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New data again suggests Russia's coronavirus deaths are higher than its official count

Adam Smigielski/iStockBy PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News

(MOSCOW) -- New mortality data from Saint Petersburg, Russia, has renewed questions about whether Russia’s real death toll from the coronavirus pandemic is significantly higher than authorities’ official count.

St. Petersburg’s city government on Wednesday released its so-called "all-cause mortality" data for May, that is the total number of deaths recorded in the city from any cause, including COVID-19.

The data shows that Russia’s second largest city recorded over 1,400 more deaths in May than the average for the previous five years of 4,990, a rise of almost 30%.

That suggests that there have likely been hundreds of more deaths caused by the coronavirus than recorded in the city’s official COVID-19 death toll which stood at just 171 for May, experts said.

There is a consensus among experts around the world that comparing total mortality numbers from the months of the pandemic compared with previous years offers the best picture of the real toll of the virus, since countries have such widely varying methods of counting COVID-19 deaths.

Almost every country with large case numbers where the data is available has shown steep rises in total deaths during the most intense months of their epidemics, with the numbers falling back closer to the average once they begin to ease.

Not all these so-called “excess deaths” will have been from COVID-19, but experts have said they believe the majority are. Comparisons by The Financial Times have shown the U.K. recording a 65% increase in excess deaths since March, Italy a 47% jump and France a 30% increase.

The release of the same type of data last month showing April's mortality in Moscow and St. Petersburg allowed the approach to be applied to Russia for the first time and also showed the excess deaths for that month were also higher than official figures for coronavirus deaths in both cities.

Reports noting the discrepancy triggered an outraged reaction from Russia’s authorities, who denied the official statistics were being manipulated. The Russian foreign ministry sent letters to The Financial Times and The New York Times demanding they retract their reports and some Russian MPs called for the newspapers’ journalists to be expelled.

With around 5,300 deaths from over 440,000 cases, Russia officially has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world, at just 1.2%, significantly lower than other countries with large epidemics. Germany has a reported mortality rate of 4.7% and Brazil 5.6%, according to data from John Hopkins University. The United States' rate is currently 5.8%.

Experts have warned that making comparison between death tolls is not worthwhile given the huge difference in approaches to calculating them. Mortality rates also only account for deaths among confirmed cases, which is dependent on testing. The number of asymptomatic cases makes the true mortality rate hard to estimate.

Russian health officials have argued they have simply taken a far narrower approach for counting coronavirus deaths than in European countries or the United States. Moscow’s health department in May acknowledged it had not included 60% of deaths of patients who had tested positive for coronavirus, because it said they had died from other underlying causes, including heart attacks and kidney failure.

Russian doctors and demographers though, have said they believe the official approach is too narrow and is intended to keep the toll artificially low.

Many health workers have told news outlets, including ABC News, that deaths they considered to be from COVID-19 have been recorded as from other causes, like pneumonia or the failure of a specific organ. A third of medics who took part in an anonymous survey last month of 500 health workers at Russian coronavirus hospitals said they had been told by managers to record COVID-19 deaths as pneumonia.

Last month, the health minister of Dagestan, an impoverished region in the Caucasus that has been badly hit, caused a national scandal when he inadvertently appeared to reveal a gap between official statistics there and the reality. The minister, Dzhamaludin Gadzhiibrahimov, told a local blogger only 27 people in the province had died from COVID-19, but noted 657 had died from "community-acquired pneumonia." He also said Dagestan's total infections were over 13,000 even though his ministry's own public count at the time stood at around just 3,000.

A Russian demographer with experience working with state mortality statistics last month told ABC News lowering mortality figures from diseases by manipulating the classification of deaths was a frequent practice that pre-dated the pandemic. The demographer, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak, said the pressure to provide low numbers frequently came from regional authorities, concerned about providing positive data to the central government.

Russia's federal statistics agency has still not released mortality data for the rest of the country's regions for April, saying it needs more time because of the closure of local offices by the epidemic. Russia was still in a relatively early stage of its epidemic in April, while May saw the huge surge in cases that have given Russia the third-largest epidemic in the world. It means the data for May is likely to show a significant jump in excess deaths.

The data released on Wednesday showed St. Petersburg -- with a population of five million -- recorded 6,427 total deaths for May, 1,552 more than last year. That was also more deaths than have been recorded in May in the city than in any year over the past decade.

Russia remains in the grip of the epidemic. Although its growth rate of new cases has flattened, Russia has continued to record 9,000 new virus cases a-day for the past three weeks, with some experts suggesting the country appears to be stuck on the epidemic's plateau.

St. Petersburg's epidemic also shows few signs of improvement, recording a steady growth rate in new cases. Ambulance workers this week told ABC News the city's coronavirus hospitals are full and that they have to wait on average several hours to deliver patients.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, speaks on George Floyd's death in 2020 graduation message

ABC News(LONDON) -- BY: CARSON BLACKWELDER

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, delivered a powerful speech to the 2020 graduates of Immaculate Heart High School, her alma mater, urging them to "lead with love," "lead with compassion" and to "use your voice."

Her video, shared Wednesday evening for the class of 2020's virtual graduation, begins by her telling the all-girls school she was "really nervous" to address the "absolutely devastating" times we're living in until coming to an important realization.

"I realized the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing," the 38-year-old said.

Meghan continued by stating that "George Floyd's life mattered" as did -- and do -- the lives of "so many other people whose names we know and whose names we do not know."

Floyd, a black man, died on May 25 at the age of 46 when a white police officer pressed on Floyd's neck with his knee for nearly nine minutes. In the days after Floyd's death, protests have spawned across the country -- and across the globe -- calling for change.

She then recalled experiencing the LA riots during her youth, an event she noted was "also triggered by a senseless act of racism" in the beating of Rodney King at the hands of police. While detailing the horrors of this time, Meghan added that "those memories don't go away."

"So the first thing I want to say to you is that I'm sorry," the former "Suits" actress said, acknowledging that young people are having "a different version of that same type of experience" now. "I'm so sorry that you have to grow up in a world where this is still present."

"That's something that you should have an understanding of, but an understanding of as a history lesson, not as your reality," Meghan, who grew up in LA, added. "So I am sorry that, in a way, we have not gotten the world to the place that you deserve it to be."

