Italian coast guards rescued over 500 migrants from a single severely over-packed fishing boat near the Italian island of Lampedusa on Saturday 28th August 2021. Among the migrants there were three women and several children, with some of the passengers appearing to be victims of physical abuse.
Alida Serrachieri, a nurse from Doctors Without Borders, stated at least 20 migrants underwent burn and firearm wounds.
“They had burn wounds, firearms wounds,” Serrachieri said. “[They] were very worn down, some were dehydrated.”
It is believed the overcrowded smuggling boat would have travelled approximately 300 km from the Libyan coast to reach the Italian island.
Prosecutors in Italy are currently investigating the incident to identify whether the migrants were falsely imprisoned in Libya, as local reports have suggested. It is reported that many of the passengers were from North or West Africa, and some were from Bangladesh.
Migrants from Libya and Tunisia have made various dangerous treks in the past in the hope of fleeing conflict and living a peaceful life in Europe. The Italian island of Lampedusa is known to be one of the main European ports, as it gives access to migrants enabling them to enter the continent.
According to the Mayor of Lampedusa Toto Martello, the incident is “one of the biggest landings in recent times”.
It has been reported that the island has a migrant camp that was originally designed to hold fewer than 300 people. However, the capacity of migrants is now five times that number, with others being held outside on the dusty road.
With such an influx of migrants, Mr Martello stressed the lack of a centralised system to aid in managing the influx. Right-wing leader Matteo Salvini has also been increasingly forceful in his criticism of Italy’s management of migration as migrant numbers increase in the country.
Rwanda: How does the UK’s immigration policy compare to others?
According to the new British immigration policy, asylum seekers will be sent to Rwanda. In exchange the British government will pay £120 million to Rwanda. This plan has received a lot of criticism by many and has been accused of being cruel and unethical. Other countries, such as Australia, Israel or Denmark also have similar plans regarding immigration.
The new plan involves sending immigrants seeking asylum, 6400 kilometres away to Rwanda, instead of allowing them to apply for asylum in the UK. When having arrived in the Central African country, Rwandan immigration rules will apply to migrants, and they will not have the right to return to the UK. In case of a deportation, immigrants will either be sent to the first “safe” country, or they will be sent back to their country of origin.
Despite the current international outrage regarding this new deal, the UK isn’t the first country that Rwanda has signed such a deal with.
In 2015 the former Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu introduced a similar policy, the “voluntary” deportation programme policy. This new policy gave rejected asylum seekers the opportunity to either return to their country of origin, accept a payment of $3500 and a plane ticket to an unnamed country, which were reportedly Rwanda or Uganda, or lastly, go to Israeli jail in the case that they stayed in Israel.
Three years later, almost 30% of immigrants, that had entered Israel illegally, had left the country.
Just like the UK, the voluntary deportation programme was heavily criticised. A report from 2015 by the International Refugee Rights Initiative said, “Contrary to the Israeli authorities’ rhetoric, departures from Israel are neither voluntary, nor do they ensure the safety of those leaving the country. While Israel presents Rwanda and Uganda as safe destinations, in reality they are often the starting point for a dangerous journey that not all asylum seekers survive.”
In 2021, Denmark too passed legislation allowing refugees to be sent, having made similar deals with Rwanda, Tunisia and/or Ethiopia, in regard to achieve “zero” asylum seekers. Before that, talks about achieving zero asylum seekers had already been happening and were also announced by the Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen in 2020.
According to Zachary Whyte, an Associate Professor at the University of Copenhagen, “The Danish plans involve an initial screening of asylum seekers for vulnerability, before they are transferred to a third world country, which could be Rwanda. Their asylum cases will be processed there. If they are recognised as refugees, they will be settled there. If not, their possible deportation will be the responsibility of that third country.”
As of today, Denmark has been successful in achieving this goal: in 2020 only 1,547 people sought asylum in Denmark. Compared to previous years, this has been the lowest number registered.
Unlike Denmark and Israel, Australia’s immigration policy consists of sending immigrants to pacific countries, to centers in Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Nauru. Australia has been using their “Pacific Solution” since 2001, making it one of the first countries to use offshore detention centers.
Refugees entering Australia were either brought to Nauru or Papua New Guinea, where the processes of becoming permanent citizens started.
