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Foreign students fret over being sent home after U.S. visa rule

(Reuters) – When the phone rang Tuesday morning, Raul Romero had barely slept.

The 21-year-old Venezuelan, on a scholarship at Ohio’s Kenyon College, had spent hours pondering his options after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that international students taking classes fully online for the fall semester would have to transfer to a school with in-person classes or leave the country.

A college employee called Romero to say he would not be immediately affected, but warned that a local outbreak of COVID-19 could force the school to suspend in-person classes during the year. If that happened, he may need to go home.

Romero is one of hundreds of thousands of international students in the United States on F-1 and M-1 visas faced with the prospect of having to leave the country mid-pandemic if their schools go fully online.

For some students, remote learning could mean attending classes in the middle of the night, dealing with spotty or no internet access, losing funding contingent on teaching, or having to stop participating in research. Some are considering taking time off or leaving their programs entirely.

Reuters spoke with a dozen students who described feeling devastated and confused by the Trump administration’s announcement.

In a Venezuela beset by a deep economic crisis amid political strife, Romero said his mother and brother are living off their savings, sometimes struggle to find food and don’t have reliable internet at home.

“To think about myself going back to that conflict, while continuing my classes in a completely unequal playing field with my classmates,” he said. “I don’t think it’s possible.”

And that’s if he could even get there. There are currently no flights between the United States and Venezuela.

WORKING REMOTELY WON’T WORK

At schools that have already announced the decision to conduct classes fully online, students were grappling with the announcement’s implications for their personal and professional lives. Blindsided universities scrambled to help them navigate the upheaval.

Lewis Picard, 24, an Australian second-year doctoral student in experimental physics at Harvard University, has been talking nonstop with his partner about the decision. They are on F-1 visas at different schools.

Harvard said Monday it plans to conduct courses online next year. After the ICE announcement, the university’s president, Larry Bacow, said Harvard was “deeply concerned” that it left international students “few options.”

Having to leave “would completely put a roadblock in my research,” Picard said. “There’s essentially no way that the work I am doing can be done remotely. We’ve already had this big pause on it with the pandemic, and we’ve just been able to start going back to lab.”

It could also mean he and his partner would be separated. “The worst-case scenario plan is we’d both have to go to our home countries,” he said.

‘CAN’T TRANSFER IN JULY’

Aparna Gopalan, 25, a fourth-year anthropology PhD student at Harvard originally from India, said ICE’s suggestion that students transfer to in-person universities is not realistic just weeks before classes begin.

“That betrays a complete lack of understanding of how academia works,” she said. “You can’t transfer in July. That’s not what happens.”

Others were considering leaving their programs entirely if they cannot study in the United States, and taking their tuition dollars with them. International students often pay full freight, helping universities to fund scholarships, and injected nearly $45 billion into the U.S. economy in 2018.

“It doesn’t make much sense to me to pay for an American education, if you’re not really receiving an American education,” said Olufemi Olurin, 25, of the Bahamas, who is earning an MBA at Eastern Kentucky University and wants to pursue a career in healthcare management.

“It’s kind of heartbreaking,” she said. “I’ve been building my life here. As an immigrant, even if you are as law-abiding as it gets, you still are always waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under you.”

Benjamin Bing, 22, from China, who was planning to study computer science at Carnegie Mellon in the fall, said he no longer feels welcome in the United States. He and his friends are exploring the possibility of finishing their studies in Europe.

“I feel like it’s kicking out everyone,” he said, of the United States. “We actually paid tuition to study here and we did not do anything wrong.”

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Deadly Syrian, Russian air strikes in Idlib amount to war crimes, U.N. says

GENEVA (Reuters) – Syrian and Russian planes have carried out deadly aerial strikes on schools, hospitals and markets in Idlib province that amount to war crimes, U.N. investigators said on Tuesday in a report that also condemned attacks by Islamist militants.

They said that “indiscriminate bombardment” by pro-government forces, ahead of a March ceasefire brokered with Turkey, claimed hundreds of lives and forced one million civilians to flee, which may amount to a crime against humanity.

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria also accused Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadist group that controls part of northwest Syria, of firing artillery into civilian areas “with no apparent legitimate military objective”.

Fighters from HTS, a group formerly known as Nusra Front, have tortured and executed detainees, it added.

“All sides likely committed war crimes,” Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the U.N. panel, told a news briefing.

“Children were shelled at school, parents were shelled at the market, patients were shelled at the hospital. Entire families were bombarded, even while fleeing these attacks.”

