Italy migrant rescues hit new high as Libya exit rises

The latest operations confirm the pattern of a sharp upward spike in winter departures from troubled Libya.

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Aid groups believe the exodus is being driven by worsening living conditions for migrants in the north African state and by fears the sea route to Europe could soon be closed to traffickers.

Migrant arrivals in Italy from its former colony are up by between 57 and 81 percent this year in comparison to the opening two months of 2015 and 2016, according to Italian interior ministry figures.

The coastguard said 10 rescue operations had taken place on Friday to help migrants aboard four large rubber dinghies and six smaller wooden vessels.

Norway’s Siem Pilot, part of the European border agency Frontex’s mission, and the Aquarius, operated by French NGO SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF), carried out the rescue operations.

Amid relatively calm seas, there were no reports of fresh casualties. The United Nations refugee agency estimates 440 people have lost their lives trying to make the crossing from Libya to Italy since the start of 2017.

Smoking humour

More than half a million migrants have reached Italy from Libya since the current migrant crisis began to spiral out of control at the end of 2013.

The vast majority of them have been Africans but the latest batches have included scores of Syrians and Bangladeshis.

Crew on the Aquarius told AFP that the people it had picked up included 16 nationalities, including a Syrian family of six with the two twin babies.

They were among seven less than one-year-old infants rescued by the Aquarius, which also saved 12 toddlers aged one to four.

Tom Kington, a reporter for British newspaper The Times, was onboard the NGO-operated boat and recounted a lighter moment in the day’s dramatic events.

“Syrian man with sense of humour picked up today on #Aquarius when told he couldn’t smoke: ‘I want to go back to Libya'” Kington posted on Twitter.

One of the Syrian survivors, who only wanted to be identified as M., told the crew that he had been living in Libya for three years before deciding he had to try and get to Europe, where he has a brother living in Germany. 

“My family is still in the region of Aleppo. I called them yesterday before leaving,” the 35-year-old English teacher said.

‘Only the blacks’

“In Libya, it is a catastrophic situation, the militias, no money, no government, wars between two cities… I think that by the end of this year, there will not be any Syrians left in Libya,” he said.

“Myself, I was hoping to return to Syria, but I couldn’t. I had no other choice.”

A Bangladeshi, J., said conditions in Libya were worse than those he and his compatriots had fled.

“We all have left Bangladesh because of violence and poverty, the situation is very bad there,” said the former Dhaka resident.

“But Libya is definitely worse. You can’t go to the market without fear of being shot.”

A survivor from Cameroon said black Africans were even more vulnerable.

“The Libyans sell people. You don’t even realise at first that it is a kidnapping, someone tells you to go there for work but then if you ask to be paid for your work they threaten to kill you.

“The situation is very bad. When they see a black, they will take him, call his family to send money. Only the blacks, not the other people. The only way out of it is to escape. You always have to hide when you’re black in Libya.” 

Bevan French key to Eels’ resurgence

Like the rest of Parramatta, Bevan French is out to prove 2016 wasn’t a fluke.

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While the Eels brand took an absolute battering during a NRL season marred by controversy after controversy, Brad Arthur’s side showed the pluck and resilience of a top eight side.

Constantly down on troops, battered by a torrent of negative headlines, the Eels often found a way to win when they had no right.

While they missed the top eight due to the 12-point deduction for rorting the salary cap, they lost no admirers.

Among the beacons of hope for the western Sydney franchise was French, a livewire 21-year-old outside back who enjoyed a rookie year like few others in living memory.

According to Fox Sports Stats, he scored 19 tries in 13 games including nine his last five and three hat-tricks.

But the scary thing is, he’s expected to get better this year.

Arthur moved him to from the wing to fullback in the final two games of 2016 and will wear the No.1 fulltime this year.

“It was an eye-opener to see how fit you have to be at the back,” French said.

“You clock up a lot of kilometres so I’ve been working on my fitness over the pre-season, the physical side of things and I have been trying to put on some weight but not too much because I don’t want to jeopardise my speed.

“The goal is to put on weight gradually so my body gets used to carrying extra.”

French has endured a challenging learning curve over the summer trying to learn the finer points of playing No.1 – positional play, organising the defensive line and counting numbers.

Just as French is confident of avoiding second-year syndrome, the Eels say they can return to the top eight.

Their campaign begins against Manly at Lottoland on Sunday afternoon and they will have their best 17 on the park for the first time in a long time.

Manly are also facing a new era with Brett Stewart, Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai in retirement and Blake Green coming in to partner Daly Cherry-Evans.

