Indonesian migrant deaths off Malaysia’s shores rise to 61

Indonesian migrant deaths off Malaysia’s shores rise to 61

The death toll from a wooden boat that capsized last week with Indonesian migrant workers off Malaysia's west coast has risen to 61, an official said. Another 20 Indonesians have been rescued.

Rescuers have retrieved the bodies of 37 men, 23 women and a young girl, said a Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency official. Nineteen men and one woman were saved.

The boat was believed to have been taking migrant workers home to Tanjung Balai in Indonesia's Sumatra province when it sank Thursday in bad sea conditions, not far from the coast of Sabak Bernam town in central Selangor state.

Fishermen had reported there were some 100 people crammed onto the boat.

Such incidents are common in Malaysia, which has up to 2 million Indonesian migrants working illegally. The Indonesians work without permits on plantations and in other industries in Malaysia, and often travel between the two countries by crossing the narrow Strait of Malacca in poorly equipped boats.—AP


Suspected arson attack destroys German refugee shelters

Five people were injured when a fire erupted at a refugee shelter in Germany early today, one of two such blazes to hit migrant emergency accommodations overnight, police said.

Police were investigating the causes of the fires which came after a spate of arson attacks against refugee homes amid a record influx of people fleeing war and poverty in Arab countries.

One of the fires destroyed dozens of portable homes and forced the evacuation of 80 refugees, in Rottenburg in the western state of Baden-Wurttemberg, police said.

More than 100 firefighters were called to douse the flames.
Five people suffered injuries when they jumped from windows or had to be treated for smoke inhalation.

The other blaze hit buildings scheduled to become shelters in the town of Ebeleben in the state of Thuringia in the formerly communist east, causing no injuries.

Police said they did not rule out arson.—AFP


(Books) Banned New Zealand author ponders burning question

New Zealand censors sparked outrage today after banning an award-winning teen novel that includes sex and bullying.
It became the first book to be removed from shelves in more than two decades.

Auckland author Ted Dawe said he was “blindsided'' by the ban on his coming-of-age story “Into the River,’’ which won the New Zealand Post children's book of the year in 2013.

“It's extraordinary,'' Dawe told the New Zealand Herald. “I've had quite a few emails from people who share that sense of outrage. 

“Do we live in a country where books get banned? I'll get burnt next.''

The book tells the story of a Maori boy who wins a scholarship to an exclusive Auckland boarding school but struggles with racism and drugs.

After numerous battles with censors, selling it can now attract fines of up to NZ$3,000 (US$1,900) for individuals and NZ$10,000 for companies.

The Film and Literature Board of Review said the ban was temporary and would be in place until the organization reviews the decision next month.

A spokesman confirmed that no book had been subject to such a ban since current legislation was introduced in 1993.
The board took action after submissions from conservative lobby group Family First New Zealand, which said it objected to detailed descriptions of sex acts, coarse language and scenes of drug-taking.’’

“The censor has received over 400 emails of complaint... from concerned Kiwi parents, their desire to protect their children must also be respected,'' the group's national director said.

Booksellers New Zealand chief executive Lincoln Gould described the ban as bewildering.

“It's not offensive, it's a quality book that has been acclaimed by the experts,'' he told AFP. “It's most concerning that it's happening in this country.''

Arabs pass the buck on cause of refugee tide

Smaller Gulf Arab countries such the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, where millions of foreign workers already vastly outnumber local citizens, fear being overwhelmed by refugees.

(Pictured, migrants and refugees walk from a German train station to a facility from where they are transported to shelters in Dortmund, Germany, yesterday).

Security concerns are also paramount for countries such as Saudi Arabia that have been targeted in attacks by the jihadist Islamic State group operating in Syria and Iraq.

And an influx of large numbers of refugees could upset stability in countries with little grassroots political activity.

“The countries of the Gulf are involved in the politics of Syria and they would probably worry who would come into their countries and what they would be involved in once they are,'' said Sultan Barakat, a senior fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.

He said one move that could help those fleeing and appease critics alike would be to offer entry to family members of Syrians already in the Gulf.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians live among the millions of foreigners lured by work opportunities to the Gulf states – prompting some to argue that they are already helping those fleeing the conflict.
As one anonymous Syrian wrote recently on Facebook: “Saudi has no refugees but it hosts a million Syrians on visitor visas, in addition to the Syrian residents, [and] they get their health care and schools, and in some cases their rents from charities.''

For some in the Gulf, the criticism should be directed instead at Western governments, saying it is their failure to fully back and arm those fighting Assad that is behind the refugee crisis.

“European and American officials facing their short-sighted policies must welcome more Syrian refugees,'' a former Qatari diplomat, Nasser Al-Khalifa, wrote on Twitter.—AFP


Wealthy Gulf Arab states not signatories to UN refugee convention

Analysts say the outpouring of criticism of the wealthy Gulf Arab states is unlikely to bring about any quick changes in the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council –

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

None has signed the UN Convention on Refugees setting standards for the treatment and rights of those fleeing to a new country.

