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Refugees escape war, but face new threat in Europe – germs

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  • As IS group in Syrian war killed 21 Christians in al-Qaryatain, says patriarch

Having survived perilous escapes from war zones, refugees find themselves assailed anew in Europe by germs proliferating in crowded, unsanitary camps that could become outbreak hotspots, infectious disease experts have warned.

Their systems weakened by physical exhaustion, a lack of safe food, clean water and medicine, refugees are sitting-duck targets for entirely preventable diseases that can scar, maim, even kill.

Most of these illnesses have long been relegated to Europe’s past: scabies, measles, tuberculosis, cholera and typhoid fever, concerned doctors and academics told a conference in Amsterdam this weekend.

But several have now reemerged, wreaking havoc among Europe’s bulging migrant settlements, from where they could regain a foothold in the broader population.

“Maybe there is a problem in the future,” warned Turkish infectious disease specialist Hakan Leblebicioglu.

“Regarding tuberculosis… polio and measles, these should be considered an emerging threat especially for the refugees, the region, and maybe Europe,” he told delegates.

More and more refugees will arrive from countries where such illnesses remain widespread.

This while a growing anti-vaccine movement in Europe has left “gaps in vaccination coverage”, according to Leblebicioglu, and resistance to antibiotics is a growing concern.

Europe has struggled to deal with the influx of refugees from countries in Africa and the Middle East ravaged by war and poverty.

According to refugee agencies, more than a million migrants arrived in the EU last year, and almost 180,000 so far this year — many risking life and limb to cross the ocean in shoddy boats for a long shot at a better life.

Most spend extended periods in camps ill-equipped to deal with the unprecedented influx.

A major problem has been the lack of a coordinated European policy to screen new arrivals for contagious diseases, treat them, and vaccinate widely, the conference heard.

“It’s very different in different countries. There’s no pan-European standard,” infectious diseases lecturer Nicholas Beeching of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine told AFP.

Screening happens randomly, “may not be based on much evidence, and may be a partly political response,” he said.

Experts presented evidence of disease outbreaks in refugee camps: measles in France and Turkey, scabies in the Netherlands, salmonella in Germany, and MRSA — a drug-resistant skin infection — in Switzerland.

The causes were multifold, explained Leblebicioglu.

“They live in unsanitary conditions, crowded populations, there is a problem with garbage accumulation in some countries.”

Cultural and language barriers can divide refugees and health care providers.

Many “don’t know how to access health care systems even if they have entitlement,” said Beeching.

Furthermore, Europe’s health systems were overburdened, the experts pointed out, calling for more money and a coordinated approach to disease screening and treatment.

It would be expensive, but well worth it, they argued.

“If you want to do it starting from zero, because that is where we are now, then you need to consider that the cost will be very considerable,” said Italian public health expert Alberto Matteelli.

Only about a third of European governments have a policy on refugee TB screening, he remarked, and fewer than a handful did so consistently.

HIV is another concern.

Danish researchers reported that migrants not only had higher rates of infection with the virus that causes AIDS, but were also more likely to be diagnosed later.

This had consequences for public health, explained Laura Deen of the Copenhagen University Hospital’s immigrant medicine section, “in terms of risk of transmission from individuals unware of their HIV infection.”

Speakers stressed the real risk of refugees setting off disease outbreaks among host populations was negligible.

“The fact itself that they are marginalised and they do not integrate into the community in Europe is the cause of their disease, and protects the European community from being infected,” said Matteelli.

“The risk is for themselves. They are a vulnerable population that needs to be protected.”

The best course of action was to ensure speedy diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases among refugees, and provide access to the health systems of their host countries.

“If we do that we will get better health for refugees, for healthcare workers and also for hosting communities,” said Matteelli.

Refugee health was the highlighted topic at a four-day conference of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.

In the meantime, reports are emerging of the killing of Syrian Christians by Islamic State militants in the town of al-Qaryatain.

The town was retaken by Russian-backed Syrian forces and their allies earlier in the week.

Some 21 Christians were murdered when almost 300 Christians remained in the city after IS captured it last August, said the head of the Syrian Orthodox Church.

They included three women, Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II told the BBC.

He said some died whilst trying to escape while the others were killed for breaking the terms of their “dhimmi contracts”, which require them to submit to the rule of Islam.

Five more Christians are still missing, believed dead. Negotiations and the payment of ransoms have seen the remainder of the group re-join their families.

The patriarch said warnings had come that Islamic State planned to sell Christian girls into slavery.

But despite the murders, he said restoring harmony among faiths remained his goal.

“We lived this situation for centuries, we learned how to respect each other, we learned how to live with each other,” said the patriarch. “We can live together again, if we are left alone by others.”

The town is now utterly devastated, with street after street and building after building – including a 1,500-year-old Catholic monastery – in ruins.

Coaches laid on by the Syrian government have been bringing thousands of residents back to al-Qaryatain and the nearby city of Palmyra.

IS captured al-Qaryatain in August, and abducted hundreds of residents, including dozens of Christians, many of whom were were ransomed by their families.

If the government reasserts its control over al-Qaryatain, it would be a further boost for President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces – backed by Russian air strikes – have made a string of gains against rebels in recent months.

The jihadists have suffered a series of setbacks in Syria in recent weeks, also losing the ancient city of Palmyra.

Al-Qaryatain, about 100km (60 miles) west of Palmyra, was taken over by IS fighters in their first major offensive since they seized Palmyra last May.

There has been a dramatic drop in fighting in Syria since a partial ceasefire came into effect last month, though IS and the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front were excluded and are still being targeted.

