News Summary: May 2015

Freddie Gray Protests

Protests over the death of 25 year old Freddie Gray, a black man who died in Baltimore with a severed spine after allegedly being injured whilst in police custody, spread throughout the United States.

Rallies were held in locations such as Washington DC, Boston and Minneapolis amongst others adding to the national debate over the use of the police force in America which has been ongoing since the previous summer, following the death of a black teenager who was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. Gray’s funeral took place on at the beginning of the week and was then followed by widespread rioting, arson and looting.

The US Department of Justice opened an investigation into the death of Gray as well as the police conducting a separate internal inquiry. Six police officers were suspended with pay whilst this investigation was being carried out.

Nepal Earthquake

Thousands of people lost their lives whilst many more were injured in a 7.8 magnitude earthquake which hit Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu and it’s surrounding areas in late April, an alarming number of aftershocks of which were felt throughout May, including one which measured 7.3 on 12 May.

Sindhupalchok was amongst the worst hit district within the country as more than 2000 people died, followed by Kathmandu where 1000 or perhaps more perished. Thousands were severely injured by falling debris caused by the earthquake or powerful aftershocks, some of which could be felt all the way through to New Delhi, India. Mount Everest was also struck by deadly avalanches which caused the death of five British people who were attempting to climb the mountain.

Many more people were left homeless by the catastrophe and the country began to run out of food and water soon afterwards alongside suffering from frequent power cuts. A number of people are still living in makeshift camps around the capital as a consequence of the natural disaster, although some have attempted to leave or have already left amid fears of further aftershocks.

In addition to this, many of the country’s historic sites have been greatly damaged, including several temples of worship and famous monuments.

The United Nations, which estimated that approximately 6.6 million people are living in the affected areas, helped to co-ordinate rescue efforts. The British also sent a team of experts from the Search and Rescue Assistance in Disasters (SARAID) with 1.5 tonnes of specialist equipment. India and China have also been instrumental in sending teams of rescuers.

UK General Election

David Cameron won an outright majority for Conservatives in Election 2015 victory after the Liberal Democrat vote collapsed entirely causing the shocking result which had not been predicted by any opinion poll. Nearly every Liberal Democrat member of the government lost their seat, including Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary and Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Labour made few advances across England and Wales as voters offered a dismal verdict of the narrow campaign fought by Ed Miliband. There were immediate questions over Miliband’s leadership, with a series of senior Labour figures declining to offer him their support. He later resigned saying that he was “deeply sorry” about the result in Scotland where traditional Labour voters chose to vote for the SNP who won a staggering 56 out of 59 seats and caused an electoral earthquake, decimating Labour.

The Rohingya

The plight of the Rohingya has turned into a regional crisis in May 2015 when thousands landed on the shores go Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand with more stranded at sea.

Burma does not recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic community and refers to the more than one million members at Bengalis – immigrants from the neighbouring Bangladesh who also don’t recognise them as citizens of their country. The Rohingyas are thought to be descended from Muslim traders who settled in the country more than 1000 years ago, but Myanmar fails to recognise this.

The Rohingyas have been fleeing Myanmar for years as a consequence of the repression which they have faced, especially since the 1970s when successive Myanmar governments began introducing policies to repress the community.

They are denied basic services and their movements are severely restricted as they are subjected to forced labour and have no land rights. This treatment has gradually intensified and in recent months, the temporary registration certificates which were issued to hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have been revoked which means that they no longer have the right to vote.

In the past three years, more than 120,000 Rohingyas have boarded ships to flee abroad, according to the UN refugee agency. As many as 8,000 migrants from Bangladesh (which also has a large Rohingya population alongside Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) and Myanmar are believed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to be stranded at sea.

The Thai government has recently begun to crack down on smugglers who have traditionally taken them to camps in southern Thailand and effectively held them ransom. As a result the smugglers are now reportedly abandoning them at sea. Not only are countries in the region unwilling to let them land, fishermen are being told not to help them.

Most aid agencies and NGOs agree that countries in the region have a moral imperative – if not a legal requirement – to do this if the refugees are in their territorial waters.

Legal experts point out that some countries may be unwilling to act because by doing so they are more likely to be exposed to the principle of non-refoulement, whereby refugees cannot be forcibly returned to places where their lives or freedoms may be threatened.

The Rohingya issue is so serious that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised for failing to raise it.

It is now up to the international community to put pressure on Myanmar to improve the lives of the Rohingya community.

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Naina Bhardwaj

Naina Bhardwaj

Naina Bhardwaj

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