Rough road ahead for Ethiopia’s Abiy after Nobel…

By AFP
12 October 2019

Rough road ahead for Ethiopia’s Abiy after Nobel Peace Prize triumph
A picture of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (front) is displayed togethter with former Nobel Peace Prize winners at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway, 11 October 2019. Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded with the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced 11 October 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed faces stark challenges on the very issues that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, and analysts say the coming months may tell whether he can translate this early applause into concrete success.

The Nobel Committee cited Abiy’s drive to mend fences across the Horn of Africa while also pursuing dramatic reforms at home — measures that range from the promotion of democracy to women’s rights.

Yet many of those areas remain works in progress, with early headline-grabbing steps yet to be followed by the kind of victories that would seal lasting change. 

“Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s bold leadership has helped drive through positive changes in Ethiopia and achieve rapprochement with Eritrea,” said William Davison, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank, referring to the 2018 peace deal with Ethiopia’s neighour. 

“But there is a lot of work to do to achieve a new domestic political settlement between fractious actors, and there are also major obstacles to advancing the Eritrea peace process, suggesting that Abiy’s hardest challenges lie ahead.” 

-Foreign policy-

The Eritrea deal is seen as Abiy’s signature achievement, but it has been weakened by a lack of tangible progress on critical issues like border demarcation.

The highly-publicised reopening of the countries’ borders was abruptly reversed just a few months later, and there are no signs that will change anytime soon.

Abiy has also played a leading role in mediating Sudan’s political crisis and has tried to revive South Sudan’s uncertain peace deal.

Winning the Nobel will undoubtedly give Abiy a prestige that will add to his power of leverage.

Yet whether any of these initiatives, which require gritty long-term solutions, can make headway is an open question.

Michael Woldemariam, an expert on the Horn of Africa at Boston University, told AFP that Abiy’s regional peace-making achievements “remain fragile”. 

“Because of the density of external actors currently involved in Sudan, Abiy’s ability to shape events going forward is limited,” Woldemariam said. 

“On the Eritrea issue, where Abiy naturally has more leverage, his reputation as a peace-builder will be legitimately tested in the coming months.”

-Turbulent home front-

Perhaps more pressing for Abiy is the task of guiding Ethiopia to elections currently planned for next May.

A competitive and credible vote would be perhaps the best possible indication that Ethiopia is breaking with its authoritarian past and that Abiy — a product of the long-ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition — is serious about changing direction.

But human rights groups have sounded the alarm in recent months about a spike in arrests of opposition activists and journalists, some of whom are being held under controversial counterterrorism legislation. 

The arrests picked up following the assassination of five high-ranking political and military officials in June — an event that highlighted a fragile security situation marred by ethnic violence and widespread internal displacement.  

Amnesty International said Friday that these trends indicate that Abiy’s work “is far from done”. 

“This award should push and motivate him to tackle the outstanding human rights challenges that threaten to reverse the gains made so far,” Amnesty said. 

Abiy’s loosening of the reins has seen years of tensions between the country’s diverse ethnic groups boil over — usually over land and resources — leading to deadly violence in the country that resulted in the world’s largest displacement crisis in 2018.

More domestic turbulence could be on the way. 

Ahead of the election, Abiy has been pushing a plan to transform the EPRDF into a political party, a move that risks fracturing alliances that have held for nearly three decades.

-Women’s rights-

The Nobel committee also praised Abiy’s efforts to promote women’s rights in Ethiopia, though some activists say those reforms have not been as transformative as they first appeared. 

Abiy “wowed everyone” by overseeing the appointment of a gender-equal cabinet and the country’s first woman president, but structural challenges that would address problems like gender-based violence have been lacking, said Sehin Teferra, head of the Ethiopian feminist group Setaweet. 

“It’s been really worrying how much the gender agenda has kind of been stalled or paused since then,” Sehin said.

-Looking ahead-

These challenges aside, Abiy has remained publicly committed to his expansive agenda, shrugging off criticism that he is taking on too much too fast. 

