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Robert Plant says 8-year-old female Japanese drummer’s Led Zeppelin performance is “fantastic”

Credit: Mads PerchA video showing an 8-year-old Japanese girl named Yoyoka Soma playing impressive drums along to the Led Zeppelin classic “Good Times Bad Times” recently went viral, and now one of the band’s original members has given the performance an emphatic thumbs-up. Robert Plant recently paid a visit to the Canadian radio show Q, and — as seen in a YouTube video of the appearance — the host showed the singer the video, prompting the rock legend to declare that it was “fantastic.”

Plant marveled at the ease with which the young drummer seemed to be handling the late John Bonham‘s parts, noting, “It’s like falling off a log for her.” He also quipped with a laugh, “I know where she can get a good job,” adding, “That amazing, isn’t it, really?…That’s a technically difficult thing to do.”

As for how he thinks Bonham would have reacted to the performance, Plant said, “I think he’d be amazed. I think he’d be so chuffed.”

Yoyoka’s video was among the submissions to the worldwide “Hit Like a Girl” contest, which spotlights female drummers and percussionists.

Plant’s current North American tour in support of his solo album Carry Fire continues on Thursday at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, California, and winds down with a June 29 performance at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival in Vancouver, Canada.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

?Hit Like A Girl Contest 2018?Good Times Bad Times – LED ZEPPELIN / Cover by Yoyoka , 8 year old drummer from ??? on Vimeo.


Foreigner announces official reunion show featuring all surviving original members plus current lineup

Karsten Staiger/MeinFotolandFounding Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones recently revealed that former members of the band would be making guest appearances at select shows this year. Now, Foreigner has announced that all the group’s surviving original members will perform with the current lineup at a special reunion concert taking place August 4 at The Sturgis Buffalo Chip in Sturgis, South Dakota.

The show will see original frontman Lou Gramm, drummer Dennis Elliott, keyboardist Al Greenwood and multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald, plus longtime bass player Rick Wills, hitting the stage with Jones and his current Foreigner incarnation.

The former members previously made surprise appearances at a few Foreigner concerts last year, but the Sturgis show marks the band’s first official ticketed reunion event.

“It’s been incredible to have Lou, Dennis, Al, Ian and Rick join us for some surprise appearances throughout the past few years. It always brings back special memories,” says Mick. “But now, for the first time, we are letting our fans know we’ll be making history together at The Buffalo Chip on August 4th with a Foreigner reunion concert!”

Visit for more details about the show.

News of the reunion event comes on the heels of an incident Tuesday that apparently upset many Foreigner fans. Gramm had been expected to reunite with Foreigner at the group’s concert that night in Syracuse, New York, but the singer didn’t appear, reports.

Live Nation had announced Friday that Gramm would be joining Foreigner at the event, and Jones also recently told ABC Radio that Lou would perform at the concert. No official reason for the no-show was given.

Foreigner currently is on the road with Whitesnake and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening on the 2018 Juke Box Heroes Tour, which wraps up on August 1.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

“Billy Elliot” star Jamie Bell in talks to play Bernie Taupin in Elton John biopic

Jeff Spicer/Jeff Spicer/Getty ImagesIf you’re going to have a movie about Elton John’s rise to fame, Bernie Taupin, his songwriting partner of 50 years, has to be a part of it.   Now comes word that the filmmakers have someone in mind to portray the master lyricist in the upcoming Elton biopic Rocketman.

Variety reports that British actor Jamie Bell, perhaps best known for starring in the movie Billy Elliot, is in negotiations to play Taupin in the movie, which stars Taron Egerton as Elton.

It’s not surprising that Bell would be involved in the project, considering the script was written by Lee Hall. Hall not only wrote Billy Elliot the movie, but he also collaborated with Elton on Billy Elliot The Musical.

Bell was most recently seen as Abraham Woodhull in the AMC series Turn: Washington’s Spies, and in the 2017 movie Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. He’s also appeared in the movies King Kong, Snowpiercer and Fantastic Four.

Meanwhile, Taron Egerton has posted the first on-set image from the movie on Twitter.  The photo is of a shadow that’s being cast on the ground that shows a figure sporting a pair of huge wings.

As previously reported, Rocketman, directed by Dexter Fletcher, will arrive in theaters May 17, 2019.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


“black-ish” creator Kenya Barris and Pharrell Williams developing “Juneteenth” musical

ABC/Bob D’Amico(LOS ANGELES) — Pharrell Williams and black-ish creator Kenya Barris are developing a stage musical based on the Juneteenth African-American holiday, which celebrates the final day of slavery in the U.S.: June 19, 1865.

“I dream about projects like this,” Pharrell said, according to “Juneteenth will change culture and change history. We couldn’t sign up fast enough.

Barris will write the dialogue with Peter Saji, with whom he’s worked on black-ish. Pharrell will compose and produce the music.

“The acknowledgement and celebration of Juneteenth as an American and possibly international holiday is something that I would put in the life goals column for me,” Barris said. “For Peter and me to be able to team up with Pharrell on such an important project like this is something that neither of us in a billion years would have thought possible.”

