The World Today for August 30, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

No Vacancy

Airbnb will offer 20,000 Afghan refugees free, temporary housing around the world as they seek to reestablish new lives after the militant, theocratic Taliban reasserted control over their Central Asian country, reported TechCrunch.

Unfortunately, however, the platform can’t offer a sustainable solution to the refugee crisis that has erupted in the wake of the Taliban takeover. Already, leaders from Ankara to Europe and from Beijing to New Delhi have signaled their unwillingness to take thousands of desperate Afghans seeking to flee.

Pakistan and Iran have already accepted by far the most Afghan refugees who have left their war-torn nation in the past 20 years, wrote Tazreena Sajjad, a lecturer at American University’s School of International Service, in the Conversation. Together, they have given asylum to more than 2.2. million Afghans. Both say they can’t take many more. In the meantime, argued Sajjad, efforts to accommodate the latest wave of refugees have been chaotic at best.

Meanwhile, “Afghan Refugees Find a Harsh and Unfriendly Border in Turkey,” was the New York Times headline recently. After traveling 1,400 miles through Iran, Afghan refugees encounter Turkish border guards who push them back. After Turkey, they aim to continue onto Europe in a movement that came to a peak in 2015 as the Syrian Civil War raged.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t want to accept more refugees because his country is already hosting 3.6 million Syrians and more than 300,000 Afghans. The refugees became “a burning political issue” as the Turkish economy declined during the coronavirus pandemic.

Europe has proposed that Turkey become a hub for processing the anticipated migrant exodus from Afghanistan but Erdogan has rejected the idea, added Voice of America. Meanwhile, Greece has built a wall on the Turkish border to keep refugees out, said CNN.

European leaders also face significant turmoil from voters who have shown increasing support for xenophobic politics. They still don’t have a unified policy for the continent despite the 2015 crisis, Politico explained. Most leaders are explicitly saying Afghan refugees should not come to Europe. “It must be our goal to keep the majority of the people in the region,” said Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer, according to the Associated Press.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has flatly said no to relocating Afghans to neighboring Central Asian countries that are former Soviet republics like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Reuters reported, saying he wouldn’t want to allow terrorists posing as refugees enter these countries.

China, which borders Afghanistan, is wary of a refugee influx, Bloomberg wrote. Chinese strategists also claim that the Taliban have supported separatist forces in Xinjiang, where China has perpetuated a crackdown against the local Muslim ethnic Uyghur community that has been described as genocide, the Washington Post noted.

About 25 countries have been more welcoming including Uganda, Columbia and Costa Rica, NBC News reported. And North Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania –Balkan countries whose populations have experienced violence themselves – said they would take in refugees,

“We are rescuing a peaceful population who have cherished democracy for 20 years and who were a help and support to our military on their missions over there,” North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said.

These tiny countries might not have as much space or resources to offer as their wealthier Western European EU counterparts but they are willing to share it.

WANT TO KNOW

CUBA

Revolutionary Currencies

Cuba will recognize cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, a move analysts say is aimed at circumventing the United States embargo that has battered the island’s economy, CNBC reported.

The communist country passed new rules this week for central banks on how to deal with digital currencies.

The move comes as the country’s economy struggles amid ongoing US sanctions that have sparked protests in the Caribbean nation. The sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic have made it difficult to send and receive money from the US.

Cuba is the latest country to recognize cryptocurrencies – El Salvador legalized the cyber-tender earlier this year.

Analysts called the move “historic” and credited the embrace of cryptocurrencies to the desperate need for cash and blocked access to the global economy. They added that the rise in internet access also contributed to the new regulations.

Some observers say that Cubans have a higher chance of raising their income-generating potential through cryptocurrencies. However, others noted that Cuba will face a lot of challenges in fully embracing them.

Mrinalini Tankha, a professor of anthropology at Portland State University, said that many cryptocurrency exchanges – even those not based in the US – geo-block Cuba.