On the night before the Nobel was announced, he hosted a 500-person banquet inaugurating the new “Unity Park” in Addis Ababa.

The project, which involved converting a palace that once housed Ethiopia’s emperors into a museum, is intended to rally Ethiopia’s many ethnic groups behind common national goals of peace and prosperity. 

After the prize was announced Friday, his office stressed this same goal in a statement. 

“This victory and recognition is a collective win for Ethiopians, and a call to strengthen our resolve in making Ethiopia — the New Horizon of Hope — a prosperous nation for all.”

AFP

India on the frontline of the fight against…

By AFP
09 October 2019

India on the frontline of the fight against tuberculosis
A major killer in the West until the mid-twentieth century, tuberculosis remains a menace in developing countries (AFP Photo/Money SHARMA)

All the symptoms were there but it still took four doctors and several months of waiting before Bharti Kapar’s cough and stomach pains were diagnosed as tuberculosis.

Hailing from a poor town outside the smog-choked capital of New Delhi, Bharti, 24, was one of the 2.7 million new cases of tuberculosis last year in India — home to more than a quarter of the world’s cases of the deadly disease.

After five months of rigorous medical treatment and taking several pills a day, she was declared cured in April but still has to force herself to venture out of the small home she shares with her mother, two brothers and a sister-in-law.

“Sometimes I feel that my breathing is difficult, it’s not normal. I do not have any energy, I do not want to go out, I do not want to do anything,” she said.

A major killer in the West until the mid-twentieth century, tuberculosis remains a menace in developing countries and killed 421,000 in India in 2017 according to the World Health Organization — more than AIDS and malaria combined.

The Global Fund will meet in France on 9-10 October hoping to raise $14 billion for the worldwide fight against TB, malaria and AIDS.

For its part, the government of Narendra Modi, which came to power promising development for India’s 1.3 billion people, has set an ambitious target of overcoming India’s TB “epidemic” — the world’s largest — by 2025.

It has created new patient monitoring systems and recently enlisted artificial intelligence to help screen for the disease.

The government’s call to arms “is not just rhetoric,” said Dr Jamhoih Tonsing of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, noting that the budget for TB in India has doubled between 2016 and 2018.

But its timetable may be too ambitious.

TB incidence in India is currently declining by about two percent each year, Tonsing said.

“To reach the 2025 target, we need to make this decline at least 10 per cent per year. A big jump has to happen.”

– ‘Poor man’s disease’ –

Transmitted by droplets of saliva when a contaminated person speaks or coughs, TB spreads easily in India’s crowded cities, where immune systems are often already weakened by air pollution or poor sanitary conditions.

The bacterium mainly attacks the young and middle-aged men who make up much of the workforce, with the death or incapacitation of a breadwinner piling additional misery on families.

“TB continues to be predominantly a poor man’s disease,” said Shibu Vijayan, Global TB Technical Director at PATH, an NGO.

“In that sense, an investment there (in fighting it) will probably uplift the economy, uplift the poverty part of it, uplift the overall health of the household.”

In a modest neighbourhood criss-crossed by congested lanes south of New Delhi, TB patients come to take their daily medication in a tiny clinic run by the NGO Operation ASHA.

Some visitors wear masks or wrap scarves over their mouths to avoid contaminating others.

A digital tablet displays the names and phone numbers of those scheduled to come in that day to take their medication, in an effort to ensure patients’ programmes are scrupulously followed.

Poorly administered anti-TB drugs or treatments interrupted before their term are a major worry for health workers, and responsible for the spread of multidrug-resistant strains of the disease.

The WHO has noticed a form of TB resistant to traditional medicines that has a mortality rate of 50 percent — comparable to that of Ebola, highlighting the challenges that remain even after the progress made against TB in recent decades.

With an estimated 600,000 multidrug resistant TB cases worldwide — and 135,000 in India — “we created a monster,” says Sandeep Ahuja, co-founder of Operation ASHA.

