Protests, strikes as India Parliament considers controversial citizenship bill

Students protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Guwahati, India. (AP)
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Updated 10 December 2019

Protests, strikes as India Parliament considers controversial citizenship bill

  • Some see the move as a blatant attack on India’s secularism and its minority Muslim community

NEW DELHI: The Indian government on Monday tabled its controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in the lower house of Parliament amid strike threats and protests against it throughout the country.

The bill, which seeks to amend the country’s Citizenship Act 1955, is aimed at granting citizenship to persecuted minorities such as Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Parsis from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but excludes Muslims.

After introducing the bill in Parliament, Indian Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah, said: “Why do we need this bill today? After independence, if Congress had not partitioned the country on the basis of religion, we would not have needed this bill. Congress did partition on the basis of religion.”

The bill, he added, sought to give Indian nationality to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who were facing religious persecution there, and did “not violate any of the constitutional provisions.”

The idea of the CAB gained currency after the publication of the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) — a process of identifying illegal citizens in the northeastern state of Assam — on Aug. 31.

After five years of implementing the rigorous process, the NRC found more than 1.9 million illegal citizens in Assam out of which close to 65 percent were estimated to be Bengali Hindus.

For the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which considers Hindus as its core constituency, it was a huge setback. Therefore, immediately after the publication of the NRC list, BJP leaders in Assam and Delhi started to criticize the list, calling it faulty and demanding a fresh NRC. To relieve Hindu tensions, the BJP promised to bring a new CAB to Parliament.

Additionally, Shah also announced last month that his government would conduct an all-India NRC to identify illegal citizens, with Assam having to go through the process again.

Some see the move as a blatant attack on India’s secularism and its minority Muslim community.

“This bill is not even .001 percent against minorities. It is against infiltrators,” Shah said.

However, opposition groups, led by the Congress party, say the legislation runs against the basic principles of the constitution and secularism.

“The bill is a violation of our constitution’s secular ethos, culture, tradition and civilization, and we will oppose it,” said Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Congress leader in the lower house.

With opposition parties lacking a majority in both houses of the Indian Parliament, the bill is likely to pass without facing many hurdles.

But the views of the main opposition have been represented on the streets with different political and social groups staging demonstrations in various parts of the country.

In the eastern city of Kolkata, thousands of people held a rally to protest against the CAB and the proposed NRC.

Organized by a joint forum of different civil society groups, the protesters called the citizenship bill “communal and anti-constitutional” and vowed to campaign against it across India.

The capital Delhi witnessed its third protest in as many days against CAB. On Monday, the All India United Democratic Front of Assam (AIUDF) held a demonstration and asked the government to “reconsider” the citizenship bill.

Similar protests have also been organized in the southern Indian city of Bangalore where people expressed “deep anxiety” over the CAB, while all eight northeastern states were due to stage a general strike against the CAB on Tuesday.

“Citizenship based on religion is an attack on the very foundation of the secular India,” said Samujjal Bhattacharya, adviser to the North East Students’ Organization (NESO), an Assam-based civil society group which is spearheading a campaign against the CAB.

Bhattacharya told Arab News that the Assam agitation of the 1980s was against illegal citizens from Bangladesh and was not targeted against any religion, but the CAB was detrimental to the interests of the entire northeast.

Assam-based Aman Wadud, a human rights activist and lawyer, said: “You have to read the citizenship bill with the NRC and then it becomes clear that the main purpose of the CAB is to harass Muslims and divide the society on religious grounds.

“The Assam NRC has proved that illegal immigrants in India is a myth and it is whipped only to arouse the emotion of the people.”

Syed Sadatullah Hussaini, president of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), a prominent Islamic organization in India, said: “The way the ruling BJP is attaching the NRC with the citizenship bill is an attempt to target the Muslim population. It is against the constitutional values of India. It is an attempt to legitimize the two-nation theory and treat Hindus and Muslims as separate entities in India.”

Meanwhile, popular historian and political analyst, Ramachandra Guha, told Arab News that the CAB was “part bigotry, part headline management. This regime is pathologically anti-Muslim, and it desperately wants to divert attention from the perilous state of the economy.”


Deadly floods, landslides hit Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh

Updated 29 July 2021

Deadly floods, landslides hit Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh

  • More than 2,000 families were evacuated from the hilly slopes of the Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar
  • Met office expert warns that the extreme weather-related incidents could continue for several days

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities have evacuated nearly 10,000 Rohingya refugees from makeshift settlements in the Cox’s Bazar district, after at least six were killed by landslides and flash floods in the past four days, officials said on Thursday.