The duchess said there is one positive comparison in looking back at the LA riots and what's going on today. The bright side, in her eyes, is seeing "how people came together."

Meghan ended her message by admitting she knows this isn't the graduation ceremony these students "envisioned" or "imagined."

"Now you get to be part of rebuilding," she said, telling the graduates we will "rebuild and rebuild and rebuild ... because when the foundation is broken, so are we."

Meghan signed off with just a few more words of inspiration and encouragement for their bright futures.

"You are equipped, you are ready, we need you and you are prepared," Meghan concluded. "Please know that I am cheering you on all along the way, I am exceptionally proud of you and I'm wishing you a huge congratulations on today, the start of all the impact you're going to make in the world as the leaders that we all so deeply crave. Congratulations, ladies, and thank you in advance."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Iran frees US Navy veteran held for nearly two years

Courtesy White FamilyBy CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The Iranian government has freed a U.S. Navy veteran after detaining him for nearly two years, according to his family.

Michael White departed the country Thursday on a Swiss government aircraft, according to President Donald Trump, who welcomed the news in a tweet.

"For the past 683 days my son, Michael, has been held hostage in Iran by the IRGC and I have been living a nightmare," his mother Joanne White said in a statement to ABC News. "I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely on his way home."

White's release comes just days after an Iranian professor was released from U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement custody and returned to Iran. Sirous Asgari, an Iranian professor working at Case Western Reserve University, had been charged with stealing trade secrets, but a federal judge dismissed the case against him last fall, citing a lack of evidence. He remained in U.S. custody because of an expired visa.

Both countries have denied that Asgari was part of a prisoner exchange.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told ABC News Tuesday that Asgari "is not and has never been a participant in any prisoner swap with Iran." The Trump administration had been trying to deport Asgari since December, she added, "but the Iranian government repeatedly has held up the process."

There are at least three American citizens that remain imprisoned by the Iranian government, an adversary of the U.S. for decades known for taking westerners hostage: Siamak Namazi, a businessman held since October 2015; his father, Baquer Namazi, an 83-year old former United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) official and Iranian provincial governor; and Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian environmentalist with U.S. and British citizenship.

"My prayers are with the Namazi and Tahbaz families and the families of so many other wrongfully detained Americans around the world," Joanne White said Thursday.

White was first detained in July 2018 while visiting an Iranian girlfriend on his third trip to the country. He was represented in Iranian court by a government-appointed lawyer who did not speak English, convicted of insulting the country's supreme leader and posting on social media, and sentenced to a combined 12 years in prison.

Concern about White's case had grown in recent months. A cancer patient, he contracted the novel coronavirus while in Iranian custody, was released on medical furlough, and at one point hospitalized because of the virus. The family spokesperson started a GoFundMe page for him last May.

"Our response will be decisive," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned in March, if White or any other American died while in a foreign government's custody.

Trump heralded White's release, tweeting, "I will never stop working to secure the release of all Americans held hostage overseas!"

It's unclear if White is headed directly to the U.S. or first stopping somewhere in Europe. He was evacuated from Iran on a Swiss government aircraft because Switzerland is the United States' protecting power in Iran, looking after American citizens and interests in the absence of a U.S. diplomatic mission.

Joanne White thanked the Swiss government, along with the State Department and its Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who has acted as an interlocutor with the Iranian government.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


German prisoner identified as main suspect in 2007 disappearance of 3-year-old during a family vacation

By SARAH HUCAL, ABC News

CLEMENS BILAN/DDP/AFP via Getty Images(BERLIN) -- On May 3, 2007 during a family holiday in the Algarve region in the South of Portugal, three-year-old Madeleine McCann disappeared. Now, 13 years later, a lead suspect has been identified: a 43-year old German male who authorities have not yet named. The announcement is a step towards unraveling what remains one of Britain's most famous unsolved crimes.

Prosecutors believe she is dead and German authorities are treating her disappearance as a murder investigation. The girl’s parents, Kate and Gerry have called the news “the biggest lead in the case in 13 years” a spokesperson for the couple, Clarence Mitchell, told Sky News.

"[Madeleine's parents] are realistic, they simply want to know what happened to their daughter” he added.

The abduction spurred a massive manhunt around Europe. Some notable names, including J.K.Rowling, contributed to a multi-million pound reward, while soccer star David Beckham publicly appealed to the public for information about her kidnapping. Yet the amount of money spent on the investigation, which until now had produced no lead suspect, had become a topic of debate in the U.K. press. The most recent investigation by Metropolitan Police in London which began in 2011 cost nearly $14 million, BBC reported.

The suspect is currently serving a long sentence in a German prison for sexually abusing children. During a press conference in Braunschweig, Germany, on Wednesday, the region where the suspect last held residence before moving to Portugal, authorities said he was a “sexual predator who had already been convicted of crimes against little girls” and had been sentenced to prison several times on related counts.

Between 1995 and 2007 the suspect had been living in the Algarve, at times out of a camper van from the 1980s. Authorities determined he had been living in a house near the Praia da Luz resort from which Madeleine disappeared one evening while her parents were at a nearby tapas bar with friends. At the time, local police concluded it was a kidnapping: a stranger had broken into the apartment while Madeleine, known as “Maddie” was sleeping, along with her twin sisters.

While living in Portugal, the suspect “pursued several odd jobs in the Lagos area, including in the catering trade. There are also indications that he may have made his living by committing crimes such as burglary theft in hotel complexes and holiday apartments, as well as drug trafficking.” The Braunschweig Federal Prosecutor’s Office wrote in a statement.

Now, authorities are turning to the public for help to crack the case and have offered a $25,000 reward (£20,000) for information leading to a conviction.

"As part of the investigation carried out by Germany's criminal police, Britain's Metropolitan Police and Portugal's Policia Judiciaria at the request of the public prosecutor's office in Braunschweig, we are now asking the public for help. A call for witnesses was published yesterday on the internet site of the German criminal police" said Braunschweig State Prosecutor, Hans Christian Wolters in Tuesday’s press conference.

