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Suspended SQ director blasts ‘sick’ system ahead of possible dismissal


Prud’homme was suspended from his duties in March 2019 after the head of the province’s office of criminal prosecutions filed an ethics complaint against him concerning a telephone call he made to her 16 months earlier.

“After a year of investigation concerning the telephone call, I was cleared of any infraction of a criminal nature without any of the investigators ever meeting with me, though I offered to collaborate fully,” wrote Prud’homme.

“The true intention behind this investigation was not the telephone call, but rather to conduct a vast fishing expedition aiming to associate me with leaks to the media and based only on the assumption of my friendship with (Quebec MNA) Guy Ouellette and my family ties with ex-UPAC commissioner Robert Lafrenière.”

Prud’homme’s name repeatedly surfaced in a 2017 affidavit used to obtain a search warrant for then-Liberal MNA Ouellette. Quebec’s anti-corruption unit (UPAC) arrested Ouellette, a former SQ sergeant, in connection with allegations that he leaked confidential information to reporters. Lafrenière — UPAC’s director at the time — is Prud’homme’s father-in-law. The search warrant targeting Ouellette was ultimately invalidated, and Lafrenière resigned his post in 2018 amid criticism over his handling of the investigation.

In Friday’s statement, Prud’homme complained that “at no time was I informed of the true motive for my suspension and never was I met with to obtain my version of the facts, which goes against the principles of fundamental justice.

“The government is about to make a decision based on erroneous, incomplete facts that contain a multitude of shortcuts.”

A few hours after Prud’homme’s statement was made public, Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault announced that the province’s public service commission would examine Prud’homme’s case and recommend whether he be dismissed or suspended without pay.

Guilbault told reporters that an administrative investigation of Prud’homme found he had committed a sufficiently serious breach of ethics for the investigative process allowed by law to continue.

The report of that administrative investigation had been provided to Prud’homme in June and would be kept confidential unless he consented to share it publicly, Guilbault said.

Opposition parties wasted little time criticizing how the government had handled Prud’homme’s case.

Quebec Liberal public security critic Jean Rousselle complained that Guilbault had not been sufficiently forthcoming with the details of what, precisely, Prud’homme’s offence had been.

“We’re talking about the No. 1 person at the SQ,” he said. “Given the information we have right now, it seems this is a settling of scores and grudges.”

For Québec solidaire, Prud’homme’s case showed “it is time to end the petty politics within police forces. It tarnishes our police institutions, which are already lacking in (public) trust.”

QS MNA Alexandre Leduc said it was time to introduce civilian leaders into police forces “to break this unhealthy dynamic that has existed within these institutions for years.”

Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said: “We are very concerned that Mr. Prud’homme will not have the chance to present his point of view. We ask once again to meet Mr. Prud’homme in camera and to have access to all the reports.”

Prud’homme said he intends to defend his rights and reputation before “a just and impartial body” since the political system “has already decided my career is finished.”

Finally, in his statement, Prud’homme reached out to all Quebec police officers, urging them to “keep your heads held high and continue to believe in the justice you defend daily.”

“Certainly, a part of the system is sick, but the public needs your integrity and your values.”



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The Exploitative System that Traps Nigerian Women as Slaves in Lebanon — Global Issues


Nigerian migrants arrive in Lagos from Libya. Nigeria has, in the last two years, evacuated thousands of its citizens from Libya and Lebanon after they suffered several forms of abuses, including enslavement. Trafficking has resulted in at least 80,000 Nigerian women being held as sex slaves and forced labour in the Middle East. Credit: Sam Olukoya/IPS
  • by Sam Olukoya (lagos, nigeria)
  • Inter Press Service

Obasi is just one of thousands of young Nigerian women trafficked to Lebanon with false promises of a better life. The Lagos-based New Telegraph newspaper quoted a source in the Nigerian embassy in Lebanon as saying that some 4,541 Nigerian women were trafficked to the country last year. The chair of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, described the rate at which Nigerian women are trafficked to Lebanon as “an epidemic”.

After sustaining injuries in the blast, Obasi tried to return to Nigeria but she and four others were stopped at the airport under the exploitative Kafala system.

The system, which is widely practiced in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East, prohibits migrant workers from returning to their countries without the permission of their employer.

“Lebanon’s restrictive and exploitative kafala system traps tens of thousands of migrant domestic workers in potentially harmful situations by tying their legal status to their employer, enabling highly abusive conditions amounting at worst to modern-day slavery,” according to Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. The rights organisation called for a revised contract that recognises and protects workers’ internationally guaranteed rights.

In late May, Nigeria attempted to repatriate 60 trafficked women from Lebanon but only 50 could return home. Anti-trafficking activists in the Middle East said the remaining 10 women were held back in Lebanon under the Kafala system.

The Kafala system operates alongside a system that enslaves trafficked women. In April, a Lebanese man posted an advert under the “Buy and Sell in Lebanon” Facebook group. “Domestic worker from Nigeria for sale with new legal document, she is 30 years old, she is very active and very clean,” the advert said in Arabic. The price tag was $1,000.

An outcry from Nigeria forced Lebanese authorities to rescue the woman while a man thought to be responsible for the Facebook post was arrested. The Lebanese Ministry of Labour said the man would be tried in court for human trafficking.

But this is not an isolated case. Many Nigerian women trafficked to the Middle East have spoken out about being sold as slaves.

