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Hong Kong passes immigration bill, raising alarm over ‘exit bans’

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Hong Kong passes immigration bill, raising alarm over 'exit bans'

HONG KONG, April 28 – Hong Kong’s legislature passed on Wednesday a controversial immigration bill, which lawyers, diplomats and right groups fear will give authorities unlimited powers to prevent residents and others from entering or leaving the Chinese-ruled city.

The government has dismissed those fears as “complete nonsense,” saying the legislation, which will come into effect on Aug. 1, merely aims to screen illegal immigrants at source amid a backlog of asylum applications and does not affect constitutional rights of free movement.

“We are facing increasing challenges, especially preventing the number of illegal immigrants from rising and claimants from abusing the system,” Security Secretary John Lee said, adding that travel rights remain guaranteed and that the government will introduce subsidiary legislation in the near term.

The assurances, however, come in a climate of mistrust after the increasingly authoritarian path officials have taken the imposition of a sweeping national security law by Beijing last year.

“What is concerning is that in hastily pushing this bill forward, the government has chosen to ignore civil society groups that have flagged legitimate concerns,” said Michael Vidler, a lawyer with Vidler & Co Solicitors.

Lawyers say the new law will empower authorities to bar anyone, without a court order, from entering or leaving Hong Kong – essentially opening the door for mainland China-style exit bans – and fails to prevent indefinite detention for refugees.

The Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) said in February the bill failed to explain why such powers were necessary, how they would be used and provided no limit on the duration of any travel ban, nor any safeguards against abuse.

The Security Bureau said the law would be applied only to inbound flights and target illegal immigrants, expressing disappointment at the “unnecessary misunderstanding” caused by HKBA.

Still, lawyers, diplomats, trade unions and business bodies were puzzled by the government’s reluctance to add the stated limitations into the bill.

A group of US senators last year estimated at least two dozen US citizens had been prevented from leaving China in recent years and face regular surveillance and harassment by authorities. China denies foreign nationals are under threat of arbitrary detention or exit bans.

Refugee rights

Activists also say the new legislation raises concerns about refugees’ rights and well-being. It allows immigration officers to carry guns and, in some cases, requires asylum seekers to communicate in a language other than their mother tongue.

The government says there are currently 13,000 refugee claimants in Hong Kong and that it wants to tackle the backlog.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Elizabeth Quat told the legislature the number of refugees was “a threat to peace and stability” and the city needed to heal this “cancer.”

The screening process can take years and the claimants’ success rate is one percent. During that period, it is illegal for asylum seekers to work or volunteer and they live in limbo, on food vouchers.

Currently, asylum seekers can be detained only if they break the law or for deportation, for a “reasonable” period.

The bill adds that authorities can also detain a refugee if “the person poses, or is likely to pose, a threat or security risk to the community” and does not state what constitutes such a risk. Rights groups say it broadens the scope for indefinite detention.

David, 25, was granted asylum after arriving from an east African country four years ago. He said he was detained for 92 days while being processed and the new bill could lead to an even worse experience for new claimants.

“It’s pretty terrifying, being there without knowing … how long you’re gong to be there for,” said David, who asked Reuters not to use his full name due to the sensitivity of the matter. 

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IKEA Juneteenth menu of watermelon, fried chicken sparks outrage

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IKEA Juneteenth menu of watermelon, fried chicken sparks outrage

An attempt to honor Juneteenth has backfired spectacularly for one Georgia Ikea.

An Atlanta branch of the Scandinavian furniture chain has sparked outrage with what employees are calling an intensely problematic menu curated to celebrate the holiday, which marks the emancipation of the very last enslaved Americans. 

“To honor the perseverance of Black Americans and acknowledge the progress yet to be made, we observe Juneteenth on Saturday, June 19, 2021,” begins an email acquired by TMZ, which was sent to employees at the branch last week. “Look out for a special menu on Saturday which will include: fried chicken, watermelon, mac n cheese, potato salad, collard greens, candied yams.” 

The selection, including items that have historically been used to demean African-Americans through stereotyping, resulted in multiple employees calling out of work in protest, according to a local news channel.

“You cannot say serving watermelon on Juneteenth is a soul food menu when you don’t even know the history. They used to feed slaves watermelon,” an anonymous employee told Atlanta’s CBS 46. “It caused a lot of people to be upset. People actually wanted to quit. People weren’t coming back to work.” 

As many as 33 workers didn’t show up in response, CBS reported, causing the store’s manager to apologize via internal email. 

“She said, ‘I truly apologize. The menu came off [offensive],’” the employee recalled.

But this wasn’t sufficient for forgiveness, and the worker said the controversy could have been easily avoided if only people of color had been included in the team that chose the menu. “None of the co-workers who sat down to create the menu, no one was black,” they added. 

The following day, the store manager told CBS a new, revised menu was released. The updated version included collard greens, cornbread, mashed potatoes and meatloaf. And Sunday’s menu? “Fried chicken, mac ’n’ cheese, collard greens,” the employee said.

