July 16, 2018

Donald Trump's refugee clampdown stops Iranian path through Austria

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VIENNA:  Austria has shut its door to about 300 non-Muslim Iranians hoping to use the country as a way station before establishing new homes in the United States, The Associated Press has learned. The action is an early ripple effect of U.S. President Donald Trump’s effort to clamp down on refugee admissions.

Under a 27-year-old program originally approved by Congress to help Jews in the former Soviet Union, Austria had been serving until recently as a conduit for Iranian Jews, Christians and Baha’i, who were at risk in their home country and eligible to resettle in the United States. Iran has banned the Baha’i religion, which was founded in 1844 by a Persian nobleman considered a prophet by followers.

U.S. officials had been interviewing the candidates in Austria because they cannot do so in Iran. But the United States suspended the so-called “Iranian Lautenberg Program” in recent days, according to Austrian officials, who in turn stopped Iranians from reaching their territory. It’s unclear when the program might restart.

The episode isn’t directly linked to an executive order Trump is expected to sign, perhaps as soon as Friday, that would suspend the far broader U.S. refugee program for four months. But it reflects that knock-on effects already occurring from his tougher line on immigration and refugees. Similar to how tighter German migration rules had consequences across Europe, Trump’s actions could lead other nations to take a harder look at people wishing to use their territories as transit points.

The net result could be even tougher conditions for people hoping to escape war and persecution for a better life abroad. There are more than 20 million refugees worldwide, according to the United Nations.

Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Thomas Schnoell said the Alpine country acted after “U.S. authorities told us that the onward trip for people to the U.S.A., who received visas from Austrian authorities as part of the program, would be put on hold for now.”

A State Department email sent Tuesday said the Austrian government had “electronically canceled” its visas for applicants who hadn’t yet reached Austria. If they try to reach Austria anyway, they will be permanently blocked from Austria, according to the email, which was obtained by AP.

Schnoell said the move affects about 300 Iranians with visas waiting to enter Austria. He said about 100 of them had been tracked down and informed that they can no longer do so. The search continues for the rest through airline ticket bookings and other means, Schnoell said.

Other officials said a small number of Iranians with such short-term visas already were in Austria. It wasn’t immediately clear what would happen with them.

The end of the program, named for former Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, could have broad implications for religious minorities in Iran.

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society says on its website that ending the U.S.-Austrian partnership “puts people seeking religious freedom in danger and sends the wrong message about the pervasive violations of religious freedom in Iran.”

Trump is expected to pause the flow of all refugees to the U.S. and indefinitely bar those fleeing war-torn Syria. The president’s upcoming order is also expected to suspend issuing visas for people from several predominantly Muslim countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — for at least 30 days, according to a draft executive order obtained by the AP.

Cancellation of the U.S. program could mean Iranians arriving in Austria with temporary visas would seek asylum in Austria. Immigration is a highly sensitive issue throughout Europe, which is struggling to deal with hundreds of thousands of people from Syria, North Africa and beyond.

Austria, a nation of fewer than 9 million people, is already strained by efforts to accommodate and integrate more than 100,000 migrants who have flowed in since 2015.

Trump, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto speak by phone amid rift

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Donald Trump and Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto . (File| AP)

MEXICO: Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Donald Trump spoke by telephone on Friday after the US president’s border wall plan sparked the biggest diplomatic crisis between the neighbors in decades.

“I can confirm that they spoke,” the official from Pena Nieto’s office said on condition of anonymity without providing more details about the discussion.

The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said a statement would be issued late in the day.

The conversation was reported hours after Trump took to Twitter again to rail against Mexico.

“Mexico has taken advantage of the US for long enough,” Trump said Friday, writing first on his personal Twitter account and then re-tweeting the message under his presidential handle.   

“Massive trade deficits & little help on the very weak border must change, NOW!” he added.

Trump has angered Mexicans, perplexed economists and energized his nationalist political base by vowing to build a wall along the US frontier — and then somehow to make Mexico pay for it.

His insistence on this point caused Pena Nieto — who had voiced optimism that he could have good relations with Trump after the US election — to cancel a planned visit to Washington next week. 

Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, who met with US officials in Washington this week, told the Televisa network that the two sides were “at an impasse.”