The report, covering November 2019 until June 2020, was based on overflight data and witness testimony.

It examines 52 “emblematic attacks” in northwest Syria, including 47 attributed to the Russian-backed Syrian government.

“We document two incidents in the report where we think it was Russian airplanes that conducted those attacks,” said panel member Hanny Megally.

The report said Russian warplanes were solely implicated in a deadly March 5 strike on a poultry farm near Marat Misrin that sheltered displaced people, and in three strikes that damaged a hospital in the rebel-held town of Ariha on Jan. 29.

Russia denies involvement in the latter attack, it said.

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied many previous U.N. accusations of war crimes.

The region is home to a mix of Islamist militant and opposition groups, many of which fled other parts of Syria as Assad, with Russian backing, seized back territory from them in the nine-year-old conflict.

The U.N. investigators urged major powers to open up a wider humanitarian aid corridor to reach 1.5 million people stuck in cramped tents and not allowed to cross into Turkey.

The U.N. Security Council, which in January allowed a cross-border aid operation to continue from two places in Turkey until July 10, is due to vote by Friday whether to extend it.

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U.N. expert deems U.S. drone strike on Iran's Soleimani an 'unlawful' killing

GENEVA (Reuters) – The January U.S. drone strike in Iraq that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and nine other people represented a violation of international law, a U.N. human rights investigator said on Monday.

The United States has failed to provide sufficient evidence of an ongoing or imminent attack against its interests to justify the strike on Soleimani’s convoy as it left Baghdad airport, said Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

The attack violated the U.N. Charter, Callamard wrote in a report calling for accountability for targeted killings by armed drones and for greater regulation of the weapons.

“The world is at a critical time, and possible tipping point, when it comes to the use of drones. … The Security Council is missing in action; the international community, willingly or not, stands largely silent,” Callamard, an independent investigator, told Reuters.

Callamard is due on Thursday to present her findings to the Human Rights Council, giving member states a chance to debate what action to pursue. The United States is not a member of the forum, having quit two years ago.

Soleimani, leader of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was a pivotal figure in orchestrating Iran’s campaign to drive U.S. forces out of Iraq, and built up Iran’s network of proxy armies across the Middle East. Washington had accused Soleimani of masterminding attacks by Iranian-aligned militias on U.S. forces in the region.

“Major General Soleimani was in charge of Iran military strategy, and actions, in Syria and Iraq. But absent an actual imminent threat to life, the course of action taken by the U.S. was unlawful,” Callamard wrote in the report.

The Jan. 3 drone strike was the first known incident in which a nation invoked self-defense as a justification for an attack against a state actor in the territory of a third country, Callamard added.

Iran retaliated with a rocket attack on an Iraqi air base where U.S. forces were stationed. Hours later, Iranian forces on high alert mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger airliner taking off from Tehran.

Iran has issued an arrest warrant for U.S. President Donald Trump and 35 others over Soleimani’s killing and has asked Interpol for help, Tehran prosecutor Ali Alqasimehr said on June 29, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

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Months later, U.N. Security Council backs call for coronavirus truce

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday finally backed U.N. chief Antonio Guterres’ March 23 call for a global truce amid the coronavirus pandemic, adopting a resolution after months of talks to win a compromise between the United States and China.

The resolution, drafted by France and Tunisia, calls for “all parties to armed conflicts to engage immediately in a durable humanitarian pause for at least 90 consecutive days” to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Negotiations on the resolution were stymied by a standoff between China and the United States over whether to urge support for the World Health Organization. The United States did not want a reference to the global health body, while China did.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in May that Washington would quit the Geneva-based U.N. agency over its handling of the pandemic, accusing it of being “China-centric” and promoting China’s “disinformation,” assertions the WHO denies.

The adopted Security Council resolution does not mention the WHO but references a U.N. General Assembly resolution that does.

“We have really seen the body at its worst,” Richard Gowan, International Crisis Group U.N. director, said of the council. “This is a dysfunctional Security Council.”

The United States and China both took veiled swipes at each other after the resolution was adopted.

The United States said in a statement that while it supported the resolution “it does not include crucial language to emphasize transparency and data-sharing as critical aspects in fighting this virus.”

China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun acknowledged the body “should have responded immediately” to Guterres’ call, adding: “We were very frustrated that some countries politicized this process.”

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Pompeo pushes Iran arms embargo at U.N., Russia says U.S. knee on Iran's neck

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to extend an arms embargo on Iran before it expires in October, prompting Russia to slam Washington’s policy toward Tehran as like “putting a knee” to the country’s neck.

