Arts & Entertainment

Secret Film Shows Plight of ‘Forgotten’ Refugees in Australian Camp

A movie secretly shot inside an Australian-run detention center for asylum seekers highlights the plight of thousands of “forgotten” refugees who have been marooned for years on remote Pacific islands, its co-directors said on Sunday.

“Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time”, which had its international premiere at the London Film Festival, offers a glimpse into daily life at a detention complex on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, 160 km (100 miles) north of Australia.

Nearly 2,000 men, women and children are held on Manus Island and at another Australian-funded center on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru, where most of them have been given refugee status.

But despite their refugee status, many have been held for four years in conditions criticized by the United Nations and rights groups.

“This movie is our voice and we want people around the world to hear it,” co-director Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist from Iran, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Manus, where he has been held since 2013.

Canberra’s hardline immigration policy requires asylum seekers intercepted at sea trying to reach Australia to be sent for processing on Manus Island and Nauru. They are told they will never be settled in Australia.

“People are dying on this island,” said Boochani, referring to the recent suicide of two asylum seekers.

Boochani filmed the documentary on a mobile phone and sent it in short clips via WhatsApp to Dutch-Iranian film-maker Arash Kamali Sarvestani, who made it into a movie.

Most of the footage was recorded surreptitiously.

“We were alone … I, Behrouz, and a smart phone – that’s it,” Sarvestani told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview in London.

The movie shows asylum seekers struggling to cope with the camp’s monotony and prolonged separation from their families, while a journalist investigates reports of ill-treatment in a solitary confinement unit nicknamed “Chauka” after a local bird.

Interviews are alternated with stark, silent shots of a butterfly, a kitten or children playing on the other side of the security fence separating the camp from the outside world.

“We wanted to make it poetic, we wanted to give space to the audience to think,” Sarvestani said.

Boochani couldn’t attend the London premiere as he is not allowed to leave Manus Island. He and Sarvestani have never met in person.

Former U.S. president Barack Obama late last year agreed to resettle up to 1,250 asylum seekers held in Australian immigration centers in PNG and Nauru. In exchange, Australia agreed to take Central American refugees.

In September, a few dozen refugees left for resettlement in the United States under the refugee swap that U.S. President Donald Trump described as “dumb” but begrudgingly said he will honor.

But Australia is now facing increased pressure to resettle asylum seekers from Manus Island because of the planned October 31 closure of the camp that has been subject to violence from locals.

Concerns persist that many of the refugees will not be offered U.S. resettlement.

“Everything is uncertain … we are worried,” said Boochani.

Australian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Arts & Entertainment

UNESCO Seeks Leader to Revive Agency’s Fortunes

When Israel’s envoy told UNESCO delegates last July that fixing the plumbing in his toilet was more important than their latest ruling, it highlighted how fractious geopolitics are paralyzing the workings of the agency.

Whoever wins the race to replace Irina Bokova as head of the U.N.’s cultural and education body next week will have to try to restore the relevance of an agency born from the ashes of World War II but increasingly hobbled by regional rivalries and a lack of money.

Its triumphs include designating world heritage sites such as the Galapagos Islands and the historic tombs of Timbuktu — re-built by UNESCO after Islamist militants destroyed them.

But in a sign of how toxic relations have become, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly last month that UNESCO was promoting “fake history.”

Like Israel’s plain-speaking envoy Carmel Shama Hacohen, Netanyahu was referring to UNESCO’s designation of Hebron and the two adjoined shrines at its heart – the Jewish Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Muslim Ibrahimi Mosque – as a “Palestinian World Heritage Site in Danger.”

Jews believe the Cave of the Patriarchs is where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives, are buried. Muslims, who, like Christians, also revere Abraham, built the Ibrahimi mosque, also known as the Sanctuary of Abraham, in the 14th century.

Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, though, are only part of a minefield of contentious issues on which the U.N. body has to hand down rulings.

Japan, for example, threatened to withhold its 2016 dues after UNESCO included documents submitted by China on the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in its “Memory of the World” program.

The Paris-based organization, which also promotes global education and supports press freedom, convenes its executive council on Oct. 9 to begin voting on seven candidates.

Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, France, Lebanon, Qatar and Vietnam have put forward candidates. There is no clear front-runner.

UNESCO’s struggles worsened in 2011, when the United States cancelled its substantial budgetary contribution in protest at a decision to grant the Palestinians full membership. UNESCO has been forced to cut programs and freeze hiring.

