Filipino evacuees from Gaza face limbo, homelessness in Philippines

Palestinian Filipinos are seen at a hostel of the University of the Philippines in Manila on Dec. 19, 2023. (AN Photo)
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Updated 22 December 2023
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Filipino evacuees from Gaza face limbo, homelessness in Philippines

  • 116 Filipinos from Gaza were flown by the Philippine government to Manila
  • Several days after arrival they were left to their own devices

MANILA: Revelina Cargullo was one of the first Filipinos evacuated from Gaza and brought to Manila last month. When she and her family arrived in the Philippines, authorities arranged a hotel for them for three days, after which they were left on their own.

Of the 137 Filipinos who were living in Gaza when Israel began its bombardment of the enclave in October, over 116 were flown to the Philippines — some, like Cargullo, alongside their Palestinian spouses.

The have left everything behind. They were displaced from their homes by deadly Israeli strikes that have since killed at least 20,000 people and destroyed more than half of the enclave’s infrastructure. And then, they left Gaza altogether when they returned to the Philippines.

“We are thankful to the government for bringing us home, for saving us from the war.

But it is hard (for) us to come home without money and (with) nowhere to stay,” Cargullo told Arab News, as she was preparing to move to a third place since reaching Manila.

When the first Filipino-Palestinian families arrived in the Philippines, they were greeted at the airport by government officials and in addition to cash aid handed to them by the Philippines Embassy in Egypt, they received extra support from the Department of Social Welfare and Development and were housed in hotels.

But a few days later they were on their own.

“When we were sent home after leaving Gaza, we were told that we will be taken care of when we get home,” said Cargullo, 61, who arrived in Manila with her Palestinian husband and children.

“Our embassy in Cairo gave us $1,000 from the government and it was also the government that shouldered our airfare. Then we got here the Department of Social Welfare and Development also gave us 20,000 pesos ($360) per family.”

Most of the Filipinos in Gaza are permanent residents. Two-thirds of them are Palestinian-Filipinos born or raised there.

After living in Palestine most of their lives, not all of them still had relatives in the Philippines, and if they did, not all of them had the means to help.




Rev. Allan Sarte, secretary-general of the Philippines-Palestine Friendship Association, comforts Revelina Cargullo, who was one of the first Filipinos evacuated from Gaza, in Manila on Dec. 19, 2023. (AN Photo)

“Many of these families, they don’t really have family here anymore or they don’t have the capacity to help them,” Rev. Allan Sarte, a pastor who serves as secretary-general of the Philippines-Palestine Friendship Association, told Arab News.

The association stepped in and helped organize help with other civil society groups when they learnt that 13 families of evacuees had nowhere to go.

The groups created a task force that included representatives of Muslim and Christian organizations, Migrante International — an alliance of overseas Filipinos — and the University of the Philippines, which housed the evacuees for the past few weeks.

On Thursday, they moved to flats, where they will stay for a while.

“We could really feel their trauma, we could see their trauma. But after a month or more, they’re now okay,” Sarte said.

“They were transferred yesterday to an apartment complex inside a subdivision in Cainta, Rizal, just outside Metro Manila. The task force also shouldered the initial and advanced payment for their rent ... We are still looking for a long-term housing for them.”

Sarte said that while the task force was looking for employment for the evacuees, “the future is still bleak for them” and urged the government to be there for the people it took responsibility for.

“Help is beginning to come in from private people, but ... this is the primary responsibility of the government. The government should take care of them because they are Filipinos,” he said.

“Aside from merely expatriating them I think you have to help them especially with the legal documents that they need so they can find work, so they can normalize somehow their lives here.”

For the Department of Foreign Affairs its task ended when the evacuation process was completed.

“Now it is up to other government agencies, including local government units and private contributors,” Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega told Arab News on Friday.

“But DFA is coordinating with other agencies on this.”

Sarte was hopeful that authorities will take action and as Christmas is approaching, he remembered the story of another Palestinian family, which two millennia ago was looking for shelter in Bethlehem.