In January, 23-year-old Ajayi Omolola appeared in an online video saying she and a few other Nigerian women were being held under harsh conditions and that their lives were at risk.

“When we are ill, they don’t take us to the hospital, some of those I arrived in Lebanon with have died,” she said.

Omolola said on arrival in Lebanon, her passport was taken away and she was “sold”.

“I did not realise that they had sold me into slavery,” she said, adding that she only realised the gravity of her situation when her boss told her she could not return to Nigeria because he had “bought her”.

Kikelomo Olayide had a similar account. On arrival in Lebanon from Nigeria she was taken to a market. “In that market, they call us slaves,” she said.

Roland Nwoha, head of programmes/coordinator of migration and human trafficking at Idia Renaissance, a Nigerian organisation working to discourage irregular migration and human trafficking, told IPS that even though Europe is a major attraction for Nigerians in search of a better future abroad, the Middle East is proving an alternative for many.

Nwoha explained that unlike the journey to Europe, which involves a dangerous land journey through the desert and an equally dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea, traffickers fly their victims to the Middle East after procuring visas for them with the promise of good jobs.

The chair of Nigeria’s House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs Tolulope Akande-Sadipe said 80,000 Nigerian women are being held as sex slaves,and forced labour in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Nigerian women trafficked to the Middle East “almost always end in labour and sexual exploitation,” Daniel Atokolo Lagos commander of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons said.

Gloria Bright, a Nigerian teacher who was promised a teaching job with a monthly salary of $1,000 in Lebanon, was held captive and made to work as a domestic worker upon her arrival. She posted an online video in which she pleaded for help and to be rescued. She said besides being made to work under very harsh conditions, her boss sexually harassed her. “At times he will ask me to massage him, he will hug me, he will kiss me,” she said.

Bright was fortunate to be rescued by Nigerian authorities before the Aug. 4 Beirut blast.

Dabiri-Erewa said the trafficking of Nigerians to Lebanon “is becoming a big embarrassment and it has to be stopped”. In an effort to stop the crime, Nigerian authorities have arrested several people, including Lebanese residents in Nigeria. A Lebanese is being investigated in connection with the trafficking of 27 women to Lebanon, two of whom have been rescued.

The Lebanese ambassador to Nigeria, Houssam Diab, says his embassy is assisting the Nigerian government to stop the trafficking of women to his country. He said the issuance of work visas to Nigerians has been suspended following cases of the abuse of Nigerian women at the hands of their Lebanese employers.

The ambassador said the Lebanese Ministry of Labour will work out a “legal and systemic way to make domestic staff to come into Lebanon legally without the fear of inhuman treatment”.

Nigerian activists, like Nwoha, who are working against human trafficking say the Nigerian government has to do more to curtailing the activities of the traffickers. They said the government should make conditions at home better to stop Nigerians desperately seeking a better life abroad.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Turkey deploys its latest air defense system to Al-Watiya airbase in Libya


Turkey has reportedly sent its latest self-propelled air-defense gun system, called the KORKUT, to Lybia.

Recent satellite imagery released by Twitter account who uses the nickname safsata14 showed that Korkut air defense systems were deployed to the Al-Watiya airbase in western Libya.

The airbase is now operated by both the Turkish Armed Forces and Forces of the Government of National Accord.

Libya has been torn by a civil war since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country’s new government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led agreement, but efforts for a long-term political settlement failed due to a military offensive by warlord Khalifa Haftar’s forces. It is worth mentioning that, Turkey provides politicks and military support country’s government.

The KORKUT is newly designed and developed for effective ground based air defense against modern air threats. The system consists of a platoon of three 35 mm Gun Systems and one Command Post that can operate full autonomously.

The Command and Control Vehicle detects and tracks targets with its 3D search radar and while developing a local air picture, evaluates threats and assigns targets to the Weapon System Vehicles. Meanwhile, the Weapon System Vehicles trace the target with fire control radar and generates firepower with two 35 mm guns using fragmentation ammunition.

Command and Control Vehicle

Both the Weapon System Vehicles and the Command and Control Vehicles were built on the ACV-30 chassis, the tracked carrying platform specially developed by FNSS to carry the command and control, large scale mobile radar, gunfire support, self-propelled artillery and missile systems. The ACV-30 is also used in the Low Altitude Air Defence Missile System (HİSAR-A) project.

Weapon System Vehicle

The Turkish Armed Forces have ordered 40 weapons systems, deliveries are scheduled to complete in 2022.



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Ontario non-profit tackling racism in justice system through education, enhanced reporting


A newly launched not-for-profit organization is embarking on a mission of tackling anti-Black and systemic racism in the justice system by working to directly support those impacted during the sentencing process and to better educate the legal community.

Faisal Mirza, a criminal trial and appeals lawyer, is one of three directors who recently launched The Sentencing and Parole Project.

The initiative, which has been in the works for months, has three focus areas: Addressing the over-representation and mistreatment of racialized residents in correctional facilities; proving education as it relates to anti-Black and systemic racism to all those involved in the justice system; and providing courts with enhanced pre-sentence reports.

READ MORE: Minorities over-represented in Canadian prisons, report finds

“You have systemic discrimination into society intersecting with systemic discrimination in the justice system, so they don’t live in silos,” Mirza told Global News in an interview.