The Eels’ fate will lie with the returning Corey Norman, winger-turned-playmaker Clint Gutherson and French.

“I was pretty lucky, scoring a few tries and people were asking how are you going to top that? It doesn’t bother me how many tries I score, as long as we come home with two points,” French said.

“I’m probably going to be on the opposition tip sheet, I’m not a rookie anymore.

“It’s just about being consistent and doing my own role.”

STATS THAT MATTER

* Parramatta will be aiming for six straight against Manly for the first time in club history.

* Parramatta will be aiming for three straight wins at Brookvale for the first time since 1977-79.

* Manly won just four of its 12 home games in 2016, its worst effort since 2003.

Tragic twist in Brisbane nanny rape case

A Polish nanny has died in a traffic incident in her homeland, possibly unaware a Queensland man had been charged with raping her in Australia late last year.

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The 24-year-old woman was walking in Petrie, north of Brisbane, on November 25 when she was attacked in the car park of a council complex.

She suffered serious head and facial injuries, including a broken nose, and had to undergo surgery before returning to Poland in December.

After repeated calls for public assistance from police, a 28-year-old Petrie man was arrested on Thursday and charged with rape and acts intended to cause grievous bodily harm.

But as he faced a closed hearing in Brisbane Magistrates Court on Friday, police released a statement revealing the victim had recently died in a traffic incident in Poland.

Details surrounding the incident are not yet known but Acting Detective Superintendent Mike O’Dowd said officers were making inquiries overseas.

“It is a sad set of circumstances,” Supt O’Dowd said.

“I think everyone who’d been involved in the job have been moved by that.”

Supt O’Dowd said CCTV and scientific evidence had been of great assistance in the “methodical, detailed” investigation.

He said the case against the man would proceed despite the death of the victim, who may not have known someone had been charged over the attack.

During the investigation police released CCTV footage of three people they had identified as persons of interest who were in the area at the time of the attack.

Forensic tests were carried out on a number of items found at the scene, including a buckle bearing a cross with the Star of David in the middle.

“It was of a sexual nature and it was a serious category of that,” Detective Senior Constable Clinton Olsson said of the crime in January.

“It was a very horrific attack … it does appear to be a completely random attack.”

The accused man was denied bail and had his matter adjourned to April 3.

Orphanage abuse in Adelaide aired at UK inquiry

A former child migrant has told a UK inquiry she was constantly thrashed by a “brute” of a mother superior at an Adelaide orphanage and was sexually assaulted there in the early 1950s.

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The woman, now aged 79, told the child sex abuse inquiry sitting in London on Friday that her mother was too poor to keep her so at age three she was put into a Catholic orphanage in England.

Known only as A5 to protect her identity, she said she was regularly beaten by the nuns before being “deported” to Australia aged 11 in 1949 and sent to the Goodwood orphanage in Adelaide.

There the beatings continued and A5 said she once overheard the mother superior laughing and boasting to other nuns about how many floggings she had given girls that day.

“She was an absolute brute,” A5 said.

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She received her worst beating after pinching a nun’s corset off the washing line and draping them on a statue of St Patrick.

A5 said she was held down with her face into the carpet as the mother superior lashed her with a strap all over her body until other nuns cried out for her to stop.

She said she had so many black and blue bruises from the beating she was unable to get out of bed for days.

In another incident she and other girls told a visiting archbishop the mother superior constantly beat them with her strap, prompting him to make the nun promise not to do it.

But that night the mother superior beat the girls with a broken chair leg, saying she was “trying to knock the devil” out of them.

A5 said that when she was in her early teens she went to feed the chickens but was pushed into the wheat bin by a gardener who groped her all over and digitally penetrated her.

She said her screams alerted another gardener who threw her attacker to the ground and pulled her out of the bin, at which point she started bashing the offender over the head with the metal wheat scoop.

“I couldn’t stop, I wanted to beat him to death.”

She was pulled off by the other gardener but thought she would be in trouble with the police for bashing her attacker.

The gardener had a blood-stained bandage round his head the next day but he kept his job and the incident was hushed up.

A5 later learned he had molested other girls and raped one but she told the inquiry the mother superior’s attitude was that the gardeners were “good Catholic men” who wouldn’t do such things.

A5 said the nuns “tried to kill the child inside me” and after leaving the orphanage she never went back to church.

She said all orphanages should be closed down and children put in family homes to be properly cared for.

The Australian government issued an apology in 2009 for the cruelty shown to child migrants and the UK government apologised in 2010 for its part in the child migration program.