Cox’s Bazar, where more than 1 million Rohingya refugees live in 34 camps, is one of the most disaster-prone parts of Bangladesh. After days of torrential rain the refugees were moved from the cramped Balukhali camp, where many makeshift homes have been built on hilly slopes prone to landslides and mudslides.

“About 8,000 to 10,000 people from 2,000 families were relocated from their tents,” Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Shah Rezwan Hayat told Arab News.

According to commission, six refugees were killed when the worst landslide hit the camp on Tuesday.

“Our prime focus at this moment is to save the people’s lives,” Shamsuddouza Nayan, additional commissioner for refugees, relief and repatriation, told Arab News. “We are continuously monitoring the situation on ground. Thousands of Rohingyas who are vulnerable have been relocated to nearby learning centers and other safe places.”

While he expressed hope the situation would not worsen, as floodwater levels have started to fall, he added: “Everything depends on weather, which is unpredictable.”

Bangladesh Meteorological Department director Shamsuddin Ahmed was less optimistic, warning that extreme weather-related incidents could continue for several days. Intense rainfall, floods and landslides are an annual problem in the area due to its monsoon climate and its location on the Bay of Bengal.

“There is a clear low pressure on the Bay of Bengal, which is causing this adverse weather, and there are possibilities of heavy rainfall due to this monsoon low,” he said. “Some of the areas may go under water due to flash floods, and in some hilly regions there might be incidents of landslides.”

Some refugees said they had lost everything in the landslides.

“I lost all of my belongings as my tent went under the piles of mud,” Abdur Rahman, a father of three, told Arab News. “We could only save our lives from the devastating landslide.

“Now I have to start from zero with empty hands. I have no idea how I will manage the utensils and other household materials.”

Bibi Hajera said the extreme weather has heightened suffering of the refugees who were already struggling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and strict lockdowns.

“My five-year-old son, Mohammad Solaiman, has got a cold and fever,” she said. “Our six-member family has been evacuated to a learning center along with some other families. Now I am waiting for a doctor to get medicine for my son.”

Most of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh fled Rakhine state in Myanmar after a military crackdown in 2017 that the UN has said might amount to genocide.

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Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources

Updated 29 July 2021

Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources

  • Rising caseloads in tourist destinations could help fuel a fourth wave when Germans come home from holiday
  • Rules are now also applied differently at airports and road crossings

BERLIN: All travelers arriving in Germany will be required from this weekend to demonstrate immunity from COVID-19 either from a vaccine or previous infection, or present a negative test result, government sources reported.
The plan reflects growing concern among Germany’s regional and national leaders that rising caseloads in tourist destinations could help fuel a fourth wave when Germans come home from holiday.
Germany now requires a negative test or proof of immunity only from those arriving from so-called “risk areas,” “high-incidence areas” and “virus-variant areas,” which in Europe now include Britain, Spain and the Netherlands.
Rules are now also applied differently at airports and road crossings, and regional leaders are keen to make them more consistent.
Germany saw 3,142 new infections on Thursday, according to its main disease fighting agency, the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases. Average daily new cases in Britain stand at almost 30,000.
After an initial slow start, Germany has swiftly implemented widespread vaccination, with 61.3 percent of the population receiving at least one shot, dramatically reducing the disease’s severity and lethality.


Lawyers warn Danish Syria policy could set ‘dangerous precedent’ for refugees

Updated 29 July 2021

Lawyers warn Danish Syria policy could set ‘dangerous precedent’ for refugees

  • More than 1,200 Syrians, mostly women and the elderly, set to be affected after parts of Damascus marked safe for return
  • Denmark does not recognize Assad regime on account of human rights abuses

