Exclusive: New global lab network will compare COVID-19 vaccines head-to-head

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – A major non-profit health emergencies group has set up a global laboratory network to assess data from potential COVID-19 vaccines, allowing scientists and drugmakers to compare them and speed up selection of the most effective shots.

Speaking to Reuters ahead of announcing the labs involved, Melanie Saville, director of vaccine R&D at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), said the idea was to “compare apples with apples” as drugmakers race to develop an effective shot to help control the COVID-19 pandemic.

The centralized network is the first of its kind to be set up in response to a pandemic.

In a network spanning Europe, Asia and North America, the labs will centralize analysis of samples from trials of COVID-19 candidates “as though vaccines are all being tested under one roof”, Saville said, aiming to minimize the risk of variation in results.

“When you start off (with developing potential new vaccines) especially with a new disease, everyone develops their own assays, they all use different protocols and different reagents – so while you get a readout, the ability to compare between different candidates is very difficult,” she told Reuters.

“By taking the centralized lab approach … it will give us a chance to really make sure we are comparing apples with apples.”

The CEPI network will initially involve six labs, one each in Canada, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Bangladesh and India, Saville said.

Hundreds of potential COVID-19 vaccines are in various stages of development around the world, with shots developed in Russia and China already being deployed before full efficacy trials have been done, and front-runners from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca likely to have final-stage trial results before year-end.

Typically, the immunogenicity of potential vaccines is assessed in individual lab analyses, which aim to see whether biomarkers of immune response – such as antibodies and T-cell responses – are produced after clinical trial volunteers receive a dose, or doses, of the vaccine candidate.

But with more than 320 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in the works, Saville said, the many differences in data collection and evaluation methods are an issue.

As well as potential variations in markers of immunity, there are differences in how and where samples are collected, transported and stored – all of which can impact the quality and usefulness of the data produced, and make comparisons tricky.

And with a range of different vaccine technologies being explored – from viral vector vaccines to ones based on messenger RNA – standard evaluation of their true potential “becomes very complex”, she said.

“With hundreds of COVID-19 vaccines in development … it’s essential that we have a system that can reliably evaluate and compare the immune response of candidates currently undergoing testing,” she said.

By centralizing the analysis in a lab network, much of what Saville called the “inter-laboratory variability” can be removed, allowing for head-to-head comparisons.

CEPI says all developers of potential COVID-19 vaccines can use the centralized lab network for free to assess their candidates against a common protocol. For now, the network will assess samples from early-stage vaccine candidate testing and first and second stage human trials, but CEPI said it hoped to expand its capacity to late stage (Phase III) trial data in the coming months.

Results produced by the network will be sent back to the developer, with neither CEPI nor the network owning the data.

CEPI itself is co-funding nine of the potential COVID-19 vaccines in development, including candidates from Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax and CureVac.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Mark Potter)

Cyclone kills at least 82 in India, Bangladesh, causes widespread flooding

By Ruma Paul and and Subrata Nagchoudhury

KOLKATA/DHAKA (Reuters) – The most powerful cyclone to strike eastern India and Bangladesh in over a decade killed at least 82 people, officials said, as rescue teams scoured devastated coastal villages, hampered by torn down power lines and flooding over large tracts of land.

Mass evacuations organized by authorities before Cyclone Amphan made landfall undoubtedly saved countless lives, but the full extent of the casualties and damage to property would only be known once communications were restored, officials said.

In the Indian state of West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Thursday that at least 72 people had perished – most of them either electrocuted or killed by trees uprooted by winds that gusted up to 185 km per hour (115 mph).

In neighboring Bangladesh, the initial toll was put at 10.

“I have never seen such a cyclone in my life. It seemed like the end of the world. All I could do was to pray… Almighty Allah saved us,” Azgar Ali, 49, a resident of Satkhira district on the Bangladesh coast told Reuters.

Mohammad Asaduzzaman, a senior police official in the area said the storm tore off tin roofs, snapped power lines and left many villages inundated.

When the cyclone barrelled in from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday the storm surge of around five meters resulted in flooding across the low-lying coastal areas.

Reuters Television footage shot in West Bengal showed upturned boats on the shore, people wading through knee-deep water and buses crashed into each other. More images showed villagers trying to lift fallen electricity poles, fishermen hauling their boats out of a choppy sea, and uprooted trees lying strewn across the countryside.

