News Highlights: Fine for rescues in Mediterranean Sea, Footage shows attack on refugees in Libya, Sudan negotiations suspended amid tension

In this week’s news highlights: Rescue operations in Mediterranean may soon be fined €5500 per rescued person; NGOs appeal in case of France-Libya support; Conditions in centre in Germany exposed; Footage of detention centre shooting in Libya; Organisations urge IOM to stop repatriating Eritreans; Pan-African parliament holds session on refugees; Foreign military activity in the Horn increases; Sudan talks stall amid protests; Giffas in Eritrea increase; US deports more than half of Eritrean refugees; Eritrean Catholic Church representatives express concern; social media networks shut down in Eritrea; and court case reveals tensions Qatar-Eritrea.


Italy: Salvini introduces a fine for each rescue NGOs make in the Mediterranean Sea
The Italian Interior Minister has introduced a decree which would severely punish organisations who save migrants and refugees at sea, which amounts to € 5,500 for every saved person. Giorgia Linardi of Sea-Watch stated “the lives of people are reduced to an end: to the end that actually goes to punish what is a moral and legal duty and a human act of solidarity.” According to UNHCR data, one in three persons died at sea on the Central Mediterranean route during the first 5 months of 2019. A shocking video showed footage of a person swimming away  to escape when the Libyan coast guard approached a boat full of migrants and refugees, reports Sky News. The person was swimming towards the tug floating few hundred meters away. Sea Watch organization prompted the vessel to take necessary steps in order to rescue this migrant and ensure his protection, informing the boat they were being filmed and not to hand the person over to the Libyan coast guard.

France: French judges declare case on France’s cooperation with the Libyan government inadmissible
In February 2019, France announced the delivery of six boats to combat ‘illegal’ migration. Migreurop and other NGOs brought a legal case before the Administrative Court of Paris for complicity with human rights abuses. According to the press release of Migreurop, France is complicit in human rights violations committed in Libya against refugees by giving Libyan authorities additional logistical means to fight migration. However, the judges declared themselves incompetent to judge the French state and to review the legality control, because these acts are subject to the conduct of international relations. Migreurop and the other plaintiffs plan to appeal before the Conseil d’Etat, the press release states.

Germany: Asylum seekers expose the critical situation in a reception center outside of Munich
Deutsche Welle reports on anonymous testimonials from asylum seekers, housed at the Fürstenfeldbruck facility outside Munich, one of Germany’s so-called AnkER (“arrival, decision, return”) centers, which were established last summer by Chancellor Angela Merkel and the  Interior Minister Horst Seehofer. Testimonies report cramped rooms, filthy toilets and suicide attempts. Random deportation swoops by police cause fear and uncertainty. Videos of poor hygienic situations were shared. The asylum seekers hosted in the center are mostly from sub-Saharan Africa.

North Africa

Libya: Human rights violations continue while Europe ‘pushes on the wrong buttons’
The British television station Channel 4 published a video showing video footage of Libyan militia attacking the Libyan detention centre Qasr bin Ghashir. Witnesses of the attack, who have since been evacuated to Zawiya, state that six people are still missing, presumed either dead or under militia control. According to the video, both the troops of the Government of National Accord (GNA) and of Khalifa Haftar’s militias are violating human rights in the Libyan detention centres. Channel 4 correspondent Paraic O’Brien states that thousands of injured migrants and refugees are in the front line of the fighting, due to the EU ‘push back’ policy – which he judges as ‘inconsistent’. The television channel invited Sanj Srikanthan, UK executive director from IRC (International Rescue Committee), who criticised the current EU strategy, saying that the EU was pushing the ‘wrong buttons’.

Libya: Organisations raise the alarm over voluntary returns to Eritrea by IOM
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE) sent a letter to the head of the International Organisation on Migration (IOM) to urge them to stop repatriation of Eritreans from Libya. According to the letter, as many as 120 Eritreans may already have been returned. HRCE states that conditions in Eritrea have not changed and that “the IOM repatriation programme for Eritrean refugees in Libya is taking advantage of the utter desperation of Eritreans to get out of the horrific condition in Libya, as well as their ignorance as to their rights and lack of information as to the process.” Other organisations will follow up with letters to their respective governments in the coming week on this issue. The organisations ask for direct evacuations to Europe.

