The world at a glance …
Floods and landslides killed at least three people in the U.K. this week after Storm Dennis dumped 6 inches of rain in two days, causing rivers to burst their banks across Wales and England. In the Welsh town of Pontypridd, hundreds of families had to evacuate. “Homes have been completely destroyed, even those with floodgates,” said Alex Davies-Jones, the area’s member of Parliament. Further north, the River Wye reached its highest level on record, causing overflows that swept away cars and inundated villages. Across the country, a record 515 flood warnings were issued, including five for life-threatening floods. Storm Dennis hit the U.K. only a week after Storm Ciara battered the country, swamping some 800 properties in England alone.
Migrants are easy prey
Nuevo Laredo, Mexico
A staggering number of migrants waiting in Mexico for their U.S. asylum hearings are being abducted and brutalized, according to a Doctors Without Borders report. In an attempt to reduce asylum claims, the Trump administration in 2019 changed U.S. policy to require non-Mexican migrants to wait in Mexico for their immigration court hearings. Some 57,000 people have had to wait for months south of the border. Of those migrants waiting in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, the report says, 75 percent have been abducted for ransom by criminal groups, and 45 percent have suffered violence or rape. “It’s become big business,” said local pastor Diego Robles. “It’s a way for the drug cartels to diversify.”
Deadly fire at children’s home
At least 17 children and babies died last week in a fire at a Haitian children’s home run by an American church. The group home was operated by the Pennsylvania-based Church of Bible Understanding, an organization that lost accreditation for its facilities in Haiti in 2012 after inspections revealed overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. But the church continued to operate two homes in the country; Associated Press reporters visited one in 2013 and found that children were housed in rooms that were dirty and dark. Tax records for 2017, the most recent year available, show that the nonprofit reported revenue of $6.6 million and expenses of $2.2 million. Of the roughly 750 children’s homes in Haiti, which together shelter more than 25,000 poor children, only 35 meet UNICEF standards.
Cuban doctors rehired
The Brazilian government is preparing to rehire hundreds of Cuban doctors who were sacked in 2018 after the incoming administration of President Jair Bolsonaro said it would end the exchange program. In his election campaign, the far-right Bolsonaro complained that Cuba’s Communist government was pocketing most of the doctors’ salaries, and claimed that the medics—who mostly worked in remote, impoverished areas—were forming guerrilla cells. But the Brazilian doctors brought in as replacements have been quitting at high rates, and the shortage of medical care has grown so acute that the government is now bringing back some of the 1,800 Cuban doctors who haven’t yet returned to Cuba.
Pardon for Assange?
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange claims that President Trump offered to pardon him if he would say that Russia was not involved in hacking the Democrats in 2016. Assange’s lawyers told a British court this week that Dana Rohrabacher, a pro-Russia former GOP congressman, visited Assange in 2017 to bring him the offer. The judge ruled the allegation will be admissible in Assange’s extradition trial next week. Assange argues he should not be extradited to the U.S. because the case against him is political, not criminal. He is facing 18 charges under the Espionage Act. U.S. intelligence has concluded that Russian hackers penetrated the servers of the Democratic National Committee and gave thousands of emails to WikiLeaks, which posted them online.
Plot against Muslims
German police announced last week that they had foiled a far-right terrorist plot to stage simultaneous mass-casualty attacks on mosques, politicians, and asylum-seekers. In raids across the country, police arrested 12 men—including one of their own officers who’d been suspended for suspected neo-Nazi links. “It’s shocking what has been revealed here,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Björn Grünewälder. “There are cells here that appear to have become radicalized in such a short span of time.” The suspects had a stockpile of weapons that included guns, grenades, crossbows, and even spiked maces. Muslim groups have asked for police protection at mosques. “We should not have to use private security companies to protect our congregations,” said Aiman Mazyek, chair of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.
