Monthly Archives: October 2012

UK ‘closing the door’ on foreign students

The National, 29 October 2012

LONDON // When He Ying Li arrived in the United Kingdom to study at one of the world’s most illustrious universities, she could barely contain her excitement.

But that enthusiasm dissipated as she waited in the pouring rain outside a south London police station. As a Chinese immigrant, she had been given a week to register with the authorities.

“I got up at 4am to try to beat the queue, but I still had to wait for seven hours, standing in the rain,” said the 23-year-old, who arrived in the UK last month to study media and communications at the London School of Economics (LSE).

Following chaotic scenes at police stations across the country, the government relaxed the registration rules earlier this month. In future, students will have until the end of December to register with police and can do it through their university.

But bigger challenges are in store for Ms Li and other talented young students who dreamed of finding work in the UK after their studies.

Read the rest here…

Spain’s number one ghost town

The National, Oct 22 2012

Drive an hour out of Spain’s historic capital, through ruggedly beautiful hills and valleys, past picturesque medieval towns and church spires, and you can visit a town almost totally devoid of community, culture and people.

Welcome to Valdeluz, Spain’s number-one ghost town. Its brand-new, tree-lined avenues look like an eerie, abandoned film set. One recent lunchtime, the number of residents visible could be counted on two hands.

A crane, idle for three years, juts out from the landscape alongside a half-finished block of flats. “For rent” is scrawled on tattered posters or on the side of almost every building. There is a hairdresser, a vet and a bank, but they have no customers. No one has bothered opening a grocery store.

“There is no sense of community here. People commute to the city. Nobody knows their neighbours,” said Marie Carmen, 65, the only customer at the bar on the edge of the conurbation. “You have to be a very calm person to like it here.”

When construction first started in 2006, at the height of Spain’s property boom, Valdeluz seemed like a great idea. The local landowner managed to convince the government that the high-speed train between Madrid and Barcelona should stop here, rather than at the busy industrial centre of Guadalajara about eight kilometres away across the arid plains.

Four large housing developments were planned that would be home to 30,000 residents, lured by the cheap and speedy commuter train into the city. Rumour has it that politicians and football players bought up dozens of properties in expectation of quick returns.

Read the rest here…

Pensions keep desperate Spanish families afloat

The National, 19 October 2012

In a community hall in one of Madrid’s most impoverished districts, a group of grandmothers share their stories of how Spain‘s economic crisis has turned their pensions into a lifeline for entire families.

The recession, which has ravaged much of Europe, has destroyed the fundamental hope of those who built neighbourhoods such as Orcasitas out of nothing – that they could give their children opportunities they never had.

“My son is a builder but he’s been unemployed since January,” said Concha Sanchez, a 67-year-old retired secretary. “He gets unemployment welfare, but he has a disabled son and between his mortgage payments and the cost of care, he cannot afford to live.

“The family survives off my pension. I buy the nappies and medicine for the baby.”

Another woman speaks up. Her 59-year-old brother – a lorry driver for a construction firm – has not been paid for over a year and is now owed €50,000 (Dh240,000) in back pay and expenses, most of it from local government jobs. “He has three sons and cannot afford to eat,” said Manoli Sanchez, 63. “He’s still working and lawyers are trying to get the money, but there are 50 other people in the same position.

“I keep the family going with my pension. It is the same for all of us – we are all giving money to the next generation.”

The women nod in agreement. Each has a similar story to tell – of entire generations of people out of work, of sons and daughters going unpaid for months at a time.

Read the rest here…

UK relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain worsening over human rights concerns

The National, 19 October

LONDON // Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have objected strongly to criticism from British Members of Parliament who accuse the David Cameron government of failing to promote human rights in key Gulf allies.

A report published on Wednesday by parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee criticised the British government for its reaction to unrest in Bahrain last year, and is the latest in a series of moves by back bench MPs seeking a review of relations with Gulf states.

“Given the Bahraini authorities’ brutal repression of demonstrators in February and March 2011, we believe that Bahrain should have been designated as a country of concern in the [Foreign and Commonwealth Office's] 2011 report on human rights and democracy,” the report stated.

It went on to accuse the government of hypocrisy for failing to encourage a boycott of the Bahrain Grand Prix while enforcing a boycott of the group stages in this year’s football European Championship in Ukraine over human-rights issues.

Bahrain has rejected the report, saying the British government made the right choice in leaving the decision up to Formula One organisers.

Read the rest here…