But, the renewed campaign in India is a cause for optimism.

“We have created the demon, let’s go out and cap it,” he says. “The numbers are still manageable… We have enough equipment in our arsenal.”

© AFP

EU and UK bid to save Brexit talks before key…

By AFP
12 October 2019

EU and UK bid to save Brexit talks before key summit
A handout photo provided by the Irish Government Information Service press office shows a meeting between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (R) and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Thornton Manor, Cheshire, Britain, 10 October 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE

British and EU negotiators held a “constructive” breakfast meeting Friday in a last-ditch bid to restart Brexit talks, as leaders insisted a deal might yet be possible despite time running out fast.

British Brexit minister Stephen Barclay and EU negotiator Michel Barnier met for two hours in the Brussels headquarters of the European Union.

“We had a constructive meeting with Steve Barclay and the British team,” Barnier told reporters. “I have already said that the Brexit is like climbing a mountain and we need vigilance, determination and patience.”

A British spokesman also described the closed-door talks as a “constructive meeting”.

Neither side would reveal any detail about what was discussed, but a European diplomat told AFP: “At this stage, the less we hear, the better. If stuff starts leaking out, it means it’s not serious.”

Another European official close to the discussions suggested the restart was at an early stage, but that the process might suddenly accelerate: “We’re completing the qualifiers for the 100-metre dash.”

The meeting came one day after talks between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar, and just six days before the EU summit that is seen as the key date in efforts to find a deal before a chaotic divorce on October 31.

As the negotiators reviewed their options, the president of the European Council and host of next week’s Brussels summit Donald Tusk said that he would have pulled the plug on talks this Friday if Britain had not come forward with evidence of a workable proposal.

“However, yesterday, when the Irish taoiseach and the UK prime minister met they both saw, for the first time, a pathway to a deal. I have received promising signals from the taoiseach that a deal is still possible,” Tusk said, during a trip to Cyprus.

“Of course, there is no guarantee of success and the time is practically up. But even the slightest chance must be used,” he warned.

The key sticking point in the Brexit negotiations is how to handle trade and customs on the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, and on the role of the British province’s devolved assembly.

After a meeting in northwest England on Thursday Johnson and Varadkar said they had “agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal”.

Varadkar later said separately the meeting was “very positive”, suggesting it would be a “short pathway, rather than a long one”.

– ‘Diplomatic tunnel’ –

The European Council summit starts on October 17 and, in normal circumstances, European diplomats would want draft texts of any agreements to be prepared before close of business on Friday.

Even if, as UK officials hope, Brussels shows flexibility on the timeline, they have yet to enter the “diplomatic tunnel” of final text negotiations.

After his “stock taking” breakfast with Barclay, Barnier will brief ambassadors from the other EU members on the state of play and then a sceptical Brexit steering group of the European Parliament.

“Barnier will have to say whether we can or can’t start negotiating a text,” a European source told AFP.

“After that, it’s a long road. It’s wacky to think we’d have a treaty text before the October 17 and 18 summit.”

But Varadkar appears to be looking slightly further forward, implying that he and Johnson are now aiming for a deal in the next three weeks. 

“I think it’s possible for us to come to an agreement, to have a treaty agreed… by the end of October,” he said.

– Five decades of ties –

Johnson has vowed Britain will end its five-decade membership of the EU on October 31, with or without agreeing exit terms.

But he could be forced to seek a third delay to Brexit if he fails to agree a deal by October 19, thanks to a law passed by rebellious MPs.

Some European sources in Brussels have suggested that EU leaders may offer Britain an extension even if Johnson does not ask for one.

AFP

World wildlife trade affects one in five species…

By AFP
05 October 2019

World wildlife trade affects one in five species, says report
Confiscated elephant ivory tusks are displayed before their destruction, in Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia, 30 April 2019. Photo: Fazry Ismail/EPA

More than 5,500 species of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles are bought and sold on the worldwide animal market, a volume that is around 50 percent higher than earlier estimates, a study published in Science said Thursday.

