Trafficked ‘brides’ stuck in China due coronavirus after fleeing abuse

Reuters
By Matt Blomberg

PHNOM PENH (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Coronavirus travel restrictions have forced anti-trafficking groups to suspend rescue operations of Vietnamese and Cambodian “brides” from China, with some now in hiding having escaped the homes of men holding them against their will.

Over the past decade, tens of thousands of Southeast Asian women have been lured to China by criminal networks promising lucrative jobs, only to be sold as brides – some to abusive men – as China grapples with a gender imbalance.

Charities in Vietnam and Cambodia said some women who fled this year have been detained and shut off from communication, while others who are “not under immediate threat of being killed” have been advised to sit tight.

“Some say the husband is mentally ill, they’re being beaten, maybe prostituted to the neighbours, their lives are in immediate danger at this point,” said Michael Brosowski, head of Hanoi-based Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.

“They say they have to go, they have to go now. All we can do is advise them on a safe place to hide.”

Blue Dragon rescued one women every three days on average from China in 2019, but was forced to freeze operations in late January as coronavirus travel restrictions took hold.

“Getting to remote places, it’s just not possible now – and even if you could, the borders are closed,” Brosowski told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

While Blue Dragon remains in touch with 27 women who have called for help in 2020, Phnom Penh-based anti-trafficking charity Chab Dai said it has lost contact with some who fled their abusers amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Chab Dai programme manager Chan Saron said in early January, one women reported being transferred to “government-controlled detention” and held “under very strict conditions” before contact was lost.

“According to Chinese law, survivors are often treated as illegal migrants,” Saron said. “We receive dozens of cases like this but there could be many more.”

A Chinese assistant to the Cambodian consul in Shanghai said little could be done to assist women who had escaped their captors and were now uncontactable.

“If we can get in touch with the women, we will find a way to help,” she said, giving her name only as Hayley. “But with no information, how could we find them?”

Authorities in Cambodia, Vietnam and China have in recent years tried to combat the trafficking of “brides” but campaigners fear a ban on marriage broker services has driven the trend further underground and put women at higher risk.

Chinese men typically pay brokers between $10,000 and $20,000 for a foreign wife, a 2016 United Nations report said.

Criminal gangs scour poor regions for young women and pitch a dream life in China, where there is a surplus of some 40 million men – a legacy of Beijing’s one-child policy.

Targets are coaxed by the promise of a life of relative luxury in China, and while some do marry happily and send money home to their families, others end are facing sexual abuse, violence and exploitation.

(Reporting by Matt Blomberg, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Turkey ends rescue efforts after earthquake toll reaches 41

By Umit Bektas

ELAZIG, Turkey (Reuters) – Turkey called off rescue operations on Monday in eastern areas hit by Friday’s earthquake after emergency workers recovered the body of a final person they were searching for in a collapsed building, bringing the death toll to 41, authorities said.

The magnitude 6.8 quake caused 37 deaths in Elazig province, about 550 km (340 miles) east of Ankara, and four in neighboring Malatya. More than 1,600 others were hurt, including 86 still being treated in hospitals, though none were in serious condition, the government said.

Forty-five people had been rescued from under ruined buildings, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Authority (AFAD) said.

Authorities have warned residents not to enter damaged buildings because of the danger of collapse and further aftershocks, leaving many without a home in a region where temperatures fell to -6C (21F) on Monday morning.

Addressing reporters in Elazig, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the government would provide financial support to those whose homes were damaged. Some 1,000 temporary homes would be built, and some schools and mosques were now being used as shelters, he added.

Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum said authorities had started demolishing 22 damaged buildings in Elazig. Construction of some 2,000 new houses in the province was expected to be completed by year end, he added.

Turkey has a history of powerful earthquakes. More than 17,000 people were killed in August 1999 when a 7.6 magnitude quake struck Izmit, a city southeast of Istanbul. In 2011, a quake in the eastern city of Van killed more than 500.

(Reporting by Umit Bektas and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Dominic Evans)

Death toll from Kenya landslides rises to 56 as heavy rains lash country’s north west

People walk in the mud after heavy rains caused landslides in the village of Parua, West Pokot County, Kenya November 23, 2019. REUTERS/Moses Lokeris

 

MOMBASA (Reuters) – The death toll from landslides in northwestern Kenya triggered on Saturday by unusually heavy rains has risen to at least 56 people, a local official said.

The downpour began on Friday in West Pokot County, which borders Uganda, and worsened overnight, causing flooding and mudslides that swept away four bridges and left villages inaccessible by road.

