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‘We were very lucky nobody died’: How a Covid-19 outbreak in an Irish town spiraled

She had been waiting months for a decision to be made on her asylum status. But the letter wasn&#039..

She had been waiting months for a decision to be made on her asylum status. But the letter wasn't about that. Misha, and dozens of other asylum seekers at the Dublin hotel were notified that they would be moved to a rural town over 200 miles away, on the west coast of Ireland, due to concerns over Covid-19 spreading through the accommodation, which was also shared by paying guests. She had less than 24 hours to pack her things.When she was transferred to the Skellig Star accommodation center in Cahersiveen, County Kerry, on March 18, she was hopeful it would be safe. But, after arriving and being told to bunk with another asylum seeker she didn't know, she began to fear the worst."I was scared for my life," said Misha, who asked that her real name not be used for fear it might impact her asylum claim.About 100 people in total were transferred from a handful of centers, including from one Dublin hotel where a guest from Italy had reportedly contracted the virus.Just days after they arrived, one of the residents started showing symptoms, according to three people CNN talked to. Then the rumors started.

"I was scared for my life."


The Cahersiveen community had been given just as little time to prepare; locals found out only a few days before that the Skellig Star — rebuilt in 2006 on the promise of drawing tourists with a swimming pool and other leisure facilities — was being converted into accommodation for asylum seekers.Despite their lack of consultation and concerns over losing business from the only major hotel in town, people in Cahersiveen welcomed the group, bringing them clothes and toys. But when news began swirling that asylum seekers were getting sick, and still shopping in the local stores, people in the small town began to panic. "Rural Ireland would love to have these people living in the community … they'd be more than welcome," said Jack Fitzpatrick, chairman of the Cahersiveen Community and Business Alliance. "But, this is not the way to do it, to plunk 100 people into a very congested hotel in the midst of a pandemic."The outbreak, which swiftly spread through the hotel, infecting 25 people at its peak, was declared over on May 20 by Ireland's Health Service Executive (HSE), but local residents and asylum seekers are continuing to push for the center to be shut down, joining together as a united front in a series of demonstrations. Under a system known as Direct Provision, overseen by Ireland's Department of Justice and Equality and operated by private businesses on lucrative contracts, asylum seekers are housed in emergency accommodation while they wait to find out if they will be granted refugee status and permission to stay in the country.Calls for reform of the system, introduced initially as an emergency measure by the state in 1999 after a sudden increase in asylum applications, have coincided with sweeping, global protests for racial justice following the killing of George Floyd in the US. Asylum seekers — many of whom are from African countries — have condemned Direct Provision for "institutionalized racism" on the part of the government, arguing that no one else in the country is treated in the same way as they are. While their appeal is being assessed, they're provided with free accommodation, food and utilities, and have access to healthcare and education, but they have almost no autonomy and cannot choose where they live. And they are unable to apply for a work permit until at least eight months into their application process — expected to survive on a weekly allowance of €38.80 ($43) instead. Commenting on the comparison between Direct Provision and the murder of George Floyd earlier this month, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar conceded that while some Direct Provision accommodation was substandard and needed to change, it "ultimately is a service offered by the state … involves people being provided with free accommodation, food, heat, lighting, health care, education, and also some spending money.""It's not the same thing as a man being killed by the police."Decisions on asylum cases in Ireland can take years, a fact that has been criticized by the United Nations Refugee Agency, which recently called for the process to be sped up. And rejection rates are high — around 70%, according to recent figures. Dozens of people have died waiting, according to a Freedom of Information request from The Irish Catholic.

