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Saudi woman fleeing alleged abuse heads for asylum in Canada

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Bangkok: An 18-year-old Saudi woman who said she was abused by her family and feared for her life if deported back home left Thailand on Friday night for Canada, which has granted her asylum, officials said.

The fast-moving developments capped an eventful week for Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun. She fled her family while visiting Kuwait and flew to Bangkok, where she barricaded herself in an airport hotel to avoid deportation and grabbed global attention by mounting a social media campaign for asylum.

Her case highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, where several women fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many similar cases go unreported.

 

Alqunun is flying to Toronto via Seoul, South Korea, according to Thai immigration Police Chief Surachate Hakparn. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed his country had granted her asylum.

“That is something that we are pleased to do because Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights and to stand up for woman’s rights around the world and I can confirm that we have accepted the UN’s request,” Trudeau said.

Several other countries, including Australia, had been in talks with the U.N.’s refugee agency to accept Alqunun, Surachate said earlier in the day.

“She chose Canada. It’s her personal decision,” he said.

Canada’s ambassador had seen her off at the airport, Surachate said, adding that she looked happy and healthy.

She thanked everyone for helping her, he said, and added that the first thing she would do upon arrival in Canada would be to start learning the language. She already speaks more than passable English, in addition to Arabic.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees welcomed Canada’s decision.

“The quick actions over the past week of the government of Thailand in providing temporary refuge and facilitating refugee status determination by UNHCR, and of the government of Canada in offering emergency resettlement to Ms. Alqunun and arranging her travel were key to the successful resolution of this case,” the agency said in a statement.

It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted Alqunon to choose Canada over Australia. Australian media reported that UNHCR had withdrawn its referral for Alqunon to be resettled in Australia because Canberra was taking too long to decide on her asylum.

UNHCR officials were not immediately available for comment. Australia’s Education Minister Dan Tehan said Saturday that Australia had moved quickly to process her case but Canada decided to take her in. He added that, ultimately, the outcome was a good one. “She’s going to be safe,” he said.


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Over 1000 dead as cyclone ‘Idai’ strikes Zimbabwe, Mozambique

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Beira: More than a thousand people are feared to have died in a cyclone that smashed into Mozambique last week, while scores were killed and more than 200 are missing in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
The city of Beira in central Mozambique bore Cyclone Idai’s full wrath before the storm barrelled on to neighbouring Zimbabwe, unleashing fierce winds and flash floods and washing away roads and houses.
“For the moment we have registered 84 deaths officially, but when we flew over the area… this morning to understand what’s going on, everything indicates that we could register more than 1,000 deaths,” Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi said in a nationwide address.
“This is a real humanitarian disaster,” he said. “More than 100,000 people are in danger”. Survivors have taken refuge in trees while awaiting help, the president added. Aerial photographs released by a Christian non-profit organisation, the Mission Aviation Fellowship, showed groups of people stuck on rooftops with flood waters up to window level.
“The scale of damage… (in) Beira is massive and horrifying”, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said. Ninety per cent of the city of some 530,000 people and its surrounding area has been “damaged or destroyed,” it said in a statement.
“The situation is terrible. The scale of devastation is enormous,” the IFRC’s Jamie LeSueur said. “Almost everything is destroyed. Communication lines have been completely cut and roads have been destroyed. Some affected communities are not accessible.”
A large dam burst on Sunday and cut off the last road to Beira, he said. Sofala province governor Alberto Mondlane warned that the “biggest threat we have now, even bigger than the cyclone, is floods because it’s raining more and more”.
Emma Beaty, coordinator of a grouping of NGOs known as Cosaco, said: “We’ve never had something of this magnitude before in Mozambique”. “Some dams have broken, and others have reached full capacity, they’ll very soon open the flood gates.
It’s a convergence of flooding, cyclones, dams breaking and making a potential wave: everything’s in place so we get a perfect storm.” Nyusi said the Pungwe and Buzi rivers in central Mozambique “have burst their banks and engulfed entire villages.” “Communities are isolated and bodies are floating” on the waters, he said. Beira international airport was closed because of cyclone damage but later reopened. In neighbouring Zimbabwe, Idai left 98 dead and at least 217 more missing, according to the information ministry.

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UN received 259 allegations of sexual exploitation, abuse in 2018: report

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United Nations: The UN received a total of 259 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by the staff working in its agencies and their partner organisations in 2018, an increase of more than a hundred in such incidents from the previous year, according to a report presented by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The report, presented to the General Assembly, said that from January 1 to December 31, 2018, the UN received a total of 148 sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) allegations directly involving UN workers, and 111 involving staff from partner organisations implementing UN programmes.
This represents an increase in the total number of incidents reported in 2017, when 138 allegations were made, and 165 allegations made in 2016, it said.
The report said while the figures of allegations rose in 2018 compared with the previous two years, there was increased awareness among the UN and UN-related staff, and improved and harmonized reporting tools across the organisation towards a ‘zero tolerance’ effort to end sexual exploitation and abuse across the UN.
According to the report, not all the allegations have been fully verified and many are still under investigation or are still in a preliminary assessment phase.
The report said that the third system-wide survey on sexual exploitation and abuse was administered in 2018 to the UN and affiliated personnel at 34 duty stations with humanitarian and/or peace operations.
The duty stations included those in countries such as Afghanistan, Haiti, India, Iraq, Liberia, Libya, Pakistan, South Sudan and Syria.
There were some encouraging signs in Peacekeeping Operations, where allegations were down almost by half over the past two years, it said.
While 103 SEA incidents were reported in 2016, only 54 allegations were made in 2018, the report said.
Despite this improvement in the UN’s peacekeeping wing, the number of allegations went up against personnel in other UN entities, with 94 allegations received in 2018, compared with 50 in 2017.
In a troubling sign, the number of allegations against partner organisations implementing the UN’s programmes reached a high of 109, increasing more than four-fold from 2017 when only 25 incidents were reported.
“The numbers show that the UN’s victim-centred approach, implemented over a year ago, is paying off as there seems to be an increased trust among the victims and survivors to come forward and report incidents,” the UN said in a statement.
The Secretary-General has stressed that there will be zero tolerance towards sexual exploitation and abuse across the UN.
His strategy, in its first phase, focuses on addressing the issue within the UN system, as well as those mandated by the world body to carry out programmes.
This entails more than 90,000 staff in more than 30 entities and more than 100,000 uniformed personnel.

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NZ premier Ardern vows terrorist behind mosque massacre will face ‘full force of law’

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Christchurch: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised on Tuesday that the terrorist responsible for last week’s deadly mosque massacres would face “the full force of the law”, as she vowed never to utter his name.
“He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety — that is why you will never hear me mention his name,” Ardern said in an emotional address to a special meeting of parliament, which she opened with the Arabic greeting “as salaam aleikum” — ‘peace be upon you’.
“I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them,” she told the gathering in Wellington, four days after the massacre in the southern city of Christchurch.
“He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless,” she said.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, was captured by police and has been charged with one count of murder, but Ardern assured parliament other charges would follow. “He will face the full force of the law in New Zealand,” she said.
Ardern has promised reforms to New Zealand gun laws which allowed Tarrant to legally purchase the weapons he used in the attack, including semi-automatic rifles.
And she announced a full review of how the Australian — an avowed white supremacist — was able to plan and carry out the attacks in New Zealand under the radar of security services.
“The person who committed these acts was not from here. He was not raised here. He did not find his ideology here. But that is not to say that those very same views do not live here,” she said.

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