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Malaysia: Human Traffickers’ Camps Had 139 Suspected Graves

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A Malaysian Forensic team personnel carries bags of human remains found at the abandoned camps from the Malaysia-Thailand border in Wang Kelian, Malaysia Monday, May 25, 2015. Malaysian authorities said Monday that abandoned jungle camps used by human traffickers contained over 130 suspected graves as well as pens likely used as cages for migrants, shedding more light on a regional trade that preyed on some of Southeast Asia's most desperate people. (AP Photo/Joshua Paul)

A Malaysian Forensic team personnel carries bags of human remains found at the abandoned camps from the Malaysia-Thailand border in Wang Kelian, Malaysia Monday, May 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Joshua Paul)

Eileen Ng, ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

 

WANG KELIAN, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian authorities said Monday a cluster of abandoned jungle camps used by human traffickers contained 139 suspected graves as well as barbed-wire pens likely used to cage migrants, shedding more light on a regional trade that preyed on some of Southeast Asia’s most desperate people.

National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said forensics experts were exhuming the suspected graves found at 28 vacated camps in the hilly jungle area on the border with Thailand where trafficking syndicates were known to operate.

“It is a very sad scene,” Khalid told reporters at a police outpost in the town of Wang Kelian several kilometers (miles) from the camps, one of which appeared large enough to hold about 300 people. “I am shocked. We never expected this kind of cruelty.”

At one forest camp, police found several parts of a decomposed body inside a wooden pen. The parts were placed into white bags and brought to Wang Kelian, and district police chief Rizani Ismail said they would be examined by forensics experts. Police said they would begin digging up other suspected graves — mounds of earth, covered with leaves and marked by sticks — on Tuesday.

“We have discovered 139 of what we believe to be graves,” Khalid said. “We believe they are victims of human trafficking.”

Prime Minister Najib Razak, in Tokyo on an official visit, vowed to find the perpetrators. “I am deeply concerned with graves found on Malaysian soil purportedly connected to people smuggling. We will find those responsible,” he said on Twitter early Monday.

The finding in the northern Malaysian state of Perlis follows a similar discovery earlier this month by police in Thailand who unearthed dozens of bodies from shallow graves on the Thai side of the border. Thai police Maj. Gen. Puthichart Ekkachan said 36 bodies had been found there in seven abandoned camps.

The discoveries have exposed hidden networks of jungle camps run by human smugglers, who have for years held countless desperate people captive while extorting ransoms from their families. Most of those who have fallen victim to the trafficking networks are members of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim community or impoverished migrants from Bangladesh, part of a wave of people who have fled their homelands to reach countries like Malaysia, where they hope to find work or live freely.

As Southeast Asian governments have launched crackdowns in recent weeks amid intensified international pressure and media scrutiny, traffickers have abandoned camps on land and boats at sea to avoid arrest.

Khalid said at least two of the camps found in Malaysia appeared to have been abandoned within the past few weeks, based on the condition of items left behind such as vegetables, rice and almost new cooking utensils. Scattered personal possessions included a pink teddy bear and white children’s sandals, he said, indicating the possible presence of children at the camp.

On three large whiteboards, police pasted dozens of pictures taken at the camps, which ranged in size, with the largest capable of holding about 300 people and smaller ones just a few dozen. Some of the pictures showed large, crudely built pens made from wooden sticks and barbed wire that were believed to be used as cages.

“We think the migrants were imprisoned in these wooden pens,” Khalid said. “They were not allowed to move freely and traffickers kept watch at sentry posts.”

Other items left behind included a rifle pouch, used bullets and bullet casings, he said. Police also found white muslin cloth, used by Muslims in Malaysia to wrap dead bodies, and a wooden stretcher believed to have carried bodies.

The findings were the result of an operation Malaysian authorities conducted from May 11-23, during which they combed the steep jungle area along 50 kilometers (30 miles) of the border with Thailand. Due to the difficult terrain, Khalid said the investigation and forensics analysis could take a few weeks.

Human rights groups and activists say the area on the Thai-Malaysia border has been used for years to smuggle migrants and refugees, including Rohingya Muslims, a long-persecuted minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.

In many cases, they pay human smugglers thousands of dollars for passage, but are instead held for weeks or months, while traffickers extort more money from their families back home. Rights groups say some have been beaten to death, and The Associated Press has documented other cases in which people have been enslaved on fishing boats.