NIGERIA

Going Home

Gunmen released dozens of schoolchildren who had been kidnapped three months ago in Nigeria’s north-central Niger State after parents paid a hefty ransom for their freedom, CNN reported.

In May, more than 130 schoolchildren were kidnapped at gunpoint at the Salihu Tanko Islamic School in the town of Tegina. Their release came after parents paid a ransom of $140,000 and bought motorbikes for the kidnappers.

School headmaster Abubakar Alhassan said that the money was raised after Nigerians from different sectors contributed to the children’s release, including the government.

However, the Niger State government denied negotiating with the kidnappers.

The release is the latest instance in a wave of kidnappings that has plagued Nigeria’s northern regions since December. Hundreds of students have been abducted in separate incidents, which has sparked concerns over the country’s deteriorating security situation.

Officials in Niger State maintain that the kidnappings have not discouraged parents from sending their children to school. Even so, multiple schools in the northern states have closed to prevent any potential attacks.

AUSTRIA

The Price of Favors

An Austrian court this week convicted former far-right party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, also a former vice chancellor, on a corruption charge in a case that grew out of a 2019 scandal that led to the collapse of the ruling coalition government in Austria, Agence France-Presse reported.

The court gave Strache a 15-month suspended jail sentence after it found him guilty of influencing a change in the law to benefit a donor to his Freedom Party (FPOe).

The case originally began two years ago when video footage showed Strache promising public contracts to a woman pretending to be a Russian oligarch’s niece in exchange for support for the FPOe’s 2017 election campaign. The secret footage was filmed on a resort on the Spanish island of Ibiza and came to be known as “Ibizagate.”

The scandal led to Strache’s resignation as vice chancellor and party leader. It also triggered new elections after the collapse of the governing coalition between the FPOe and the center-right People’s Party (OeVP) of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

At the same time, it triggered anti-corruption authorities to investigate Strache and other politicians for corruption.

While Kurz avoided political blowback and was able to secure the chancellorship in the snap polls, prosecutors are now investigating him on suspicion of delivering false testimony during the Ibizagate probe.

Meanwhile, the FPOe’s popularity dropped from 26 percent of the share of the vote in 2017 to just 16 percent in 2019. The far-right party has also been plagued by infighting since the scandal broke.

DISCOVERIES

A Queen, a Guide

In Greek mythology, Persephone ruled over the underworld with her husband, Hades, the god of the dead – who is also known as Pluto.

Legend has it that Hades kidnapped Persephone near the Alistrati Cave in northern Greece to make her his wife.

The myth has now prompted Greek researchers to build a human-sized robot named after the queen to guide tourists inside the famous cave, the Associated Press reported.

Persephone is the first robot tour guide inside a cave and has been welcoming visitors, both Greek and foreign, for more than a month. The automaton speaks 33 languages and can answer 33 questions but only in Greek.

It was created by scientists at the National Technology and Research Foundation and cost about $139,000.

At the moment, Persephone only covers the first 500 feet of the cave, while the remaining 2,400 feet are handled by a human tour guide. Nikos Kartalis, scientific director at the Alistrati site, said the robot moves at a slow speed but that doesn’t seem to bother the many tourists fascinated by the machine.

“Many foreign visitors couldn’t believe Greece had the capacity to build a robot and use it as a guide in the cave,” he said.

Visitors, meanwhile, appreciate the robot’s multilingual skills and slow pace.

“I’ve never experienced such a thing,” said Patrick Markes, a Czech visitor. “It goes slower so I can look around.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 216,417,479

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,501,081

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 5,204,456,863

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 38,798,963 (+0.10%)
  2. India: 32,737,939 (+0.13%)
  3. Brazil: 20,741,815 (+0.06%)
  4. France: 6,827,146 (+0.20%)
  5. Russia: 6,785,465 (+0.28%)
  6. UK: 6,762,904 (+0.49%)
  7. Turkey: 6,329,519 (+0.00%)**
  8. Argentina: 5,173,531 (+0.04%)
  9. Iran: 4,926,964 (+0.64%)
  10. Colombia: 4,905,258 (+0.04%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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