MSN with additional report from BBC

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WAIVER CESSATION: Igbokwe urges NIMASA to evolve stronger collaboration with Ships owners

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…Stresses the need for timely disbursement of N44.6billion CVFF***

Highly revered Nigerian Maritime Lawyer, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Igbokwe has urged the Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency (NIMASA) to partner with ship owners and relevant association in the industry to evolving a more vibrant merchant shipping and cabotage trade regime.

Igbokwe gave the counsel during his paper presentation at the just concluded two-day stakeholders’ meeting on Cabotage waiver restrictions, organized by NIMASA.

“NIMASA and shipowners should develop merchant shipping including cabotage trade. A good start is to partner with the relevant associations in this field, such as the Nigeria Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Oil Trade Group & Maritime Trade Group of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

“A cursory look at their vision, mission and objectives, show that they are willing to improve the maritime sector, not just for their members but for stakeholders in the maritime economy and the country”.

Adding that it is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a through briefing and regular consultation with ships owners, in other to have insight on the challenges facing the ship owners.

“It is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a thorough briefing and regular consultations with shipowners, to receive insight on the challenges they face, and how the Agency can assist in solving them and encouraging them to invest and participate in the maritime sector, for its development. 

“NIMASA should see them as partners in progress because, if they do not invest in buying ships and registering them in Nigeria, there would be no Nigerian-owned ships in its Register and NIMASA would be unable to discharge its main objective.

The Maritime lawyer also urged NIMASA  to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)that currently stands at about N44.6 billion.

“Lest it be forgotten, what is on the lips of almost every shipowner, is the need to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (the CVFF’), which was established by the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, 2003. It was established to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity, by providing financial assistance to Nigerian citizens and shipping companies wholly owned by Nigerian operating in the domestic coastal shipping, to purchase and maintain vessels and build shipping capacity. 

“Research shows that this fund has grown to about N44.6billion; and that due to its non-disbursement, financial institutions have repossessed some vessels, resulting in a 43% reduction of the number of operational indigenous shipping companies in Nigeria, in the past few years. 

“Without beating around the bush, to promote indigenous maritime development, prompt action must be taken by NIMASA to commence the disbursement of this Fund to qualified shipowners pursuant to the extant Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (“CVFF”) Regulations.

Mike Igbokwe (SAN)

“Indeed, as part of its statutory functions, NIMASA is to enforce and administer the provisions of the Cabotage Act 2003 and develop and implement policies and programmes which will facilitate the growth of local capacity in ownership, manning and construction of ships and other maritime infrastructure. Disbursing the CVFF is one of the ways NIMASA can fulfill this mandate.

“To assist in this task, there must be collaboration between NIMASA, financial institutions, the Minister of Transportation, as contained in the CVFF Regulations that are yet to be implemented”, the legal guru highlighted further. 

He urged the agency to create the right environment for its stakeholders to build on and engender the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders.

“Lastly, which is the main reason why we are all here, cessation of ministerial waivers on some cabotage requirements, which I believe is worth applause in favour of NIMASA. 

“This is because it appears that the readiness to obtain/grant waivers had made some of the vessels and their owners engaged in cabotage trade, to become complacent and indifferent in quickly ensuring that they updated their capacities, so as not to require the waivers. 

“The cessation of waivers is a way of forcing the relevant stakeholders of the maritime sector, to find workable solutions within, for maritime development and fill the gaps in the local capacities in 100% Nigerian crewing, ship ownership, and ship building, that had necessitated the existence of the waivers since about 15 years ago, when the Cabotage Act came into being. 

“However, NIMASA must ensure that the right environment is provided for its stakeholders to build and possess the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders. Or better still, that they are solved within the next 5 years of its intention to stop granting waivers”, he further explained. 

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Breaking News: The Funeral Rites of Matriarch C. Ogbeifun is Live

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The Burial Ceremony of Engr. Greg Ogbeifun’s mother is live. Watch on the website: www.maritimefirstnewspaper.com and on Youtube: Maritimefirst Newspaper.

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Wind Farm Vessel Collision Leaves 15 Injured

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…As Valles Steamship Orders 112,000 dwt Tanker from South Korea***

A wind farm supply vessel and a cargo ship collided in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday leaving 15 injured.

The Cyprus-flagged 80-meter general cargo ship Raba collided with Denmark-flagged 31-meter wind farm supply vessel World Bora near Rügen Island, about three nautical miles off the coast of Hamburg. 

Many of those injured were service engineers on the wind farm vessel, and 10 were seriously hurt. 

They were headed to Iberdrola’s 350MW Wikinger wind farm. Nine of the people on board the World Bora were employees of Siemens Gamesa, two were employees of Iberdrola and four were crew.

The cause of the incident is not yet known, and no pollution has been reported.

After the collision, the two ships were able to proceed to Rügen under their own power, and the injured were then taken to hospital. 

Lifeboat crews from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service tended to them prior to their transport to hospital via ambulance and helicopter.

“Iberdrola wishes to thank the rescue services for their diligence and professionalism,” the company said in a statement.

In the meantime, the Hong Kong-based shipowner Valles Steamship has ordered a new 112,000 dwt crude oil tanker from South Korea’s Sumitomo Heavy Industries Marine & Engineering.

Sumitomo is to deliver the Aframax to Valles Steamship by the end of 2020, according to data provided by Asiasis.

The newbuild Aframax will join seven other Aframaxes in Valles Steamship’s fleet. Other ships operated by the company include Panamax bulkers and medium and long range product tankers.

The company’s most-recently delivered unit is the 114,426 dwt Aframax tanker Seagalaxy. The naming and delivery of the tanker took place in February 2019, at Namura Shipbuilding’s yard in Japan.

Maritime Executive with additional report from World Maritime News

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