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More than 100 lone children rescued trying to cross Mediterranean | Refugees

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Fears are rising over the numbers of lone children risking their lives to reach Europe after 114 were pulled from the Mediterranean Sea in one day this week.

The unaccompanied minors were among 125 children rescued off the Libyan coast on Tuesday by the authorities, aid agencies said.

“The number is incredibly alarming – it is the most that have been picked up in a single day this year and certainly one of the highest we have ever recorded,” said Juliette Touma, Unicef’s regional chief of communications.

“We are especially concerned that in the coming months as temperatures rise and the weather improves we will see increasing numbers of people including unaccompanied minors trying to reach the safety of Europe for a better life.”

At least 350 people, including children, drowned or have been reported missing in the central Mediterranean since the start of the year.

The majority of youngsters picked up in the latest rescue are likely to be sent to overcrowded detention centres in Libya, leaving them stuck in a cycle of abuse, humanitarian agencies have warned.

An estimated 1,100 children remain in centres lacking clean water, basic hygiene and education, and where violence and exploitation is rife.

“Children should not be arrested and detained as migrants,” said Touma. “We have been following for many years the situation and have interviewed children who have told us about the appalling conditions.

“We are calling for the Libyan authorities to release all detained children under their custody.”

Libya hosts 51,828 migrant children and an estimated 14,572 refugee children, according to Unicef. Despite the dangers, and the coronavirus pandemic, there has been no decrease in the numbers seeking to reach Europe.

Those working on rescue missions in the central Mediterranean describe the stretch of water off Libya as being at times like an open morgue.

Last week, 130 migrants drowned after their flimsy dinghy capsized in a storm, with waves in the area off Tripoli reaching heights of six metres.

The volunteer-run Mediterranean hotline Alarm Phone said it had repeatedly relayed the GPS position of the boat in distress to the European and Libyan authorities on 21 April but no action was taken. The next day dozens of bodies could be seen in the sea.

The SOS Méditerranée’s ship, Ocean Viking – one of the few remaining NGO boats operating in the area – was searching for survivors and witnessed the aftermath.

Search and rescue coordinator Luisa Albera said: “We are heartbroken. We think of the lives that have been lost and of the families who might never have certainty as to what happened to their loved ones.’’

Behind the numbers are people with stories of loss, fear, desperation and hope for a better life.

Five days after the tragedy the Ocean Viking rescued 236 survivors including three unaccompanied children from Guinea who said they had paid smugglers 2,500 Libyan dinars (£400) each to make the perilous crossing.

For one, it was the third time he had tried to reach Europe after twice being intercepted by the Libyan coastguard.

Ibrahim, 15, said he had always dreamed of a good life in Europe. “In Guinea, my family doesn’t have any means. I was born into poverty, I don’t want to die in poverty.

“I decided to travel to Europe when I was a small child. Of course I knew going to Libya was dangerous but I didn’t have a choice. I sold my motorbike and hit the road.”

Migrants disembark from a Libyan coastguard ship in Tripoli, 29 April 2021.
Migrants disembark from a Libyan coastguard ship in Tripoli, 29 April 2021. Charities have condemned the ‘appalling conditions’ in Libya’s detention centres. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

The group said during their time in Libya they worked in construction for a pittance, were beaten and insulted.

Risking their lives was worth the sacrifice, they said, if it meant the chance of a better life. They had tried to abandon their latest attempt after seeing the poor condition of the boat, but the smugglers forced them to board.

They are fortunate it was the NGO rescue boat and not the Libyan authorities that pulled them to safety. But their futures remain uncertain as they wait to find out where they will disembark.

Unicef has urged governments in the region to find safer routes to sea crossings and implement child-sensitive arrival procedures.

The agency said: “We call on authorities in Europe and the central Mediterranean to support and receive migrants and refugees coming to their shores and to strengthen search and rescue mechanisms.”

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Texas Deputy AG Apologizes for Slamming Simone Biles as ‘National Embarrassment’

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US gymnast Simone Biles received immense support from Americans this week after announcing she would not be competing in the Team USA final, nor the women’s individual all-around gymnastics final, due to personal mental health concerns. At the same time, the 24-year-old has received backlash from many individuals who viewed her pull-out as weak.

Aaron Reitz, deputy attorney general for Texas, took to Twitter on Wednesday evening to issue an apology to Biles, and recant a statement in which he panned the record-setting US gymnast as a “national embarrassment.” 

“In a moment of frustration and disappointment, I opined on subjects for which I am not adequately versed. That was an error. I can’t imagine what Simone Biles has gone through,” Reitz claimed. “Simone Biles is a true patriot and one of the greatest gymnasts of our time.”