Police are requesting information about two cell phone numbers, one of which belonged to a person whom police believe is a “highly significant witness.” They have released photos of two vehicles the suspect could have used during the time of the disappearance.

The first is a 1993 British Jaguar with German license plates and the second is a Westfalia campervan from the early 1980s which the suspect used in and around the area of Praia da Luz. “We believe he was living in this van for days, possibly weeks, and may have been using it on 3 May 2007.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Loss of biodiversity will lead to more pandemics in the future, Prince Charles says

Karwai Tang/WireImageBy GUY DAVIES, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Prince Charles has spoken about his experience recovering from coronavirus, and said that the erosion of biodiversity will contribute to further pandemics in the future.

"The more we erode the natural world, the more we destroy what's called biodiversity, which is the immense diversity of life, plant life, tree life, everything else," he said in an interview with Sky News. "The more we expose ourselves to this kind of danger. We've had these other disasters with SARS and Ebola and goodness knows what else, all of these things are related to the loss of biodiversity."

Prince Charles gave the interview via video call from Scotland, where he has been isolating since the beginning of the pandemic. The royal tested positive for coronavirus in March, at a time where a number of senior figures in British public life, including the prime minister, Boris Johnson, tested positive.

Charles has always been an outspoken advocate for environmental issues, and said that humanity was "paying the price" for the way it has treated the planet.

"It's one of the reasons that I tried to get the point across that we should have been treating the planet as if it was a patient long ago," he said. "So no self-respecting doctor would ever have let the situation, if the planet is a patient, reach this stage before making an intervention."

"I think we're slightly paying the price as a result," he added.

The prince also said he was "lucky" because he "got away with it quite lightly," in reference to his time with the virus.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Med school students in South Korea caught cheating on online exams during coronavirus pandemic

golubovy/iStockBy HEEJIN KANG, ABC News

(SEOUL, South Korea) -- A medical school in South Korea is making students take final exams in person after it says the majority of its freshman and sophomore class was caught cheating on tests that were being administered online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than ninety students -- 83% of the freshmen and sophomores at Inha University's School of Medicine in Incheon -- were found to have been taking advantage of remote learning arrangements to cheat on online exams since March, school officials said.

The students organized themselves in groups of two to nine to solve test questions together and share answers online, the school said. Students intentionally answered some questions differently to avoid being detected.

"Some of us did expect this to happen because no one is out here to monitor us when taking tests or attending classes," Mary Cho, a senior at the university, told ABC News. "We doubted the level of transparency of online midterm exams earlier before this incident was officially reported."

"Exams are to help students develop skills in their major, so it's difficult to imagine students cheating," said Sogang University professor Seong Bongjoon, whose students heard about the incident and wanted to make sure their school ensured a level playing field.

"Since some students expressed concern, I suggested additional measures such as randomly interviewing top-scoring students to double-check their abilities," Bongjoon said.

Officials at Inha University have formed a disciplinary committee to address the cheating. All students determined to have cheated are being given zeros and must perform community service and receive counseling from professors in charge, officials said.

Government officials told ABC News that the responsibility to address cheating lies with the schools themselves.

"In the case of exams, it is a matter of autonomy in relation to the university," an official with the Korean Council for University Education told ABC News. "If there are recommendations or guidelines related to cheating on online exams announced from the Ministry of Education, we can provide guidance, but it is not an issue that the council can address separately."

Although Inha University officials expect the switch from online exams to in-person testing will eliminate any further cheating, the move is not without risk. Three students from nearby Gachon University tested positive for COVID-19 after participating in in-person midterm exams at the school.

Gachon University officials originally planned to combine online and in-person lectures for classes under 30 students starting June 1, but decided to stay with online-only classes after the outbreak.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Suspect in 2007 disappearance of British girl Madeleine McCann identified, police say

iStock/EKH-Pictures(BERLIN) -- BY: MATT ZARRELL

Police have identified a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of 3-year-old Madeleine McCann.

The suspect, who is not identified by name, is currently in a German prison on an unrelated matter, according to a statement from the U.K.'s Metropolitan Police.

Madeleine vanished on May 3, 2007, at a resort in Praia de Luz, located in the Algarve region of Portugal, while her parents dined just a few hundred yards away.

"Following the ten-year anniversary, the Met received information about a German man who was known to have been in and around Praia da Luz. We have been working with colleagues in Germany and Portugal and this man is a suspect in Madeleine's disappearance," said Detective Chief Inspector Mark Cranwell, who leads the McCann investigation.

The German prosecutor described the suspect as "a sex offender with several previous convictions, who has been convicted of sexual abuse of children, among other things." The prosecutor added he is already serving a long term in prison.

The suspect lived on and off in the Alrgave between 1995 and 2007 and is connected to the area of Praia da Luz where Madeleine was last seen by her mother, Kate McCann, who noticed the toddler vanished when she went to go check on her that evening, police said.

"While this male is a suspect we retain an open mind as to his involvement and this remains a missing person inquiry," Cranwell added.

Kate and Gerry McCann, Madeleine's parents, issued a statement about the developments through a family spokesperson.

"We welcome the appeal today regarding the disappearance of our daughter, Madeleine," they said in a statement. "We would like to thank the police forces involved for their continued efforts in the search for Madeleine."

"All we have ever wanted is to find her, uncover the truth and bring those responsible to justice," the statement continued. "We will never give up hope of finding Madeleine alive but whatever the outcome may be, we need to know, as we need to find peace. ... We would like to thank the general public for their ongoing support and encourage anyone who has information directly related to the appeal, to contact the police."

Authorities are also releasing information on two vehicles the suspect had access to around the time of Madeleine's disappearance.

One is a "distinctive" early 1980s model VW T3 Westfalia campervan with a Portuguese registration plate. The suspect had access to this van from April 2007 until sometime after May 2007 and it was used in and around the area of the resort, police said.

Investigators believe the suspect was living in this van for days, possibly weeks, and may have been using the vehicle the day Madeleine went missing.

The second vehicle, a 1993 British Jaguar, model XJR 6 with a German license plate, was believed to have been seen in the area of the resort in 2006 and 2007 and was originally registered in the suspect's name, according to police.

