News Highlights: Rising tension in Horn of Africa, Sudan closes border with Eritrea, Belgian authorities linked to Sudan torture

In this week’s news highlights: Rising tension in the Horn of Africa region; Sudan deploys thousands of troops; Sudanese ambassador in Egypt is called back; Eritrean President Afewerki meets with Egyptian counterpart; Human Rights Concern Eritrea writes to Italian politician about the mistaken identity case of Medhanie Berhe; Belgian migration office accused of deportation scandal to Sudan; Eritrean protest in Brussels draws large crowd; EU Southern States summit kicks off in Rome; and EU asylum reform going at a slow pace.

Greater Horn of Africa

Rising tension in the Horn of Africa region
In the first weeks of 2018, the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir announced the closure of the border with Eritrea which was followed by the deployment of militia forces to the bordering regions. The reason for the border closing has not officially been made clear and Sudan has denied tension between the two countries. This manoeuvre comes just after the declaration of a six-month state of emergency in the Sudanese regions of Kassala and North Kordofan. The official motivation given for the state of emergency  was the Sudanese campaign against the trafficking of human beings, weapons, and drugs and in those border regions.The state of emergency in Sudan comes as tensions are rising between Ethiopia and Egypt. In 2011 the Ethiopian government began building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a large dam in the Nile river. Other coalitions are strenghtening and forming in the Horn of Africa and beyond, in a complex and evolving situation.

Sudan: Deployment of militia troops at the border with Eritrea and ambassador called back
After the announcement of the closure of the border with Eritrea by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, thousands of troops have been deployed to Kassala border region. Sudanese newspaper Assayha reported that the Ethiopian western region sent military reinforcement to the border with Eritrea. All this military movement comes just after the decision of Sudanese Foreign Ministry to call back the Sudanese ambassador to Egypt, Abdel-Halim Mahmoud, for internal consultation.

Eritrea: President Issaias Afwerki meets with Egyptian president Al-Sisi
Among the rising tension in the Horn of Africa, Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki left for a two-day private meeting with his Egyptian counterpart president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. During the meeting, themes such as the development of bilateral relations, developments in the Nile Basin countries and the Horn of Africa region and developments in regional and international issues are being discussed and the Eritrean news agency Tesfanews describes the meeting as “a new link in the process of distinguished relations between Egypt and Eritrea, in light of the historical ties between the two countries.”

Eritrea: Human Rights Concern Eritrea writes a letter to Italian Ministries
Human Rights Concern Eritrea published a letter addressed to the Italian Interior Ministry Marco Minniti and to the Italian Ministry of Justice Andrea Orlando. The letter asks for the immediate release of Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe, who was mistakenly identified as a human trafficker also named Medhanie. This is the latest act in the case of the Eritrean refugee Medhanie Berhe, arrested in Sudan in 2016 and extradited in Italy. “Mr. Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe has spent over 18 months in a Palermo prison [..] and the circumstances of his arrest and the charges brought against him have, by now, been demonstrated to be baseless and specious. Mr. Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe is indeed not Mr. Medhanie Yehdego Mered, the man who is wanted by your jurisdiction for human smuggling, despite sharing the same first name.”


Europe: Belgian migration office accused of involvement in Sudanese deportation and torture
According to the Washington Post two Sudanese men who have been deported recently from Belgium accused Belgian migration authorities of involvement in their torture immediately after their arrival in Sudan. The accusation of partnership with the Sudanese government in terms of deportations put the Belgian migration office under pressure. Many members of the Belgian Parliament have already asked for the resignation of the Belgian migration secretary, Theo Francken. Mr. Francken responded that he did not receive any direct information about the case and added “if it turns out that they have indeed been tortured, that’s a big problem.” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michelles tweeted “Belgium makes it a point of honour to respect European and international obligations.”

Europe: Eritreans protest in Brussels, 22 December 2017
Hundreds of Eritrean nationals have protested against the Eritrean regime in the streets of a number of cities and refugee camps all over the world in the last few months, with the latest happening on December 22 in Brussels. These protests followed the rare demonstration in Asmara, capital of Eritrea, on 31 October 2017. Central in their demands was EU action against the Eritrean regime, the closure of the Eritrean embassy in the Belgian capital and the abolition of the 2% tax for citizens who have fled the country and still live under the shadow of the regime.

Europe: Southern EU member states meeting in Rome calls for responsibility and solidarity
The leaders of Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain gathered in Rome yesterday to discuss, among other issues, migration. They said that ‘citizens’ consultations’ are needed to empower people and encourage them to talk about what they think should be the main principles of the EU. Most importantly, they called for a renewed Common European Asylum System respecting the principles of responsibility and solidarity “especially towards frontline member states.”

Europe: A glance inside current EU asylum system
The reforms for the EU’s asylum system under discussion in the past year still have a long way to go.  The measures under discussion remain either stuck in political deadlocks, or are delayed because of the understaffed and overworked EU delegations, says EUobserver. In October, Donald Tusk, President of the EU Council, had set a deadline to wrap up the asylum package with the aim of reaching a consensus in the first half of 2018. Critics say that results have been lacking so far.