“I apologize to her, and wish her well,” the deputy AG concluded, emphasizing that his “personal social media comments” do not represent the views of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, nor the Office of the Attorney General. 

Reitz’s since-deleted tweet against Biles, who was born in Texas and still resides in the Lone Star State, quoted another post that applauded the 1996 Olympic performance of Team USA gymnast Kerri Strug. Strug, one of the US’ “Magnificent Seven,” severely injured her ankle during the first half of the vault competition, but refused to bow out of the event and ultimately led her team to win the US’ first gold medal in women’s gymnastics. 

“Contrast this with our selfish, childish national embarrassment, Simone Biles,” Reitz said in his quote tweet. 

The deputy AG’s attempt at using Strug’s story to chastise Biles fell flat, as the two-time Olympian threw her support behind the 24-year-old on Tuesday. 

Furthermore, it is worth noting that Biles is no stranger to performing with adversity. When the US Women’s Gymnastics team took home gold at the 2018 World Championships in Qatar, Biles dominated in nearly every competition, despite intense stomach pains from what was later confirmed to be a kidney stone. 

Despite her pull-outs this year, Biles has continued to root for her fellow Team USA gymnasts. She also expressed in a Wednesday social media post that “the outpouring [of] love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.”



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Aid cuts make a mockery of UK pledges on girls’ education | Zoe Williams

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With all the fanfare Covid would allow, the global education summit opened in London this week. Ahead of the meeting, the minister for European neighbourhood and the Americas was on rousing form. “Educating girls is a gamechanger,” Wendy Morton said, going on to describe what a plan would look like to do just that.

The UK, co-hosting the summit with Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, plans to raise funds for the Global Partnership for Education, from governments and donors. The UK government has promised £430m over the next five years.

There followed a number of reasons why the issue is so important, all of them absolutely sound: on any given indicator, from GDP to infant health and beyond, a nation stands or falls by how well, for how long, and how inclusively it educates its girls.

The issue has never been more important than during this pandemic, which in many countries is hitting a peak having already affected girls disproportionately.

These are all the right words, even in the right order, yet they land completely at odds with the government’s behaviour.

Lis Wallace, head of advocacy at the One campaign, is most immediately concerned with these pledges being fully funded. There are two core targets: one is to increase girls’ access to education, the other is to boost the key milestone for all children – that they’re able to read and understand a simple story by the age of 10.

The past 18 months have been devastating for education, particularly in countries where it’s harder to access to online learning. About 1.6 billion children are out of school across the world. There’s a target to raise $5bn (£3.6bn), “which is a drop in the ocean of what is required to meet the global learning crisis”, Wallace says. It looks as though this summit will raise no more than $4bn, which is nothing less than a “failure of statecraft”, as Wallace explains: “It’s challenging when the host government is stepping back and making aid cuts for it then to ask other countries to step up.”

This is a depressing echo of the G7’s failure earlier this year; commitments to share vaccine doses with low-income countries came too little, too late, with devastating results, and it’s hard to avoid the question of whether that outcome would have been different if the host nation had role modelled some generosity.

Furthermore, there’s some confused causality in the minister’s assertion that staying in school protects girls from “forced child marriage, gender-based violence and early pregnancy”. The exact inverse is true: it is largely teenage pregnancy that forces girls out of school in the first place, and to try to use education in lieu of sexual health and reproductive provision is illogical.

Esi Asare Prah, who is a youth and advocacy officer in Ghana for MSI Reproductive Choices, describes a situation in which 5,000 to 7,000 girls drop out of school each year after becoming pregnant – last year, 2,000 of them were between 10 and 14. Across sub-Saharan Africa, MSI estimates that up to 4 million girls drop out or are excluded from school every year due to pregnancy.

“These girls are most likely to be on the street, doing menial jobs; their children will not make it into higher education. It creates a cycle of poverty and a cycle of slums. For me, the foundation of it is that you can’t seek to invest in education for girls in sub-Saharan Africa and cut down funding for sexual and reproductive health. If you treat development issues as isolated, you will have the same issues of 50 years ago chasing you into the future.”

Here, the recent cuts to the aid budget make a mockery of these pledges on education: UK funding to the UN Population Fund recently went down by 85%.

There is inspiration to take from this summit, nevertheless; President Kenyatta has been leading the charge not only on education but also on the climate crisis, and there is a solidarity and sense of purpose between poorer nations that may yet inspire greater generosity from donors. Whatever it achieves, though, it will be despite its UK host not because of them.

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[Ticker] US backs WHO plan for further Covid-origin investigation

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US secretary of state Antony Blinken affirmed his country’s support to conduct additional investigations into the origins of the Covid-19 after meeting with the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday, Reuters reported. “He stressed the need for the next phase to be timely, evidence-based, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference,” a US state department spokesperson said in a statement.

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