The United States has circulated a draft resolution to the 15-member council that would indefinitely extend the arms embargo on Tehran, but council veto-powers Russia and China have already signaled their opposition to the move.

“Don’t just take it from the United States, listen to countries in the region. From Israel to the Gulf, countries in the Middle East – who are most exposed to Iran’s predations – are speaking with one voice: Extend the arms embargo,” Pompeo told a virtual Security Council meeting.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has long argued that the arms embargo on Iran should not be lifted. The arms embargo is set to end in mid-October under Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with Britain, Germany, France, China, Russia and the administration of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

Since Trump took office in 2017, his administration has quit the nuclear deal and steadily ramped up sanctions on Iran in what Washington describes as a maximum-pressure approach.

Addressing the council, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia described the policy as “a maximum suffocation policy.”

“The task is to achieve regime change or create a situation where Iran literally wouldn’t be able to breath. This is like putting a knee to one’s neck,” he said in a veiled reference to the death of a Black man in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck. The death of George Floyd sparked protests across the United States and around the world.

‘LAW OF THE JUNGLE’

The Security Council was meeting on Tuesday to discuss a report by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that determined that cruise missiles used in several attacks on oil facilities and an international airport in Saudi Arabia last year were of “Iranian origin.”

If Washington is unsuccessful in extending the arms embargo, it has threatened to trigger at the Security Council a return of all U.N. sanctions on Iran under the nuclear deal, even though it left the accord in 2018. Diplomats say Washington would face a tough, messy battle.

Iran has breached parts of the nuclear deal in response to the U.S. withdrawal and Washington’s reimposition of sanctions.

U.N. political affairs and peacebuilding chief Rosemary DiCarlo said the nuclear deal was crucial to regional and international security, adding: “It is therefore regrettable that the future of this agreement is in doubt.”

Britain, France and Germany all expressed concern to the council that lifting the arms embargo on Iran would have major implications for regional security and stability. However, they also said they would not back U.S. efforts to unilaterally trigger a return of all U.N. sanctions on Iran.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said: “The international community in general — and the U.N. Security Council in particular — are facing an important decision: Do we maintain respect for the rule of law, or do we return to the law of the jungle by surrendering to the whims of an outlaw bully?”

(This story has been refiled to delete extraneous “a” in 7th paragraph).

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Russia quits U.N. system aimed at protecting hospitals, aid in Syria

BEIRUT/GENEVA (Reuters) – Russia has quit a United Nations arrangement that aimed to protect hospitals and humanitarian aid deliveries in Syria from being hit by the warring parties, according to a U.N. note to aid groups seen by Reuters on Thursday.

The Russian move comes after an internal U.N. inquiry in April found it was “highly probable” the government of Syria or its allies carried out attacks on three healthcare facilities, a school and a refuge for children in northwest Syria last year.

A crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to Syria’s civil war. Russia has provided military support for Syria in the conflict.

Russia and Syria have said their forces are not targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure and have long-questioned the sources used by the United Nations to verify attacks.

Under the U.N. deconfliction arrangement, the locations of U.N. supported facilities and other humanitarian sites like hospitals and health centers had been shared with the warring parties in a bid to protect them. However, the United Nations has questioned whether it made them a target.

“On Tuesday, 23 June, the Russian Federation informed the United Nations that it would no longer participate in the humanitarian notification system,” the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in the note.

An OCHA spokeswoman confirmed the note.

“The United Nations is concerned about the withdrawal of the Russian Federation from the notification mechanism and is examining the implications of this decision for humanitarian personnel and operations in Syria,” the U.N. note said.

The United Nations said it would discuss the situation further with Russia.

In the note it said all parties to the conflict – whether they participated in the voluntary deconfliction arrangement or not – were still bound by international humanitarian law.

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International reaction to George Floyd killing

Some critics use US unrest to highlight what they see as American hypocrisy on protest movements at home vs abroad.

Demonstrators from Australia to Europe identified with the cause of US protests and urged their own governments to address racism and police violence.

Opponents of the United States’s foreign policy under President Donald Trump, meanwhile, took the opportunity to pour scorn on the violence that has engulfed the country after the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by police officers in the city of Minneapolis last week.  

More:

  • Trump threatens military force, protests intensify: Live updates

  • ‘Nothing has changed’ a week after George Floyd died in custody

  • Hong Kong leader accuses US of ‘double standards’ over protests

Floyd died last week after he was pinned to the pavement by a police officer who put his knee on the handcuffed man’s neck until he stopped breathing. His killing set off protests that spread rapidly across the US.