Last year, a black-ish episode titled “Juneteenth” imagined the Johnson family celebrating the holiday in 1865.

“For us, this project isn’t about numbers; it’s about humanity,” Barris added. “Slavery is America’s recessive gene and it’s time we all dealt with it and what better way to have an audience swallow this dose of medicine than with amazing music and raw, honest, jaw-dropping comedy?”

Pharrell and Barris haven’t yet revealed when they plan to debut the musical.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Kevin Costner says “Yellowstone’s” Montana setting is like “the Garden of Eden”

Paramount Network(NEW YORK) — Kevin Costner is no stranger to Westerns, starring in films like Dances with Wolves and Silverado. Now, he’s taking on the modern-day Western in the new Paramount Network series, Yellowstone.

Costner plays John Dutton, a fifth-generation rancher defending his sprawling Montana property from land developers while dealing with dysfunctional relationships with his four adult children.  He tells ABC Radio this project “stands alone” from the other Westerns he’s done, thanks to the writing by Taylor Sheridan, who also directed the series’ 10 episodes, and its authentic Montana setting.

“We’re shooting in a place called the Bitter Root Valley, which is where Lewis and Clark went through, so you realize so much history and so much beauty,” Costner says. “I kinda think of it as the Garden of Eden.”

He adds, “For me, it just stood alone in terms of its writing. Where it’s being shot is just kind of like the icing on the cake.”

As beautiful as the landscape may be, Dutton has to come to terms with the fact that not all his children may want a future on the ranch.

“The generations that have come before, they never thought that there was anything in front of them other than the ranch,” Costner says. “But [Dutton’s] children see how big the world is and being stuck on a ranch — no matter how beautiful [he] think[s] it is — is maybe not necessarily what they want.” 

Yellowstone premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET on the Paramount Network.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

George and Amal Clooney donate $100,000 to support immigrant children

Photo by Clemens Bilan/Getty ImagesOnce again, George and Amal Clooney are supporting an emerging cause with cash.  The celebrity couple just announced they’re donating $100,000 to help immigrant children in the U.S.

The donation was made to The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, the website for which declares their mission is to “promote the best interests of unaccompanied immigrant children with due regard to the child’s expressed wishes, according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and state and federal law.”

The donation comes via the Clooney Foundation for Justice, founded two years ago by the Clooneys to support causes they determine are worthwhile.  It’s in response to the ongoing Trump administration policy of separating the children of illegal immigrants to the U.S. from their families and detaining them indefinitely.

In a statement about the donation, the Clooneys say: “At some point in the future our children will ask us: ‘Is it true, did our country really take babies from their parents and put them in detention centers?’  And when we answer yes, they’ll ask us what we did about it. What we said. Where we stood. We can’t change this administration’s policy but we can help defend the victims of it.”

This isn’t the first time this year the Clooneys have made a sizeable donation to a cause they deemed important.  A week after last February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, the Clooneys announced they were donating $500,000 to support the survivors’ then-planned March for Our Lives anti-gun demonstration.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Violations found at converted Walmart housing undocumented children separated from their parents

iStock/Thinkstock(BROWNSVILLE, Texas) — Texas state inspectors identified nearly 250 violations at facilities run by Southwest Key, the non-profit organization now housing migrant children separated from their parents in a converted Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, according to records obtained by ABC.

Reports filed with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) show 246 “deficiencies” — defined as failures to comply with regulations governing child care — at Southwest Key residential programs across Texas since the fall of 2014.

The company’s largest shelter for undocumented children, Casa Padre, which is a converted Walmart in Brownsville, has become a flash-point in the debate over President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy that separated children from parents caught attempting to cross the border illegally. On Wednesday, the president signed an executive order ending the family separation policy.

ABC News’ Tom Llamas visited the facility late last week, which now houses 1,500 migrant boys ages 10 to 17, and observed it was clean and well staffed, with several activities to keep the kids busy during his tour.

However, HHSC records filed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services show that at Casa Padre alone, inspectors identified 13 deficiencies over the past year.

In one particularly worrisome report, dated October 2017, the facility’s medical coordinator “failed to follow up with treatment” for a resident who tested positive for an STD for a full two weeks.

At other Southwest Key residential facilities, which also house children apprehended at the border, reports noted a child with “unsupervised access to a tool/knife,” a child “clearly in pain” not given prompt medical care, and a child administered Tylenol despite an allergy to the medication.

HHSC records also documented children wearing “dirty clothing” and gathering in rooms that reached an “unsafe temperature” following an air conditioning outage.

Staff members were accused of showing up to work drunk, writing obscene language on a chalkboard, and repeatedly speaking to children in a “belittling” or “harsh” manner.

One staffer allegedly engaged in an “inappropriate relationship” with a child, one deficiency report said.

Southwest Key tells ABC News they undertook an “extensive investigation” for each violation, noting that in some cases, employees were retrained and disciplined, and some were terminated.

The company notes that over the past three years, Texas investigators evaluated Southwest Key on 78,570 issues, including many self-reported to regulators by the company, and found deficiencies in just 0.3 percent.

