Venezuelan refugees feared drowned en route to Trinidad

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE GUARDIAN NEWS)

 

Venezuelan refugees feared drowned en route to Trinidad

More than 30 people set sail on fishing vessel Jhonnaly Jose that capsized in heavy seas

Looking westwards off the shore of Trinidad across the Gulf of Paria towards Venezuela
 Looking west from Trinidad across the Gulf of Paria towards Venezuela. The captain of the Jhonnaly Jose was found clinging to oil drums. Photograph: Josh Surtees/The Guardian

More than 30 Venezuelans are missing, feared drowned, after their boat sank attempting to reach Trinidad in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The fishing vessel, Jhonnaly Jose, had left the port city of Guiria but capsized in rough seas near the uninhabited Patos Island, 3 miles (5km) from the Venezuelan coast.

The boat’s official manifest recorded 25 passengers, but sources say additional passengers boarded unlogged. Most of the passengers were women.

Nine survivors have been found by the Venezuelan and Trinidadian Coast Guards. Two, including the captain, Francisco Martinez, were found clinging to floating oil drums as daylight broke over the Gulf of Paria. The stretch of water that separates the Caribbean island from the South American mainland is just 7 km at its narrowest point.

Venezuelan authorities released the names of 23 people confirmed as travelling on the boat, all aged between 17 and 28. Most are likely to have been fleeing the ongoing social and economic crisis. The accident happened at night on a popular route for refugees and migrants who pay traffickers to reach Trinidad. Passage costs $250 (£194), paid to boatmen who sail under cover of darkness, docking in quiet coves or jetties.

Passenger ferries travel between the two countries about once a week, but many Venezuelans are forced to cross illegally on fishing boats because they don’t have passports to enter through official ports and are often refused entry. Getting passports and official documents issued in Venezuela is almost impossible because of the collapsing civil administration. Some claim the regime of President Nicolas Maduro deliberately withholds passports and blame the bureaucratic delays on corruption or attempts to stop Venezuelan citizens fleeing the country.

According to government figures, 3 million Venezuelans have left since the crisis began. Per capita, there are more Venezuelans living in Trinidad and Tobago than any country in the region, except the microstates of Aruba and Curacao. The United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) and the Trinidadian government estimate that 40,000 Venezuelans are living in Trinidad, of whom 10,000 have registered as asylum-seekers with the UN refugee agency.

Refugees in Trinidad currently have no employment rights, which forces them to work illegally. Many are exploited, paid shockingly low wages and some resort to sex work to supplement their incomes. Sex trafficking rings have been uncovered by the Trinidadian police.

However, the Trinidadian government recently announced an amnesty on all Venezuelans living in the country – including those who entered illegally – that will allow them temporary work permits. The scheme, like those in other Latin American countries hosting Venezuelans, will require registration with the government within a two-week timeframe.

Trinidad’s minister of national security, Stuart Young, has said that after one year refugees will be expected to return to Venezuela. Concerns have been expressed about how the government will handle the data and whether it will be shared with the Maduro regime.

The governments of Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago have close ties, largely because of commercial deals over the offshore oil reserves that bolster both countries’ economies. The diplomatic situation has coloured Trinidad’s approach to the refugee crisis, with the prime minister, Keith Rowley, thus far refusing to recognise Venezuelans living in Trinidad as refugees.

Early unconfirmed reports from local news agencies stated that at least two children were on board the Jhonnaly Jose when it set off.

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Mental Health Patients Detained In Hospital Wards For Decades

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER OF THE UK)

 

Mental health patients detained in hospital wards for up to 21 years

Guardian finds many people confined far from families, sometimes for decades

Patient in NHS secure unit
 Library image. One patient at Birmingham and Solihull mental health NHS foundation trust spent 7,914 days – more than 21 years – in one of the wards. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

A patient locked in a secure ward for more than 21 years is among hundreds of people with mental health problems being kept in what one MP has called “old-style asylums” in NHS hospitals, an investigation can reveal.

Keeping people in so-called “locked rehabilitation wards” has been condemned as “outdated and sometimes institutionalised care”, by the NHS watchdog, with many patients housed far from their homes. This is despite a 2017 report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) that said the model of care had no place in a modern healthcare system.

Using freedom of information laws, the Guardian has found that:

  • At least 435 patients spent time in locked rehabilitation wards in 2018, up from 404 in 2015.
  • One patient at Birmingham and Solihull mental health NHS foundation trust spent 7,914 days – more than 21 years – in one of the wards.
  • The average length of stay in a locked unit at Sussex Partnership NHS foundation trust was 602 days, almost two years.

