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US delegation heading to Panama next week to discuss migration | Migration News

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US Department of State says regional officials will attend two-day conference on ‘safe, orderly, and humane migration’.

A delegation of United States officials led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Panama next week to attend a conference of regional foreign ministers on migration, the Department of State has said.

In a statement on Friday, the department said Blinken will meet with Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo Cohen and Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes on his two-day visit. US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will also be on the trip.

During the conference, scheduled to begin on Tuesday, officials will discuss economic recovery, migration, protection for refugees, asylum seekers, anti-corruption efforts, and support for civil society, the statement said.

“Secretary Blinken and representatives of regional governments participating in the Ministerial will discuss collaboration on safe, orderly, and humane migration throughout our hemisphere,” according to the statement.

The conference comes after the Biden administration this month announced that on May 23, it will lift a policy along the US-Mexico border that has allowed American officials to rapidly expel most asylum seekers, without giving them a chance to apply for protection in the US.

Ending the use of the pandemic-era restriction, known as “Title 42”, is expected to lead to a rise in arrivals at the border. DHS has said it is preparing for the surge by deploying additional resources and personnel.

But in recent years, the US has sought the cooperation of transit countries in the Americas region to help stem the flow of people heading towards the US.

In March, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas met officials in Mexico and Costa Rica.

The majority of asylum seekers arriving at the US’s southern border are from the so-called “Northern Triangle“: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. But people from Haiti, as well as countries in South America, have been increasingly making their way to the US border, as well.

Migrant woman carrying child
The Department of Homeland Security says it is making arrangements to handle a likely surge in the number of people arriving at the southern US border [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

Most migrants heading towards the US cross through Panama’s southern border with Colombia, trekking through the Darien Gap, a notoriously dangerous jungle area controlled by criminal groups known for acts of violence, including sexual abuse and robbery.

In October, the presidents of Panama, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic asked for US assistance in stemming the flow of thousands of migrants crossing the Darien Gap.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said in March that 8,456 people had made the treacherous journey in January and February of this year – nearly triple the number compared with the same period in 2021.

The prospects of large numbers of people streaming to the southern US border is a crucial political issue for US President Joe Biden before the midterm elections in November.

His Republican rivals have seized on the record-high numbers of arrivals to attack Biden. They have blamed the increase on his reversal of several of former President Donald Trump’s restrictive anti-immigration policies.





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US panel recommends COVID booster jab for children aged 5 to 11 | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Just more than 29 percent of US children in the age group have received two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine to date.

An advisory panel to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has voted to recommend COVID-19 vaccine booster jabs for children aged five to 11, at least five months after completing their primary vaccination course.

The committee on Thursday voted 11 to one in favour of recommending the boosters, with one doctor abstaining.

The advisers considered data from the CDC that showed protection from two doses starts to wane over time, and that boosters in older age groups improved efficacy against severe COVID-19 and hospitalisations.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky still needs to sign off on the committee’s recommendation but signalled at the meeting that she was likely to back the additional jabs.

“We know immunity wanes over time, and we need to do all we can now to protect those most vulnerable,” Walensky said.

A child getting a covid shot.
A COVID-19 vaccine is not yet authorised for children younger than five years old [File: Jon Cherry/Reuters]

“It’s important for us to anticipate where this pandemic is moving and deploy the tools we have where they will have the greatest impact.”

The development comes amid uncertainty over how many parents will opt to have their children in that age group receive a third dose.

According to CDC data, just more than 29 percent of US children aged five to 11 are considered fully vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. That represents the lowest vaccination coverage out of all groups.

The vaccine is not yet authorised for children younger than five.

The US government has been pushing for eligible Americans to get boosters in the face of data that shows vaccine immunity wanes over time, and it recently authorised a second booster for people aged 50 and older.

The move also comes after the nation on Tuesday surpassed the sombre milestone of one million deaths due to COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Children getting covid shots
Recommendation comes days after the US hit a sombre mark of one million COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began [File: Matt Mills McKnight/Reuters]

Dr Helen Keipp Talbot, the lone committee member to vote against recommending the boosters for children on Thursday, argued that the focus should be on increasing the vaccination rate in the age group.