“It’s an organization that has been swept away from its mandate to become a sounding board for clashes that happen elsewhere, and that translates into political and financial hijacking,” said a former European UNESCO ambassador.

Drawing Lots

All the candidates have vowed a grassroots overhaul and pledged independence from their home nations.

France and China, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, argue the agency needs “strong leadership, which can only come with the backing of a major power.

Chinese candidate Qian Tang has almost 25 years experience at UNESCO. His bid fits into Beijing’s soft power diplomacy, though Western capitals fret about China controlling an agency that shapes internet and media policy.

Former French culture minister Audrey Azoulay carries the support of France’s new young president, Emmanuel Macron. But the last minute French candidacy has drawn the ire of Arab states, notably Egypt, who believe it should be their turn.

The Arab states face their own political tests. Their three entries underscore their own disunity, something the Egyptian hopeful Moushira Khattab has indicated stymie the Arab bid.

The crisis engulfing Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbors, who have called Doha a “high-level” sponsor of terrorism, meanwhile may have hurt the chances of former Qatari culture minister Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari.

Voting takes place over a maximum five rounds. If the two finalists are level, they draw lots.

Economy & business

Sudan Currency Gets Boost From Sanctions Relief

Sudan’s currency strengthened to 18.5 pounds to the dollar from 20.2 on the black market on Sunday, the first day of business since the United States lifted trade sanctions, raising a glimmer of hope for recovery in the war-torn country.

The decision to suspend 20-year sanctions and lift a trade embargo, unfreeze assets and remove financial restrictions came after a U.S. assessment that Sudan had made progress on counter terrorism cooperation and on long-raging internal conflicts such as in Darfur.

The announcement helped push Sudan’s pound currency to its strongest level on the black market since at least July, when it was sent reeling to around 21.5 pounds to the dollar after the United States postponed a final decision on the sanctions relief until October.

Sudan’s central bank has held the official exchange rate at 6.7 pounds to the dollar but currency is largely unavailable at that price.

As the pound has weakened over the past year in the import-dependent country, inflation has soared, hitting 34.61 percent in August year-on-year and compounding economic problems that began in 2011 when the south seceded, taking with it three-quarters of the country’s oil output.

“The lifting of sanctions is good news … but we want to see prices come down, because in the past the government has said that rising prices and reduced services were because of the economic blockade, but now there is no blockade,” said Nawal Ahmed, a 58-year-old government employee.

Prices have also been driven up by cuts in fuel and electricity subsidies the government imposed to save cash.

Currency traders said the stronger pound rate would be short-lived unless banks can start offering dollars again, which they saw as unlikely.

“If the banks don’t supply dollars we expect the price of the dollar to rise again … there’s a currency shortage in the market and we know that the government does not have enough hard currency,” one trader said.

Analysts and officials have said that Sudan must now carry out tough economic reforms such as floating its currency if it hopes to benefit from the sanctions relief and begin to attract badly needed new investment.

“Attracting foreign investment requires reforming the political and legal environment and fighting corruption and government bureaucracy,” said Mohammed al-Jack, professor of economics and political science at the University of Khartoum.

“Without clear financial policies, there will be no real and long-term improvement to the Sudanese pound exchange rate,” he said.

Arts & Entertainment

South Africa Revives Ground Breaking Apartheid-Era Musical

The rise and fall of flamboyant, ferocious Ezekiel Dlamini, a black South African boxer known as “King Kong” who was jailed for murder, inspired a 1959 musical whose black cast performed for multi-racial audiences, testing the apartheid system of that era. Now the musical that helped to propel the careers of singer Miriam Makeba and trumpeter Hugh Masekela is back on the stage in South Africa.

“King Kong: Legend of a Boxer” highlights the jazz infused with indigenous influences that flourished in some black urban areas, particularly Johannesburg’s Sophiatown, in racially segregated South Africa in the 1950s, as well as the underworld of gangsters and bars known as shebeens accompanying the creative ferment. The backdrop, while not explicitly addressed in the play, is the white minority rule that systematically marginalized the country’s black majority.

The show, which ends a run at the Joburg Theatre on Sunday and returns to The Fugard Theatre in Cape Town on Dec. 12, is a cautionary tale. In 1957, Dlamini fatally stabbed girlfriend Maria Miya, an act that resonates in a country whose high rate of violent crime counts many women among its victims.