The legal and illegal trade of wildlife as pets or for animal products is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and recognized as one of the most severe threats to biodiversity. 

But the extent of the trade has remained poorly understood.

The research by scientists at the University of Florida and University of Sheffield found that threatened and endangered species were disproportionately represented.

Overall, 5,579 of the 31,745 vertebrate species are traded, or 18 percent.

Among mammals, the figure rises to 27 percent, with the animals mainly used to produce products — for example pangolins, which are killed for their scales and for their meat. 

Amphibians and reptiles are more often sold as exotic pets or to zoos, while 23 percent of bird species are traded, both as companion animals and for their use in medicine.

There is a growing demand, for example, for the ivory-like casque of the helmeted hornbill, which has resulted in tens of thousands being traded since 2012.

The authors predicted that future trade, both legal and illegal, will add up to 3,196 more species to the list, mainly threatened or endangered, based on similarities with currently exploited species — for example, the African pangolin, which started to be exploited after Asian pangolins became harder to find.

“Often, species are flagged for conservation only after a severe decline is documented,” they concluded.

AFP

Late monsoon fury kills 100 in north India

By AFP
02 October 2019

Late monsoon fury kills 100 in north India
State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) personnel rescue a emn from the flood-affected area of Bahadurpur following heavy rainfalls in Patna in the Indian state of Bihar on September 30, 2019. Photo: AFP

At least 100 people have died in northern India over the last three days in unusually heavy late monsoon rains which have submerged streets, hospital wards and houses, officials said Monday.

Dozens of boats were pressed into service on streets overflowing with gushing rain water in Patna, the capital of the eastern state of Bihar, after torrential downpours far stronger the normal.

At least 27 people have lost their lives across the state and another 63 in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh since Friday, authorities said. With more rain predicted, weather experts say September could end as the wettest in more than a hundred years.

“Patna alone has recorded some 226 millimetres (8.9 inches) of rainfall since Friday,” Bihar disaster response official M. Ramachandru told AFP.

Photos showed patients lying on hospital beds in dirty rain water at the state-run Nalanda Medical College and Hospital in Patna.

It has also been raining heavily in southern India and in the western state of Gujarat.

The annual monsoon usually lasts from June to September.

With the Indian Meteorological Department Monday predicting excess rainfall across 15 states, this year’s monsoon will end as the wettest since 1917, the mass-circulation Times of India said.

“There are no signs of withdrawal for at least four-five days,” senior IMD officer Mrutyunjay Mohapatra told the daily.

The monsoon, which is vital for farmers across the South Asian region, killed some 650 people in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan in July this year.

© AFP

China celebrates 70 years as Hong Kong unrest…

By AFP
01 October 2019

China celebrates 70 years as Hong Kong unrest looms large
Chinese troops march past Tiananmen Square during a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, in Beijing, China, 01 October 2019. Photo: EPA

China celebrates 70 years of Communist Party supremacy Tuesday with a parade of tanks, missiles and troops, a muscular display of its rising superpower status even as it faces an unprecedented challenge to its authority in seething Hong Kong.

Authorities in Beijing have closed roads, banned the flying of kites, and shut some bars as they tightened security for an event celebrating China’s journey from a country broken by war and poverty to being the world’s second-largest economy.

The massive military parade will roll across Tiananmen Square under the gaze of President Xi Jinping, the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, who founded the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.

New weapons — including a hypersonic drone and an intercontinental ballistic missile that can cover the United States — are expected to make their public debut, according to Paris-based analysts.

“Unity is iron and steel. Unity is a source of strength,” Xi said in a speech on Monday evening.

But behind the projection of strength at the tightly-choreographed event, a clutch of challenges are testing Xi’s ability to maintain economic and political stability at home and abroad.

“The party hopes that this occasion will add to its legitimacy and rally support at a time of internal and external challenges,” Adam Ni, China researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, told AFP.

