I was disappointed to see Nils Pratley (The chancellor’s position on lifting the state pension makes no sense, 23 June) support the contention that the UK can’t afford a cost of living increase in pensions . A 10% rise in the state pension of £9,500 is £950 – compare that with the likely £1,800 rise in energy costs. How would the extra cash received by poorer pensioners who wholly or mainly depend on the state pension contribute to inflation? Most would go into the pockets of the energy companies. Surely it would be fairer to have a more progressive tax system for richer pensioners or a progressive rise in energy costs, where the unit price could increase with the amount consumed? Scott Wilson Strathkinness, Fife
• Perhaps the pundits and pontificators decrying the return of the triple lock for pensioners should think about how they would manage on an income of £9,500 per year. This year, the state pension rose by 3.1%, which represented a real reduction of 6% for those forced to exist on this measly amount. The promise of a return to the triple lock next year still leaves state pensioners in shameful poverty – 10% of bugger all is bugger all. Kathleen Roberts Harrogate, North Yorkshire
• The chancellor defends increasing pensions in line with inflation while enforcing pay restraint on public sector workers on the grounds that “pensions are not input costs into the cost of producing goods and services that we all consume, so they don’t add to inflation” (Former Tory minister calls 10% rise in state pension ‘ludicrous’, 22 June). The same argument could be applied to teachers, but the government is unwilling to provide the money to fund a pay increase. Isn’t the real difference that many pensioners are Tory voters and the government fears the electoral consequences of reneging on the triple lock for a second time? Dr Rhys Jenkins Norwich
• More evidence of government profligacy towards us oldies: I have just received a letter from the DWP saying that in a fortnight, when I turn 80, my state pension will go up by 25p a week. Should I spend it right away, or wait six months and buy a bottle of wine to celebrate? Richard Hyman St Albans, Hertfordshire
• Have an opinion on anything you’ve read in the Guardian today? Please email us your letter and it will be considered for publication.
Some players dream of playing at Wimbledon at least once in their career. For others, the possibility they might one day win the title pushes them to incredible lengths. For some, merely winning a match at Wimbledon is worth much more than that.
For Anhelina Kalinina, a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 winner over Anna Bondar on Monday, the £78,000 she is guaranteed for reaching round two will go toward helping her family rebuild their home in Ukraine, which, she revealed, has been bombed by Russian forces.
“It’s hard to focus, but for me it matters if I win or if I lose,” she said, after setting up a second-round match with another Ukrainian player, Lesia Tsurenko. “I’m not only helping my family, I’m helping other families and other people. It’s a privilege to play here. It’s a privilege to play every tournament. [If] you go further, you earn more money. Then I’m able to help, and I’m helping as much as I can and not only to my family. So for me that matters.”
It was Tsurenko, a 6-2, 6-3 winner over British wildcard Jodie Burrage, who first passed on the news about Kalinina’s family home. Kalinina, the No 29 seed, said the family were now living in her own apartment in Ukraine while their house was being restored.
“First of all, their house was attacked. There are huge holes in the house, like huge holes,” she said. “There are no apartments anymore. So now this home is getting rebuilt, so they can’t live there. So they live in my apartment where I’m living with my husband.
“It’s a very small apartment for my family, because, like, my mum, my dad, my brother, and they have pets. Currently, they are rebuilding the house. Now they are at home safe. They have everything. Yes, I’m grateful that they have opportunities to live, and I am playing tennis. So that’s good.”
Ons Jabeur, the third seed, was relieved to avoid the same fate she suffered at Roland-Garros, where last month she was beaten in the first round. This time, her 6-1, 6-3 win over Mirjam Bjorklund of Sweden ensured she is looking ahead, with her eyes on creating yet more history for Arab and African tennis.
A quarter-finalist last year, the 27-year-old arrived at Wimbledon as the new world No 2 – the highest ranking by any African player in history – which has brought its own pressure, though this time she looks to be enjoying it.
“Tennis is a tricky sport,” said Jabeur, who will play Poland’s Katarzyna Kawa in the second round. “You can lose every week, which is not fun. But the thing is, like I said before in the beginning of the season, I was like No 10 and nine, I said, I belong in this ranking and I don’t feel I deserve the spot to be maybe five or four. Now I feel like I deserve it even more. I feel like I even gained and won matches to prove myself on this level. I do feel more confident. I do feel like I deserve to be in this level. Hopefully next step will be No 1.”
Anett Kontaveit, the second seed and the woman Jabeur replaced as the world No 2, came through a tough first set with Bernarda Pera before pulling away for a 7-5, 6-0 victory.
In the thick pine forests on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Konstantin was watching over his troops as they inspected their weapons.
Some were greasing shells from the 1970s, preparing them to be used for an even older 57 mm AZP S-60 anti-aircraft gun developed just after the second world war.
Since the invasion, the west has spent billions in military support to help Ukraine fend off the Russian offensive, most recently shipping the advanced Himars rocket systems to Kyiv.
But in the trenches near Ukraine’s second-biggest city, those arms deliveries felt a world away.
“Here, we simply have not seen any western weapons. All we can rely on is our Soviet-era weapon stock,” said Konstantin, an imposing figure who leads the 228th battalion of the 127th brigade of the territorial defence forces.
