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News Summary: September 2016

Egypt Migrant Boat 

The death toll for a boat carrying hundreds of migrants capsized off the coast of Egypt this week has risen to 148.

The boat was carrying between 450 and 600 migrants when it capsized 7.5 miles or 12 km/nautical miles off the coast of the Nile Delta port city of Rosetta, they say. Authorities say they have rescued 163 people and recovered 51 bodies, including those of women and children who were unable to swim away when the boat sank. The boat was carrying Egyptian, Syrian, and Sudanese, Eritrean and Somali migrants, they added.

The boat was kept off the coast for five days as more and more migrants were brought on board and capsized after a final group of some 150 people were crammed on board as many boats used for human trafficking are, survivors said.

Some of those rescued after suffering injuries were taken to hospitals, where they lie handcuffed to beds under police guard.

It was not immediately clear where the boat was headed, though officials said they believed it was going to Italy and some teenage Egyptian survivors, huddled together in the basement of a police station where they have been detained along with others in the town’s local police station, told the media that they were trying to reach Italy to find work.

Syrian Airstrikes 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that the continuous airstrikes in Syria’s Aleppo city in one week of this month claimed the lives of nearly 338 people, including over 100 children.

The largest hospital in the rebel-held side of Aleppo has been devastated by barrel bombs, witnesses have said, as forces loyal to the Russia -backed al-Assad government intensified their assault on the area with a major offensive.

The crucial facility, known as M10, had already been put out of service before the latest attack, having suffered a heavy bombardment earlier, in an assault that the UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, denounced as a war crime. The second-largest hospital in that part of Aleppo has shut down as well. The country’s health system is crumbling with less than 30 doctors tending to hundreds of thousands of people in only six partially functioning hospitals, according to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). The WHO called for the immediate and safe evacuation of all the injured from the war-torn country, including the besieged Aleppo area.

Doctors have been forced to transfer wounded patients to other facilities as forces have targeted aid workers and hospitals in the attack further hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid.

“Attacking health care is both illegal and barbaric,” Pete Salama, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said in the statement. “Blocking whole populations from access to medical care, food and water is intolerable. It is inexcusable cruelty.”

The organisation said workers have positioned medical supplies for delivery into battered eastern Aleppo but they have been barred from entering the city.

This month also marked one year since Russian airstrikes began in Syria. Britain-based monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that in the one year, over 9,000 people were killed and tens and thousands displaced. The monitor said the figure includes nearly 3,800 civilians and 5,500 fighters from the Islamic State group and several rebel groups.

Meanwhile Russia announced plans to send more warplanes to the war-torn Mideast nation. This news comes after France and Britain lobbed accusations of war crimes at Russia over its Syria policy during a United Nations meeting earlier this week. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said direct aggression by the US towards the Syrian government would lead to “frightening, tectonic shifts” in the Middle East.

Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières described the impact of Syrian and Russian bombardment of the east as a bloodbath.

New York/Jersey Bombings

One of five devices discovered near the Elizabeth, New Jersey, transit station exploded early on Monday morning as police were attempting to disarm it with a robot. It was found in a backpack inside a rubbish bin near the station in Elizabeth, according to the city’s mayor.

The men had reported seeing wires and a pipe coming out of the package, Local Mayor Christian Bollwage said. He warned that other explosions were expected.

Bollwage said it was too early to say whether Elizabeth, which has a population of around 130,000 that is less than 15 miles (24 km) southwest of Manhattan, was deliberately targeted or whether the backpack may have been deliberately discarded in order to try and throw investigators.

Following the discovery, the FBI have carried out a search warrant at a premises in the city of Elizabeth.

Although no-one was hurt, the incident raised fears that the incident along with the recent explosions in Manhattan and Seaside Park, New Jersey, were part of a larger terror threat.

A small pipe bomb exploded in the New Jersey town of Seaside Park, shortly before a charity run for US marines and sailors. No one was injured, but race organizers say that casualties could have been severe – but by a stroke of luck the 9 a.m. race start was delayed because of late registrations. Some 5,000 runners would have been passing by the bomb at the time of the blast had the race started on time, organizers said.

