At least 15 Rohingya refugees drown after boat sinks off Bangladesh

News Network
February 12,2020

Saint Martin's Island, Feb 12: At least 15 women and children drowned and more than 50 others were missing after a boat overloaded with Rohingya refugees sank off southern Bangladesh as it tried to reach Malaysia Tuesday, officials said.

Some 138 people -- mainly women and children -- were packed on a trawler barely 13 metres (40 feet) long, trying to cross the Bay of Bengal, a coast guard spokesman told news agency.

"It sank because of overloading. The boat was meant to carry maximum 50 people. The boat was also loaded with some cargo," another coast guard spokesman, Hamidul Islam, added.

Nearly one million Rohingya live in squalid camps near Bangladesh's border with Myanmar, many fleeing the neighbouring country after a 2017 brutal military crackdown.

With few opportunities for jobs and education in the camps, thousands have tried to reach other countries like Malaysia and Thailand by attempting the hazardous 2,000-kilometre journey.

In the latest incident, 71 people have been rescued including 46 women. Among the dead, 11 were women and the rest children.

Anwara Begum said two of her sons, aged six and seven, drowned in the tragedy.

"We were four of us in the boat... Another child (son, aged 10) is very sick," the 40-year-old told news agency.

Fishermen tipped off the coast guard after they saw survivors swimming and crying for help in the sea.

The boat's keel hit undersea coral in shallow water off Saint Martin's Island, Bangladesh's southernmost territory, before it sank, survivors said.

"We swam in the sea before boats came and rescued us," said survivor Mohammad Hossain, 20.

Coast guard commander Sohel Rana said three survivors, including a Bangladeshi, were detained over human trafficking allegations.

An estimated 25,000 Rohingya left Bangladesh and Myanmar on boats in 2015 trying to get to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Hundreds drowned when overloaded boats sank.

Begum said her family paid a Bangladeshi trafficker $450 per head to be taken to Malaysia.

"We're first taken to a hill where we stayed for five days. Then they used three small trawlers to take us to a large trawler, which sank," she said.

Shakirul Islam, a migration expert whose group works with Rohingya to raise awareness against trafficking, said desperation in the camps was making refugees want to leave.

"It was a tragedy waiting to happen," he said.

"They just want to get out, and fall victim to traffickers who are very active in the camps."

Islam said in the past two months dozens of Rohingya reported approaches from traffickers to his OKUP migration rights group.

"Human smuggling and trafficking in the Bay of Bengal is particularly difficult to address as it requires concerted effort from multiple states," the Bangladesh head of UN agency the International Organization for Migration, Giorgi Gigauri, told news agency.

"The gaps in coordination are easily exploited by criminal networks."

Since last year, Bangladeshi authorities have picked up over 500 Rohingya from rickety fishing trawlers or coastal villages as they waited to board boats.

Trafficking often increases during the November-March period when the sea is safest for the small trawlers used by traffickers.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation deal to send back some Rohingya to their homeland, but none have agreed to return because of safety fears.

The charity Save the Children called on Myanmar to "take all necessary steps to ensure the Rohingya community can return to their homes in a safe and dignified manner".

"The tragic drowning of women and children... should be a wake-up call for us all," the group's Athena Rayburn said in a statement.

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West raises concern over Russia's race for coronavirus vaccine

Agencies
August 7,2020

Russia boasts that it's about to become the first country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, with mass vaccinations planned as early as October using shots that are yet to complete clinical trials -- and scientists worldwide are sounding the alarm that the headlong rush could backfire.

Moscow sees a Sputnik-like propaganda victory, recalling the Soviet Union's launch of the world's first satellite in 1957.

But the experimental Covid-19 shots began first-in-human testing on a few dozen people less than two months ago, and there's no published scientific evidence yet backing Russia's late entry to the global vaccine race, much less explaining why it should be considered a front-runner.

“I'm worried that Russia is cutting corners so that the vaccine that will come out may be not just ineffective, but also unsafe,” said Lawrence Gostin, a global public health law expert at Georgetown University. “It doesn't work that way... Trials come first. That's really important.”

According to Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia's Direct Investment Fund that bankrolled the effort, a vaccine developed by the Gamaleya research institute in Moscow may be approved in days, before scientists complete what's called a Phase 3 study.

That final-stage study, usually involving tens of thousands of people, is the only way to prove if an experimental vaccine is safe and really works.

Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said members of “risk groups,” such as medical workers, may be offered the vaccine this month.

He didn't clarify whether they would be part of the Phase 3 study that is said to be completed after the vaccine receives “conditional approval.”

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova promised to start “industrial production” in September, and Murashko said mass vaccination may begin as early as October.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease specialist, questioned the fast-track approach last week.

“I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing a vaccine before they are administering the vaccine to anyone, because claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do testing I think is problematic at best," he said.

Questions about this vaccine candidate come after the US, Britain and Canada last month accused Russia of using hackers to steal vaccine research from Western labs.

Delivering a vaccine first is a matter of national prestige for the Kremlin as it tries to assert the image of Russia as a global power capable of competing with the US and China.

The notion of being “the first in the world” dominated state news coverage of the effort, with government officials praising reports of the first-step testing.

In April, President Vladimir Putin ordered state officials to shorten the time of clinical trials for a variety of drugs, including potential coronavirus vaccines.

According to Russia's Association of Clinical Trials Organizations, the order set “an unattainable bar” for scientists who, as a result, "joined in on the mad race, hoping to please those at power.”

The association first raised concern in late May, when professor Alexander Gintsburg, head of the Gamaleya institute, said he and other researchers tried the vaccine on themselves.

The move was a “crude violation of the very foundations of clinical research, Russian law and universally accepted international regulations" the group said in an open letter to the government, urging scientists and health officials to adhere to clinical research standards.