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25).

Parents fearing deportation pick guardians for US children

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) advocacy group has been receiving about 10 requests a day from parents who want to put in place temporary guardianships for their children, said spokesman Jorge-Mario Cabrera.

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Last year, the group said it received about two requests a month for guardianship letters and notarization services.

At the request of a nonprofit organization, the National Lawyers Guild in Washington DC put out a call this week for volunteer attorneys to help immigrants fill out forms granting friends or relatives the right to make legal and financial decisions in their absence.

In New Jersey, immigration attorney Helen Ramirez said she is getting about six phone calls a day from parents. Last year, she said, she had no such calls.

“Their biggest fear is that their kids will end up in foster care,” Ramirez said.

The calls began before Reuters reported on Friday evening Washington time in an exclusive that the Republican Administration was considering separating women and children.

Women and children crossing together illegally into the United States could be separated by US authorities under a proposal being considered by the Department of Homeland Security, according to three government officials.

Part of the reason for the proposal is to deter mothers from migrating to the United States with their children, said the officials, who have been briefed on the proposal.

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President Donald Trump’s administration has issued directives to agents to more aggressively enforce immigration laws and more immigrants are coming under scrutiny by the authorities.

For parents of US citizens who are ordered removed, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency “accommodates, to the extent practicable, the parents’ efforts to make provisions” for their children, said ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez. She said that might include access to a lawyer, consular officials and relatives for detained parents to execute powers of attorney or apply for passports and buy airline tickets if the parents decide whether or not to take the children with them.

Randy Capps of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a Washington-based non-profit that analyzes the movement of people worldwide, said that while putting contingency plans in place is a good idea, he does not think the level of fear is justified.

During the previous administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, the likelihood of both parents being deported was slim, Capps said.  

Parents who immigrated illegally to the United States are requesting advocates to help secure care for their children.AAP

He doubts there will be a huge shift under Republican Trump toward deporting both parents.

“The odds are still very low but not as low as they were – and this is just the beginning of the administration,” he said.

About five million children under the age of 18 are living with at least one parent who is in the country illegally, according to a 2016 study by MPI. Most of the children, 79 percent, were U.S. citizens, the study found.

In the second half of 2015, ICE removed 15,422 parents who said they have at least one U.S.-born child, according to ICE data.

Obama was criticized for being the “deporter in chief” after he expelled more than 400,000 people in 2012, the most by any president in a single year. In 2014, the Obama administration began focusing on a narrower slice of immigrants, those who had recently entered the country or committed serious felonies. Trump has said he would still prioritize criminals for deportation.

Talks between the US and Mexico about illegal immigration continue. AAP

‘Worried all the time’

In rural New Jersey, Seidy Martinez and her husband Jose Gomez have begun the difficult conversations with their 10-year-old daughter about what would happen if her parents were deported.

Martinez, a house cleaner, and Gomez, who works on a horse farm, are both from Honduras. They entered the United States illegally, and do not have papers, unlike their daughter, who has been granted asylum, and their 3-year-old son, a U.S. citizen.

“Now we are worried all the time. We don’t have anything that would allow us to stay here,” said Martinez. “Our main concern is what will happen to our children.”

She has told her daughter that she could live with her aunt in Miami and is considering drafting paperwork that would give her relative some legal rights if she and her husband are deported. The 10-year old tries to comfort her mother. “She tells me, ‘Mami, tranquila. Don’t be afraid, I am scared too but don’t worry everything will be OK.'”

‘If mum doesn’t come home’

Rebecca Kitson, an immigration attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico, says she advises her increasingly nervous clients to have the kind of conversations Martinez and her husband are having with their children.

She said she urges parents to be specific in their instructions. “If Mom doesn’t come home by a specific time, who do [the kids] call?” said Kitson.

Immigration groups are offering low-cost services. CHIRLA, for example, offers a free sample letter and help filling it out, which then must be notarized at a cost of about $10. But some parents here illegally say they have had trouble finding affordable help.

Melvin Arias, 39, a New Jersey landscaper from Costa Rica who entered the United States illegally 13 years ago, said he decided after hearing news of stepped-up immigration enforcement to take legal precautions for his five-year-old son and six-month old daughter, who are both U.S. citizens.

But when he asked for help from two different lawyers, Arias was told preparing legal documents would cost him between $700 and $1,250. He is looking for a cheaper way to obtain the paperwork he needs.

“If there comes a time when both of us have a problem, I want there to be a responsible person who can come and get [the children] for us, to take them to wherever we might be,” Arias said.