As of today the Republic of Nauru still houses 112 refugees, but centers in Papua New Guinea, which housed 120 refugees, were closed after the Papuan Supreme Court ruled the centers, ”illegal”.
In March this year, another three-year deal was announced this time with New Zealand. According to the new deal 450 refugees will be sent to New Zealand.
India playing the “All religions matter” card in the UN
In a recent event that marked the first anniversary of the International Day of Countering Hate Speech, Ambassador Tirumurti from India urged the UN that fighting religiophobia should not be a “selective exercise” that involves only one or two religions but one that should be applied equally to phobias against non-Abrahamic religions as well. He had also addressed terrorism concerns that have been plaguing India due to the cross-border tensions that are on the rise.
It is ironic that such statements were made during an event whose sole purpose is to counter hate in a country where religiophobia against people practising Abrahamic religions is at an all-time high. Last week, India was in the news for all the wrong reasons due to comments made against the Prophet Muhammad (saw) by the official spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), one of India’s major political parties. Clashes erupted around the country in retaliation and houses that belonged to Muslim activists were bulldozed and razed to the ground simply because they had raised objections against the ruling party for the hateful comments made. Even though the cause for all that is happening in India is predominantly Islamaphobia, it is surprising how the religion of Islam was not mentioned anywhere in the list of Abrahamic religions given by Mr Tirumurti . Leaving out the religion of Islam takes us back to the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and The National Register of Citizens (NRC) bill that was passed but not implemented yet required Muslims living in India to submit documents showing that they are indeed the citizens of India.
Mr Tirumurti also mentioned that India follows pluralism as it was recognised by the UAE and Egypt to promote fraternity on the International Day of Fraternity . He defines Pluralism as “where every religion is respected, is a sine qua non of tolerance and harmony
”. However, what happened in India a few days prior is a stark contrast to the definition that he read out during the event. ,
“Till this is done, such international days will never achieve their objectives. There cannot be double standards on religiophobia,” stated the Ambassador. His remarks on how all religions must be treated equally to combat religiophobia are similar in nature to the “All Lives Matter” slogan created for the sole purpose of undermining the ‘Black Lives Matter movement. India needs to look back at itself to understand the definition of double standards as the country itself has become the epitome of the word by denying the extremist allegations while executing the same on minorities.
Regarding the statement given by Mr Tirumurti in the UN, Mahmooda, a Muslim citizen of India, living in Chennai said, “This is yet another flag of insignificance being pinned upon the Muslims”. This is a testament to the fact on how the government of India and the majority is still undermining and undervaluing the lives of Muslims who have made India their home for several decades now.
“Fascism is always denied when it’s being perpetrated. Furthermore, there’s a convenient narrative orchestrated through different avenues to justify the hostility against the persecuted” remarked Aslam who is a 35 year old non-residential Indian living in the UAE.
Safura, a Muslim in her mid-20’s said that she understands that all religions must be considered equal in the religiophobia narrative and that “one cannot value one’s human life more than the other”, but it baffled her that Islam was left out of the conversation in an event that strives to fight against religiophobia despite the fact that Muslims are the most persecuted around the world.
This makes us wonder if India believes that Muslims are the reason why religiophobia still exists and hence all the other religions must be saved from it? Unfortunately, the answer to this question can be provided by Mr Tirumurti alone.
Chlorine Gas Leak in Jordan Port City Kills Thirteen People
- A gas leak in Aqaba, Jordan killed at least thirteen people and injured more than 250. A storage container carrying between 25 and 30 tonnes of chlorine gas fell as it was being exported to Djibouti, releasing the gas.
- A video of the incident on state TV shows the container being dropped onto the deck of the ship and a yellow colored gas spreading through the air as people try to evacuate. The accident seems to be a result of the crane malfunctioning.
- If chlorine is inhaled at high levels, it can cause life-threatening damage. A nearby beach in Aqaba was evacuated as a safety precaution, and residents who live in the nearest residential area, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) away, were advised to stay inside and close windows.
- Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh traveled to Aqaba and visited some of the injured at the hospital. He also formed a team led by the interior minister to investigate the incident.
Ms. Marvel: Helping Muslim representation or just mere tokenism?
While relatable, Ms. Marvel’s Muslim identity is displayed as a hindrance to her teenage aspirations rather than as a way of empowering her. The writers seem out of touch with the growing faithfulness of Muslim teens.
