News Highlights: Protests in Sudan, EU reportedly negotiating with Egypt on migration, asylum-seeker to sue UK government


In this week’s news highlights: Protests in Sudan intensify; Canadian Supreme Court to hear case on human rights abuses in Eritrea; Eritrea and Kenya sign agreement; refugees at high risk of being kidnapped for ransom in the Horn of Africa, new report shows; protest during Ethiopian-Eritrean border opening; new president of Somali Puntland region; fewer migrant arrivals via sea in 2018, but deaths remain high; EU negotiating migration agreement with Egypt: report; Italian mayors defy certain new immigration rules; deal enables migrants to disembark in Malta; asylum-seeker to sue UK government for funding Libyan detention centres;  “unimaginable horrors” in Libya: UN report; and EU’s EUBAM Libya mission mandate extended to strengthen borders “in cooperation with Libyan authorities”.


Horn of Africa

Sudan: Protests intensify amid rising costs of living
Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Sudan in the past weeks to call for an end to the almost 30-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir. According to BBC and Aljazeera, the protests that morphed into anti-government rallies first erupted on 19 December last year over a rise in the cost of living. According to Radio France Internationale and Amnesty International, at least 40 people have been killed so far, although the official count of the Sudanese government is 22. Over 800 protesters, opposition members and journalists have been arrested and social media access was restricted. At a press conference, twenty-two opposition parties and groups back the protesters and demand a transitional government.

Refugees at high risk of kidnapping in Horn of Africa
Results from recent research conducted by the Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) shows that the number of kidnappings may be increasing in the Horn of Africa. More than 15% of the refugees is kidnapped, after which many are tortured for ransom. The research concluded that some nationalities are more vulnerable than others when travelling though the Horn of Africa The head of MMC, Bram Frouws, said that extensive border controls had left people more vulnerable to human smuggling. It is easier for smugglers to carry out such crimes when media start dehumanising people, said Frouws. The story of Mehari on Africa Monitors further illustrates the difficulty for refugees in the Horn of Africa.

Eritrea: Supreme Court of Canada agrees to hear Nevsun case on Eritrean human rights abuses
The Canadian Supreme Court will hear a case in which Eritrean asylum-seekers accuse Nevsun Resources Ltd. of human rights abuses in Eritrea. The Court will decide whether customary international law can also be applied to Canadian companies as opposed to only to sovereign states and whether the case can go to trial. The plaintiffs say they were forced to work in a mine run by Nevsun’s subsidiaries and endured slavery, torture and other inhumane treatment. Canadian businesses fear a loss of competitiveness if forced to comply with international law that has not been incorporated into Canadian domestic law.

Eritrean foreign minister signed an agreement with Kenya
An Eritrean delegation, including Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and Presidential Advisor Yemane Gebreab, met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kenya Monica Juma on 4 January in Kenya. The meeting was held to progress the understanding reached between President Isaias Afwerki and President Uhuru Kenyatta on 15 December. Ambassador Monica Juma tweeted pictures of the joint signature during the meeting.

Eritrea/Ethiopia: Protest during opening of Ethiopian-Eritrean border
The common border between Ethiopia and Eritrea has been opened along the Omhager-Humera border crossing point. Government officials from both countries were present at the ceremony on 7 January. However, protests were reported at the opening and the event had to move to the Eritrean side.

Somalia: Transfer of power in Somalia’s Puntland region
Somalia’s semi-autonomous region Puntland elected Said Abdullahi Deni as new president on 8 January. According to Reuters, the elections in Puntland followed the expulsion of the senior United Nations official in Somalia. In addition, local media reported on 9 Janurary that fighting erupted in Sool region between Somaliland and Puntland armies. The disputed area beween Somaliland and Puntland stretches from the Gulf of Aden to the Ethiopian border.