Samuel Poghisio, a senator from the county, told Reuters by phone on Sunday that 56 people were confirmed dead and an unknown number were missing. By Saturday afternoon, local officials had reported 36 dead.

“Rescue operations are frustrated by more rain and fog,” Poghisio wrote in a text message, adding that police helicopters were struggling to reach the flooded areas.

Kenya’s president on Saturday deployed rescue personnel from agencies including the army and the police to try and prevent the “further loss of lives”.

Houses are seen covered by mud after heavy rains caused landslides in the village of Parua, West Pokot County, Kenya November 23, 2019. REUTERS/Moses Lokeris

Researchers have warned that warming oceans are causing unpredictable weather patterns in East Africa.

Heavy rains and floods have killed more than 50 people and forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in the region since October, aid groups said earlier this month.

Kenya is experiencing a heavier than usual rainy season, the Kenya Meteorological Department said in early November.

(Reporting by Joseph Akwiri; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

Powerful quake paralyzes Hokkaido in latest disaster to hit Japan

Police officers and rescue workers search for survivors from a building damaged by a landslide caused by a powerful earthquake in Atsuma town in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 6, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.

By Kaori Kaneko and Chang-Ran Kim

TOKYO (Reuters) – A powerful earthquake paralyzed Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido on Thursday, killing at least seven people, triggering landslides and knocking out power to its 5.3 million residents.

The death toll from the 6.7-magnitude, pre-dawn quake was likely to rise as rescuers searched houses buried by landslides.

About 33 people were missing and 300 were injured, public broadcaster NHK said. Four people were in cardiopulmonary arrest, a term used before death is officially confirmed.

The quake was the latest in a string of natural disasters to batter Japan after typhoons, flooding, and a record-breaking heat wave within the past two months.

Aerial footage showed dozens of landslides exposing barren hillsides near the town of Atsuma in southern Hokkaido, with mounds of red earth and toppled trees piled at the edge of green fields.

The collapsed remains of what appeared to be houses or barns were strewn about.

A building damaged by a powerful earthquake is seen in Abira town in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 6, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

A building damaged by a powerful earthquake is seen in Abira town in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 6, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

“It came in four big jerks – boom! boom! boom! boom!” one unidentified woman told NHK. “Before we knew it our house was bent and we couldn’t open the door.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said 25,000 Self-Defense Force troops would be deployed for rescue operations.

The island, a tourist destination about the size of Austria known for its mountains, lakes, and seafood, lost its power when Hokkaido Electric Power Co shut down of all its fossil fuel-fired power plants after the quake as a precaution.

It was the first time since the utility was established in 1951 that had happened.

Almost 12 hours later, power was restored to parts of Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital, and Asahikawa, its second-biggest city.

The government said there was damage to Hokkaido Electric’s Tomato-Atsuma plant, which supplies half the island’s 2.95 million households. It could take a week to restore power fully to all residents, Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said.

All trains across the island were halted.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party begins a leadership contest on Friday but said there would be no campaigning through to Sunday. Abe and rival Shigeru Ishiba both canceled campaign media appearances slated for Friday.

Landslides caused by an earthquake are seen in Atsuma town in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 6, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

Landslides caused by an earthquake are seen in Atsuma town in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 6, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

‘NOTHING I CAN DO’

Television footage from Sapporo showed crumbled roads and mud covering a main street. Police directed traffic because signal lights were out while drink-vending machines, ubiquitous in Japan, and most ATMs were not working.

“Without electricity, there’s nothing I can do except to write prescriptions,” a doctor in Abira, the town next to Atsuma, told NHK.

Media reported a baby girl at a Sapporo hospital was in critical condition after the power was cut to her respirator. It wasn’t clear if the hospital had a generator.

The quake hit at 3:08 a.m. (1808 GMT Wednesday) at a depth of 40 km (25 miles), with its epicenter about 65 km (40 miles) southeast of Sapporo, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. In Atsuma, it registered a 7 on Japan’s 7-point quake intensity scale, the agency said, revising an earlier measurement.

Hokkaido’s main airport was closed, at least for the day. Debris and water could be seen on the terminal floors.

Kyodo news agency said more than 200 flights and 40,000 passengers would be affected on Thursday alone.

The closure comes just days after Kansai Airport, another major regional hub, in western Japan, was shut by Typhoon Jebi, which killed 11 people and injured hundreds.

The storm, the most powerful to hit Japan in 25 years, stranded thousands of passengers and workers at the airport, whose operator said it would resume some domestic flights on Friday.

