News Highlights: EU Sanctions Regime in development, Eritrean regime infiltrates Norwegian churches, France/Italy border tension

In this week’s news highlights: Ports at the Red Sea disputed in regional rivalries; Russia intensifying it ties with Eritrea; Ethiopian government and rebel group sign peace treaty; new direct flights from Asmara to Europe; Berhane Abrehe’s son speaks out; criticism about EU’s collaboration with Egypt; criticism of Global Migration Compact; border tensions between France and Italy after migrant pushback; MEPs back Dutch proposal for new sanctions regime; Eritreans in Norway afraid of Eritrean regime in churches; Tusk discards mandatory quotas for refugees in EU; Libya’s foreign minister opposes EU migration centres in Libya; and aiding migrants criminalized in Morocco.

Greater Horn of Africa

Horn of Africa: Ports at the Red Sea cause conflicts among regional powers
DP World
, the state-owned United Arab Emirates (UAE) ports operator, is competing with investors from Qatar, Turkey and China for control of ports at the Horn of Africa. For the UAE, the Eritrean port of Assab and Somaliland’s Berbera are strategic points in the war in Yemen as their troops are stationed there and DP World finalized an agreement with the Somaliland government to operate the port in Berbera against the will of the Somalia’s federal government. DP World is also interested in investing in Eritrea’s ports, its CEO Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem said, after a port in Djibouti that was operated by the company was nationalized against the company’s will.

Eritrea: Russia is intensifying ties with Eritrea
Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov visited Asmara on Friday to discuss the lifting of UN sanctions on Eritrea. The sanctions began in 2009 and are going to be reviewed in November. According to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, both countries are discussing the creation of a Russian logistics centre in one of Eritrea’s ports.

Eritrea: UNFPA delegation visits hospitals
A UN delegation led by Deputy Executive Director (Programme) of the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) visited Eritrea on 18 and 19 October. The delegation talked to the Eritrean ministers of health, foreign affairs and national development, visited hospitals and offered Eritrea UN support for a Census and Demographic Health Survey. Minister of Health, Amina Nur Hussien said her Ministry would continue working with partners such as UNFPA “to ensure universal health coverage and achieve the targets of the SDGs.”

Ethiopia: Government and ONLF rebel group sign peace deal in Asmara
The Ethiopian government and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a rebel group from Ethiopia’s Eastern ethnically Somali Ogaden region, signed a peace agreement in Asmara on Sunday. The formerly banned group had been held responsible for attacks on Ethiopian soldiers in recent years.

Ethiopia: Ethiopian airlines to offer direct flights from Asmara to Europe in December
Ethiopian Airlines will offer direct flights between Asmara and London Heathrow as well as Rome from December. It will be the first direct connection since 1998 according to Routes Online.

Berhane Abrehe’s son speaks out about his father’s arrest
Ephrem, the son of Eritrea’s former minister of finance, Berhane Abrehe, who was arrested in Asmara in September, gave an interview to the Italian newspaper Avvenire. He said neither he nor his siblings in Eritrea have spoken to Berhane since his arrest and that he is concerned about his health as he needs medication. According to Ephrem, Berhane has seen the peace agreement with Ethiopia and worries that it could lead to a federation with Ethiopia and be the end of Eritrea’s independence.


EU Parliament backs Netherlands’ proposal for new sanctions regime
Recently, the Netherlands invited EU diplomats to discuss about creating a new sanctions regime against human rights abusers worldwide. The idea, as EUobserver describes, is “to target individuals, via EU visa bans and asset freezes, to discourage them and others from violations, potentially saving lives.”  The European Parliament strongly expressed its support to this proposal in its latest resolution on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and encouraged the EU Member States to “fully back this proposal” too.