The vehicle was re-registered to someone else in Germany the day after Madeleine disappeared, but authorities believe the car was still in Portugal at the time.

Both vehicles are currently in the custody of German authorities.

Metropolitan Police are asking anyone who saw these vehicles together or individually during the spring or summer of 2007 to come forward.

Police are also looking for more information on two cellphone numbers, one of which was used by the suspect and the other used by what police believe is a "highly significant witness" and are asking that person to contact authorities.

"All we have ever wanted is to find her, uncover the truth and bring those responsible to justice," Stuart Cundy, deputy assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, said in a statement. "We will never give up hope of finding Madeleine alive but whatever the outcome may be, we need to know, as we need to find peace."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Russia declares emergency in Arctic after huge diesel leak turns rivers red

dicus63/iStockBy PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News

(NORILSK, Russia) -- Russian authorities have declared a state of emergency in an Arctic region after a huge fuel tank ruptured and leaked at least 20,000 tons of diesel into rivers, turning them blood red.

A massive reserve fuel tank belonging to a thermal power station burst on Friday near Norilsk, a remote city in northern Russia about 180 miles above the Arctic Circle.

The tank, in an industrial zone, contained tens of thousands of tons of diesel, according to Russian emergency services officials, and at least 20,000 have leaked into nearby rivers and a reservoir in the Taimyrskii Dolgano-Nenetskii district.

Videos and photographs taken from above show large swathes of two rivers, the Ambarnaya and Daldykan, having turned bright red. Environmental campaigners are warning of potential longterm harm to the area.

State of emergency in Norilsk after 20,000 tons of diesel leaks into Arctic river system. Fear that thawing permafrost caused damage to storage tank https://t.co/EYvzar8jUQ pic.twitter.com/oN4pOtLZy0

— The Siberian Times (@siberian_times) June 2, 2020

President Vladimir Putin declared a federal state of emergency on Wednesday after regional authorities did so on Sunday, two days after the spill.

The leak appears to be one of the worst environmental accidents the region has seen in years, and it involves the mining conglomerate Norilsk Nikel, which owns the site and it the region's main employer.
Coronavirus lockdown leaves hundreds of thousands of migrants without food in Russia

Officials blamed the delay in reacting to the leak on the local authorities' failure to inform them of the scale of the incident.

Alexander Uss, governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, a massive Siberian territory that includes Norilsk, told Putin in a televised video call on Wednesday that he had only discovered the seriousness of the situation when local people posted videos on social media.

That prompted an unusually irritated response from Putin, who demanded to know why it had taken two days for authorities to learn of the disaster.

"What, we're going to learn about emergency situations from social media now, are we?" Putin told Uss.

When the leak first happened, Krasnoyarsk's emergency ministry told reporters a car had crashed into the fuel tanks, causing a fire, but no major leak was mentioned. It later was discovered that the car had actually caught fire after it was covered by the huge flood of leaking fuel.

Anatoly Tsykalov, vice president of the Krasnoyarsk regional government, told the Russian news outlet RBC earlier in the week that the environmental damage could have been lessened if local officials told them sooner.

"If the signal had come on time, it would be have been possible to send equipment," Tsykalov told RBC. He said workers could have created a dam on the slopes beneath the tank to prevent the fuel reaching waterways that feed into the larger rivers.

Russia's Prosecutor General's Office on Wednesday said a criminal probe had been opened into possible charges of environmental damage. The director of the power station's turbine section has been detained as a suspect, it said, and its general director has been issued a warning.

The World Wildlife Fund, which helped sound the alarm about the spill, said on Wednesday that workers had now managed to stop the diesel from spreading to a nearby lake by using floating barriers.

But "the successful localization of the slick does not mean that polluting substances haven't got into the lake," Aleksey Knizhnikov, WWF Russia's director for environmentally responsible business, was quoted in a post by the group. He said the most toxic components of diesel fuel dissolve easily in water, meaning barriers can't stop them.

In a video published by local media, a man is seen scooping water out of the polluted river and then lighting it on fire.

"The consequences of such accidents, especially in the north, reverberate for a long time. It means the death of fish, the contamination of birds' feathers and the poisoning of animals," Sergey Verkhovets, WWF Russia's coordinator for arctic projects, said in a separate statement. Indigenous reindeer herders nearby also could suffer greatly.

Russia's minister for emergency services, Yevgeny Zinichyev, told Putin on Wednesday that workers had so far removed 100 tons of fuel and polluted concrete from the area, but that cleaning the polluted waterways would require considerable work. He said 100 more emergency workers would arrive on Thursday to assist. The governor, Uss, said his region had no experience dealing with a leak of such scale.

The cause of the fuel tank's rupture is still being investigated. Norilsk Nikel has suggested the tank may have collapsed because permafrost beneath it could have thawed after an exceptionally warm winter. Russia saw record warm temperatures this year, and in some regions virtually no snow.
In Moscow, people adjust to a winter without snow: 'It's like we're at a resort'

"What we can suggest is that as a result of the abnormally mild temperatures, a melting of the permafrost could have happened that led to the partial subsiding of the support on which the tank sits," Sergey Dyachenko, the company's first vice president, said in a statement.

Melting permafrost has become a significant issue in the region as temperatures warm because of climate change. Many buildings in Norilsk are built without foundations, directly onto the normally rock-hard frozen soil. But in recent years, top layers of the permafrost have thawed, causing buildings to sink or become structurally unsound.

It is not the first time, however, that rivers near Norilsk Nikel's facilities in the area have been severely polluted. In 2016, the company acknowledged that flooding at one of its metal plants near the same area had caused a leak ,which also turned a river bright red. The company had initially denied any involvement in the river's pollution.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Pope Francis decries racism but says 'nothing is gained by violence'

Lefteris_/iStockBy PHOEBE NATANSON, ABC News

(ROME) -- Pope Francis spoke out on Wednesday about U.S. protests in reaction to the killing of George Floyd, calling for "national reconciliation and peace" to stop "the disturbing social unrest."

Francis, addressing the English-language faithful among his weekly general audience at the Vatican, called racism a "sin" and said that "we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism."

Calling Floyd’s death "tragic," the pontiff said he was praying for "George Floyd and all those who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism" and for "the consolation of their grieving families and friends."

