UK plans tough new border measures to combat coronavirus

By William James and Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will announce new tougher border measures on Wednesday to stop new variants of COVID-19 getting into the country, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said as he promised to deliver a roadmap out of lockdowns that have shuttered much of the economy.

The government is expected to bring in quarantine hotels for those coming to Britain from high-risk countries where new strains of the coronavirus have emerged – so-called red list nations – such as South Africa and those in South America.

The move comes as Britain’s death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 100,000, the first European state to reach that figure, leading to further questions about Johnson’s handling of the crisis.

“The Home Secretary (interior minister) will be setting out later today…even tougher measures for those red list countries where we are particularly concerned about new variants,” Johnson told parliament when asked about plans to strengthen Britain’s borders.

Britain saw infections soar at the end of last year after a highly-contagious new variant that emerged in southeast England surged through the population, taking cases and later deaths to record levels.

Since the start of January, all the United Kingdom has faced lockdowns which have closed schools, pubs and restaurants to all bar takeaways with the public told they must stay home as much as possible.

Johnson and his ministers have faced repeated questions, including from many in his own party, on when measures would be eased especially with regard to school closures. He told lawmakers he would address that issue later on Wednesday when he is due to host a media conference.

“Then in the course of the next few weeks, assuming the vaccine rollout continues well, assuming we don’t find new variants of concern…I will be setting out a broader roadmap for the way forward for the whole country,” he said.

With 100,162 recorded deaths, Britain has the world’s fifth highest toll from COVID-19 and the highest deaths per 100,000 people in the world.

Johnson said he felt deep sorrow about the loss of life when the figures were announced on Tuesday, but said the government had done everything it could.

Asked repeatedly by the leader of the Labor opposition Keir Starmer why Britain had fared so badly, he said there would be a time to learn the lessons of what happened but “I don’t think that moment is now” when 37,000 people were still in hospital suffering from the virus.

“There are no easy answers, perpetual lockdown is no answer,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Britain tightens borders to keep out new COVID-19 strains

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is tightening border controls to prevent new strains of COVID-19 coming into the country, suspending all the ‘travel corridor’ arrangements that had meant arrivals from some countries did not need to quarantine.

The change comes into force at 0400 GMT on Monday and means all passengers must have a recent negative coronavirus test and transfer immediately into isolation upon arrival. The isolation period lasts for 10 days, unless the passenger tests negative after five days.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the announcement during a news conference when he praised the country’s vaccination program, but he also warned: “What we don’t want to see is all that hard work undone by the arrival of a new variant that is vaccine busting.”

On Thursday, Britain banned arrivals from South America, Portugal and some other countries over fears about a strain of the virus detected in Brazil.

Britain has already felt the effects of mutations in the virus first hand. A strain first discovered in England has proved to be more transmissible and a major factor behind a spike in cases across the country.

(Reporting by Sarah Young, Writing by William James, editing by Elizabeth Piper)

U.S. travel restrictions at Canada, Mexico borders set to be extended until Dec. 21 — official

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States’ land borders with Canada and Mexico are expected to remain closed to non-essential travel until Dec. 21 at the earliest amid a rising number of U.S. coronavirus cases, a Homeland Security Department official told Reuters.

The current restrictions expire on Saturday and the three countries are expected to approve another 30-day extension, the official said on Wednesday. The United States leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The restrictions were first put in place in March to control the spread of COVID-19.

Canada’s CTV News also reported that the travel restrictions in place at the Canada-U.S. land border were expected to remain in effect for at least another month.

The DHS official told Reuters the agency was “continuing to look at appropriate public health criteria for a future re-evaluation of existing restrictions.”

The restrictions are particularly painful for U.S. and Canadian towns along the border that are tightly intertwined.

Statistics Canada said earlier that U.S. visits to Canada by automobile had plummeted by more than 95% in August from August 2019.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Peter Cooney)

Explainer: How Trump has sealed off the United States during coronavirus outbreak

By Mica Rosenberg and Ted Hesson

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump has taken drastic steps to curb the entry of foreigners into the United States since his administration declared a public health emergency over the new coronavirus outbreak.

Here are some of the most significant additional immigration changes the U.S. government has made in response to the pandemic.

CLOSING THE BORDERS

The United States, Canada and Mexico closed their shared borders to tourist and recreational travel in late March to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. The closures have since been extended until May 21.

At the same time, the Trump administration implemented new rules that allow U.S. border officials to swiftly deport migrants who attempt to cross into the country illegally, bypassing standard legal processes.