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“In society, you will have a disproportionate number of racialized people living in the lower socio-economic conditions they will experience … which numerous studies have now documented.”

Indigenous, Black inmates disproportionately in Canadian correctional facilities

According to the Office of the Correctional Investigator’s (OCI) 2018-2019 annual report, Indigenous and Black inmates were over-represented in Canada’s corrections system.

While the 2016 Census found that approximately 4.9 per cent of Canada’s population is Indigenous, the OCI report said 28 per cent of those in custody were Indigenous — an 11 per cent overall increase compared to 10 years earlier.

Census data estimated Black residents make up almost 3.5 per cent of Canada’s overall population, but the OCI report found eight per cent of those in custody are Black — an overall one per cent increase compared to 10 years earlier and a two per cent decrease compared to three years earlier.


READ MORE:
Canada’s prison watchdog disturbed by ‘Indigenization’ of correctional system

Issues have been raised about mistreatment in correctional facilities. The report noted “though still low,” discrimination complaints appeared to be trending upward. The OCI said reports of discrimination from Black inmates represented 37 per cent of all complaints between 2008 and 2018.

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The OCI report also noted there has been a disproportionate increase of inmates who identify as being Muslim, noting there has been a 74 per cent increase over 10 years — now representing 7.73 per cent of the overall population. The report said the reason for this increase was unclear.

Meanwhile, the OCI found there was a “relative and proportional decline” in the total number of white inmates. As of 2018-2019, 52 per cent of those in custody are white — down overall by 14 per cent. 2016 Census data estimated almost 73 per cent of Canada’s population is white.

Pre-sentence reports and the call for enhanced information

Mirza said when it comes to the justice system and addressing systemic racism, an area that needs immediate attention is the pre-sentence report process.

Pre-sentence reports are often requested of probation officers by judges in cases where someone has been found guilty of a serious criminal offence. The specific policies and use of pre-sentence reports vary by province and territory. Judges are not bound by pre-sentence reports and can potentially use the reports as one of multiple factors in sentencing.

“The problem with the conventional pre-sentence report is that it is insufficient and inadequate, and over the past several decades we’ve relied on those conventional pre-sentence reports to provide essential information about offenders and the reality is that they fail to do so,” he said, noting while some submitted reports are decent others have just basic biographical details with limited background information.

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READ MORE:
Ontario judge chastises Quebec over ‘useless’ and ‘inflammatory’ sentencing report

“What we’ve tried to do is address that gap in information because we think it’s critical for judges to have that information in order to fairly sentence people — in order to get to the right determination.”

In Ontario’s pre-sentence report process, information gathered by a probation and parole officer includes factors relating to personal and family details, education and employment history, substance use and addictions, character and behaviour, a response to community supervision, an overall assessment and recommendations for the court. The officer can potentially gather information from interviews with the person charged, family members and police sources.

At the Sentencing and Parole Project, an enhanced pre-screening report prepared for the court is written by a clinician or an expert with medical training. They too can potentially conduct interviews with the person charged as well as with family and friends.

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The enhanced report more broadly considers the person’s social history — how they identify, background on their family, their social environment, their social relationships, education, lived experiences with anti-Black racism, work history, jail conditions, substance use and addictions, their character and behaviour, and an overall assessment and summary. The enhanced report may also include more detailed interview notes and contacts.

“It’s very difficult for an individual over the span of a single interview that lasts a few hours to tell them about what it was like to grow up in an impoverished neighborhood, what it was like to have significant police presence and negative experiences with the police, what it was like to be streamed in the education system and be subject to unfairness,” Mirza said, noting systemic disadvantages have affected the ability to get employment for many.

“So it’s very hard for a probation officer to get that information from an individual because they don’t have the resources, they don’t have the time, they don’t have the training, and they don’t seem to be able to develop the trust relationship in order to pull that information out.

“If you can’t identify what the person has gone through, got them up to that point, then you can’t really figure out what programs that they should be put into and then that’s where you get the problems and the jails.”

Mirza said the enhanced pre-sentence report process is newer in Ontario, noting it took quite a bit of time to get the first test case report done. He said The Sentencing and Parole Project can now potentially file an enhanced report between 60 and 90 days, a time period consistent with conventional reporting.

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‘Level the playing field’

While Mirza said the enhanced pre-sentence report process is newer in Ontario, he cited “pioneering” work in Nova Scotia by social worker Robert Wright.

He said courts in Nova Scotia aren’t waiting for defence lawyers to get legal aid funding and that enhanced pre-sentence reports are routinely ordered by judges.

Mirza said some lawyers have brought that approach to Ontario, adding over-representation of racialized residents in the justice system is a major concern.

READ MORE: UN council to discuss report calling on Canada to address anti-Black racism

“[The reports] provide the type of information that’s required for fairness, for decisions to be based on accurate information, so they’re evidence-based decisions. [It’s} no different than if somebody had a mental health issue — you would want the judge to know the particulars of that mental health issue so that they could use that information to determine what the right disposition is and what the right programs are for the individual,” he said.

“When they receive a report, it’s not an ‘aha’ moment. It’s an, ‘I understand. I get it. I’ve been exposed to this,’ right? And I can connect the dots so that when the individualized information is presented, they move away from the one-size-fits-all approach.”