US trade war negotiations have dragged on, and African swine fever has raced through the country’s pig supply, sending pork prices soaring.

But the major headache is Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protesters plan to grab the spotlight from Beijing on Tuesday with their own rally against what they see as the erosion of their special freedoms.

The semi-autonomous city has been embroiled for months in the worst unrest since Britain returned the financial hub to China in 1997, with police and hardcore protesters trading tear gas for petrol bombs.

In an apparent olive branch, Xi vowed Monday to continue to “fully and faithfully implement” the one country, two systems policy under which Hong Kong residents enjoy freedoms unseen on the mainland.

But Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, was invited to the national day celebration, highlighting Beijing’s continued support for the under-fire leader.

Communist Party grandees will watch as 15,000 soldiers march across Tiananmen, 580 pieces of military equipment are shown off and 160 aircraft roar overhead.

“Beijing wants to highlight its military modernisation, political unity, and determination to protect its interests,” Ni said.

© AFP

UN Special Representative for Children and Armed…

30 September 2019

UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict welcomes Myanmar’s ratification of OPAC
Union Minister U Kyaw Tint Swe delivers the statement at high-level General Debate of the74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly held on 28 September 2019 at the United Nations Headquarters. Photo: MNA

The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Virginia Gamba, congratulates the Government of Myanmar for ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC).

Myanmar’s Union Minister for International Cooperation, His Excellency Mr. U Kyaw Tin, deposited the accession instrument during a ceremony that took place on the margins of the 74th General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York.

“The international engagement taken today by the Government of Myanmar to better protect its children is a welcome step. It is a commitment to put in place all the necessary measures to protect them from recruitment and use by both its armed forces and armed groups active in the country”, said Virginia Gamba.

Provisions on the demobilization and reintegration of all children under 18 and children presumed present in the ranks of Myanmar’s armed forces are also included in OPAC, a commitment already under implementation through the Security Council-mandated Joint Action Plan signed with the United Nations in 2012.

The Special Representative calls on the Government of Myanmar to swiftly translate this commitment into tangible measures for the protection of boys and girls and to end and prevent all six grave violations against children, including the killing and maiming of children and rape and other forms of sexual violence.

She further recommends the Government of Myanmar to refrain from enrolling children, including on a voluntary basis, into military academies.

Myanmar becomes the 169th State party to the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, as OPAC will mark its 20th anniversary next year.

Democrats’ move to impeach Trump picks up pace

By AFP
28 September 2019

Democrats’ move to impeach Trump picks up pace
US President Donald Trump (L). Photo: EPA

Democrats charged aggressively into an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump on Friday, ordering Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to turn over Ukraine-related documents and scheduling testimony for witnesses to alleged abuse of power by the US leader.

Three House committees gave Pompeo one week to produce the documents, saying multiple State Department officials have direct knowledge of Trump’s efforts to enlist the Ukraine government’s help in his US domestic political campaign for reelection. 

They also announced interviews scheduled with five State officials, including former ambassador to Ukraine Masha Yovanovitch, whom Trump reportedly forced out earlier this year for resisting his efforts to pressure Kiev to probe Democratic rival Joe Biden.

“The Committees are investigating the extent to which President Trump jeopardized national security by pressing Ukraine to interfere with our 2020 election and by withholding security assistance provided by Congress to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression,” they said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that the impeachment investigation would move quickly, saying the evidence from an intelligence whistleblower’s complaint against Trump of abuse of power and an attempted cover-up was unambiguous.

“The clarity of the president’s actions is compelling and gave us no choice but to move forward,” Pelosi said.

“This is about the national security of our country: The president of the United States being disloyal to his oath of office, jeopardizing our national security, and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections.”

– White House reels –

The White House was reeling, appearing not to have a strategy in place yet to counter the Democratic  investigative onslaught after a week of fast-moving events rocked the foundations of Trump’s tempestuous two-and-a-half-year presidency.