Number of migrants arriving in the EU via the Mediterranean Sea in 2018 declines, death toll rises
According to the European Union’s border agency Frontex, approximately 150,000 migrants and refugees entered the EU ‘irregularly’ in 2018. This is the lowest number since 2013 and 92% below the peak level in 2015 and 25% less than in 2017. 57,000 migrants arrived in Spain, the main route for migrants since the new Italian government closed its ports for private rescue ships and the situation for refugees in Libya worsened. According to the International Organization (IOM) more than 2,000 people died or went missing in the Mediterranean Sea in 2018. The special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the central Mediterreanean, Vincent Cochetel, says the rising death toll is due to higher risks taken by traffickers as the Libyan coastguards are intensifying their surveillance.

EU negotiating agreement on migration issues with Egypt: report
According to the Middleastmonitor the EU and Egypt began negotiating an agreement on migration issues and smugglers’ activities during the EU-Egypt Association Council in late December 2018 in Brussels. The talks are the run-up to the EU-Arab in Egypt in February. Sources reportedly told the Anadolu Agency that EU officials asked Egypt for the first time to let its coastguards patrol outside Egyptian waters, “combat smugglers and to rescue migrants and return them home”. However, one senior EU official reportedly said other EU officials were worried that Egypt could demand too much in exchange.

UK: Ethiopian asylum seeker to sue government for funding detention centre in Libya
A young asylum-seeker from Ethiopia is going to initiate a lawsuit against the UK government for funding a detention centre in Libya where he suffered from severe physical abuse, extortion and forced labour. While his asylum application is processed, he will sue the Department for International Development (DfID) that funds detention centres in Libya. In 2018, the UK government spent £10 million various projects in Libya, including detention centres. While the government said it wanted to improve migrants’ living conditions, the asylum seeker described his time in Libya as a “living hell”.

Italy: Several mayors announce resistance to “Decreto Salvini”
Several Italian mayors have announced to resist new immigration rules that were introduced last year under the name “Decreto Salvini”. They said they would not apply the parts of the rules they deem unconstitutional. Leoluca Orlando, mayor of Palermo, ordered the registry office to continue accepting applications for full residency after two-year asylum stays contrary to the new rules. He criticized that the rules led to criminalization and prevented migrants from accessing health care and local services in breach of the constitution, hoping the Constitutional Court will review the rules.

Malta: Deal enables disembarkation of 49 migrants from rescue ships, redistribution in Europe
49 migrants who were stranded on two private rescue vessels in the Mediterranean Sea will disembark in Valetta. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced that a deal has been secured between Malta, Italy, France, Germany, Portugal, Ireland, Romania and Luxembourg. These countries will take in those migrants as well as 249 other migrants who were rescued by Maltese military patrol boats in December. The Italian government remains divided on the issue of taking in migrants who have been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. In December, the EU nevertheless prolonged “Operation Sophia”, its naval security mission in the Mediterranean Sea, for three months.


Northern Africa

Libya: UN report says migrants in Libya experience “unimaginable horrors”
The United Nations (UN) Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN Human Rights Office have published a report about human rights abuses in Libya committed by State officials, armed groups, smugglers and traffickers against migrants and refugees. Among the findings are that a majority of women is raped, refugees in detention centres are arbitrarily and indefinitely detained, tortured, and forced to work. These practises are often connected with the extortion of money from relatives. The report says Libya is not a place of safety following interception at sea and the UN special rapporteur on torture considers “pushbacks” as violations of the principle of non-refoulement.

Libya: EU to establish mission headquarters in Libya for training security elements
The European Council has adopted an alternative mandate for the EU integrated border management assistance mission in Libya (EUBAM Libya). Its new mandate will free up €61.6 million until June 2020 for border protection, including training for Libyan security. The mission will “actively support the Libyan authorities in contributing to efforts to disrupt organised criminal networks involved in smuggling migrants, human trafficking and terrorism.” The headquarters will be in Tripoli and the head of the mission is Vincenzo Tagliaferri from Italy.