Two episodes of Disney’s new series, “Ms. Marvel,” starring Iman Vellani, have graced our TV screens. The sassy teen superhero with a Pakistani-Muslim background has made headlines for many reasons, not the least of which is that, for the first time, Muslim teen Marvel fans have someone who can represent them; someone who looks like the person staring back at them in the mirror every day, and with whom they can identify in their daily struggles and way of life. Or do they?
Does tokenism reflect the obligation of Islamic Faith?
Tokenism has always been an easy way forward for multi-million dollar companies trying to appeal to a wider audience. In recent years, Disney hasn’t shied away from engaging in the practise to attract viewership. But the problem with tokenism is that it is something whereby the struggles of minorities – who are often marginalised by society – are trivialised and caricaturised for financial gain, while those who carry out such portrayals fail to compensate or help the minorities in question.
The very first scene in the first episode of Ms. Marvel is such a case in point. It begins with the teen protagonist, Kamala’s family, wishing her luck on her driving test in the morning. The audience gets a first glimpse of what a Pakistani Muslim family’s typical interaction looks like. According to Disney: Kamala’s brother, a tall man with a dark beard and glasses, attired in the traditional Pakistani dress of Shalwar-Kameez, is too preoccupied with his prayers, apparently having forgotten his surroundings and time, to which his father ironically suggests that he might “starve to death” should he keep on praying for longer. The son’s rather earnest – sounding response “May Allah forgive you one day,” conveys the sombre, traditionally religious Muslim, at odds with his bubblier, modern and westernised family. Thus, the very first scene seems to subtly impart the notion that to fit into society, and in fact, function as a normal human being, one must abandon seemingly cumbersome and outdated practises like ‘praying’ – and those like her brother, who are so ostentatiously Muslim, are the only ones who really follow such basic tenets of the Islamic faith.
Norms of one’s faith versus cultural ideals
As the episode advances, interactions with her parents where certain boundaries set by her religious upbringing become apparent. Kamala tries to convince her parents to let her go to the “AvengerCon” – a comic and cosplay convention dedicated to the heroes of the Marvel Universe. Her parents’ instant concerns about Kamala’s wearing a “skin-tight” suit for her cosplay, meeting “strange boys” and “going to a party” do partially translate to a predominantly Muslim household, where living by certain moral values and rules is of great importance, and while they are certainly relatable to everybody who is familiar with Islamic teachings, it was perplexing that it was portrayed as something that Kamala was obliged to do by her parents rather than something she herself felt as a Muslim. After all, what is the point of trying to tout a show as an example of Muslim representation when the main protagonist is shown to be hindered by that very identity?
Kamal ends up going to the convention after rejecting her parents’ cringeworthy suggestion that her father dress up as a ‘big’ hulk – which he does as a demonstration- and she as a ‘little hulk’ and they go together. As a hijab wearing Muslim woman, I can say that a comic convention is the last thing my parents would object to. Somehow, the writers seem to be confused with the balance between liberality and conservatism in those who practise the Muslim faith and not just those born into Pakistani-Muslim backgrounds.
That’s not to say that it’s all negative. In the second episode, more of Kamala’s Muslim identity is showcased positively as a conversation between her and her Hijab wearing best friend Nakia has a heart -to- heart conversation in the school’s bathroom when Kamala just expresses how out of place she feels with the rapid changes taking place in her life, saying she can “barely keep up.” This is where Nakia responds with “Are you kidding?” Between the hijab and the girlies my parents can barely make eye contact with me anymore,” she says, implying that her environment (including her family) is also challenging her identity and belief system by putting her in an insecure position. When Kamala, impressed by Nakia’s steadfastness, asks her how she makes things “look so easy” Nakia responds in an honest and heartfelt way and opens up a meaningful conversation, allowing the audience to dive deeper into the complexity and beauty of defending a Muslim identity in a western world:
“My whole life I’ve been either too white for some people or too ethnic for others. And it’s been this very uncomfortable, sucky in-between. So, when I first put this on, I was hoping to shut some people up (referring to hijab), but I kinda realized I don’t have to prove anything to anybody. Like, when I put this on, I feel like me. Like I have a purpose. It’s probably why I ran for the Mosque Board. And remember, you’re the one who convinced me to do it in the first place.”