“We strive to provide the highest quality of care possible,” the company said in a statement, adding that every shelter employee completes 40 hours of training prior to working with children, and an additional 40 hours of on-the-job training before they supervise kids.

A spokesperson for HHSC, which documented the violations, told ABC the agency’s job “is to inspect and look for violations of our state standards… when we find them, we cite them and work with the facility to correct the issues.”

“Our focus is to help ensure safety,” he said.

The company’s large footprint

Austin-based Southwest Key operates at least 16 residential facilities across Texas, with 10 more in Arizona and California. About 10 percent of the children currently in their care were separated from their parents under Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy, according to the company.

A spokesperson for Southwest Key told ABC News that they welcomed Wednesday’s order, saying: “We were pleased to learn that the president also signed a bill that will end the separation policy.”

Public records indicate the company employs around 4,500 people, and the company says it has served more than 23,000 children over the past two years.

So far this year, they’ve been awarded $458.7 million in federal money to care for kids detained at the border, including children separated from their parents and minors attempting to cross the border alone.

Just last week, the federal government awarded the company $1,147.8 million, the most money they’ve ever received in one sum, according to HHS records dating back to 2007.

Bob Carey, who oversaw Southwest Key’s contracts while serving as director of U.S. Health and Human Services’ office of refugee resettlement during the Obama administration, told ABC News that the company had a sizeable footprint.

Southwest Key Programs was “one of if not the largest government contractor for this purpose,” he said. “These are big, big grants, particularly if you’re doing on an emergency basis, extremely complex.”

The company’s CEO Juan Sanchez has defended their actions amid the new scrutiny.

“We’re not the bad guys. We’re the good guys,” Sanchez told ABC affiliate KVUE last week. “We’re the people that are taking these kids putting them in a shelter, providing the best service that we can for them and reuniting them with their family.”

“Somebody’s gotta take care of these children, no matter what,” Sanchez added. “If we don’t take care of them, who’s gonna take care of them? They’re going to wind up in a detention center, a real detention center, and other facilities that are not adequate for children.”

On the page dedicated to the company’s mission, it states that the company “is committed to keeping kids out of institutions and home with their families, in their communities.”

Sanchez — who, according to the company’s website, was “shaped by his experiences as a migrant worker” — has drawn ire for his high salary. In 2016, his compensation was listed as $770,860, which included $249,065 in bonuses and incentive compensation.

“Dr. Sanchez’s salary is well below the average, when measured in terms of a percentage of the organization’s revenue, in comparison to CEOs at non-profits of similar size,” Southwest Key said in a statement to ABC News, adding that his salary accounted for less than 1 percent of the group’s revenue.

While that compensation figure may strike some as large for the head of a non-profit, a spokesperson for watchdog group Charity Navigator told ABC News that such a salary “would not be considered atypical” because of the size of the organization.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Toddlers at a tender age facility were ‘traumatized,’ doctor says

Google(NEW YORK) — The room being used at one of the so-called “tender age” facilities designated to house immigrant children looked “home-y” but something seemed wrong.

Colleen Kraft, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told ABC News that a concerned pediatrician working near the border called her to come and visit a facility housing children under 12 years old in Combes, Texas.

She was able to visit the facility, run by the company Southwest Key Programs, in April, and she said that it was unsettling because the children were “so abnormally quiet.”

In one room reserved for toddlers, there were beds, cribs, toys, books and a play mat, Kraft said.

“It was actually kind of a home-y setting,” she said.

“What was really striking about the place, it was a room full of toddlers [and if you’ve ever been in a room full of toddlers you’d know] they’re active, they’re loud and they’re playing and they’re rambunctious. This room, all of the children except for one were very quiet and were playing quietly… except for one little girl who was crying and sobbing and wailing and just inconsolable.”

The girl looked like she was under 2 years old, Kraft said.

“The worker was trying to give her toys and trying to give her books but she couldn’t pick her up or hold her,” Kraft added.

“We were told that the policy was that they couldn’t actually hold or pick up the kids,” she said.

Asked if she would have held the kids if that were allowed, she said she absolutely would have done so.

“It’s a logical comforting thing to do we just do that as human beings,” she explained.

“Here you have a bunch of quiet little toddlers and one inconsolable crying toddler who couldn’t be helped… we knew that none of us could help these kids because they didn’t have what they needed which was their mother,” she said.

“They were traumatized.”

Southwest Key Programs did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

In response to a different story, where a former employee said that he was told to tell boys in the care of Southwest Key Programs that they could not hug each other, the company released a statement saying, “hugging is absolutely allowed.”

Kraft told ABC News she also went into the room for preschoolers, between ages 4 to 6, and said that the kids were playing with toys and looking at some books.

The pediatricians that flagged the centers to Kraft said: “They knew what kind of stress would do to these poor little developing brains.”

