UN Tries to cut Numbers at EU-funded Migrant Center in Libya

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The U.N. refugee agency plans to cut the number of migrants staying at an overcrowded transit center in Libya’s capital, a spokesman said Saturday.

Libya is a major waypoint for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East to Europe.

“The situation is very difficult, and we do not have the resources” because the center in Tripoli is at about twice its capacity, with some 1,200 migrants, Charlie Yaxley, a UNHCR spokesman, told The Associated Press.

The UNHCR has asked those refugees not registered with the agency to leave the European Union-funded Gathering and Departure Facility, offering an assistance package that includes cash for an initial two months.

“You will not be considered for evacuation or resettlement if you stay at the GDF,” the agency warned the migrants, according to a document obtained by the AP. It added that those seeking registration with the agency could only do so “outside” the facility.

The UNHCR said it would phase out food distribution for the unregistered migrants, including dozens of tuberculosis patients, from Jan. 1.

Yaxley said the agency also offered to facilitate returning the migrants to their home country or to a country they previously registered as asylum-seekers.

Migrants, however, decried the move, fearing they would end up at detention centers or at the mercy of human traffickers.

“The migrants are reluctant and have their concerns about leaving the GDF,” one person seeking shelter at the facility said, who spoke on condition of anonymity for his safety. The surrounding areas of Tripoli have seen heavy fighting between armed factions since April.

The self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter, launched an offensive to capture the capital city in April, clashing with an array of militias loosely allied with the U.N.-supported but weak government there.

The fighting has stalled in recent weeks, with both sides dug in and shelling one another along Tripoli’s southern reaches. They have also carried out airstrikes and drone attacks.

In July, an airstrike hit a detention center for migrants outside Tripoli, killing more than 50 migrants held there. The Tripoli-based authorities blamed the LNA for the airstrikes. The LNA, however, said it was targeting a nearby military site, not the detention center.

After the airstrike, hundreds of former detainees made their way into the GDF, the agency said. They were followed by another group of around 400 people from Abu Salim detention center in late October, as well as up to 200 people from urban areas, the UNCHR said.

The gathering point, which was opened a year ago, has capacity for around 600 people.

“We hope that the GDF will be able to return to its original function as a transit facility for the most acutely vulnerable refugees, so we are able to evacuate them to safety,” said UNHCR’s Chief of Mission for Libya Jean-Paul Cavalieri.

There are some 40,000 refugees and asylum-seekers living in urban areas across Libya, some of whom are extremely vulnerable, face abuse in militia-run detention centers, and are in desperate need of support, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Separately, the Libyan coast guard said Saturday it intercepted at least 205 Europe-bound migrants off the western town of Zawiya. The African migrants, who included 158 men, 33 women and 14 children, were given humanitarian assistance and were taken to the detention center in Tajoura.

Libya’s detention centers are rife with abuse and Europe’s policy of supporting the coast guard has come under growing criticism.

Climate Activists Invade East German Coal Mines in Protest

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Climate activists protested at open-pit coal mines in eastern Germany, pouring onto the premises to urge the government to immediately halt the use of coal to produce electricity.

The news agency dpa reported that police estimated more than 2,000 people took part Saturday at sites near Cottbus and Leipzig and that some of the demonstrators scuffled with police. Three officers were reported slightly injured at the Janschwaelde mine near Cottbus. The mine operators, Leag und Mibrag, filed police reports asking for an investigation and possible charges.

Burning coal releases carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas blamed by scientists for global warming. The German government plans to end the use of coal by 2038 and spend 40 billion euros ($44 billion) on assistance for the affected mining regions.

Commonwealth, AU, OIF Call for Peace and Unity in Cameroon

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Three international organizations have ended an official visit to Cameroon with a call for efforts to restore security, justice and the conditions for the resumption of normal life in English-speaking northwest and southwest regions of the country hit by the separatist crisis that has killed over 3,000 people. The Commonwealth, African Union, and International Organization of La Francophonie delegation says it is convinced dialogue remains the preferred path for peace to return, but that the government should start implementing the recommendations of the last major national dialogue it organized. Some, however, have been critical of government efforts.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union Commission, says after exchanging views with Cameroonian President Paul Biya, Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute, representatives of the main political parties, religious leaders, youth representatives and a cross-section of Cameroonians,  the organizations are convinced that there is a yearning for peace to return to the restive English-speaking regions.

Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat delivers a speech during the African Union (AU) summit at the Palais des Congres in Niamey, Niger, July 7, 2019.
FILE – Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat delivers a speech during the African Union (AU) summit at the Palais des Congres in Niamey, Niger, July 7, 2019.

He says they noted that a majority of Cameroonians welcomed the convening of the Grand National Dialogue from September 30 to October 4,  in which Cameroon’s government  consulted with political party leaders, activists, opinion leaders, traditional rulers, lawmakers and clergy, and are anxiously waiting for the government to implement its recommendations.  Those recommendations include establishing some sort of special status for the minority English-speaking regions, to be considered by the country’s parliament.  It also backed enforcement of the constitutional language giving English and French equal status and saying they must be used in all public offices and documents.  It also backed continuing the process of decentralization by giving more powers and resources to local councils.  

Mahamat participated in the tripartite mission with  International Organization of La Francophonie Secretary General Louise Mushikiwabo and Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland to encourage national peace efforts.

Mahamat said after their meetings in Yaounde, they observed that a large majority of Cameroonians supported the convening of the major national dialogue and believe it aided their quest for peace.  He said they were convinced that dialogue remains the only path to peace, and asked the government to implement the recommendations of the national dialogue.

After the national dialogue, hundreds of prisoners were freed when Biya ordered a halt to court proceedings against them, saying he was implementing the recommendations of the dialogue.

However, Albert Mvomo, an official of the opposition Cameroon United Party, says Biya’s government has not been doing enough to solve the crisis. He says the AU, OIF and Commonwealth delegation should have proposed sanctions to force Biya to solve the crisis.

He says the three organizations, like any international organization, should force the government in Yaounde to solve the crisis in the English-speaking regions through economic and diplomatic sanctions. He says Cameroon’s government shows no serious sign of wanting to stop the crisis.

Mvomo said the growing number of displaced people in towns and villages in the French-speaking regions showed the government has not been doing much to stop the separatist conflicts.

Simon Munzo,  an Anglophone leader who took part at the national dialogue, says while some recommendations would require legislation, Cameroon should have started showing serious signs that it wants peace to return by restoring public infrastructure and villages and towns destroyed by the fighting for the population to return.  

“We expect the government to maintain the momentum through the implementation of the recommendations of the dialogue,” said Munzo. “Some of them require legislation. Others do not, for example rebuilding schools and bridges and all of that. You do not need legislation for that except in terms of budgeting. Now, there are other aspects that will require modifying the constitution.”

Separatists have insisted on social media that they do not recognize the outcome of the national dialogue and will be ready to negotiate with the Yaounde government only on the terms of the separation of the English-speaking and French-speaking parts of Cameroon.

US Border Agents Rescue Migrants From Flooded Drainage Pipe

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U.S. border protection officials in San Diego said Friday that 20 people had been rescued from flooded drainage pipes west of the San Ysidro Port of Entry. 

A Border Patrol agent found three people trying to enter the United States illegally late Thursday near a drainage tube about 3 kilometers west of the port of entry, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol’s parent agency.

In a release, CBP said the three people told agents there were people trapped inside the drainage tubes, with water rising because of heavy rain in the area. 

After a search, local emergency officials aided CBP agents in recovering 17 people, sending seven of them to a nearby hospital for medical care.

About an hour later, three more people were discovered in the drainage tubes and were taken into custody. One was sent to the hospital.

CBP said it apprehended 15 men, three women and one juvenile male from Mexico, and one Guatemalan man. It said all would be processed for illegally entering the United States. 

Twitter CEO Pledges to Live in Africa for Several Months in 2020

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Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey has wrapped up of a trip to Africa by pledging to reside on the continent next year for up to six months. 

