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Refugees in Italy bear brunt of coronavirus angst | News



Lampedusa, Italy – It is Saturday morning and Ahmed is squeezed onto a small Italian coastguard boat docked at one of Lampedusa’s ports.

There are about 30 other refugees and migrants on board. 

Officers, covered head to toe in white protective gear, are on the ground, buzzing around the boat to prepare it for the next stop a few miles away – the Rhapsody ferry.

There, almost 800 refugees and migrants will enter a 14-day quarantine period.

Like Ahmed, they have been removed from the overcrowded reception centre in Lampedusa due to a lack of space, and now must undergo the two-week quaranting on board the ferry.

“Of course I am happy,” the 23-year-old told Al Jazeera by text message. “It’s always better than staying inside the centre.”

Saturday would have been his seventeenth day inside Lampedusa’s only reception centre, in Imbriacola district. A so-called “hotspot”, the centre has been the focus of a heated debate between the far right, governing political leaders and civil society.

It was built to house no more than 192 people, but last week there were as many as 1,500 as the number of migrants and refugees landing on the island’s shores rose during summer.

“They treat us like animals, I would say worse than animals,” said Ahmed, who arrived on August 19 on a dinghy from the Tunisian town of Sfax. Each night, he and others used to sneak out just to get something to eat.

“Often there is no water or electricity, you sleep on the floor or on a dirty mattress, if you get one. There are no words to describe it … Some of them [staff] keep insulting us. I feel treated as we were terrorists,” he said.

What will happen to Ahmed once the ferry quarantine period ends?

Most Tunisians are considered economic migrants, and therefore are either returned to Tunisia – the Italian government established two charters for a total of 80 repatriations a week so far – or handed a seven to 30-day window period to return home by their own means. Often, once they arrive, they attempt to leave Italy in any way possible and reach northern Europe.

“I don’t care if they will send me back, I’ll come back again, and again, and again,” said Ahmed. “For me [it] is a question to either die or arrive.”

He is among 7,885 Tunisians who arrived in Sicily this year up to August 31 – a number almost six times higher than the same period last year.

As the coronavirus pandemic forced governments to shut their borders and halt activities, Tunisia is also paying a heavy price with its economy expected to shrink more than 4 percent this year, and the unemployment rate currently standing at 16 percent.

With Lampedusa’s hotspot overflowing and the threat of tourists being discouraged by the number of asylum seekers, far-right politicians are weaponising the pandemic in an attempt to advance anti-migrant policies.

On August 31, as more than 360 people were rescued at sea and brought to Lampedusa, a group of protesters – coordinated by a member of Matteo Salvini’s far-right party, the League – took to the port to stop their landing.

The previous week, Salvini praised Sicily’s Governor Nello Musumeci for ordering the closure of the region’s reception centres. Despite being immediately blocked by a court, the move greatly boosted the governor’s popularity.

In 2011, more than 50,000 Tunisians reached Lampedusa as they fled unrest in their country during the so-called Arab Spring [Antonio Parrinello/Reuters]

Lampedusa’s islanders are used to refugees and migrants landing on their shores. A southern tip of Europe, the island has for decades been the first point of entry to those crossing the Mediterranean.

In 2011, more than 50,000 Tunisians arrived. 

“We welcomed them bringing warm food and helping setting tents across town,” recalled former fisherman Calogero Partinico, 63, sitting on a bench watching tourists, many walking around with no masks.

Like many others, Partinico has drawn a link between the rising number of refugees and migrants and the coronavirus pandemic, despite refugees making up 3-5 percent of COVID-19 cases in the country, compared with 25 percent detected among tourists, according to Italy’s National Health Institute.

“Islanders live with an ancestral fear over sickness – given the isolation and lack of hospitals on the island – and over the potential loss of the summer season,” said Marta Bernardini, an aid worker from Mediterranean Hope, a project of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy based in Lampedusa. “The coronavirus combined the two, fomenting a more hostile attitude towards migrants.”

There are also growing concerns over the use of ferry boats to quarantine migrants – an operation which has so far cost the government at least six million euros ($7.1m) for the rent of five vessels.

“No one wants them,” Lampedusa Mayor Toto’ Martello told Al Jazeera, pointing to some regional governors’ refusal to take in refugees and migrants. “Because since there is the COVID-19, there has been a media campaign against migrants saying that they are those bringing the virus.”

Further deepening Italy’s refugee crisis, the country’s reception’s capacity has recently been halved, said Sami Aidoudi, legal adviser and cultural mediator for the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI).

“Salvini’s security decrees cut funds, hence most services had been reduced,” he said, referring to the former prime minister’s 2018 anti-migrant policies. 

Prior to those rulings, as an example, social services used to receive about 35 euros ($41) a day per migrant – an amount which has dropped to about 19 euros ($22). With the changes, some cooperatives were forced to close, while the quality of services fell at others.

Despite pledging for a substantial U-turn from Salvini’s hardline policy over migration, the current government has made few changes.

“They are starting to establish floating reception centres – the dream of the Italian right wing,” said Aidoudi. 

Confining migrants to the sea, away from residents’ sight, “means absence of information for civil society, for those that can offer legal counselling and finally for migrants themselves”, he said. “We can’t assist them.”

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Charles Mbire gains $1.2 million as stake in MTN Uganda rises above $51 million



Ugandan businessman and MTN Uganda Chairman Charles Mbire has seen the market value of his stake in MTN Uganda surge above $51 million in just two days, as the share price in the leading teleco company increased by a single digit.