For four months now, Konstantin and his territorial defence formation – a unit which is part of the military but mostly made up of inexperienced volunteers – have been fighting against Russian forces just a few miles away from Kharkiv.
“Based on our intelligence, the Russians are planning something near Kharkiv,” the commander said.
“We will win either way,” he quickly added.
“With western weapons, less of our boys would have to die for victory.”
‘Every day, they test our lines’
Located 25 miles from the Russian border, Kharkiv has great strategic importance as the gateway to the east of Ukraine. Russia tried to conquer it during the first week of the war, sending columns of tanks and military police units towards the city.
By the end of February, Kharkiv was very nearly surrounded on three sides, with tanks, planes and artillery firing on the city. Initially, it appeared that Russian forces would march directly into central Kharkiv. But Ukrainian forces regrouped, and in the first weeks of March, they halted the Russian advance.
What followed were two Ukrainian counter-offensives, first in late March and then in May, which pushed Russian forces away from the outskirts of the city. At the same time, Ukraine also recaptured some of the burnt-out villages that Moscow had occupied.
Apart from a short lull some three weeks ago, Russia’s relentless shelling of the city, coming mostly out of the Russian border town of Belgorod, never stopped, destroying more than 2,000 buildings and killing more than 900 civilians in the process, according to the regional governor, Oleh Synehubov.
Over the last two weeks, the city has seen some of the heaviest bombardments since the start of the war, and there are fears among senior Ukrainian officials, as well as local military heads, that a renewed Russian offensive is looming.
“We believe Russia could launch a new attack in the near future,” said Andrii Mogyla, a Ukrainian soldier who declined to say in which unit he served, citing secrecy concerns.
Mogyla, who was speaking to the Guardian from a makeshift office at a former language school, said he first fought on the frontlines but added he was soon moved to a different unit to “analyse” the war, given his background as a software developer.
“The Russians usually start with rocket attacks, then heavy artillery comes in, and then they move in with tanks and infantry. We see the first part already happening,” Mogyla said.
Equally concerning, according to Mogyla, were the recent bits of intelligence from “western partners” that his team received, including satellite images that showed Russia massing new troops and military hardware on the frontlines near Kharkiv.
Pointing to his table screen, Mogyla showed images that, he said, indicated a recent massing of forces on the eastern side of Kharkiv near the Russian-occupied village of Shevchenkove. According to Mogyla, about 100 army units, including 50 tanks and eight battalions, were moved there three weeks ago.
“We can’t be certain when, but in the near future, they will attack,” he said, calling for the west to step up its delivery of heavy artillery weapons and drones for reconnaissance.
Stopping Kharkiv from getting shelled, Mogyla said, was a particularly hard task as it is only 25 miles from the border.
Analysts have pointed out that it would be impossible to stop the Russian bombardment without counter-battery fire hitting Russia, which Ukraine has promised not to do with newly sent western weapons.
The sound of Russia’s military superiority can be heard in Kharkiv almost every night when Russia launches its Iskander and other rockets from across the border. The city then goes eerily dark, so as to not provide Russian planes or artillerists with targets.
Over the last weeks, the shelling, which has largely hit residential areas, has killed more than 20 civilians in the region, including an eight-year-old girl.
“The enemy is planning something, they are gathering troops. But we do not know what their timeline is,” said Konstantin, the commander, speaking this time from the nuclear bunker of the Kharkiv regional state administration building, which was hit by an airstrike on the morning of 1 March.
“Every day, they test our lines. They sent in reconnaissance units to see where our weaknesses are, but we have been very successful in repelling them.”
And while both Konstantin and Mogyla said evidence pointed to a new Russian attack in the region, they insisted that Moscow did not have the capability to capture the city of Kharkiv.
Despite continued advances in eastern Ukraine, including the capture of the key city of Sievierodonetsk, western intelligence similarly predicts that the Russian military would need to regroup before it could engage in a major new offensive across the country.
Instead, without new western weapons for Ukraine, the battle around Kharkiv was likely to drag on for months, if not years, said Mogyla.
“Both parties have started to defend well, and not much progress is being made by either side.”
At the same time, Ukrainian officials warn that brigades such as that led by Konstantin could soon be running out of their Soviet-era weaponry as a result of what many believe to be an eight-year Russian clandestine campaign to bomb key munitions depots across eastern Europe with weapons destined for Ukraine.
‘We have nowhere else to go’
Fear of a Russian return, however, still dominates the mood in the previously occupied villages outside of Kharkiv.
In Malaya Rohan, a small village about 10 miles east of the city, memories of the Russian occupation feel fresh.
Tanks first rolled into the village on 25 February, taking much of the population by surprise.
“At first, we thought those were our guys holding a military practice. It all happened so fast,” said Dmitry, who was clearing his small plot of land of the debris left behind by the Russian soldiers.
The proximity to the Russian border meant that Dmitry and others did not have time to evacuate, and many in the village spent the month under Russian occupation in their basements, only occasionally coming out for food and water.
Russian troops took over some of the houses in Malaya Rohan, including Dmitry’s, where he said they looted and stole “everything, until the very last spoon”.
