Pope Francis hits out at EU migration divisions at start of Greek visit

Pope Francis warned Saturday that the “easy answers” of populism and authoritarianism threaten democracy in Europe and called for fresh dedication to promoting the common good. (AP)
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Updated 04 December 2021

Pope Francis hits out at EU migration divisions at start of Greek visit

  • Pope Francis said that Europe was “torn by nationalist egoism” on migration
  • He has long championed refugees, calling them "protagonists of a terrible modern Odyssey"

ATHENS: Pope Francis on Saturday blamed the EU’s nationalist divisions for a lack of coordination on migration as he began a landmark trip to Greece, aiming to improve complicated relations with the country’s Orthodox Church.
Francis said that Europe was “torn by nationalist egoism” on migration during a meeting with EU vice president Margaritis Schinas, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, among other officials.
The European community “continues to temporize” and “appears at times blocked and uncoordinated” instead of being an “engine of solidarity” on migration, the pope said.
“Today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy,” he said, warning against populism’s “easy answers.”
Francis has long championed refugees, calling them “protagonists of a terrible modern Odyssey.”
On Sunday, he will return to the island of Lesbos which he visited in 2016 during the early years of the migration crisis.
The 84-year-old’s visit to the Greek capital is the first by a pope since John Paul II in 2001, which in turn was the first papal visit to Athens since the 1054 Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
Flying in after a two-day trip to Cyprus, the pope landed shortly after 0900 GMT in the Greek capital, where security was heightened over expected protests by Orthodox hard-liners among whom anti-papal sentiment remains strong.
Strong wind offered an unexpected challenge, with Francis coming down the stairs of the plane skullcap in hand.
Francis is scheduled to see the head of the Church of Greece Archbishop Ieronymos later Saturday, followed by members of Greece’s small Catholic community, which represent just 1.2 percent of the majority-Orthodox population.
Francis flies back to Rome on Monday.
Up to 2,000 police are deployed in Athens to monitor possible disruptions by Orthodox hard-liners, who blame the Catholics for the Schism and the 1204 sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.
Reciprocal excommunications exchanged between the two churches after the Schism were only lifted in 1965.
Authorities banned protests in the Athens center, and many Greeks have expressed apathy over the visit.
“Perhaps it is important to migrants in Greece who are in need. We the Orthodox expect nothing in particular,” said Periklis, owner of a religious icon shop in Athens.
Relations with the Church of Greece are much better than they were ahead of John Paul’s visit, Pierre Salembier, head of the Jesuit Catholic community in Greece, told AFP.
But he said there were still some “known anti-Catholic fanatics” within the Church’s governing body.
The bishop of Piraeus called the pope’s visit “immoral,” according to the union of Orthodox journalists.
During his visit to Cyprus, Francis condemned “slavery” and “torture” in migrant camps, drawing parallels with World War II.
The Cyprus government said Friday that 50 migrants, including two Cameroonians stuck for months in the divided island’s buffer zone, will be relocated to Italy thanks to Francis.
On Sunday the pope will again visit Greece’s Lesbos, a flashpoint of the 2015 refugee crisis and thereafter, “as a pilgrim to the wellsprings of humanity” to call for the integration of refugees.
The island’s sprawling Moria migrant camp, which the pontiff visited in 2016, burnt down last year and has been replaced by the temporary facility of Mavrovouni.
With EU funds, Greece is building a series of “closed” facilities on Greek islands with barbed wire fencing, surveillance cameras, X-ray scanners and magnetic gates that are closed at night.
Three such camps have opened on the islands of Samos, Leros and Kos, with Lesbos and Chios to follow next year.
NGOs and aid groups have raised concerns about the new camps, arguing that people’s movements should not be restricted.
Thirty-six groups active in Greece this week wrote to Francis raising the plight of people in the camps and requesting his help to halt illegal pushbacks of migrants allegedly by Greek border officers.
Greece vehemently denies the claims, insisting its coast guard saves lives at sea.
Addressing Francis on Saturday, President Sakellaropoulou insisted Athens “is making every possible effort to prevent the illegal traffic of people and their political exploitation.”
The pontiff is expected to visit the camp and will meet two “randomly chosen” families, an official said.
“We await him with open arms,” said Berthe, a Cameroonian asylum seeker at the camp.
She said she hoped the pope “will pray for us to help us overcome the insecurities we have lived, through faith.”
On Wednesday, nearly 30 asylum seekers landed near the camp. On Friday, two migrants died when a speedboat overturned near the Greek island of Kos.


