Saturday, 29/2/2020 | 12:53 UTC+0
Libyan Newswire

Italy’s newest migration clampdown, a US aid clawback, and worries in Kashmir: The Cheat Sheet

Euros 1m Italian fine for migrant rescue ships

In yet another step towards what critics refer to as the criminalisation of humanitarian aid � and another win for Italian Interior Minister (and Deputy Prime Minister) Matteo Salvini � Italy's parliament on Monday voted in favour of a bill that drastically hikes the punishments for NGO boats that rescue migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean. The new law boosts the possible fine for vessels operating in Italian waters without permission from 50,000 to one million euros, threatens to arrest their captains, and allows for the boats to be impounded. It's the latest in a series of moves by Salvini and his far-right League party to crack down on migration and the NGOs that help people at sea. That effort has included attempts to bring charges against Medecins Sans FrontiAres and SOS Mediterranee, who together restarted search and rescue operations off the coast of Libya this week and almost immediately faced problems, as Malta refused to allow their ship to refuel in its harbour.

Trump eyes unspent aid funds

President Donald Trump's administration is attempting to claw back billions of dollars in unspent international aid funds. The Office of Management and Budget requested that the US government's international development arm, USAID, and the State Department freeze new spending across a range of programmes and tally unspent funds at the end of the financial year, on 30 September. Under US budgeting rules, "unobligated resources" can be cancelled if not spent by the deadline. The Trump White House proposed a similar move, known as rescission, last year to claim back about $3.5 billion, but dropped it after resistance from Congress. This year the amount would be similar, and some Democratic lawmakers have again vowed to block the move. Sam Worthington, CEO of US-based NGO alliance InterAction, said the move, first reported by The Washington Post, threatens the effectiveness of US assistance and puts America's global leadership at risk. Some 90 NGOs have added their objections in a joint statement. The earmarked funds included amounts for peacekeeping, the UN, and international health efforts. The combined budget of USAID and State is around $40 billion, of which $19.2 billion is aid spent through USAID.

Kashmir on lockdown

It has been a week of heightened tensions and uncertainty after India's government abolished special status for Indian-administered Kashmir. The move could strip autonomy from Jammu and Kashmir state and split it into two separate territories. Authorities have shut down internet and phone services, closed schools, banned public gatherings, increased troop levels, and put prominent Kashmir politicians under house arrest. Jammu and Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority state in the Hindu-majority country. Critics say India's actions could usher in radical demographic changes � and escalate tensions in a disputed region where authorities are already accused of rampant rights abuses. Kashmir is home to a decades-long insurgency, but local groups say crackdowns are driving young Kashmiris toward militancy. Last year was Kashmir's deadliest in a decade, with at least 586 people killed, and the bloodshed has continued, with 271 deaths through the first half of 2019, according to local rights monitors. India and Pakistan both claim the contested Kashmir region, and border flare-ups are common.

Ebola vaccination trial rolled out in Uganda

Efforts to combat Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo have so far centred on an experimental vaccine produced by American pharmaceutical company Merck, but there are concerns about stocks of the vaccine as the outbreak � the second deadliest ever � has entered its second year. Last week neighbouring Uganda launched a two-year trial of a second vaccine, inoculating some 800 health workers and others who would be more likely to come into contact with the disease. The vaccine regime, which requires two doses 56 days apart � unlike the Merck vaccine, which only requires a one-off dose � has already been tested on some 6,000 people in Europe, the United States, and Africa. The vaccine is manufactured by Janssen Vaccines & Prevention B.V., part of the Janssen Pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson. The Congolese government has been reluctant to use the Janssen vaccine, despite a May recommendation to do so by the World Health Organisation's panel of experts. In addition to providing longer-lasting and stronger immunity, experts say the Janssen vaccine, unlike the Merck one, has the potential to protect people against several different strains of Ebola. The current outbreak has killed more than 1,850 people, including a five-year-old boy in Uganda who had travelled to an affected area in eastern Congo.

Source: The New Humanitarian