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READ MORE:
Increasing calls for Ontario government to declare anti-Black racism public health crisis

Mirza said providing access to enhanced reports helps “level the playing field” for those who are marginalized and don’t have money to get privately funded pre-sentence reports prepared by social workers and doctors.

“They provide that information and the courts will look at that and say, ‘you know, this is a good person who did something wrong.’ And then the filter through which those people are examined is entirely different,” he said.

“This is a very important piece of the puzzle and we think that there needs to be a recognition that these better pre-sentence reports are required for everyone, and in particular for people who are over-represented, to understand their experiences with racial inequality and poverty.”

Educating the legal community, calls for other measures

When it comes to tackling systemic discrimination, Mirza said the provincial and federal governments have a lot of work to do and need to make investments.

He said education and government action needs to start at the earliest levels of education, citing recent reports of allegations of racism at the Peel District School Board.


READ MORE:
Is the Liberal government’s promise to repeal mandatory minimum sentences dead?

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As for other justice system reforms, he called for mandatory anti-Black racism training for all those in the justice system, improved use of force and de-escalation training, and scrapping mandatory minimum sentences.

“Anti-Black racism is at the forefront right now because of the social movement that’s going on and it presents an opportunity for us to do some inflection and look at what are the deficiencies in our justice system.”

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Under India’s caste system, Dalits are considered untouchable. The coronavirus is intensifying that slur


She is nine months pregnant and has four children to feed, but at the bottom of the steps community leaders of a dominant caste force her to go back empty-handed.

The families are part of the Yanadi community, who work mainly as waste pickers and drain cleaners and who — even before the coronavirus — were segregated because of their caste.

“We’ve been locked up here, like prisoners — we live near a milk factory, and there is not a drop of milk for my children to drink. We are called dirty, and they say we spread the disease,” said Polamma, who only goes by one name.

India’s caste system was officially abolished in 1950, but the 2,000-year-old social hierarchy imposed on people by birth still exists in many aspects of life. The caste system categorizes Hindus at birth, defining their place in society, what jobs they can do and who they can marry.

Those at the bottom of the hierarchy, who fall outside the four main categories of Brahmins (priests and teachers), Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), Vaishyas (traders and merchants) and the Shudras (laborers), are considered “untouchables” or Dalits.

India has closed its railways for the first time in 167 years. Now trains are being turned into hospitals

Millions of people, about 25% of India’s population of 1.3 billion people, are grouped under the scheduled castes (Dalits) and scheduled tribes (Adivasis) in India’s constitution. Adivasis are indigenous Indians who have been socially and economically marginalized for centuries.

Both groups have long endured social isolation, but it’s feared the rapid spread of the coronavirus and measures to stop it have worsened their segregation.

Jobs that Dalits and Adivasis have been forced to take for centuries — cleaners, manual scavengers and waste pickers — expose them to a greater risk of catching the virus.

During the pandemic, their jobs are considered essential services by the Indian government, but many say they haven’t been given adequate equipment to protect themselves against Covid-19. And if they get sick, there’s no social safety net to ensure they don’t fall even deeper into poverty.

Lower access to services and higher mortality

When the Spanish Flu pandemic ripped through India in 1918 killing almost 17 million people, caste played a crucial role in determining who received health care — and who died.

Lower caste people living in crowded slums were the most exposed to the virus, and the least able to find food and medicine as the flu spread, according to historian David Arnold, who has extensively researched and written about the Spanish Flu epidemic in India.

Historian Amit Kapoor, author of “Riding the Tiger,” said 61 lower caste people died for every 1,000 in the community. For upper caste Hindus it was 19 for every 1,000, and the figure was even lower for Europeans living in India.

However, Kapoor believes that while people belonging to the lower caste were disproportionately impacted in 1918, the situation now is different. “While caste was very predominant in 1918, in 2020 the impact of epidemics have more to do with the economic hierarchy than the social hierarchy,” said Kapoor.

There’s little doubt that lower caste Indians are poorer than higher castes.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI)’s global multidimensional poverty index (MPI), half of scheduled tribes were considered poor compared to 15% of higher castes.

Poverty makes lower castes more vulnerable during emergencies, according to the findings of a 2013 study by the International Dalit Solidarity Network, a network of international human rights groups fighting Dalit discrimination.

For example, after the 2004 Asian tsunami, Dalits were forced to remove bodies and debris, for very little if any pay, and weren’t offered any psychological support. Many weren’t compensated for their lost possessions, such as the bikes and fishing nets that were swept away, the report said.

Dalit activists fear the coronavirus will again reinforce inequality in India.

Migrant workers sprayed with disinfectant in one Indian state

“India has 600,000 villages and almost every village a small pocket on the outskirts is meant for Dalits,” said Paul Divakar, a Dalit activist from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.

“This settlement is far from health care centers, banks, schools and other essential services. During times like Covid-19, the aid may not even reach this small pocket.”

He said repeated advice on social distancing threatened to encourage the kind of behavior seen in the northern city of Bareilly when migrant workers were doused with bleach disinfectant.

“Covid-19 is legitimizing these actions all in the name of hygiene and social distancing,” said Divakar.

Essential workers

Dalits are forced to take up the jobs such as cleaning, manual scavenging, working at brick kilns and leather-crafting — occupations considered “filthy” or “dishonorable” for higher-caste communities.