One theme in the musical is “the importance of understanding and owning your power but also taking responsibility for it,” said Nondumiso Tembe, a Los Angeles-based South African actor playing the role of Joyce, a host at a bar called Back o’ the Moon who becomes romantically entangled with the boxer. Tembe noted that the killing of women “has sort of become an epidemic in our society today.”

In a reminder of that scourge, President Jacob Zuma last week condemned the fatal shooting of eight women and girls, reportedly members of the same family, in a village in KwaZulu-Natal province and said curbing violence against women is a priority for his government. Police are investigating whether the killings were the result of a family feud or were linked to political rivalries that periodically turn violent in the region.

Some South African commentary on “King Kong” has recalled Oscar Pistorius, the South African double-amputee athlete who was imprisoned for murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day in 2013.

Dlamini was a gambler and brawler from a rural village who flouted conformity and gained a big following in Johannesburg, becoming South Africa’s “non-European” heavyweight champion. (Black and white boxers were not allowed to fight each other in those days.) An old photograph shows him bare-chested, wearing chains that he donned to show his humiliation after losing a fight.

Eventually, he “became involved with local gangsters and succumbed to bouts of drunkenness and with that came an increasingly violent and paranoid lifestyle,” the musical’s program says. He killed Miya after a quarrel, according to reports. Dlamini asked to be put to death after he was convicted, but was sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. Soon after that, he drowned in a prison reservoir in what was believed to be a suicide.

A 1979 remake of “King Kong” got bad reviews and quickly collapsed.

In this year’s version, Dlamini is played by Andile Gumbi, who had the role of Simba in “The Lion King” on Broadway and elsewhere. Briton Jonathan Munby directs.

In the original show in South Africa, Makeba played Joyce, Dlamini’s lover, but was soon bound for bigger success in the United States. She died in 2008. Masekela, who was 19 when he performed in “King Kong,” said Saturday that he was canceling commitments in the near future because of prostate cancer.

The original show, a huge success in South Africa that also toured Britain, featured composer Todd Matshikiza and a mostly white management and production team. Nelson Mandela, an amateur boxer, attended the opening night of the musical that embodied the potential for multi-racial collaboration at a time when South Africa’s racist rule was staunchly enforced.

By skirting the injustices of apartheid, the original “King Kong” production dodged any move by authorities to shut it down. Similarly, the musical could have faced a crackdown if white actors had joined the all-black cast on stage, said Pat Williams, who wrote the original lyrics.

Williams, who lives in Britain, said a big difference between the 1959 and 2017 shows is that the current actors are professionals, while some in the old cast were inexperienced with theater but all too familiar with the grit and hardship of life in apartheid South Africa.

“It was their own lives they were putting on the stage,” she told The Associated Press. “The result was electric.”

Silicon Valley & Technology

Teams Race Across Australia in World Solar Challenge

The World Solar Challenge began Sunday with 42 solar cars crossing Australia’s tropical north to its southern shores, a grueling 3,000 kilometer (1,864 mile) race through the outback.

The race from the northern city of Darwin to the southern city of Adelaide is expected to take a week for most cars, with speeds of 90-100 kilometers per hour (55-62 mph) powered only by the sun.

The fastest time was achieved by Japan’s Tokai University in 2009, completing the transcontinental race in 29 hours and 49 minutes.

Belgian team Punch Powertrain started first Sunday after recording a trial time of 2:03.8 for 2.97 km (1.78 miles), hitting an average speed of 83.4 kilometers per hour (51.5mph).

But reigning 2015 champions Nuon from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands believes it has a good chance of retaining the prize.

“All the cars look completely different (this year), and all we know is we’ve got a good car, we’ve got it running perfectly the last couple of days and we’re confident we’re going to do everything to win,” tour manager Sarah Benninkbolt said Sunday.

Race director Chris Selwood said the biennial event has attracted one of the best fields ever, with teams from more than 40 countries.

“This is the 30th anniversary of the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge and competitors want to be part of that. They have been drawn to the challenge of new regulations which reduced the solar array size without limiting the size of the solar car,” Selwood said.

Teams come from countries including the United States, Japan, Germany, Chile, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Malaysia, Belgium, Sweden, Iran, South Korea, India, Hong Kong, South Africa, Poland, Thailand, Turkey, Canada, Taiwan and Australia.

The Northern Territory Minister for Tourism and Culture, Lauren Moss said her government’s A$250,000 (US$194,150) sponsorship of the race showed it was committed to achieving 50 percent renewable energy for the territory by 2030.

