News Highlights: NGOs raise alarm over Mediterranean rescue and returns, Ethiopia joins AfCFTA, expert panel Sudan mandate extended

In this week’s News Highlights: Ethiopia joined the AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Agreement); UNSC expert panel mandate for Sudan extended; Sudanese women’s role in the protests; EU High Representative to visit Horn of Africa; Israel continues to impede refugee rights, say activists; more than 50 organisations express concern to EU leaders over rescue and return; Oxfam Italia and Sicilia Borderline publish a report on Italy/Libya deal;  new border management agreement between Europe and Montenegro; COC Netherlands published a report on LGBTI asylum policy in the Netherlands; Libya to tighten its southern borders with EU cooperation; and conflict in Libya’s oil fields.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Ethiopia joins the AfCFTA
The Ethiopian government approved the country’s membership in the AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Agreement), making the state the one and only North African country to have ratified the agreement, and the eighteenth signatory overall. Four other ratifications will be required for the agreement to enter into force. Once in force, the AfCFTA aims to increase intra-African trade by 52% by the year 2022, and remove tariffs on 90% of goods, which would facilitate cross-border and regional trade, and is estimated to offer economic advantages).

Sudan: UN Security Council extends mandate of expert panel, as al-Bashir appears to soften his stance
Sudan president Omar al-Bashir is reported to have softened his stance with regards to the protestors, expressing sympathy for their motivations and stating that detained journalists will be released. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council announced the extension of the mandate of the expert panel on Sudanese sanctions for another thirteen months. The report of the expert panel had previously found that the government had continued to transfer military equipment to Darfur without the approval of the panel as required.

Sudan: Sudanese women’s role in the protest against  al-Bashir regime
A video from Channel 4 News highlights the role of women in the Sudan protests. Despite the severity and atrocities of the Sudanese dictatorship, thousands of women oppose the al-Bashir regime. Regardless of sanctions and violence, the video shows that Sudanese women continue to rise up against despotism in Sudan, but also in Europe (for example, Sudanese women demonstrating in London).

Horn of Africa: EU High Representative to visit Horn of Africa
Coming week, High Representative of the EU, Federica Mogherini, will visit the Horn of Africa. Among other things, she will launch the “Collaboration in Cross Border Areas” initiative, together with parners from IGAD. The main focus of the project is to mitigatie the impact of local conflicts. The tour of Mogherini further includes Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti.

Eritrea: Israel impedes Eritrean refugees’ asylum access and rights
Haile Mengisteab (asylum seeker leader in Israel) and Vanessa Berhe (activist) explain how Israel continues to impede on the rights of refugees in Israel, in the continued context of severe human rights abuses in Eritrea.  In 2016, the UN Commission Inquiry declared that there were “reasonable grounds to think that Eritrea was perpetrating crimes against humanity” (enslavement, imprisonment, torture and inhumane acts, persecution, rape and murder). Despite this acknowledgement, the activists highlight that Europe and Israel continue to impede legal access for Eritrean refugees: although the Egyptian-Israeli border is the main obstacle, Israel has a secret agreement with Uganda and Rwanda, which enables Israel to send refugees to Uganda and Rwanda, although the three of them signed the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugee rights.

Eritrea-Ethiopia peace process: what future for the Eritrean sovereignty?
An article on EritreaHub comments on the fear of Eritreans to lose sovereignty over their country, as Ethiopia appears to take advantage of insecurities around the peace process. Already in July 2018, Journalist Abraham T. Zere declared that this sudden and unexpected reconciliation between the two heads of state could compromise Eritrea’s future and, above all, its sovereignty. President Isaias Afwerki’s proclamation that the two nations’ population are “one people” concerns Eritreans and challenges their rights.


More than 50 organisations ask to EU leaders sign emergency letter over Mediterranean rescue and returns
ECRE,  Human Rights Watch and Médecins Sans Frontières were among the signatories to a letter in which they ask EU leaders “to reach an agreement on timely disembarkation arrangements that will save lives and respect people’s fundamental rights, including their right to seek asylum”.  In particular they ask support for search and rescue operations, adopt timely and predictable disembarkation arrangements and the end returns to Libya. The organisations raise the alarm over the fact that of the five search and rescue operations of NGOs that were ongoing last year, only one continues to function due to the severe restrictions.

Oxfam Italia and Sicilia Borderline have published a report focused on the consequences of Italy and Libya deal
Oxfam Italy and Sicily Borderline have published a report that analyzes various aspects concerning the Mediterranean route through Libya. Specifically, the report focused on the consequences of Italy and Libya deal, showing that the number of dead and missing people per attempted crossing  have dramatically increased from June to December 2018; 937 out of the total 1311 deaths of 2018 occurred from June to December. 2019 started off with high death tolls, recording 143 deaths among the 502 who attempted the crossing. The report also analyzes the main aspects of European and Italian policies on the Mediterranean route: the establishment of a Libyan SAR zone, the fight against NGOs, and the “policy” of closed ports.

Montenegro: New border management agreement between Europe and Montenegro
The European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, and the Minister of the Interior of Montenegro, Mevludin Nuhodžić, have agreed on a deal that will allow European Border and Coast Guard Agency to be deployed in Montenegro. When the agreement enters into force, the Coast Guard Agency will assist Montenegro in border management.

Netherlands: COC Netherlands has published a report on LGBTI asylum policy in the Netherlands
Dutch LGBT organisation, COC Netherlands, published a report in which investigated 267 LGBTI cases at the office of the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND). The central research question of the report is “how does the IND deal with applications of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex asylum seekers and with the specific problems related to
such applications […].” 85% of the examinated files were rejected becouse the sexual orientation was not deemed credible.


Foreign Minister Libya announces new plans for border security to stop EU migration
Libyan Foreign Minister Sayala stated that Libya will submit a policy proposal to the  EU on 20 February 2019, which will contain measures to secure Libya’s southern border in cooperation with the EU. After a visit to Austria, the minister made remarks that indicated that Libya’s southern borders could now be considered the EU’s borders, as stopping ‘illegal migration’ on the Mediterrean Sea was unsuccesful.

Political instability and new fights in southern Libya
Patrick Wintour, British journalist and The Guardian’s diplomatic editor, analyzes the situation in southern Libya. The Al-Sharara oil field, situated 560 miles south of Tripoli and  capable of producing a third of Libya’s total current output ( 315,000 barrels), is the current location of conflict between the UN-recognised Tripoli-based government forces and the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The journalist emphasizes how the conflict creates important consequences for the international politics level: “[t]he fighting has the potential to disrupt the UN’s long prepared plans to convene a national conference, possibly next month, that is supposed to lead to either parliamentary or presidential elections and a new constitution. No date or venue for the conference has been set by the UN, which is still trying to win an agreement on those attending the meeting and the broad agenda.”