(Pictured, migrants and refugees await registration at the port of Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos, yesterday)
“I don't see anybody doing a David Cameron, who U-turned in 36 hours,'' Michael Stephens, a Middle East research fellow at RUSI, told AFP, referring to reports the British premier is set to admit 15,000 refugees from Syria. 
“The vast majority of Gulf citizens believe what their governments have done in Syria is the right thing.''

The Gulf nations have hardly stood on the sidelines during Syria's conflict, providing significant financial assistance to refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

At the same time they have been among the most ardent opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, backing the mainly Sunni rebels who have risen up against his regime, which is supported by their Shiite regional rival Iran.

GCC states have also provided funds and weapons for rebel groups fighting Assad – leading to some accusations that they are backing shadowy extremists.

But when it comes to allowing in refugees, domestic concerns seem preeminent, even though many of the refugees are Sunni Muslims like the majority of people in the Gulf.—AFP


Koreas begin family reunion talks

North and South Korean Red Cross officials kicked off talks today on organizing a rare and emotional reunion for families separated by the Korean War.

The discussions at the border truce village of Panmunjom were the product of an agreement the two Koreas reached two weeks ago to end a dangerous military standoff and reduce cross-border tensions.

Today's talks were expected to focus on confirming a date and venue for the event, with the most likely outcome a reunion at the North's Mount Kumgang resort sometime in early October.

Millions of people were separated during the 1950-53 conflict that sealed the division between the two Koreas.

Most died without having a chance to see or hear from their families on the other side of the border, across which all civilian communication is banned.

About 66,000 South Koreans are on the waiting list for an eventual reunion, but only several hundred can be chosen each time.

The reunion programme began in earnest after a historic North-South summit in 2000, and was initially an annual event.

But strained cross-border relations have allowed only one reunion in the past five years, with several being cancelled at the last moment by North Korea.—AFP


Queen Elizabeth marks record reign as UK monarch

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who is 89, is planning to keep things low-key on Wednesday when she will overtake Queen Victoria as Britain's longest-serving monarch, despite public interest in the historic date.

The queen will ride on a steam train in Scotland to inaugurate a new railway line and will host a dinner at Balmoral Castle with her grandson Prince William and his wife Kate in attendance.

According to calculations by royal officials, Elizabeth will beat her great-great grandmother Victoria's time on the throne: a total of 63 years, seven months and two days which she served between 1837 and 1901.

She is also the world's oldest monarch.

Buckingham Palace will mark the day with a photo display of her reign and the Royal Mint has designed a new silver 20 coin (27 euros, US$30) with the five official portraits since she became queen in 1952.—AFP


More than 1,000 migrants leave Budapest train station

More than 1,000 migrants stranded for days at Budapest's main train station left the building today, intent on walking to the Austrian border, according to an AFP journalist on the scene.

The crowd included people in wheelchairs and on crutches, as well as parents carrying children on their shoulders, all prepared to march 175 kilometers to the border.

Some flashed victory signs while others waved images of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently announced that Berlin was easing asylum restrictions for Syrians.

“We are very happy that something is happening at last. The next stop is Austria. The children are very tired, Hungary is very bad, we have to go somehow,'' 23-year-old Osama from Syria told AFP.

The migrants were part of an estimated 2,000 people stuck in makeshift refugee camps at Keleti station, after railway authorities had blocked them from boarding trains to Austria and Germany because they lacked EU visas.


In death, migrant child inspires flood of donations

Charities helping refugees noticed a surge in donations across Europe as people shocked by the heart-rending images of a drowned Syrian boy on a Turkish beach dug deep to help out.

The photos of the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, lying on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey, have triggered a wave of emotion across the continent.

“There is an enormous response from the public, the tide of indifference is shifting,'' Christian Peregrin, spokesman for the Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station, told AFP.

The group, working to help migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean from Libya, had by today received a record 600,000 euros since Aylan's photo went viral. 

“Before that, 10,000 euros in a day would have been a good day,'' he said.

In the Netherlands, which has so far remained largely indifferent to the crisis, little Aylan's tragic fate has “served as a massive catalyst'' to mobilize donations, a worker at the Dutch Refugee Council told AFP.

Aylan, his brother four-year-old Ghaleb and their mother Rihana drowned off the Turkish coast on Wednesday while trying to reach Europe across the Aegean Sea.

Since Aylan's pictures were published “there's been a whole change in attitude. Before there was quite a bit of fear over the arrival of refugees,'' the worker said, asking not to be named.

“Now people are realizing that we have to do more.'' 
Jan-Willem Anholts, spokesman for the Dutch government's Central Asylum Seekers' Organ (COA), told AFP that its switchboard was so flooded with calls yesterday they had to bring in six extra workers.

“We have all been touched by the terrible news and the heartbreaking stories in the past few days,'' the International Olympic President Thomas Bach said, as the IOC launched its fund.

“Our thoughts are with the many refugees risking their lives and the lives of their families to escape danger.''

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said that since Thursday it has “received a hundred thousand dollars of unsolicited funding on our global donate page, which we are sure was largely due to the photo of the Syrian toddler,'' said spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.

Indonesian migrant deaths off Malaysia’s shores rise to 61 Indonesian migrant deaths off Malaysia’s shores rise to 61 Reviewed by Ajit Kumar on 3:22 PM Rating: 5

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