The single-digit bump in the share price caused the market value of Mbire’s stake to gain UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million) in less than two days.

The million-dollar increase in the value of his stake came after Uganda’s largest telecom company delivered the country’s largest-ever IPO through the listing of 22.4 billion ordinary shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

Upon completing the largest IPO in Uganda’s history, MTN Uganda raised a record UGX535 billion ($150.4 million) from the applications that it received for a total of 2.9 billion shares, including incentive shares.

As of press time, Dec. 7, shares in the company were trading at UGX204.95 ($0.0574), down six basis points from their opening price this morning.

Data gathered by Billionaires.Africa revealed that since the telecom company registered its shares on the Ugandan bourse on Mon., Dec. 6, its share price has increased by 2.5 percent from UGX200 ($0.056) to UGX204.95 ($0.0574) as of the time of writing, as retail investors sustained buying interest long after the public offering.

The increase in the company’s share price caused the market value of Mbire’s 3.98-percent stake to rise from UGX178.45 billion ($49.96 million) to UGX182.86 billion ($51.2 million).

In less than two days, his stake gained more than UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million).

In a statement after the successful listing of MTN Uganda’s shares, Mbire said the IPO shows the confidence that Ugandans and other investors have in the company, its brand and strategic intent.

“We commend all the regulators for their support in our work to become a USE-listed company and to comply in a timely manner with the listing provisions of the national telecommunications operators’ license,” he said.

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350 million (debt free).

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350. ( debt free).

He is into communications-revenue assurance-cement-distribution-oil services-real estate-oil exploration and logistics.

Source: Billionaires Africa

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2-year-old dies at Arua hospital as nurse demands Shs 210,000 bribe




A two-year-old child died at Arua Regional Referral hospital after a nurse, Paul Wamala demanded a bribe amounting to Shs 210,000 before carrying out an operation. 

The incident happened on Saturday, after Aron Nabil, a two-year-old child was referred to the hospital for an operation after he was diagnosed with intestinal obstruction, a medical emergency caused by a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine.

According to the relatives of the child, Wamala allegedly asked them to initially give him Shs 30,000 to buy medicines to commence the procedure. He however returned shortly asking for an additional Shs 180,000 from the relatives.

Emily Adiru, a resident of Osu cell, in Bazar Ward, Central Division, and a relative of the child says although they paid money to Wamala, he abandoned the child without carrying out the operation. According to Adiru, Wamala later refunded Shs 200,000 through mobile money, after she threatened to report him to the police.

“They told us this boy needs an operation which was supposed to be done in the morning on Sunday at around 7 am. They took him inside there, some doctor came from the theatre, he called one of us and said, we should pay Shs 70,000 for buying medicine to start the operation. We paid the Shs 30,000 [but] after paying the Shs 30,000, after some minutes, the same man came and opened the door and called us again, and told us we should pay another Shs 100,000. We also paid the Shs 100,000 and we thought it is finished. We were outside there waiting for our patient to come out [but] then this man came back again and said we should pay another Shs 80,000,” said Adiru.

Although the operation was later carried out after a 7-hour delay, the child didn’t make it, and relatives attribute the death to negligence. Miria Ahmed, a concerned resident wonders why such incidents have persisted at the facility which is supposed to service the citizens.

“Is the problem the hospital, is it the management or it is the human resource that is the problem in the hospital? A small child like this you demand Shs 210,000 for the operation? Well, if the money was taken and the operation is done, I would say anything bad but this money was taken and the small boy was abandoned in the theatre,” she said. 

When contacted Wamala refused to comment on the allegations. Dr Gilbert Aniku, the acting hospital director says that the hospital will issue an official statement later since consultations about the matter are ongoing.

Arua City resident district commissioner, Alice Akello has condemned the actions of the nurse saying she has ordered his arrest so as to set an example to the rest. The case has been reported to Arua regional referral hospital police post under SD reference No:05/30/05/2022.

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Mexican president’s Mayan Train dealt new legal setback | Tourism News




Activists say the planned tourist train will harm the wildlife and natural features of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been dealt the latest setback to an ambitious plan to create a tourist train to connect the country’s southern Yucatan Peninsula.

On Monday, a judge indefinitely suspended construction on a portion of the project, known as the Mayan Train, saying the plans currently do not comply “with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation”.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by activists who said they were concerned the 60km (37 mile) portion of the train that would connect the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum would adversely affect the area’s wildlife, as well as its caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified early this year to go through jungle at ground level.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment. In a statement, the group said that authorities had failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section.

Lopez Obrador had announced the ambitious project in 2018, with construction beginning in 2020. The roughly 1,500km (930 mile) cargo and passenger rail loop was presented as a cornerstone of a wider plan to develop the poorer states and remote towns throughout the about 181,000sq km (70,000sq mile) Yucatan Peninsula.

The railway is set to connect Caribbean beach resorts with Mayan archaeological ruins, with authorities aiming to complete the project by the end of 2023. The plan is estimated to cost about $16bn.

The project has split communities across the region, with some welcoming the economic development and connectivity it would bring. Others, including some local Indigenous communities, have challenged the project, saying it could not only disrupt the migratory routes of endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, but could also potentially damage centuries-old Mayan archaeological sites.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism, the government agency overseeing the project, has said that it expects to “overcome” the latest challenge and that work should continue after an environmental impact statement is finalised. It said the Environment Ministry was currently reviewing its environmental application for the project.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has insisted the railway will not have a significant environmental effect and has accused activists of being infiltrated by “impostors”.

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