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Heeding complaints, Biden lifts refugee cap to 62,500

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(Last Updated On: May 4, 2021)

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Monday he has resurrected a plan to raise refugee admissions this year to 62,500 after drawing a wave of criticism from supporters for initially keeping the refugee cap at a historically low level.

A Democrat, Biden formally reversed himself just two weeks after his administration announced it would keep the cap at the 15,000 level set by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, an immigration hawk.

In a statement, Biden said his action “erases the historically low number set by the previous administration of 15,000, which did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees.”

“It is important to take this action today to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world who have suffered so much, and who are anxiously waiting for their new lives to begin,” he said.

Soon after taking office in January, Biden pledged to ramp up the program but then surprised allies when he opted to stick with the lower cap out of concern over bad optics, given the rising number of migrants crossing the U.S. southern border with Mexico, U.S. officials have said.

Biden’s flip-flopping drew the ire of refugee advocates and some Democratic lawmakers.

Trump steadily slashed the size of the refugee program during his term in office, and Biden officials say the cuts have made quickly raising admissions more difficult.

But the refugee program is distinct from the asylum system for migrants. Refugees come from all over the world, many fleeing conflict. They undergo extensive vetting while still overseas to be cleared for entry to the United States, unlike migrants who arrive at a U.S. border and then request asylum.

The allocations for the increased cap matched an earlier plan Biden sent to Congress, according to a memo signed by Biden. The memo said there would be 22,000 spots for refugees from Africa, 6,000 from East Asia, 4,000 from Europe and Central Asia, 5,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 13,000 from South Asia. Another 12,500 unallocated spots will also be available.

Biden said it was doubtful the United States would be able to welcome a total of 62,500 refugees by the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30, or reach a goal of 125,000 admissions next year.

“The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year. We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already under way,” he said.

A White House official said Biden now wanted to raise the cap regardless of capacity limitations to “send a very clear message that refugee processing is a critical part of America’s place in the world,” acknowledging the initial lower announcement “did not send the right message.”

Delays in Biden’s decisionmaking on the issue led to hundreds of canceled flights for refugees already cleared to travel to the United States, often after years of waiting, refugee groups said.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the resettlement organization Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said in a statement that advocacy groups were breathing a “sigh of relief” following the announcement on Monday, even though meeting the high target would be “daunting.”

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US, British forces carry out more strikes against Houthis in Yemen

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(Last Updated On: February 25, 2024)

U.S. and British forces carried out strikes against more than a dozen Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday, officials said, the latest round of military action against the Iran-linked group that continues to attack shipping in the region.

The United States has carried out near daily strikes against the Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen and have said their attacks on shipping are in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel strikes Gaza, Reuters reported.

The strikes have so far failed to halt the Houthis’ attacks, which have upset global trade and raised shipping rates.

A joint statement from countries that either took part in the strikes or provided support, said the military action was against 18 Houthi targets across eight locations in Yemen including underground weapons and missile storage facilities, air defense systems, radars and a helicopter.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the strikes were meant “to further disrupt and degrade the capabilities of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia.”

“We will continue to make clear to the Houthis that they will bear the consequences if they do not stop their illegal attacks, which harm Middle Eastern economies, cause environmental damage and disrupt the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen and other countries,” Austin said.

The strikes were supported by Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Al Masirah TV, the main television news outlet run by the Houthi movement, said on Saturday that U.S. and UK forces carried out a series of strikes in the capital, Sanaa.

It quoted an unnamed Houthi military source as saying the renewed raids were “a miserable attempt to prevent Yemen from providing support operations to the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

Earlier this week the Houthis claimed responsibility for an attack on a UK-owned cargo ship and a drone assault on a U.S. destroyer, and they targeted Israel’s port and resort city of Eilat with ballistic missiles and drones.

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15 dead, 44 injured in residential building fire in China’s Nanjing city

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(Last Updated On: February 24, 2024)

At least 15 people were killed and 44 injured in a fire at a residential building in eastern China’s Nanjing city, local authorities said.