Ikea did not return The Post’s request for comment. 

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Serbian Roma girl band sings for women’s empowerment

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Zlata Ristic, 27, center, Elma Dalipi, 14, left, Silvia Sinani, 24, 2nd left, Dijana Ferhatovic, 18, 3rd left, Zivka Ferhatovic, 20, 2nd right, and Selma Dalipi, 14, members of the Pretty Loud band, practice at a music studio in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

BELGRADE, Serbia — Their songs are about “women chained” in abuse witnessed by generations, or teenage brides being forced into marriage by their fathers. And they tell women to seek love, fight back and stand up for their right to be equal with men.

A female Roma band in Serbia is using music to preach women’s empowerment within their community, challenging some deeply rooted traditions and centuries-old male domination.

Formed in 2014, “Pretty Loud” symbolically seeks to give a louder voice to Roma girls, encourage education and steer them away from the widespread custom of early marriage. The band has gained popularity and international attention, performing last year at the Women of the Year Festival in London.

“We want to stop the early marriages … we want the girls themselves and not their parents, to decide whether they want to marry or not,” said Silvia Sinani, one of the band members. “We want every woman to have the right to be heard, to have her dreams and to be able to fulfil them, to be equal,”

Sinani, 24, said the idea for an all-female band was born at education and artistic workshops run for Roma, or Gypsies, by a private foundation, Gypsy Roma Urban Balkan Beats. The girls initially danced in GRUBB’s boys’ band and then decided they wanted one of their own, she said.

“They (GRUBB) named us ‘Pretty Loud’ because they knew that women in Roma tradition are not really loud,” she said.

The band’s music, a combination of rap and traditional Roma folk beat, mainly targets a younger generation of girls who are yet to make their life choices — the band itself includes 14-year-old twin sisters. The songs tackle women’s position in their community and seek to boost their self-awareness.

The quest is essential in a community where early marriages are widespread — a UNICEF study published last year showed that over one-third of girls in Roma settlements in Serbia aged 15-19 are already married. Of them, 16 percent were married before they were 15.

Alarmed, Serbian authorities, too, have formed a state commission to try to reverse the trend.

“I am an example of early marriage,” said band member Zlata Ristic, 27, who gave birth to a baby boy at 16. “Nobody forced me into it but I have realized I should not have done it.”

Now a single mother, Ristic said she wants other women in similar situations to know that their lives are not over once they have children and that they can still pursue their dreams.

“My biggest reward is when 14-year-old girls write to me and say they want to become one of us, that they now attend school thanks to us, that they have improved their grades,” she said.

Among the most underprivileged ethnic communities in Serbia and Europe, the Roma largely live in segregated settlements on society’s fringes, facing poverty, joblessness and prejudice.

Activists have warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has further fueled the social isolation of marginalized groups and increased their poverty. Disruptions of regular schooling due to the virus lockdowns have made it even harder for Roma children to stay in the system.

At the GRUBB center in Belgrade’s Zemun district, several children could be seen working with young instructors in an improvised classroom. The girls from “Pretty Loud” teach at music and dance workshops run by GRUBB, which was established in Serbia in 2006.

Diana Ferhatovic, 18, first came to the center four years ago, initially seeking help with school lessons before joining the music program and finding her way into “Pretty Loud.” Their performance in London last March — just as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting — was unforgettable, she said.

“I had a kind of positive jitters, we all did at first, the whole group,” Ferhatovic said. “Then we blew them off their feet.”

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Screen all kids for heart problems, pediatricians say

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Screen all kids for heart problems, pediatricians say

All children, regardless of their athletic status, should be screened for risk of cardiac arrest, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a policy statement Monday. The group included four questions to incorporate into the screenings, including two pertaining to family history of heart issues. 

“The unexpected death of a seemingly healthy child is a tragedy not only for the family but for the family community as well,” the AAP said in a statement regarding the policy, which will be published in the July issue of Pediatrics. “Multiple studies have looked at sudden deaths in young people either as a whole or by individual disease processes. However, most of these studies are published in cardiology journals. The goal of the AAP-PACES policy is to present expanded information to pediatricians and other primary care providers.” 

The guidelines suggest screening for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and sudden cardiac death (SCD) should be performed during the preparticipation physical evaluation or at least every three years or on entry into middle/junior high school and high school. In addition to family history, the group recommends physicians inquire about fainting, passing out, or unexplained seizures without warning, especially during exercise, or in response to loud noises such as doorbells, alarm clocks and telephones, or if a patient has ever had exercise-related chest pain or shortness of breath. 

“Realizing that primary prevention methods are less than perfect, the policy soldiers secondary prevention, including the creation of a cardiac emergency response plan for schools and the role of the primary care provider as an advocate for CPR and automated external defibrillator training. It also provides information on the family evaluation following a cardiac arrest/death, including addressing bereavement, autopsies and genetic testing. Lastly, there is a section for survivors of cardiac arrest on returning to activity after recovery.” 

The group also advises that an ECG be the first test ordered when there is concern for SCA risk. 

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