 23 children between the ages of 2 and 8.

Pope recovering well from surgery but to skip Sunday blessing

Updated 12 sec ago

Pope recovering well from surgery but to skip Sunday blessing

ROME: Pope Francis’ recovery from surgery is going well but doctors advised him not to deliver his Sunday blessing from a hospital balcony to avoid strain on his abdomen.
Briefing reporters at the Gemelli hospital on Saturday, chief surgeon Sergio Alfieri also said the 86-year-old had agreed with doctors to stay there for at least all of next week.
Francis underwent a three-hour operation to repair an abdominal hernia on Wednesday.
“Only three days have passed. We asked the Holy Father to be prudent and avoid the strain (of standing at the balcony),” Alfieri said. “Each time he gets out of bed and sits in an armchair puts stress on the abdominal walls.”
A mesh prosthetic was inserted into the abdominal wall to help it heal and doctors want it to settle and attach properly to avoid another operation if it breaks, he added.
“You can understand how that would not be pleasing for him, and for me,” Alfieri joked.

Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said the pope would say Sunday’s traditional noon Angelus prayer in his hospital suite and the faithful could say it at the same time.
Alfieri said the pope was taken off intravenous tubes on Friday and had started a semi-liquid diet. All medical parameters were within the norm, there were no cardiac problems and complete healing of the abdominal scars would take about three months, he added.
The Vatican said blood test results were good and chest X-rays showed no problems.
Francis had part of one lung removed because of an illness when he was 21-year-old in his native Argentina.
Doctors had said after the operation that the pope should have no limitations on travels and other activities after recovery. He has trips to Portugal on Aug. 2-6 for World Youth Day and to visit the Shrine of Fatima, and to Mongolia Aug. 31-Sept. 4, one of the remotest places he will have visited.
Bruni reiterated that all audiences had been canceled until June 18 but after that the pope’s schedule would remain for now.
The pope traditionally takes all of July off, with the Sunday blessings being his only public appearance, so he will have the entire month to rest before the Portugal trip.

Indonesia set to deport Australian surfer who apologized for drunken rampage

Updated 10 min 4 sec ago

Indonesia set to deport Australian surfer who apologized for drunken rampage

  • Bodhi Mani Risby-Jones, 23, from Queensland, was detained in late April on Simeulue Island, a surf resort
  • Police accused him of going on a drunken rampage that left a fisherman with serious injuries

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s authorities were set to deport on Saturday an Australian surfer who apologized for attacking several people while drunk and naked in the deeply conservative Muslim province of Aceh.
Bodhi Mani Risby-Jones, 23, from Queensland, was detained in late April on Simeulue Island, a surf resort, after police accused him of going on a drunken rampage that left a fisherman with serious injuries.
Risby-Jones was released from prison on Tuesday after he went through a restorative justice process, apologized for the attack and agreed to pay compensation to the fisherman. That allowed him to avoid going to court and facing a possible charge of assault that could have landed him up to five years in prison.
His lawyer, Idris Marbawi, said the two sides agreed that Risby-Jones would pay the fisherman’s family for hospital fees and a traditional peace ceremony. The total payment was 300 million rupiah ($20,000). The fisherman underwent surgery in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, for broken bones and an infection in his legs.
“Risby-Jones is the first foreigner to successfully resolve a case through restorative justice in Aceh province,” Marbawi said. “He deeply regretted what happened and vowed to return to Indonesia for surfing.”
After his release, Risby-Jones stayed at an immigration detention center. He was due to depart for Melbourne on Saturday evening, Marbawi said.
Footage of his release on Tuesday showed Risby-Jones being escorted by officers to a bus after hugging and saying goodbye to several prison wardens.
“It’s been a long time coming and I’m feeling amazing and super happy and grateful,” he said. “Everyone has been very nice and accommodated me well. Thank you.”
Violent acts by foreigners are rare in Aceh, the only province in Muslim-majority Indonesia that practices Shariah, a concession made by the central government in 2001 as part of efforts to end a decades-long war for independence.

Russia says will ‘respond’ after Iceland embassy closure

Updated 26 min 9 sec ago

Russia says will ‘respond’ after Iceland embassy closure

  • "All of Reykjavik's anti-Russian actions will inevitably prompt a response," the Russian foreign ministry said
  • Iceland on Friday said it would suspend work at its embassy in Moscow as of August 1 and asked Russia to limit its operations in Reykjavik

MOSCOW: Russia on Saturday said it would “respond” after Iceland became the first country to suspend its embassy operations in Moscow.
“All of Reykjavik’s anti-Russian actions will inevitably prompt a response,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, accusing Iceland of “ruining” relations between the countries.
“We will take this unfriendly decision into account when we establish our relations with Iceland in the future,” the ministry added.
Iceland on Friday said it would suspend work at its embassy in Moscow as of August 1 and asked Russia to limit its operations in Reykjavik.
“The current situation simply does not make it viable for the small foreign service of Iceland to operate an embassy in Russia,” Foreign Minister Thordis Gylfadottir said.
In a symbolic move, staff could be seen taking down the Icelandic flag hanging from the side of the embassy in Moscow on Friday.
The Icelandic foreign ministry stressed that the decision “does not constitute a severance of diplomatic relations.”
But since commercial, cultural and political ties with Russia were “at an all-time low,” maintaining embassy operations in Moscow was “no longer justifiable,” it said.
The Nordic country has had an embassy in Moscow since 1944 which became a symbolic East-West meeting point toward the end of the Cold War.