Kraft explained that people have stress responses, “and we have increases in our cortisol, in our fight or flight hormones and they’re there for a reason…”

“For a developing child, that stress when buffered by a loving parent helps them to become resilient … these hormones come into play when a child falls down and hurts themselves,” Kraft said. “But these same hormones when they are prolonged, when there’s prolonged exposure and there’s no parent to buffer these hormones, they cause disruption in the neuro synapses. And they cause disruption to the developing brain architecture.”

In summary, Kraft says that sort environment without the emotional support of a parent can likely cause brain damage for a child.

“The pathways that develop, that lay the foundation for speech for social-emotional development, for gross and fine motor movements are happening during this young time when these toddlers are still developing,” Kraft explained, “and this prolonged stress or what we call exposure to toxic stress, it disrupts the developing brain.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Heartbreaking stories of children impacted by border crisis

John Moore/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Their names are a mystery and in some cases, their faces are too.

But the stories of the children caught in the crosshairs of the “zero tolerance” policy at the border are resonating with people across the country.

Here are some of the stories of children whose experiences have captured the nation’s attention.

The girl pictured crying for her mother

One of the most iconic images of the border crisis featured a 2-year-old girl from Honduras.

John Moore, a special correspondent and senior staff photographer for Getty Images, took the photo after spotting the girl in her mother’s arms while he was participating in a ride-along with Customs and Border Protection agents in Texas.

He saw a group of roughly 20 mothers and children late on June 12, “gathered on a dirt road” in a part of the Rio Grande Valley and, upon approaching the group, he saw the girl in her mother’s arms.

Moore said that he saw that the mother was breastfeeding her daughter “to keep her calm” and that, later, one of the agents asked the mother to put her daughter down.

“Once the mother put her on the ground she started screaming immediately,” Moore said.

The mother and daughter were taken away from the scene together, and because their names are unknown, it remains unclear if they were separated, though the policy mandates that if the mother faced charges they would be separated.

Read more about Moore’s experience here.

The boy put in foster care with American parents

When a 9-year-old Guatemalan boy arrived at a Michigan foster care home, he was so afraid he couldn’t eat.

Over time, the boy, whose name has not been released, confided to his foster parents that he and his father had escaped violence and poverty in their homeland only to be greeted with more hardship when they arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, where the boy watched his dad being taken from him in handcuffs.

“When he came to us, he was extraordinarily fearful,”said Jen, the new foster mother of the boy, who asked ABC News not to use her last name to protect the family’s privacy. “He came in all-black clothes, we learned, because he traveled at night with his dad and they didn’t want to be seen.”

The child handed them a piece of paper from a packet his mother had sewn into his pants before he and his father left home. The paper contained phone numbers of people his family knew in the United States, as well his mother’s phone number in Guatemala.

While a Michigan caseworker was collecting the father and son’s intake information, she called the mom’s phone and she answered.

“He was overcome,” said Jen. “He couldn’t talk. He was crying so hard he was almost to the point of being sick.”

Over the past eight months, the boy, now 10, opened up – telling caseworkers the story of his and his father’s treacherous journey to what they thought would be the land of promise.

Read more about the boy’s journey here.

The heartbreaking audio

The recording first reported and released by ProPublica of crying children in one of the shelters included the voices of a number of distraught children, and one of them has since been identified.

Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid is a 6-year-old girl who fled gang violence in El Salvador with her mother.

She’s heard on the tape asking an official in Spanish, “Are you going to call my aunt so that when I’m done eating, she can pick me up?”

She memorized her aunt’s phone number, and the aunt told ProPublica that she was allowed to make the phone call, but it was still heartbreaking.

“She’s crying and begging me to go get her. She says, ‘I promise I’ll behave, but please get me out of here. I’m all alone,'” the aunt told ProPublica.

Watch our video report about her story here.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Banned from stadiums at home, Iranian women attend World Cup soccer matches in Russia

DigitalVision/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) — Before this World Cup, the last time Sara went to a soccer game, she had to pretend she was Korean in order to sneak past security.

The reason is that Sara is in reality an Iranian woman and therefore barred from soccer stadiums in Iran, where women have been forbidden from attending soccer matches and other male-only sporting events in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

So it was an unusual experience for her when she entered Saint Petersburg’s Krestovsky stadium last Friday to watch Iran’s national team win against Morocco in its opening World Cup game. She is among a group of Iranian women who have traveled to this year’s World Cup bringing with them a campaign demanding that women be allowed into soccer stadiums at home.

“It was amazing,” she said of entering the St. Petersburg stadium, when she met an ABC reporter in Moscow this week. “It was like the Truman Show — when you enter the TV. When two dimensions become three dimensions.”

But the excitement of attending was, she said, tinged with sadness by the knowledge that so many of her friends at home could not go. “Imagine how such a simple thing is your dream. It is sad,” she said.

On Wednesday, the women’s World Cup visit though coincided with a breakthrough in the campaign to lift the stadium ban — for the first time since it was imposed, women were let into a Tehran stadium to watch a soccer game alongside men, after a local city council agreed to allow women to attend a screening of Iran’s match against Spain. The mixed screening reportedly almost didn’t go ahead, after authorities tried to halt it last minute, citing “infrastructure problems,” the Washington Post reported. But hundreds of female fans arrived in any case to demand entry to the Azadi stadium and organizers eventually relented, allowing women in to watch the game, which Iran lost 1-0 to Spain.