The village still feels – and smells – like a war zone, despite having been liberated from occupation at the end of March.
During a visit by the Guardian to one burnt-out house that had been used by the occupying troops, Russian army clothes, playing cards and even gift cards from Moscow could be found.
Ksenia, an elderly woman who returned to Malaya Rohan last week, said that many in the village were worried about a new Russian advance. But those whose houses were not destroyed had little option but to return.
“We have nowhere else to go, we were sharing a one-bedroom flat with three families. This was our only home, and we need to rebuild it,” she said.
In Ksenia’s summer garden, next to an apple tree, the burnt carcass of a Russian tank had replaced the picnic table.
“I am still getting used to this uninvited guest in my backyard,” she said.
Leaders around the world have denounced Russia’s deadly strike on a shopping centre in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, as “abominable” and a war crime, amid growing international outrage at the attack.
Rescue efforts are underway and the search for survivors continues after the missile strike on a busy shopping centre in central Ukraine that had more than 1,000 people in it at the time, according to President Volodoymyr Zelenskiy.
The Ukrainian defence ministry said the strike was deliberately timed to coincide with the mall’s busiest hours and cause the maximum number of victims.
So far, 16 people are known to have been killed and 59 injured, Serhiy Kruk, the head of Ukraine’s state emergency service, said early on Tuesday. Dozens of missing persons reports have been filed.
In a joint statement, the leaders of the G7 condemned the “abominable attack” and noted that attacks aimed at civilians were a “war crime”.
“We stand united with Ukraine in mourning the innocent victims of this brutal attack. Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime. Russian president Putin and those responsible will be held to account.
“Today, we underlined our unwavering support for Ukraine in the face of the Russian aggression, an unjustified war of choice that has been raging for 124 days.”
They said they would “continue to provide financial, humanitarian as well as military support for Ukraine, for as long as it takes”.
“We will not rest until Russia ends its cruel and senseless war on Ukraine.”
Separately, French president Emmanuel Macron called the attack an “abomination”, saying: “We share the pain of the victims’ families, and the anger in the face of such an atrocity. The Russian people have to see the truth:”
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “It is deplorable, to say the least. Any sort of civilian infrastructure, which includes obviously shopping malls, and civilians should never ever be targeted.”
Ukraine’s air force command said Russia hit the mall, which is located near a railway station, with two X-22 cruise missiles that were fired by an unspecified number of Tu-22M long-range bombers.
Images from the scene showed giant plumes of black smoke and flames, with emergency crews rushing in to search for victims. It took 300 emergency workers more than four hours to extinguish the flames.
Mykola Lukash, from the Kremenchuk district prosecutor’s office, said cranes would be brought in on Tuesday to help lift the collapsed roof of the shopping centre. “We haven’t found any children’s bodies. A lot of bodies are burnt. We need to carry out DNA tests.”
Speaking at 2am local time on Tuesday, emergency services chief Kruk said work was continuing at the site. He said: “The main tasks currently performed by rescuers are to carry out rescue operations, dismantle debris and eliminate fires. So far, 16 people have been killed and 59 injured, 25 of whom have been hospitalised.”
Zelenskiy said on Telegram that the number of victims was “unimaginable”. He wrote: “The occupiers fired missiles at the shopping centre, where there were more than a thousand civilians. The mall is on fire, rescuers are extinguishing the fire, the number of victims is unimaginable. Russia continues to take out its impotence on ordinary citizens. It is useless to hope for decency and humanity from Russia.”
On Monday night, emergency workers and soldiers continued to comb through blackened debris and twisted metal. “We pulled out several bodies, but there are definitely more trapped under the rubble,” said Oleksii, 46, a firefighter. “This is normally a very crowded place.”
Naomi Thompson, 31, says she does it almost instinctively now. It started when she was a student living below the poverty line.
“Initially when things started getting tight, I would drink a lot of tea,” she says. “The milk would make me feel quite full. I could drink a thousand and one cups of water and it wouldn’t touch the sides. It has to be milk. I think it’s the protein.”
Despite the cost of living crisis, the new Labor government has had little to say about the rate of welfare payments so far; only noting it will consider the rate of benefits at every budget. Its public commentary on the issue often refers to the constraints of the federal budget.
The low rate of welfare payments are a budget problem for Thompson, too. These days, Thompson receives a jobseeker payment, but she’s not unemployed. She works casually, sometimes as much as 10 hours a week, as a kitchen attendant, only five hours short of the 15 hours Centrelink says she is able to do given her mental health concerns.
Thompson lives alone in a social housing unit in Orange, in regional New South Wales, but also cares for her father, who is a disability pensioner. And she volunteers at her local church.
On a good fortnight when she gets enough work her income gets to about the Henderson poverty line. She pays $150 a week in rent after moving into her first ever rental this year (she had to “scrounge” from her church to fill it with appliances and furniture). She notes she’s at least doing much better than many in the private market when it comes to rent. Still, sometimes she attends a local food bank.
“[My head is] like a computer stuck in a cycle, just going round and round and round, constantly calculating, checking, managing,” she says. “It’s so tiring. If I didn’t have to worry about that so much I would be freed up.”
Maybe she could find another job and work an extra five hours a week? That would boost her income slightly, though she would still be poor.
