3 dead, dozens injured as Australia wildfires raze homes

Around 1,500 firefighters were battling more than 70 fires across Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2019

3 dead, dozens injured as Australia wildfires raze homes

  • Around 1,500 firefighters were battling more than 70 fires across Australia’s most populous state
  • At least 150 homes had been destroyed since Friday

CANBERRA, Australia: Wildfires razing Australia’s drought-stricken east coast have left three people dead and several missing, more than 30 injured and over 150 homes destroyed, officials said Saturday.
Around 1,500 firefighters were battling more than 70 fires across Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, with the most intense in the northeast, where flames were fanned by strong winds, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
A woman who was found unconscious and with serious burns Friday near Glen Innes died in a hospital, he said.
Her daughter-in-law Chrystal Harwood identified the victim as 69-year-old grandmother Vivian Chaplain, who was alone in her house in the small community of Wytaliba when it was engulfed in flames.
“I was the last one to speak to her. She was in an absolute panic. She said: ‘We’re on fire. There’s fire everywhere. I need the boys here now,’” Harwood told Nine Network television of their final phone call.
“Before I even got to tell her to just get out, she’d hung up on me. I couldn’t get back through to her. I tried so many times,” Harwood said. “She was amazing. She was such a strong, loving woman.”
On Friday, Harwood made a desperate plea on social media for someone to come to Chaplain’s rescue.
“Viv is alone can someone help, anyone please ... boys are on the way down if they can get through,” Harwood posted. “’The RFS can’t get to her they are trying ... the road down is a tunnel of fire.”
Firefighters found another body on Saturday in a burned car near Glen Innes, a victim of the same fire, officials said. The local man’s name has not been released.
A third body was found Saturday afternoon in a burned building at Johns River, north of Taree, a police statement said. That victim died in a fire hundreds of kilometers (miles) from Glen Innes.
Another seven people have been reported missing in the vicinity of the Glen Innes fire, Fitzsimmons said.
“We are expecting that number (of missing people) to climb today,” he said. “There are really grave concerns that there could be more losses or indeed more fatalities.”
More than 30 people including firefighters received medical treatment for burns and one patient had cardiac arrest, he said.
At least 150 homes had been destroyed since Friday, and damage assessment teams had yet to reach some devastated areas, a Rural Fire Service statement said. Residents could not yet return because of the dangers of fire, smoke and loose asbestos in the rubble, the statement said.
Hundreds of people evacuated their homes along a 500-kilometer swath of the eastern seaboard from the Queensland state border south to Forster.
Forster is a town 300 kilometers north of Sydney, Australia’s largest city. Many spent the night in evacuation centers, while some slept in cars.
In Queensland, around 50 wildfires were raging on Saturday. At least one house was lost, a firefighter suffered a broken leg and 6,000 residents were evacuated from three communities in the state’s southeast, police said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned Australia to expect more bad news from the fire zones. His warning came before the third victim was confirmed.
“The devastating and horrific fires that we have seen particularly in New South Wales but also in Queensland have been absolutely chilling,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
The Insurance Council of Australia declared the wildfire crisis a “catastrophe,” meaning insurance claims will be given priority.


Hague hearing offers ray of hope to Bangladesh’s Rohingya

Updated 10 December 2019

Hague hearing offers ray of hope to Bangladesh’s Rohingya

  • International Court of Justice seeks to address atrocities committed by Myanmar

DHAKA: Several members of the Rohingya community in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar expressed optimism on Monday that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) would rule in their favor once it began its three-day hearing against Myanmar on Tuesday.

The case was filed by Gambia on behalf of all Muslim nations from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) with the ICJ over the alleged persecution of the Rohingya by the Myanmar military.

On Nov. 18, the court decided to hold the hearings from Dec.10 to 12. Gambia’s justice minister will lead his country during the hearings.

Both Canada and Bangladesh have been supporting Gambia by providing different data and information regarding the atrocities against the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s state councillor and its de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has already reached  the Netherlands to lead the defense lawyers on behalf of her country at the ICJ.

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque will remain present at the courtroom to witness the process.

He will lead a 20-member team, comprising government officials and civil society representatives.

Rohingya at Cox’s Bazar are highly optimistic of securing justice at the ICJ.

“We think justice will be ensured because all international human rights groups, different UN organizations and the international community have got evidence of the persecution on the Rohingya. All of them have visited the refugee camps many times and listened to the plight of the Rohingya,” Sawyed Ullah, a community leader from Jamtoli, told Arab News.

“Also, we have strong evidences of atrocities committed by the Myanmar government to root out the Rohingya from their birth place, Rakhine,” Ullah added.

“Without ensuring accountability, there will not be any safety and justice in Rakhine. Once the accountability is restored,  all of us will be able to go back home.”

Ramjan Ali, another refugee from the Kutupalang camp, said: “Myanmar’s government has forcibly displaced the Rohingya from their own land and that compelled us to shelter here at the refugee camps. Isn’t it enough evidence to justify our allegations against the Myanmar government?”

Ramjan Ali added: “Still the situation in Rakhine is very bad as we receive information from our relatives over there. We need protection from the international forces before any repatriation, and the ICJ’s decision will be helpful for us in this regard.”

Rohingya human rights activist Nay San Lwin, co-founder of the German-based Free Rohingya Coalition described the ICJ’s move as historic.

“It is first ever since we are persecuted. We have been seeking for justice since very long time,” Lwin told Arab News, adding that “finally the case is now at the world court and although it will take several years we are now excited for provisional measures from the court.”

Lwin, along with some 200 Rohingya rights activists from around the world, is set to hold a protest rally at the Hague from Dec. 11 during the ICJ’s hearing.

“We are expecting very much from the ICJ. Regardless whether Myanmar follows the decisions of the court this will have a huge impact. There won’t be any other justice mechanisms if this international court of justice can’t ensure the justice for us,” added Lwin.

Expressing his frustration on the repatriation process, Lwin said that the Myanmar government still had a “genocidal policy” on the Rohingya.

“I don’t think repatriation of the Rohingya will take place soon unless the government is considering to fulfill our demands,” he said.

The ICJ’s final decision will hold strong significance as any decisions taken by the ICJ are binding on member states.

Both Gambia and Myanmar are signatories of the Genocide Convention.