News Highlights: Letter criticises EU migration policy ahead of EU Summit, Italy’s anti-rescue decree adopted, Eritrea targets Catholic health facilities

In this week’s news highlights: Letter – EU migration policy contributes to human rights abuses; Italy adopts anti-rescue decree; Refugee accused of being trafficker faces 14 years in jail; Eritrean refugees from Switzerland on streets of Belgium; Sudan’s TMC seen as responsible for abuses – protests continue; Eritrea and Sudan agreement to reopen shared border; Eritrean Catholic health facilities shut down; Eritrean campaign urges transition; EU accused of fostering slave-like conditions through its project in Eritrea; UN Secretary-General calls enforcement of Libyan arms embargo; and Libyan Government of National Accord proposes steps towards peace.


European Union: Letter urges EU to change its external migration policy in accordance with EU values
More than twenty African, European and international organizations have signed a letter condemning the EU’s external migration policies. The letter is directed at the European Council President Donald Tusk and appeals for “an EU external policy framework based on European values”. The letter states that policies and platforms such as the EU-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative (Khartoum Process) have led to strengthening of unaccountable militias and regimes, whereas they have neglected civil society participation. The letter further states that an increasing amount of legal challenges to the EU and EU member states migration policies “demonstrate a widespread and deep concern that the EU has itself become complicit with the alleged crimes committed by third parties.” The letter was sent ahead of an EU Summit on 20 and 21 June, which is set to include migration as a key topic.

Italy: Italian government introduces new rules that could fine rescuers up to 50.000 Euro
The Italian government has adopted a decree proposed by Italian interior minister Salvini, which punishes NGOs that are engaged in rescue operations on the Mediterranean Sea. The decree has been described as by humanitarian aid groups as  a “declaration of war against the NGOs who are saving lives at sea”. “The new decree is threatening legal principles and the duty of saving lives,” says Claudia Lodesani, president of the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Italy, saying“it is like fining ambulances for carrying patients to the hospital.” The decree has already caused trouble for the Sea Watch 3, preventing 40 rescued people from disembarking.

Italy: Refugee accused of being human trafficker faces 14 years in prison
Italian prosecutors have demanded 14 years in prison and a 50,000 fine for the man they accuse of being notorious human trafficker, Medhanie Yehdego Mered. Italian prosecutors presented a 699-page folder accused to the court. The defendant has stated that his real name is Medhanie Tesfamariam Behre. Radio France Internationale wrote an article on the history of the case, noting that not only is there a lack of witnesses against the man accused, but also there is scientific evidence in the form of a DNA test and witnesses, including family members of the trafficker, testifying that the man accused is not Medhanie Yehdego Mered. The accused indicates that he is a refugee from Eritrea, living in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, when he was snatched from a cafe in an international police swoop.

Switzerland/Belgium: Eritrean asylum seekers fleeing Switzerland end up on the streets in Belgium
Swiss authorities have rejected several hundred asylum claims of Eritrean asylum seekers who are now obliged to return back to Eritrea. The sentence of the Swiss Federal Administrative Court from July 2018 on one side recognizes that Eritreans are forced into the national service, where they are forced to work under poor conditions, but on the other side, the court stated: “this reason alone is not sufficient to prevent deportation from a legal point of view.” The Swiss court has been convinced that the treatment during the military service, “it is not established that it is so widespread that anyone performing it would be exposed to the serious risk of suffering such attacks.” Instead, refugees end up on the streets in Belgium, trying to escape towards the United Kingdom in hopes of avoiding return to Eritrea.

Great Horn of Africa

Sudan: TMC blamed for protest crackdown and sexual violence
The Sudanese Transitional Military Council (TMC) is being held responsible for the protest crackdown in Khartoum, committed among others by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The European Foreign Affairs Council put the blame for the violence against protestors with the TMC, stating: “it is clear that the responsibility lies with the Transitional Military Council (TMC) as the authority in charge of protecting the population.” According to a video of Ayin network, the RSF troops, also known as the Janjaweed, beat and attacked the Sudanese population in Khartoum’s suburbs on 3 and 4 June, leaving many injured and untreated civilians. Moreover, BBC News states that Sudanese security forces also raped people “as they dispersed pro-democracy protesters camped outside the military’s headquarters”. Despite the internet shutdown, Sudanese opposition indicates that it is not silenced.