Thousands of protesters marched through downtown Sydney, Australia, on Tuesday, voicing their solidarity with Americans demonstrating against Floyd’s killing.

Protesters in Australia’s largest city chanted, “I can’t breathe” – some of the final words of both Floyd and David Dungay, a 26-year-old Aboriginal man who died in a Sydney prison in 2015 while being restrained by five guards.

Demonstrators carried placards reading, “Black Lives Matter”, “Aboriginal Lives Matter”, and “White Silence is Violence.”

Linda Burney, an opposition spokeswoman on Indigenous Australians, said more than 430 Indigenous people had died in Australian police custody since 1991.

While Indigenous adults make up only 2 percent of the Australian population, they account for 27 percent of the prison population.

“I think we should be using it as an opportunity,” Burney told Australian Broadcasting Corp, referring to Floyd’s death. “Whether we like it or not, it doesn’t take much for racism to come out of the underbelly of this country.”

American hypocrisy

Some have seen the US unrest as a chance to highlight what they see as American hypocrisy on protest movements at home versus abroad. 

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson called out US racism as “a chronic disease of American society”. China’s comments come at a time when relations with the US are particularly strained.

Chinese state media is giving extensive coverage to the violent protests roiling American cities, while the unrest has also featured widely in Chinese social media.

On social media platform Weibo, at least five news items on the protests were among the top 20 trending topics by midday, led by reports Trump had been temporarily taken to a bunker as protesters surrounded the White House.

On Twitter, the protests also featured widely among the top 20 trending items, with the hashtag #BunkerBoy at a prominent second place.

In Europe, thousands spilled across streets in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to denounce police brutality, and those demonstrating in Paris urged the French government to take police violence more seriously and held up signs including “Racism is suffocating us”.

The EU’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell condemned the “abuse of power”, saying Europe is “shocked and appalled” by the police killing of Floyd. He urged US authorities to rein in the “excessive use of force” as Trump ordered the military to intervene.

Germany announced its support for the demonstrations.

“The peaceful protests that we see in the US … are understandable and more than legitimate. I hope that these peaceful protests won’t slide further into violence, but even more than that I hope that they will make a difference in the United States,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

‘Let them breathe’

Iran’s foreign ministry called on the US to “stop violence” against its own people.

“To the American people: the world has heard your outcry over the state of oppression. The world is standing with you,” foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said at a news conference in Tehran.

“And to the American officials and police: Stop violence against your people and let them breathe,” he told reporters in English.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, meanwhile, questioned foreign criticism of China, including from the US, over an imminent national security law being imposed in the Chinese territory.

“They take their own country’s national security very seriously, but for the security of our country, especially the situation in Hong Kong, they are looking at it through tinted glasses,” she said.

‘Unhelpful adversity’

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said Black people across the world are “shocked and distraught” by Floyd’s killing.

“Black people, the world over, are shocked and distraught by the killing of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer in the United States of America,” Akufo-Addo said in a statement.

“We stand with our kith and kin in America in these difficult and trying times.”

Kenyan opposition leader and former prime minister Raila Odinga offered a prayer for the US “that there be justice and freedom for all human beings who call America their country”.

Like some in Africa who have spoken out, Odinga also noted troubles at home, saying the judging of people by character instead of skin colour “is a dream we in Africa, too, owe our citizens”.

And South Africa’s finance minister, Tito Mboweni, recalled leading a small protest outside the US Embassy several years ago over the apparent systemic killings of Blacks. Mboweni said the US ambassador at the time, Patrick Gaspard, “invited me to his office and said: ‘What you see is nothing, it is much worse’.”

Zimbabwe summoned the ambassador of the United States to the country over remarks by a senior US official accusing it of stirring anti-racism protests following Floyd’s death. 

In an interview with ABC News, US national security adviser Robert O’Brien referred to Zimbabwe and China as “foreign adversaries” using social media to stoke unrest and “sow discord” after the killing.

Zimbabwe’s foreign ministry spokesman James Manzou said US Ambassador Brian Nichols was called in to explain O’Brien’s remarks. Government spokesman Nick Mangwana said Zimbabwe did not consider itself “America’s adversary”.  

“We prefer having friends and allies to having unhelpful adversity with any other nation including the USA,” Mangwana said.


The Stream

George Floyd killing: A pivotal moment in US history?

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