Designated a super cyclone, Amphan has weakened since making landfall. Moving inland through Bangladesh, it was downgraded to a cyclonic storm on Thursday by the Indian weather office. And the storm was expected to subside into a depression later.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted a tweet expressing concern over the people suffering in West Bengal.

“Have been seeing visuals from West Bengal on the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan. In this challenging hour, the entire nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal,” he said.

Concern was growing over flooding in the Sundarbans, an ecologically-fragile region straddling the Indian-Bangladesh border, best known for thick mangrove forests and its tiger reserve.

“The tidal surge submerged some part of the forest,” said Belayet Hossain, a forest official on the Bangladesh side of the forest. “We have seen trees uprooted, the tin-roofs of the guard towers blown off,” he said.

Over on the Indian side of the Sundarbans, a village official said embankments surrounding a low-lying island, where some 5,000 people live, had been washed away, and he had been unable to contact authorities for help.

“We have not been able inform them about anything since last night, the official, Sanjib Sagar, told Reuters.

MASS EVACUATIONS

Authorities in both countries managed to evacuate more than three million people, moving them to storm shelters before Amphan struck. But the evacuation effort was focused on communities that lay directly in the cyclone’s path, leaving villages on the flanks still vulnerable.

The airport in Kolkata, West Bengal’s state capital, lay underwater and several neighborhoods in the city of 14 million people have had no electricity since the storm struck, according to residents.

After the storm passed people were trying to retrieve articles from the rubble of their shops in the city.

Pradip Kumar Dalui, an official in the state’s South 24 Parganas area, said that storm waters breached river embankments in several places, flooding over half a dozen villages, that were home for more than 100,000 people.

Electricity lines and phone connections were down in many places, but so far no deaths had been reported in this area, he said.

The cyclone came at a time when the two countries are battling to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and some evacuees were initially reluctant to leave their homes for fear of possible infection in the packed storm shelters.

 

(Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in New Delhi, Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneshwar, Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Cyclone kills 14 in India, Bangladesh leaving trail of destruction

By Subrata Nagchoudhary and Ruma Paul

KOLKATA/DHAKA (Reuters) – A powerful cyclone pounded eastern India and Bangladesh on Wednesday, killing at least 14 people and destroying thousands of homes, officials said, leaving authorities struggling to mount relief efforts amid a surging coronavirus outbreak.

The populous Indian state of West Bengal took the brunt of Cyclone Amphan, which barrelled out of the Bay of Bengal with gusting winds of up to 185 km per hour (115 mph) and a storm surge of around five meters.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said at least 10 people had died in the state, and two districts been completely battered by one of the strongest storms to hit the region in several years.

“Area after area has been devastated. Communications are disrupted,” Banerjee said, adding that although 500,000 people had been evacuated, state authorities had not entirely anticipated the ferocity of the storm.

With rains continuing, she said the hardest hits areas were not immediately accessible. Federal authorities said they could only make a proper assessment of the destruction on Thursday morning.

“We are facing greater damage and devastation than the CoVID-19,” Banerjee said, referring to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which has so far killed 250 people in the state.

Members of National Disaster Rescue Force (NDRF) remove a branch of an uprooted tree after Cyclone Amphan made its landfall, in Digha, near the border between the eastern states of West Bengal and Odisha, India, May 20, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer NO ARCHIVES. NO RESALES.

In West Bengal’s capital city, Kolkata, strong winds upturned cars and felled trees and electricity poles. Parts of the city were plunged into darkness.

An official in the adjoining Hooghly district said thousands of mud homes were damaged by raging winds.

In neighboring Bangladesh, at least four people were killed, officials said, with power supplies cut off in some districts.

Authorities there had shifted around 2.4 million people to more than 15,000 storm shelters this week. Bangladeshi officials also said they had moved hundreds of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, living on a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal, to shelter.

But officials said they feared that standing crops could be damaged and large tracts of fertile land in the densely-populated country washed away.

“Fortunately, the harvesting of the rice crop has almost been completed. Still, it could leave a trail of destruction,” said Mizanur Rahman Khan, a senior official in the Bangladesh agriculture ministry.

Cyclones frequently batter parts of eastern India and Bangladesh between April and December, often forcing the evacuations of tens of thousands and causing widespread damage.

SURGE AND HIGH TIDE

Surging waters broke through embankments surrounding an island in Bangladesh’s Noakhali district, destroying more than 500 homes, local official Rezaul Karim said.

