News Highlights: Press conference: Eritrea Foundation summons EU, EU pushback to Libya, operation Sophia ships suspended

In this week’s news highlights: Foundation prepares legal action against EU over use of forced labour in Eritrea; European Parliament hosts Roundtable on Libya; Pro-Asyl denounces EU push back of migrants and refugees; EU suspends ship operations of operation Sophia; French Constitutional Council authorises bone tests to determine migrants age; 200 refugees forced to leave their accommodation in Greece; WRC reports on the sexual violence practicises against refugees in Libya; 30 migrants lost in the Mediterranean; Amnesty International denounces the human rights situation in Libya at UNHRC; Closure of detention centre Al Hamdi in Tunisia; Eritreans continue to flee their country, says Ethiopia; and the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reports a ‘endemic’ sexual violences situation in the country.


European Union: Press Conference: Foundation summons the EU over use of forced labour in Eritrea
The Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans, based in the Netherlands, is taking legal action against the EU starting with a letter of summons coming April 1st. The main concern for the Foundation is a 20 million project in which recruits from the indefinite national service will be employed. The national service in Eritrea has been characterised as enslavement by the UN Committee of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. In addition, no human rights assurances have been given. A press conference will be held in Brussels on 1 April, at 16:00. It can be watched via the livestream available in the link below. Tonight (29 March) at 7pm CET, Dutch radio show Bureau Buitenland on Radio 1 will air a pre-announcement. The show can be heard afterwards via the link below. 

European Parliament: MEPs host Roundtable on Libya and the EU’s responsibility
On 1 April, MEPs Marie-Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL) and Ana Gomes (S&D) will host a Roundtable on the inhumane situation and trafficking of people in Libya, and the EU and EU member states’ responsibility in this. It is organised in cooperation with EEPA. The Roundtable will gather diverse speakers from NGOs (Amnesty International, MSF, Human Rights Watch), as well as experts and human rights defenders to highlight the situation before the European Parliament elections. A report on the Roundtable will be published on the EEPA website and will be featured in next week’s highlights.

European Union: EU accused of push-back which contravenes Human Rights and International Law principles.
The German immigration defense organisation Pro Asyl published an article, explaining how the EU helps and works with the Libyan coast guard, who intercepts refugees and sends them back to Libyan torture centres. The organisation describes how the EU trains and finances the Libyan Coast guards through operation ‘Sophia’. However, the coast guards are not monitored, because no European control mechanism has been established. In the words of MEP Barbara Spinelli, operation Sophia is an instrument of rejection which serves to legitimize criminal militias, thereby denying those seeking protection access to a fair asylum procedures. Therefore, refugees are sent back to a State where they are exposed to inhuman treatment and torture. Although the International principle of non-refoulement prohibits the ‘push backs’ and is condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, Europe continues to deal with Libyan authorities, writes Pro Asyl.

European Union: The EU suspended ship operations of operation Sophia
The European Union mission in the Mediterranean will lose the two ships with which it conducts rescue operations. The EU Political and Security Committee has decided that operation Sophia will continue for another six months, during which the use of naval units will be temporarily suspended. Instead, the other activities of the operation will be strengthened, in particular the training and support of the Libyan coast guard. Médecins Sans Frontières says the EU move is “irresponsible and reckless”. The Human Rights Commissioner for the Council of Europe called to step up sea rescues and  to adopt a different approach with a fully operational system for saving human lives.

France: the Constitutional Council allows bone tests on refugees to determine their age.
The French Constitutional Council approved a law authorising bone tests on young migrants to determine whether they are adults or minors. The Council considers that “minors present on the national territory [must] benefit from the legal protection attached to their age”, reports the newspaper Le Monde. The judges acknowledged that these examinations may have a “significant margin of error”. NGOs are disillusioned  and consider this measure as “reliable as a crystal ball”, notes InfoMigrants.

Greece: 200 refugees in Greece will have to move out of their accommodation
Around 200 refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection have to leave their accommodations, which fall under the accommodation programme funded by the European Union and implemented by the UN Refugee Agency in collaboration with Greek NGOs (ESTIA), that currently supports 22,636 refugees. Miltiadis Klapas, Secretary General for Migration Policy says “these refugees will continue to receive financial support for a period of three months and have the right to participate in a special work programme”.

North Africa

Libya: Sexual and torture practices in Libya reported by Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC)
The Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) has published a report that examines the nature and characteristics of sexual violence perpetrated against refugees and migrants on the central Mediterranean route to Italy. The report describes that very often, sexual violence and torture practices are filmed by kidnappers, and videos are sent to family members for extortion purposes. The report also underlines that the Italian assistance system for victims of violence and torture is inadequate.

Libya: 30 migrants probably lost in the Mediterranean
According to Libyan sources, reported by a Libyan coast guard official, at least 30 people are missing after a boat sank off the coast at the western Libyan city of Sabratha, in the Mediterranean Sea. According to a survivor the boat was carrying almost 50 migrants, of which 16 were rescued. According to the IOM Report on the Mediterranean Migrant Arrivals in 2019, the deaths on the three main Mediterranean Sea routes in the first 11 weeks of this year number 289 individuals.

Libya: Amnesty International alerts the UNHRC to the alarming situation in Libya
During the 40th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, Amnesty International delivered an oral statement about the human rights situation in Libya. According to the NGO, authorities, militias and armed groups are committing serious violations and crimes on refugees, such as abductions, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, torture and attacks, with impunity. The organisation mentioned the EU’s support for the Libyan authorities, who intercept boats and send refugees back to Libya, where they are subjected to inhuman treatment. Amnesty International reminded the Council of its previous recommendations and called for urgent and effective action to stop these acts.

Tunisia: Medenine detention centre will close in April, says Tunisian Minister
On 21 March, the Tunisian Minister in Charge of Constitutional Bodies, Civil Society and Human Rights, Mohamed Fadhel Mahfoud, announced the closure of the refugees detention centre Al Hamdi in Medenine, wrote Huffpost. The centre, controlled by the Tunisian Red Crescent department with the cooperation of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was deemed unhealthy and inhumane by the minister, due to overcrowding, no access to health care, and lack of hygiene. The centre will close in mid-April, however, according to the information website InfoMigrants, the relocation of occupants remains uncertain. A new and appropriate structure should open “as soon as possible” says IOM.

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: Eritreans continue to flee their country in great numbers, says Ethiopia
A senior Ethiopian official said that the numbers of Eritreans seeking sanctuary in Ethiopia continues to remain high, reports Eritreahub. According to the article, 300 Eritreans are registered at the Ethiopian borders every day, so that the refugee facilities and Ethiopian authorities have difficulties to cope with the exodus. Many of them are unaccompanied children and Eritrean soldiers and workers escaping from the national service. Once they arrive in Ethiopia, refugees have to wait for about 2 days in collection centers before they are transported to the screening center.

South Sudan: Mothers teach their daughters how to survive sexual abuse
The Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, Yasmin Sooka, spoke of the horrific crimes taking place against women and girls in South Sudan during the 40th Human Rights Council session on March 12. The culture of sexual violence continues after a peace deal signed last year brought an end to military conflict. Civilians have been routinely targeted by armed groups and the UN has previously described the level of sexual violence as ‘endemic’ writes East Africa Monitor. Sexual attacks in South Sudan are so common that daughters are taught by their mothers how to survive the ordeal of being raped, in such a way as to minimize the violence, declares Yasmin Sooka: “brutal rapes including multiple gang rapes, sexual slavery, abductions, forced marriage, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, and mutilation of sexual organs, as well as killing”.