The event was hailed by some Iranian observers as a notable step forward in the effort to end the stadium ban. Iranian women have been excluded from soccer games since 1981, as the country’s new religious government applied a hardline interpretation of Islamic customs, declaring stadiums inappropriate places for women.

In fact, there is no law against women attending games, but authorities have imposed a de facto ban, with women instead turned away and sometimes arrested. As a result, women wishing to enter have resorted sometimes even to disguising themselves as men. In May, half a dozen young women became heroes among Iran’s secular community after they successfully sneaked into a game of Tehran’s Persepolis club by wearing elaborate fake beards. Foreign women are allowed to attend games, which is how Sara found herself hiding among a group of Koreans during her first stadium game in Iran.

Sara — a pseudonym for the activist who fears punishment for her or her family in Iran — has been running a group called Open Stadiums and campaigning against the ban for 13 years. At the World Cup game in St. Petersburg last week she and another activist, Maryam Qashqaei, attracted attention internationally after they unfurled banners protesting the ban inside the stadium, the first time Iranian women have made such a protest at a World Cup.

On Tuesday though, even as they celebrated the mixed screening in Iran, the activists ran into resistance in the Russian city, Kazan, where the Iran-Spain game was being hosted. Qashqaei said she was detained by security at the stadium and had her banner confiscated from her. Sara was also stopped and body searched for 15 minutes, she told ABC News.

The women were stopped even though they said they had received authorisation for the banners from FIFA, the World Cup’s organiser.

Anton Lisin, a spokesman for Russia’s World Cup Local Organising Committee, told Reuters he was aware of an incident involving Qashqaei but had no further details. FIFA could not be immediately reached for comment.

It was an abrupt shift in the women’s reception in Russia. In St. Petersburg, the two had held their banners for the full 90 minutes of the game. Outside the stadium Iranians, men and women, had cheered on the activists and some had carried their own signs. Among them a husband and wife — seen by the AP — held a placard asking why they had to travel 2,564 miles “to be at the stadium as a family.”

The activists have focused on FIFA recently, trying to push the body into pressuring Iran by linking the issue to the country’s participation in FIFA competitions. The organization has said it wants Iran to lift the ban. In 2017, FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino told reporters that Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani had “promised that women in Iran will have access to football stadiums soon.”

In Iran, however, with authorities have met challenges to the ban with arrests, treating attendance as a political demonstration. When Infantino attended the Tehran game last year, 35 women were detained outside the stadium. Supporters of lifting the ban say they believe the government fears that lifting the ban will fuel demands for change on other restrictions, around requirements on headscarves for instance, which have seen prominent protests recently.

Before travelling to the World Cup, Sara said she had feared she would be arrested in Iran and stopped from going. She said she worried still that she could be detained when she returns to Iran.

“It is really sad that for such a simple thing you have to be worried,” she said.

Before she was stopped in Kazan, Sara had also criticised FIFA’s efforts as largely words without actions. But on Wednesday she said she hoped the mixed screening at the Tehran stadium would mean a big step toward ending the ban.

Gianni has defended FIFA’s efforts by arguing engagement with Iran’s authorities on the issue is more productive than simply threatening punishment.

Lifting the ban has acquired support among some parts of the Iranian ruling class. Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2006 issued a decree lifting the interdiction on female fans.

But weeks later, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, restored the prohibition.

But in the years since support for ending it has built in Iran. When Iran qualified for the World Cup last July, its team captain Masoud Shojaei used a meeting with Rouhani to ask the Iranian president to let women into stadiums. On Wednesday, the Iranian team’s official Twitter account posted a photo of a female fan in the stands at the mixed screening in Tehran. “Azadi stadium now!” the Tweet read.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Olympic swimmer documents harrowing journey from Syria to Europe in new book

Ker Robertson/Getty Images(BERLIN) — Before the violence in Syria changed her life, Yusra Mardini was a normal teenager in many ways.

A passionate swimmer since childhood, she trained daily and attended competitions abroad. She came of age with her older sister Sara, putting on makeup and high heels and going to cafes with friends. Yet amid these teenage pursuits, her world was slowly crumbling — friends were disappearing and her family moved from house to house to stay safe.

In 2015, a rocket-propelled grenade tore through the roof of the swimming pool where she trained. It fell into the water and miraculously did not detonate. This was not Mardini’s first brush with death, but it marked a turning point. Her mother begged her to stay out of the pool.

Two years later, while training in Berlin — her new home — she learned she had been selected to swim on the Refugee Olympics team for the 2016 games in Rio. This marked the start of her career as a spokesperson for refugees around the world. Since then, she has met former President Barack Obama and Pope Francis. In 2017, she became a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and spoke at the DAVOS World Economic Forum.

“The Olympics were a turning point,” Mardini told ABC News during an interview in Berlin. “I started to get a really strong voice, and a lot of people were believing in what I’m doing.”