In a series of tweets Trump attacked Democrats — including Adam Schiff, the lawmaker named Friday by Pelosi to lead the impeachment probe — calling them liars.

In a video leaked from a private gathering Trump held Thursday with US diplomats in New York, Trump made clear he was battling for his survival.

“We’re at war. These people are sick,” Trump says in the video obtained by Bloomberg.

– Public support grows for impeachment –

Support mounted for impeachment after the release of the anonymous whistleblower’s complaint, reportedly made by a CIA analyst who had worked in the White House.

It accused Trump of pressuring Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July 25 phone call to supply dirt on former vice president Biden, the favorite to represent Democrats against Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

The complaint also revealed that White House aides, alarmed at Trump’s implicit offer to release aid in exchange for Zelensky’s help, sought to hide the record of the call in a highly secure computer system normally used only for the country’s most top-secret intelligence.

More than 300 high-level professionals from the national security community signed a letter supporting the impeachment investigation.

“President Trump appears to have leveraged the authority and resources of the highest office in the land to invite additional foreign interference into our democratic processes. That would constitute an unconscionable abuse of power,” they said.

Meanwhile public support for impeachment jumped, according to two new polls. The Hill-HarrisX survey showed support up 12 percentage points to 47 percent, against 42 percent opposed, while Politico’s poll showed support up seven points to 43 percent, now equal to those opposed.

– ‘We should move quickly’ –

Democrats said articles of impeachment — formal charges — against Trump could be completed in as soon as a month and then swiftly debated and voted on in the House, where the party has a majority solid enough to ensure passage.

The case would then be handed to the Senate to try Trump — who, for the moment, appears able to count on a Republican majority in the chamber to prevent his conviction and removal.

“We should move quickly but not hurriedly, and we should focus on this Ukraine call,” Democrat Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN.

“As a former prosecutor, I should tell you that cases are made much easier when the defendant cops to the act, and here the president is not denying what he said.” 

“We don’t need to have a months-long hearing … We have the president’s own words, and we have his conduct after the fact,” he said.

AFP

US to further slash refugee resettlement program…

By AFP
27 September 2019

US to further slash refugee resettlement program, citing ‘crisis’
Mae La, the largest Myanmar refugee camp in Thailand. Photo: Mizzima

The United States plans to dramatically lower the ceiling on a decades-old refugee resettlement program to 18,000 people, officials said Thursday, blaming the influx of migrants along the country’s southern border for imposing too great a burden.

It represents a reduction of 40 percent from its current level of 30,000 people, already a record low, threatening America’s historic position as the most generous destination for those fleeing war and persecution.

“A responsible approach to refugees is one that seeks the eventual return of refugees to their home countries so that they can help to rebuild their own nations,” said President Donald Trump in a statement announcing the move.

It added that under a new order, refugees would only be resettled in jurisdictions where state and local authorities consent.

A separate release by the State Department said the “current burdens on the US immigration system must be alleviated before it is again possible to resettle large numbers of refugees.”

It said the influx of migrants along the country’s southern border was a “crisis” for imposing “an extraordinary burden.”

As a means of serving US foreign policy interests, refugee admissions have specific allocations for people persecuted for religious beliefs, Iraqis whose assistance to the US puts them in danger, and “legitimate refugees” from the Northern Triangle: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The administration consults with Congress before finalizing refugee admissions changes but in reality the decision-making power falls under the White House.

President Donald Trump has made cracking down on immigration, both legal and illegal, a core policy, guided by his hardline advisor Stephen Miller.

The current level of 30,000 is already the lowest since the program’s inception in 1980. The number stood at almost 85,000 when Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama left office.

– ‘Sad day for America’ –

Migration advocacy groups reacted with dismay.

“This is a very sad day for America,” said David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee.

“This decision represents further damage to America’s leadership on protecting the most vulnerable people around the world,” he added.

The IRC added that the US currently has 30,000 people who have already undergone interviews for resettlement, far above the new ceiling, with 9,000 ready for travel.