The sanitation and cleaning work formally and informally employs 5 million people, of which 90% belong to the lowest Dalit sub-castes, according to a five-month study of sanitation workers across India carried out in 2017 by Dalberg Advisors, a development policy and strategy firm, with the support of The Gates Foundation.
The Indian government has deemed sanitation and cleaning to be essential services, which must continue during the lockdown. India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued a directive that sanitation workers in hospitals and elsewhere should be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE), including N95 masks and gloves.
Doctors say India must prepare for an 'onslaught' as one of Asia's biggest slums reports first coronavirus death

Sanitation workers clean hospitals for seven to eight hours a day, but many say they have not been given sufficient, if any, protective gear, said Suryaprakash Solanke, leader of a Dalit workers union in Mumbai.

“For years they have been cleaning and scrubbing hospitals, residential complexes, streets and railway stations. But instead of providing them with protective gear, and rewarding them, people are ostracizing them. Some have even been refused water to drink, when requested while at work,” said Solanke.

Vanita Bhaskar Salvi works as a sanitation worker in a hospital in the Mumbai district of Thane. She says she and her colleagues have only been given single-layered cloth masks to protect them from the virus while at work.

“We are lesser humans. We clean and wash the entire ward. When patients soil their clothes, we clean them up. All for 8,500 rupees ($115) a month. And now we are further at risk of disease as we have no protection gear when we touch and clean all the waste,” she said.

Salvi says she is scared of contracting the virus and would prefer not to go to work, but as the only one with a job in her family, she has no option.

Kiran Dighavkar, officer at the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, the civic body governing Mumbai, said: “There are enough kits with us for sanitation worker. Masks, gloves, kits, everything.”

CNN reached out to officials in the Health and Labor Ministry for comment on allegation insufficient PPE had been provided to sanitation workers but did not receive a response.

Sanoj Kumar said people in his hometown yell out "corona, corona" when he ventures outside.

The work Dalits do exposes them to another risk: discrimination.

Sanoj Kumar left his job at a brick kiln in Tamil Nadu to return to his village near Bodh Gaya in Bihar before the lockdown was imposed. He said he faced ostracism as soon as he stepped off the train.

“The police started stopping the returning migrants at the railway station and sending them for checkups to the hospital. They were stopping people in a random manner. Those who well dressed and seemed like belonged to an upper class and dominant caste were not singled out. The others like me were stopped and sent to the hospital,” he said.

After his checkup, Kumar was sent home and ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days. He says health workers check on him every two days. He obliges because he understands the need to fight the virus, but every time they visit, it adds to his family’s social stigma.

“They should come up with a better and more sensitive way of doing this,” said Kumar.

Informal workers without ID cards

Lower caste Indians are not only more exposed to the coronavirus and face more stigmatization, but they’re also being left out of government subsidies.

On March 26, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that all healthcare workers would be covered by health insurance for three months, and that sanitarian workers would receive special insurance cover. The Rs 50 lakh ($66,000) measure was part of the government’s $22.5 billion stimulus package.

But to claim it, workers need an employment ID card validating their status as sanitation workers. Many sanitation workers don’t have that.

According to the Dalit Bahujan Resource Centre, 22% of sanitation workers, manual scavengers and waste pickers did not have the 12-digit, biometric national identification number and 33% did not possess ration cards to get subsidized food through the public distribution system.

India observes nationwide candlelight vigil in a show of solidarity in the fight against coronavirus

The unique national identification number is required to access many government schemes including getting subsidies and direct cash transfers, and health insurance under the Prime Minister’s health project, as well as to open a bank account.

“It has been seen that most Dalits and Adivasis, find it difficult to get these government ID cards … or ration cards. Either the information doesn’t reach them, or the enrollment camps to get biometric IDs are never set up in their villages and mostly they are asked to pay huge bribes to get these IDs made,” said Alladi Devakumar, executive secretary of Dalit Bahujan Resource Centre.

Many sanitation workers who work as informal labor don’t even have employment IDs. Salvi says she tried to approach the dean of the hospital where she works to ask for an employment identity card that would enable her to claim health insurance benefits and board the few buses that are running for essential service workers in Mumbai during the lockdown.

Without the ID card, she cannot get on the bus and has to walk 90 minutes each way to work. But when she approached the office, she says the Dean shouted for security.

“She threatened me and said don’t you dare come inside and called the guard to take me away. She thinks we are trash, and now she has more reason to treat us like trash,” says Salvi. CNN contacted the Dean, but she declined to comment.

No access to bank accounts

Estheramma doesn't have a bank account, making it very difficult to access government aid.

Estheramma lives with her husband and two children in a dump yard, five kilometers away from the densely populated city of Guntur in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. She’s an Adivasi waste picker and makes a living by collecting the waste from dumps, segregating the waste and selling it. She and her community live segregated on the dump. There is no ration shop nearby nor are there any health care facilities close to her.

Like many other Dalits and Adivasis, Estheramma doesn’t have an active bank account or a national ID card — the two basic instruments needed to access direct cash transfers by the government.

Without this she won’t be able to claim the Rs 500 ($7) offered each month for the next three months to women, who are bank account holders registered under the government’s financial inclusion program.
“There are people, especially Dalits and Adivasis who don’t have accounts, then there are those who have accounts but are not able to operate them because the control of it is with someone else, either their upper caste literate landlord or the ration shopkeeper,” says P. Sainath founding editor of People’s Archive of Rural India, a digital journalism platform that archives stories from rural India.