Since May 10 alone, more than 3,600 people — about half of them from Bangladesh and half Rohingya from Myanmar — have landed ashore in Indonesia,Malaysia and Thailand. Thousands more are believed to be trapped at sea in boats abandoned by their captains.

Malaysia and Indonesia announced last week that they would provide temporary shelter for up to one year for migrants recently found or still stranded at sea. The U.S. has said it will settle some of them permanently.

The Rohingya, numbering around 1.3 million in Myanmar, have been called one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Long denied basic rights, they have been driven from their homes in mob attacks in Myanmar’s Rakhine state several times since 2012.

More than 140,000 were displaced and are now living under apartheid-like conditions in crowded camps. More than 100,000 others have fled by sea.

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Associated Press writers Thanyarat Doksone, Jocelyn Gecker and Todd Pitman in Bangkok contributed to this report.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Bay Area

Port of Oakland Aims to Help Agriculture Producers Export Products More Quickly

“The Port — along with our federal and state partners — is ready to do everything we can to help provide room and relief to help our agricultural customers,” said Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan in a statement. The yard is just one step the Port is taking to help agriculture exporters who have had fewer containers in Oakland with which to export their products.

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The Port of Oakland and the Oakland skyline in the late 2010s. (Photo courtesy the Port of Oakland/Kelly Patrick Dugan)
The Port of Oakland and the Oakland skyline in the late 2010s. (Photo courtesy the Port of Oakland/Kelly Patrick Dugan)

By Keith Burbank, Bay City News

The flow of agricultural exports may improve at the Port of Oakland after it sets aside quick-access space for containers, assists exporters, and if more cargo carriers restore service to Oakland, port officials said Monday.

Twenty-five acres will be used to operate an off-terminal, paved yard to store containers for rapid pick-up following their removal from chassis.

The yard, which may open in March, will allow trucks to turn around more quickly than is currently possible in the terminal. Agricultural exporters will also get help using the yard from state and federal agencies.

“The Port — along with our federal and state partners — is ready to do everything we can to help provide room and relief to help our agricultural customers,” said Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan in a statement.

The yard is just one step the Port is taking to help agriculture exporters who have had fewer containers in Oakland with which to export their products.

But it’s not entirely clear the yard will make a huge difference unless more ships stop at the Port to pick up the exports.

“We need the shipping companies to immediately restore the export lines from Oakland to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes said.

Port officials have restored one key route to Tokyo and China. Also, four carriers have recently made Oakland their first stop en route from Asia. But that may not be enough to relieve the shortage of export containers in Oakland.

An import surge in the U.S. has ships waiting to offload cargo in Southern California. When they do, they offload cargo that would typically come to Oakland and then turn around and immediately go back to Asia.

The containers that could be used for exports never make it to Oakland.

Port cargo volume is typically 50% imports and 50% exports so usually enough containers exist at the Port.

Many agricultural exporters and meat producers prefer to ship their products through Oakland because it’s closer than other ports.

The container shortage has been a problem for a year. The problem recently prompted a meeting between farm producers, transportation executives and Port officials and resulted in the steps the Port is now taking.

A solution is important because the state’s agricultural export industry is worth billions of dollars.

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Bay Area

California Goes on Offensive as Omicron Variant Threat Grows 

“CA’s large-scale testing and early detection systems have found the Omicron COVID-19 variant in California,” Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted Dec. 1. “We should assume that it’s in other states as well. There’s no reason to panic — but we should remain vigilant. That means get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask indoors.”

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In California, the Omicron variant was first detected in San Francisco on December 1.
In California, the Omicron variant was first detected in San Francisco on December 1.

By Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

Three days after Thanksgiving, Gov. Gavin Newsom went online to address the new COVID-19 Omicron variant, a version of the virus with at least 50 mutations, according to the World Health Organization.

Twenty-six of those mutations have never been detected before, scientists say.

“California is monitoring the new variant,” Newsom tweeted. “We will continue to be guided by data and science. Right now, the best way we know to protect yourself is to get vaccinated and get your booster. Go today. Don’t wait.”

The variant was first identified by a South African scientist and has since surfaced in several other Southern African and European nations and has now been detected in at least 16 states in the United States, including California.

In California, the Omicron variant was first detected in San Francisco on December 1.

Since then, Alameda County public health officials have confirmed five new cases with mild symptoms. All of them were people who attended a wedding in Wisconsin where they likely contracted the virus.

Newsom responded to the news with a tweet last Wednesday.

“CA’s large-scale testing and early detection systems have found the Omicron COVID-19 variant in California,” Newsom tweeted Dec. 1. “We should assume that it’s in other states as well. There’s no reason to panic — but we should remain vigilant. That means get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask indoors.”

Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-San Diego), a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist, said the state has taken several steps to protect Californians and contain the variant, including “doubling down on COVID-19 vaccination and booster efforts to ensure that all Californians have access to safe, effective and free vaccines.”

Weber was speaking at a briefing organized for Black media on December 3. She said the California Department of Health is monitoring the presence of the variant throughout California and is partnering with the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support local public health departments and health care providers across the state.

“The state is also preparing to increase COVID-19 testing at airports across California for U.S. citizens and legal residents returning from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi,” she said. “These countries are where higher rates of Omicron have been observed and may shift over time.”

Last week, President Joe Biden also pushed for vaccines and boosters in preparation for this new variant on Twitter.

“As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises. For now, the best way to strengthen your protection if you’re already vaccinated is to get a booster shot, immediately,” Biden tweeted.

In a controversial move, Biden has issued a travel ban from eight African countries where the higher numbers of the variant have been reported.

“The WHO has identified a new COVID variant which is spreading through Southern Africa. As a precautionary measure, until we have more information, I am ordering air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries,” Biden tweeted.

This United States’ response has been met with some criticism from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“We call upon all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our southern African sister countries to immediately and urgently reverse their decisions,” Ramaphosa said, arguing that the variant may have been detected in those countries, but there is no proof that it originated there.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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Commentary

COMMENTARY: Muslims in France Face Worsening Climate of Hate Under Leadership of President Macron

For France, which colonized Algeria for more than a century, the idea that people from the former colonies should live the life they want seems unbearable. Many white French people seem to have a fear that those from the former colonies may want to treat the descendants of the European French in the same way that the colonial masters treated us. Assuming always the worst for its Muslim citizens says a lot about the country and its beliefs.

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A demonstration in France by Muslims protesting their treatment under President Macron in 2020.
A demonstration in France by Muslims protesting their treatment under President Macron in 2020.

By Larbi Ben Krima

Editor’s Note: We are accustomed to hearing travel advisories telling us to avoid countries in the midst of civil war or government repression. Last month a Muslim civil rights organization warned Muslims not to travel to a country that many consider to be the birthplace of liberty. The author of this article, a French citizen, explains how France has become an oppressive place for Muslims.

I was born and raised in France to an Algerian family. I, like millions of other French citizens, heard about colonization and the mistreatment it created. There was some progress made, and now, piece by piece, that is being erased.

One year ago, in October 2020, French President Macron decided to launch his 2022 re-election campaign with a speech targeting Muslim people. He used terrorism as an excuse. Everybody in France knew it was really about politics, although the citizens of the world did not know that.

Macron’s government followed up by dissolving organizations that had criticized his Islamophobic government.

Schools, humanitarian NGO’s, mosques, publishing offices, and civil right movements with Muslim participants have been shut down by a government looking for Far Right votes in the next election.

France is still pretending to fight for rights around the world, but these rights are never really applied to its Muslim citizens, who are always seen as a Fifth Column and who always have to prove that they are French enough.

Every Muslim act is seen as a danger to the country. It seems that Muslim prayers threaten the French republic; Muslim food is seen as a challenge to the religion of other French people; and Muslim clothes are seen as an attempt to change France’s way of life. Most religions have special foods, and prayers and clothing. Having these customs should not be made so difficult for us after all these years. What’s the big deal?

For France, which colonized Algeria for more than a century, the idea that people from the former colonies should live the life they want seems unbearable. Many white French people seem to have a fear that those from the former colonies may want to treat the descendants of the European French in the same way that the colonial masters treated us. Assuming always the worst for its Muslim citizens says a lot about the country and its beliefs.

That may explain why this country, which refuses to take accountability for its colonial past, can’t accept the kids who are born and raised here.

Quoting the world-famous psychiatrist and political philosopher Frantz Fanon, “It should not be said that such and such a country is racist, but there are no lynchings or extermination camps there. The truth is, all of this and something more is on the horizon.”

We can say that racism runs deep in France’s institutions and politics, cheered on by the media, with applause from a substantial group who likes what they are hearing.

This is a country where an openly racist media pundit has growing support in his campaign for president, just as Donald Trump did.

France, which always despised the USA, has now became one of the United States of Islamophobia, along with China and India.

A former great country, known for its ideals, France has used its former glory around the world. Recently, the world has come to know what a very small country France has actually become a country that should stop preaching to others what it obviously refuses to apply to itself.

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