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.


Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

Updated 14 June 2021

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

  • Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims
  • Nathaniel Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity

LONDON/ONTARIO: Prosecutors laid terrorism charges Monday against a man accused of driving down and killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario.
The prosecution said Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism and prosecutors have upgraded those charges under Canada’s criminal code.
Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims.
Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity.
The upgraded charges were laid as Veltman made a brief court appearance via video Monday morning. He has yet to enter a plea.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal were killed while out for an evening walk on June 6.
The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured but is expected to recover.


Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

Updated 14 June 2021

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

  • Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin says suspension would be for a further six months

MANILA: The Philippines has suspended for the third time its decision to scrap a two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, its foreign minister said on Monday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the suspension would be for a further six months while President Rodrigo Duterte “studies, and both sides further address his concerns regarding, particular aspects of the agreement.”
The Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States, and several military agreements are dependent on the VFA. Duterte last year notified Washington he was canceling the deal, which came amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a US visa.


France’s army chief Lecointre steps down, replaced by General Burkhard

Updated 14 June 2021

France’s army chief Lecointre steps down, replaced by General Burkhard

  • General Francois Lecointre’s retirement was widely expected

PARIS: France’s chief of staff of the armed forces, General Francois Lecointre, is stepping down to retire and will be replaced by General Thierry Burkhard, the French Presidency said in a statement on Sunday.
Burkhard was up to now army’s chief of land staff. Lecointre’s retirement was widely expected.
The announcement comes after President Emmanuel Macron announced a drawdown in Mali which will take several months of planning.


New Zealand’s Ardern pans mosque attacks film amid backlash

Updated 14 June 2021

New Zealand’s Ardern pans mosque attacks film amid backlash

  • The US-backed film ‘They Are Us’ has sparked an intense backlash among New Zealand Muslims
  • Jacinda Ardern says filmmakers had not consulted her about the movie

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday criticized a planned movie about her response to the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks as poorly timed and focused on the wrong subject.
The US-backed film “They Are Us” has sparked an intense backlash among New Zealand Muslims, with community leaders slamming the project for pushing a “white savior” narrative.
Ardern said the attacks – when a white supremacist gunman ran amok at two mosques during Friday prayers, killing 51 and seriously injuring another 40 – remained “very raw” for many New Zealanders.
She said filmmakers had not consulted her about the movie, which is set to star Australia’s Rose Byrne as the center-left leader.
“In my view, which is a personal view, it feels very soon and very raw for New Zealand,” Ardern told TVNZ.
“And while there are so many stories that should be told at some point, I don’t consider mine to be one of them – they are the community’s stories, the families’ stories.”
One of the movie’s producers, Philippa Campbell, quit the project in the wake of Ardern’s comments, saying she regretted the shock and hurt it had caused.
“I now agree the events of March 15, 2019, are too raw for film at this time and do not want to be involved with a project that is causing such distress,” she said in a statement.
Ardern won widespread praise for her empathetic and inclusive handling of the attacks, the worst mass shooting in modern New Zealand history, including wearing a scarf when meeting mourners.
The movie’s title references a line from a speech she gave in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity when she pledged to support the Muslim community and tighten gun laws.
A petition from the National Islamic Youth Association calling for the production to be shut down has gathered more than 60,000 signatures.
The association said the proposed film “sidelines the victims and survivors and instead centers the response of a white woman.”
It said the Muslim community had not been properly consulted about the project, which has been scripted by New Zealand writer Andrew Niccol.
“Entities and individuals should not seek to commercialize or profit from a tragedy that befell our community, neither should such an atrocity be sensationalized,” association co-chair Haris Murtaza said.
Muslim poet Mohamed Hassan said the filmmakers needed to focus on members of the community that bore the brunt of the attacks, not use them as props in a feel-good story about Ardern.
“You do not get to tell this story. You do not get to turn this into a White Savior narrative. This is not yours,” he tweeted.
The attacker, Australian self-declared white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, was jailed for life without parole last year, the first time a whole-of-life term has been imposed in New Zealand.


Ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on trial; critics say charges bogus

Updated 14 June 2021

Ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on trial; critics say charges bogus

  • Aung San Suu Kyi’s prosecution poses the greatest challenge for the 75-year-old and her National League for Democracy party since February’s military coup

BANGKOK: Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi was set to go on trial Monday on charges that many observers have criticized as attempt by the military junta that deposed her to delegitimize her democratic election and cripple her political future.
Suu Kyi’s prosecution poses the greatest challenge for the 75-year-old and her National League for Democracy party since February’s military coup, which prevented them from taking office for a second five-year term following last year’s landslide election victory.
Human Rights Watch charged that the allegations being heard in a special court in the capital, Naypyitaw, are “bogus and politically motivated” with the intention of nullifying the victory and preventing Suu Kyi from running for office again.
“This trial is clearly the opening salvo in an overall strategy to neuter Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy party as a force that can challenge military rule in the future,” said Phil Robertson, the organization’s deputy Asia director.
The army seized power on Feb. 1 before the new lawmakers could be seated, and arrested Suu Kyi, who held the post of special counsellor, and President Win Myint, along with other members of her government and ruling party. The coup reversed years of slow progress toward more democracy for Myanmar.
The army cited the government’s failure to properly investigate alleged voting irregularities as its reason for seizing power – an assertion contested by the independent Asian Network for Free Elections and many others. Junta officials have threatened to dissolve the National League for Democracy for alleged involvement in election fraud and any conviction for Suu Kyi could see her barred from politics.
The junta has claimed it will hold new elections within the next year or two but the country’s military has a long history of promising elections and not following through. The military ruled Myanmar for 50 years after a coup in 1962, and kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years after a failed 1988 popular uprising.
The military’s latest takeover sparked nationwide protests that continue despite a violent crackdown that has killed hundreds of people. Although street demonstrations have shrunk in number and scale, the junta now faces a low-level armed insurrection by its opponents in both rural and urban areas.
Suu Kyi is being tried on allegations she illegally imported walkie-talkies for her bodyguards’ use, unlicensed use of the radios and spreading information that could cause public alarm or unrest, as well as for two counts of violating the Natural Disaster Management Law for allegedly breaking pandemic restrictions during the 2020 election campaign, her lawyers said Sunday.
“All these charges should be dropped, resulting in her immediate and unconditional release,” said Human Rights Watch’s Robertson. “But sadly, with the restrictions on access to her lawyers, and the case being heard in front of a court that is wholly beholden to the military junta, there is little likelihood she will receive a fair trial.”
Government prosecutors will have until June 28 to finish their presentation, after which Suu Kyi’s defense team will have until July 26 to present its case, Khin Maung Zaw, the team’s senior member, said last week. Court sessions are due to be held on Monday and Tuesday each week.
Two other more serious charges are being handled separately. Suu Kyi is charged with breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carried a maximum 14-year prison term, and police last week filed complaints under a section of the Anti-Corruption Law that states that political office holders convicted for bribery face a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine.
Although Suu Kyi faced her first charge just days after the coup, she was not immediately allowed to consult with her lawyers. Only on May 24, when she made her first actual appearance in court, was she allowed the first of two brief face-to-face meetings with them at pre-trial hearings. Her only previous court appearances had been by video link.
A photo of her May 24 appearance released by state media showed her sitting straight-backed in a small courtroom, wearing a pink face-mask, her hands folded in her lap. Alongside her were her two co-defendants on several charges, the former president as well as the former mayor of Naypyitaw, Myo Aung.
The three were able to meet with their defense team for about 30 minutes before the hearing began at a special court set up inside Naypyitaw’s city council building, said one of their lawyers, Min Min Soe. Senior lawyer Khin Maung Zaw, said Suu Kyi “seems fit and alert and smart, as always.”