Since many bank accounts are tied to mobile phone accounts, local shopkeepers help many illiterate Dalits and Adivasis carryout their bank transactions.

“Sometimes, the bank accounts are automatically opened when someone buys a mobile connection and the person is not even aware that this bank account exists. And according to the government, all the direct cash transfers come to the newest bank account of the beneficiary, so at times they have no clue that they have received money,” adds Sainath.

Estheramma has a ration card and is eligible to receive the government benefit of 5 kilograms wheat or rice and 1 kilogram of preferred pulses for free for the next three months, but she said she can’t go to the ration shop because it’s run by shopkeepers of dominant castes who are not letting her come in, citing Covid-19. She says she’s living on small food packets distributed by charities.

“The relief package should not be centralized or linked to biometric IDs like Aadhar,” said economist Jayati Ghosh, chairperson of the Center for Economic Studies and Planning at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“This will leave many out of the relief. This has to be done through state governments where they hand over these benefits through other beneficiary accounts of employment and food security.”

More than 11,900 have been infected with the coronavirus in India, and more than 390 people have died, according to the latest numbers from the John Hopkins University.

It’s a staggeringly small number in a nation of 1.3 billion people. The Indian government is expected to extend the nationwide lockdown beyond May 3, but it is still too early to gauge the final impact on the country’s poorest.

People like Polamma, Salvi and Kumar hope they’ll be offered greater protection, but it hasn’t come yet.

After two weeks of lockdown, Polamma was finally able to access the grocery store after the police interfered at the request of Dalit activists. But she said no health workers were visiting her community to check on pregnant and lactating mothers.

Salvi takes a painkiller every day and walks to the hospital to clean and do her job with no protective gear. And Kumar and his family are staying indoors to comply with the lockdown order — and to avoid abuse.

“Every time I step out, people start shouting ‘corona, corona,'” he said. “Earlier they would walk at a distance because I am a Dalit, but now they call me the disease itself.”



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More than 2 million rapid #Coronavirus tests ready to be deployed to Europe’s health-care system 


The 15-minute coronavirus test is now available to ease the strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on health-care systems across Europe, which comes as world leaders look for solutions to combat the disease.

Using easy-to-collect samples, the tests detect the IgM and IgG antibodies response to the coronavirus, to identify if patients have contracted COVID-19 within minutes of testing.

The technology, which has already been used in China, will improve the detection rate of patients carrying COVID-19, allowing doctors to test suspected carriers as soon as 2 days after suspected exposure.

The antibody test, which was approved for sale in European markets last week, promises to ease pressure on labs by providing rapid point-of-care diagnostics.

This will assist healthcare professionals to clinically assess patients with and without symptoms, so they can provide vital care to those most in need even quicker.

Total coronavirus cases are set to surpass 240,000 worldwide today, and having been granted CE Mark certification, the tests can be made available immediately, with manufacturing being increased to meet demand over the coming weeks.

Yesterday (19 March), British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, confirmed interest in procuring COVID-19 tests which are as “simple as a pregnancy test, which can tell whether you have had the disease and in its early days, but if it works as its proponents claim, then we will buy literally hundreds of thousands of these kits as soon as practicable.”

He continued: “Because obviously it has the potential to be a total gamechanger.”

The World Nano Foundation, through its partners, has formed a partnership with the Chinese developer of the test, to make them available across Europe.

The World Nano Foundation are offering these tests to Governments first, as they are best positioned to prioritise the application of the tests, rather than have the supply taken up indiscriminately by the market (minimum order 100,000 tests, price on application). These Rapid tests have already been used for Coronavirus in China and we now have CE Mark approval to deploy these tests in Europe immediately.

Use case examples:-
1. To relieve pressure on centralised testing methods that require laboratory machine which are already
overloaded.

2. To allow key workers forced into self-isolation due to contact to return to work if test negative.

3. To rapidly identify transmission events from contact lists of known positive patients.

For more information about the 15-minute COVID-19 tests, please contact Paul Sheedy, Co-Founder of The World Nano Foundation: [email protected]n.com





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Britain heralds end of ‘cheap labour from Europe’ with #Brexit immigration system


Britain will prioritize access for high-skilled workers from around the world in its post-Brexit points-based immigration system, the government said on Tuesday (18 February), setting out its plans to put an end to a reliance on “cheap labour from Europe”, writes Kylie MacLellan.

Concern over the impact of high levels of immigration from the European Union was one of the key drivers behind Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the bloc and the government has said it plans to bring overall migration numbers down.

The new system will assign points for specific skills, qualifications, salaries or professions and only give visas to those who have enough points. It will come into force from Jan. 1, 2021 and will treat EU and non-EU citizens the same.

“We have got a number of routes through the points-based immigration scheme that will enable people to come here with the right kind of skills that can support our country and our economy,” Interior Minister Priti Patel said.

But business groups said that many firms relied on overseas labour and cautioned there might not be enough domestic workers to tend crops, care for patients and serve food – a deficit that could undermine the world’s fifth largest economy.

EU citizens will not need a visa to enter Britain as a visitor for up to six months.

