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This Week in the World | 01.08.18

Alexander Voisine January 10, 2018

CHINA

By: Alex Voisine

Photo Credit: People’s Daily China

The waters were calm in the East China Sea off the coast of Shanghai on Saturday, until about 8pm, when a Panama-registered oil tanker collided with a Hong Kong-registered ship carrying food from the United States. The Panama-registered oil tanker, known as SANCHI, was over 900 feet in length and was carrying 136,000 tons of oil from Iran to South Korea.

There are three major concerns following the collision; the spillage of a massive amount of oil, a fire on the SANCHI that, as of Monday, has yet to be put out, and protecting the lives of those on board both ships.

The SANCHI was carrying an enormous amount of oil, an amount that’s estimated to be 42 million US gallons, or 1 million barrels. If all of the oil is spilled, then the SANCHI collision will be the 10th largest oil spill in world history. For those of us who are undergraduate students, we may only vaguely remember hearing about the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, but have likely seen harrowing images of birds, sea otters, and other sea-dwellers caked in oil. If none of the oil is recovered, the SANCHI oil spill would be nearly four times as large as the Exxon Valdez spill. The relatively good news is that the oil in the SANCHI tanker is an ultralight, colorless crude oil, unlike the thick, black crude oil in many other high-profile oil spills. However, the ultralight oil is highly flammable and toxic, which puts the oil tanker at a high risk of exploding. Since the fire near the collision site has yet to be put out, the tanker continues to be at a high risk of exploding.

If the tanker explodes, the environmental and health impacts will be much more severe than if the fire is put out and the ship is recovered. The fumes from the fire are toxic, making efforts to put the fire out exceedingly challenging.

As of Monday morning, 30 Iranians and 2 Bangladeshis were missing from the SANCHI tanker and all 21 crew members of the Hong Kong-registered ship were rescued.

RUSSIA

By: Alex Voisine

In the small province of Chechnya, located on the southernmost tip of Russia, a fatal war is being waged against its LGBT+ population, with no signs of stopping. Chechnya, which is largely Muslim and led by President Ramzan Kadyrov who has claimed that everyone in Chechnya is heterosexual, has been accused by human rights organizations of sending gay and lesbian Chechens to torture camps, where they are sometimes killed. Though world leaders, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, have urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene, there continues to be a documented anti-LGBT+ purge in Chechnya, forcing many LGBT+ Chechens to migrate in the hopes of being granted asylum in a more LGBT-tolerant country.

A number of European countries and Canada have stepped up to assist LGBT+ Chechens escaping the violence in their home country. Most Western European countries, as well as Canada, the United States, and many others, are able to grant asylum for refugees fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation, and in some cases, gender identity. However, the process of applying for asylum requires applicants to talk in grave detail about their traumatic experiences in an immigration court, which can be very hard, especially for refugees from Chechnya, some of whom have faced severe isolation, violence, and sexual assault.

Photo credit AFP via BBC News

“When it comes to their sexuality, they just don’t know how to talk about it. They are still afraid,” says Elias Karam, who works at Secret Garden, an Amsterdam non-profit that seeks to help LGBT+ asylum-seekers find ways to tell their stories as they prepare for hearings in immigration court in the Netherlands.

Despite counseling and assistance from local non-profits, LGBT+ refugees fleeing Chechnya are still faced with debilitating challenges. Artur, a gay, Chechen Muslim who was interviewed by NPR, feels bad for the pain and trauma he has put his family through, especially his mother: “I want to apologize to [my mother] because I’ve ruined her life,” says Artur. The families and friends of “suspected” gay and lesbian Chechens are often targeted and interrogated by the notorious Chechen military/police force, and are sometimes detained.

The story of Artur is not uncommon, and in a country where LGBT+ identity is often ignored and discrimination and violence go unpunished, the challenges that LGBT+ Chechens face even in tolerant countries like the Netherlands still persist.