That’s something that maybe the show did right; showing the struggle faced by those Muslim teens who are growing in their faith – a phenomenon that began its slow rise after 9/11 and the discrimination that so many Muslims face in the United States and West in general – without the faith of their parents being a factor.
Lack of Muslim Representation in its entirety?
Although it is a coming of age storyline, and many Muslim teens may indeed identify with the cultural struggles between East and West, between how their classmates expect them to conduct themselves versus their parents, there is some disparity in the portrayals of the Islamic faith and its positive influence on a teenager’s lifestyle. Many comedic moments take place that showcase the culture of Pakistani immigrants to the United States, and it seems that this is then passed off as religion rather than what it really is; a clash of cultures. What if Kamala wore the hijab like her best friend, and had chosen to wear it? Would that be too much for viewers to handle, too much religiousness in a character who is to become the hero of the story? Does it empower and normalise the hijab too much for Western audiences who have been conditioned to reject this part of the faith as medieval?
Having Kamala, a Muslim teenage girl, as Ms. Marvel is a crucial step in overcoming stereotypes and affirming the large demographic of Muslims in the United States and the Western world in general. However, one wonders how much of her Muslim identity can be seen as a representation for the majority of Muslim girls around the world and how much of it stems from clichés, seemingly included to make up for the inaccuracy of Muslim life in key parts of the story. However, there is still some way to go; this season is set to have six episodes in total.
So far, it’s been a nice try from Marvel, but, it seems that somehow, there is still an empty space for a female Muslim superhero whose religion, rather than culture, is embraced as the source of her empowerment, while at the same time her role as a well – rounded member of American society is realised.
Exclusive: John Pilger claims Julian Assange extradition is bad news for “truth-tellers”
We spoke to veteran investigative journalist and documentarian John Pilger about what he thought Assange’s looming extradition meant for the state of the press in the UK, and the fate investigative journalists like him
Julian Assange – the investigative journalist and whistleblower spent the last ten years fighting for freedom after having leaked secret documents regarding US human rights abuses. Most of those years were spent holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain where he was granted asylum by the President of Ecuador Rafael Correa in 2012.
That asylum ended seven years later when Correa’s replacement, Lenin Moreno handed him over to the British authorities. On the morning of April 11th, 2019, Assange was dragged out of the embassy by British police in a brutal show of force, and taken to be locked up in Belmarsh prison, the detention centre known as the British Guantanamo Bay. He has remained there since.
Last week, Assange’s decade long battle was dealt a blow. British Home Secretary Priti Patel signed Assange’s extradition order to the United States, where he faces 18 federal counts of espionage for publishing secret state documents handed to him by the former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning; documents which exposed the atrocities, human rights abuses and war crimes committed by The United States, its allies, and their forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Besides this, the documents showed the systematic human rights abuses and torture of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, the controversial U.S Prison located in Cuba that held more than 150 prisoners, who were innocent without charge for years. And most of all, they confirmed that the pretext for the U.S led invasion of Iraq was a farce.
But in a country that lauds itself on its free press, especially when holding up its democratic values against its autocratic Middle-Eastern counterparts, what happens when a journalist exercises his right within the free press and is castigated the way Assange has been and for as long as he has?
“There is no free press as we might imagine or mythologise it. A powerful, almost unconscious self-censorship routinely dominates the media, much of it run or influenced by an augmented extremism called Murdochism. Added to this are draconian laws that constrain our right to know and which allow the ‘intelligence services’ (known in the US as the ‘deep state’) to manipulate the press. Little of this is discussed publicly.”
According to Pilger, it was Julian Assange who “broke down this wall of censorship, on the public’s behalf.” It is no surprise then, that the whistleblower, Manning was pardoned by the US after seven years in prison, while the publisher could face confinement for the rest of his life. Currently, Assange faces up to ten years in prison for each federal count against him. But Assange is an Australian national, and just recently the former foreign minister of Australia, Bobb Carr, wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald that he believed that the Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese, should request the Biden administration for Assange’s freedom.
Pilger affirms that the Australian government should support their citizen, but that “rights and reality live in two different worlds. We should unite them!”
Despite Carr’s suggestion, Australian Prime Minister publicly affirmed he stood by his previous remarks that Assange had “paid a big price for the publication of the information already” and that “I do not see what purpose is served by the ongoing pursuit of Mr Assange,” but that he would not publicly ask Biden for a pardon for Assange. Speaking to the broadcaster Sky News, he said “We’re not going to conduct diplomacy by megaphone.”