Then a bomb detonated near a garbage dumpster in the heavily-populated Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City. Twenty nine people were injured, though only one seriously. A second device, which did not go off, was found a few blocks away. Both bombs in were filled with shrapnel and made with pressure cookers, flip phones, Christmas lights and explosive compound, said law enforcement officials.

Chelsea is a neighbourhood on the west side of lower Manhattan. It is popular with tourists for its artistic heritage: there are more than 200 galleries, including Steven Kasher and the Gagosian Gallery. The neighbourhood also has a large LGBT community. It borders the Meatpacking District, the Garment District, West Village and Greenwich Village, and sits beneath a stretch of the popular High Line.

It is not yet known but New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, said he believed the Chelsea bomb was an “intentional act” but maintained there was no credible terrorist threat to the city, adding that there was no link to the New Jersey explosions.

Five people have been taken into custody but the investigation is ongoing.

Investigators didn’t immediately comment on whether they thought the Elizabeth incident was connected to either of the two blasts.

Also on the same day, eight people were injured in a stabbing attack at a St. Cloud, Minnesota, mall. The suspect was reportedly shot and killed by an off-duty police officer.

US Mall Shootings

A gunman opened fire with a “hunting style rifle” in the make-up department of a Macy’s store in a shopping centre north of Seattle, Washington in the USA, killing five people this month, four females at the scene and one male who died later in hospital.

The Washington State Patrol said the five were shot on a Friday night at the Cascade Mall in Burlington, about 105km north of Seattle.

Burlington mayor Steve Sexton said the shooting had “probably changed forever” the small city of 8,600 people.

Arcan Cetin was arrested in his hometown Oak Harbor on Saturday, nearly 24 hours after the attack in Burlington, 40 minutes’ drive away. He was born in Turkey and is a legal US permanent resident, officials say.

Officials said that they had received numerous tips about the gunman and that surveillance footage had helped locate him.

No motive was immediately known.

The Seattle Times reported that one of the victims was a 16-year-old girl, Sarai Lara who had survived cancer as a young girl. Her mother said she had survived cancer as a young girl and was a happy student. Evangelina Lara told the newspaper she was shopping on Friday night at the mall in Burlington with Sarai and her younger sister, but they split up. She said Sarai went to Macy’s looking for pants.

Days after the shooting in Washington, at least six people were injured after a gunman opened fire at a shopping centre in Houston before being shot dead by police after a shootout involving nine officers.

A disgruntled lawyer wearing a military uniform with a Nazi emblem and armed with two guns and nearly 2,600 rounds of ammunition opened fire on random passers-by in Houston, often hiding behind trees, early one Monday, injuring nine before he was killed by the police, the Houston Police Department confirmed.

Six of the victims were taken to hospitals, one in critical condition and another in serious condition, the police said. Three others were treated at the scene.

The first reports of gunfire began to trickle in when children were being driven to school, workers were setting off for their jobs in the upscale area of southwest Houston. Police officers from several departments converged on the neighborhood, engaging the gunman while trying to protect people in the neighborhood and keep others away.

Officials said he used a semi-automatic handgun, and also had a semi-automatic rifle, a knife and 2,600 rounds of live ammunition. A bomb squad was also drafted in after a suspect vehicle was spotted at the scene. The guns were purchased legally and the man had a licence to carry concealed weapons, police said.

There is no indication that anyone else was involved in planning or carrying out the attack.

State of Emergency in Charlotte 

Racial tensions in the United States reached boiling point after protests in Charlotte against police killings of black men turned increasingly violent, forcing the North Carolina governor to declare a state of emergency in the city this month.

The protests began one Tuesday after a police officer killed Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old black man in the parking lot of an apartment complex where he lived on the east side of the city. With officials refusing to release any video footage of Scott, anger built as two very different versions of the truth emerged. Police say Scott disregarded repeated demands to drop his gun. The family and several local residents said the 43-year-old father of seven regularly waited in his car and read until his son arrived back from school. They claimed he was carrying a book, not a gun, when he stepped from the car after police approached.