More than 10,000 migrants have been expelled under the new border rules, including more than 500 children, according to preliminary data obtained by Reuters. From April 2 to April 10, 70% of those “expelled” under the new rules were Mexican, a quarter were from Central American and the rest from other countries, the data showed.

Deportation flights of immigrants who have been arrested in the United States are continuing even as some countries are expressing concern that migrants who have been held in U.S. detention centers are being sent back to their home countries infected with the virus. U.S. immigration officials plan to start testing deportees for the virus, a U.S. official told Reuters.

SHUTTERING IMMIGRATION COURTS

The U.S. Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts as part of the U.S. Department of Justice, has extended the cancellation of all hearings for migrants not in detention until May 15, 2020.

Another controversial program put in place by the administration last year, known as the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” has sent tens of thousands of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for court hearings. But those proceedings have been put on hold through at least May 1.

SUSPENDING VISA PROCESSING

The United States suspended all routine visa services in most countries worldwide due to the coronavirus outbreak on March 18, affecting hundreds of thousands of people. The State Department said at the time that embassies would resume the services as soon as possible but gave no end date.

That same day, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it was temporarily halting all routine in-person services through at least May 3, and canceled all asylum interviews and naturalization oath ceremonies for new citizens.

Some experts have said the pause on naturalizations could affect people who had hoped to vote the first time as U.S. citizens in November’s presidential election.

HALTING REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT

The U.N. refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration said in mid-March they would temporarily stop resettling refugees due to travel disruptions caused by the coronavirus. But before the pandemic, the United States had already slashed the number of refugees it would accept in the 2020 fiscal year to 18,000, the lowest level in decades.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York and Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Ross Colvin and Jonathan Oatis)

Venezuelan troops to remain on border ahead of aid entry, minister says

Venezuela's Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez attends a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan troops will remain stationed along the country’s borders to prevent territorial violations, the defense minister said on Tuesday, ahead of the opposition’s plan to bring in humanitarian aid to alleviate an economic crisis.

President Nicolas Maduro has rejected offers of foreign food and medicine, denying there are widespread shortages and accusing opposition leader Juan Guaido of using aid to undermine his government in a U.S.-orchestrated bid to oust him.

Guaido has said that aid will enter Venezuela from neighboring countries by land and sea on Saturday. The United States has sent tons of aid to Colombia’s border with Venezuela, but Maduro has refused to let it in.

In comments broadcast on state TV, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said the opposition would have to pass over “our dead bodies” to impose a new government. Guaido, who has invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, denounces Maduro as illegitimate and has received backing from some 50 countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday warned members of Venezuela’s military who remain loyal to Maduro that they would “find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out.”

“You’ll lose everything,” Trump told a crowd of Venezuelan and Cuban immigrants in Miami.

Guaido has beseeched the armed forces to disavow Maduro, promising them future amnesty, though only a few high-ranking military officials have so far done so.

Padrino said it was unacceptable for the military to receive threats from Trump, and said officers and soldiers remained “obedient and subordinate” to Maduro.

“They will never accept orders from any foreign government … they will remain deployed and alert along the borders, as our commander in chief has ordered, to avoid any violations of our territory’s integrity,” Padrino said.

“Those that attempt to be president here in Venezuela … will have to pass over our dead bodies,” he said, referring to Guaido.

Maduro, who won a second term last year in an election that critics denounced as a sham, retains the backing of Russia and China and control of Venezuelan state institutions.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Brian Ellsworth; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

EU executive to propose new measures to deter migrants

A general view shows tents where migrants live, in the downtown of Nantes, France, September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union will announce plans next week to strengthen its external borders and push foreign states to do more to deter migrants.

The plans are a last effort by the European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker to toughen policy on an issue that has divided Europe since 2015 when more than a million refugees and migrants arrived across the Mediterranean.

But disagreements between EU states make a comprehensive deal on migration unlikely before the new Commission and parliament arrive next year.

Juncker will also propose more pathways for migrants to get to the EU legally including on study or work visas as he makes his last State of the Union speech in the European Parliament next Wednesday before stepping down.

The Commission will release proposals including to enhance the mandate of the bloc’s Frontex agency for external borders, diplomats and officials said.

At the same time Austria, which currently holds the bloc’s presidency, is trying to break a deadlock between member states over how to handle refugees and migrants who arrive by sea.