‘Appalled’ US suspects Uyghur abuse approved at Beijing ‘highest levels’

Updated 35 min 31 sec ago

‘Appalled’ US suspects Uyghur abuse approved at Beijing ‘highest levels’

  • "We are appalled by the reports and the jarring images," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters
  • The United States accuses Beijing of carrying out genocide against the Uyghurs

WASHINGTON: The United States voiced horror Tuesday at new files on the incarceration of China’s Uyghur minority and said they showed that abuse was likely approved at the highest levels in Beijing.
“We are appalled by the reports and the jarring images,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
“It would be very difficult to imagine that a systemic effort to suppress, to detain, to conduct a campaign of genocide and crimes against humanity would not have the blessing — would not have the approval — of the highest levels of the PRC government,” he said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
The United States accuses Beijing of carrying out genocide against the Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking people in the western region of Xinjiang, where rights groups say more than one million people have been rounded up.
“We have and we continue to call on the PRC to immediately release all those arbitrarily detained people, to abolish the internment camps, to end mass detention, torture, forced sterilization, and the use of forced labor,” Price said.
Adrian Zenz, an academic who has probed the treatment of the Uyghurs, published a leak of thousands of photos and official documents that shed new light on violent methods to enforce mass internment.
The files, parts of which have been verified by multiple news organizations including the BBC and Le Monde, also provide a window into life in detention facilities.
Photos appear to show officers restraining hooded and shackled inmates with batons, while other guards wearing camouflage stand by with firearms.
The release comes just as UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet started a visit to China that was criticized by the United States, which says that she had not secured sufficient access.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said in a tweet that Bachelet “must take a hard look at these faces and press Chinese officials for full, unfettered access — and answers.”


Boat carrying Rohingya fleeing Myanmar capsizes, killing 16

Updated 24 May 2022

Boat carrying Rohingya fleeing Myanmar capsizes, killing 16

  • There were 35 survivors of Saturday's accident that took place Saturday off Myanmar’s southwestern coast
  • UNHCR said at least 17 Rohingya, including children, had died

BANGKOK: At least 16 people from Myanmar’s Rohingya minority have died after a storm capsized the boat they were traveling on to seek refuge in another country, officials and a recovery team member said Tuesday.
There were 35 survivors of Saturday’s accident that took place Saturday off Myanmar’s southwestern coast and four people were missing, the officials said.
UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, expressed shock and sadness about the accident in a statement and said at least 17 Rohingya, including children, had died.
The boat left the western state of Rakhine last Thursday and encountered bad weather two days later off Ayeyarwaddy Region on Myanmar’s southwestern coast, causing it to capsize, the statement said.
The Rohingya, a Muslim minority, have long been persecuted in Myanmar. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled the country to neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape the brutal counterinsurgency campaign of Myanmar’s military following an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group in Rakhine State.
Myanmar’s government has denied accusations that security forces committed mass rapes and killings and burned thousands of homes, but the US government recently labeled actions by the country’s military as genocide.
There are more than 100,000 Rohingya left in Myanmar, confined in squalid displacement camps, along with those living in crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Groups of Rohingya from camps in both countries embark on hazardous voyages to the Muslim-majority countries of Malaysia and Indonesia to seek a better living.
“Some 630 Rohingya have attempted sea journeys across the Bay of Bengal from January to May 2022,” the UNHCR statement said, with women and children making up 60 percent of those trying to flee.
The statement added: “The risk of abuse at the hands of smugglers and the peril of the sea journey itself are both exacerbated during prolonged journeys, when a safe harbor for disembarkation cannot be found.”
An Ayeyarwaddy Region resident said the 16 bodies, including those of two young boys, were recovered near Pathein township, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) west of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. He spoke on condition of anonymity because Myanmar’s military government seeks to tightly control the flow of information.
A local official, who also requested anonymity for the same reason, said most of the 50 people on board the boat were men under 30 years old. He said the bodies were buried and that the 35 survivors were taken away by the security forces.
Maung Maung Than, a spokesperson for the Ayeyarwaddy Region government, confirmed that the accident happened but did not give further details.
“The latest tragedy shows once again the sense of desperation being felt by Rohingya in Myanmar and in the region,” Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR’s director for Asia and the Pacific said in the agency’s statement. “It is shocking to see increasing numbers of children, women and men embarking on these dangerous journeys and eventually losing their lives.”