Thompson is looking for work anyway; she is required to do so to keep her Centrelink payments. “That means sending my resume to lots of jobs and mostly never hearing back from them,” she says.
She’s battled through a vocational course and a university degree despite severe mental health challenges in her 20s. Now she says she has an IT degree, tens of thousands in HELP debt, and no job in the industry.
Despite all of this, Thompson says “mostly I just feel guilty that I’m not doing more”. “It’s a terrible thing to say but that’s how I feel,” she says. “I think most people don’t really realise the level of guilt and shame when you are doing as much as you can but … somehow you’re not keeping up. That’s the thing I battle with.”
Thompson’s jobseeker payment will be increased to account for inflation in September, as always occurs twice a year, but only after a winter in which increasing grocery prices are expected to collide with mammoth rises to utility bills.
“I just look at the cost of living and think, how the hell is anyone supposed to make this work,” Thompson says.
Thompson relies on tea in lieu of food; the price of coffee, tea and cocoa increased by 7.4% nationally over the past year, CPI data shows. Some types of meat, which Thompson has avoided for financial reasons for some time, have risen as much as 12%. But so too have vegetables, which she relies on for nutrition. She eats a lot of spinach “as the best source of iron other than meat”, but still “this has meant that in many years past I’ve had chronic anaemia and low iron”.
Thompson first started skipping meals when she was on the even more meagre youth allowance payment. She wonders how she survived at all on that payment, before answering the question herself. She started to skip meals.
But she says that at the height of the pandemic, when welfare payments were boosted, began to eat more and better food, and exercised more often. She was also able to pay to socialise with her friends.
“My psychologist was just so happy because she saw me go forward in leaps and bounds,” Thompson says. “The things she hadn’t been able to shift, suddenly they were shifting because I wasn’t worrying, I wasn’t stressing.”
She was also able to pay privately to see a sleep specialist, who recommended iron transfusions after diagnosing her with restless leg syndrome.
While it didn’t help with that ailment – another prescription did – the transfusion “made a huge difference in my energy levels”. “I was so iron-deficient that I couldn’t donate blood because it was so low,” Thompson says.
Thompson is open about the fact she’s attempted to take her life twice. She’s in a better place now but says her mental health has deteriorated since the Covid-19 boost to benefits ended. “I don’t want to end up in a position where I’m looking at that happening again,” she says.
On weekends, Thompson will be at the hotel up the road from her home, cleaning tables and replacing the menus and coasters.
“The way I’ve worked it out is I’m maybe $200 ahead from if I wasn’t working,” she says.
“I guess I make ends meet, because that’s what you do. You just have to. [But] I worry constantly about the finances of things, I worry more about [that] than whether I’ve eaten today.
“It’s nice to have a little bit more with work, but it’s barely keeping my head above water, and with the cost of living it doesn’t feel like it’s making a difference. Now it feels significantly worse.”
The 19-year-old US pop star Olivia Rodrigo has passionately and angrily castigated the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade, and allow individual US states to ban access to abortions.
Appearing before a crowd of thousands on the Other stage, she said: “I’m devastated and terrified. So many women and so many girls are going to die because of this. I wanted to dedicate this next song to the five members of the Supreme Court who have showed us that at the end of the day, they truly don’t give a shit about freedom. The song is for the justices: Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh. We hate you! We hate you.”
The song she referred to was Fuck You, performed with its author, guest star Lily Allen. “This is actually my first Glastonbury and I’m sharing this stage with Lily, this is the biggest dream come true ever,” said Rodrigo. “But I’m also equally as heartbroken about what happened in America yesterday,” Rodrigo said.
Rodrigo joins a chorus of voices at Glastonbury who have condemned the court decision, which has resulted in a number of US states instantly banning abortions.
Yesterday, Phoebe Bridgers led the crowd in a chant against the court, adding: “Fuck America and all these irrelevant old motherfuckers trying to tell us what to do with our fucking bodies.”
Billie Eilish said “today is a really dark day for women in the US”, while Idles frontman Joe Talbot said the decision “reversed the laws back to the middle ages”. Skunk Anansie frontwoman Skin also affirmed her support for the right to access abortion.
In the wild Abruzzo region of Italy, a rare variety of lentil grows in steep, narrow plots on the slopes of the Gran Sasso mountains. Watered by snow-fed streams and hand harvested by elderly farmers, the Santo Stefano lentil is so venerated it has its own festival. In France, the du Puy lentil, a variety brought over by the Romans some 2,000 years ago and known as “the caviar of lentils”, has been given an appellation origin contrôlée (AOC) status.
Australians are probably more prosaic about the lentil, but with inflation and bitter weather biting, the low spend-per-plate (a packet of supermarket lentils retails for around $2 for 375g, and when cooked they yield a price of just 18 cent per 200g serve) and gratifyingly long shelf life means it has a cost-to-comfort ratio that is difficult to top.
Though most of us are (often uncomfortably) aware of the lentil’s high fibre content, they’re also a nutritional tour de force, packed with protein, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
Varying in size and colour, from deep green to luminous orange, if you pick the right lentil for the job, they can play nicely with just about any flavour and comply with a wide range of cooking methods. Here’s how to make the most of these inexpensive overachievers.