The Home Office said it would follow a recommendation made last month by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), an independent body which advises the government, to lower the minimum general salary threshold for skilled migrants to 25,600 pounds ($33,330) a year, from 30,000 pounds.

Skilled workers will need to meet criteria including specific skills and the ability to speak English, the government said, and those applying will need to have a job offer.

There will be no specific entry route for low-skilled workers, something the government hopes will help reduce the number of migrants.

“We need to shift the focus of our economy away from reliance on cheap labour from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation. Employers will need to adjust,” the government said in a policy document setting out its plans.

The MAC estimated the impact of the government’s planned salary and skills thresholds would mean around 70% of European Economic Area citizens who have arrived in Britain since 2004 would not have been eligible for a visa.

Students will be covered by the points-based system, the government said, while there will be separate initiatives for scientists, graduates, National Health Service workers and those in the agricultural sector.

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How will the new visa-free European travel system work – VoxEurop (English)



Set to enter into force next year, the ETIAS scheme aims at speeding up traveling authorisation for travellers from countries which do not require a visa. In this regard, it looks pretty much like the US ESTA. But there is still some confusion on how it works, so here we have a closer look at it.

Ever since the European Union first announced that it was planning to create a new travel system in a bid to enhance security and improve border management, speculations on this system have been of every kind and travelers across the globe have started getting a bit worried about it.

While a new requirement to Europe may seem a bit scary, it actually is not as complex and difficult as it seems. ETIAS is, in fact, set to make traveling safer for everyone, and will apply as a requirement only to the nationals of countries traveling visa-free to the Schengen Area. 

While many have attempted to clarify what the ETIAS actually is, most travelers remain either confused or uninformed about it. Following, we have tried to briefly but clearly and simply explain what ETIAS is all about, how travelers will be affected, and who and how will benefit from it. 

What is ETIAS?

The ETIAS abbreviation stands for the European Travel Information and Authorization System. It is a new EU scheme through which nationals of several world countries planning to travel to the Schengen Area will have to apply for and obtain through it a travel authorization named the same – ETIAS – soon in the future.

The system, which will become operational by January 2021, is completely electronical and resembles to schemes operated by other countries as the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) or the Canadian Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA).

It is not a visa, as many have been confused into believing it is, but rather a single document that one can easily apply within minutes, from the comfort of their own home. 

How Does ETIAS Serve to the EU?

Once the ETIAS starts operating, every person planning to travel to the Schengen Area visa-free will have to apply for it online well in advance of their trip.

Each application will undergo detailed security checks before a final decision is given whether the traveler should be permitted to enter the zone or not. The ETIAS system will detect all persons that may pose a threat to the security of the EU and non-EU Schengen Member States, and reject them.

This way the European Union will know who is planning to cross its borders, and prevent from entering those that could disturb the safety of its citizens and other travelers. 

This system will continuously gather, keep track of, and update necessary information regarding visitors. It will also help the EU authorities to improve management of the external borders, make irregular migration more difficult, assist in the detection and decrease of crime and terrorism, therefore reinforcing the visa liberalization policy of the EU at the same time. 

Who Will Need ETIAS?

So far, it is foreseen that the nationals of over 60 world countries that currently have a short-term visa-free travel regime with the EU, will soon need to apply for an ETIAS before taking a trip to any of the Schengen member countries. 

These countries are: Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, El Salvador, Georgia, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Macao, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Taiwan, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City, and Venezuela.

Which Countries Can a Traveler Enter with an ETIAS

Those holding a valid ETIAS will be eligible to enter the 26 Schengen member countries, 22 of which are EU member states, which until the enforcement of this system are permitted to enter visa-free. 

The Schengen member countries are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Getting an ETIAS – Application Procedures Explained 

The European Union has announced that the procedures to get an ETIAS will be simple and quick, as its purpose is not to make traveling to the Schengen Area more difficult, but to facilitate it and make it safer for every visitor. 

Soon, the European Union will launch a website from which applicants can complete the application form. It is estimated that filling out an ETIAS application will take about 10 minutes.

Applicants will need to provide the following information:

  • Full name

  • Date & place of birth

  • Citizenship

  • Address, email and phone number

  • Education and work experience

  • First EU country the applicant intends to visit in his/her first visit to the Schengen Area

In addition, there will also be background and eligibility questions on applicant’s medical condition, police records, possible trips to conflict zones, and other similar questions, which the European Union has not yet revealed.

How much will ETIAS cost?

As for now, it is foreseen that one ETIAS application will cost €7, while all those under the age of 18 at the time of application will be exempt from paying the fee. No additional service fees will be implemented. 

ETIAS Processing Period

Once the applicant gives in all the information required and pays the ETIAS fee, he/she can submit the application by clicking on the ‘submit’ button (or another similar button that will be given). The system will then check if the given information was correct, the eligibility and risk factors of the applicant.

The processing of each application is expected to take about four days, however, in specific circumstances when the ETIAS system needs to consult other EU schemes in an application may take up to two weeks to be processed.

Each traveler will receive the answer on their application through their email. Those that are granted with an ETIAS will receive the document in their email as well, in the form of an A4 document. This document must be printed and carried when traveling to the Schengen Area. 

Validity of an ETIAS

An approved ETIAS will be valid for a period of three years, starting from the date of issuance. If the passport of the traveler expires before the validity of an ETIAS ends, the document becomes invalid at that time as well.

