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Phuket Gazette World News: Syrian child soldiers being recruited; Radioactive water seeping into ocean in Japan; Python strangles Canadian kids

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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Audit of Syrian refugees finds organised crime and child soldiers
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Many Syrians who have escaped their country are now desperate to escape from U.N.-run refugee camps, where women are not safe and teenage boys are recruited as soldiers to fight in the conflict, according to an internal U.N. report (click here).

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR is trying to cope with a massive humanitarian crisis, as 1.9 million Syrians have sought refuge abroad, mainly in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

The report, an self-evaluation of UNHCR’s work in Syria entitled “From slow boil to breaking point”, admits the United Nations could have done much better and “a far more substantial and coherent strategy is needed”.

Organised crime networks are operating in the biggest refugee camp, Za’atari in Jordan, which is home to 130,000, it said. The camp is “lawless is many ways”, with resources that are “constantly stolen or vandalised”.

Preparations for a new camp needed to learn the lessons from Za’atari, including to “ensure the safety of women and girls”.

Refugees can live outside the camp if they are “sponsored” by a Jordanian citizen, but many refugees are paying up to $500 to middlemen to get out, the report said.

In the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, Domiz camp is critically overcrowded and living standards are “unacceptable” in many parts of the camp.

“There is currently no agreed strategy in place to deal with the existing refugee population in Northern Iraq or any future influxes into the territory,” the report said, adding that UNHCR and NGOs held “directly opposing views” about work to help refugees living outside the camps.

Although UNHCR is planning to crack down on crime in Za’atari, partly by strengthening the role of the Jordanian police, “opposition to the plan, possibly of a violent nature, can be anticipated,” the report said.

“Given the harsh physical conditions to be found in Za’atri, coupled with the high level of criminality in the camp, it is not surprising to hear refugees speaking of their desire to ‘escape.'”

Increasingly that means returning to Syria, the report said, adding that returnees needed to be closely monitored to be sure they were not going back against their will.

One concern was “recruitment by armed groups, including of under-aged refugees”, the report said, without elaborating.

A U.N. official told Reuters that there were suspicions that boys of 15 or 16 were often taken back to fight, chaperoned by an uncle, elder brother or other relative.

“It’s a war crime,” the official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said child recruitment had not been a major problem until now because the opposition forces did not have enough arms and ammunition.

But the lifting of embargoes on supplying arms to opposition groups meant both sides would need more soldiers.

Even if it suspects child recruitment, the U.N. is almost powerless to stop suspected child soldiers because refugees have a right to return to their own country.

The report said many Syrian children were not attending school in Jordan or Lebanon, but the U.N. official said there was evidence that many were attending religious schools, or madrassahs.

There was also evidence of a new trend of minors, Europeans and North Africans from Tunisia and Algeria, who had “apparently crossed into Syria for the Jihad”, the U.N. official said.

Syria was likely to see a repeat of the so-called “Birds of Paradise”, children trained by al Qaeda to carry out suicide bombings in Iraq, the official said.

Japan nuclear body says radioactive water at Fukushima an ’emergency’
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Highly radioactive water seeping into the ocean from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is creating an “emergency” that the operator is struggling to contain, an official from the country’s nuclear watchdog said yesterday.

This contaminated groundwater has breached an underground barrier, is rising toward the surface and is exceeding legal limits of radioactive discharge, Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) task force, told Reuters.

Countermeasures planned by Tokyo Electric Power Co are only a temporary solution, he said.

Tepco’s “sense of crisis is weak,” Kinjo said. “This is why you can’t just leave it up to Tepco alone” to grapple with the ongoing disaster.

“Right now, we have an emergency,” he said.

Tepco has been widely castigated for its failure to prepare for the massive 2011 tsunami and earthquake that devastated its Fukushima plant and lambasted for its inept response to the reactor meltdowns. It has also been accused of covering up shortcomings.

It was not immediately clear how much of a threat the contaminated groundwater could pose. In the early weeks of the disaster, the Japanese government allowed Tepco to dump tens of thousands of tonnes of contaminated water into the Pacific in an emergency move.

The toxic water release was however heavily criticised by neighbouring countries as well as local fishermen and the utility has since promised it would not dump irradiated water without the consent of local townships.

“Until we know the exact density and volume of the water that’s flowing out, I honestly can’t speculate on the impact on the sea,” said Mitsuo Uematsu from the Center for International Collaboration, Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute at the University of Tokyo.

“We also should check what the levels are like in the sea water. If it’s only inside the port and it’s not flowing out into the sea, it may not spread as widely as some fear.”

No other outlet for water

Tepco said it is taking various measures to prevent contaminated water from leaking into the bay near the plant. In an e-mailed statement to Reuters, a company spokesman said Tepco deeply apologised to residents in Fukushima prefecture, the surrounding region and the larger public for causing inconveniences, worries and trouble.

The utility pumps out some 400 tonnes a day of groundwater flowing from the hills above the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the basements of the destroyed buildings, which mixes with highly irradiated water that is used to cool the reactors in a stable state below 100 degrees Celsius.

Tepco is trying to prevent groundwater from reaching the plant by building a “bypass” but recent spikes of radioactive elements in sea water has prompted the utility to reverse months of denials and finally admit that tainted water is reaching the sea.

In a bid to prevent more leaks into the bay of the Pacific Ocean, plant workers created the underground barrier by injecting chemicals to harden the ground along the shoreline of the No. 1 reactor building. But that barrier is only effective in solidifying the ground at least 1.8 meters below the surface.

By breaching the barrier, the water can seep through the shallow areas of earth into the nearby sea. More seriously, it is rising toward the surface – a break of which would accelerate the outflow.

“If you build a wall,

— Phuket Gazette Editors

 

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