But he also said that the violence in the wake of many recent demonstrations is "self-destructive."

"Nothing is gained by violence, and so much is lost," he added.

The pope made his remarks from the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, which in where the weekly public audience is held because of coronavirus restrictions, rather than in St. Peter's Square.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Thousands gather in London as George Floyd-inspired protests sweep the world

Justin Setterfield/Getty ImagesBy GUY DAVIES, MAGGIE RULLI and IBTISSEM GUENFOUD, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Thousands gathered on Wednesday to protest racial injustice and the death of George Floyd as the civil unrest in the U.S. continues to inspire Black Lives Matter demonstrations around the world. In the words of one protester, "The pain is transcendent."

Protesters assembled in London's Hyde Park in what's believed to be the largest Black Lives Matter rally ever on British soil, holding placards and banners that read "Racism is a Pandemic" and "The U.K. is Not Innocent." Other banners showed pictures of George Floyd, as protesters kneeled and echoed the chants heard in the U.S. of "I can't breathe."

Attendees told ABC News they gathered not just to show solidarity with U.S. protesters, but also to protest racism closer to home.

"Obviously, it was fueled by the killing of George Floyd," Alex, a black woman who attended the protests, said of her reason for attending. "But then also in the U.K., we have our own level of injustice ... racism started in the U.K."

Alex told ABC News she hoped the protests would inspire people to have honest conversations about racism with their friends, families and employers and to "stop shutting black people's voices down."

"That's what we continually see, the shutting down of black voices," she added.

"So, yes, we feel the pain for what the U.S. is going through, but the U.K., we do have our own tears, we do have our own crimes," Leah, another protester, told ABC News. "And we're here not just for the U.S. but for we're here for ourselves as well."

"Ask questions, don't just say to yourself, 'Oh, it happened 100 years ago, it happened 401 years ago,'" she said. "Racism is as subtle as you sit down on the bus and a white person gets up and moves, and you say to yourself, 'Did they just get up because I'm black?'"

The actor John Boyega was seen at the protest, where he gave an impassioned speech: "Black lives have always mattered. We have always been important. We have always meant something. We have always succeeded regardless. And now is the time. I ain't waiting."

Frankie Clarence, one of the organizers of the protest, told ABC News attendees also were advised to enact social distancing measures.

"What we have realized in the space of just a week ... is how we have the common relation of struggle, and we want everyone to realize, now that we're aware of it, as people we can justify justice," he said.

The demonstrations continue to reinforce the depth of feeling internationally over the death of Floyd, with protests in Copenhagen, Milan, Berlin and even as far as New Zealand on Tuesday.

The London protests follow a 20,000-strong demonstration against police brutality in Paris on Tuesday night, highlighting the controversial death of Adama Traore, a 24-year-old man who died in police custody in 2016. Protesters in Paris also used slogans and chants from the U.S. Additional demonstrations are planned outside the U.S. embassy in London this weekend.

"Sadly, the death of George Floyd comes to imitate the death of my brother," Assa Traore, Adama's sister, told BFMTV on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told lawmakers on Wednesday that Floyd's death was "inexcusable," later adding: "Of course black lives matter."

British police leaders published a statement about George Floyd's death, saying that they will "tackle bias, racism or discrimination wherever we find it," including within the police force, which can "fall short of those standards."

"We stand alongside all those across the globe who are appalled and horrified by the way George Floyd lost his life. Justice and accountability should follow," the statement read. "We are also appalled to see the violence and damage that has happened in so many U.S. cities since then. Our hearts go out to all those affected by these terrible events and hope that peace and order will soon be restored."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


US diplomats struggle to navigate racial protests, Trump's messages, charges of hypocrisy

Official White House Photo by Shealah CraigheadBy CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's administration has come under criticism at home for using strong-arm tactics to clear protesters in the nation's capital or failing to address the anger over racist incidents that has fueled demonstrations and led to some violence across the country.

But that response has also undermined America's message on the world stage, leaving the U.S. open to attacks of hypocrisy from foreign adversaries or facing condemnation from key allies.

For U.S. diplomats, it's become a difficult position as they struggle to respond to protests at embassies overseas, criticism from local governments or press and their own emotions over the crisis back home after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

"As Americans, it is a difficult moment for all of us. Each of us should take the opportunity to reflect upon that tragedy (of Floyd's death) and what we can do in our lives to both bring about healing and to address its underlying conditions and causes," Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun wrote to all department staff Monday night in an email obtained by ABC News.

In the week since the Minneapolis police officer asphyxiated Floyd with his knee -- the latest in a long line of unarmed African Americans killed by police -- some U.S. ambassadors have spoken out about the protests ricocheting across the U.S. and demanding racial justice. But their statements have been sneered at by adversaries like China and Iran, quick to highlight racial tensions in the U.S., and undermined by Trump's actions, particularly after law enforcement used flash bangs, tear gas and force to remove peaceful protesters assembled across from the White House on Monday.

The day after that clearing operation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned Hong Kong's government for barring a peaceful vigil for the anniversary of the China's brutal crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing. For the first time in 30 years, a permit for the annual demonstration was rejected, with officials citing restrictions because of the coronavirus.

Pompeo blasted that as Beijing moving "to deny Hong Kongers a voice and a choice, making them the same as mainlanders. So much for two systems."

Online and overseas, he has been challenged by critics condemning the Trump administration's assault on the peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park.

Hong Kong's pro-Beijing chief executive Carrie Lam condemned what she called a "double standard" from senior U.S. officials, saying during a press conference, "They take their own country's national security very seriously, but for the security of our country, especially the situation in Hong Kong, they are looking at it through tinted glasses."

"Your boss gassed peaceful Americans exercising their 1st Amendment rights yesterday for a photo op. You're a disgrace," Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist with the Washington Post, tweeted at Pompeo.

Unlike his deputy Biegun, Pompeo has not sent a department-wide email about the tumult in the country. Biegun's note, which encouraged senior officials to lead dialogues about racial issues with their staff and asked all employees to complete an unconscious bias training course, said he and Pompeo "recognize this has been an extraordinary time in history, and a challenging time for you and your families," although it's signed by Biegun alone.