But a month later, the Health Ministry authorized clinical trials of the Gamaleya product, with what appeared to be another ethical issue.

Human studies started June 17 among 76 volunteers. Half were injected with a vaccine in liquid form and the other half with a vaccine that came as soluble powder.

Some in the first half were recruited from the military, which raised concerns that servicemen may have been pressured to participate.

Some experts said their desire to perform well would affect the findings. “It's no coincidence media reports we see about the trials among the military said no one had any side effects, while the (other group) reported some," said Vasily Vlassov, a public health expert with Moscow's Higher School of Economics.

As the trials were declared completed and looming regulatory approval was announced last week, questions arose about the vaccine's safety and effectiveness.

Government assurances the drug produced the desired immune response and caused no significant side effects were hardly convincing without published scientific data describing the findings.

The World Health Organization said all vaccine candidates should go through full stages of testing before being rolled out.

“There are established practices and there are guidelines out,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said Tuesday.

“Between finding or having a clue of maybe having a vaccine that works, and having gone through all the stages, is a big difference.”

Offering an unsafe compound to medical workers on the front lines of the outbreak could make things worse, Georgetown's Gostin said, adding: “What if the vaccine started killing them or making them very ill?”

Vaccines that are not properly tested can cause harm in many ways — from a negative impact on health to creating a false sense of security or undermining trust in vaccinations, said Thomas Bollyky, director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

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Trump administration rescinds international students visa policy

Agencies
July 15,2020

Washington, Jul 15: The Trump administration has agreed to rescind its July 6 rule, which temporarily barred international students from staying in the United States unless they attend at least one in-person course, a federal district court judge said on Tuesday.

The U-turn by the Trump administration comes following a nationwide outrage against its July 6 order and a series of lawsuits filed by a large number of educational institutions, led by the prestigious Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), seeking a permanent injunctive relief to bar the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from enforcing the federal guidelines barring international students attending colleges and universities offering only online courses from staying in the country.

As many as 17 US states and the District of Columbia, along with top American IT companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft, joined MIT and Harvard in the US District Court in Massachusetts against the DHS and the ICE in seeking an injunction to stop the entire rule from going into effect.

"I have been informed by the parties that they have come to a resolution. They will return to the status quo," Judge Allison Burroughs, the federal district judge in Boston, said in a surprise statement at the top of the hearing on the lawsuit.

The announcement comes as a big relief to international students, including those from India. In the 2018-2019 academic year, there were over 10 lakh international students in the US. According to a recent report of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), 1,94,556 Indian students were enrolled in various academic institutions in the US in January.

Judge Burroughs said the policy would apply nationwide.

"Both the policy directive and the frequently asked questions would not be enforced anyplace," she said, referring to the agreement between the US government and MIT and Harvard.

Congressman Brad Scneider said this is a great win for international students, colleges and common sense.

"The Administration needs to give us a plan to tackle our public health crisis - it can't be recklessly creating rules one day and rescinding them the next," he said in a tweet.

Last week, more than 136 Congressmen and 30 senators wrote to the Trump administration to rescind its order on international students.

"This is a major victory for the students, organisers and institutions of higher education in the #MA7 and all across the country that stood up and fought back against this racist and xenophobic rule," said Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley.

"Taking online classes shouldn't force international students out of our country," Congressman Mikie Sherrill said in a tweet.

In its July 6 notice, the ICE had said all student visa holders, whose university curricula were only offered online, "must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status".

"If not, they may face immigration consequences, including but not limited to the initiation of removal proceedings," it had said.

In their lawsuit, the 17 states and the District of Columbia said for many international students, remote learning in the countries and communities they come from would impede their studies or be simply impossible.

The lawsuit alleged that the new rule imposes a significant economic harm by precluding thousands of international students from coming to and residing in the US and finding employment in fields such as science, technology, biotechnology, healthcare, business and finance, and education, and contributing to the overall economy.

In a separate filing, companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft, along with the US Chamber of Commerce and other IT advocacy groups, asserted that the July 6 ICE directive will disrupt their recruiting plans, making it impossible to bring on board international students that businesses, including the amici, had planned to hire, and disturb the recruiting process on which the firms have relied on to identify and train their future employees.

The July 6 directive will make it impossible for a large number of international students to participate in the CPT and OPT programmes. The US will "nonsensically be sending...these graduates away to work for our global competitors and compete against us...instead of capitalising on the investment in their education here in the US", they said.

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Ex-cop charged in Floyd's death faces tax evasion counts

News Network
July 23,2020

Minneapolis, Jul 23: The former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the death of George Floyd was charged Wednesday with multiple felony counts of tax evasion.

Derek Chauvin and his wife, Kellie May Chauvin, were each charged in Washington County with six counts of filing false or fraudulent tax returns for the tax years 2014 through 2019 and three counts of failing to file tax returns for 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Floyd, a Black man who was handcuffed, died May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd pleaded for air.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. He and three other officers who were at the scene were fired.

Chauvin is in custody on the charges in the Floyd case. Kellie Chauvin, who filed for divorce after Floyd's death, is not in custody.

Online court records didn't list attorneys for either in the tax evasion case, and calls to Kellie Chauvin did not go through.

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said the investigation into the Chauvins was started in June by the Minnesota Department of Revenue and Oakdale Police Department.

Authorities allege in the criminal complaints that the Chauvins failed to file income tax returns and pay state income taxes, and that they underreported and underpaid taxes on income they earned from various jobs each year.

The complaints allege that they also failed to pay proper sales tax on a $100,000 BMW purchased in Minnesota in 2018.

Prosecutors say the Chauvins bought the car in Minnetonka but registered it in Florida, where they paid lower sales taxes.

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