US to keep migrant families in hotels as amid rush for space

Central American migrants queue at the Sagrada Familia shelter as they wait for the so-called La Bestia (The Beast) cargo train in an attempt to reach the US border in Tlaxcala state, Mexico on April 9, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 10 April 2021

US to keep migrant families in hotels as amid rush for space

  • Migrant families will generally stay less than 72 hours for processing
  • Mexico has resisted taking back Central American families with young children

Migrant families will be held at hotels in the Phoenix area in response to a growing number of people crossing the US-Mexico border, authorities said Friday, another step in the Biden administration’s rush to set up temporary space for them.
US Sen. Kyrsten Sinema was told that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement will occupy “several hotels along the southwest border, including in Chandler and Phoenix,” her office said in a statement. Chandler is a Phoenix suburb that’s more than 150 miles (241 kilometers) north of the border.
ICE declined to identify specific hotels and locations, saying only that its $86.9 million contract announced last month with Endeavors Inc. will provide about 1,200 hotel beds in Texas and Arizona. Migrant families will generally stay less than 72 hours for processing.
The contract says the San Antonio-based provider of veterans care, disaster relief and migrant services already has beds available at hotels in Chandler and the Texas cities of El Paso and Cotulla, southwest of San Antonio. The first families to be housed in hotels under the contract were set to arrive Friday.
Sinema’s office said the Democratic senator spoke with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and will hold him “accountable for protecting Arizona communities and ensuring all migrants are treated fairly and humanely.”
The Border Patrol encountered 52,904 families along the Mexican border last month, up from 19,286 in February and 3,455 in March 2020. The Endeavors contract says authorities anticipate the highest number of family arrivals in 20 years during the 12-month period ending Sept. 30.
Only about one in three families encountered last month was quickly expelled from the US under federal pandemic-related powers that deny people a chance to seek asylum. Immigration authorities have been releasing families with children 6 and younger into the country while their cases are decided.
Mexico also has resisted taking back Central American families with young children, especially in Tamaulipas state bordering Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings. The US flies some families to other border cities – San Diego and El Paso – to be expelled to Mexico from there.
To save time, the Border Patrol has been releasing migrant families – about 9,600 people as of Tuesday, according to US Rep. Henry Cuellar – without notices to appear in court. Instead, they’re told to report to an ICE office in 60 days.
The contract with Endeavors comes as the administration is scrambling for more space to hold families and unaccompanied children. The Border Patrol picked up nearly 19,000 children traveling alone last month, its highest monthly total on record.
The US Department of Health and Human Services – which places unaccompanied children with “sponsors,” most often parents and close relatives – has found space in convention centers, military bases and other large venues. Los Angeles County officials said Friday that its fairgrounds will be used to temporarily house up to 2,500 unaccompanied children.
Lawyers representing immigrant children in longstanding federal litigation over custody conditions raised concerns on Friday that Health and Human Services isn’t moving quickly enough to release the minors to sponsors. Without doing that, so long as border authorities continue detaining children at this pace, “it is difficult to see how a proliferation of overcrowded, irregular facilities can possibly be avoided,” the attorneys wrote in a court filing.
Government lawyers wrote in court papers that Health and Human Services’ office of refugee resettlement is ramping up efforts at recently-opened sites to quickly reunite these children with their families.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican and frequent Biden critic, asked the administration to close a holding facility for unaccompanied children at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, citing allegations that they aren’t getting enough to eat and boys are unsupervised in showers.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the administration takes the “safety and the well-being of children in our care very seriously” and that authorities would investigate Abbott’s claims, but that, at this point, “we have no basis for his call” to shut down the facility.


Pandemic to be ‘far more deadly’ this year, WHO warns

Updated 4 min 33 sec ago

Pandemic to be ‘far more deadly’ this year, WHO warns

GENEVA, Switzerland: The World Health Organization issued a grim warning on Friday that the second year of Covid-19 was set to be “far more deadly,” as Japan extended a state of emergency amid growing calls for the Olympics to be scrapped.
“We’re on track for the second year of this pandemic to be far more deadly than the first,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The mood also darkened in Japan where the coronavirus state of emergency took in another three regions just 10 weeks before the Olympics, while campaigners submitted a petition with more than 350,000 signatures calling for the Games to be canceled.
With Tokyo and other areas already under emergency orders until the end of May, Hiroshima, Okayama and northern Hokkaido, which will host the Olympic marathon, will now join them.
Japanese public opinion is firmly opposed to holding the Games this summer.
Swiss tennis great Roger Federer said Friday that “what the athletes need is a decision: is it happening or isn’t it?“
“I would love to play in the Olympics... But if that doesn’t happen due to the situation, I would be the first to understand,” he added.
The pandemic has killed at least 3,346,813 people worldwide since the virus first emerged in late 2019, according to an AFP tally of official data.