Yellow lentils: for a warp-speed dal
“In India, dal is life,” says Jessi Singh, owner of Melbourne’s Bombay Yacht Club and Daughter in Law restaurants. Use moong dal – small yellow lentils – and you can have a dish ready in less than 10 minutes, Singh says. “Five if you use a pressure cooker.” He simmers the lentils gently on the stove with onion, ginger, garlic, tomato and beef (or vegetable) broth until they are soft, or puts the mix in a pressure cooker for when time is of the essence.
His tip for an even lower-effort, high-return cook: “Fry some cumin seeds in ghee and add to the lentils with a pinch of asafoetida” – available in some supermarkets and all Indian grocers from about $2.50 a packet. (While not traditional, ghee may be substituted with butter or neutral oils.) The “epic flavour bomb of a spice” tastes like onion and garlic, he says. Finish by seasoning with salt and pepper.
If you plan to eat the dal over rice, Singh suggests adding more stock or water. With roti, make a thicker, scoopable dal.
Red or orange lentils: for hearty soups
South Australia lentil farmer Anna Phasey tips small red lentils – known as “nippers” in Australia – as the best lentils for soup, since they require no soaking and are quick to cook.
They’re the star of the classic Indian British soup mulligatawny; but if time or an empty spice rack are an issue, Yotam Ottolenghi uses a readymade curry powder in his lentil-coconut soup.
While the robust spices of southern Asia pair so perfectly with lentils, so too do the flavours of North Africa. Thomasina Miers uses cumin, cloves, cinnamon and ginger in her Moroccan-spiced lentil soup. Add a squeeze of lemon for “a joyous sparkle”, she writes.
Brown lentils: for serving with meat
While lentils may have been adopted as a meaty mascot by vegetarians, they’re also often served with the real thing – as they’re perfect sponges for meat juices.
For something that uses meat more as a flavour than the bulk of the meal, Tony Percuoco of Brisbane’s Tartufo restaurant recommends a typical Neapolitan “cucina povera” dish: pasta e lenticchie.
“It’s a very simple dish, made with a bit of pancetta, sautéed onion, carrot, celery and leek, brown lentils, a bay leaf, water, three or four crushed overripe tomatoes and a pasta like gnocchetti Sardi or small conchiglie (shells) cooked in the same pot at the end.”
Black or puy lentils: for salads
Whether served warm or cold, lentils are also perfect for upping the protein content in a salad.
“This is where you’d use black lentils,” says Shannon Martinez of Smith and Daughters. “They’re really good in salad because they hold their shape.”
Martinez likes to cook them with half an onion, a bay leaf and sprigs of thyme for flavouring, then adds to grilled zucchini, feta, almonds and mint. “Dress simply with red wine vinegar or olive oil and lemon,” she advises.
“Lentils are an awesome and super-healthy replacement for ground meat in bolognese sauce and ragu,” says Martinez.
“Go for green or brown for a ragu. You get a bit of texture but they’re not too firm, like black lentils.”
Martinez recommends parboiling the lentils first. “Otherwise you’ll need too much liquid in your ragu to cook them. Parboil until just undercooked, have your base for the ragu on the stove and then just put the partially cooked lentils in, so they can absorb the flavour.”
Versatile lentil mince can be used as a base in a multitude of other cuisines and applications too – from a shepherd’s pie to chilli, stuffed capsicum or croquettes. Sakia Sidey, AKA the Broke Vegan, bulks up her lentil “mince” with the grated stalks of broccoli and cauliflower, adding spices and a hot sauce and serving it in tacos with a coriander salsa, red onion pickle, jalapeños and lime.
“I thought if I travelled to Australia, I could earn more money and lead a better life,” Jayan* says from his modest home, in a coastal village in the north of Sri Lanka.
A fisherman by trade and a member of Sri Lanka’s Tamil ethnic minority, Jayan is familiar with boats and was asked to fix the ageing vessel that was to take him to Australia, alongside a desperate handful of men, women and children.
The boat made it to Australia, but he was, he says, swiftly returned to Sri Lanka. A handful of questions and he found himself put onto a plane, and flown back to where he started, now facing charges.
“Since the economic situation in the country has exacerbated, I have been called to return as a boat keeper. I tell people not to travel on the boat because Australia does not accept asylum seekers.”
Human trafficking rings are exploiting Sri Lanka’s economic crisis to coerce some of the country’s poorest and most marginalised onto boats out of the country.
But across the Indian Ocean, and against the backdrop of civil unrest and forecast widespread hunger in Sri Lanka, there are persistent concerns that asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australia are not having their claims for protection properly assessed, and that some may be forcibly and unlawfully returned to harm.
The surge in the number of boats leaving Sri Lanka loaded with passengers began before Australia’s election and change of government in May, as concurrent economic, social and political crises have brought the country to the brink of collapse. And still the boats come, despite interceptions: the most recent boat was stopped on Thursday night in seas south of the Sri Lankan capital, bound for Australia, with 35 people on board, including six children.
As a Tamil, Jayan says the challenges he faced in Sri Lanka remain, heightened by the country’s worsening economic and political crises. But there is, he says, a “mafia” in operation, exploiting the emergency, promising safe passage overseas, and demanding up to 900,000 rupees (A$3,500) for a place on a boat.