“When we remember how Mary and Joseph at first had no place to stay, in that spirit we are also calling on you and our friends, brothers and sisters if we can extend help to these brothers and sisters here who also have no place to stay,” he said.

“These are refugees, these are people fleeing from war.”


Clooney and Roberts help Biden raise $30 million-plus at a star-studded Hollywood gala

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Clooney and Roberts help Biden raise $30 million-plus at a star-studded Hollywood gala

LOS ANGELES: Some of Hollywood’s brightest stars headlined a fundraiser for President Joe Biden that took in a record $30 million-plus for a Democratic candidate, according to his campaign, in hopes of energizing would-be supporters for a White House contest they said may rank among the most consequential in US history.
George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Barbra Streisand were among those who took the stage at the 7,100-seat Peacock Theater in Los Angeles on Saturday night. Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel interviewed Biden and former President Barack Obama, who both stressed the need to defeat former President Donald Trump in a race that’s expected to be exceedingly close.
During more than half an hour of discussion, Kimmel asked if the country was suffering from amnesia about the presumptive Republican nominee, to which Biden responded, “all we gotta do is remember what it was like” when Trump was in the White House.
Luminaries from the entertainment world have increasingly lined up to help Biden’s campaign, and just how important the event was to his reelection bid could be seen in Biden’s decision to fly through the night across nine time zones, from the G7 summit in southern Italy to Southern California, to attend.
He also missed a summit in Switzerland about ways to end Russia’s war in Ukraine, instead dispatching Vice President Kamala Harris who made a whirlwind trip of her own to represent the United States there, a stark reminder of the delicate balance between geopolitics and Biden’s bid to win a second term.
Further laying bare the political implications were police in riot gear outside the theater. A group of protesters angry about the Biden’s administration’s handling of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza demonstrated nearby.
The fundraiser included singing by Jack Black and Sheryl Lee Ralph, and actors Kathryn Hahn and Jason Bateman introduced Kimmel, who himself introduced Biden and Obama. The comedian deadpanned, “I was told I was getting introduced by Batman, not Bateman.”
But he quickly pivoted to far more serious topics, saying that “so much is at stake in this election” and listing women’s rights, health care and noting that “even the ballot is on the ballot” in a reference to the Biden administration’s calls to expand voting rights.
Kimmel asked the president what he was most proud of accomplishing, and Biden said he thought the administration’s approach to the economy “is working.”
“We have the strongest economy in the world today,” Biden said, adding “we try to give ordinary people an even chance.”
Trump spent Saturday campaigning in Detroit and criticized Biden’s handling of the economy and inflation. The president was fundraising “with out-of-touch elitist Hollywood celebrities,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said.
But Biden told the crowd in California that “we passed every major piece of legislation we attempted to get done.” And Obama expressed admiration for sweeping legislation on health care, public works, the environment, technology manufacturing, gun safety and other major initiatives that the administration of his former vice president has overseen.
“What we’re seeing now is a byproduct of in 2016. There were a whole bunch of folks who, for whatever reason, sat out,” said Obama, who, like Biden wore a dark suit and a white shirt open at the collar.
Obama, speaking about the Supreme Court, added that “hopefully we have learned our lesson, because these elections matter in very concrete ways.”
Trump nominated three justices who helped overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision guaranteeing a constitutional right to an abortion. The audience expressed its displeasure at the mention of Roe, to which Obama responded, “don’t hiss, vote.” That was a play on his common refrain prioritizing voting over booing.
Biden said the person elected president in November could get the chance to nominate two new justices, though a second Biden term probably wouldn’t drastically overhaul a court given its current 6-3 conservative majority.
He also suggested if Trump wins back the White House, “one of the scariest parts” was the Supreme Court and how the high court has “never been this far out of step.”
Biden also referenced reports that an upside-down flag, a symbol associated with Trump’s false claims of election fraud, was flown outside the home of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in January 2021. He worried Saturday that, if Trump is reelected, “He’s going to appoint two more who fly their flags upside down.”
Kimmel offered his special brand of humor throughout the night. At one point he asked how can a president get back at a talk-show host who makes fun of him on TV every night.
“Ever hear of Delta Force?” Biden responded, referring to the Army special operations unit.
Earlier in the program, Kimmel noted Biden’s campaign promise to restore the soul of America and said “lately it seems we might need an exorcism.” Then he asked Biden, “Is that why you visited the pope?” Biden and Pope Francis met in Italy on Friday.
The amount raised outpaced the then-record $26 million from Biden’s fundraiser in March at Radio City Music Hall in New York that featured late-night host Stephen Colbert interviewing Biden, Obama and former President Bill Clinton.
Biden held an early lead in the campaign money race against Trump, but the former president has gained ground since he formally locked up the Republican nomination.
Trump outpaced Biden’s New York event by raking in $50.5 million at an April gathering of major donors at the Florida home of billionaire investor John Paulson. The former president’s campaign and the Republican National Committee announced they raised a whopping $141 million in May, padded by tens of millions of dollars in contributions that flowed in after Trump’s guilty verdict in his criminal hush money trial.
That post-conviction bump came after Trump and the Republican Party announced collecting $76 million in April, far exceeding Biden and the Democrats’ $51 million for the month.