Mardini’s journey from Syria to Europe is documented in the new autobiographical novel Butterfly that was published in May and written with the help of a ghostwriter. The story is personal yet reminiscent of the journey made by millions of people attempting to reach Europe at the height of the migration wave in 2015.

She and her sister made the perilous journey from Turkey to Greece on a flimsy rubber dinghy with 18 other passengers. Despite being trained swimmers, they nearly met their deaths when the engine failed and the boat began to sink. The girls and another passenger jumped into the water in an attempt to push the vessel to shore.

Eventually, the boat’s engine restarted and all 20 passengers arrived on land. The sisters were treated as heroes, but their journey was far from over. Hungry and exhausted, they slept in a trench crossing the Hungarian border. They encountered thousands of asylum-seekers stuck at Budapest’s central train station, and narrowly escaped becoming prisoners in a hotel run by ruthless traffickers extorting asylum-seekers for money.

“I realize with a jolt just how vulnerable we are,” Mardini said in the book.

Mardini was initially reluctant to become a spokesperson for refugees. She felt the word “refugee” had negative connotations. During her upbringing, she didn’t really know what a refugee was.

“I felt people would look at me like this person who had no home — nothing — and was not educated, and all that,” she said.

Eventually, she embraced the term.

“When I went to the Olympics, I saw how many people are looking up at us and respect what we are doing,” she said. “I wanted to tell people that a refugee is not just a person who doesn’t have money, but a person who fled their home because of violence.”

Mardini’s parents and younger sister were able to join her in Berlin in 2016. Next month, her sister Sara will rejoin them. Sara has been volunteering with the Greek nonprofit ERCI, working as a lifeguard on the island of Lesbos to save refugees crossing the Aegean, just as she once did.

In Berlin, Mardini spends her time learning German and swimming. Although the war and her journey interrupted her training, she still hopes to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. To stay motivated, she thinks about why she started swimming in the first place and the early years training with her father in her hometown of Set Zaynab.

“Now I have a big responsibility because I’m representing people,” she said. “I’m just hoping for the best, and we will see what can happen.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Scoreboard roundup — 6/19/18

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Here are the scores from Tuesday’s sports events:

Washington 9, Baltimore 7
Atlanta 11, Toronto 4
Cincinnati 9, Detroit 5
L.A. Angels 5, Arizona 4
Oakland 4, San Diego 2, 10 Innings

N.Y. Yankees 7, Seattle 2
Cleveland 6, Chicago White Sox 3
Minnesota 6, Boston 2
Tampa Bay 2, Houston 1
Texas 4, Kansas City 1

L.A. Dodgers 4, Chicago Cubs 3
Milwaukee 3, Pittsburgh 2
St. Louis 7, Philadelphia 6
Chicago Cubs 2, L.A. Dodgers 1, 10 Innings
Colorado 10, N.Y. Mets 8
San Francisco 6, Miami 3

N.Y. Liberty 79, Atlanta 72
Washington 88, Chicago 60
Minnesota 91, Dallas 83
Las Vegas 89, Seattle 77
L.A. Sparks 74, Indiana 55

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


On World Refugee Day 2018, a record 68.5 million forcibly displaced last year

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Record high numbers of men, women and children were driven from their homes across the world last year due to war, violence and persecution, according to a new report by the United Nations’ refugee agency.

The UNHCR’s annual “Global Trends” study found that a staggering 68.5 million people worldwide had been forcibly displaced by the end of 2017.

Nearly a quarter of them were uprooted just last year, either for the first time or repeatedly. That’s an average of one person displaced every two seconds of the day, the study says.

“Now, more than ever, taking care of refugees must be a global –- and shared –- responsibility,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said in a statement Wednesday. “It’s time to do things differently.”

“On World Refugee Day, it’s time to recognize their humanity in action -– and challenge ourselves, and others, to join them –- in receiving and supporting refugees in our schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces,” he continued. “This is where solidarity starts –- with all of us.”

The report was published Tuesday ahead of World Refugee Day, amid global outrage over a “zero-tolerance” policy enacted by U.S. President Donald Trump that is forcibly separating immigrant children from their parents at the border with Mexico. Thousands of Central Americans are fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries — including El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — and are risking their lives to reach the United States.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, has described the immigration policy as “government-sanctioned child abuse” and urged the U.S. government to end the controversial practice.

“In the past six weeks, nearly two thousand children have been forcibly separated from their parents,” al-Hussein said in a statement Monday. “The thought that any State would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable.”

According to the UNHCR report, the humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the civil war in South Sudan and the flight of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar into Bangladesh were the leading causes of forcible displacement last year.

The global displacement figure for 2017 includes 25.4 million refugees who fled their countries to escape conflict and persecution, the study says. That’s 2.9 million more refugees than the year before — the steepest increase UNHCR has ever seen in a single year.

The report shows that Turkey hosted the largest number of refugees worldwide for the fourth consecutive year, with 3.5 million people. It was followed by Pakistan, Uganda, Lebanon, Iran, Germany, Bangladesh and Sudan.