But what is it that makes such prominent world leaders so reluctant to directly support the plight of Assange? For some it is the fact that he published secret state documents through his whistleblower site, Wikileaks. Was this really a violation of the official secret act, as has been alleged, or does the right of the public to know what governments are doing abroad with taxpayers money negate this? Is the country not put at risk when state secrets are made public?
“Wikileaks revealed grave state crimes,” he says, “The law should apply to governments as well as to individuals. Nazi leaders and officials were prosecuted and punished at the end of World War Two because they committed state crimes. The principle is the same.”
If Julian Assange’s team fails in its attempts to appeal and he is sent to the US, what will that entail for him? And what implications will it have on future whistleblowers and investigative journalists?
John Pilger is blunt. “For Julian it will be the end of his life. For truth-tellers, it will mean even greater risk than at present. The shadows of state control will spread until we call, ‘’stop.’
In fact, the veteran journalist is no stranger to censorship of his own work either. In 2014 his regular column for the oft-touted ‘independent’ paper the Guardian was axed, according to Pilger, “Without explanation.”
“I wrote a fortnightly piece for the Guardian which was axed in 2014 with the specious explanation that the paper ‘needed greater variety’: some such nonsense. There were (and are) warring political factions on the Guardian and under a new editor a virulent right-wing took control. At that time, I was writing about the Western-sponsored coup in Ukraine, which had just happened, and the war it beckoned.”
It is a grim state of affairs to which the future of journalism seems to be hurtling towards, painted darker by recent events. What hope does that leave to budding journalists who would wish to pursue a career like that of Pilger’s and other investigative journalists and whistleblowers, like Assange, who in their fearlessness can speak truth and expose the crimes and excesses of those in power? How can the fear of reprisal by the authorities be abated?“Keep going. Be resolute and follow your star. The times are difficult, but there are more independent outlets,online, than when I began. Try and stay away from the mis-named ‘mainstream’ which used to have space for independent minded journalists, but no more. Journalism is a wonderful craft: how it is practised and honoured is up to you.”
World Food Programme suspends food assistance to 1.7 million in South Sudan
Conflict combined with poor weather in South Sudan has led to 7.74 million people facing a hunger crisis.
Despite the country facing food insecurity, the World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended food assistance to 1.7 million people in South Sudan. They require $426 million to be able to feed 6 million people in South Sudan throughout 2022. At the start of 2022, the WFP projected that it would be able to assist 6.2 million people in the country but has failed at achieving this target. This suspension of funding comes at one of the worst times for South Sudan, a newly independent country which not only has been facing internal conflicts for many years but also faced three years of flooding, a localised drought and like the rest of the world, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring global food prices. Therefore, not only is food not available in the country, but it also comes at a much higher price making the country food insecure. This cut also comes at a time where South Sudan is facing lean season, which is the season between planting crops and harvesting them. During this season, food is already scarce.
The suspension of aid by the WFP is due to a funding shortage of $426 million. It is important to note that the primary source of WFP’s funding comes from governments around the world. This funding is entirely voluntary, meaning that the countries have the freedom to cut anytime they wish.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a human rights group recently ruled that the world’s 10 most neglected crises are all in Africa with South Sudan being the 4th most neglected crisis. The Secretary General of the NRC, Jan Egeland said “The war in Ukraine has demonstrated the immense gap between what is possible when the international community rallies behind a crisis, and the daily reality for millions of people suffering in silence within these crises on the African continent that the world has chosen to ignore,”
The hunger crisis the people of South Sudan face is not new, rather food insecurity has been a challenge for years now. In 2017, South Sudan faced a famine and now another famine is predicted by the WFP this year if funding is not organised. Furthermore, South Sudan has recently been facing unrest which has only intensified the issue, leading to brutal violence upon civilians, including targeted attacks, gender-based violence, kidnappings and murders. This has led to nearly 2.3 million people fleeing to neighbouring countries whilst 1.87 million people remain internally displaced. Displacement continues to exacerbate the hunger crisis in South Sudan as many rely on food from their own land, something which is not possible during displacement. Internal conflict has thus meant that people have had to rely heavily on food assistance.
There have been many attempts for a peace agreement in the country, but so far, all these attempts have failed.
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