Not fit for purpose

Ireland's Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Green Party struck a draft deal to form a new coalition government on Monday, which, if ratified by the members of the three parties, will end months of political stalemate since the country's election in February. It will also inject urgency into reforming the Irish asylum system. One of the key commitments outlined in the agreement is a pledge to end Direct Provision and replace it with an accommodation policy centered on a not-for-profit approach.Liam Thornton, a law lecturer and Direct Provision expert, greeted the decision with cautious optimism. "After 20-plus years of government denial that anything much was wrong, it's interesting to see," he told CNN. "While we haven't been here before, it is implementation that will be key." Thornton tweeted: "Direct Provision is one of the darkest chapters in the Dept of Justice history. But it takes people to design, administer, implement such awfulness. New mindsets needed ASAP."Asylum seekers, human rights campaigners and legal experts such as Thornton say the pandemic has shone a spotlight on structural problems that have long existed in Ireland's asylum system. Against the backdrop of Covid-19, the often crowded, poor conditions have become that much more apparent. "HSE has been advising us, and everybody, on social distancing, but you cannot social distance where there is no space," Misha said."We were sharing bedrooms with strangers. We were sharing the dining room. We were sharing the salt shakers. We were sharing the lobby. We were sharing everything. And if you looked at the whole situation, you cannot really say that it was fit for purpose."Skellig Star residents, locked inside the center during quarantine, chant "move us out" on April 29.Misha says she watched in horror as people started falling sick around her, before being pulled into makeshift isolation rooms. The first suspected case of Covid-19 in the center was reported as early as March 24, the Justice Department has conceded, adding that the person did not test positive. They did not say when the test was conducted.According to asylum seekers and a previous manager, testing of asylum seekers didn't start until weeks later in mid-April. After positive cases were confirmed, all residents at the Skellig Star were ordered to stay inside and quarantine. "I have verifiable evidence of a written communication from the Skellig Star to the Department of Justice and Equality on 24 March confirming a suspected case of Covid-19. The resident concerned was placed in isolation on 20 March, one day after arrival in Cahersiveen," Member of Parliament for Kerry, Norma Foley, said in a special parliamentary committee hearing on the government's Covid-19 response."The timeline might not be of importance to either the HSE or the Department of Justice and Equality but it is very important to the residents of the Skellig Star and the community of Cahersiveen. This timeline confirms unequivocally that Covid-19 was transported by bus on 18 March and 19 March to the Skellig Star and the community of Cahersiveen."In a statement to CNN regarding the timeline, the Department said it had made an "honest mistake" in failing to receive the March 24 communication and that "there was no attempt by the Department … to intentionally mislead or conceal the facts" related to the outbreak.

"Our biggest fear is a second wave … We're afraid it will spread like wildfire in the hotel again, but next time it may also go through the community."

Jack Fitzpatrick

After her roommate tested positive and was taken away to self-isolate at another center, Misha thought that someone would move her, so that the room could be disinfected. When no one came, she said she raised her concerns with an HSE worker on site, who told her there was no reason to worry."It was an embarrassment to my intelligence," Misha said. She tested positive 10 days later. Ireland's Justice Department told CNN that an HSE Development Worker was at the hotel to monitor the health of residents and staff throughout the outbreak, and is now providing more general support, including accessing mainstream health services and integrating in the local community. The Department said it was continuing to work closely with the HSE and Cahersiveen center managers to ensure the wellbeing of all residents and staff, including offering all single residents their own bedrooms and providing enhanced cleaning services. The center also intends to provide self-catering facilities so that residents can cook in their rooms, instead of eating together in a communal dining room. Townbe, the company that operates Skellig and three other Direct Provision centers, did not respond to CNN's request for comment. The Justice Department said it was unable to comment on the value of thRead More – Source


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Aliku Ogorchukwu: Wife of Nigerian killed in Italy demands justice

The wife of a Nigerian street trader who was killed in Italy has told the BBC she is seeking justice following his “painful death”.

Aliku Ogorchukwu, 39, was reportedly selling handkerchiefs in the seaside town of Civitanova Marche on Friday when he was chased and beaten to death.

A 32-year-old Italian has been arrested on suspicion of murder and robbery.

A video circulating online shows a man on top of Ogorchukwu, punching him with his bare hands.

None of those who witnessed the broad daylight attack appeared to intervene.

“This is a form of wickedness I don’t know,” Ogorchukwu’s wife, Charity Oriachi, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa.

Ms Oriachi said she had received help in coming to terms with her husband’s death but was tired of “talk”. Now, she was only interested in justice, she insisted.

Her family had lived in Italy for a long time, she said, stressing that her husband had never sought any trouble.

The killing has sparked outrage in the local community, including Nigerians, who took to the streets over the weekend and are planning another demonstration soon.