There is no set definition of a locked rehabilitation ward, but it generally means a unit where patients are unable to leave as and when they want. They started being used about 10 years ago, mainly provided by the private sector to treat people who were considered high risk to others, so with serious conditions such as psychosis.

But critics have condemned the approach “which has no place in modern Britain”, according to MPs. A report from the CQC in 2017 warned that the practice leaves already vulnerable patients feeling isolated and less likely to recover.

Rajesh Mohan, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ rehabilitation psychiatry faculty said that a lack of clear definition of “locked rehabilitation” care means, there are no agreed quality standards and it’s hard to “say whether a person’s liberties are deprived”.

“If the principle of care is based on locking the doors, people cannot leave the building, then you cannot have voluntary patients at all there … It means restrictions are applied to everyone rather than there being a focus on recovery,” he said.

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb said: “They are like old-style asylums that have no place in modern Britain. What we are doing is a fundamental breach of people’s human rights.

“It is a complete contradiction in terms: locked rehabilitation ward. Their [the CQC’s] conclusion was that many people in these wards don’t need to be there. That means that there are lots of people who are capable of living independent lives with support who are locked up.”

Mohan said that in the last 10 to 15 years more than a third of NHS rehabilitation services have been wiped out. “The need for these services has not gone away. People with lots of complex and enduring symptoms need rehabilitation treatment and the private sector stepped in to bridge this service gap, but people may become isolated in these units for long periods of time.”

He said he would not describe these services as old-style asylums but the problem is people end up in these units for too long as there is no step-down provided and no community services to support people leaving wards.

“People in rehabilitation units should be able to move on to less restrictive rehabilitation settings. But that will only happen if they have places to bedischarged to, such as supported accommodation with 24-hour supported community care. There will be some people whose illness and symptoms are very severe, but that does not mean they should be stuck in hospital for 21 years. There needs to be more focus on community rehabilitation teams and high quality supported housing.”

The Guardian found that 404 patients in NHS hospitals were in locked rehabilitation wards in 2015, rising to 435 in 2018. A freedom of information request sent to all mental health trusts resulted in 11 trusts saying they had such wards, compared with 32 who said they did not. Thirteen trusts did not respond in time.

Central and North West London NHS foundation trust had the highest number of patients, with 104 staying in secure wards in 2018. The longest stay of a patient was 2,914 days – six days shy of eight years.

The trust said it runs specialist rehabilitation services for people with “complex mental health problem” and are one of the largest providers because they cover a large local and neighbouring area.

”We’re very different from old style asylums; our facilities are hospitals, modern and bright … The majority of people stay between six and 18 months … There are a few people who need to stay longer (eg Home Office restriction orders), and we work to identify other options for them.”

Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS foundation trust had a patient stay for 7,914 days, more than 21 years. Another patient stayed for 6,174 days, almost 17 years.

They did not comment on these individual cases but said: “There remain a small number of patients within our locked rehabilitation wards in Solihull who have required long-term treatment in a hospital setting. There are currently no alternative settings in Solihull offering appropriate residential care for this group, who need specialist support. Cases are reviewed regularly.”

At Sussex partnership NHS foundation trust the average length of stay in a locked unit was 602 days, almost two years. The trust said: “Our priority is always to ensure that the people who need our specialist services receive the best possible care, at the right time and, crucially, in the right setting and that they remain in that setting only for as long as they need to.”

In 2017, a report by the CQC found that more than 3,500 patients in 248 mental health wards were kept locked-in, the majority in private mental health hospitals.

The report stated: “Our inspectors were concerned that some of these locked rehabilitation hospitals were in fact long stay wards that risk institutionalising patients, rather than a step on the road back to a more independent life in the person’s home community.

“We do not consider that this model of care has a place in today’s mental healthcare system.”

Paul Lelliott, deputy chief inspector of hospitals at the CQC, said: “These findings echo our own concerns highlighted last year that some people in mental health rehabilitation wards experience long stays in services, some situated a long way from the patient’s home. Rather than helping people get well these factors can increase their sense of institutionalisation and slow down recovery.