Dorsey tweeted this week: “Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!). Not sure where yet, but I’ll be living here for 3-6 months mid 2020.”

The CEO of the social media giant did not say what he planned to do on the African continent.

Twitter, which is based in San Francisco, did not offer more details on Dorsey’s plans. 

On Dorsey’s recent trip, he visited entrepreneurs in Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. 

Dorsey, 43, co-founded Twitter with several other entrepreneurs in 2006. He ran the company until he was ousted in 2008 but was brought back seven years later to again lead the platform.

Dorsey also co-founded the payment processing app Square and is also CEO of that operation. The tech exec holds millions of stock shares in both companies, and Forbes estimates his net worth at $4.3 billion.

Twitter, along with other social media companies, has faced criticism of its handling of misinformation and has come under scrutiny ahead of next year’s U.S. presidential election. Dorsey announced in October that Twitter would ban political advertisements on the platform. 

Does New Turkish Unrest Mean New Refugee Wave?

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The conflict in Syria created a global humanitarian crisis, with millions displaced and millions more fleeing to other countries. Turkish military operations that began in early October may be creating a new wave of displacement. Where are these Syrians going? VOA’s Turkish service filed this report, narrated by Ege Sacikara. 

Concerns Grow in Nigeria About Nation’s Bride Price Custom

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The widespread African tradition of giving cash and gifts to a bride’s family before marriage, known as a “bride price,” critics say degrades women by putting a monetary value on a wife. A recent case in Nigeria ended in suicide, underscoring the financial pressure. But, supporters of the bride price tradition uphold it as a cherished cultural and religious symbol of marriage.

Saadatu Ahmed Manga is having a dye called lalle, or henna, painted on her body because she’s about to get married. The bride and her friends are getting ready.

She says they went to the hairdresser, and now they are doing lalle. For every wedding, the bride does lalle. Lalle is a dye made of plants. It’s painted on the body in patterns that resemble flowers or shapes.

It’s part of the wedding custom in northern Nigeria, which is largely influenced by Islam.

Marriage custom

But the most important marriage custom is the bride price, a payment of cash that the fiancé gives to the bride’s family to show how serious he is about the marriage.

Manga’s fiancé will make a cash payment to her family.

In Islam, the bride price has to be paid before the wedding, she says. Bride price started since the days of the prophet, Muhammed, may peace be upon him, and we continue it, she says.

But more Nigerians are condemning the bride price custom as a degrading practice that requires payment for marriage and places a monetary value on women.

Women are largely left out of determining the bride price, which is negotiated between the male relatives of the bride and groom.

Defenders and critics

Yet, many Nigerians defend the tradition.

One man says, dowry is something God has made compulsory.

Another says, it is not selling her. It is not degrading. It is increasing her honor.

Critical voices can be heard across Africa, including those of scholars, women’s rights activists and artists.

In October, Nigerian media outlets reported the death of a 17-year-old girl in northern Nigeria who set herself on fire because her boyfriend could not afford the bride price. The dowry was 17,000 naira. That’s less than $50 in U.S. dollars.

Marriage and relationship counselor Fiyabina Penuel says the tragedy could have been avoided. She says the pride price custom is being abused.

“Initially, this issue of dowry and bride price was more like a pleasantry being exchanged between the husband-to-be and the in-laws-to-be. When it all started, in most cultures it was little things that everyone can afford. But as time goes on it became so big that most people cannot be able to afford it. So it’s like business and using it to put people in classes,” Penuel said. 

A symbol of love

But African literature scholar, Dr. Agatha Ukata, blames radical feminist ideology for the rising criticism of bride price. She also says the tradition is misunderstood by the Western world.

“The Western world, they have this cultural shock because it is not in their culture to have bride price and so that’s why they look at bride price and they’re imagining, ‘Why do you have to buy a woman?’ The concept of bride price, on its own, it’s not buying somebody. It is just a symbol of love,” Ukata said.