“We could avoid casualties as people were moved to cyclone centers earlier,” Karim said.

Embankments were also breached in West Bengal’s Sundarban delta, where weather authorities had said the surge whipped up by the cyclone could inundate up to 15 km inland.

The ecologically-fragile region straddling the Indian-Bangladesh border is best known for thick mangrove forests that are a critical tiger habitat and is home to around 4 million people in India.

On the Sundarbans’ Ghoramara island, resident Sanjib Sagar said several embankments surrounding settlements had been damaged, and some flooding had started.

“A lot of houses have been damaged,” he told Reuters by phone.

Anamitra Anurag Danda, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation think-tank who has extensively studied the Sundarbans, said that embankments across the area may have been breached.

“The cyclone surge coincided with the new moon high tides. It is devastation in the coastal belt,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESHWAR, Writing by Rupam Jain and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Nick Macfie, Alex Richardson and Nick Zieminski)

Cyclone Amphan tears into India, Bangladesh, destroys homes, whips up storm surge

By Subrata Nagchoudhary and Ruma Paul

KOLKATA/DHAKA (Reuters) – A powerful cyclone tore into eastern India and Bangladesh on Wednesday, destroying mud houses and embankments and whipping up a storm surge along the coast, officials said, after millions of people were moved out of its path.

At least one 70-year-old man was killed by a falling tree in Bangladesh’s coastal Bhola district, a police official said. The low-lying country has evacuated 2.4 million people to shelters.

Another 650,000 people have been moved to safety in the eastern Indian states of Odisha and West Bengal, authorities said, an operation carried out amid surging coronavirus infections.

It was too early to estimate a toll on life or damage to property.

Cyclone Amphan began moving inland with winds gusting up to 185 kph, Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, director-general of the India Meteorological Department, told reporters.

Mohapatra said that the storm surge could rise to around five meters in the Sundarbans delta, home to around four million people and thick mangrove forests that are a critical tiger habitat.

“Our estimate is that some areas 10-15 kilometers from the coast could be inundated,” Mohapatra said.

On the Sundarbans’ Ghoramara island, resident Sanjib Sagar said several embankments surrounding settlements had been damaged, and some flooding had started.

“A lot of houses have been damaged,” he told Reuters by phone.

The storm will also sweep past Kolkata, a sprawling city of 4.5 million people, where strong winds uprooted trees and electricity poles, littering several streets, television showed.

A home ministry official said authorities in West Bengal and neighboring Odisha had struggled to house thousands of evacuees as shelters were being used as coronavirus quarantine centers.

Extra shelters were being prepared in markets and government buildings with allowances made for social distancing, while masks were being distributed to villagers.

Police in West Bengal said some people were unwilling to go to the shelters because they were afraid of being infected by the coronavirus and many were refusing to leave their livestock.

“We have literally had to force people out of their homes, make them wear masks and put them in government buildings,” said a senior police official in Kolkata.

In Bangladesh, standing crops could be damaged and large tracts of fertile land washed away, officials said. Farmers were being helped to move produce and hundreds of thousands of animals to higher ground.

“Fortunately, the harvesting of the rice crop has almost been completed. Still it could leave a trail of destruction,” Mizanur Rahman Khan, a senior official in the Bangladesh agriculture ministry, said.

Bangladeshi officials also said they had moved hundreds of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, living on a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal, to shelter.

(GRAPHIC: Map of cyclone path – https://ppe.graphics.reuters.com/ASIA-STORM/INDIA-BANGLADESH/xklpykdqpgd/Amphan-cyclone.jpg)

(Additional reporting by Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESHWAR, Writing by Rupam Jain and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Nick Macfie)

Bangladesh sentences 16 to death for killing teenager in harassment case

Bangladesh sentences 16 to death for killing teenager in harassment case
DHAKA (Reuters) – The principal of a religious school in Bangladesh was among 16 people sentenced to death on Thursday for the murder of a teenage girl who refused to withdraw a complaint of sexual harassment against him, the public prosecutor said.

The perpetrators poured kerosene over Nusrat Jahan, 18, and set her on fire on the roof of her madrasa in April in the southeastern district of Feni. Police said in their charge-sheet the murder was carried out on the orders of the principal.

“The judgment proves that no one is above the law,” public prosecutor Hafez Ahmed told reporters after the court verdict.