Curbing Tatar rights
Schools in the Russian province of Tatarstan have been ordered to cut the number of hours they can teach the Tatar language from four a week down to two, part of President Vladimir Putin’s drive to stamp out ethnic separatism. Russia’s 5 million Tatars, mostly Muslims who speak a Turkic language, are the country’s largest minority. Two years ago, the Kremlin stripped provinces of their right to mandate local-language instruction, and thousands of Tatar-language teachers were fired. Now, say parents in Tatarstan, it is nearly impossible to teach their children in their mother tongue, and Tatar unrest is growing. Last year, activists abroad called on Tatars to refuse to serve in the Russian military. “Putin’s actions will lead to the opposite of what he wants,” said Farit Zakiev, leader of the All-Tatar Public Center.
Kenya is facing a dire shortage of blood supplies in hospitals, months after the Trump administration slashed the budget for fighting AIDS abroad. Kenyan blood drives were funded by money from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program started by President George W. Bush. U.S. spending on the blood transfusion service in Kenya has sunk over the past decade from a high of $6 million a year to $1.4 million last year. American officials said the Kenyan government had advance warning of the cuts but failed to allocate any funding for transfusion drives in its 2020 budget. Kenyans needing transfusions for themselves or their children have resorted to begging for blood on social media. “Blood is like a parachute,” said Joseph Wangendo of Kenya’s Bloodlink Foundation. “If a doctor prescribes it and it’s not there, you will likely die.”
Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing their homes in Idlib, Syria’s last rebel-held province, to evade a showdown between Turkish troops and Syrian regime forces backed by Russia. The Syrian government launched an offensive in Idlib late last year, and 13 Turkish troops stationed at observation posts there have been killed by Syrian fire in recent weeks. Now, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan—who has backed the rebels—has threatened to attack the Assad regime unless its forces leave the province. Displaced civilians have few places to seek safety, because refugee camps near the Turkish border are already overcrowded. Many are sleeping in open fields in freezing conditions. “The situation in the northwest is untenable, even by Syria’s grim standards,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s executive director.
China has taken the extraordinary step of expelling three Wall Street Journal reporters—two Americans and an Australian—in a pique over an op-ed critical of its economy. The Feb. 3 op-ed by Walter Russell Mead, headlined “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia,” argued that China was heading for an economic crisis caused by massive corruption, industrial overcapacity, and a property bubble. China’s Foreign Ministry called the piece “racist.” The three reporters, the first to be expelled from China in more than 20 years, work for the news side of the paper, which is entirely separate from the opinion pages. Meanwhile, the U.S. said this week that it would treat the American operations of five Chinese state-run news organizations as foreign missions, saying they were effectively arms of the Chinese government.
Afghan and American officials voiced cautious optimism this week after the Taliban, Afghan government, and U.S. government all agreed to a weeklong cease-fire in preparation for comprehensive peace talks. “We are going to suspend a significant part of our operations,” said Defense Secretary Mark Esper. If all goes according to plan, he said, the U.S. will reduce its troops in the country from 12,000 to 8,600. Significant stumbling blocks remain: The Taliban still refuses to recognize the Afghan government, as do many Afghans. After five months of delay, the Afghan election commission announced this week that President Ashraf Ghani had narrowly won a second term in the September election, but his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, rejected the outcome and vowed to form a parallel government.
A wall for Trump
Indian authorities have erected a four-foot wall that stretches for a quarter-mile to block President Trump’s view of a slum when he visits the city of Ahmedabad next week. Trump will be in Ahmedabad to attend a “Namaste, Trump” rally that is India’s answer to the “Howdy, Modi” event held in Texas last year for Indian President Narendra Modi. Trump will drive along a road next to the slum, home to more than 2,000 people, when he heads to the rally. At least 45 families who live in tents along the presidential motorcade route have been handed eviction notices. “We have been living here for 20 years,” said resident Sanjay Patani. “This is injustice.” Authorities say the wall was built “for security reasons.” ■