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Clashes in Nicaragua create thousands of refugees

International | Hundreds head south each day to seek asylum in Costa Rica
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 8/07/18, 03:26 pm

Roughly 200 Nicaraguans are applying for asylum each day in neighboring Costa Rica, the United Nations refugee agency said as it called for more nations to help with the aftermath of Nicaragua’s anti-government protests.

Nicaraguans registered nearly 8,000 asylum claims in Costa Rica since April, and the numbers continue to rise: About 15,000 others received appointments for later registration, the agency said.

The country’s unrest began in April after the government approved controversial changes to Nicaragua’s social security program. The move triggered deadly mass protests unlike any the country witnessed since the end of its civil war in 1990. Rights groups said at least 300 people have died, but longtime President Daniel Ortega placed the death toll at 195 people. He described the protests as terrorism and refused to heed growing pressure to step down.

Asylum seekers increased over the past month as police officials and paramilitary forces cracked down on the opposition stronghold in Masaya and attacked student protesters who sought shelter inside the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in Managua. Panama, Mexico, and the United States also saw increased asylum claims from Nicaraguans.

William Spindler, spokesman for the UN refugee agency, called on “the international community to support Costa Rica and other countries hosting Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers.”

Within the country, the government’s crackdown continues. The Nicaraguan Pro-Human Rights Association, one of the most active in tracking in the effects of the unrest, on Saturday said it would close down its operations after its staff faced threats and harassment. The group said it was targeted by “unauthorized armed groups and threatening phone calls.”

Associated Press/Photo by Valerio Nicolosi Associated Press/Photo by Valerio Nicolosi Rescuers with Proactiva Open Arms assist migrants off the coast of Libya.

Controversial rescue

An Italian ship returned 108 rescued migrants back to Libya, angering rights groups who said the move may have violated international law.

Augusta Offshore, which operates the Asso Ventotto supply ship, said it received a call from the Libyan coast guard to assist a rubber dinghy filled with migrants. The Italians said a Libyan ship escorted them to about 1.5 miles southwest of the Sabratha oil platform.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli both maintained the Libyan coast guard solely coordinated the return.

But Laura Lanuza, spokeswoman for Spanish rescue charity Proactiva Open Arms, said its members reported the rescue took place in international waters. Lanuza said a Proactiva boat was within the area at the time, and they listened to the radio communication between the Italian ship and Libyan authorities.

The United Nations refugee agency on Twitter said the move “could represent a violation of international law,” which states that governments cannot return migrants to places where they might be in danger. In Libya, which serves as a major departure point for migrants illegally seeking entry into Europe, migrants face abuse, slavery, and other forms of maltreatment. In recent months, Italy has tightened its stance on migration, blocking several migrant-filled ships from docking earlier this year. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Wong Maye-E Associated Press/Photo by Wong Maye-E Rohingya refugees in June carry items through a camp in Bangladesh.

Human trafficking flourishes in Bangladesh

Human trafficking in Bangladesh is rising, and fewer people are being convicted for the crime, according to UCA News. Despite hundreds of investigations, the U.S. State Department reported Bangladesh convicted only one trafficker in 2017.

While poverty and ignorance put many people at risk for trafficking, experts said poor law enforcement and impunity were also to blame. Bangladeshi and Rohingya refugees are both at risk, according to anti-trafficking activist Abu Morshed Chowdhury.

“Police probes are often slow and flawed, largely because police officials are directly and indirectly complicit in the crime,” Bangladeshi Supreme Court lawyer Subroto Chowdhury told UCA News. “In many cases, court judges don’t order a reinvestigation once a flawed report is submitted. Suspects can secure bail easily and evade punishment.”

The U.S. State Department, which listed Bangladesh on its Tier 2 Watch List for human trafficking in 2018, confirmed that “official complicity in trafficking crimes remained a serious problem and the government did not report taking action against some credible allegations.” It cited examples of officials taking bribes, traffickers with political connections, and pressures put on victims to take payoffs in exchange for not reporting their exploitation. —Julia A. Seymour

Denmark’s burqa ban begins

Denmark last week began to implement its ban on full Islamic face coverings, and has already penalized at least one person. The Danish Parliament in May approved a measure making it illegal for women to wear burqas, which cover the entire face and body, or niqabs, veils that cover the face.

According to the law, first-time offenders face a fine of about $155, while repeat offenders could pay up to $1,550 or spend six months in jail. The law stipulates that police officers will ask women either to remove their veils or leave public places. A 28-year-old woman on Friday chose the latter. Police Officer David Borchersen said the woman received a fine and opted to leave a shopping center in Horsholm after another woman forcibly tried to take off her niqab.

Rights groups have called the ban discriminatory and said it will further fuel anti-migration rhetoric.

“Whilst some specific restrictions on the wearing of full face veils for the purposes of public safety may be legitimate, the blanket ban is neither necessary nor proportionate and violates women’s rights to freedom of expression and religion,” said Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe. —O.O.

Georgia says yes to marijuana

The Constitutional Court in the country of Georgia scrapped the penalty for using marijuana, making it the first former Soviet republic to legalize consumption of the drug.

The court ruled July 30 that personal consumption of marijuana does not pose a public threat. “In particular, it can only harm the user’s health, making him/herself responsible for the outcome,” the ruling stated. The court maintained that cultivating and selling marijuana still remain criminal offenses. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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