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From desert ordeal to masters degree: migrant offers cautionary tale

Ousmann Umar may seem like a role model to fellow migrants, having built a successful new life in Eu..



Ousmann Umar may seem like a role model to fellow migrants, having built a successful new life in Europe after making the dangerous journey from Africa. And yet his sole message to peers today is "don't do it".

The Ghanian in his 30s has just completed a masters degree — after surviving a five-year trek across his home continent followed by a perilous boat crossing to Spain.

But he's also actively pursuing a campaign to discourage others from following in his footsteps.

"I went from being almost illiterate to studying a master, it's like I won the lottery," Umar, dressed in a blazer, white shirt and moccasins, told AFP in the seaside town of Badalona near Barcelona.

But "today I wouldn't do it again, it's too hard," he said as he gazed at the Mediterranean Sea, where thousands of migrants have died trying to reach Europe.

"I am only 0.01 percent. (Many others) die along the way and of those who arrive, only one percent manage to integrate into European life."

Having already founded an NGO promoting childhood education in Ghana, Umar recently launched a project with migrant rescue charity Proactiva Open Arms that aims to convince his compatriots to stay at home.

Ousman Umar (L), and the founder of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, Oscar Camps. Photo: Pau Barrena / AFP

Over the past three years, the group says it has rescued nearly 60,000 migrants from the Mediterranean. Umar recalls the ordeal of crossing the Sahara desert without water, the mistreatment he suffered in Libya and Algeria and the death of his best friend along the journey to Europe.

"I will always carry this burden. That is why I don't want anyone to go through what I did," he said.


Dodging death

Umar said death has played a key part in his life since he was born in Fiaso, a tiny village in Ghana's rainforest. His mother died while giving birth to him, which in Ghanaian culture means that the child is "cursed" and must be killed.

He escaped this fate thanks to his father being the local witch doctor. But when he was nine years old, Umar was sent to live with a distant uncle who taught him to be a welder.

He eventually decided to go to Europe when he was around 13.

The search for a better life quickly turned into a nightmare when the human traffickers abandoned him with 45 others in the middle of the Sahara desert.

Umar said he walked for 21 days, surviving by drinking his own urine while many of his companions died along the way. By the time they reached Libya, there were only six of them left.

"The biggest grave is not the sea, it is the desert," Umar said.

'Born again'

Members from Proactiva Open Arms, try to calm refugees and migrants during a rescue operation off the coast of Libya in 2016. Photo: AFP

After working in Libya for several years, he made it to Mauritania where he boarded a boat packed with migrants bound for the "promised land" — Spain's Canary Islands.

Along the way he lost his best friend Musa, whose boat sank during the crossing.

"I vowed I would never return to the water. It was total anguish, I don't know how to swim and I thought I could die at any moment," Umar recalled.

After a short stint at a migrant reception centre on Fuerteventura, he was sent to Barcelona where he had dreamt of living ever since he watched FC Barcelona on TV as a child.

He slept rough for a month before a couple with three children took him into their home.

"I was born again that day," he said 13 years later.

'Russian roulette'

Umar learned to speak Spanish and Catalan, completed high school and last week finished a masters degree in international cooperation at Barcelona's prestigious ESADE business school.

During this time, he made living repairing bicycles, earning enough to pay for his studies as well as those of his brother who is still in Ghana and runs Umar's Nasco education charity there.

Founded in 2012, Nasco acquires computer equipment and provides training in new technologies at five rural schools in Ghana to provide opportunities so youths do not need to immigrate.

The founder of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, Oscar Camps. Photo: Pau Barrena / AFP

The plan is to send migrants rescued in the Mediterranean by Proactiva Open Arms to give talks at the Nasco-backed schools in Ghana about the ordeal they faced trying to get to Europe.

"We want to explain to them before they leave what they can expect during this long journey, from people from their country whom we rescued," said Proactiva founder Oscar Camps.

"Ousmann says he won the lottery. But in the lottery, if you don't win, everything remains the same. This is more like Russian roulette," he added.

By AFP's Daniel Bosque

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Spain’s far-right Vox seek to make gains in 28 May local and regional elections



Spain’s third largest political group in the national parliament, the far-right Vox party, is looking to make gains in the local and regional elections due to be held across the country on 28 May.

Since it entered a regional government for the first time in Castilla y León last year, Vox has attacked the unions and pushed polarising positions on social issues, including abortion and transgender rights.

It is now poised to spread its influence beyond the sparsely populated region near Madrid, with the party hoping to make gains in the elections at the end of May.

Surveys suggest the main opposition, the right-wing People’s Party (PP), could need the support of Vox to govern in half of the 12 regions casting ballots, just as it did in Castilla y León last year.

Polls also indicate the PP is on track to win a year-end general election but would need Vox to form a working majority and oust socialist (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his coalition government from office.

Vox leader Santiago Abascal [pictured at a recent rally in Chinchón, near Madrid] has called the PP-VOX coalition government in office in Castilla y León since March 2022 a ‘showroom’ and ‘an example of the alternative Spain needs’.