Sputnik V vaccines
India, meanwhile, started deploying Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, the first foreign-made shot to be used in the country that has been reeling from an explosion in cases and deaths.
The first token batch of Sputnik vaccines — reportedly 150,000 doses — arrived on May 1 and a second delivery is expected in the next few days.
A number of leading India-based drugmakers have agreements for local production of Sputnik V with the aim to produce over 850 million doses of the jab per year.
India has been adding roughly as many new Covid cases daily as the rest of the world put together.
More than 260,000 Indians have died, according to official figures.
In Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the arrival of the B1.617.2 variant, one of those believed to be driving the Indian surge, could delay reopening of society and the economy.
“This new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress,” Johnson said.
Britain’s health ministry has tracked the variant in northwest England and in London.
Germany has already added the UK back onto its list of “risk areas” requiring extra checks — but not necessarily quarantine — for incoming travelers.
Elsewhere around the continent, tourist hotspots are opening up.
Greece kickstarted its tourism season on Friday, hoping to reverse last year’s miserable summer.
“I hope to forget this damn Covid,” said Jil Wirries, a 28-year old student from Hanover, Germany, collecting luggage on the island of Crete.
“Everything is terrible in Germany... people are depressed... I’m so happy to be here.”
France and Spain launched tourism campaigns this week too.

Confusion over masks

But in the United States many were confused a day after the top health agency lifted all mask-wearing requirements for fully vaccinated people.
The move has raised questions about how to implement it — the foremost being, how do you tell if a person is fully vaccinated?
It has led to a patchwork of regulations around the country. Some states never had mask mandates in the first place. Others lifted them well before the new advice. Some were reviewing the idea, but others such as Maryland and Virginia rushed to implement it.
Major companies are also weighing their options. Retail giant Walmart was among those who said Friday it would lift its mask mandate for fully vaccinated staff and customers.
But United Food and Commercial Workers, a union which represents 1.3 million people, came out unequivocally against.
“Essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures. Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?” it said.
“My initial reaction was supportive, but the more I think about it, I wish they had said, ‘Let’s do this on July 1. If you aren’t vaccinated yet, this is your chance to go do it,’” said airborne disease specialist Linsey Marr.
The WHO also said Friday that even the vaccinated should keep wearing masks in areas where the virus is spreading.
“Vaccination alone is not a guarantee against infection or against being able to transmit that infection to others,” WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said.
More than 580,000 people have died in the US of Covid-19. But almost 60 percent of US adults have now received one or more doses, while cases are falling fast, and children are also now being vaccinated.
The WHO, however, urged wealthy countries to stop vaccinating children and instead donate doses to poorer nations.
“I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents, but right now I urge them to reconsider and to instead donate vaccines to Covax,” said WHO chief Tedros, referring to the global vaccine-sharing scheme.
In sports, the Turkish Grand Prix, which was only drafted onto the Formula One calendar as a replacement for the canceled Canada GP two weeks ago, was itself axed on Friday.
Formula One chiefs announced they will instead return to the sport’s safe haven of Austria.

2 tornadoes kill at least 7, injures over 200, in China's Wuhan

Updated 21 min 28 sec ago

2 tornadoes kill at least 7, injures over 200, in China's Wuhan

BEIJING: Two tornadoes killed at least seven people in central and eastern China and left more than 200 others injured, officials and state media reported Saturday.
The Wuhan government said that six people had died and 218 were injured in the inland Chinese city. The tornado hit about 8:40 p.m. with winds of 86 kilometers (53 miles) per hour, toppling construction site sheds and snapping several trees, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing the Caidian district government.
Wuhan is the city where COVID-19 was first detected in late 2019.
About 90 minutes earlier, another tornado struck the town of Shengze about 400 kilometers (250 miles) east in Jiangsu province, Xinhua reported. The Suzhou city government, which oversees the town, said that one person was killed and 21 injured, two seriously.
Xinhua said the tornado toppled factory buildings and damaged electricity facilities in Shengze, which is near the city of Shanghai on China’s east coast.