He said the defense lawyers had tried unsuccessfully to establish that Jahan had committed suicide.

Defense lawyer Giasuddin Nannu said all the convicts will challenge the verdict in the High Court.

Jahan’s death sparked public outrage and mass demonstrations calling for her killers to be punished. She had faced pressure to withdraw a complaint to police in March accusing the school principal of attempted rape, her family said.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had met her family and vowed to bring the killers to justice.

Two female classmates and two local leaders of her party were among those convicted.

After the murder, the government instructed some 27,000 educational institutions to form committees to prevent sexual assaults.

“I can’t forget her for a moment. I still feel the pain that she went through,” mother Shirin Akhtar said as she burst into tears at her home following the verdict.

Jahan’s brother, Mahmudul Hasan Noman, demanded that the death sentences be carried out swiftly and sought protection for his family against reprisals.

“We live in fear. We were threatened even today in the courtroom,” Noman said.

Bangladesh has seen a dramatic rise in the number of rape cases in recent months, with 217 women and children raped in September, the highest in any single month since 2010, according to a report published by Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, a women’s rights group.

Many more cases go unreported because women fear being stigmatized. Rights activists attribute the increasing number of rapes to a lack of awareness, a culture of impunity, moral decadence, and people of influence protecting suspected rapists for political reasons.

Even when survivors file a complaint, prosecution is very rare and takes years to conclude.

“This verdict has set an example. It shows that with utmost sincerity we can ensure justice within our existing system,” said the group’s head, Ayesha Khanam.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Death toll from India, Nepal, Bangladesh floods jumps to over 300

Flood-affected people receives water purifying tablets from volunteers in Jamalpur, Bangladesh, July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

By Serajul Quadir and Sudarshan Varadhan

DHAKA/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The death toll from severe flooding in parts of India, Nepal and Bangladesh rose to more than 300 on Monday, even as heavy rains are starting to ebb and water levels started to recede in some of the worst-affected areas.

Heavy rains and overflowing rivers swamped vast swathes of eastern India more than a week ago, and officials on Monday said so far 102 people have died in Bihar state, 35 more than what the state government had estimated on Thursday.

Torrential rains in Bangladesh killed more than 47 people in the last two weeks and at least 120 are missing and feared dead following severe floods and landslides in mostly mountainous Nepal, authorities from the two countries said.

A flood-affected woman wades through flooded area in Jamalpur, Bangladesh July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

A flood-affected woman wades through flooded area in Jamalpur, Bangladesh July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Parts of Pakistan have also been flooded.

In Bangladesh, at least 700,000 people have been displaced.

Deaths due to flooding in the region more than doubled in the last five days.

At least five districts in central Bangladesh are at the risk of being flooded, as water levels of two rivers are still rising, an official at the Bangladesh Water Development Board told Reuters.

Authorities are struggling to deliver relief supplies to marooned people.

“We have enough relief materials but the main problem is to reach out to the people,” Foyez Ahmed, deputy commissioner of Bangladesh’s Bogra district, said. “We don’t have adequate transport facilities to move to the areas that are deep underwater.”

In India’s tea-growing state of Assam, close to the border of Bangladesh, severe flooding has displaced millions of people and killed more than 60, officials have said.

Separately, at least 32 people were killed on Sunday in lightning strikes in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state in the north.

India’s weather office on Monday forecast “extremely heavy” rain in four of the 14 districts of the southern state of Kerala.

Kerala last year faced its worst floods in about a century, with heavy rain and landslides killing nearly 500 people, destroying houses and wiping out farmlands.

Monsoon rains, which deliver 75% of India’s annual rain, have not been evenly distributed.

The Himalayan region has received substantially more rain than some of the areas in the plains, where rainfall deficiency has widened to 60%, according to the state-run India Meteorological Department.

(Writing by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Mayank Bhardwaj & Kim Coghill)

Cyclone slams into Indian temple town, Bangladesh braces with evacuation order

Stranded passengers rest inside a railway station after trains between Kolkata and Odisha were cancelled ahead of Cyclone Fani, in Kolkata, India, May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

By Jatindra Dash and Serajul Quadir

BHUBANESWAR, India/ DHAKA (Reuters) – A cyclone barreled into eastern India on Friday, damaging houses in the tourist town of Puri and wounding 160 people after a million people were moved into storm shelters.