When law enforcement cleared Lafayette Park Monday, police were seen on camera by ABC News affiliate WJLA-TV assaulting two Australian journalists, hitting a cameraman in the chest with a shield and a television correspondent in the back with a club.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne expressed "strong concerns" about the incident, and Australia's ambassador to the U.S. Arthur Sinodinos said the State Department is assisting the embassy in filing a complaint with the appropriate authorities and requesting an investigation.

In his own statement, the U.S. ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse did not apologize for the incident or comment on it directly.

"Freedom of the press is a right Australians and Americans hold dear. We take mistreatment of journalists seriously, as do all who take democracy seriously. ... We remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting journalists and guaranteeing equal justice under law for all," the statement said.

Outside the U.S. embassies in London, Dublin, Berlin and Paris in recent days, hundreds of demonstrators have marched in solidarity with U.S. protesters. The European Union's top diplomat Josep Borrell said Tuesday that Floyd's death was an "abuse of power" by law enforcement and warned "against the excessive use of force."

At least one U.S. envoy has spoken out to defend Trump's actions on Monday. Ambassador Jim Gilmore, the U.S. permanent representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Tuesday that "local law enforcement, supported by their governors and local authorities," had an "obligation ... to restore order in their communities."

"The President has vowed to take swift and decisive action and he has called upon governors to do the same," said Gilmore, the former Republican governor of Virginia and chair of the Republican National Committee. He added that protesters have a right to march, but, "those who break the law through acts of arson and looting, however, must be arrested and held accountable for their transgressions."

Other ambassadors, particularly those career diplomats in the Foreign Service, have voiced support for the protests.

U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols released a statement Monday that candidly spoke about his pain and anger at Floyd's killing, writing, "As an African American, for as long as I can remember I have known that my rights and my body were not fully my own. ... In a long, unbroken line of black men and women, George Floyd gave the last full measure of devotion to point us toward a new birth in freedom."

But Nichols rejected the idea that U.S. officials can't speak out against injustices, at home or abroad.

"I have also always known that America, conceived in liberty, has always aspired to be better -- a shining city on a hill -- and that is why I have dedicated my life to her service," he said. "Americans will continue to speak out for justice whether at home or abroad. We can meet the ideals of our founding, we will change this world for the better."

Nichols was summoned by the Zimbabwean government Monday to protest comments Trump's national security adviser Robert O'Brien made to ABC's This Week Sunday.

O'Brien labeled the southern African country as one of America's "foreign adversaries" seeking to take advantage of the racial protests. Zimbabwean Minister of Information Nick Mangwana rejected that, tweeting, "Zimbabwe does not consider itself America's adversary. We prefer having friends and allies to having unhelpful adversity with any other nation including the USA."

Asked what O'Brien was basing that on, a State Department spokesperson told ABC News Monday, "We remain deeply troubled by the Zimbabwean government's use of violence against peaceful protestors and members of civil society, as well as against labor leaders and opposition leaders in Zimbabwe. The Government of Zimbabwe has not arrested a single person in connection with any abduction since 2018, nor has it investigated and held accountable those responsible for human rights violations and abuses."

U.S. diplomats in Africa seem particularly outspoken about the issue of these racial protests across the U.S., as they compete with strong Chinese influence and growing Russian involvement across the continent and battle the perception that Trump, who referred to its 54 nations as "s---hole countries," and his administration do not care about Africa.

The U.S. embassies in Kenya and Uganda tweeted that they are "deeply troubled" by Floyd's death and that there should be a "full investigation." The embassy in Tanzania also shared the Department of Justice's statement announcing its probe into what happened.

U.S. ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo Mike Hammer had a more personal message Friday, tweeting in French that he was "deeply disturbed by the tragic death of George Floyd" and that the Justice Department will conduct a thorough investigation.

"Law enforcement must be held accountable worldwide. No one is above the law," he added.

That has been a common theme in many embassies' messages, as U.S. diplomats seek to promote the rule of law in their host countries.

"The U.S. stands for human rights & freedoms for all, as enshrined in our Constitution. We will not avert our eyes to injustice at home & abroad. We'll support peaceful public assembly, constructive dialogue, rule of law, as we work toward a more peaceful, democratic world," said Rebecca Ross, spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

Hours earlier, Russia's embassy in Washington condemned U.S. law enforcement's "unacceptable" use of rubber bullets and tear gas against personnel from state-run Sputnik news agency, even though Russian police similarly used batons and force to beat back protesters in Moscow last year.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Hope for prisoner swap fades as US deports Iranian scientist, but no Americans freed

Michael White, an American Navy veteran released from prison in Iran on medical furlough, is pictured in a March 25, 2020, photo released by his family. - (Courtesy White Family)By CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- An Iranian scientist detained by the U.S. was deported to Iran late Monday, but his release did not coincide with the freeing of any Americans detained by Iran -- dashing hopes for a prisoner swap after weeks of speculation and back channel talks.

At least four American citizens remain detained by Iran, including U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, who contracted the novel coronavirus in Iranian custody and was released on medical furlough. White was suspected to be the leading candidate for an exchange, even as tensions between the U.S. and Iran have remains intense and volatile.

Both the U.S. and Iranian foreign ministries denied on Tuesday that Sirous Asgari, the Iranian scientist, was ever part of a prisoner exchange. Since November, the 59-year old professor had been in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, where he also contracted the coronavirus as he awaited deportation after a federal judge dismissed espionage charges against him.

In a statement to ABC News, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Tuesday that Asgari "is not and has never been a participant in any prisoner swap with Iran."

Iran's Foreign Ministry also denied there was an exchange, adding during a briefing on Tuesday that Asgari "was accused of baseless theft of classified trade information, but the U.S. government failed to prove his guilt in court," according to the Iranian state media agency ISNA.

There had been back channel discussions in early May about an exchange, a source familiar with the talks told ABC News at the time. Speculation centered around the U.S. deporting Asgari and Iran allowing White, a cancer patient, to leave the country after his release on medical furlough.

A spokesperson for the White family told ABC News there has been no movement on his release and tweeted late Monday night that reports about his case "are not accurate. ... Please continue to pray for Michael's release."