Rules of Traveling with an ETIAS

Rules of traveling with an ETIAS to the Schengen Area, will remain the same as the current rules of visa-free travel to this territory. This includes:

  • Travelers holding an ETIAS can remain in Europe for a maximum of 90 days within every six months. 

  • Travelers must have a valid passport, with at least three more months of validity left beyond the date of intended departure from the Schengen Area. Those holding passports older than ten years, even if they have enough validity left, will not be able to get an ETIAS in first place. 

  • Visitors will still be obligated to hold EU Travel Insurance in order to be permitted to enter from any EU port of entry.

  • Holders of ETIAS, will be able to perform only unpaid activity in the Schengen Area, as tourism, medical checkup or short-term study. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What documents are required to apply for an ETIAS?

While completing the form, the applicant will only need a passport valid for at least six more months beyond the date of the intended stay in the Schengen Area, but not older than ten years.

Can an ETIAS be rejected?

Yes, an ETIAS can be rejected to any applicant for several different reasons. The system could have detected the applicant gave incorrect or false information, was seen as a suspicious or a possible threat to the safety of the EU.

When an applicant receives a negative answer on their application, they will also receive the reason why they were rejected from getting an ETIAS. 

What then?

Those getting a negative decision on an ETIAS application can appeal the decision if they think it was unjust or taken by mistake. 

However, if the reason for the rejection of an ETIAS application is correct and justifiable the applicant should apply for a regular Schengen Visa instead. 

How many times can a traveler enter the EU with an ETIAS?

A traveler can use the ETIAS to visit the European countries in which it is admissible, as soon as the ETIAS is valid, and the traveler does not overstay by violating the 90-days-within-six-months rule. 

Do travelers with a Schengen Visa need ETIAS?

The ETIAS will be mandatory only for visitors from countries that right now can travel to the Schengen Area visa-free. Which means if a person possesses a Schengen visa right now, he or she does not fall under this category, and therefore is not obligated nor eligible for an ETIAS. 

Do those holding long-term visa from one of the Member States need ETIAS?

As a long-term visa/residence permit issued by one of the EU member states permits its holder to travel throughout the whole Schengen Area without the need of getting additional travel permits, ETIAS will not be required from them. 

Do babies and children need ETIAS?

Yes, babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, and adults, will all need to get an ETIAS in order to visit the EU. Children under the age of 18, will however be exempt from paying the fee. Their parents will need to complete the online application form for them. 

What are the differences between an ETIAS and a Schengen Visa?

In essence, they are both permits to enter the Schengen Area. However, it’s the procedures and fees that make all the difference.

While the application process for an ETIAS is completed within 10 minutes, with no documents but a passport required, the process to get a Schengen visa is way more complicated. There are quite e lot of documents required, depending on applicant’s purpose of the visit, including health insurance, proof of accommodation and sufficient financial means. 

In addition, Schengen visa applicants are also required to make an appointment and attend a visa interview, while paying a visa fee of €60, which by February 2020 will increase to €80. 

The processing of an ETIAS is foreseen to take about four days while the processing of a Schengen visa takes 15 business days, in general.



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Boeing achieves significant milestone with new Laser Weapon System – Defence Blog


The world’s largest aerospace company Boeing announced that its Compact Laser Weapon System (CLWS) recently completed a series of key demonstrations with the U.S. Air Force and Army.

The high-energy 5kW CLWS successfully completed several demonstrations of its capabilities, validating its readiness for deployment, according to a recent company news release.

Test operators used handheld, game-style controllers to acquire, track and disable small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in flight. With the CLWS in a fixed-site configuration on a standard shipping container, the first-time system operators successfully defeated approximately 30 targets.

“We received great feedback on the ease of use and maturity of the CLWS system, and its seamless integration into the command and control (C2) network,” said Boeing CLWS Program Manager Kurt Sorenson. “In the past year, Boeing has demonstrated CLWS capabilities with first-time military operators at five test venues. They successfully engaged and defeated hundreds of UAVs with a very high success rate.”

CLWS contains an integrated counter-Unmanned Aerial System package, including a radar system for detection and a high-resolution sensor system for target identification and aimpoint selection. During the MFIX engagement, the system was successfully tasked to provide target verification using its “slew to cue” capability, which allows the radar sensor to tell the camera where to point and engage the target.

Two other High Energy Laser (HEL) weapons originally developed and delivered by Boeing were also successfully demonstrated: the Army Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser (MEHEL) on the STRYKER platform, and the large-aperture, higher-power Army High Energy Laser Mobile Test Truck (HELMTT).

“Boeing’s continuous development of a range of high-energy laser weapons, from the Compact Laser Weapon System to higher-power, tactical-class systems, demonstrates the maturity of the technology,” said Ron Dauk, Boeing Laser & Electro-Optical Systems program manager. “Our proven CLWS systems are ready to provide Force Protection capability for Counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-UAS) to today’s warfighter.”

Boeing delivered multiple CLWS units in 2018 to a U.S. Department of Defense customer. These units have been deployed overseas for nearly six months as part of a limited user evaluation.

CLWS on Container at Ft. Sill. The Compact Laser Weapon System (CLWS) successfully demonstrated defeat of fixed and rotary wing targets in the fixed-site container configuration during the Ft. Sill demonstrations. Photo courtesy of the Boeing Company.

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