Trees were uprooted, power and telecom lines snapped as Tropical Cyclone Fani, the strongest storm to hit India in five years, swept ashore the eastern state of Odisha.

Bangladesh, which lies further up the path of Tropical Cyclone Fani, ordered the evacuation of 2.1 million people before the storm arrives on Saturday.

Indian government spokesman Sitanshu Kar said there were no reports of deaths but 160 people were believed injured.

Trees are blown by strong winds ahead of cyclone Fani's landfall in Puri, India, May 3, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit Likan Patra/via REUTERS

Trees are blown by strong winds ahead of cyclone Fani’s landfall in Puri, India, May 3, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit Likan Patra/via REUTERS

Bangladesh’s junior disaster minister Enamur Rahman said 56 thousand volunteers were racing to move millions out of the storm’s path.

Fani spent days building up power in the northern reaches of the Bay of Bengal before it struck the coast of Odisha at around 8 a.m., the state-run India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.

Howling winds gusting up to 200 kph (124 mph) whipsawed trees, uprooting scores, and driving rain impacted visibility, while streets were deserted in the state capital Bhubaneswar and Puri.

“Damage in Puri is extensive, power supply, telephone lines disrupted,” Odisha’s Special Relief Commissioner Bishnupada Sethi told Reuters, referring to the seaside Hindu temple town that is popular with pilgrims and was directly in the storm’s path.

Cyclone tracker Tropical Storm Risk put Fani as a powerful category four storm on a scale of one to five. The IMD said the storm was now weakening.

Close to 60 km (37 miles) inland, winds brought down electricity poles in Bhubaneswar, where authorities had ordered the airport to stay closed. Schools and colleges in Odisha were also shut. A major hospital in the city suffered extensive structural damage but all patients and staff were safe, authorities said.

Trees are blown by strong winds at a neighbourhood in Puri, India, May 3, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit Lushna Patra/via REUTERS

Trees are blown by strong winds at a neighborhood in Puri, India, May 3, 2019, in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit Lushna Patra/via REUTERS

“PANIC SITUATION”

“It was a massive cyclone, like many others our house is flooded. Boundary walls of houses around us have collapsed, trees have been uprooted. It is a panic situation,” Anuradha Mohanty, a Bhubaneswar resident, told Reuters.

People packed into shelters, spreading mats to wait out the storm, television and social media showed.

More than 600 pregnant women were shifted into safe locations, with nearly 500 ambulances on standby. Some 242 medical institutions had been provided with power back-up, government authorities said.

Heavy rains lashed the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka and a few coastal districts of the country. Seaports have been ordered shut, a government official said.

The storm is not expected to touch the country’s southeastern district of Cox’s Bazar where nearly a million Rohingya Muslims are sheltered.

Plants of Indian Oil Corporation Ltd, the country’s top refiner, and power producer NTPC Ltd are operating normally in Odisha.

India’s cyclone season can last from April to December when severe storms batter coastal cities and cause widespread deaths and damage to crops and property in both India and neighboring Bangladesh.

But recent technological advances have helped meteorologists predict weather patterns more accurately and prepare.

A super-cyclone battered the coast of Odisha for 30 hours in 1999, killing 10,000 people. In 2013, a mass evacuation of nearly a million people likely saved thousands of lives.

Cyclones typically quickly lose power as they move inland.

(Writing by Mayank Bhardwaj and Devjyot Ghoshal; additional reporting by Serajul Quadir in DHAKA; Promit Mukherjee in MUMBAI; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Nick Macfie and Alison Williams)

Britain strips citizenship from teenager who joined Islamic State in Syria

FILE PHOTO: Renu Begum, sister of teenage British girl Shamima Begum, holds a photo of her sister as she makes an appeal for her to return home at Scotland Yard, in London, Britain February 22, 2015. REUTERS/Laura Lean/Pool/File Photo

By Guy Faulconbridge and Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain stripped a teenager who traveled to join Islamic State of her citizenship on security grounds, triggering a row over the ramifications of leaving a 19-year-old mother with a jihadist fighter’s child to fend for herself in a war zone.

The fate of Shamima Begum, who was found in a detention camp in Syria last week, has illustrated the ethical, legal and security conundrum that governments face when dealing with the families of militants who swore to destroy the West.

With Islamic State depleted and Kurdish-led militia poised to seize the group’s last holdout in eastern Syria, Western capitals are trying to work out what to do with battle-hardened foreign jihadist fighters, and their wives and children.