“Local people talk about the change in the government this year and they ask me to join in as a boat keeper. Some people say that a successful landing in Australia is possible, but I refuse to get on the boat because based on my experience the people are returned back.”
A senior police officer in the Tamil-majority Batticaloa region of Sri Lanka’s east told Guardian Australia those boarding boats were mainly Tamils, and were being tricked by smuggling rackets seeking to exploit Sri Lanka’s worsening economic woes – and impending hunger crisis – for profit.
“They get on the boats because they cannot find jobs and have money problems in the country. They leave to make money,” the officer says, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They [passengers on board the boats] sell all their gold and objects inside the house just to get onto the boats. They have no clue about the change in government or the politics there.”
Others argue those boarding boats are coerced by a complex set of factors.
“People are suffering right now because of this economic crisis,” human rights lawyer and Sri Lanka’s former human rights commissioner Ambika Satkunanathan says.
“For instance, for Tamils in the north and east of the country, the sense of insecurity that already existed – particularly after this president returned to power – is exacerbated by the current situation.”
Satkunanathan says there appears to be an “industry” around irregular migration, run by cartels promising passage to Canada [by plane] or to Australia via boats, which is exploiting people in Sri Lanka who are already economically vulnerable or facing systemic discrimination and oppression.
Since May, the Sri Lankan navy has intercepted at least 10 boats at sea, carrying 353 men, women and children: the youngest passenger was a month-old baby.
A further 53 people have been arrested on land, suspected of being about to board a boat.
But at least three boats have reached Australian waters between 24 May and 10 June, reportedly carrying 79 asylum seekers.
Those passengers had their claims for protection assessed by Australian authorities at sea – a controversial practice criticised as potentially unlawful – before being forcibly returned to Sri Lanka where they have been arrested and jailed.
“We will be strong on borders without being weak on humanity – but we will be strong when it comes to our borders,” he said.
Exploiting a crisis
Sri Lanka is in the grip of an economic crisis that has fuelled widespread social and political chaos. The country has defaulted on more than $7bn in debts, its rupee has plummeted in value and inflation has risen beyond 40%.
Chronic shortages of fuel, kerosene, cooking gas and medication have sparked protests. The state has responded violently through the use of teargas, water cannons and rubber bullets.
Other nations have pledged to help, with commitments of aid money, fuel and food. Sri Lanka’s new prime minister is trying to negotiate a bailout package with the International Monetary Fund.
But the human cost is acute. Last month, a baby died in the highlands town of Haldummulla after she fell ill at home; her parents were unable to source any petrol to rush her to hospital.
And the situation will worsen before it improves; Sri Lankans are bracing for widespread hunger across the country. Fertiliser is scarce, and many farmers have abandoned crops. Fishermen can’t find fuel to put their boats to sea, so nothing is caught.
The senior police source says those who have been caught trying to leave Sri Lanka by boat are some of the poorest people in the country, from Tamil-majority areas previously ravaged by war such as Vavuniya, Killinochi, Mullaitivu and Trincomalee.
“These were very poor people. They could not pay upfront – they had paid 200,000 rupees or 300,000 rupees at first. They had loaned out their property to pay for these expenses.
“There was one couple who had been married for two months. They could not find the money so they had sold their brother’s motorbike and received 400,000 rupees from it for the journey.”
The fishing boats chartered for the voyage across the Indian Ocean are typically old, and barely seaworthy. One boat intercepted on 18 May sank as it was being towed back to Trincomalee.
A Sri Lankan navy spokesperson, Captain Indika da Silva, told the Sunday Observer human traffickers were exploiting the economic crisis.
“Time and again, the navy, along with other state agencies [have] warned the public against these human traffickers.”
A spike in boat arrivals has been argued by the opposition in Australia as being the result of the return of the Labor party to government, following the federal election on 21 May.
“The people smugglers know that the same people who are now in government made terrible decisions before, and that’s what they’re preying on,” the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, said.
But hundreds of Sri Lankans have boarded boats for southern India in recent weeks as well. Thousands more – those with means – have boarded planes seeking work overseas, in the Middle East in particular.
And the outflow of boats from Sri Lanka to Australia preceded the election.
While the 2013 implementation of hardline – and controversial – interception and boat turnback policies dramatically reduced the number of asylum seeker boats arriving in Australian waters, the flow of boats never “stopped”, despite the political rhetoric.
Australian Border Force figures show at least 38 boats – carrying 873 people seeking asylum, including 124 children – arrived in Australian waters or on Australian shores, but were then returned under Operation Sovereign Borders between its launch in late 2013 and the end of 2021, an average of a little over four boats a year.
The actual number is likely higher because of a 2013 decision by government not to release details of “on-water” matters. Some asylum seeker boats which arrived were not “counted” by the former government because they had arrived on the east coast of Australia.
Factors driving forced displacement and irregular migration are rarely singular, and are far more often multifaceted and intersectional.
More than a decade after the end of the bloody separatist civil war between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers, Tamil-majority areas of Sri Lanka continue to face oppressive restrictions from state security services.