When it’s finally time for Saadatu’s wedding. She walks among a lively crowd, her face covered by a heavy veil. Once seated, the groom’s family members drop money in a box and then ask her to lift the veil so they can see her.

When it’s all done, the crowd burst into applause. She waves the bride price in the air to show it has been paid.

Now, she can confidently call herself a wife.

Botswana Drought Makes Wasteland of Harvests, Livestock

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Southern Africa is experiencing one of the worst droughts in years, with more than 40 million people expected to face food insecurity because of livestock and crop losses. Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe have declared it an emergency.

In semi-arid Botswana, the farmers are reeling after the worst drought in a decade wiped out entire harvests and left the land littered with dead livestock.

Two thirds of the crops planted last season failed, while Ngamiland, a rich beef producing region, has recorded nearly 40,000 cattle deaths.

Rancher Casper Matsheka says there was no food or water, so his animals starved to death.

“The goats died, as well as the cattle, as you can see the carcasses all over. We were really affected. If only the government could subsidize the prices of feed and vaccines for the livestock during such times,” he said.

Cattle and hippos wallow in the mud in one of the channel of the wildlife reach Okavango Delta near the Nxaraga village in the…
Cattle and hippos wallow in mud in one of the channels of the wildlife-rich Okavango Delta near Nxaraga village in the outskirt of Maun, Sept. 28, 2019. Botswana government declared this a drought year because of no rainfall throughout the country.

Nor has the drought sparred wildlife.

National parks authorities have resorted to feeding starving hippos while hundreds of elephants have died.

Environmental nongovernment organization, Kalahari Conservation Society’s Neil Fitt says competition for food and water has increased the risk of human-wildlife conflict.

“The livestock are now putting pressure on the wildlife areas, so the wildlife are also getting pressure on their areas, and that is where the conflict zone is,” he said. “Why I am bringing this up? The… interconnected with the drought is this wildlife-human conflict.”

In Botswana, where drought is frequent, President Mokgweetsi Masisi said the government plans to stop calling it an emergency and instead make drought relief part of the national budget.

“Government has taken a decision to develop a Drought Management Strategy, which would classify drought as a permanent feature in our budget plans, rather than an emergency,” he said. “The strategy will be completed before the end of the financial year.”

Acting director of Meteorological Services Radithupa Radithupa says a robust strategy is needed to deal with the recurring droughts.

“We are looking at climate change as an impact now, we are seeing the impact now in terms of heating, the dry spells and the excessive rains. Therefore, we really need to adapt as a nation,” Radithupa said.

Meanwhile, a forecast for rain has raised hopes among farmers and ranchers for recovery and that this season of severe drought won’t be a total loss.

Tibetan Man Dies After Self-immolation Protest Against  China

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A former Buddhist monk has died in eastern Tibet after setting himself on fire this week to protest China’s repressive rule, a spokesperson for the monastery told VOA Tibetan Service.

Yonten, a 24-year-old former monk at Kirti Monastery in Amdo Ngaba, in the western China province of Sichuan, carried out his self-immolation Tuesday in Meruma township, spokesperson Kanyag Tsering said.

He said China had imposed restrictions in the area, including cellphone use, slowing the gathering and dissemination of information about the incident.

“We have no further information on whether the body of the deceased has been handed over to the family or not since all channels are now blocked,” the monastery said in a statement.

There have been 156 self-immolations across Tibet over the past decade, 44 of which took place in Amdo Ngaba.

Once a monk, Yonten later disrobed and settled as a nomad. Meruma township has been the scene of multiple self-immolation protests, most recently in March 2018.

In a statement, Free Tibet communications manager John Jones said, “Yonten lived his life under occupation. In his 24 years, he would have seen Chinese police and military suppress protests in his homeland, seen his culture, language and religion come under attack, seen people he knew arrested and made to disappear. Tibetans today grow up in a world of injustice.”

China maintains it has worked to modernize Tibetan society since “liberating” Tibetans in 1950.