Greater Horn of Africa

Africa: Pan-African Parliament holds session dedicated to refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons
This week, the Pan African Parliament hosted its 2nd ordinary session in Johannesburg, South Africa, which brought attention to the Theme of the Year 2019: “The Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa”. Various speakers and experts debated on the regional perspectives and programs for refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons. The theme of human trafficking with specific focus on situation in Libya was covered. The Pan-African Parliament will organise a series of fact-finding missions over the next months.

Horn of Africa: Series of papers details increased foreign military activity in the Horn
A series of papers of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute covers the increased military activity in the Horn of Africa by foreign international actors from Europe, the United States, the Middle East, the Gulf, and Asia. The Institute states that the geopolitics in the Horn of Africa are poorly adapted to this new military influx, raising the risk of additional struggles and tensions in the region.

Sudan: Talks between the military and civilians stop as protests rage on
Military in Sudan halted the talks with civilians, demanding barricades in Khartoum to be removed. The military council stated on 15 May that the talks would be halted for 72 hours. Civilian leaders responded to the decision by stating that the military council ignores progress made in negotiations so far. In addition, protesters state that Rapid Support Forces in military vehicles used violence, including shooting, to clear out demonstrations on Wednesday. Meanwhile, according to the Sudanese prosecutor, president Omar al-Bashir is accused of the murder of protestants in the demonstrations over the last months that ended his reign, reports BBC News. During the February-March demonstrations, witnesses reported that the police fired live ammunition at demonstrators and killed a doctor. In addition, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Horn and East Africa Region, Seif Magango, said President Al-Bashir should be tried for the crimes he allegedly committed – crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.

Eritrea: While Eritreans flee to Ethiopia, the Eritrean government abducts children
A senior official of the Ethiopian Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affair (ARRA) has reported that the number of refugees from Eritrea to Ethiopia continues to increase, with up to 250 people being processed every day. According to an article on IDN-InDepthNews, 25% of the new arrivals are unaccompanied and separated Eritrean children. The articles also reports on witnesses who state that Eritrea has increased its raids, Giffas, to send young Eritreans to military training in Sawa (a military academy in the Gash-Barka region of Eritrea) and into the indefinite national service. The article remarks that IOM should stop illegally returning people to Eritrea, where the situation has not improved since the peace agreement with Ethiopia.

Eritrea: United States deporting more than 50% of Eritreans, according to ICE
According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as reported by ABC13, the United States are increasing expulsions of Eritreans to their countries of origin, although the Trump government is aware of the situation in the country. The newspaper reports that Eritreans in the United States whose asylum claims have been rejected say they fear that the deportations may amount to a death sentence. In order to escape indefinite military service, which, according to the United Nations, amounts to enslavement, Eritrean nationals went to the points of entry on the southern border of the United States with Mexico and sought asylum, but were denied asylum by the United States immigration courts.

Eritrea: Eritrean Catholic Church affirms its concern on the Eritrean human rights situation
Four Eritrean Catholic representatives have written a letter directed to Eritrean Catholics and the Eritrean society on the occasion of Easter. In the letter, they raise concerns over the ongoing human rights abuses in Eritrea, which have not changed since the peace agreement. Father Mussie Zerai, European Coordinator for Communities and Chaplain of Eritrean Catholics, explains to Vatican Insider the genesis of the pastoral letter and the role that the Church wants to play within the humanitarian Eritrean situation.

Eritrean Government blocks social networks access
BBC’s Tigrinya Service reports that from the 15 May, Eritreans cannot access social networks. All social media are strictly under government control in the country. In 2018, Eritrea had only 71,000 internet users, estimated to be 1.3% of the population. According to Africa News, the measure is aimed at preventing protests in the country, with and eye on Independence Day celebrations on May 24.

Eritrea: Court case in London brings up diplomatic tensions between Qatar and Eritrea
According to an Eritreahub article, Qatar National Bank went to a London court to try to win back $250 million from Eritrea. The London court ruled on Friday 10 May that it was not within its jurisdiction to decide whether the Qatari bank should notify Eritrea of a $250 million trial for an outstanding loan outside normal diplomatic channels. According to journalist Martin Plaut, this money is linked to Eritrea’s support for the Saudi-American war in Yemen. However, diplomatic relations between Qatar and Eritrea have been frozen since 2015. EritreaHub points out that since then, Qatar and its media house, al-Jazeera, took a much firmer stance towards Eritrea.