Begum, who gave birth to a son at the weekend, prompted a public backlash in Britain by appearing unrepentant about seeing severed heads and even claiming the 2017 Manchester suicide attack – that killed 22 people – was justified.

She had pleaded to be repatriated back to her family in London and said that she was not a threat.

But ITV News published a Feb. 19 letter from the interior ministry to her mother that said Home Secretary Sajid Javid had taken the decision to deprive Begum of her British citizenship.

“In light of the circumstances of your daughter, the notice of the Home Secretary’s decision has been served of file today, and the order removing her British citizenship has subsequently been made,” the letter said.

The letter asked Begum’s mother to inform her daughter of the decision and set out the appeal process.

When asked about the decision, a spokesman said Javid’s priority was “the safety and security of Britain and the people who live here”.

Begum was one of three outwardly studious schoolgirls who slipped away from their lives in London’s Bethnal Green area in February 2015 to fly to Turkey and then over the border into the cauldron of the Syrian civil war.

LONDON TO SYRIA

Islamic State propaganda videos enticed her to swap London for Raqqa, a step she still says she does not regret. She fled the self-styled caliphate because she wanted to give birth away from the fighting.

“When I saw my first severed head in a bin it didn’t faze me at all. It was from a captured fighter seized on the battlefield, an enemy of Islam,” she told The Times which first discovered her in the camp in Syria.

She was equally harsh when describing the videos she had seen of the beheaded Western hostages, The Times said.

Begum has named her newborn, Jerah, in accordance with the wishes of her jihadist husband, Yago Riedijk, a Dutch convert from Arnhem. He was tortured on suspicion of spying by Islamic State but later released.

Another son, also called Jerah, died at eight months old. A daughter, Sarayah, also died aged one year and nine months, The Times said.

Her family’s lawyer said he could seek to challenge the British government’s decision to deprive her of citizenship.

“We are considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision,” said lawyer, Tasnime Akunjee.

British law does allow the interior minister to deprive a person of British citizenship when conducive to the public good, though such decisions should not render the person stateless if they were born as British citizens.

Police in Bangladesh said they were checking whether Begum was a Bangladeshi citizen, and Britain’s opposition Labour Party said the government’s decision was wrong.

“If the government is proposing to make Shamima Begum stateless it is not just a breach of international human rights law but is a failure to meet our security obligations to the international community,” Diane Abbott, Labour spokeswoman on home issues.

Ken Clarke, a former Conservative minister, said he was surprised that Javid’s lawyers had given him such advice.

“What you can’t do is leave them in a camp in Syria being even more radicalised… until they disperse themselves through the world and make their way back here,” he said.

“I think the Germans, the French and ourselves have got to work out how to deal with this difficult and, I accept, dangerous problem,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Ruma Paul in Dhaka, Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Exclusive: ‘Can’t eat, can’t sleep’ – Rohingya on Myanmar repatriation list

FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees take part in a protest at the Kutupalong refugee camp to mark the one year anniversary of their exodus in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/File Photo

By Ruma Paul

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – For Nurul Amin, a Rohingya Muslim living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, the days since learning he and his family were among a group of people set to potentially be repatriated to Myanmar have been among the most frightening since they fled their home.

“I can hardly sleep at night for fear of getting forcibly repatriated. Since the time I heard that my name is on the list I can’t even eat,” says Amin, 35, who has four daughters, a wife and sister with him in the Jamtoli Camp in southeast Bangladesh.

Reuters identified and spoke to more than 20 of the roughly 2,000 Rohingya refugees on a list of people Myanmar has agreed to take back. Though officials say no-one will be forced to return against their will, all say they have been terrified since learning this month their names were on the list prepared by Bangladeshi officials and vetted by Myanmar.

The list has not been made public and not all those whose names are on it have been informed, say Bangladeshi camp officials, due to concerns of sparking widespread panic in a camp that shelters 52,000 refugees.

Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in late October to this month begin the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled across the border to escape a Myanmar army crackdown, even though the United Nations’ refugee agency and aid groups say doubts persist about their safety and conditions in Myanmar should they return.

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims crossed from Rakhine state, in mostly Buddhist Myanmar, into Bangladesh from August last year after Rohingya insurgent attacks on security forces triggered a sweeping military response.

Refugees said soldiers and local Buddhists carried out mass killings and rape during the violence in 2017, while U.N.-mandated investigators have accused the military of unleashing a campaign with “genocidal intent”.