In addition to White, the Iranian government has detained three dual Iranian American citizens -- Siamak Namazi, a businessman held since October 2015; his father Baquer Namazi, an 83-year old former United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) official and Iranian provincial governor; and Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian environmentalist with U.S. and British citizenship.

The family of former FBI agent Bob Levinson announced in March that U.S. officials believe Levinson, the longest-held American hostage who had been missing inside Iran since March 2007, died at some point in Iranian custody, but before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Like the U.S., Iran has been overwhelmed by its coronavirus outbreak, which has mushroomed through its prison system, in particular, and it now faces a possible second wave of infections. In March, Iranian authorities released nearly 100,000 prisoners on temporary leave to stem the virus' spread, but none of the detained Americans were on that list -- even as their prison floors saw the spread of COVID-19 cases, according to the Namazi's lawyer.

Last November, a federal judge dismissed the charges against Asgari, saying prosecutors had not provided enough evidence that he stole trade secrets while working at Case Western Reserve University. With his U.S. visa no longer valid, he was then detained by ICE for several months.

Ortagus said that the U.S. had been trying to deport Asgari since December, "but the Iranian government repeatedly has held up the process." An ICE spokesperson told ABC News on May 5 that his removal had been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Asgari contracted COVID-19 while in U.S. custody, according to his family and his lawyer. The ICE spokesperson said only that they expected "to effect his removal when he is medically cleared to travel and normal air travel resumes," in a statement on May 5.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


George Floyd vigil in Iran leads to online backlash

nazarethman/iStockBy SOMAYEH MALEKIAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A candlelight vigil in honor of George Floyd was held in Iran, igniting a chain of critical reactions on social media.

The ceremony was held in the Mellat Park of the holy city of Mashhad on Sunday with posters of Black Lives Matter and an illustration of Floyd, Fars News Agency reported.

Iranian officials condemned the killing of Floyd asking for the "suppressing [of] the suffering Americans" to be "urgently" stopped.

"Iran regrets the tragic murder of black Americans, denounces deadly racial profiling in the United States & urges authorities to do justice for every case," the ministry said in a tweet on Friday.

However, with photos of Mashhad's small candlelight ceremony quickly going viral, some people on social media negatively reacted to the action of commemorating those oppressed in the United States. They expressed suspicion about the real intention behind the vigil and pointed out that the same has not been done to honor those killed in recent tragic incidents inside Iran -- including victims of a nationwide series of protests and an airplane crash.

"Iranians lit up candles in honor of George Floyd. Such a beautiful move," wrote Armanabt, a twitter user whose brother was one of the victims of the Ukrainian airplane crash that was shot by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard on January 8. "But remember that my mother cried and said they went and lit up candles for George Floyd, but arrested people who lit up candles for those killed in the Ukrainian plane crash."

Armanabt referred to the arrests that happened after a gathering was held in Tehran to commemorate the victims of the crash in January. Iran said shooting down the plane was due to a "human error."

Mahmoud Sadeghi, a former member of the parliament in Iran, also condemned the killing of Floyd while addressing the problems at home.

"Crimes and murdering citizens are condemned, be it in Minneapolis and Minnesota, or in Karaj and Shahr-e Quds (towns in the outskirt of Tehran). Be it George Floyd, or Pouya Bakhtiyari," Sadeghi tweeted, honoring Bakhtiari, who was killed in a series of protests erupted across the country last November caused by an increase in fuel prices and economic hardship.

Some of the online critics referred to the tragic killing of Asiyeh Panahi, which occurred on May 19, when her humble shed -- built on a land designated for green area -- was illegally destroyed by the municipality officers of Kermanshah, a western city of the country.

"Didn't Asiyeh Panahi deserve a candlelight vigil," a Twitter user wrote.

In May, videos showing Panahi's desperate attempts to save her shed provoked massive reactions among social media users and led to officials' response.

Hassan Darvishian, head of the National Inspection Office of the country, admitted that municipality officers had "illegally" used pepper spray on Panahi before destroying her shed, which was also destroyed without proper legal order, as Iranian Students' News Agency reported on Monday.

Despite domestic objections to showing low tolerance towards civil protests by the system, some Iranians on Sunday chose to reflect on traces of racism among themselves. They invited others to address the issues of Afghans living in Iran who make up the biggest refugee population in the country.

"We like to post the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. But we can't claim being anti-racism as long as Iranians and Afghans are different to us," a Twitter user named Happy wrote on her account.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


George Floyd protests go international as demonstrations break out across the world

Xinhua/ via Getty ImagesBy GUY DAVIES, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Hundreds of demonstrators were seen chanting and carrying Black Lives Matter signs outside a number of U.S. embassies in Europe and across the world over the weekend, as the protests against the killing of George Floyd spread internationally.

On Saturday and Sunday, crowds gathered outside the U.S. embassies in London and Berlin to protest against the death of Floyd and show solidarity with the protests in the U.S. with chants of “I Can’t Breathe” a regular feature of the weekend demonstrations.

In London, hundreds took part in a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration beginning with protesters taking a knee for nine minutes in Trafalgar Square before marching onto the U.S. Embassy.

"Well, we've seen for hundreds of years black people and people of color be absolutely abused and killed on the streets and it's just getting worse and worse,” one London protester said. “We've had enough, and if they're not going to listen we're just going to scream louder and louder.”

London’s Metropolitan Police announced they arrested 23 people for “various offenses” across the U.K. capital on Sunday, and said they were on hand to make sure crowds complied with social distancing regulations.

Two black soccer players in Germany referenced the protests after scoring goals in weekend games. Jadon Sancho, an English player for Borussia Dortmund, wore a shirt underneath his jersey saying “Justice for George Floyd.” Marcus Thuram took a knee after scoring a goal for Borussia Mönchengladbach in tribute to the U.S. protests.

In Canada, thousands took to the streets in Vancouver and Montreal, echoing the chants heard across the U.S. in mostly peaceful protests Sunday. In the Montreal gathering, crowds were dispersed after projectiles were thrown at police later in the evening.

And in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, crowds chanting “I Can’t Breathe” were dispersed by police in riot gear outside the state government palace on Sunday as anti-government protests against police brutality in Brazil fed off the global sentiment felt by the killing of Floyd.

