News Highlights: Crimes in Darfur continue, Brussels Demonstration demands protection in Libya, IOM’s return scheme puts refugees at risk

In this week’s news highlights: Hundreds of refugees demonstrate against entrapment and abuse in Libya; Mare Jonio and Sea Watch 3 boats to resume work at the end of May; Conference on democracy in Eritrea hits a nerve; Appointments for asylum in Greece set in 2023 – system is overloaded; Refugees in Europe live longer but are more traumatised, states report; EU planning a conference on Horn of Africa economic development; Religious freedom in Eritrea and Sudan; RSF still perpetrates crimes and violence in Darfur; Corruption in South Sudan; Refugees at risk over ‘voluntary’ return from Libya; Sudanese people refouled to Libya die in Meditteranean sea; One in three died along the central Mediterranean route in 2019.


Europe: Eritrean refugees organise demonstration in support of refugees in Libya
Hundreds of people gathered in front of the European Commission at a demonstration held on Monday, 6 May in Brussels. Participants aimed to raise awareness about the inhumane conditions that refugees and migrants in Libyan detention centers are trapped in. The demonstration demanded evacuation and protection for refugees in Libya, and an end to the EU pushback which keeps people trapped in the country without humanitarian corridors to escape. The demonstration was the final event of the initiative Ride4Justice which started on 1 May as a cycling tour which brought a group of Eritrean refugees from Frankfurt to Brussels by bike. In each stopover city, the group raised awareness on the inhumane situation that refugees and migrants in Libya are facing.

Europe: Mare Jonio and Sea Watch 3 boats to resume work at the end of May
InfoMigrants reports that the ‘Mare Jonio’ boat of the Italian NGO ‘Mediterranea’ is returning after being held for 15 days in Lampedusa. According to the information website, the boat left the Italian port on Tuesday, May 7, to reach the Libyan distress and rescue zone (SAR zone). The boat was located in Tunisian waters on Wednesday morning and was supposed to be expected to approach Libya at the end of the day, writes InfoMigrants. In addition, the German NGO Sea-Watch achieved a partial success at the Dutch court on Tuesday, May 7, after suing the Netherlands. The NGO is given more time to meet new safety regulations. The boat – which sails under the Dutch flag – was stuck for 1 month in the port of Marseille (France). InfoMigrants states that by the end of May, the NGO is expected to resume its search and rescue activities.

UKEritrea conference on democracy hits a nerve
At the end of April, a conference on the democratic future in Eritrea was held in London. Seventy Eritreans and International experts participated in the two-days-conference, reports the Eritrea Focus – including former high-level officials that have fled Eritrea. The conference elicited immediate response from Eritrean government. Both Yemane Ghebremeskel – Minister of Information – and Ambassador Estifanos were triggered to post negatively about the event. The NGO writes that its aim is to face Eritrea’s challenges and “assist in the emergence of a democratic government that can replace the current dictatorship”.

Germany: Germany launches the “NesT” Program for refugee integration
On Monday, May 6, the German government presented its new program entitled “Neustart im Team – NesT”. Integration Commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz (CDU) described it as a “strong signal of solidarity put into practice”. According to the article, the state and civil society will work together to facilitate the arrival of refugees who have been identified as particularly in need of protection. The CDU Integration Commissioner specified that: “Mentors help with running errands, apartment-hunting and finding apprenticeship or jobs, thereby facilitating the successful societal integration”, states the German Junge Freiheit newspaper.

Greece: Greece Asylum System has 62,000 applications awaiting decisions
Greece’s Asylum Service is under pressure because of the 62,000 asylum applications that are still waiting to be examined, and the 5,000 new applications of asylum seekers who apply for asylum every year. The systematic slowdown of the procedure involves very long waiting times: an asylum seeker in Thessaloniki received an invitation for an interview in 2023.

Europe: Refugees and migrants in Europe live longer compared to the rest of European population
According to the new report of the Wold Health Organization (WHO) refugees and migrants who live in European countries live longer than the rest of the Europeans and are less at risk from death of disease. This advantage decreases over time, states the report. However, the report also shows that migrants and refugees are exposed to a greater problems during pregnancy and early childhood as well as having a higher rate of coping with traumatic experiences and depressions.