LONDON: Lawyers taking the Danish government to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over its efforts to deport Syrian refugees warn that the move will set a “dangerous precedent.”
Denmark recently began rejecting temporary residency status renewal applications from many Syrians in the country after it determined that security in parts of Syria had “improved significantly,” including the capital Damascus.
This comes despite the government in Copenhagen having no diplomatic ties to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad over ongoing human rights abuses, which would lead to many proposed deportees being left indefinitely in detention centers.
About 1,200 of the 35,000 Syrians living in Denmark are set to be affected by the change in policy, as the Scandinavian nation, previously considered one of the world’s most tolerant and open societies, feels the political impact of a rise in support for the far-right Danish People’s Party.
A similar policy in 2018 revoking the status of hundreds of Somalis in Denmark led to many leaving or disappearing altogether, with the Danish Refugee Council saying they had moved to other countries without official status.
Lawyers from London-based international human rights chambers Guernica 37 said in a note: “The situation in Denmark is deeply concerning. While the risk of direct conflict-related violence may have diminished in some parts of Syria, the risk of political violence remains as great as ever, and refugees returning from Europe are being targeted by regime security forces.
“If the Danish government’s efforts to forcibly return refugees to Syria is successful, it will set a dangerous precedent, which several other European states are likely to follow.”
Guernica 37 is part of a group including 150 Danish law firms pushing back against the new policy.
Carl Buckley, the lead barrister from the chambers, said: “The ECHR is a slow-moving system, but we would make an application asking the court to consider interim measures, which would involve ordering Denmark to stop revoking residencies until a substantive complaint has been considered and ruled upon.”
Jens Rye-Andersen, a Danish immigration lawyer, said that he believed public opinion was on the side of refugees and that he believed the government would change its stance before the case reached the ECHR.
“There have been a lot of changes in the asylum system in the last two years and clearly it’s not working very well. Experts who compiled the initial report the government used to show the security situation in Syria has improved are saying that their work has been misquoted. So I think the government doesn’t have a choice except to reconsider.”
As a result of the Syrian regime’s policy of conscripting young men to serve in its armed forces or punishing others for desertion, the majority of those set to lose their residency status are women or the elderly — with several refugees saying it could end up splitting families.
Ghalia, a 27 year old who arrived in 2015, had her residency permit revoked in March. She told The Guardian newspaper: “I feel nothing but fear about going into the immigration center by myself, but I can’t return to Syria … it is like they believe we have a choice but if I go back, I will be arrested.
“I have no control over my life and I feel like I haven’t done anything to deserve this.”
Faeza, a 25-year-old nurse who had her residency revoked in January, said: “I was interviewed for eight hours. I was asked over and over why hadn’t I returned to Syria? I said because it wasn’t safe.” The ruling was overturned in July, but she added: “I am now worried (in case it happens again). As Syrian refugees, we are subject to unjust decisions.”


8.2 magnitude earthquake off Alaskan peninsula, tsunami warning

Updated 29 July 2021

8.2 magnitude earthquake off Alaskan peninsula, tsunami warning

  • Tsunami warning sirens could be heard on Kodiak, an island with a population of about 6,000 people
  • Alaska was hit by a 9.2-magnitude earthquake in March 1964, the strongest ever recorded in North America

WASHINGTON: An 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck off the Alaskan peninsula late Wednesday, the United States Geological Survey said, prompting a tsunami warning.
The earthquake hit 56 miles (91 kilometers) southeast of the town of Perryville, the USGS said. The US government issued a tsunami warning for south Alaska and the Alaskan peninsula.
“Hazardous tsunami waves for this earthquake are possible within the next three hours along some coasts,” the US Tsunami Warning System said in a statement.
Perryville is a small village about 500 miles from Anchorage, Alaska’s biggest city.
Tsunami warning sirens could be heard on Kodiak, an island with a population of about 6,000 people, along Alaska’s coastline.
The quake struck at 10:15 p.m. Wednesday (0615 GMT Thursday).
A broadcaster on local radio station KMXT said a tsunami, if it was generated, would hit Kodiak at 11:55 pm.
Videos posted on social media by journalists and residents in Kodiak showed people driving away from the coast as warning sirens could be heard.
A tsunami watch was also issued for Hawaii, meaning residents are required to stay away from beaches.
Five aftershocks were recorded within 90 minutes of the earthquake, the largest with a magnitude of 6.2, according to the USGS.
Alaska is part of the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire.
Alaska was hit by a 9.2-magnitude earthquake in March 1964, the strongest ever recorded in North America.
It devastated Anchorage and unleashed a tsunami that slammed the Gulf of Alaska, the US west coast, and Hawaii.
More than 250 people were killed by the quake and the tsunami.
A 7.5 magnitude earthquake also caused tsunami waves in Alaska’s southern coast in October, but no casualties were reported.

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India, US push for peace in Afghanistan, decry Taliban’s military advances

Updated 29 July 2021

India, US push for peace in Afghanistan, decry Taliban’s military advances

  • Blinken, Jaishankar agree to expand multilateral security partnership

NEW DELHI: Growing concerns over China and turmoil in Afghanistan dominated talks between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi on Wednesday, with both officials urging the Taliban and Kabul to resolve issues to create a country that is “at peace with itself and its neighbors.”