Italy/France: Border tensions after migrant pushback, NGOs allege human rights abuses in France
The Italian government accused French authorities of illegally and secretly “dumping” migrants that had crossed the border back in Italy. While Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini ordered the military to guard the border, French interior minister Christophe Castaner expressed the will for closer border cooperation. Amnesty International and 12 other NGOs accused French authorities of “inhuman and hypocrite behaviour” as they allegedly illegally obstructed asylum requests, neglected unaccompanied minors and falsified their birth dates, and abandoned migrants without food and emergency health care.

Norway: Eritreans fear the long arm of the regime in their churches
Several Eritrean refugees living in Norway told Agderposten, a Norwegian newspaper, that they fear speaking critically about the Eritrean regime in Eritrean Orthodox Church in Norway. Some fear that there are spies and that the priests are loyal to the Eritrean regime. This has led some refugees to found their own churches, but others who sympathize with them do not dare to join the new church out of fear to be seen as traitors.

EU migration collaboration with Egypt: critical assessments

In stemming migration, the European Union (EU) has made deals with countries like Libya. Egypt is planned to be the new EU’s partner in helping to decrease the movement of migrants and refugees towards Europe. The collaboration with Libya has faced criticism multiple times; for instance, UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has characterized the EU’s help to Libyan authorities in detaining migrants as “inhuman”. Collaboration with Egypt faces its own critical assessments too.

The UN Global Compact for Migration: Issues at Stake

Even though the United Nations (UN) have endeavoured to protect refugees by filling the policy gaps with legal instruments, they have not yet established a common framework for the rights of migrants. For this reason, they are trying to create a new Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. However, some critical notes have arisen on the draft text. The final vote and adoption will take place on December 10-11, 2018 in Morocco.

European Union and African Union diplomats discuss security issues in Brussels
On Monday, the European Union (EU) Political and Security Committee (EU PSC) and the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (AU PSC) held their 11th Annual Joint Consultative Meeting in Brussels. The ambassadors from EU and AU states as well as members of the EU External Action Service discussed security issues in Africa and expressed their will to engage in joint field visits, joint sessions, and shared understanding and analysis on crisis situations. They welcomed peace initiatives in South Sudan and between Ethiopia and Eritrea. On Thursday, the Italy-Africa conference took place in Rome, with 350 delegates discussing, among other things, the peace at the Horn of Africa.

Tusk discards mandatory quotas for refugees, Orbán says EU elections will be decisive on migration
The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, on Wednesday told MEPs in the European Parliament that “real progress in the European Council is that today almost everybody understands that our priority should be stopping the inflow of irregular migrants and not their distribution” and that the EU is now focussing on “the strengthening of cooperation with third countries, a fight against human smugglers, external border protection and not mandatory quotas”. On Tuesday, Hungary’s prime minister Victor Orbán warned his compatriots that the upcoming EU elections were decisive for migration and that Hungarians should “reject the ideology of globalism” or if migration continued terror would “become part of life in large cities”.


Northern Africa

Libya: Foreign minister opposes EU migration centres in Libya
The foreign minister of Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), Mohamed al-Taher Siala, told an Austrian newspaper that Libya and all Northern African countries reject the idea of “regional disembarkation platforms” in which migrants’ asylum applications would be processed outside the EU. Instead, Libya is interested in cooperating with its Southern neighbours Chad, Niger and Sudan, he said. The EU could support Libya with “drones, helicopters and perhaps a few light weapons.” According to the minister, Libya is supported by the EU in returning the estimated 30,000 migrants detained in centres in Libya, but many Western African countries refuse to take them back.

Morocco: Catholic bishop denounces EU migration policy, while aiding migrants is criminalized
The archbishop of Tangiers, Santiago Agrelo Martinez, criticized plans by the EU to open asylum centres, calling them “concentration camps for people who have no rights”. He said that Moroccan authorities now punish migrant helpers, and beat up and deport migrants although they used to leave them alone. The archbishop also involuntarily did not let refugees sleep in the cathedral because then he would have faced charges of human trafficking.