Sudan and Eritrea: Agreement on border reopening
On June 16, Sudan and Eritrea have made an agreement to reopen their borders and facilitate the movement of peoples across the borders, writes Sudan Vision. Sudanese Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah El-Burhan (Head of the Transitional Military Council) and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki met in the Eritrean capital of Asmara. According to the article, the two leaders assert the deep historical and humanitarian ties between the two peoples, and declared the willingness to overcome the “bitterness of the past” and cooperate together. Special Envoy Vincent Cochetel fears it may lead to increased movement of people towards Libya and Egypt.

Eritrea: Eritrean Catholic church’s health facilities seized and priest arrested by the government
On June 13, the congress of Eritrean Bishops wrote a public letter to the Eritrean Minister of Health, Amna Nurhussein. According to CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide), the Eritrean government seized and closed 22 health facilities owned by the Catholic Church, and arrested Orthodox Priests. Those measures occurred within a 24 hour period from 12-13 June and target faith communities, after Eritrean bishops issued a pastoral letter in April for “resolute and historical change”, reports CSW. According to the letter of the four Bishops, “most of the health centers are inside our monasteries.  […] To confiscate our properties is to affect the continuity of the Church: it puts in jeopardy the mission of the Church […].” Despite ongoing human rights abuses in the country, Eritrea and Ethiopia were jointly awarded the Luxembourg Peace Award this week. 

Eritrea: Eritrean social media campaign calls for the end to President Afwerki’s regime
A movement driven by Eritreans in the diaspora and in Eritrea aims for a democratic transition in Eritrea. According to EastAfricaMonitor, the movement aims to expose the repressive regime which is often qualified as “Africa’s North Korea” by  Western media. A group of 100 leading African journalists, politicians and activists signed an open letter to Isaias urging him to embark on political reform. The Eritrean social media campaign is partly inspired by the recent ousting of former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, writes Aljazeera. This movement forms part of media campaigns such as #Yiakl – or #Enough – and #HappyBirthdayCiham, reports Aljazeera.

Eritrea: “The EU is indirectly funding and enabling forced labour in slave-like conditions”
An opinion article on Europahead criticised the European Union’s support to the Eritrean regime. The UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council and Special UN rapporteurs have documented the severe human rights violations in the country: this includes allegations of involvement in human trafficking, the control of economic and cultural activities by the state and the mandatory indefinite national service. Yet, the EU has promised to invest 20 million into the country to improve roads. The EU admits that the roads will be built using the conscripts from the national service, described as forced labour by the UN. “While compliance with Human Rights to European standards can be weighted, compliance with the most basic ones, such as forced labour and slavery can never be traded,” according to the article.

North Africa

Libya: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urges countries to implement  Libya arms embargo
On June 10, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution renewing the arms embargo against Libya for another year. The UN Secretary-General urged all UN member states to enforce the embargo against Libya, which covers illegal weapon transfers by sea, air and land. UN experts monitoring the arms embargo, states, and regional organisations “have all reported on illicit transfers of arms and related material into and out of Libya”, stated Guterres.

Libya: Fayez al-Sarraj proposes a peaceful solution to the conflict
The head of Libya’s UN-recognised government, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, proposed a “Libyan congress”, aimed to create a peaceful solution to the conflict. “I present today a political initiative for a way out of crisis. First, an all-inclusive Libyan congress to be convened, with the coordination of the international players … whereby we pave the way for building the state on the rule of law and democracy,” stated al-Sarraj. Al-Sarraj’s government holds the west, while General Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) holds the east and the south of the country.The UNCR evacuated 131 more refugees from Libya this week, stating that the conflict showed “no sign of diminishing.”