Jaishankar said in a joint press conference in New Delhi at the end of a two-hour meeting with his US counterpart: “We spoke at length about regional concerns, multilateral institutions and global issues.”

It is Blinken’s first visit to India after assuming charge as US President Joe Biden’s secretary of state.

“Regarding Afghanistan, it is essential that peace negotiations are taken seriously by all parties,” Jaishankar said, adding: “The world wishes to see an independent, sovereign, democratic and stable Afghanistan at peace with itself and with its neighbors.”

Blinken appreciated India’s contributions to Kabul’s development and talked about working together to stabilize the war-ravaged country.

“We discussed regional security scenarios, including Afghanistan,” Blinken said in his opening statement.

“India and the US share a common view on a peaceful, secured and stable Afghanistan. India has made and continues to make vital contributions to Afghanistan’s stability and development,” he added.

New Delhi has spent billions on development projects in Afghanistan in recent years and is a firm backer of the Kabul government.

However, the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan forced India to evacuate 50 staff from two consulates in the country as the Taliban gained even more territory amid a drawdown of US-led foreign forces.

In April, President Biden ordered the complete withdrawal of about 3,000 US troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, effectively ending the US’ longest war.

Earlier this month, Biden gave an updated timeline and said that the US military mission would end by Aug. 31.

Taliban fighters have swept across the country in recent weeks, with the Pentagon admitting on July 21 that half of all district centers — surrounding 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals — were now in the hands of the Taliban.

Blinken said that he disapproved of the Taliban’s “military adventure” as it “does not serve the objective of peace” in Afghanistan.

“Taking over the country by force and abusing the rights of the people is not the path to achieve those objectives. There is only one path, and that is at the negotiation table to resolve the conflict peacefully,” the US official said.

He emphasized that the Taliban’s military advances were “troubling” and that Washington remains engaged in Afghanistan.

“The Taliban is making advances in district centers; there are reports of them committing atrocities in Afghanistan. It’s deeply troubling. It certainly doesn’t speak well about their intentions for the country. We remain engaged in Afghanistan,” he added.

India’s human rights issues was also brought up in discussions, with Blinken holding talks with civil society leaders in Delhi ahead of his meeting with Jaishankar.

“Shared values — freedom and equality — are key, and none of us have done enough. We need to strengthen our democratic institutions. This is at the core of our relationship, beyond strategic and economic ties,” Blinken said.

Since being elected to office in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have faced allegations of suppressing dissent, pursuing divisive policies to appeal to Hindu voters and enacting the Citizenship Amendment Law two years ago, which Muslims argue is discriminatory.

Debate over India’s human rights record became even more pronounced following the death in custody of 87-year-old Jesuit priest Stan Swamy, who was arrested on charges of supporting ultra-Maoists while awaiting bail.

“One of the elements Americans admire most is a fundamental freedom and human rights. That’s how we define India. India’s democracy is powered by free-thinking citizens,” Blinken said.

The US secretary of state also met a Tibetan delegation in Delhi and ended his short visit to the capital by meeting with Modi.

Both sides also discussed the upcoming meeting in September of the Quad group of countries comprising India, Japan, Australia and the US. The Quad will hold the summit in Washington, which Modi is expected to attend.

Blinken, however, denied that the Quad had been created to counter China’s interests in the Indo-Pacific region following Beijing’s accusations that the “Asian NATO” group was designed to harm China.

The US has long viewed India as a key partner in efforts to overpower China’s economic and military might in the Indo-Pacific region, but Blinken rejected the view that the Quad was a “military alliance.”

He said: “What is Quad? It’s quite simple but important. Its purpose is to advance cooperation on regional challenges while reinforcing international rules and values that we believe together underpin peace, prosperity, and stability in the region.

“We share a vision — India and the US — of a free, open and secure atmosphere in the Indo-Pacific and will work together to make that a reality,” he added.

Foreign policy experts see Blinken’s visit as a “sign of maturity” in India-US ties.

“The press conference was indicative of how the US-India relationship has matured,” Pranay Kotasthane, deputy director of the Takshashila Institution based in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru, told Arab News.

“There was no mention of our western neighbor, and the focus was on regional security, economic recovery and global issues such as climate change,” he added, before noting the convergence between the two countries on the situation in Afghanistan.

“On Afghanistan, both countries seem to agree that a Taliban that forces itself on the people of Afghanistan will face the consequences in terms of international recognition and access, and both the countries feel the need for resolution through the intra-Afghan dialogue,” Kotasthane said.