The fire broke out early Friday morning, officials said at a press conference, with a preliminary investigation suggesting the blaze started on the building’s first floor, where electric bikes had been placed, The Guardian reported. 

The building is located in the Yuhuatai district of Nanjing, a city of more than 8 million about 260km north-west of Shanghai.

By 6am (2200 GMT) the fire had been extinguished, and a search-and-rescue operation ended about 2pm Friday, authorities said.

The 44 injured people were sent to hospital for treatment, they added.

China has seen a spate of deadly fires in recent months, prompting calls from President Xi Jinping last month for “deep reflection” and greater efforts to “curb the frequent occurrence of safety accidents”.

In January dozens died after a fire broke out at a store in the central city of Xinyu, with state news agency Xinhua reporting the blaze had been caused by the use of fire by workers in the store’s basement.

That fire came just days after a late-evening blaze at a school in central China’s Henan province killed 13 schoolchildren as they slept in a dormitory.

A teacher at the school told the state-run Hebei Daily that all the victims were from the same third-grade class of nine- and 10-year-olds.

Domestic media reports suggested the fire was caused by an electric heating device.

In November, 26 people were killed and dozens sent to hospital after a fire at a coal company office in northern China’s Shanxi province.

The month before, an explosion at a barbecue restaurant in the north-west of the country left 31 dead and prompted official pledges of a nationwide campaign to promote workplace safety.

In April, a hospital fire in Beijing killed 29 people and forced desperate survivors to jump out of windows to escape.

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US targets Russia with hundreds of sanctions over Ukraine war, Navalny death

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(Last Updated On: February 24, 2024)

The United States on Friday imposed extensive sanctions against Russia, targeting more than 500 people and entities to mark the second anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and retaliate for the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

President Joe Biden said the measures aim to ensure Russian President Vladimir Putin “pays an even steeper price for his aggression abroad and repression at home,” Reuters reported.

The sanctions targeted Russia’s Mir payment system, financial institutions and its military industrial base, sanctions evasion, future energy production and other areas. They also hit prison officials the U.S. says are linked to Navalny’s death.

“Doesn’t Washington realize that sanctions won’t take us down?” Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, was quoted as saying on his embassy’s channel on the Telegram messaging app.

The United States later on Friday also imposed sanctions on Russia’s leading tanker group, Sovcomflot, accusing it of being involved in violating the G7’s price cap on Russian oil. Also targeted were 14 crude oil tankers in which it has an interest.

“Sovcomflot as a whole, as a parent company, has been implicated in price cap violations in addition to deceptive activity,” a senior Treasury official said.

The Biden administration is seeking to continue supporting Ukraine as the country faces acute shortages of ammunition, with the approval of more U.S. military aid delayed for months in the U.S. Congress. The European Union, Britain and Canada also took action against Russia on Friday.

The U.S. Treasury Department targeted nearly 300 people and entities, while the State Department hit over 250 people and entities and the Commerce Department added over 90 companies to the Entity List.

The United States and its allies have imposed sanctions on thousands of Russian targets since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. The war has seen tens of thousands killed and cities destroyed.

However, Russia’s export-focused $2.2-trillion economy has proved more resilient to two years of unprecedented sanctions than either Moscow or the West anticipated.

“We must sustain our support for Ukraine even as we weaken Russia’s war machine. It’s critical that Congress steps up to join our allies around the world in giving Ukraine the means to defend itself,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

Brian O’Toole, a former Treasury official, said the action, while involving a lot of names, was short on impact, because the majority of the entities targeted are Russian rather than foreign firms, and are easily replaceable as Moscow seeks to skirt sanctions.

But former senior Treasury official Ben Harris said the magnitude of the sanctions imposed by the United States alone was formidable.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday’s move was Washington’s largest number of designations in a single Russia action.

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