Dutch arrest Syrian-born man suspected of war crimes

Updated 24 May 2022

Dutch arrest Syrian-born man suspected of war crimes

  • Man was taken into custody in the town of Kerkrade after applying for asylum in the Netherlands in 2020
  • The suspect is said to have been a member of the Liwa al-Quds militia who are loyal to the regime of Syria's president

THE HAGUE: Dutch police arrested a Syrian-born man suspected of committing war crimes in 2013 while fighting as a member of pro-Damascus militia forces in Syria’s ongoing civil war, prosecutors said Tuesday.
The 34-year-old man was taken into custody in the southern town of Kerkrade after applying for asylum in the Netherlands in 2020.
He is suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Brechtje van de Moosdijk, spokeswoman for the public prosecution service said.
“He is also accused of participating in an organization whose aim is to commit international crimes,” she said in a statement.
The suspect will go before a judge in a first closed-door appearance on Friday.
The suspect, who was not identified, is said to have been a member of the Liwa Al-Quds militia who are loyal to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
In January 2013, he and militia members, as well as Syrian intelligence forces allegedly arrested a civilian man at his home in the Al-Nayrab Palestinian refugee camp near the northwestern city of Aleppo.
“The civilian was mistreated during the arrest and later taken to a Syrian Air Force intelligence prison, where he is said to have been tortured,” Van de Moosdijk said.
Syria’s war is estimated to have killed nearly half a million people and displaced millions since it began with a brutal crackdown of anti-government protests in 2011.
It escalated to pull in foreign powers and global extremists.
Militia forces “were an important link in a widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population,” Van de Moosdijk said.
“They were used, for example, in the crackdown on demonstrations of civilians, and to arrest civilians.”
Dutch prosecutors regard Liwa Al-Quds as a criminal organization, similar to the Daesh group, she said.
A German court in January sentenced a former Syrian colonel to life in jail for crimes against humanity in the first global trial over state-sponsored torture in Syria.
Anwar Raslan, 58, was found guilty of overseeing the murder of 27 people and the torture of 4,000 others at the Al-Khatib detention center in Damascus, also known as “Branch 251,” in 2011 and 2012.
He had sought refuge in Germany after deserting the Syrian regime in 2012.


Germany orders 40,000 vaccine doses as precaution against monkeypox spread

Five cases of monkeypox have been registered in Germany so far. (Shutterstock)
Updated 24 May 2022

Germany orders 40,000 vaccine doses as precaution against monkeypox spread

  • Germany has ordered 40,000 doses of a Bavarian Nordic vaccine to be ready to vaccinate contacts of those infected with monkeypox
  • German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the outbreak of monkeypox could be contained and did not signal the start of a new pandemic