“Rehabilitation wards are an essential element of a comprehensive mental health service but they should live up to their name and be focused on helping people recover rather than being ‘long-stay’ wards in disguise. ”

An NHS England spokesperson said: “As the CQC make clear, ‘inpatient’ rehabilitation wards are a key part of good mental healthcare and while no one should stay any longer than necessary, in a tiny number of cases, it might remain the safest and most appropriate treatment setting for both the individual patient and wider community. Patient confidentiality of necessity means individual details must be kept private, but absent this specific information known to patients and their clinicians it behoves commentators not to jump to ill informed generalisations.”

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Christians Worldwide Face Serious Persecution As Sri Lanka Shows

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE GUARDIAN NEWS)

 

Iwas up before dawn this morning, preparing for our first service of Easter. This meant that, around the same time as bombs were going offin churches in Sri Lanka, I was reading a passage to my congregation taken from the book of Ezekiel. The passage tells of dead bones coming back together, of bodies being re-clothed in flesh and of life being breathed back into them. Over in Sri Lanka, bones were being blown apart, and flesh stripped from skin. These people woke up this morning full of hope, excited in anticipation of the story of Jesus’s resurrection. They put on their best clothes and polished their shoes. Now their blood is being mopped from the sanctuary floor.

I was talking the other day to the classicist Mary Beard about Christian persecution in Roman times – all that stuff about lions and the Coliseum. She was of the opinion that it might not have been quite as big a deal as later Christians made it out to be. And no doubt there is nothing quite like a few over egged stories of gory martyrdom to deepen a sense of group solidarity among a struggling religious community. Well, I bow to Mary’s greater knowledge of classical Rome. But while it may have been true that too much was made of Roman persecution, the very opposite is true now. We are living though one of the most serious phases of Christian persecution in history, and most people refuse to acknowledge it.

During the past century, Christianity has been all but driven out of the Middle East, the place of its birth. This time last year I was in Damascus, visiting the Christian community there. On the front of the church that I went to on Sunday morning there was a huge mural depicting the horrors of the Armenian genocide. These Christians were originally refugees from Turkey, and had arrived there fleeing the most sustained and horrendous persecution. How much of this story do we know? This week, the Israeli historians Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi will publish a much-awaited account of the period. The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of its Christian Minorities argues that from 1894 to 1924, the Turkish authorities systematically murdered some 2.5 million Christians. At the beginning of that period, in places like Anatolia, Christians accounted for 20% of the population. By the end of it, there were just 2% left. Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, Christians have been driven from the Middle East with bombs and bullets, and with hardly a bat squeak of protest from the secular west.

Why no outrage? Yes, these horrendous murders will make the press for a day or two – but we generally care more about the fire in a famous cathedral than we do about those people who have their bodies blown to bits in architecturally less significant places of worship.

Why the blind spot – especially given that we do care about so many other forms of oppression? No, it’s not a competition. But I do wonder whether on some unconscious level the secular and broadly progressive west thinks that Christianity had it coming. They associate Christianity with popes and their armies, with crusades and inquisitions, with antisemitism, British imperialism, Trump supporters and abortion protesters.

Christians in the west haven’t helped. By describing as “persecution” the minor run-ins that Christianity has had with the law – about cakes for gay couples or street preachers, for example – Christians have debased the word persecution and made it sound like a manipulation designed to reclaim some lost place in the culture. Moreover, porky and pink-faced bishops in the House of Lords do not look like a persecuted species, and so when they talk about Christian persecution they look faintly ridiculous.

A memorial marking the 102nd anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians in Istanbul, Turkey, 24 April 2017.
Pinterest
 A memorial marking the 102nd anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians in Istanbul, Turkey, 24 April 2017. Photograph: Sedat Suna/EPA

And maybe there are some who don’t want to talk about Christian persecution because they fear that it could easily be used – as it sometimes is – as an alibi for Islamophobia. Easier to fall silent about the murder of Christians than to be seen to side with those racists who blame Muslims for everything. I understand this – but it’s still not good enough.

According to the widely respected Pew report, Christianity remains the world’s most persecuted religion. And the only reason for mentioning this so crassly in terms of league tables is simply that it serves to highlight the deafening silence of our response to it. From North Korea (OK, obviously) to China, and increasingly even in places such as India – all around the world Christians are subject to real and sustained violence for the profession of their faith, the one that we proclaim most insistently today. That life is stronger than death. That love will ultimately triumph over hate.

And this means that we believe terrorism can never quench the proclamation of the good news of Easter. At Easter, darkness doesn’t have the last word. That is why people were going to church in Sri Lanka in the first place, to listen again to this message: Christ is risen. Allelujah.

 Giles Fraser is a parish priest in Elephant and Castle, south London

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