News Highlights: People and goods cross the Ethiopian-Eritrean border, Chikungunya outbreak in East Sudan

In this week’s news highlights: goods and people cross the Ethiopian-Eritrean border; thousands arrested in Ethiopia after violence; Saudi influence growing in the Horn of Africa; Chikungunya fever breaks out in East Sudan; Italy to narrow asylum rights; Italian Prime Minister to visit Ethiopia and Eritrea; European leaders seek migration deals with Northern African countries.

Greater Horn of Africa

Influence of Saudi-Arabia, UAE in Horn of Africa is growing
Saudi-Arabia is consolidating its role as main influence in the Horn of Africa region. President of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Guelleh, credited Saudi-Arabia for the improved relations to Eritrea and stressed the good relations Djibouti has to Saudi-Arabia. Both Saudi-Arabia and the UAE invest in the Horn of Africa and are interested in its strategic position given their military engagement in Yemen and their rivalry with Iran, which threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, according to Alex de Waal from the World Peace Foundation Think Tank.

More refugees fleeing from Eritrea to Ethiopia
According to the Shire district administration, 15,000 Eritreans have entered Ethiopia. Although many travelled to buy goods or visit their family, many came to stay in Ethiopia. Partners of the European Commission in Ethiopia have reported that in the last days 500 refugees have arrived, many of those unaccompanied minors. According to Eritrea Hub, more than 3,000 Eritreans were registered in only five days. The UNHCR expects the refugee flow to continue. Although Eritreans can at the moment freely cross the border, those detained before the border opening for trying to flee have not been released.

Ethiopia/Eritrea: Goods cross the border after border opening
Since 12 September, trade between Ethiopia and Eritrea has been increasing. While Eritreans cross the border to mainly buy cement, Ethiopians travel to Asmara to buy clothing and electronic gadgets. According to one eyewitness “[a] minimum of 20 trucks carrying cement is leaving from Adigrat to Eritrea daily.”

Ethiopia: government reacts to violence: thousands arrested
The Ethiopian government has arrested more than 1,200 people after deadly violence that led to the killing of 28 people in Addis Ababa this month. The violence has dampened hope that the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmad will be able to bring about peace and stability in Ethiopia after years of authoritarian rule. Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s director for east Africa, criticized arrests without charges in the wake of the violence.

Sudan: Chikungunya fever outbreak in Eastern Sudan
In Kassala state in East Sudan a children’s ward, laboratory, and pharmacy were closed on Sunday morning after two children showed symptoms of the chikungunya fever. According to unofficial sources, 25 people are dying every week in the region from the disease. Chikungunya is transmitted via mosquitoes, causes fever and often joint pain and cannot be cured. Only its symptoms can be treated.

Italy: Italian government to narrow asylum rights
The Italian government on Monday adopted the “Salvini decree”, a set of new asylum rules, expanding police powers and narrowing the cases in which migrants can obtain humanitarian protection, a status granted in a quarter of cases to those migrants who do not receive asylum or subsidiary protection. The new rules narrow the grounds for humanitarian protection to urgent medical conditions, victimhood of natural disasters, domestic violence, trafficking, or work exploitation and the execution of “heroic acts” in Italy. Further measures include the extension of possible detention of migrants to up to 180 days. The president’s office questioned the constitutionality of some aspects of the new decree, which has not been approved by parliament yet.

Italy: Prime Minister Conte to visit Ethiopia and Eritrea in October
After visiting Canada and the US, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will reportedly fly to Ethiopia on 11 October to talk to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and afterwards travel to Eritrea for talks with President Isaias Afwerki. Ethiopia is an important partner for Italian businesses and Eritrea is a country from which many refugees escape, some heading to Italy. It is expected that Conte will talk about the topic of migration.

European Council on Foreign Relations publishes policy brief on EU programmes in the Sahel
The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) on Tuesday published a policy brief on EU migration and security policy in the Sahel, criticizing an often non-sustainable, expensive and deconstructive approach from the EU. According to the brief, many programmes do not match a long-term institutional strategy and the EU has not been successful in pushing Niger and Mali to reform their security sector. The brief also advises the EU to strengthen good governance in the region, especially pushing for a functioning justice system.

The Council of Europe publishes report on refugee and migrant children in Europe
The report, published on Thursday, evaluates the achievements and ongoing activities member states have undertaken to protect and support refugee and migrant children. Among others, legal professionals in Europe received training on the rights of these children and Parliamentarians where given instructions how to organise visits to places where children’s rights are restricted due to immigration procedures. At the same time, according to a Pew Research Center poll, a vast majority of Europeans disapprove of the EU’s response to the refugee crisis, with Spaniards being the most welcoming European people towards refugees. However, Spain’s treatment of migrants has been criticized by the CoE’s Special Representative on Migration and Refugees, Tomáš Boček, for not meeting the same standards everywhere and for deporting migrants to Morocco directly.

NGOs push back on unorthodox proposals to stop migrants
Several NGOs have voiced their opposition to processing asylum applications on board of rescue boats, a proposal made earlier this month by the Austrian and the Italian ministers of the interior. The Hellenic League for Human Rights, Mission Lifeline, Advocates Abroad, as well as Greek government officials renounced the plan as impractical and illegal. Earlier this week, the Panamanian government had revoked the flag of the rescue vessel Aquarius under mounting pressure from the Italian government.

Northern Africa
European leaders seek migrant deals with Northern African countries
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and European Council president Donald Tusk want to strike migrant deals with Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt in an attempt to reduce migration flows from these countries. Such deals would be similar to the deal the EU made with Turkey in the spring of 2016. In addition, in February a summit with Arab states and the EU is planned. The leader of the Green/EFA group in the European Parliament called the idea that deals with Northern African countries would solve the refugee crisis hypocritical.

Update: Tunisian fishermen accused of migrant smuggling released
Six Tunisian fishermen who were arrested by Italian authorities for human trafficking have been acquitted, according to one of the men’s lawyer. The fishermen had aided migrants at sea by towing them closer to Italian territory.

UNHCR updates report about operations in the Middle East and Northern Africa
The UNHCR has updated information on its operations in Northern Africa. UNHCR staff returned to Tripoli after some were evacuated in early 2018. The report acknowledges a worsening humanitarian situation in Libya, especially in detention centres. As alternatives for detention centres, the UNHCR has opened its own “gathering and departure facility” in Tripoli. In Algeria Sahrawi refugees in five camps receive aid from the UNHCR and in Morocco the organisation is helping the authorities to establish an asylum system. In Tunisia, the UNHCR is advocating for the establishment of an asylum system.