THE EUROPEAN UNION

By: Alex Voisine

EU Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker

On Monday, European Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker dispelled the myth that Brexit wasn’t going to happen, and highlighted the potential economic impacts that the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union will have. “Don’t believe those who say that it’s not going to happen and that people in the UK have realized their error…I don’t think that’s going to be the case,” said Juncker.

Though 51.9% of voters in the United Kingdom voted in June of 2016 to leave the European Union, there has been hopes ever since that the UK can reverse that decision, especially after many Brexit-voters have expressed remorse. In fact, a recent study found that 47% of respondents believed that leaving the European Union was a mistake, versus 42% who believe it was not a mistake. The results of this poll, which is one of many other polls that have found similar results, have no legal standing and cannot alone reverse the decision to leave the EU. Still, they indicate a shift in Brexit’s popularity, which Liberals in the UK like former prime minister Tony Blair have argued should warrant a new referendum.

In addition to effectively telling Britons and Europeans alike to accept the reality of Brexit, Juncker announced that the United Kingdom’s exit, which will occur officially in March 2019, would leave a hole of $14-$16 billion (USD), or 12-13 billion euros. EU Budget Commissioner Gunther Oettinger said that this decrease in EU funds would need to be addressed by significant budget cuts and finding new sources of funding. British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will honor the UK’s commitments to the EU until 2020, but after that, the EU will be forced to find ways to make up for the loss of the UK’s contribution.

EL SALVADOR

By: Alex Voisine

Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images via NPR News

In 2001, Republican President George W. Bush gave temporary residency status to citizens of El Salvador living in the United States, in response to devastating earthquakes that displaced thousands of Salvadorans. Since then, nearly 200,000 Salvadorans have obtained Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States. Following the earthquakes and a series of civil wars in El Salvador, the country remains very unsafe for many of its citizens, and received the not-so-flattering title of “Murder Capital of the World.” In 2016, there was one murder per hour in El Salvador, and according to ABC News, it has a homicide rate 22 times that of the United States. All this is to say that since 2001, safety in El Salvador has not improved, forcing many Salvadorans to continue to migrate northward and seek TPS in the United States.

So why does this matter?

On Monday January 8, the Trump Administration announced that it would end TPS for Salvadorans living in the United States, giving Salvadorans until September 9, 2019 to either obtain permanent residency status, or move back to El Salvador. The Trump Administration has called on Congress to pass a law that would permanently grant TPS to Salvadorans– previously, the TPS program was renewed every 18 months, and only upon renewal would Salvadorans be allowed to maintain their status. If Congress does pass a law, then Salvadorans would be given a more permanent residency status, and putting TPS into law has been a move long championed by immigrants’ rights groups.

However, the U.S. Congress has been notably sluggish, passing only a tax law in 2017 and failing to reform healthcare. Another problem is that Congress has a lot on its plate– it is supposed to decide on whether or not the United States will continue to support DACA, a program that has allowed nearly 800,000 children of undocumented immigrants to remain, work, and go to school in the U.S. With a Republican majority, many immigrants’ rights groups are also worried that DACA, Salvadoran TPS, and other hot-button immigration issues won’t be passed into law.

Marselha Goncalves Margerin, who works for Amnesty International USA, rebuked the Administration for its decision, saying: “If forced to return to El Salvador, mothers, fathers, and children could face extortion, kidnapping, coerced service to gangs, and sexual violence.”

Another major problem is the long-term impact on the economy of El Salvador, if hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans are forced to leave the United States. Remittances, or money sent back to one’s home country, make up one fifth of the Salvadoran economy. The absence of this very significant portion of El Salvador’s economy would likely result in more poverty, conflict and displacement, and put returning Salvadorans in even more danger.

The Trump Administration also announced last week that it would end TPS for Nicaraguans, of which there are nearly 2,500 living in the United States.

AUSTRALIA

By: Alice Hakvaag

Photo Credit: Daily Mail

While the United States faces record colds, Sydney, Australia has had its hottest day in 79 years. On Sunday, temperatures hit 47.3 degrees celsius, or 117 degrees Fahrenheit. This was just shy of their last record, where in 1939 it hit 47.8 celsius.