But the line of communication remains open, maintaining “the possibility to find a solution,” he said.

– Stiff tariff? –

Analysts say the spat has created the biggest diplomat rift since a drug cartel tortured and killed a US undercover agent in 1985.

Mexico’s leaders have repeatedly said their country will never pay for the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border barrier that Trump says is needed to stop illegal immigrants and drug smugglers coming over.

Trump’s response has been to ask the US Congress to find between $12 and $15 billion for construction and to help him find a way to recoup the money with some kind of tariff on Mexican imports.

His team have floated several ideas for how to do this. On Friday, for example, senior aide Kellyanne Conway told CBS television that a five to 20 percent tax may be imposed at the border.

On Thursday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer suggested that one option — not necessarily the favored one — would be a border adjustment tax of the kind favored by Republicans in the US Congress.

Visiting Washington on Thursday, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray scoffed at the notion, arguing that this would just pass the cost of the wall on to US consumers of Mexican goods.

Bollywood star Akshay Kumar meets Home Secretary, suggests mobile app to help martys' kin

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Actor Akshay Kumar.

NEW DELHI: Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar on Friday met Union home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi at the North Block here and proposed the idea of creating a special mobile app to help martyrs’ kin.
During the meeting with Mehrishi and senior officials of the Border Security Force, Kumar proposed the creation of a mobile app that will allow donors to directly pay any amount into the verified bank account of the martyred soldier’s kin.
“We welcome Kumar’s suggestion as the Government is also planning to create such a mobile app that seeks to directly connect the families of martyred soldiers and those who want to help them financially,” said a senior home ministry official.
As soon as he entered the North Block, Kumar was mobbed by scores of ministry’s employees. Such was the commotion that top ministry officials instructed the CISF personnel to clear the employees from the corridors who had gathered in large numbers to catch a glimpse of the Khiladi who had also acted in Rustom playing the role of a naval officer.
The proposed app will have the names of the martyred soldiers and bank account number of their family members and those willing to contribute can directly pay any amount they wish, the official said.
Official sources said the actor initially offered to get the app designed through his personal initiative with permission from the Centre. However, the ministry told him that since the Government is also thinking on similar lines there was no need for an individual initiative. The Ministry officials assured him that his suggestions to the effect will be taken into consideration while designing the app.

Army chief launches whatsapp number for soldiers to post grievances 

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Image used for representational purpose only

NEW DELHI:  Amidst jawans taking social media routes to raise their anger against attitude of senior officers, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has launched a whatsapp number, on which any soldier can post his/her grievances.

Perturbed over series of videos being viral on social media by jawans , Army chief Rawat last month came with a suggestion box in his office, where any soldier can directly write to him, avoiding protocol. Assuring full confidentiality, the Army chief had announced anyone, irrespective of ranks or service, can use this mechanism to put whatever they wish to write into these letter boxes so that grievances can reach him directly. Gen Rawat said the soldiers should write to him with names but he will ensure that the names of the personnel is deleted before any action is taken.

The whatsapp number announced to register the complaint is — +91 9643300008, will be called complaint and advisory board.

The move came in after BSF, CRPF and Jawans from other regiments raised their voice on social media in regard with the low quality of food and poor conditions which were provided to them.

Taj Bahadur, a BSF jawan, highlighted the problems with images of burnt chappatis and runny daal that they are served during the mealtimes. In the video, that went viral, Tej came out with disclosure that there are even times when the soldiers have to go to sleep on an empty stomach. Following BSF jawan’s post, a CRPF Jawan Jeet Singh, raised the issues being faced by them.

Even Army jawan YP Singh also lodged similar protest on social media against army’s buddy tradition.

Peru floods kill four, displace thousands

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LIMA, PERU:  Floods and landslides in Peru have killed four people and displaced more than 11,000 families over recent weeks, the authorities said Friday.

Three people drowned when their vehicle was caught in a flood in the southern Arequipa region, the National Civil Defense Institute said.

Elsewhere, a woman was crushed when a wall of her house collapsed in the southeastern region of Huancavelica.

Floods blocked roads and destroyed crops, buildings and bridges.

The institute said 11,389 families were affected in total so far.

The government has declared a state of emergency in four regions, Prime Minister Fernando Zavala said Friday

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