“International responsibility-sharing for displaced people has utterly collapsed. Rich countries are building walls against families fleeing war, at the same time as less money is available for aid to people in conflict areas,” Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said in a statement Tuesday.

Halfway through the fiscal year, the Trump administration has admitted less than a quarter of the 45,000 refugees it set as a cap — already the lowest ceiling in the 43-year history of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program — with only 10,548 refugees allowed entry into the United States since October 1, 2017.

In a statement marking World Refugee Day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasized that his government provides aid to crises that uproot people from their homes and that “new actors” must step up to the plate to address the rising number of displaced persons.

“As global displacement has reached record levels, it is vital that new actors – including governments, international financial institutions, and the private sector – come to the table to assist in the global response to address it,” Pompeo said in his statement Wednesday. “The United States will continue to be a world leader in providing humanitarian assistance and working to forge political solutions to the underlying conflicts that drive displacement.”

“The United States provides more humanitarian assistance than any other single country worldwide, including to refugees,” he added.

The U.N. 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as someone who is forced to leave their home due to “a well-founded fear of persecution.” The persecution must be “because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” the treaty says.

Other types of forcibly displaced persons include asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, stateless persons and returnees.

“Refugees are ordinary human beings who have been forced to flee their homes under the most extraordinary circumstances,” Ryan Mace, grassroots advocacy and refugee specialist at Amnesty International, said in a statement Wednesday. “They all deserve to have their human rights respected, protected, and fulfilled.”

“Refugees bring so much to their communities, wherever they are,” he continued. “They have innumerable skills, ideas, hopes, and dreams. Here in the U.S., we should be welcoming them into our communities with open arms and inviting them to our table, not building taller walls and implementing draconian policies meant to keep refugees and asylum seekers out.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

How European countries deal with the detention of migrant children

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — In response to mounting criticism of the policy of separating migrant children from their families, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that he said is about “keeping families together” and “ensuring we have a powerful, very strong border.”

“I think the word ‘compassion’ comes into it,” Trump said. “My wife feels strongly about it. I feel strongly about it. Anybody with a heart would feel this way.”

The practice of separating children from their parents and detaining them had sparked widespread criticism from other world leaders, including the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, Theresa May.

“The pictures of children being held in what appear to be cages are deeply disturbing,” Theresa May told lawmakers Wednesday. “This is wrong. This is not something that we agree with. This is not the United Kingdom’s approach.”

It is unclear how and where migrant children who are detained in the U.S. will be housed following the executive order. But America’s policies toward migrant children remain much different than those of European Union member states. While some EU countries do detain child migrants, they are not separated from their parents, and EU law says that asylum-seeking families should be kept united as much as possible.

So how do European countries deal with asylum-seeking families and children? Here’s what you need to know.

How many migrant children are detained in the EU?

Children have represented up to a third of migrant arrivals in the EU since the summer of 2015, according to a 2017 report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. But there is no comparable and reliable data on how many migrant children are detained in the EU, the agency found.

The agency did analyze data provided by EU member states on the number of children detained on three specific days, however: Dec. 31, 2015, March 31, 2016, and Sept. 1, 2016.

On those days, no children were detained in Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Spain or the United Kingdom.

Bulgaria had the largest number of children in detention on any one day — 458, all of whom were in detention with their families on Sept. 1, 2016. On the same day, Greece had 255 children in immigration detention; only seven of them were detained without their families. Those who were detained without their families had arrived alone without parents or guardians, and had not been separated from their families by authorities, the report said.

Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia were other countries that detained a large number of children on some of the days studied in the report.

Overall, while these numbers are not a complete picture of the number of children detained each day, they are significantly smaller than the approximately 2,000 migrant children who had been detained and separated from their families by U.S. authorities over the past six weeks.

Where are detained migrant children held and what are the conditions like?

Most EU countries that allow the detention of children have established specialized spaces for them — either as part of existing detention centers or separate facilities, according to the report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

But many of these facilities still resemble prisons, the report found, and they are often surrounded by barbed wire.

Many officers in these facilities wear military fatigues and use handcuffs to transport detainees, the report found, and in most of the cases the agency examined, staff members had no specific training on child protection.

Human rights organizations have criticized some European countries for detaining children too long and in “degrading” conditions.

For example, in a 2016 report, Human Rights Watch found that Greece had been arbitrarily detaining children for prolonged periods of time, often in “poor and degrading conditions” at police stations, protective custody or in pre-removal detention centers and closed facilities on the Greek islands.

“In some cases, children said they were made to live and sleep in overcrowded, filthy, bug- and vermin-infested cells, sometimes without mattresses, and were deprived of appropriate sanitation, hygiene, and privacy,” the report found.

How long do children stay in detention in the EU?

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights report found that the time children spent in detention varied from a few hours to several months. Most of the children detained were boys. On the days that the agency examined in its 2017 report, three countries — Luxembourg, Poland, and Slovakia — had detained infants with their families. Four countries — Belgium, Luxembourg, Slovenia, and Sweden — held children for 15 days or less on the days examined.