In July, torrential rain in west Japan caused flooding that killed more than 200 people and widespread destruction. That was followed by a heat wave that reached a record 41.1 Celsius and led to the deaths of at least 80 people.

FACTORIES HALTED

Farming, tourism and other services are big economic drivers on Hokkaido, which accounts for just 3.6 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product, but there is some industry. Kirin Brewery and Sapporo Breweries both said factories were shut by the power outage.

A series of smaller shocks followed the initial quake, the JMA said. Residents were warned to take precautions.

By the afternoon, backhoes and other earth-moving equipment in Atsuma had begun clearing debris.

Japan is situated on the “Ring of Fire” arc of volcanoes and oceanic trenches that partly encircles the Pacific Basin.

Northeast Japan was hit by a 9 magnitude earthquake on March 11, 2011, that triggered a tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people and led to meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Hokkaido’s Tomari nuclear power station, which has been shut since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, suffered a power outage but officials said it was cooling its spent nuclear fuel safely.

Saturday marked the 95th anniversary of the Great Kanto earthquake, which had a magnitude of 7.9 and killed more than 140,000 people in the Tokyo area. Seismologists have said another such quake could strike the capital at any time.

(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko and Chang-Ran Kim; Additional reporting by William Mallard, Osamu Tsukimori, Aaron Sheldrick, Elaine Lies and Takaya Yamaguchi; Writing by Malcolm Foster; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

Rains pile misery on India’s flooded Kerala state as toll rises to 164

A man rescues a drowning man from a flooded area after the opening of Idamalayr, Cheruthoni and Mullaperiyar dam shutters following heavy rains, on the outskirts of Kochi, India August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V

By Sivaram Venkitasubramanian and Gopakumar Warrier

KOCHI/BENGALURU, India (Reuters) – The worst floods in a century in the Indian state of Kerala have killed 164 people and forced more than 200,000 into relief camps, officials said on Friday, with more misery expected as heavy rain pushed water levels higher.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to visit the southwest state later on Friday and its chief minister said he was hoping the military could step up help for the rescue effort, which is already using dozens of helicopters and hundreds of boats.

“I spoke to the defense minister this morning and asked for more helicopters,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told a news conference in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, adding that he planned to send 11 more helicopters to the worst-hit places.

“In some areas, airlifting is the only option … thousands are still marooned,” said Vijayan.

The floods began nine days ago and Vijayan said 164 people had been killed – some in landslides – with about 223,000 people forced into 1,568 relief camps.

A Reuters witness on board a relief helicopter in Chengannur town in the south of the state said people stranded on roof tops were seen waving desperately at navy aircraft.

“The town looked like an island dotted with houses and cars submerged in muddy flood waters and downed coconut trees,” said the witness.

People wait for aid on the roof of their house at a flooded area in the southern state of Kerala, India, August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V

People wait for aid on the roof of their house at a flooded area in the southern state of Kerala, India, August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V

Two navy helicopters circled as people on roofs of flooded homes waved clothing to call for help.

The helicopters dropped food and water in metal baskets and airlifted at least four people, including a three-year-old child, from roofs, the witness said.

Elsewhere, a man with a cast on his leg was seen lying on the roof of a church as he awaited rescue.

Anil Vasudevan, the head of the Kerala health disaster response wing, said his department had geared up to handle the needs of victims.

“We’ve deployed adequate doctors and staff and provided all essential medicines in the relief camps, where the evacuees will be housed,” he said.

But a big worry was what happens after the flood waters fall. People going home will be susceptible to water-borne diseases, he said.

“We are making elaborate arrangements to deal with that,” he said.

PLANES, TRAINS DISRUPTED

Kerala is a major destination for both domestic and foreign tourists.

The airport in its main commercial city of Kochi has been flooded it has suspended operations until Aug. 26 with flights being diverted to two other airports in the state. Rail and road traffic has also been disrupted in many places.

“Water levels continue to overflow on track and surpassing danger level of bridges at different places,” Southern Railway said in a statement, adding it had canceled more than a dozen trains passing through Kerala.

The office of the chief minister said heavy rain was falling in some places on Friday. More showers are expected over the weekend.

Modi said on Twitter that he would travel to Kerala “to take stock of the unfortunate situation”.

An aerial view shows partially submerged houses at a flooded area in the southern state of Kerala, India, August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V

An aerial view shows partially submerged houses at a flooded area in the southern state of Kerala, India, August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V

Kerala has been hit with 37 percent more rainfall than normal since the beginning of this monsoon, the Meteorological Department said.