Russia’s Alternative to Western Credit Cards Debuts in London

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A Russian-backed bank payment card, introduced after Western sanctions upended Russia’s financial system five years ago and prompted Visa and Mastercard to deny electronic services to some of the country’s leading banks, is set for its European debut on London Wednesday, when a pilot project will be launched in collaboration with the Dutch global payment company PayXpert.

Moscow authorities hoped to get the MIR card accepted eventually in foreign markets, but progress has been slow outside Russia for the MIR payment system,  which operates outside of Western-controlled international financial systems such as Swift, which banks use to transfer money.  

The pilot project with PayXpert “will lay the foundation for new promising trends in the foreign expansion of Russian payment cards,”  according to Vladimir Komlev, the head of Russia’s National Card Payment System, which operates the MIR system.

De-dollarization efforts

The effort is seen by analysts as part of the  Kremlin bid to de-dollarize the Russian economy to lessen the sting of Western sanctions. A Russian Finance Ministry official this month told Reuters that Russia will next year diversify its foreign currency holdings  in its National Wealth Fund, which supports Russia’s public pension system, aiming to lower the share of dollars in the fund’s reserves.

Dmitry Dolgin of the Dutch banking group ING said in  a report this month that de-dollarization efforts are now obvious across most sectors, including local business loans and bank-held international assets, although he said the dollar’s role  has actually increased in company and household savings and cash assets, partly because dollar interest rates have been higher than those offered for euros.

U.S. authorities have been able advance sanctions by targeting companies that use dollars, and the establishment of electronic payment systems not tied to the dollar or largely controlled by U.S. businesses is one way for the Kremlin to reduce the impact of the West’s serial punishment of Moscow. Washington and the European Union have imposed a wave of sanctions since 2014 to punish Russia for the 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections, and the poisoning of a defected Russian spy in England.

Komlev told Reuters this year that “In the next three years we want MIR cards to be operational in countries where Russians are used to traveling.” He projected MIR cards would be operational at some banks in at least a dozen countries by the end of this year. Turkish banks started to conduct transactions this year with MIR, which means both “peace” and “world” in Russian.

MIR was launched initially as a national payment system, with the first cards issued in December 2015. Russia’s leading bank, state-owned Sberbank, started issuing them in October 2016, and by the end of last year more than 70 million MIR-based cards had been issued by 64 Russian banks. The Kremlin has mandated that state welfare and pension payments must be processed through the system by next year, along with salaries paid to civil servants.

The card has a long way to go before it rivals VISA our Mastercard internationally. It is not accepted by international shopping platforms or major online booking services for airlines and hotels, although APEXX Fintech, a British start-up global payment company, said Thursday it would now start working with the MIR system. Among smartphone applications only Samsung has concluded an agreement with the MIR system.

Meanwhile, de-dollarization has been moving quickly. Russia’s Central Bank has currency swap deals in place with Iran, China and Turkey, allowing direct trade to be conducted in local currencies instead of U.S. dollars. Russia reportedly lost $7.7 billion in its bid to reduce dollars held in its reserves. Some of the dollars were turned into gold, and since January the bank has purchased 96.4 metric tons of gold.

FILE – The Russia’s Central Bank headquarters in Moscow, Feb. 22, 2018.

Alexei Zabotkin, head of the Russian Central Bank’s monetary policy department, has conceded that it would be impossible to completely empty the country’s foreign exchange reserves of dollars, as this would be  “fraught with excessive risks.” According to central bank data the  National Wealth Fund has $45.5 billion, 39.17 billion euros and 7.67 billion British pounds.

In August, the state-controlled Rosneft oil giant announced it would stop using the U.S. dollar for its export contracts.

Nonetheless, analysts say there are limits on how far Russia can de-dollarize — the ruble is highly volatile and remains unattractive for investors and de-dollarization brings additional and sometimes prohibitive trading costs.

European regulators will be watching the London project closely. EU officials have been sympathetic about Russia’s de-dollarization bid, suspecting that as a spinoff the euro will be boosted as an international currency. In June the European Commission concluded that “the euro clearly stands out as the only candidate that has all the necessary attributes of a global currency that market participants could use as an alternative to the U.S. dollar.”