“Security force abuses against people subject to arrest and detention have continued … and are often committed against members of the Tamil and Muslim communities.”
The economic crisis, and the hunger that flows from it, is felt most acutely by those already marginalised and potentially facing persecution.
Satkunanathan said those arrested trying to leave Sri Lanka should not be jailed or prosecuted.
“People in this situation should be treated as victims, not treated as offenders, they are already suffering, and they are being re-victimised.”
Australia’s Labor government has committed to continue the Coalition’s policies of boat turnbacks.
But there are serious concerns about what happens to asylum seekers who reach Australian waters, and whether the policy of “at-sea” protection assessments, boat turnbacks and immediate deportations is in breach of international law.
The “enhanced assessments” conducted at sea are reportedly often done by teleconference, on poor phone lines in noisy environments. Some can be as short as four questions: a person’s name, their country of origin, from where they had departed, and why they had left.
There are concerns this abbreviated assessment process could fail to protect those who have fled Sri Lanka because of persecution.
“UNHCR has previously made known its concerns to Australia about its enhanced screening procedures and their non-compliance with international law,” it said.
“UNHCR’s experience over the years with shipboard processing has generally not been positive. Such an environment would rarely afford an appropriate venue for a fair procedure.”
Sources on Christmas Island, where asylum seekers are brought in order to be flown out of Australia, say they have already been “screened out” by the time they set foot on Australian soil. They spend a bare few hours – often in the middle of the night – on Australian soil, without access to lawyers or to any appeal process.
Residents on Christmas Island say often the first they know of a boat arriving is the sound of a plane leaving the island’s airstrip at night.
Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said it “defied credibility” none of the recent arrivals in Australia had a claim that triggered Australia’s protection obligations.
He said the “screening out” interviews usually conducted by immigration officials in Canberra by satellite phone were a breach of asylum seekers’ human rights and Australia’s international obligations.
“They are called screening-out interviews for a reason. They are designed to reject people on the basis of few questions done in stressful conditions without access to legal advice or possibilities of appeal.
“They should have proper interviews. The Labor government knows that people being returned to Sri Lanka may well be being sent back to danger.”
Jayan is a pseudonym. His name has been changed to protect him and his family.
Warming-up for the Major League Rugby championship game, Rugby New York wore t-shirts proclaiming themselves “Iron Workers”, a team identity built on the blue-collar battalions who built New York City itself.
The small crowd at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey indicated the work ahead if MLR is to become a major player on the US stage, never mind the world, before a Rugby World Cup in 2031. But then, the city back over the Hudson wasn’t always full of skyscrapers. Someone had to put them up.
After New York’s victory over the Seattle Seawolves, outside a locker room drenched in champagne, New York’s chief executive, Ric Salizzo, told the Guardian: “We knew that there were lots of people watching back home” – in New Zealand, source of the spine of the team – “and watching in the UK and Ireland, and we wanted to show them American rugby is on the way up.”
If so, this was the place to show it: a season finale on Fox. From the off, New York and Seattle, twice champions before, gave it all they could. Both teams attacked. Both sets of fans made noise.
Seattle struck first, working left and right until AJ Alatimu, their Samoan fly-half, saw an overlap for Martin Iosefo. The wing, a US sevens Olympian, cruised over the line. New York’s response was rather more, well, blue-collar, pugilistic raids sending the Kiwi flanker Will Tucker smashing over. Then Alatimu kicked a penalty and Jason Emery missed one, for 8-7 Seattle after 20 absorbing minutes.
Then came the first hydration break, as the temperature pushed 90F (32C) at pitch level. If the breaking of the game into four quarters seemed very American, it also seemed very fitting. And wise.
Next, a penalty try. New York drove a line-out, the maul went down in a flurry of bodies and limbs and the referee, Federico Anselmi, ran straight to the posts. Rhyno Herbst, Seattle’s appropriately named South African lock, saw a yellow card: 14-8 New York.
Seattle were struggling for possession even with Herbst on the field. Prompted by the former All Blacks scrum-half Andy Ellis, playing the last game of his long career, led by the Irish-born US hooker Dylan Fawsitt, the New York pack turned the screw.
Ellis had two more World Cup-winning All Blacks outside him, the full-back Nehe Milner-Skudder and wing Waisake Naholo. Both threatened – and the New York fans realised you can sing “Waisake Naholo” to the tune of Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes – but it was Ellis who got the try to capitalise on the one-man advantage. From a short-side break the fly-half Jack Heighton, another Kiwi, sent his halfback partner over.
The half closed with Seattle on the attack. This time New York held.
The break was a chance to ponder the future of a league dogged by controversy, after the disqualification of Austin and Los Angeles, the top two teams in the west. There is a lawsuit, filed by Adam Gilchrist, the Australian owner of the Gilgronis (Austin) and Giltinis (LA). No guilt – or Gilt – or otherwise has yet been established. World-round, rugby is beset by politics and power-struggle. Welcome to the club, MLR.
In the second half, New York went for the kill. Kalolo Tuiloma, a prop, got desperately close. Seattle held but couldn’t escape their 22. Emery kicked a penalty for 22-8.