Greater Horn of Africa

East Africa: Conference about economic and sustainable development in Eastern Africa to be held in Addis Ababa
According to Fulgencio Garrido Ruiz, European diplomat and chargé d’affaires in Somalia, the European Union is planning to organise a conference on economic and sustainable development in the Horn of Africa. Media reports that that the conference will be organized jointly with the World Bank and the Ethiopian government and will be held in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. According to Mr. Ruiz, the aim of the conference will be to improve diplomatic relations and economic cooperation between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.

Eritrea and Sudan: Freedom of religion report showing continued lack of  freedom in Eritrea and Sudan
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent US federal government commission published its annual report on freedom of religion. The report listed Eritrea and Sudan among the 16 “countries of particular concern”. The independent watchdog stressed how ”Eritrea trended the same as in previous years, in spite of hopes raised with the historic July 2018 Eritrea-Ethiopia peace”. The report specified that there are only four religious movements that are recognized in the country (the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Church of Eritrea), but also these groups “are not able to practice their faith freely because of the Eritrean government regulates and interferes in their affairs.” Sudan continues to be in the list for repression of religious expression of both Muslims and non-Muslims.

Sudan: Despite a civilian transition, crimes and abuses are still carried out in Darfur, says Human Rights Watch
According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, violence and abuses in Darfur continue. Although the Sudanese Military Transition Council is negotiating with the political opposition to form a civilian alliance after Omar al-Bashir’s ousting, the case of Darfur remains worrying, HRW says. The NGO reports that on Saturday, May 4, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group accused of severe human rights abuses over the years, violently dispersed protests. According to testimonies, the inhabitants of the region were beaten, shot, and one person was killed. HRW writes that the Rapid Support Forces are being implicated in crimes against civilians in Darfur. Yet, the leader of this group is now deputy head of the transitional military council.

South Sudan: NGOs say corruption and bribery control South Sudan aid sector
According to local NGOs civil societies and private organisations, corruption and bribery are present in South Sudan’s aid sector, reports Devex. A local aid group, for example, reported having received a call from an international donor who was asking for a $5,000 kickback. According to witnesses and Jacob Chol, senior political analyst and professor at the University of Juba, all of the alleged instances involved payments solicited by national or regional staff who were bribing local aid groups for project grants, private contractors, or South Sudanese nationals in search of jobs. Thomas Modi, founder and executive director, local South Sudan NGO, explains how bribery is affecting the NGOs’ jobs, acting like a disease. Devex even states that in the last three years, funding of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has increased from 12% of funds allocated in 2016 to 39% in 2018.

North of Africa

Libya: ‘voluntary’ repatriation putting refugees at risk
The International Organisation on Migration is on the verge of repatriating more Eritreans in a ‘voluntary’ scheme. In a Human Rights Concern Eritrea article, the dangers to Eritreans facing Repatriation to Eritrea are highlighted. Specifically, Eritreans are condemned as a “traitors” and are obliged to sign a “repentance” form, pleading guilt to having escaped from Eritrea without government permission. The refugees are at great risk of arbitrary detention and torture, as IOM does not have the capacity or the presence to follow up on them.

Mediterranean Sea: UNHCR commissioner says “one migrant in three died at sea in 2019”.
On Monday, May 6, the spokesman for Africa and the Mediterranean of the UNHCR, Charlie Yaxley, wrote on Twitter that one in three refugees died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2019 so far, trying to reach Europe’s borders from Libya. UNHCR organisation stated that “there is no safe port in Libya but no government or NGO ship is carrying out search and rescue operations. It is clear that this situation cannot continue” reports ANSA Med.

Niger: Sudanese refugees refouled from Niger to Libya die in Mediterranean Sea
One year after 135 Sudanese refugees were returned from Niger’s migration hub Agadez to Libya, at least 10 refugees of the deported group have died while crossing Mediterranean Sea trying to flee the instability in Libya reports The New Humanitarian. The Sudanese returnees were perceived by Niger as criminals who fought with militia groups in Libya. Several hundreds of refugees situated in Agadez, Niger, ‘voluntarily’ left following the deportations. So far only six unaccompanied Sudanese children were granted asylum. Some individuals have been waiting more than a year for asylum, which has severe psychological consequences on many of them.