Southern India makes history with first women-only Hajj flight

Updated 47 min 14 sec ago

Southern India makes history with first women-only Hajj flight

  • Air India Express flight from Kozhikode carried 145 female pilgrims and six crew
  • Kerala has the highest percentage of women pilgrims traveling without a mahram

NEW DELHI: An Indian Hajj flight run exclusively by women and carrying only female pilgrims has made history, authorities said on Friday, after it reached Saudi Arabia from the southern state of Kerala. 

The Air India Express flight from Kozhikode arrived in Jeddah on Thursday night carrying 145 pilgrims. 

It was operated by Capt. Kanika Mehra, First Officer Garima Passi, and four cabin crew members. 

At the airport, the women were accompanied by Minority Affairs State Minister John Barla, who distributed their boarding passes. 

“I am very proud,” C. Mohammed Faizi, chairman of the Kerala Haj Committee, told Arab News.

The passengers of the special flight are part of a group of 4,000 Indian female pilgrims who this year will reach the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah on their own. 

India tweaked its Hajj policy following last year’s decision by Saudi Arabia to lift a rule that required female pilgrims to be accompanied by a mahram, or male guardian. 

Most of the Indian pilgrims who applied for Hajj in the Ladies Without Mahram category are from Kerala. 

“Without mahram, there are about 2,000 … The largest number without mahram are from Kerala,” Faizi said, attributing the high number to the level of education in Kerala and the fact that many women in the state are used to traveling to the Middle East to meet their relatives working there. 

Kerala this year also boasts a higher overall percentage of female Hajj pilgrims than other Indian states. 

“Sixty percent are women,” Faizi said. 

Muslims constitute about a fourth of Kerala’s population of 35 million. 

About 11,000 of them will be performing the Hajj pilgrimage this year under India’s quota of 175,000, and approximately 60 percent of them will be women. 

Rains unleashed by typhoon worry thousands of people fleeing restive Philippine volcano

Updated 10 June 2023

Rains unleashed by typhoon worry thousands of people fleeing restive Philippine volcano

  • More than 6,000 villagers have been forced to leave rural communities within a 6-kilometer radius of Mayon volcano’s crater

BONGA, Philippines: Thousands of people who fled their homes in the central Philippines to escape a restive volcano have to contend with another threat that’s complicating the ongoing evacuations: monsoon rains that could be unleashed by an approaching typhoon.
More than 6,000 villagers have been forced to leave rural communities within a 6-kilometer radius of Mayon volcano’s crater in northeastern Albay province. Thousands more need to be moved to safety from the permanent danger zone, officials said.
Others living outside the perimeter have packed their bags and voluntarily left with their children for evacuation centers in Albay, which was placed under a state of calamity on Friday to allow more rapid disbursement of emergency funds in case a major eruption unfolds.
Authorities raised the alert level for the volcano on Thursday after superheated streams of gas, debris and rocks cascaded down its upper slope, indicating activity below the surface that could precede a hazardous eruption within days or weeks.
A key tourist draw for its picturesque conical shape, the 2,462-meter Mayon is one of the country’s most active volcanoes. It last erupted violently in 2018, displacing tens of thousands of villagers.
Authorities warned that Typhoon Guchol, which is approaching the Philippines from the Pacific but is projected to skirt the archipelago, may still dump heavy rains — an unwelcome news for those living near Mayon’s slopes.
“There’s a typhoon and floodwaters may rush down Mayon and swamp this village. That’s one of our fears,” Villamor Lopez, a house painter, said.
He sat worriedly with his relatives clinging to their bags of clothes, rice in pouches and bottles of drinking water on a pickup truck hauling villagers from Daraga town in Albay to an emergency shelter several kilometers (miles) away.
Other residents chatted on a roadside near a chapel, still undecided whether to leave.
A loudspeaker in their laid-back community of low-slung rural houses and narrow dirt alleys warned people to prepare to evacuate anytime if the situation worsens. In the overcast sky above them, the volcano laid hidden by thick rainclouds.
Village leader Dennis Bon, who was preparing to drive Lopez and others to the shelter, said he would not risk waiting until the last minute.
“We have children, persons with disabilities and elderly residents here,” Bon said, before he drove off.
Albay Gov. Edcel Greco Lagman and Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian said they were prepared if monsoon rains were to trigger mudflows and rockfalls.
“We will still make sure that we will have no casualties from any compounded calamities,” Lagman said.
Despite growing worries among many villagers, those who have survived Mayon’s eruptions over decades were taking the latest threats in stride.
In Bonga village near the volcano, a few men gingerly took a bath in a stream of spring water flowing down Mayon’s lush foothills and washed two motorcycles near boulders as big as cars that had rolled down years ago during past eruptions.
They shrugged and smiled when asked if the volcano’s new rumblings had struck fear.
The Philippines lies along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” the area around the ocean rim where tectonic plates meet that is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. A long-dormant volcano, Mount Pinatubo, blew its top north of Manila in 1991 in one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing hundreds of people.