On the dates the agency studied, two unaccompanied children had been detained for more than four months: a 15-year-old boy in Latvia had been detained for 195 days and a 16-year-old boy in Poland had been detained for 151 days.

Questions about a child’s age, irregular border crossings and waiting for a guardian to be appointed were among the reasons EU countries gave for detaining children for longer periods of time.

What does the UN and the EU say about separating families?

Under international law and binding European directives, detention of unaccompanied children — children who arrive in a country without their parents or adult guardians — can only be used as a last resort. Such detention is reserved for exceptional circumstances, and the law mandates that the child’s best interest must to be kept in mind.

Article 9 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child requires countries to make sure that children are not separated from their parents against their will unless competent authorities “subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.” This separation might be necessary in cases where parents are abusing or neglecting their children, the article says.

EU law also states that countries have to do what they can to ensure that families are not separated. Article 12 of the Reception Conditions Directive states that EU member states “shall take appropriate measures to maintain, as far as possible, family unity” if asylum seekers are provided with housing by the host countries.

Article 11 of the same document states that “minors shall be detained only as a measure of last resort” and after it has been established that there are no better alternatives. The policy also says that the detention of children has to be for the shortest period of time possible and in a place suitable for them. Additionally, detained families need to be held in separate facilities to ensure their privacy.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

World Cup fans drinking Moscow dry, straining bars’ beer supplies

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) — Fans partying at the World Cup in Moscow are downing so much beer that they are nearly drinking parts of the city dry, with some bars saying they get close to running out each night.

For almost a week, tens of thousands of foreign and local fans have been turning the heart of Moscow into a street party each night, gathering in the area around the Kremlin in a huge tide of chanting, dancing and drinking, which doesn’t recede until the very early hours of the morning.

“They drink half a tonne of beer each night!” said Evgeny Gorbanov, a bouncer at Let’s Rock Bar, whose establishment has been overflowing with fans every night since the month-long tournament began.

Half a dozen bars said they had almost ran out of beer in the first few days of the competition and had had to quickly increase orders to keep up with the demand.

“We hadn’t counted on it,” said Nikolai Vladik, manager at Ketch-Up, a burger bar. “On the first day, it got pretty tough. But we’ve prepared now,” he said.

Like many residents in Moscow, the bar staff said they had been caught off guard by the avalanche of fans and the scale of the partying. At Kamchatka, an all-night bar that sells beers in plastic cups, staff said they had sharply increased their beer orders. At the restaurant Dante, manager Nadia Desyatelik said fans were drinking 200 liters a night, compared to the 30 they normally sell.

Several shell-shocked, but happy-looking bar staffers and managers said fans need not worry – they would keep the beer taps flowing.

Asked what the fans drink when they run out of beer, Vladik – with a wry laugh – said. “Vodka.”

The World Cup street parties – flooded each night with flag-wrapped fans – are unfolding in one of Moscow’s toniest neighborhoods, sitting between the famous Bolshoi Theater and Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office.

The epicenter of the revelry is Nikolskaya Street, a long, pedestrianized drag that leads directly onto Red Square and the Kremlin. Fans head there after each win.

Each night, a bobbing, deafening mass of people from a bewildering mix of countries mingle — Mexican fans in sombreros and wrestling masks, Egyptians dressed as pharaohs, Russian fans teaching Argentinians folk dances, to name a few.

On Tuesday night, after Russia beat Egypt 3-1 to effectively put them through to the knockout stage of the World Cup for the first time in almost 30 years, a vast flood of euphoric Russians poured into the streets again.

Some of the fans themselves have said that they were also impressed by how much was being consumed, with some saying other host cities were being drained too.

“That’s crazy,” said Per Engstrom, a Swedish fan sitting with three friends drinking beer on a nearby terrace. “We were in Nizhny Novogorod and they also ran out of beer,” he said referring to a host city about 6 hours from Moscow.

“At 11 o’clock! Before lunch!”

“It’s not ok,” he added, laughing.

Some bar staff said they were nervous that beer suppliers might miss vital deliveries.

But Baltika, the Russian unit of Carlsberg told Reuters that while there was increased risk of supply disruption during the World Cup, their business was so far able to handle demand. Heineken also told Reuters sales were strong and the brewer did not yet see any challenges to its supply.

The party has surprised Muscovites all the more because few can remember anything like it in the city. Drinking on the street is illegal in Russia, carrying a fine of between $7 – $23.

A growing emphasis from the Kremlin on public discipline, combined with an official suspicion towards street gatherings, has made wild public displays unwise.

But those rules seem to have been suspended for the World Cup. Russian police have stood by and watched as fans have clambered up lamp posts and hung flags from buildings. On Nikolskaya Street, Argentinian fans have covered a monastery with team banners. Riot police, usually dour, have been addressing people with rare politeness at security points.

Russians are marveling at the new light-touch approach. Many are also delighted by the party atmosphere on the streets. The revelry has so far been good-natured – with few reports of trouble.

“Everyday is a weekend,” said Liza Yakushenko, a worker at a cocktail bar, Cuba Libre, which is open 24 hours a-day.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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