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Spain-Morocco diplomatic crisis: Yemeni asylum seekers deported from Ceuta: ‘After beating us up, they threw us out’ | Spain

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Yemeni Khaled in his current residence in a district of Rabat, Morocco.
Yemeni Khaled in his current residence in a district of Rabat, Morocco.Jesús Churrete

Between May 17 and 18, a civil servant, two workers from a pen manufacturing company and an accountant-turned-cab driver made it to the Spanish North African city of Ceuta, having slipped past the Moroccan guards who were rumored to be taking a lax attitude to border control, reportedly in response to Spain’s decision to offer medical treatment to the founder of an outlawed liberation movement for the Sahrawi people in the parts of Western Sahara that are under Moroccan control.

The four Yemenis were among the nearly 8,000 migrants who entered the Spanish exclave irregularly in mid-May, in what became an unprecedented migration crisis on the border – never before had so many arrived in such a short space of time and almost half were immediately expelled in many cases without the proper formalities.

I thought that I would be treated differently coming from a country at war

Hussein, an accountant who worked as a cab driver in Yemen

Fleeing a war-torn country where 80% of the population is in need of humanitarian aid, the four Yemenis addressed the Spanish authorities shouting “Yemeni, asylum! Yemeni, asylum!” In less than 24 hours, the four were beaten and dragged back to the border, according to their accounts told to EL PAÍS from Morocco.

Last Friday, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska insisted once again that the more than 7,000 deportations that took place during the crisis – including voluntary departures – were carried out within the boundaries of the law. He also mentioned that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was present in the border area “from the start” to help state security forces identify the most vulnerable migrants. Potential refugees, such as the four Yemenis, are entitled to special protection recognized under Spanish law and the international conventions that Spain has signed. They cannot be deported before their asylum claim is assessed.

Following Marlaska’s statement, UNHCR quickly dissociated itself, declaring: “We cannot confirm that all the returns have been made voluntarily or in accordance with the law, since we have received a number of accounts from people who had expressed their interest in seeking asylum but were forcibly and, in some cases, violently returned.” After learning of these “concerning events regarding international protection,” the organization formally requested Spanish authorities open an investigation. Sources at the Interior Ministry insisted that they are not aware of any such request. “The Interior Ministry is always available and will collaborate fully with any investigation opened on possible irregular events,” the same sources maintained. The Public Prosecutor for Youth in Ceuta, meanwhile, is investigating the so-called “expressed deportations” of minors.

A Spanish soldier watching over some of the migrant arrivals on Tarajal beach during the crisis in May.
A Spanish soldier watching over some of the migrant arrivals on Tarajal beach during the crisis in May.Javier Bauluz

Khaled, for instance, said he was dragged back across the border into Morocco, despite being identified as a potential refugee by UNHCR. The 28-year-old civil servant fled Yemen at the outbreak of war in 2015, and entered Ceuta via Tarajal beach in the early hours of May 18. No-one stopped him and he spent a good part of the night wandering around the city until he decided to approach the facility where the Red Cross was attending to the new arrivals. It was in those chaotic, crowded warehouses that he and two other Yemenis explained their situation to a UNHCR worker. “We told her we wanted to apply for asylum, she took a picture of our passports, we watched as she talked about us to the police and army chiefs and she told us to be calm,” Khaled said during a video call with EL PAÍS. “But when she left, two soldiers and five policemen arrived to tell us off for speaking to UNHCR.” He claimed they were told: “Now it’s back to Morocco!”

According to Khaled, just after 8pm on May 18, the military forcibly returned the three from the Red Cross center. “On the way to the border fence [separating Ceuta from Morocco], they pushed us and hit us with their batons,” he explained. “We showed our passports and shouted ‘asylum’ to them, but it made no difference.” Questioned about these actions, the Defense Ministry declined to comment.

Khaled’s case has also been taken on by the NGO, Coordinadora de Barrios (Coordinating Neighborhoods), which has denounced the forced expulsions of asylum seekers to the Spanish ombudsman. The organization has also interviewed six other Yemenis, three of whom relate similar accounts to EL PAÍS.

Ahmed, 32, and Amar, 39, who worked in the marketing department of a pen company, fled Yemen together in 2019. “The options there are limited,” said Ahmed. “Either you are part of the war or you leave.” The pair’s plan was actually to enter Spain through the other Spanish North African city of Melilla, but they saw on Facebook that the borders would be open in Ceuta and they took a cab from Nador to Castillejos, entering Ceuta on Monday 17. “When we arrived, we searched for a place where we could find help,” said Amar. “Our clothes were wet, we were hungry and very tired.”