Some plantations have also been inundated. The state is a major producer of rubber, tea, coffee and spices such as black pepper and cardamom.

“It’s very scary. I can still see people on their roofs waiting to be rescued,” said George Valy, a rubber dealer in Kottayam town.

(Reporting by Sivaram Venkitasubramanian in Kochi and Gopakumar Warrier in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Jose Devasia in Kochi and Swati Bhat and Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai; Writing by Euan Rocha and Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Hundreds missing after Laos dam under construction collapses: media

Villagers evacuate after the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 24, 2018. ABC Laos News/Handout via REUTERS

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Hundreds of people are missing and several are feared dead after a hydropower dam under construction in southern Laos collapsed, causing flash flooding that swept away homes, state media reported on Tuesday.

The disaster left more than 6,600 people homeless, the Lao News Agency reported. It showed pictures of villagers wading through muddy floodwater carrying belongings. Others boarded rickety wooden boats or stood on the roofs of partially submerged houses.

Officials have brought boats to help evacuate people in San Sai district of Attapeu province, where the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam is located, as water levels rise after the collapse, ABC Laos news reported.

The South Korean company building the dam said heavy rain and flooding caused the collapse and it was cooperating with the Laos government to help rescue villagers near the dam.

“We are running an emergency team and planning to help evacuate and rescue residents in villages near the dam,” a SK Engineering Construction spokesman told Reuters by telephone.

Another official of SK Engineering Construction said the company ordered the evacuation of 12 villages as soon as it became clear that the dam would collapse.

The South Korean foreign ministry said in a text message to reporters that 50 workers of the company and three from Korea Western Power Co. who were stationed at the construction site had been evacuated.

The dam collapsed at 8:00 p.m. local time (1300 GMT) on Monday, releasing 5 billion cubic meters of water and several hundred people are missing after homes were swept away, the Lao News Agency said. It said several people had died.

A video posted by the ABC Laos news on its Facebook page showed villagers stopping to watch the fast-flowing water from the side of a riverbank.

Another showed a distraught woman getting into a wooden boat with her baby, saying that she had to wait to be rescued after the floodwater came and her mother was still trapped in a tree.

The prime minister of the Communist-run Southeast Asian nation, Thongloun Sisoulith, has suspended government meetings and led Cabinet members to monitor rescue and relief efforts in one of the affected areas, the state agency reported.

Villagers carry their belonging as they evacuate after the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Villagers carry their belonging as they evacuate after the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

HYDROPOWER AMBITIONS A WORRY

One of Asia’s poorest and most secretive countries, Laos is landlocked, but aims to become the “battery of Asia” by selling power to neighbors through a series of hydropower dams.

Lao experienced one of its worst natural disasters in 2013 when five major monsoon storms hit the country in a period of three months, according to the ReliefWeb humanitarian information portal. It said that approximately 347,000 people were affected by severe flooding in that disaster.

Environmental rights groups have for years raised concerns about Laos’ hydropower ambitions, including worries over the impact of dams on the Mekong River, its flora and fauna and the rural communities and local economies that depend on it.

The collapsed dam was expected to start commercial operations by 2019 and export 90 percent of its power to Thailand under a Power Purchase Agreement between the Xe-Pian-Xe Namnoy Power Company (PNPC) and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT).

The remaining 10 percent of power would be sold to the local grid under an agreement between the PNPC and the Electricite du Laos.

PNPC was established in 2012 by SK Engineering & Construction Co., Ltd, Korea Western Power Co. Ltd., Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding, Thailand’s largest private power producer, and Lao Holding State Enterprise (LHSE).

Ratchburi Electricity Generating Holding Company said in a statement the dam, which it referred to as ‘Saddle Dam D’, was eight meters (26 feet) wide, 770 meters (2,526 feet) long and 16 meters (52 feet) high.

The dam “was fractured and the water had leaked to the downstream area and down to the Xe-Pian River which is about five kilometers from the dam,” said Kijja Sripatthangkura, chief executive officer of Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding Company.

International Rivers, a U.S.-based group that works to protect rivers and the rights of communities dependent on them, said the accident exposed “major risks” associated with some dam designs that cannot cope with extreme weather conditions.

“Unpredictable and extreme weather events are becoming more frequent in Laos and the region due to climate change,” the group told Reuters in an e-mail.

“This also shows the inadequacy of warning systems for the dam construction and operations. The warning appeared to come very late and was ineffective in ensuring people had advance notice to ensure their safety and that of their families.”

(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Ju-min Park; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Michael Perry)