Ex-leader Jacob Zuma’s party says it will join opposition in South Africa’s parliament

Updated 46 min 33 sec ago
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Ex-leader Jacob Zuma’s party says it will join opposition in South Africa’s parliament

  • ANC and largest rival, the white-led, pro-business Democratic Alliance, agreed on Friday to work together in a coalition

JOHANNESBURG: South Africa’s uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party will join an alliance of smaller opposition parties in parliament in a bid to take on the African National Congress and Democratic Alliance-led coalition government, it said on Sunday.
The ANC and its largest rival, the white-led, pro-business Democratic Alliance, agreed on Friday to work together in a coalition it called “government of national unity,” a step change after 30 years of ANC rule.
Two smaller parties, the socially conservative Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the right-wing Patriotic Alliance, will also take part in the unity government.
Former president Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto we Sizwe party came in a surprisingly strong third in the May 29 election which saw the ANC lose its majority. MK won 14.6 percent of the vote which translated into 58 seats in the 400-seat National Assembly.
However, MK lawmakers boycotted the first sitting of the National Assembly on Friday after filing a complaint at the country’s top court alleging vote-rigging, which the court dismissed as without merit.
Spokesperson Nhlamulo Ndhlela told reporters that the MK party will join the alliance called the “Progressive Caucus,” which includes the Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the center-left United Democratic Movement.
This alliance commands close to 30 percent of the seats in the National Assembly, Ndhlela said, sitting next to Zuma and the leaders of a number of small parties.
“This united effort is necessary because the 2024 election has also resulted in the consolidation of right-wing and reactionary forces who are opposed to economic freedom, radical economic transformation, racial equality and land repossession,” he said.
Ndhlela said that MK had decided to take up its seats in the National Assembly after receiving legal advice and that it would continue to raise its allegations of a rigged elections in parliament and in courts.


Ukraine summit paves way for peace talks with Russia

Updated 16 June 2024
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Ukraine summit paves way for peace talks with Russia

  • Leaders and officials from more than 90 states spent the weekend for summit dedicated to resolving largest European conflict since World War II
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky voices hope of garnering international agreement around proposal to end the war that he could present to Moscow