“Innovation is at the heart of the event and the technology showcased this year will influence continuing solar innovation for vehicles and householders in the future,” she said.

“This event is a great promotion for the NT — it shows our ability to innovate to the world.”

Economy & business

At Trump Scottish Resorts, Losses Doubled Last Year

Donald Trump boasts of making great deals, but a financial report filed with the British government shows he has lost millions of dollars for three years running on a couple of his more recent big investments: his Scottish golf resorts.

A report from Britain’s Companies House released late Friday shows losses last year at the two resorts more than doubled to 17.6 million pounds ($23 million). Revenue also fell sharply.

In the report, Trump’s company attributed the results partly to having shut down its Turnberry resort for half the year while building a new course there and fixing up an old one.

Setbacks in Scotland

His company has faced several setbacks since it ventured into Scotland a dozen years ago, and its troubles recently have mounted.

The company has angered some local residents near its second resort on the North Sea with what they say are its bullying tactics to make way for more development. The company also has lost a court fight to stop an offshore windmill farm near that resort, drew objections from environmental regulators over building plans there in August and appears at risk of losing a bid to host the coveted Scottish Open at its courses.

Amanda Miller, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, declined to comment about the results.

Trump handed over management of his company to his two adult sons before becoming U.S. president, but still retains his financial interest in it.

It’s not clear how big a role Trump’s setbacks in Scotland have played in the losses. In addition to the Turnberry shutdown, the company also noted in its report that it took an 8 million pound ($10 million) loss because of fluctuations in the value of the British pound last year.

The company reported that revenue at the two courses fell 21 percent to 9 million pounds ($11.7 million) in 2016 from 11.4 million pounds ($15 million) a year earlier.

​Golf business closely watched

Trump’s golf business is closely watched because he has made big investments buying and developing courses in recent years, a risky wager in a struggling industry. It is also a bit of departure for the company. Trump has mostly played it safe in other parts of his business, putting his name on buildings owned by others and taking a marketing and management fee instead of investing himself.

Much of the anger toward Trump in Scotland is centered around his resort outside Aberdeen overlooking the North Sea coast and its famed sand dunes stretching into the distance. Called the Trump International Golf Links, it is here that a local fisherman became a national hero of sorts for refusing a $690,000 offer from Trump for his land and where footage was shot for a documentary on Trump’s fights with the residents, called “Tripping Up Trump.”

Many locals praise the course for bringing more tourists to the area and helping the local economy, but Trump’s critics there are outspoken and now, with their target the U.S. president, playing to a worldwide audience.

When Trump visited his North Sea resort in June last year, two local residents ran Mexican flags up a pole in protest against the then-candidate’s immigration policies. It was a snub that came just after the U.K. Supreme Court ruled unanimously against Trump’s efforts to stop the wind farm, a Scottish government decision to strip him of his title as business ambassador for Scotland and the revocation of an honorary degree from Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University.

Both the Scottish government and the university cited Trump’s comments about Muslims during the campaign.

Fight against second course

This summer, Scotland’s Environmental Protection Agency and the Scottish Natural Heritage, a conservation group, sent letters to the Aberdeenshire Council urging it to reject Trump’s plans for the second course if he did not make certain changes. A vote by the local government, expected in August, was postponed.

Still, the two courses are widely praised for their beauty, and tourists on buses like to stop by the North Sea course for a round.

Whether any of this will hurt profits at Trump’s Scottish business in the long run is another matter.

In the financial report, Eric Trump, the president’s son and a director of British subsidiary that owns the two resorts, included a letter expressing confidence that the resorts will attract plenty of golfers. He said Turnberry has received “excellent reviews” from its guests, and that the reopening of the resort is ushering in an “exciting new era” for the company.

Arts & Entertainment

With Decline in Smoking, Tobacco Headquarters Becomes Entertainment Complex

According to the American Medical Association, a big anti-smoking effort launched more than 50 years ago saved more than 8 million lives in the US. Before 1964, when the official data on smoking and its link to cancer was published, 42 percent of American adults smoked a cigarette on a regular basis. Now, just 18 percent do. VOA Russian correspondent Masha Morton traveled down America’s Tobacco Road to see how the area is transforming.

Economy & business

Bees Are Carrying Pesticides Into Most of the World’s Honey

The decline of the world’s industrialized honeybees has been well documented. A combination of pesticides and parasites have led to whole bee colonies dying off, a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder. Now, it turns out the pesticides that are hurting the bees are also turning up in the world’s honey supply. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.