“This administration’s eagerness to unilaterally abandon our national commitment to protect people who are seeking safety from persecution, torture, and genocide is sickening,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Others questioned the idea that the US immigration system was too burdened.

“What President Trump says is difficult for the United States –- taking in 18,000 over a year -– Colombia does every four days,” said Refugees International President Eric Schwartz. “What a sad commentary on American leadership.”

The figure is separate from the 350,000 asylum claims the US expects to receive in fiscal year 2020.

Asylum seekers, like refugees, are fleeing persecution but present their applications in the US or at a US port of entry, while refugees apply from abroad.

In recent years the United States has been the world’s top resettlement country, according to data from the UN Refugee Agency.

Canada, Australia and the Nordic countries also provide a sizeable number of places annually.

In 2018, the top five origin countries for the US program were DR Congo, Myanmar, Ukraine, Bhutan and Eritrea, according to the Refugee Processing Center.

© AFP

Beijing opens glitzy airport ahead of China’s…

By AFP
26 September 2019

Beijing opens glitzy airport ahead of China’s 70th anniversary
At 700,000 square metres (173 acres) the new Beijing Daxing International Airport will be one of the world's largest airport terminals. Photo: AFP

A futuristic airport that resembles a giant starfish opened in Beijing Wednesday, as China unveils another massive infrastructure project just days before it celebrates 70 years of Communist Party rule.

Located 46 kilometres (29 miles) south of Tiananmen Square, Beijing Daxing International Airport will operate at full capacity in 2040, with eight runways and the potential to receive 100 million passengers per year.

The airport was opened by President Xi Jinping, but had an immediate hitch when its maiden commercial flight — an A380 superjumbo heading to the southern city of Guangzhou — was delayed by nearly 30 minutes.

State broadcaster CCTV, which offered a live coverage of the first flight, offered no explanation for the delay.

Beijing Daxing — with the airport code PKX — is seen as an embodiment of the “Chinese dream” Xi has offered his fellow citizens.

– Teething problems –

Both foreign and domestic carriers have plans to move their operations to the new airport, and British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Finnair have already announced new routes to tap into the potential of the modern aviation hub.

“Switching airports can be a complex decision for airlines,” said aviation analyst John Strickland.

“Airlines would prefer to see a new airport open and overcome teething problems before moving services from another well tried and tested airport.”

The SkyTeam alliance — which includes Delta, Air France and Dutch airline KLM — was also expected to move, along with local partners Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines.

But when contacted by AFP last week, Delta and Air France said the decision whether to move airports had not yet been made.

The third largest Chinese airline, Air China, is expected to keep flying the bulk of its flights from Beijing Capital International Airport.

– Soaring growth –

At 700,000 square metres (173 acres) — about the size of 100 football pitches — the new structure will be one of the world’s largest airport terminals.

The building was designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, who died in 2016.

Inside, it stands out for its flowing, curved lines and use of natural light that filters down to the lowest levels of the building through openings on the roof.

Underneath the terminal is a train station and metro line that will allow travellers to reach the city centre in 20 minutes.

The project cost 120 billion yuan ($17.5 billion), or 400 billion yuan if rail and road links are included.

At full capacity, Daxing would be the world’s largest single terminal in terms of traveller capacity, according to its designers.

Atlanta airport in the United States — the world’s busiest airport — can receive more than 100 million passengers, but across two terminals.

The current Beijing Capital International Airport — the world’s second largest — is already overflowing, with just over 100 million passengers annually.

“Daxing is an extension of the phenomenal growth of the aviation market in China,” said Shukor Yusof, head of Malaysia-based aviation consultancy Endau Analytics.

Air transport is booming in China as living standards increase along with peoples’ desire to travel.

It is expected to surpass the US to become the world’s biggest aviation market by the mid-2020s, according to the International Air Transport Association.

By 2037 the country will have 1.6 billion plane journeys each year — a billion more than in 2017, the organisation estimates.

© AFP