BURGENSTOCK: Dozens of countries meeting for a landmark international summit on peace in Ukraine agreed Sunday that Kyiv should enter dialogue with Russia on ending the war, while strongly supporting Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity.
More than two years after Russia invaded, leaders and top officials from more than 90 states spent the weekend at a Swiss mountainside resort for a two-day summit dedicated to resolving the largest European conflict since World War II.
“We believe that reaching peace requires the involvement of and dialogue between all parties,” stated a final communique, supported by the vast majority of the countries that attended the summit at the Burgenstock complex overlooking Lake Lucerne.
The document also reaffirmed a commitment to the “territorial integrity of all states, including Ukraine.”
The declaration also urged a full exchange of prisoners of war and the return of deported children.
But not all attendees backed the document, with India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates among those not included in a list of supporting states displayed on screens at the summit.
After world leaders stood together to offer their support on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky voiced hope of garnering international agreement around a proposal to end the war that he could eventually present to Moscow.
The summit focused Sunday on food security, avoiding a nuclear disaster and returning deported children from Russia as countries outlined building blocks toward ending the war.
The summit, snubbed by Russia and its ally China, came at a point when Ukraine is struggling on the battlefield, where it is outmanned and outgunned.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded Kyiv’s effective surrender as a basis for peace talks.
Putin’s call for Ukraine to withdraw from the south and east of the country were widely dismissed at the summit.
But the Kremlin insisted Sunday that Ukraine should “reflect” on Putin’s demands, citing the military situation on the ground.
“The current dynamic of the situation at the front shows us clearly that it’s continuing to worsen for the Ukrainians,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“It’s probable that a politician who puts the interests of his country above his own and those of his masters would reflect on such a proposal.”
Russia on Sunday claimed its troops had captured Zagrine village in southern Ukraine, continuing its progress on the front line.
The Burgenstock talks were framed around areas of common ground between Zelensky’s 10-point peace plan presented in late 2022, and UN resolutions on the war that passed with widespread support.
The tight remit was an attempt to garner the broadest support by sticking firmly to topics covered by international law and the United Nations charter.
Countries split into three working groups on Sunday looking at nuclear safety and security, humanitarian issues, and food security and freedom of navigation on the Black Sea.
The session on humanitarian aspects focused on issues around prisoners of war, civil detainees, internees and the fate of missing persons.
It also discussed the repatriation of children taken from occupied Ukrainian territory into Russia.
Talks on food security examined the slump in agricultural production and exports, which has had a ripple effect across the world as Ukraine was one of the world’s breadbaskets before the war.
Talks looked at not only the destruction of fertile land through military operations but also the ongoing risks posed by mines and unexploded ordnance.
Artillery attacks on ships in the Black Sea have driven up the cost of maritime transport.
The nuclear safety group looked at the fragile situation surrounding the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, notably Zaporizhzhia, where all of the reactors have been shut down since mid-April.
Talks honed in on reducing the risk of an accident resulting from a malfunction or an attack on Ukraine’s nuclear facilities.
“When a just and sustainable peace comes, we will all be there to help Ukraine rebuild,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in the final address from invited leaders.
“The people who lost their lives, the families destroyed, they won’t be able to bring them back. That’s the most painful consequence of war: the human suffering.
“This illegal war by Russia needs to end,” he said, while accepting that “it won’t be easy.”
Minds also turned to a potential second summit, at which Ukraine wants to present Russia with an internationally-agreed plan for peace.
Swiss President Viola Amherd said in her closing remarks: “One key question remains: how and when can Russia be included in the process?
“We have heard it in many of your statements: a lasting solution must involve both parties,” she said, while acknowledging that “the road ahead is long and challenging.”
Zelensky did not say whether he was prepared to engage with Putin directly in talks to end the conflict, though he has in the past ruled out direct talks with him.
“Russia should join this process because Russia is responsible for the starting of the process that’s called the war,” Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili told reporters.


UK ‘morally incoherent’ in supplying arms to Israel, aid to Gaza: Oxfam chief

Updated 16 June 2024
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UK ‘morally incoherent’ in supplying arms to Israel, aid to Gaza: Oxfam chief

  • Halima Begum criticizes stance of Britain, Western leaders

LONDON: Providing arms to Israel while offering humanitarian aid to Gaza at the same time is “intellectually and morally incoherent,” the head of Oxfam GB has told The Guardian.

The remarks followed Oxfam’s approval to formally intervene in a legal challenge opposing UK arms sales to Israel.