It is Spain’s first government to include a far-right party since the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

In Castilla y León, Vox has slashed funding to unions, which the party has vowed to ‘put in their place’ if it comes to power nationally. Trade union UGT was forced to lay off 40% of its staff in Castilla y León last month and scale back programmes to promote workspace safety. Spain’s other main union, the CCOO, is reportedly preparing to follow suit.

Vox has also angered LGBTQ groups by refusing to allow the regional parliament to be lit up in the colours of the rainbow, the symbol of the gay rights movement, for Pride festivities as in past years when the PP governed alone.

In addition, the regional vice-president, Vox’s Juan García-Gallardo, has railed against a law passed by Spain’s leftist central government that extends transgender rights.

The 32-year-old lawyer warned earlier this month that women would now be ‘forced to share locker rooms with hairy men at municipal swimming pools’.

Vox’s most contested initiative was a proposal that doctors offer women seeking an abortion a 4D ultrasound scan to try to discourage them from going ahead with the procedure.

The idea was swiftly condemned by Spain’s leftist central government, and Castilla y León’s PP president Alfonso Fernández Mañueco stopped the measure from going ahead.

The issue highlighted the hazards for the PP of joining forces with Vox, which was launched in 2013 and is now the third-largest party in the national parliament.


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Spain – Gas falls below 90 euros per MWh for the first time in almost two months



The price of TTF natural gas for delivery next month has fallen below 90 euros on Friday for the first time in almost two months and closes a week marked by the decision of the European Commission to cap gas with a drop of 29, 36%.
According to data from the Bloomberg platform, gas closed this Friday at 83 euros per megawatt-hour (MWh), 8.9% less than the day before and the first time it has lost 90 euros since last October 31.
After months of negotiations, the EU agreed on Monday to set a cap of 180 euros on contracts linked to the Amsterdam TTF index with a price difference of at least 35 euros above the average price of liquefied natural gas in the markets.

EU countries agree on a cap of 180 euros for gas with the support of Germany
In a report this week, the Swiss investment bank Julius Baer indicated that the chances of the mechanism being activated are low and pointed out that the chosen formula was not very effective in avoiding the multiplier effect that gas has on the price of electricity. However, he reiterated what was said in other previous reports: “Energy supply risks are minimal and prices should continue to decline in the future” due to the availability of raw materials from Asia to offset cuts from Russia.

Gas tends to fall during the hot months due to lower demand, but this summer it has reached historic heights as European countries were buying to face the winter with their tanks full and reduce their dependence on Russia. The price fell in September and October due to lower demand once the warehouses were full due to the high temperatures at the beginning of autumn, but in November it picked up again and 66% more expensive.

This article was originally published on Público

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Spain – The retirement age rises to 66 years



Ordinary retirement at age 65 ends for those who have contributed less than 38 years. In fact, 2023 will be the last year in which this can be done since it will be necessary to have a contribution career of a minimum of 37 years and nine months to be able to retire with the reference age of the last century, since it was established in 1919, and once the year is over another quarter will be added to be able to do it without cuts in the benefit.
This requirement means that to access ordinary retirement at age 65 without loss of pay, it will be necessary to have been working, at least, since April 1985 for those who exercise this right in December 2023 and since May 1984 for those who intend to do it in January.

More than ten million contributory pensioners
In the last decade, and coinciding with the implementation of the delay program, the real retirement age of Spanish workers has increased by one year, from 63.9 in 2012 to 64.8 in mid-2022, according to data from the Financial Economic Report of the Social Security included in the General State Budget.

Contributory pensions will have a historic rise of 8.5% as of January as a result of the disproportionate increase in the CPI, while for non-contributory pensions the revision will be 15%. This review will place the average pension of the contributory system at 1,187 euros per pay, while the retirement pension will rise to 1,365, the disability pension will reach 1,122 and the widow’s pension will reach 847, as a result of applying the 8.5% increase.

The Social Security forecasts point to next year, and while waiting to find out the real effects that the rise may have on the payroll due to its “call effect” to bring forward retirement given the opportunity to alleviate with it the penalties for anticipating it, the number of pensioners will consolidate above ten million, with almost two-thirds of them (6.37) as retirees, to which will be added 2.3 million widows and almost one affected by work disabilities.

This record number of pensioners will place the cost of pensions at 209,165 million euros, the bulk of which (196,399, 93.8%) will be used to pay benefits, including non-contributory ones. Health care has a budget of 1,890 million euros and social services another 3,791, while the remaining 7,144 are dedicated to operating expenses.

On the revenue side, the largest contribution comes from the contribution chapter, which will amount to 152,075 million and will leave the gap with contributory benefits at 36,765.
The imbalance will be covered by a contribution of 38,904 from the Government, to which is added a chapter of others worth 18,116 and which includes everything from sanctions to asset disposals, among other concepts.

Read more of this from the source Público

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