Germany has ordered 40,000 doses of a Bavarian Nordic vaccine to be ready to vaccinate contacts of those infected with monkeypox if an outbreak in Germany becomes more severe, but officials are banking on other precautionary measures for now.
Speaking at a press conference, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Tuesday that measures such as an isolation period of at least 21 days recommended for infected people would suffice for now to contain the outbreak.
“If infections spread further we will want to be prepared for possible ring vaccinations that are not yet recommended at this point but might become necessary,” said Lauterbach, referring to the strategy of vaccinating contacts of an infected person.
He said the outbreak of monkeypox could be contained and did not signal the start of a new pandemic, adding that early intervention can prevent the pathogen from becoming firmly established in communities.
So far, five cases have been registered in Germany, all men, said Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases, also speaking at the press conference.
A World Health Organization official on Monday issued similar guidance, saying the outbreak does not require mass vaccinations because measures like hygiene and safe sexual behavior will help control the spread.
The WHO has registered more than 250 confirmed and suspected monkeypox infections, with a geographic spread that is unusual for the disease which is endemic in parts of west and central Africa but rare elsewhere.
US health officials said this week that there are more than 1,000 doses of the Bavarian Nordic vaccine in the national stockpile and they expect that level to ramp up very quickly in the coming weeks.
The vaccine is branded Jynneos in the United States where it is approved for use against smallpox and monkeypox. It is also approved for smallpox in Europe, where it is called Imvanex, but has been provided for off-label use in response to monkeypox cases.
The Danish company said last week it secured a contract with an undisclosed European country to supply Imvanex in response to new cases of monkeypox.


Pakistan government says it won’t allow ex-PM Khan’s long march to Islamabad

Updated 24 May 2022

Pakistan government says it won’t allow ex-PM Khan’s long march to Islamabad

  • Announcement comes after Khan accused police of detaining hundreds of supporters in raids early Tuesday
  • One policeman killed during raids when a supporter of Imran Khan allegedly opened fire

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said on Tuesday that the government would not allow former Prime Minister Imran Khan to hold a planned anti-government long march to the federal capital on May 25 on the grounds its aim was to spread “chaos and anarchy” in the country.

Khan, who was ousted from power last month in a no-confidence vote after losing a parliamentary majority, said on Sunday he would march to Islamabad with his party supporters to demand the dissolution of assemblies and a date for fresh elections.

“They want to spread chaos and anarchy through the nation,” the interior minister said, adding that the federal cabinet had decided not to grant permission for the protest march.

The interior minister said Khan was removed through a “constitutional process” and had no justification for launching the planned march.

“Peaceful demonstrations are everyone’s right, but they are not coming for a peaceful protest,” he added.

In a press conference shortly after the government’s announcement, a defiant Khan said he would lead the march to Islamabad as planned.

The government’s decision comes after Khan accused police of detaining hundreds of his supporters in raids that started early Tuesday. A policeman was killed during one of the raids when a supporter of the former premier allegedly opened fire.

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said that Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had “crossed the red line” and would not be allowed to create further political instability.

“Whenever the economy starts to take off, Imran Khan’s mischief becomes an obstacle in its path,” she told the APP news agency. “Today we have started to revive the economy of Pakistan and provide relief to people … No interference will be tolerated.”

Another leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, Attaullah Tarar, told the media that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif would visit the deceased policeman’s family and announce monetary compensation.

In light of the constable’s killing, Tarar said the government had decided to impose Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in Lahore, empowering officials to suspend political gatherings in the public interest.

Tarar said the government had information that Khan’s march was likely to become violent and some participants wanted to carry weapons. Khan has repeatedly said the demonstration would be peaceful and its only aim was to call for early elections.

Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammed Asif said in a Twitter post that Khan was planning to “attack” Islamabad by utilizing the resources of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where his PTI party is in power.

“The federal government will fully defend the writ of the state and the personal agenda of (Imran Khan) will not be fulfilled,” Asif said. “Any situation of conflict between the provincial and federal governments threatening the country’s integrity will be handled with an iron fist.”