Last year in Rio, up to 1,402 people between January and September were killed by police, particularly in operations in the favelas, according to Human Rights Watch.

In Iran and China, two countries in which the U.S. has been heavily critical of human rights abuses, state run media and foreign ministers criticised the American handling of the George Floyd protests.

Manslaughter charges have been brought against Derek Chauvin, the white police officer accusing of kneeling on Floyd's neck for nine minutes, and the National Guard has been activated in Minneapolis and 17 states.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Coronavirus lockdown leaves hundreds of thousands of migrants without food in Russia

iStock/malerapasoBy: PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Zarina Ermyrzayeva lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Moscow with nine other people, all immigrant workers from Central Asia.

In late April, she and several of her roommates tested positive for novel coronavirus after falling severely ill with pneumonia symptoms. After a week in the hospital, they returned to the apartment.

For over a month following, they were unable to leave. Quarantine rules forbade them from stepping outside, even to buy groceries. Unable to work and with no money to get deliveries, their food ran out.

“We don’t know who to appeal to,” Ermyrzayeva said in video message after 20 days locked in the apartment. With 10 people to feed, they had only a few kilos of flour and some oil left, she said.

The lockdowns imposed by the pandemic have made life precarious for many, but for millions of migrant workers in Russia, it was an overnight catastrophe, leaving them not just without jobs, but for huge numbers almost immediately without any source of food.

An estimated 11 million migrants live in Russia, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In 2019, 5 million of these were from the former Soviet countries of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Most of these immigrants do low-paid, manual jobs, working on construction sites, warehouses and markets and as cleaners and restaurant workers.

As the pandemic intensified in mid-March, Russia and the Central Asian countries closed their borders, stranding thousands of migrants. Hundreds found themselves trapped at Russian airports, sleeping among the baggage counters, after their flights were indefinitely canceled.

Many migrants were already living on the breadline, without savings and with unsecured jobs. When the lockdowns began, many of those jobs vanished instantly, without compensation and with no hope of even temporary support from employers.

With no right to Russian state support, which in any case can be difficult and slow to access for Russian citizens, people were left with only enough money to pay for a few days’ food and the prospect of losing their accommodation.

“It’s a tragedy,” said Valentina Chupik, who heads Tong Jahoni, a charity that helps migrant workers in Russia.

The scale of the problem is enormous. The numbers of people left without any source of income and now struggling to feed themselves is in the millions, according to the IOM. Its representative in Russia, Abdusattor Esoev, estimated that 60% of migrants are unable to pay their rent and more than 40% to pay for food. This month the IOM launched an urgent appeal for $7 million to help migrants in Russia and Central Asia.

Many workers’ families in their home countries also rely on the money the migrant workers send back. The World Bank estimates that remittances will fall globally by 20% this year, amounting to around $110 billion.

A small number of charities like Chupik’s have been trying to collect food for people, relying on private donations to buy it from supermarkets and then distribute it.

Gulzina Mamatakhunova, who runs the small charity, Migrant Development Fund, said she had received 30,000 appeals for help in less than a week in the early days of the lockdown. Dom Dobroty, one of the largest charities collecting food, said it had so far distributed more than 150,000 tons of food to around 30,000 people.

But the amount of aid the charities, which have been relying on private donations, can provide is dwarfed by the need. Russia’s government and the migrants' home countries have given little support. Although Central Asian countries have organized some charter flights back, most of their citizens have been left to fend for themselves.

Many migrants live in overcrowded apartments or else hostels, where dozens of people are crammed into largely unfurnished dormitories, sleeping on bunkbeds. In cities like Moscow, where the lockdown was strict, people have been confined to these places, not even permitted to go more than 100 meters from them for exercise.

One of the toughest situations is for those like Ermyrzayeva where someone tests positive for COVID-19. Russian authorities have applied a strict policy to the hostels where migrant workers live, whereby if even just one person tests positive the whole building is quarantined. That means no one is permitted to leave for two weeks, even to buy food.

In practice that means dozens of people locked in, in conditions where social distancing is virtually impossible, effectively waiting to get sick. The clock on the two-week period is also reset each time a new person tests positive, meaning in reality people have been finding themselves sealed in the buildings for weeks longer.

“It’s not even just that they can’t work," said Chupik. "They can’t receive money transfers, they can’t buy food, they can’t buy medicine. The only thing left for them to hope for is help from a charity like ours.”

Nurila Alymkulova and the 11 others in her building have been relying on a food package from Chupik. An experienced nurse in Kyrgyzstan, in Moscow she works as a cleaner. Medics came to the apartment to test Alymkulova and the others after some fell sick. Although she had few symptoms, Alymkulova alone tested positive (Russia has struggled with ineffective tests), but everyone in the house was still quarantined.

“I’m kind of, kind of humiliated in front of my countrymen,” Alymkulova, 53, said by phone, crying, saying she felt guilty. “Imagine a healthy person lying at home depending on everyone.”

The lockdown has also provided ripe territory for corrupt police officers, Chupik said. Migrant workers in normal times are frequent targets for bribes involving Russia’s complex residency rules. The lockdown, with its more severe penalties, has meant police are demanding higher prices, she said, and deliberately seeking out migrants.

In mid-April, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree relieving migrants from paying permit fees required to work and automatically extending their visa. The decree suspended the fees until mid-June, but in reality many employers are reportedly still requiring people to pay them.

Russia has begun easing its lockdown, with Moscow due to relax its next week. From then small shops will re-open and buildings sites already are. Some migrants will be able to return to work.

But there are worries that the economic damage caused by the lockdown will mean many migrant jobs will no longer be there. According to figures released this week, Russia’s unemployment for April was up 21% from last year.

Dinara Sadretdinova, co-founder of Dom Dobroty, said she believed it would ease the situation but said she expected they would still need to be providing food for large numbers of people.

Ermyrzayeva said despite the difficulties they were determined to follow quarantine, having seen the virus’ impact while in hospital.

“If young people can cope with it, older people can’t cope—and so, however it goes, work is already second for us. The most important thing is not to infect other people,” she said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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