Myanmar has denied almost all the allegations. It has rejected the U.N. findings as one-sided, and said the military action was a legitimate counterinsurgency operation.

WILLING TO RETURN?

This week, the U.N.’s human rights investigator on Myanmar urged Bangladesh to drop the repatriation plan, warning that Rohingya still faced a high risk of persecution in Myanmar.

A Bangladesh foreign ministry official, who asked not to be named, said on Friday the country would not send any Rohingya back forcefully.

“The Bangladesh government is in talks with them to motivate them,” he said.

Separately, another foreign ministry official told Reuters the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would verify whether those shortlisted were willing to return.

Firas Al-Khateeb, a UNHCR representative in Cox’s Bazar, told Reuters that effort would start within a few days.

“We have not started the process yet but we will be carrying out an assessment of the voluntariness,” he said.

Dr Min Thein, director of the disaster management department at the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement in Myanmar, said his team was preparing for 2,000 people to return.

“The Immigration Department is doing the scrutinizing,” said Min Thein. An official at Myanmar’s Immigration Department declined to answer questions over the phone.

In late October, a delegation from Myanmar visited the camps in an effort to urge Rohingya to participate in the repatriation process.

“THROW US INTO THE SEA”

Refugees who spoke to Reuters said they did not trust the Myanmar authorities to guarantee their safety. Some said refugees would go back only if they got to return to their own land and were given citizenship.

“I’ll just consume poison if I am forced to go back. I saw my cousin shot dead by military … What is the guarantee that we’ll not be persecuted again?” said Abdur Rahim, 47, who previously owned a shop and 2 acres of land in Rakhine.

Nur Kaida, 25, who is the mother of a 19-month-old girl, said it “would be better to die in the camps rather go back and get killed or raped”.

On Friday, an alliance of humanitarian and civil society groups working in Rakhine and in refugee camps in Bangladesh, in a joint statement, warned sending people back would be “dangerous and premature”.

The group called on the governments of the two countries to ensure that refugees in Bangladesh were able to make a free and informed choice about their return. It also said U.N. agencies should have unimpeded access to all parts of Rakhine in order to monitor the situation in areas of potential return.

Recent days have seen dozens of Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh attempting to flee via sea to Malaysia, raising fears of a fresh wave of dangerous voyages.

But despite poor conditions in the camps prompting some to risk such a perilous route out, those like Muhammed Wares, 75, whose name is on the list, say it is better than going back.

“Why are they sending us back?” said Wares. “They may as well throw us into the sea.”

(Reporting by Ruma Paul in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh; Additional reporting by Serajul Quadir in Dhaka and Thu Thu Aung in Yangon; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Myanmar not ready for return of Rohingya Muslims, says UNHCR

FILE PHOTO: A Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton/File Photo

By Serajul Quadir

DHAKA (Reuters) – The U.N. refugee agency called a Myanmar minister’s visit to Bangladesh to meet Muslim Rohingya refugees a confidence-building measure, but said conditions in Myanmar were not ready for their return.

Myanmar Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye, who heads rehabilitation efforts in Myanmar’s troubled western Rakhine state, told about 50 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh on Wednesday that getting the repatriation process moving was top priority.

But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Thursday Myanmar was not prepared.

“Conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees,” it said in a statement, adding that the responsibility remains with the government to create such conditions.

According to U.N. officials, nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh from Rakhine to escape a military crackdown since August, amid reports of murder, rape and arson by Myanmar troops and Buddhist vigilantes which the United Nations has likened to “ethnic cleansing”.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar rejects the charge, saying its security forces launched a legitimate counter-insurgency operation on Aug. 25 in response to Rohingya militant attacks.

The refugees are living in cramped camps in the port of Cox’s Bazar and Bangladesh is keen for them to return home soon, especially with the oncoming monsoons expected to cause major devastation at the camps.

The UNHCR called on Myanmar to provide the agency unhindered access in Rakhine to assess the situation and monitor the return and reintegration of refugees if and when they voluntarily return.

Acknowledging the mistrust and fear of the Rohingya of Myanmar, Win Myat Aye told the group of refugees on Wednesday to set aside the past and to prepare to go back, promising new villages would be built with hospitals and schools.

But some refugees have said they are worried about going back, fearing persecution.

(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Nick Macfie)