The soldiers beat us with batons, threw us to the ground and stepped on our backs

Ahmed, who use to work at pen manufactoring company in Yemen

Amar and Ahmed also ended up in the Red Cross facility in the Tarajal industrial park. “The soldiers beat us with batons, threw us to the ground and stepped on our backs. After beating us up, they threw us out,” said Ahmed, who maintains they showed their passports and shouted “Asylum, Yemeni!” on several occasions in Spanish.

Hussein, 27, an accountant who worked as a cab driver in Yemen, also claims that he was forcibly deported. He swam to Ceuta with Khaled, but the pair became separated once in the city. “I was attacked and beaten,” he said. “A military man pointed a gun at me and sprayed a red substance. It smelled like pepper.” He ended up meeting his compatriots on the other side of the border. “I thought that I would be treated differently coming from a country at war,” he said.

Aside from the Yemenis, several women from the Democratic Republic of Congo, accompanied by at least three children, reported their expulsion to the NGO, Coordinadora de Barrios. Their lawyer, Patricia Fernández Vicens, maintained that the deportations carried out in Ceuta violated the Geneva Convention for refugees and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as Spanish law itself. “What happened in Ceuta shows that it is not possible to carry out expulsions at the border, or the so-called ‘express deportations,’ with the proper guarantees,” she said.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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UK Pharmacists Warn Medicine Shortages Put Patients at Risk

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The issue first came to the fore in April, when shortages of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs resulted in an outcry, with doctors warning that some women will resort to unorthodox methods to get the medication they need.

British pharmacists have expressed concern over medicine shortages in the UK, which they believe put patients at risk, a new poll has revealed.

A survey of 1,562 UK pharmacists for the Pharmaceutical Journal found that more than 54% of respondents said that patients had been put at risk in the last six months due to drug shortages.

The outlet cited an unnamed pharmacist from a children’s hospital in England as saying that problems pertaining to variable supply of nutritional products may pose threat to patients’ health.

“We had to ration it, and this has potentially put patients at risk of vitamin deficiencies,” the pharmacist pointed out.

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They were echoed by another hospital pharmacist, who voiced alarm about drugs being unavailable at the end of a patient’s life.

“There was no alternative for one patient who had to deal with an additional symptom in his last days of life due to lack of available treatment,” the source told the Pharmaceutical Journal.

The same tone was struck by Mike Dent, director of pharmacy funding at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, who said in an interview with the journal that they are “becoming increasingly concerned about medicine supply issues and the very serious impact this is having on both community pharmacy teams and their patients.”

A spokesperson for the UK Department of Health and Social Care, in turn, stressed that they “take patient safety extremely seriously, and […] routinely share information about medicine supply issues directly with the NHS [National Health Service] so they can put plans in place to reduce the risk of any shortage impacting patients, including offering alternative medication.”

“We have well-established procedures to deal with medicine shortages and work closely with industry, the NHS and others to prevent shortages and resolve any issues as soon as possible,” the spokesperson added.

The remarks followed the UK government issuing a number of “medicine supply notifications,” which highlight shortages of a whole array of key drugs, including live­-saving ones such as antibiotics, insulin and antidepressants.

A veteran wearing a Royal Hospital Chelsea hat, and in PPE (personal protective equipment) of a face mask, as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, stands outside the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London  - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.08.2022

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The issue first came to light at the end of April 2022, when a shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medication left some women in the UK sharing prescriptions and feeling suicidal. HRT is used to relieve most symptoms of menopause and it works by replacing hormones that are at a lower level.

According to the UK newspaper Express, drug shortages “are being caused by a shortage of raw ingredients used to manufacture medicines. These are often supplied by countries in the Far East. There are also rising costs set by pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers.”



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Cannabis: Canada to spend $200 million on medical marijuana for veterans | International

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The Canadian government is on track to spend CA$200 million (around $154 million) on medical marijuana for veterans, an increase of 30% compared to 2021 and 135% compared to 2019. Since 2008, Canada’s Veteran Affairs has been reimbursing former military personnel for what they spend on medically prescribed marijuana.