Religious ceremonies, weddings, and sporting events struggled through the heat. Greek Orthodox priests, in full robes, were out celebrating the Festival of the Epiphany at Yarra Bay. Cricket players at the Sydney international tennis tournament attempted to play, but left the court at 10:00 am after the temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 fahrenheit). Due to the high heat on the court, cameras belonging to courtside photographers shut down. Journalist Jamie Pandaram tweeted that “it takes 55 degree temps to do that.”

Mission Australia, a local charity, has helped the homeless population during the heatwave, while the city itself has put in a strict no fire ban. Despite this, several bushfires started in Victoria and South Australia on Saturday. These were caused not only by the extreme heat, but because this last winter was one of the driest winters recorded.

UNITED STATES

By: Alice Hakvaag

Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images

At the 75th annual Golden Globes last Sunday, activism was front and center. On Sunday night celebrities and activists alike appeared to talk and advocate against sexual assault, both in and out of the film industry. Actresses at the event wore black to draw the focus away from outfits and to show solidarity with women speaking up against harassers. Men wore pins with the Time’s Up logo to also show their support.

Many celebrities also brought activists as their dates to the awards, such as Meryl Streep bringing Ai-Jen Poo, who is the Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Host Seth Meyers applauded the move, saying that it showed that the Time’s Up movement was not only going to help elite Hollywood actresses.

The highlight of the evening came when Oprah Winfrey received the Cecil B. DeMille award, and gave one of the most moving speeches of the night. She spoke on the power of truth both in the media and in a society that allows for the covering up of sexual assault. She referenced both the #MeToo campaign that swept through Twitter this fall, and the new Time’s Up campaign.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Misourri took home Best Picture, as well as three other awards. Pixar’s Coco beat out foreign films such as The Breadwinner, a film produced by Angelina Jolie about a young girl who disguises herself as a boy to make money for her family, and Loving Vincent, the first completely hand-painted animated film. Mexican Director Guillermo del Toro took home Best Director for The Shape of Water, but not before Natalie Portman pointed out the lack of female directors nominated as she presented the award. Of the five men nominated, del Toro was the only director not from the United Kingdom or the United States.

North Korea/South Korea

By: Rachel Elliott

Photo Credit: Getty Images/AFP/Korea Pool via The Guardian UK

Following Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Day speech in which he called for dialogue with South Korea in regards to the Olympics, two representatives from each of the Koreas met Tuesday to discuss the North’s participation. This would mark the first time in eight years that North Korea has participated in the Winter Olympics. In addition to their athletes, the North will be sending a National Olympic Committee delegation, cheerleaders, art performers, spectators, a taekwondo demonstration team, and media to the games.

The South made several proposals on top of the Olympic participation: they suggested that athletes from the North and South should march together at the opening ceremony, family members divided by the border can reunite during the Lunar New Year (which occurs during the games), and sanctions may be temporarily suspended to enable the North’s presence at the Winter Games. South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s government hopes the talks will be the starting point for negotiations between North Korea and the United States.

Egypt

By: Rachel Elliott

Egyptian protester carrying a Palestinian flag during a December protest. | Photo credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

President Trump’s decision to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has caused uproar across the globe. However, in tapes released earlier this week, Egyptian intelligence officer Captain Ashraf al-Kholi is heard urging television hosts to persuade their audiences to accept it. He also suggested that Palestinians should be happy with Ramallah, the West Bank city that is currently home to Palestinian Authority.

The four people that al-Kholi was heard on the phone with all agreed with the officer on tape. Three were TV hosts and one was a singer. Azmi Megahed, one of the hosts in the recordings, confirmed the authenticity of the tapes and added, “I am friends with Ashraf and we talk all the time… Another intifada would be bad. I have no problem saying all of the things you have heard in that call in public” (NY Times). One of the other hosts has denied the statements in the recordings and the other two could not be reached for comment. Since the New York Times broke the story, Egypt’s State Information Service has denounced the actions of Captain al-Kholi and restated their previous condemnation of President Trump’s move.