Iosefo and Riekert Hattingh, the Seawolves’ captain and No8, a South African-born US Eagle, worked to reverse the tide, attacking the short side dangerously. But the Seattle backs could not hold the ball and soon Emery and Andrew Coe, New York’s Canadian wing, were streaking back upfield.
The try came from Nic Mayhew, a Kiwi prop, after a break from Tucker, the Kiwi flanker, and a clever reverse pass from Brendon O’Connor, another Kiwi flanker, once of Leicester. There are those who chide Rugby New York as the “New Jersey All Blacks”. They do play in Jersey but it was their journeymen Kiwis who shone.
Salizzo said: “We actually come from nine different countries. Having a group of Kiwis that play in a certain style helps. But you think of the quality of our American players – Nick Civetta, Nate Brakeley, Chance Wenglewski, Dylan, Ben Bonasso – they’re all Eagles in the pack. They were outstanding today. I’m proud to just watch them.”
The Seawolves weren’t sunk: Samuel Matenga, the tighthead prop, galloped over for a try and 27-15. They broke again and Will Tucker saw yellow for killing the ball. From the scrum Brad Tucker, Will’s brother, on from the Seattle bench, scrambled over the line. A try would have brought the Seawolves within a score but it was called back on TV replay.
There was still life in a game played with a hiss-and-roar despite the withering heat. Kaleb Geiger, New York’s sub hooker, was playing baseball in Colorado not long ago and has learned rugby in less than two years. He had some line-out wobbles but held up under scrum pressure and put in a big hit or two. Mayhew won a turnover and Milner-Skudder kicked upfield. Sam Windsor, an Australian on at full-back, dropped a goal for 30-15.
Before the end, the tannoy was playing Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen. When in Jersey. Once the whistle went, the DJ switched to Sinatra. New York, New York were champions of MLR. Their New Zealanders performed a haka for Ellis.
Marty Veale, the New York head coach, was once a fearsome lock forward in New Zealand, Japan and England, where he played a couple of seasons for Wasps. Amid the sprayed champagne and shotgunned beers of the locker room, he summed up in suitably hard-nosed style.
“We got to the business end and we played finals footy and we were good for three weeks in a row. That was all we needed.”
The Prince of Wales accepted bags containing millions of euros in cash during meetings with a senior Qatari politician, according to a report.
Prince Charles was said to have been given a total of €3m (£2.6m) during meetings with Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani, the former prime minister of Qatar.
The cash was handed to the heir to the British throne in a suitcase on one occasion, a holdall on another, as well as in Fortnum & Mason carrier bags, the up-market department store which holds a Royal Warrant to supply the prince’s household with groceries.
The handovers are alleged to have occurred during meetings between the two men, including a private one-to-one meeting at Clarence House in 2015, it was claimed.
In a statement, a Clarence House spokesman said the money given during the 2015 meeting was “passed immediately to one of the prince’s charities who carried out the appropriate covenants and assured us that all the correct processes were followed”.
The suitcase containing the cash was given to two of Charles’ advisers who are said to have hand-counted the money. Palace aides are said to have asked Coutts, the private bank which acts for the royal family, to collect the cash.
Each payment was deposited into the accounts of the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund (PWCF). There is no suggestion the payments were illegal, the Sunday Times reported today.
The sheikh, one of the richest people in the world, was dubbed the “man who bought London” after he used his wealth, as well as his influence on the Qatari Wealth fund, to make huge investments in London including the Shard, Harrods and the InterContinental London Park Lane. He is the owner of one of the world’s richest football clubs, Paris Saint-Germain.
There is no evidence the sheikh did not intend the monies to go to the charity and Hamad was unavailable for comment, it was reported.
The chair of the trustees to the charity confirmed to the newspaper that the 2015 donation was made and then the trustees, who have a legal duty to protect the charity’s reputation, “discussed the governance and donor relationship, (confirming that the donor was a legitimate and verified counterparty) and our auditors signed off on the donation after a specific enquiry during the audit. There was no failure of governance”.
The charity is said to have confirmed the 2015 donation was made in cash at the “donor’s choice”.
Charles and Hamad are said to have a relationship going back several decades. In 2010, Charles was said to have lobbied Hamad to shelve the £3bn redevelopment of London’s Chelsea Barracks – writing a letter in which he told the country’s then prime minister that the state-backed Qatari Diar’s proposed steel-and-glass design “made my heart sink”. Charles later met the emir of Qatar for tea at Clarence House where the topic was raised once again. Qatar subsequently pulled the plans, prompting the Candy brothers, who were overseeing the development, to launch a £81m lawsuit. In it, they accused Qatar of caving in to the prince’s demands.
The latest claims come at an embarrassing time for the prince. Clarence House has rebutted claims of a “cash-for-access” culture in his organisation, with the Metropolitan Police and Charity Commission investigating fundraising practices, including the sale of honours. It has been alleged that Charles’s closest confidant, Michael Fawcett, secured an honour for a Saudi billionaire.
Fawcett resigned from his position in Charles’s inner circle in March 2003, after a report by Sir Michael Peat identified mismanagement at Clarence House. The Peat inquiry found that Fawcett had accepted “numerous gifts in the course of his royal service”, but cleared him of any financial impropriety. Fawcett continued to work for Charles on a freelance basis as a fixer and party planner.