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Manus refugee wins award for exposing ‘cruel’ Australia policy | Papua New Guinea News

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Abdul Aziz Muhamat, a Sudanese refugee activist who has spent years holed up in an Australian immigration detention centre in Papua New Guinea (PNG), has won a prestigious international human rights prize for exposing “the very cruel refugee policy” of Australia‘s government.

The 25-year-old, who has been tirelessly advocating for refugee rights during his five-year detention, was named the winner of the 2019 Martin Ennals Award in the Swiss city of Geneva during a ceremony held on Wednesday night.

Muhamat, who fled the war in Darfur, western Sudan, was was sent to PNG’s Manus Island by authorities after the boat he was travelling on to reach Australian shores was intercepted in 2013 as part of Canberra’s strict and much-criticised offshore immigration processing policy.

More than five years later, Muhamat is still languishing on the remote island where he ‘s working round-the-clock to help some 500 other refugees and asylum seekers – from providing impromptu counselling and talking friends and counterparts out of self-harm and suicide to teaching them English and liaising with journalists and lawyers.

Their detention and living conditions have been denounced as “inhumane” and “systemic torture” by the United Nations and human rights organisations.

“This award sheds light on the very cruel refugee policy of the Australian government,” Muhamat said in an acceptance statement.

“It also brings international attention to the dangers and ill-treatment faced by refugees all over the world, including in countries that claim they uphold the Refugee Convention.”

Muhamat said opposing “this cruel system helps preserve my self-esteem and my human dignity”.






A story of human rights defender on Manus Island in his own words (3:16)

Following a PNG court ruling that declared it it illegal, the Manus Island centre was officially shut down by Australia in late 2017 – its last remaining men violently ejected and moved on to “transition centres” – after a large cohort spent several weeks resisting the power, water, food and medicine cuts, gaining a sizeable amount of media coverage.

Muhamat was at the forefront of the refusal to leave the centre.

“I never felt that I’m free in five-and-a-half years, except those 24 days,” he told Al Jazeera last year. “I felt that people are calling my name, ‘Aziz’, instead of Q and K and zero, zero two.”

Having been moved from the prison-like detention centre, the refugees are now in poorly-serviced camps which they are free to leave. Most, however, stay put, 

For Muhamat, the day-to-day ritual of helping others over the years –  has been part and parcel of survival.

Muhamat was granted a temporary Swiss visa to travel to Geneva to accept the annual award, which is named after a Nobel Peace Prize-winning British activist and been given out to human rights defenders since 1994. He is set to return back to Manus next week.

Since arriving on the island, Muhamat “never stopped raising his voice for those who have been stripped of their most basic rights together with him”, said Dick Oosting, Chair of the Martin Ennals Foundation.

“He showed extraordinary tenacity and courage, always resisting peacefully even after a police officer shot him in the leg.”

“The Australian government must meet its international obligations and put an end to these inhumane practices,” Oosting said.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) in a statement lauded Muhamat’s advocacy work, urging”that solutions be found for all refugees and asylum-seekers under Australia’s offshore processing in Papua New Guinea and Nauru as a matter of urgency.”

Muhamat’s honour comes just weeks after another Manus detainee, Iranian-Kurdish author Behrouz Boochani, was awarded Australia’s richest literary prize for a book he wrote. 

On Wednesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the reopening of an immigration detention camp on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean after his government lost a parliamentary vote on the issue of medical evacuations for refugees in offshore immigration detention.


SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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