“Boosters are great once we’ve gotten everyone their first round,” she said.

On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised Pfizer’s booster shot for children aged five to 11.

Dr Paul Offit, a paediatric infectious diseases expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said booster shots in that age group would have a limited effect on the pandemic, even with evidence that the additional shots will protect against mild illness for three to six months.

“What is the goal of this vaccine? Are we trying to protect against all symptomatic infection for a limited period of time? Or are we trying to protect against serious illness, in which case all the evidence is that we are preventing serious illness” with the two-dose vaccine regimen, Offit said.



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What might happen to Ukraine’s Azovstal prisoners of war? | News

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Breaking its recent silence on prisoners of war (POWs), the Red Cross said it has registered “hundreds” of Ukrainian POWs who have left the giant Azovstal steel plant in the southern city of Mariupol after holding out for weeks against besieging Russian forces.

The announcement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Thursday, which acts as a guardian of the Geneva Conventions and its stated aim to limit “the barbarity of war”, came shortly after Russia’s military said 1,730 Ukrainian troops at the steel plant had surrendered.

Attention now is turning to how those prisoners of war might be treated and what rights they have.

Here is a look at some key questions about POWs in Russia’s nearly three-month-old war on Ukraine:

Who is a prisoner of war?

Article 4 of the third Geneva Convention, which focuses on POWs, defines them as any member of armed forces or militias – including organised resistance movements – in a conflict who “who have fallen into the power of the enemy”.

It also includes non-combatant crew members, war correspondents, and even “inhabitants of a non-occupied territory who, on the approach of the enemy, spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces”.

What rights do POWS have?

The Geneva Conventions set out requirements to ensure that POWs are treated humanely. They include issues such as where they can be held; the relief they should receive, including medical help for wounded ex-fighters; and legal proceedings they might face.

“In this case, the Russian Federation has an entire list of obligations: To treat them humanely, to let the ICRC (have) access to them, to inform the ICRC of their names, to allow them to write to their families, to care for them if they are wounded and sick, to feed them and so on,” said Marco Sassoli, a professor of international law at the University of Geneva.

“But obviously, the detaining power may deprive them of their liberty until the end of the international armed conflict and may hold them – unlike civilians – on their own territories. So they may be brought to Russia,” he said.

Can POWs be put on trial?

Only under certain conditions, notably if an individual fighter is accused of committing one or more war crimes. Such an accusation must be based on published evidence, Sassoli said.

“They can certainly not be punished for having participated in the hostilities, because that’s the privilege of combatants and of prisoners of war,” he said.

Could POWs become part of prisoner exchanges?

The Geneva Conventions do not set rules for prisoner exchanges. In the past, Red Cross intermediaries have helped carry out agreed-upon POW exchanges. Still, much has been made of the insistence by some Russian officials that detained Ukrainian ex-fighters should face trial and should not be included in any prisoner exchanges.

People and relatives of Azov battalion soldiers
People and relatives of Azov battalion soldiers take part in a rally called ‘Save military of Mariupol’ in Kyiv on May 3, 2022 [Sergei Supinsky/ AFP]

Could Russia claim the Azovstal fighters are not entitled to POWs status?

Some countries have tried to sidestep their Geneva Conventions obligations – or simply argue that they are not bound by them. A prominent case was when the US detained hundreds of fighters allegedly linked to groups like al-Qaeda. They were detained as “enemy combatants” at a US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the September 11 attacks and the subsequent US-led military invasion to topple the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan.

Sassoli said there are “all kinds of reasons” why an individual might lose their prisoner of war status. For example, if the fighter “didn’t distinguish themselves from the civilian population” during combat.

“But here, to the best of my knowledge, no one claims that these people [detainees from the Azov Regiment in Mariupol] didn’t wear a uniform, or if they don’t belong to the Ukrainian armed forces,” Sassoli said.

“It’s basically Ukraine who decides who belongs to their armed forces.”

Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly touted the regiment’s role in the armed forces and have celebrated what they call its members’ “heroism” for holding out so long against far-larger Russian forces.

The Azov regiment is part of the national guard – does that matter?

Ukraine and Russia have both accepted an important annex to the Geneva Conventions that broadens the definition of what fighters – militia or otherwise – might be considered as part of the national military force, based in part on whether they follow military commands. As for the Azov Regiment fighters, “there’s no doubt” they are part of Ukraine’s military force, said Sassoli, who was on a three-person team commissioned by the Organisation for Security Cooperation in Europe that travelled to Ukraine in March.

However, Russia has not been fully clear about who is detaining the former Azovstal fighters – Russia itself, or the breakaway pro-Russian areas in Ukraine such as the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” or the “Luhansk People’s Republic,” which could blur such distinctions.

What is the significance of the Red Cross Statement on POWs?

Thursday’s statement was the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 that the ICRC – which plays an often-confidential role to check on prisoners of war – has said anything officially about POWs in the conflict.

“Normally, the ICRC will not tell you how these people are treated, but the ICRC will say whom they visited,” Sassoli said.

“But the ICRC – to the best of my knowledge, until this media release – did not clarify how many people it had access to, on both sides.”

Beyond its communication about the Azovstal fighters, the ICRC has not said whether it has registered other POWs or carried out any visits with POWs on either side of the war.



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Grand jury indicts Buffalo man accused of killing 10 Black people | Gun Violence News

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Payton Gendron, an 18-year-old white man, livestreamed the attack from a helmet camera, 13 people in total were shot.

Payton Gendron, the white man charged with murdering 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York has appeared briefly in court after a grand jury indicted him on a first-degree murder charge.

Gendron, 18, wore an orange jail uniform and a mask, and was silent throughout the one-minute proceeding on Thursday, attended by some relatives of the victims.

Assistant District Attorney Gary Hackbush said the indictment of Payton Gendron was handed down on Wednesday.

Someone shouted “Payton, you’re a coward!” as he was led out. He is being held in jail without bail.

The latest US racist mass shooting – at a supermarket on Saturday – has revived a national debate about guns, domestic terrorism, hate and the internet’s role in spreading it.

Thirteen people in all were shot at the Tops Friendly Market in a predominantly Black neighbourhood of Buffalo. Authorities are continuing to investigate the possibility of hate crime and terrorism charges.

Gendron, livestreamed the attack from a helmet camera before surrendering to police outside the store. Shortly before the attack, he posted hundreds of pages of writings to online discussion groups where he detailed his plans for the assault and his racist motivation.

Investigators have been examining those documents, which included a private diary he kept on the chat platform Discord.

In New York, prosecutors can charge a defendant with first-degree murder only under special circumstances, including when multiple people are killed in a single incident, like in the Buffalo shooting. The single count against Gendron covered all 10 deaths at the supermarket.

At his initial court appearance last week, Gendron’s court-appointed lawyer entered a plea of “not guilty” on his behalf. Gendron is due back in court on June 9.

The massacre at the Tops supermarket was unsettling even in a nation that has become almost numb to mass shootings. All but two of the 13 people shot during the attack were Black. Gendron’s online writings said he planned the assault after becoming infatuated with white supremacist ideology that he encountered online.

The diary said Gendron planned his attack in secret, with no outside help, but Discord confirmed Wednesday that an invitation to access his private writings was sent to a small group of people about 30 minutes before the assault began.

Some of them accepted the invitation. It was unclear how many read what he had written or logged on to view the assault live. It also was not clear whether anyone tried to alert law enforcement.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia has said investigators were working to obtain, verify and review Gendron’s online postings.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday authorised the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, to investigate social media platforms used by Gendron to determine if they were liable for “providing a platform to plan and promote violence”.

President Joe Biden, in a visit to Buffalo on Tuesday, condemned white nationalists, as well as online platforms, media outlets and political rhetoric he criticised for spreading racist conspiracy theories.

“What happened here is simple and straightforward: terrorism, terrorism, domestic terrorism,” Biden said.



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