Monday. 27/7/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Will Kitchens

Borderline dangerous

The US can no longer be considered a “safe” country for refugees. That is the extraordinary finding by Canadian federal court justice Ann Marie McDonald, who last week ruled the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), a longstanding asylum arrangement between the two countries, as unconstitutional for violating the Canadian charter of human rights.

Since 2004 the STCA has required refugees to declare asylum in the country to which they first arrive. In effect, the agreement means that those who first arrive in the US but only attempt to claim asylum at Canadian ports-of-entry must be turned away. According to Justice McDonald this violates Canada’s charter of human rights due to the likelihood that rejected migrants will be imprisoned if returned to the US. That the US has effectively been ruled “unsafe” and in violation of human rights is a sign of just how far perceptions of the US administration have fallen in the eyes of Canada’s judiciary. But it also puts Justin Trudeau’s government in a tricky position. Refugee-advocacy groups are hoping that Ottawa won’t appeal the ruling – but that might be unlikely.

Sharry Aiken, a professor and expert on immigration and refugee law at Ontario’s Queen’s University, explains that the Liberal government’s defence of the STCA is in part a political effort to insulate itself from right-wing critics who want the border shut to refugees. According to Aiken, the government has been more fixated on controlling a possible influx of asylum seekers than protecting human rights. “That’s just sacrificing principle on the altar of public optics,” says Aiken. “Canada is a signatory to the 1951 refugee convention and we’re shirking our responsibilities when we send asylum seekers back to the US to face certain detention and the prospect of [deportation] to the very country they fled from.” Trump has made his choice but Trudeau still has an opportunity to defend the rights of the vulnerable.

Politics / Italy

Crime squad

The regular protest chant in the US to “defund the police” might not have spread to Europe yet – but a major policing scandal in Italy could give the country cause to follow in America’s footsteps. Seven members of Italy’s Carabinieri – the military outfit charged with national policing – were arrested in the northern town of Piacenza last week and the police station in which they worked was closed. Investigators claim they have a mountain of evidence against the men, including extortion, torture and wrongful arrest. Local media has been awash with photo and audio evidence, alongside reports of upsetting arrests. Although mass-scale protests in Italy seem unlikely, it is hard to see how this won’t undermine the force’s credibility. The timing of the alleged incidents won’t help, given that they took place during the height of the coronavirus pandemic when most people were at home under lockdown.

Elections / USA

Campaign meddle

Kansas has long been a Republican stronghold in the American heartland: the Sunflower State hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since the 1930s. But a chaotic Senate primary process for Republicans (the primary election is next month) has left Democrats with a sliver of opportunity – and some in the party are going to unorthodox lengths to take advantage. An independent political fundraising group reportedly linked to the Democrats has spent nearly $3m (€2.6m) on TV advertisements aimed at boosting the profile of Kris Kobach (pictured), a Republican, because it is believed that the anti-immigrant, pro-Trump firebrand is more likely to lose in November’s general election. Republican-linked donors have retorted by ploughing funds into advertising on behalf of Kobach’s more moderate opponent, Roger Marshall. The alleged Democratic meddling marks a risky no-holds-barred approach to winning control of the Senate (Republicans have a majority of three) in November. Democrats are playing with fire; they should be careful not to get burned.

Transport / Thailand

Joined-up thinking

Plans for a new bullet train linking three airports and several towns in Thailand’s capital region are tracking nicely. Executives from the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) met with officials from Pattaya (pictured), a coastal resort on the gulf of Thailand, 120km south of Bangkok, last week to begin negotiations for a land-lease contract along a portion of existing railway on the proposed line. If secured, the new connection will link Bangkok’s two airports before making its way down the gulf, halving the travel time between the capital and Pattaya to little more than 40 minutes. The speedy link would mean that Pattaya could effectively serve as a third airport for the congested Thai capital – the plan is for 10 per cent of flights to be moved there. Although the programme is costly, “linking the three airports is a noble objective,” says Ruth Banomyong, a transport logistics researcher at Bangkok’s Thammasat University. Additional plans to build three other high-speed rail lines suggest that Thailand’s transport network is to benefit from more such noble projects.

Travel / Spain & UK

Return for the worse

Any revival of the global hospitality sector will only work if travellers have a degree of certainty when it comes to making plans, which is what makes the UK’s sudden reintroduction of a quarantine for all arrivals from Spain all the more jarring. The government’s announcement over the weekend was its first policy reversal since it opened some travel corridors to “reduced risk” countries earlier this month. Avoiding a second phase of coronavirus outbreaks must be a priority – but is there a better way? It’s worth considering, for example, whether all arrivals from Spain need to quarantine, as opposed to those who visited hotspots such as Barcelona or Madrid. If the second phase of the virus prompts regional lockdowns, doesn’t a regional approach to travel restrictions make equal sense? And for those who arrived in Spain before the new restrictions were introduced, how about a free coronavirus test upon re-entry to the UK instead? Balancing health and economic considerations is essential in this second phase – surely governments can be more innovative than reintroducing blanket quarantines.

M24 / The Stack

‘Maple’, Frances Cha, ‘The Passenger’

We speak to the editor of ‘Maple’, a Canadian wellbeing publication that also offers a subscription of Canadian goods. Plus: a new travel writing series, ‘The Passenger’, and an exciting debut novel from Frances Cha set in contemporary Seoul.

Monocle Films / BELGIUM

Brussels + Antwerp: The Monocle Travel Guide

Belgium had no fashion history until six young designers put their country at the centre of that world in the late 1980s. To celebrate our latest travel guide, we travel to Antwerp to see how the fashion scene has matured. Available now at The Monocle Shop.

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