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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
'Is this Miami?': An Iraqi family's Colombian odyssey
By Daniela QUINTERO
Bogota (AFP) April 21, 2017


US to honour 'dumb' refugee deal with Australia: Pence
Sydney (AFP) April 22, 2017 - The US will honour a controversial agreement with Australia to take refugees from Pacific island detention centres, Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday -- a deal Donald Trump had previously branded "dumb".

Pence also sought to clear the waters about the location of US supercarrier Carl Vinson that was supposedly steaming towards North Korea, saying it would arrive in the Sea of Japan "in a matter of days".

The vice president was in Sydney for talks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on a trip aimed at mending fences following a surly phone conversation between Trump and Turnbull in January, which rattled a long-standing alliance between the two powers.

Trump reportedly exploded and cut short the telephone call when he was told about a deal to move some refugees from Pacific island camps to America.

"The United States intends to honour the agreement, subject to the results of the vetting processes that now apply to all refugees considered for admission to the United States of America," Pence said.

The US commitment to take the refugees was "a reflection of the enormous importance of the historical alliance between the United States and Australia... whatever reservations the president may have about the details."

But he added that that this "doesn't mean we admire the agreement".

Turnbull thanked Pence for the "very important" commitment.

Pence also praised China's role in the escalating North Korean crisis but renewed calls for Beijing to use its "unique" position to bring Pyongyang to heel.

Tensions between Washington and Pyongyang have soared recently following a series of missile launches amid fears that the North may be readying a sixth nuclear test.

"The steps we're seeing China take, in many ways unprecedented steps, bringing economic pressure to bear on North Korea are very welcome," Pence said.

"We do believe China can do more."

The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier was expected to arrive in the Sea of Japan before the end of the month, Pence said.

The US Navy on April 8 said it was directing a naval strike group headed by the Vinson to "sail north" from waters off Singapore, as a "prudent measure" to deter the hermit regime.

Trump and other officials followed up with comments that made it sound like the ships were steaming towards the region.

"We are sending an armada. Very powerful," said President Donald Trump, while Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said the Vinson was "on her way up".

But the Navy admitted Tuesday the ships were in fact sent in the opposite direction -- away from Singapore and towards Australia to conduct drills with the Australian navy.

Pence said Wednesday that the United States would counter any North Korean attack with an "overwhelming and effective" response.

His comments came after a senior North Korean official warned the regime had no intention of scaling down its missile programme, pledging weekly tests and threatening "all-out war" if the US took any action against it.

Trump's deputy visited South Korea and Japan before arriving in Australia to reassure allies fretting over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes.

After fleeing their home in war-torn Iraq, the Hadi family dreamed of getting a fresh start in the United States.

But after being cheated by people smugglers, they found themselves someplace altogether different: Colombia.

At the end of an arduous two-month journey that started in Turkey, the Hadis got off the ship that had carried them across the ocean, thinking they were in the US.

Following the Iraqi smuggler they had paid $30,000 to guide the five of them, they took a bus, spent the night in a shabby hotel -- and only then realized something had gone awry.

"This is United States? This is Miami?" Malak Hadi asked at the reception desk the next morning.

"She said, 'No.' She said, 'This is Colombia, this is Cali,'" the 22-year-old refugee recalled in halting English.

That's when the family -- Malak, her mother, father, sister and brother -- discovered their guide had vanished.

That was a year and a half ago.

They were stranded in Cali, a city plagued by violent crime fed by the Colombian cocaine trade, the world's largest.

With no money, speaking little English and no Spanish, they were stuck sleeping on the streets alongside homeless people and addicts.

Malak remembers being terrified.

"In my country when you hear about Colombia is just drugs, is just mafia, is nothing else," she said.

- One war to another -

After four days in Cali, they got in touch with the Colombian immigration authorities, who arranged a translator for them.

They decided to go to Medellin and then continue their journey north toward the US -- like thousands of migrants who pass through Colombian on their way to seek the American dream.

But by chance their father met an Arabic speaker at a bus stop along the way, who told them about an Islamic cultural center in Bogota.

They changed course, headed to the capital and were welcomed at the Ahlul Bayt Islamic Cultural House.

"When we came inside the mosque, it was like a miracle for us," said Malak.

She believes that turn of fortune is the only reason they aren't sleeping on the streets today, she said.

Sitting on a prayer might, her green eyes wet with tears, she commented on the bitter irony of fleeing the war in Iraq, only to end up in a country torn by more than half a century of conflict between the army, leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and drug cartels.

Still, she said, it would be hard to get worse than life in Iraq, where the army is battling the jihadists of the Islamic State group in a brutal war that has many civilians trapped in the middle.

"Life is impossible every day in my country," she said.

"They just come and kill you, take the girls, the beautiful ones, and then kill the others."

- US 'the same' -

When the Hadis first fled their home on the outskirts of Baghdad, they went to Malaysia, hoping to make it to Australia.

They never managed.

So they set their sights on the United States. But the smugglers they paid to guide them robbed them blind, they say.

"They take the phones, they take the passports and they take the money we had... they take everything," said Malak.

"Everything was so hard, but I also learn much stuff that make me grow up."

Today, the family lives in a single rented room, and keeps its few belongings in plastic bags.

Colombia granted them refugee status eight months ago.

But they have struggled to find work without speaking Spanish. Malak, a nanny for a Palestinian family, and her sister, Rayim, who shapes eyebrows at a salon, are the family's only breadwinners.

Their parents, Hussein and Alaa, would like to open a restaurant. A local charitable institute donated tables and chairs, but they have not managed to find the guarantor they would need to sign a lease.

Today, the family's lingering dreams of leaving for somewhere else are mixed with a budding attachment to Colombia -- and the suspicion that leaving would not change much, anyway.

"I like this country. I mean I love it, trust me, I love Colombians. I love the people here, they have a sweet heart," said Malak. "But it's hard for us to live here."

Still, she said, "I don't want to go to United States because I'm sure is the same."

DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Sri Lanka ends search for garbage survivors as toll hits 32
Colombo (AFP) April 19, 2017
Sri Lanka on Wednesday ended the grim search for survivors five days after a huge garbage mountain collapsed onto a slum, killing 32 people and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents. Another 11 people were injured when the 300-foot (90-metre) dump partially collapsed on Friday as Sri Lankans celebrated their traditional new year. "We are still carrying out clearing operations," ... read more

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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
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