Canada legalized recreational cannabis in October 2018 (the second country to make such a regulatory change after Uruguay). The government of Justin Trudeau justified the measure as a move to fight organized crime and ensure the safety of consumers. Marijuana for medicinal use, however, has been legal in Canada since 2001. The Canadian Health Ministry backed its decision on the grounds that studies show it can be beneficial for patients who suffer from problems such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

In 2008, after overcoming various legal disputes, Veteran Affairs approved a measure to reimburse war veterans for the cost of medicinal marijuana, although reimbursements were to be decided on a case-by-case basis. In 2011, the authorities simplified the procedure to make it accessible to more candidates. That year, 37 people were reimbursed for a total amount of CA$103,400 (81,000). In November 2016, the ministry modified its compensation rules, reducing the daily limit from 10 grams a day to three. The current maximum rate for refunds is $8.50 per gram.

Veteran Affairs stated that medical cannabis is “a developing area of treatment,” and it will continue to review information and “adjust the policy as necessary to guarantee the welfare of veterans and their families.” A Canadian Senate commission called for such a review in 2019, emphasizing the positive results of cannabis for therapeutic purposes, in particular as an effective substitute for highly addictive opioids against chronic pain. Senators also said that the maximum price needs to be constantly evaluated, as costs may exceed what some veterans can afford.

According to the latest data, some 18,000 ex-combatants were reimbursed for medicinal marijuana in 2021, which equated to CA$153 million ($118 million) in federal spending. While experts largely support the plan for veterans, they say it should be accompanied by psychosocial support, especially in cases of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Campaigners call on UN Women to pull out of BlackRock partnership | Women’s rights and gender equality

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The UN agency responsible for promoting gender equality is being urged to pull out of a partnership with BlackRock, the world’s biggest investment fund manager, over the company’s “record of prioritising profits over human rights or environmental integrity”.

Hundreds of women’s organisations and activists have written to UN Women demanding it rescind the partnership.

The letter, sent on Tuesday to Sima Sami Bahous, UN Women’s executive director, and her two deputies, Åsa Regnér and Anita Bhatia, said the partnership “gives BlackRock a veneer of feminist approval that it clearly does not merit”.

While details of the collaboration have not been made public, BlackRock published a statement on its website in May saying it had signed “a memorandum of understanding” with the UN agency “agreeing to cooperate in promoting the growth of gender lens investing”.

BlackRock has faced pressure from environmental activists to improve its climate action policies, given its vast holdings in fossil fuel companies, and wide global reach.

The asset manager has investments in some of the world’s largest weapons sales companies, the letter said, noting that BlackRock is “consistently” ranked among the worst performers on corporate accountability by civil society watchdogs.

From left to right: Pam Chan of BlackRock, UN Women representative Anita Bhatia and Isabelle Mateos y Lago of BlackRock at Davos this year.
From left to right: Pam Chan of BlackRock, UN Women representative Anita Bhatia and Isabelle Mateos y Lago of BlackRock at Davos this year. Photograph: UN Photo

The letter, signed by almost 600 groups and individuals, said BlackRock also holds large amounts of debt in Zambia and Sri Lanka. It was among the private sector lenders that refused to delay debt interest payments to prevent Zambia’s finances from collapsing. The country has had to cut health and social care spending by a fifth in the past two years to balance its budget, cuts that have disproportionately affected women and marginalised groups.

Sanam Amin, a Bangladeshi academic and activist, said: “We want this agreement to be rescinded. This will not have a positive outcome for UN Women or the feminist organisations it is working with.”

She said BlackRock was using UN Women for bluewashing and pinkwashing purposes, and that it was “a fantasy” to imagine that “gender-impact investment can keep investment bankers rich and also save the world”.

“This is an illusion and relies on the labour and resources of marginalised communities in a gendered fashion, in the global south and across global supply chains.”

This is not the first time UN Women has been criticised for partnering with the private sector. In 2015, after pressure from women’s groups, the organisation backed out of a deal with Uber to encourage 1 million women to sign up as drivers.

Emilia Reyes, a feminist activist, said a lack of money was driving the UN into partnerships with the private sector. “We are calling for member states to fulfil their commitments on funding for UN departments as a whole,” she said. “In the search for extra funding, [UN bodies] are undermining their mandate and pushing conflicts of interest inside the UN.”

A spokesperson for UN Women said it “understands the concerns of its civil society partners”, which “merit consideration”. They said the partnership had been “put on hold”.

BlackRock said the money it managed belonged to its clients, many of whom made their own investment decisions. It added: “We highly value UN Women’s leadership in advancing women’s empowerment around the world and respect their decision to put the agreement on hold while they review their strategy for private sector partnerships.”

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