The Nigerian government has asked Italian authorities to quickly “bring the perpetrator of the heinous act” to justice.

Suspect not released

The suspect – a white man named as Filippo Claudio Giuseppe Ferlazzo – has been ordered to remain in jail as the investigation continues.

His defence lawyer told the media the suspect had said he was sorry and that there was “no racial element” involved.

A police investigator said Ogorchukwu was attacked after the trader’s “insistent” requests to the suspect and his partner for spare change.

The partner, identified as Elena D, told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that Ogorchukwu had touched her arm, but that did not bother her.

Ms Oriachi now wants to see the suspect “face to face”, to understand why he killed her husband, the family’s lawyer told the Associated Press.

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Ukrainian widow confronts Russian soldier accused of killing her husband

In the very first days of this invasion a 62-year-old unarmed civilian was shot dead on a village street outside his Ukrainian home. His name was Oleksandr Shelipov.

Three months later and the captured Russian soldier accused of killing him is in Kyiv being tried for a war crime.

Standing up in court to confront the 21-year-old defendant on Thursday was Kateryna Shelipova, the widow of the man killed.

Did he repent his crime, she asked?

The Russian tank commander, Vadim Shishimarin, replied that he admitted his guilt and asked for her forgiveness. “But I understand you won’t be able to forgive me,” he added.

Kateryna Shelipova hadn’t finished. “Tell me please, why did you [Russians] come here? To protect us?” she asked, citing Vladimir Putin’s justification for the invasion of Ukraine.

“Protect us from whom? Did you protect me from my husband, whom you killed?”

The soldier had no answer to that.

This landmark trial marks the first time a Russian serviceman has been put on the stand for war crimes since the invasion of Ukraine was launched in February.

And perhaps such raw encounters are what such trials are about, at least in part. Forcing a soldier – who ignored all the rules of war – to face up to exactly what he has done and the suffering he has caused.

Sgt Shishimarin has pleaded guilty and Ukrainian prosecutors are asking for him to be sentenced to life imprisonment.

On Wednesday, Ms Shelipova told me she actually felt sorry for the soldier, but she could not forgive him for this crime.

She heard the shots that killed her husband, then saw Sgt Shishimarin through her gate – holding his weapon.

Five minutes later she says she saw her husband’s body: “He was dead with a shot in his head. I started screaming very loudly.”

“The loss of my husband is everything for me,” Ms Shelipova said, adding: “He was my protector.”

‘It killed him’

Recalling the events of 28 February, Vadim Shishimarin said he and a small group of other Russian soldiers had become separated from their unit and hijacked a car in order to return to it.

“As we were driving, we saw a man. He was talking on the phone,” the defendant said.

He claimed that he hadn’t wanted to fire the fatal shots, that he was following orders – threatened by another soldier if he refused to do as he was told.

“He said I would be putting us in danger if I didn’t. I shot him at short range. It killed him,” the 21-year-old tank commander told the court.

Interestingly, his defence lawyer – appointed by the state – told me that no Russian official has been in touch with him, including from its defence ministry.

There is no Russian embassy in Kyiv these days, so no contact from there either.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman yesterday told the BBC that the Kremlin has “no information” about this case.

All in all, it feels rather like the young soldier has been abandoned to his fate by the commanders who sent him to war and continue to deny that their forces commit crimes here.

We also heard from a second Russian soldier who witnessed the killing in February and later surrendered to Ukrainian forces.

Ivan Maltysev, another slight and young-looking 21-year-old, told the court how the Russian soldiers spotted Oleksandr Shelipov while they were driving the stolen car.

Mr Maltysev claimed that Vadim Shishimarin was then ordered to shoot the victim because he was on the phone.

“Vadim didn’t do it. So the soldier, whose name I don’t know, turned round in the car and shouted that Vadim had to carry out the order, or we would be informed on.

“At this point, we were almost alongside the civilian and, under pressure, Vadim fired. He fired three or four rounds.”

Ukraine has so far identified more than 11,000 possible war crimes committed by Russia.

Moscow has denied its troops have targeted civilians, but investigators have been collecting evidence of possible war crimes to bring before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

This trial is Ukraine’s chance to prove, beyond doubt, that a Russian soldier killed a civilian with no regard for the rules of war.