The judicial review is being brought by the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq and the UK-based Global Legal Action Network.

Israel’s assault on Gaza has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, the majority being women and children, according to the Gazan Health Ministry.

Recent government data shows that the UK issued 108 arms export licenses to Israel between the Oct. 7 attacks and May 31, without rejecting or revoking any during this period.

Halima Begum, Oxfam GB’s chief executive, who recently returned from Israel and the occupied West Bank, criticized the UK’s stance.

She told The Guardian: “Whether you say they are components or whole weapons (being sold) is a moot point, because individual components collectively constitute these devices that are killing so many innocent people.

“The UK needs to stop selling these arms. The government can’t simultaneously give humanitarian aid and talk about its aspirations for peace in the region, then also ship bombs — it’s intellectually and morally incoherent.

“That the law doesn’t prevent the trade seems immaterial. If you knowingly sell weapons that are being used to kill thousands of innocent children and their parents, why would you continue?”

While Begum was unable to enter Gaza due to Israel’s attack on Rafah, she said she was left “shell-shocked” after hearing firsthand accounts of the humanitarian crisis from Palestinian colleagues evacuated from the enclave.

She highlighted historical precedents for the UK and US refusing to arm Israel, noting decisions in 1982 and 2002.

Begum said: “Margaret Thatcher halted weapons exports to Israel during the Lebanon War. Ronald Reagan suspended shipments of cluster munitions in July 1982 and he was reportedly so shocked by images of dismembered Palestinian children in a bombardment on Aug. 12 that he warned Israeli PM Menachem Begin ‘our entire future relations are at stake if this continues.’

“Israel ordered a complete ceasefire before the day was out. So, it wouldn’t be the first time a British or US government has drawn a moral line.”

She added: “Gazan children are being bombed, suffering from malnutrition and facing potential famine and the UK still can’t constrain the Israeli military. It defies belief we’d support this action; our humanity seems to be seeping away.”

Begum also noted that the Global South was largely unified on the need for action regarding Gaza and that it appeared to be “only Western leaders that don’t see what is morally the right thing to do.”

She added: “If you have a friend and their behavior is atrocious, you’re still able to say, ‘Look, as friends, you shouldn’t be doing that.’ That doesn’t mean you can’t offer your support to a friend.

“I feel as though that whole construction around Israel’s right to self-defense, every country has a right to defend themselves, but not at the cost of humanitarian law being ripped up in shreds, without any reference to human rights on the ground.”

The UK government declined to comment.
 


Swedish diplomat in ‘seventh heaven’ following release from Iran

Updated 16 June 2024
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Swedish diplomat in ‘seventh heaven’ following release from Iran

  • “I have been waiting for this for almost 800 days,” Floderus said

STOCKHOLM: Swedish citizen Johan Floderus said he was in seventh heaven following his release from an Iranian prison on Saturday, in a recording published on the Swedish government’s website on Sunday.
Sweden and Iran carried out a prisoner exchange on Saturday with Sweden freeing a former Iranian official convicted for his role in the mass execution and torture of political prisoners in Iran in 1988, while Iran released two Swedes being held there.
“I’m in the sky but emotionally I’m in seventh heaven. I have been waiting for this for almost 800 days,” Floderus said in a recording of a telephone call between him and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson while he was on the flight back to Sweden.
Floderus, a European Union employee, was arrested in Iran in 2022 and charged with spying for Israel and “corruption on earth,” a crime that carries the death penalty.
He said he had dreamt of the day of his release endless times. “Only to later wake up on that damn concrete floor,” he said. “Now it is starting to sink in that I have left Iranian airspace and I am on my way back home again.”
In a radio interview earlier on Sunday, Kristersson dismissed criticism from the wife of Swedish-Iranian dual national, Ahmadreza Djalali, who remains in an Iranian jail after Tehran refused to include him in the exchange.
“I have a lot of respect for her disappointment, but don’t really understand the criticism. The alternative would have been to leave the two Swedes who could now come home,” he told Swedish radio.