Under Vienna’s proposal of “mandatory solidarity”, EU states could accept refugees and migrants, provide experts or equipment for the bloc’s external borders or make other contributions.

The plan does not require all member states to host new arrivals. The EU’s ex-communist eastern members oppose hosting these people – just one issue that has damaged the bloc’s unity.

This year, sea arrivals stand at some 70,000 people, a fraction of the mass influx in 2015 that overwhelmed EU states and stretched services, precipitating a rise in the bloc’s populist, nationalist and anti-immigration parties.

“We are still handling an acute political crisis in the EU, even though the arrivals are next to none,” a senior diplomat in Brussels said.

Italy remains opposed to Austria’s plan. Rome has pushed more rigid anti-immigration policies and denied several rescue ships access to its ports. It says other EU states should take in the migrants.

EU leaders will discuss migration again at a summit in Salzburg on Sept. 19-20.

Tents where migrants live are seen in the downtown of Nantes, France, September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Tents where migrants live are seen in the downtown of Nantes, France, September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

ENTRENCHED

They will also discuss stepping up returns and deportations of people who make it to the EU but fail to win asylum.

The EU is entering a campaign season with European Parliament elections due next May and a new Commission to be installed in late 2019.

As a result, member states would have to agree a new migration package this year to give the Parliament a chance to approve it before its final session in mid-April, diplomats say.

The Commission’s new measures further develop policies implemented since 2015 that have contributed to a sharp decrease in migration by sea. Rights groups say the policies leave migrants vulnerable to abuses and death on land and at sea.

The bloc’s idea for “regional disembarkation platforms” around the Mediterranean aimed to open EU ports for rescue ships and then spread the migrants on board across the bloc.

The plan was honed after an EU summit last June that saw Italy and Germany face off through the night. But it appears stillborn as member states remain reluctant to take immigrants in, let alone through an obligatory scheme.

(Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Trump to order National Guard to protect border with Mexico

FILE PHOTO - Members of the U.S Army National Guard monitor the Oculus transportation hub ahead of the U.S presidential election in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will sign a proclamation on Wednesday ordering the deployment of the National Guard to help protect the border with Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said.

Troops may be heading to the border as early as Wednesday night, Nielsen said, saying that the National Guard would support U.S. Custom and Border Protection but would not be involved in enforcement.

Nielsen spoke at a White House news briefing a day after Trump sharpened his anti-immigration rhetoric by saying he wanted to deploy U.S. military forces until his promised border wall is built.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks during a press briefing on border security at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks during a press briefing on border security at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

“The president has directed that the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security work together with our governors to deploy the National Guard to our southwest border to assist the Border Patrol,” Nielsen said. “The president will be signing a proclamation to that effect today.”

She said the administration had drafted legislation and would be asking Congress to provide the legal authority and resources to address “this crisis at our borders.”

She did not give the number of the troops to be deployed or the cost of the operation.

Nielsen said that despite steps taken by the administration, the levels of drug smuggling, illegal immigration and dangerous gang activity across the border were unacceptable.

Trump met with Defense Secretary James Mattis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Nielsen and other officials to discuss border issues on Tuesday.

“Until we can have a wall and proper security we’re going to be guarding our border with the military,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday, lamenting what he called “horrible” U.S. laws that left the southern border poorly protected.

On Wednesday, Trump said in a tweet: “Our Border Laws are very weak while those of Mexico andCanada are very strong. Congress must change these Obama era, and other, laws NOW!”

(This version of the story was refiled to add dropped word “but” in paragraph two)

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Eric Beech and Leslie Adler)

Saudi Arabia and Iraq to re-open border crossing after 27 years

FILE PHOTO: A member from the Iraqi security forces stands guard at a checkpoint during a patrol at the border between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and Iraq plan to open the Arar border crossing for trade for the first time since 1990, when it was closed after the countries cut ties following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, Saudi local media reported on Tuesday.

Saudi and Iraqi officials toured the site on Monday and spoke with Iraqi religious pilgrims, who for the past 27 years had access to the crossing only once annually during the haj season, the Mecca newspaper reported.

The governor of Iraq’s southwestern Anbar province, whose staff was on hand for the ceremonies, said the Iraqi government had deployed troops to protect the desert route leading to Arar and called its opening a “significant move” to boost ties.

“This is a great start for further future cooperation between Iraq and Saudia Arabia,” said Sohaib al-Rawi.

The announcement follows a decision by the Saudi cabinet on Monday to establish a joint trade commission with Iraq.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are both wooing their northern neighbor in an effort to halt the growing regional influence of arch-foe Iran.