Its prosecutors know they are in the spotlight, proceeding so quickly, and in the middle of a war.

That is why they are keen to be as transparent and thorough as possible – so that this is not seen as a show trial, but part of a vital quest for justice.

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Stop matching lone female Ukraine refugees with single men, UK told

The UN refugee agency has called on the UK government to intervene to stop single British men from being matched up with lone Ukrainian women seeking refuge from war because of fears of sexual exploitation.

Following claims that predatory men are using the Homes for Ukraine scheme to target the vulnerable, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) told the Guardian “a more appropriate matching process” could be put in place to ensure women and women with children are matched with families or couples.

The suggestion from the global refugee agency follows reports that Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and sometimes accompanied by children, are at risk in the UK of sexual exploitation.

Under the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme, British hosts must link up with Ukrainian refugees themselves, leaving tens of thousands of people to resort to unregulated social media groups to connect.

A government-backed matching service run by the charity Reset offers to match UK hosts with refugees but has been operating for just over a week. Those who want to move to the UK must have a sponsor before applying for a visa.

In a statement, the UNHCR said there was a need for adequate safeguards and vetting measures to be in place against exploitation, as well as adequate support for sponsors. “[The] UNHCR believes that a more appropriate matching process could be put in place by ensuring that women and women with children are matched with families or couples, rather than with single men.

“Matching done without the appropriate oversight may lead to increasing the risks women may face, in addition to the trauma of displacement, family separation and violence already experienced,” a spokesperson said.

Leading refugee charities raised their concerns about the Homes for Ukraine scheme in a letter to Michael Gove, the minister in charge of the scheme. Louise Calvey, the head of safeguarding at the charity Refugee Action, told the Observer it was at risk of being a “Tinder for sex traffickers”.

One 32-year-old woman from Bakhmut, Ukraine, who has been searching for an appropriate person to match in the UK, wrote that she had received suggestive messages from men on Facebook’s Messenger app. “I was approached by one older guy from London who said that I would have to share a bedroom with him, and was asked if I was OK with that,” she said in an email seen by the Guardian.

The Sunday Times reported this week that a journalist posing as a 22-year-old Ukrainian woman from Kyiv found that within minutes of posting a message on the largest Facebook group for UK hosts she was inundated with inappropriate messages.

Some men lied about having several bedrooms in their one-bed homes while another proposed sharing a bed, writing: “I have a large bed. We could sleep together.” Another sent a voice note that said: “I am ready to help you and maybe you can help me also.”

In its statement, the UNHCR also raised concerns about the repercussions should the original UK host prove a potential threat to the safety of the refugee, and the six-month minimum duration on the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

“UNHCR believes that appropriate training and information are needed to ensure that hosts make an informed decision when applying to become sponsors. Housing a stranger in an extra bedroom for an extended period is not, for some people, sustainable,” the spokesperson said.

There is growing public anger over the length of time that Ukrainians are being forced to wait before being given visas from the Home Office amid the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since the second world war.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, apologised on Friday for the time it had taken for Ukrainian refugees to arrive in the UK under two visa schemes, after figures showed only 12,000 had so far reached Britain.

Reports on Tuesday claimed Gove had been accused of bullying Home Office officials by Patel’s permanent secretary, Matthew Rycroft.

Asked to respond to the UNHCR’s request for an intervention on sexual exploitation of Ukrainian women, a government spokesperson said: “Attempts to exploit vulnerable people are truly despicable – this is why we have designed our Homes for Ukraine scheme to have specific safeguards in place, including robust security and background checks on all sponsors, both by the Home Office and local authorities.

“Councils must make at least one in-person visit to a sponsors property and following guests arrival, they have a duty to ensure the guest is safe and well.

“We have also partnered with the charity Reset Communities and Refugees to fund and provide a matching service for sponsors and refugees to ensure that matches made are suitable, safe and successful. This service will vet eligibility, assess needs, and provide training for sponsors to ensure they

ensure they can support the people they host.”

Asked to confirm or deny whether there had been a complaint that Gove had bullied staff, the spokesperson added: “Humanitarian schemes set up in record time by the Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities working closely together are helping thousands of Ukrainians find safety in the UK.”


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