Protesters have been chanting slogans and carrying placards reading: “Black lives matter”, “Hands up; don’t shoot”, “No justice, no peace!” and “Stop the war on black America” whilst others held signs  that read “release the tape”, referring to police video of the shooting that started the protests. Mayor Jennifer Roberts’ spokesman said she would review the video footage, but has no plans to release it.

Clashes between protesters and police saw officers fire flash grenades, use rubber bullets and release tear gas and marchers throw fireworks in return. One person was shot and left in a critical condition on the second night of unrest in Charlotte, North Carolina and four police officers were also hurt although police said the shooting was “civilian on civilian” and denied claims officers were involved.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory announced late one Wednesday that he was accepting a request from Charlotte’s Police Chief, declaring a state of emergency and calling in the National Guard and state troopers to help restore order and protect downtown.

According to a tally being kept by The Guardian newspaper, police have killed at least 194 black men so far this year. In all of 2015, police killed at least 306 black men.

Jungle Refugee Camp

The French interior minister has vowed to gradually destroy the notorious Calais ‘Jungle’ migrant camp with “utmost determination.”

The asylum seekers, who are mainly from the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan, have traveled to France in the hope of crossing the English Channel to the UK, often having had their applications rejected elsewhere, or in expectation of better prospects in Britain than in the rest of the EU.

Bernard Cazeneuve’s remarks came as the town struggled to cope with a further of influx of refugees and migrants. With overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, food shortages and a rise in the number of violent attacks on lorry drivers heading to the UK, there is growing tension in Calais and politicians from all parties are seizing on the seemingly intractable problem of how to deal with refugees and migrants trapped in France hoping to reach England. In the run-up to the French presidential election next year, the French right and far-right have increased their calls for hardline action on Calais.

Earlier this year, the UN raised concerns about life in the camp. More recently, NGOs who provide humanitarian relief to the camp have warned of a food shortage as donations have slowed in the two years since the migrant crisis exploded in France.

He said France would create accommodation for thousands elsewhere in the country “to unblock Calais”. According to the minister, more than 5,500 migrants had already been resettled from Calais, into the 161 special centres set up around France. He also added that additional new centers for asylum seekers, which will be able to host 5,000 people, will be created in 2017, saying efforts would be focused on getting peole in Calais to leave voluntarily.

French authorities have made repeated efforts to shut down the camp, which the state was responsible for creating in April 2015 when authorities evicted migrants and refugees from squats and outdoor camps across the Calais area and concentrated them into one patch of wasteland without shelter. Previous efforts to close the camp have ended in violence, with shelters being set on fire and tear gas being deployed by French police, among other methods.

Demolition crews supported by riot squads demolished the Jungle’s southern section was dismantled earlier this year in a bid to reduce numbers. However the camp has swelled in size since with almost 10,000 people from countries including Sudan, Syria and Eritrea living there in squalor with around 70 new people arriving everyday. According to the campaign group Citizens UK, there are currently 800 unaccompanied children living in the Calais camp and the group has drawn up a list of 387 who it says are eligible to be transferred to the UK.A crowd of around 150 people gathered outside the Home Office in London to urge ministers to immediately bring over those stranded children.

Aid groups fear any quick dismantling of the camp will increase chaos and create a bigger humanitarian crisis than the one at hand.

In the meantime, Cazeneuve wants to increase the record 1,900 French police currently in Calais to around 2200. This is in response to the increasingly fraught security situation, which has seen gangs of migrants regularly blocking roads to try and get aboard lorries heading for England.

It comes as Paris prepares to welcome thousands of new migrants when at least three new refugee centres open in the capital city this month. One – next to the Bois du Boulogne – is almost complete, while the main one, close to the Gare du Nord Eurostar hub,  is still being built.  All will be designed to give refugees a safe and warm place to stay before they continue with their journeys.

The French capital is already inundated with migrants who sleep rough in city parks, or under flyovers or railway bridges. Riot police regularly destroy their illegal settlements, but it is impossible to move them on because even if they are dispersed in coaches, they almost always come back again.

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Naina Bhardwaj

Naina Bhardwaj

Naina Bhardwaj

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