China lands on Mars in latest advance for its space program

Updated 26 min 51 sec ago

China lands on Mars in latest advance for its space program

  • China’s first Mars landing follows its launch last month of the main section of what will be a permanent space station

BEIJING: China has landed a spacecraft on Mars for the first time in the latest advance for its space program.
The official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday that the lander had touched down, citing the China National Space Administration.
Plans call for a rover to stay in the lander for a few days of diagnostic tests before rolling down a ramp to explore an icy area of Mars known as Utopia Planitia. It will join an American one that arrived at the red planet in February.
China’s first Mars landing follows its launch last month of the main section of what will be a permanent space station and a mission that brought back rocks from the moon late last year.
“China has left a footprint on Mars for the first time, an important step for our country’s space exploration,” Xinhua said in announcing the landing on one of its social media accounts.
The US has had nine successful landings on Mars since 1976. The Soviet Union landed on the planet in 1971, but the mission failed after the craft stopped transmitting information soon after touchdown.
A rover and a tiny helicopter from the American landing in February are currently exploring Mars. NASA expects the rover to collect its first sample in July for return to Earth in a decade.


Rohingya refugees at Bhasan Char observe first ‘isolated’ Eid Al-Fitr

Updated 14 May 2021

Rohingya refugees at Bhasan Char observe first ‘isolated’ Eid Al-Fitr

  • Families receive food aid, new clothes as Ramadan draws to a close amid health restrictions

DHAKA: Rohingya refugees at Bhasan Char island observed their first Eid Al-Fitr on Thursday, May 13, in an “isolated state” far away from their relatives.  

Most of the people relocated to the new island facility left their friends and relatives in 34 camps at Cox’s Bazar, which is home for more than 1 million Rohingya refugees.  

Bangladesh began the relocation of refugees, 18,000 to date, to Bhasan Char, some 63 km from the mainland, at the end of last year, explaining that it would ease pressure on the congested camps at Cox’s Bazar.

“We are observing a different kind of Eid this year, far away from friends and relatives. Usually we get together with relatives on Eid days,” Rohingya refugee Abdur Rahman, 37, told Arab News. 

“On this special occasion, I am not seeing any friends and relatives around me. Sometimes I feel isolated.”

Rahman said: “Mobile phones are the only way of communication for us but it’s not always affordable.”

Another refugee, Morium Begum, 29, said her children are missing the Eid festivities in Cox’s Bazar. 

“My children used to visit their friends’ houses and Eid fairs on these days at Cox’s Bazar. But here they don’t have any friends,” Begum told Arab News. 

“Probably, the ongoing coronavirus lockdown added more to our isolation. Otherwise authorities may have allowed some Eid fairs for the children,” she added. 

Mohammad Hossain, 19, said this Eid was a new experience to him. “The congregation field is prepared with makeshift tents and decorated in a befitting manner, which created much festivity on the island,” Hossain told Arab News. “I never saw this sort of arrangement in my days at Cox’s Bazar’s refugee camps.”

On marking Eid Al-Fitr, authorities have provided special food aid to the refugees on the island. 

“A food package containing vermicelli, powdered milk, sugar, edible oil, rice, lentil, spices etc have been provided on the occasion of Eid,” Moazzam Hossain, Bangladesh’s additional refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told Arab News. 

“All the families received this aid according to their family size and need,” he said, adding that 5,000 new clothing items were also distributed to Rohingya children.

For maintaining social distancing and health and safety guidelines, authorities have organized three separate Eid congregations on the island. 

“Since the beginning of the Rohingya exodus in 2017, this is the first time the refugees on the island got the opportunity to celebrate the Eid festival in a comfortable environment, free from the threat of landslides, rough weather and the highly congested environment of the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps,” Hossain added. 

Emergency health services are also open during Eid, and there are eight government health officials currently serving on the island, he said.

UN and international aid agencies are yet to begin aid operations on the island.

Currently, more than 40 local NGOs are providing humanitarian support to the relocated refugees. 

“Here the refugees are fully dependent on relief support, since there is no other source (of aid) on the island,” Saiful Islam Chowdhury, chief executive of Pulse Bangladesh Society, told Arab News. 

“We made a need assessment for each of the families, and supplied aid accordingly, so that all of them can enjoy the festival,” he added.


UK’s Johnson: New variant could disrupt route out of lockdown

Updated 14 May 2021

UK’s Johnson: New variant could disrupt route out of lockdown

  • Johnson also said he would accelerate the provision of second doses of COVID-19 vaccines

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the spread of a new variant of coronavirus first detected in India could disrupt plans to move to eliminate most remaining lockdown measures in June, although it would not delay the next step in easing.
"We will proceed with our plan to move to step three in England from Monday, but I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress, and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June," Johnson told a Downing Street briefing on Friday.

Johnson also said he would accelerate the provision of second doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
“It’s more important than ever therefore that people get the additional protection of a second dose,” he told a news conference.
“So following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, we will accelerate remaining second doses to the over 50s and those clinically vulnerable right across the country, so those doses come just eight weeks after the first dose,” he said.