The Sunni-led Arab Gulf countries have hosted influential Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for talks with their crown princes in recent weeks, rare visits after years of troubled relations.

Sadr’s office said his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman resulted in an agreement for Saudi Arabia to donate $10 million in aid to the Iraqi government and study possible investments in Shi’ite regions of southern Iraq.

The opening of border crossings for trade was also on a list of goals for the talks published by Sadr’s office.

Sadr commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and southern Iraq, and is one of few Iraqi Shi’ite leaders to keep some distance from Tehran.

The Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement extends back to 2015, when Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad following a 25-year break.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir visited Baghdad in February, and the two countries announced in June they would set up a coordination council to upgrade ties.

(Reporting by Katie Paul and Ahmed Rasheed, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Refugee claimants from U.S. strain Canada’s border resources

telecommunications operator

By Allison Lampert

HEMMINGFORD, Quebec (Reuters) – Canadian police said on Monday they had bolstered their presence at the Quebec border and that border authorities had created a temporary refugee center to process a growing number of asylum seekers crossing from the United States.

The Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA, said at a news conference that it had converted an unused basement into a refugee claimant processing center. Both the border agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are reassigning staff from other locations in the province, as needed, to accommodate rising demand.

The CBSA said the number of people making refugee claims at Quebec-U.S. border crossings more than doubled from 2015 to 2016. Last month, 452 people made claims in Quebec compared with 137 in January 2016, the agency said.

The influx is straining police, federal government and community resources from the western prairie province of Manitoba, where people arrive frostbitten from hours walking in freezing conditions, to Quebec, where cabs drop asylum seekers off meters away from the Quebec-U.S.border, the border agency said.

Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

A Reuters reporter on Monday saw RCMP officers take in for questioning a family of four – two men, a woman and a baby in a car seat – who had walked across the snowy gully dividing Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, from Chemin Roxham in Hemmingford, Quebec.

“Please explain to her that she’s in Canada,” one Canadian officer told another officer.

Police take people crossing the border in for questioning at the border agency’s office in Lacolle, Quebec, which is the province’s biggest and busiest border crossing. Police identify them and ensure they are not a threat or carrying contraband.

They are then transferred to the CBSA for fingerprinting and further questions. If people are deemed a threat or flight risk, they are detained. If not, they can file refugee claims and live in Canada while they wait for a decision

“It’s touching, and we are not insensitive to that,” Bryan Byrne, the RCMP’s Champlain Detachment commander, told reporters near the border. “Some of these people had a long journey. Some are not dressed for the climate here.”

Asylum seekers cross illegally because Canada’s policy under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement is to turn back refugees if they make claims at border crossings. But as U.S. President Donald Trump cracks down on illegal immigrants, Amnesty International and refugee advocacy groups are pressuring the Canadian government to abandon the agreement, arguing the United States is no safe haven.

On Monday, Montreal, Canada’s second most populous city, voted to declare itself a “sanctuary city,” making it the fourth Canadian city to protect illegal immigrants and to provide services to them.

(Additional reporting and writing by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Diane Craft and Peter Cooney)

Migrants stranded in Serbia march toward Croatian border

Refugees and migrants cross the Old Sava Bridge heading in the direction of the Croatian border, in Belgrade, Serbia

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Some 150 migrants, trapped in Serbia, set out on Friday to walk about 125 km (80 miles) to the Croatian border, demanding free and secure passage toward Western Europe, police said.

Police are following the group along the highway connecting Belgrade and the border.

“We started marching toward the border with Croatia. The camps are full, we sleep in parks, we cannot stand it any more,” said a migrant from Pakistan who gave his name as Habib.

According to the U.N. refugee agency, around 6,400 migrants from countries such as Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan are currently registered in Serbia, while local non-governmental organizations say their number is close to 10,000. They mostly arrive from Bulgaria and Macedonia.

Last month another group tried a similar protest march toward the Hungarian border, but eventually decided to return to Belgrade. Hungary has practically sealed its borders to migrants.

Last year a total of 579,518 migrants and asylum seekers were registered arriving in Serbia, out of more than a million who made it to Europe by land and sea.

A deal between Turkey and the European Union, struck in March, has largely shut off the flow of people reaching Greece and the Balkans, but Austria kicked off consultations with Balkan states this month to see what measures can be taken if the deal collapses.

(Reporting by Marko Djurica, writing by Igor Ilic in Zagreb; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)