News Highlights: Arrests after Ethiopia coup attempt, UN Special Rapporteur says Eritrea abuses continue, EU proposes voluntary disembarkation guidelines amid standoff

In this week’s news highlights: Deaths of Ethiopian officials in apparent coup attempt, 250 people reported arrested; UN urge Eritrea to respect the right of freedom of religion; UN Special Rapporteur Eritrea releases report; Young Eritreans continue to flee to Ethiopia; New proposal presented to Sudan’s TMC; UNAMID extended for 4 months; Libyan Coast Guard leader pictured looting migrant boat; Activists condemn EU “criminalisation of solidarity”; Sea Watch 3 states migrants are in danger, as docking is refused; European Union proposal on voluntary relocation after disembarkation; and German Church meeting discusses EU migration policy and far-right extremism.

Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: National mourning and mass arrests after a coup attempt in Ethiopia
On Saturday, June 22, a coup attempt occurred against the Amhara regional government which resulted in two parallel assassinations. In Bahir Dar, Amhara’s President, an aide and the Attorney General of the state were killed. At the same time in Addis Ababa, an army chief as well as a retired general were shot and killed. The coup comes in a context of ethnic tensions in the country. It is reported by Ethiopian news that 250 people were arrested in the week following the attack. Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy has attempted reforms in the country that have loosened their grip somewhat on local authorites, states Reuters, but this has led to challenges at local level in a bid for more power.

Eritrea: UN urge Eritrean government to respect the right of freedom and religion after it seized Catholic health facilities
In its communique of 21 June, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea has “expressed serious concern over the curtailment of Catholic Church activities in the country and the arbitrary arrest and detention of members of Orthodox and Christian congregations in recent weeks”. On 12 June, Eritrean authorities arrested priests and confiscated Catholic health centres, telling patients to return to their homes, reports Eritreahub. Those measures restrict the right of the citizens to benefit from quality health care and breach freedom of religion. In response, bishops warned about the government’s ‘unreasonable’ and ‘inappropriate’ action, states Amecea (Association of Members Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa). Moreover, Archbishop Menghesteab Tesfamariam wrote a letter on 22 June, stating that “only the Lord can console us and resolve our problems”, and dedicating the Apostles’ fast to pray over the clinic’s closure.

Eritrea: UN and NGOs condemn Eritrean government’s repression
A new report on the situation in Eritrea was published by the UN Special Rapporteur. The Special Rapporteur noted that despite the peace agreement, “the Eritrean authorities have not yet engaged in a process of domestic reforms and the human rights situation remains unchanged.” The report gives specific recommendations for progress of human rights in Eritrea, including the release the arbitrarily and unlawfully detained persons, reform of the indefinite military service, addressing the absence of rule of law and regulations for workers in private and public sectors, and freeing and expanding the international agencies in the country. Amnesty International published a briefing on June 27, entitled “Repression without borders” stating that Eritrean government officials are threatening and endangering  human rights defenders in Kenya, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. 

Eritrea: Eritrean refugees still fleeing from oppression
As InDepthNews reports on June 22, the internal situation and oppression of Eritrean people, mainly attributable to the indefinite military service, still remains. Previous reports indicate that many young Eritreans currently flee due to the increase of raids – Giffas – who force them into conscription, so that Ethiopian shelters are overflowing. According to InDepthNews, a senior official from the Ethiopian refugee agency has reported that Eritrean refugees continue to arrive in Ethiopia in large numbers, posing an enormous challenge for the Ethiopian Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA) as well as development and relief organizations working with refugees. “We have challenges of shelter, Core Relief Items (CRI), water and energy alternatives” said the official.

Sudan: New civilian-majority transition proposal in Sudan while UN postpones cancelling its mission in Darfur
On Thursday 27 June, the Transitional Military Council of Sudan received a new proposal for a civilian-majority ruling transition drafted by Ethiopia and the African Union (AU), which would create a civilian-majority governing body for a three-year transitional period. However, no mention of the composition of a legislative body has been made. Ethiopia already drafted a first proposal, but the Alliance for Freedom and Change expressed reservations, reports Aljazeera. According to the article, this shift occurs after Sudan’s ruling generals urged mediators from the AU and Ethiopia to unify their efforts and come up with a joint proposal on the country’s transition. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council decided unanimously to extend the mandate of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) for four months.

North Africa

Libya: Pictures show Libyan coast guard stealing contents off a migrant boat
The Italian newspaper Avvenire shows a photograph that reveals men searching and stealing contents off a boat from which last week 53 migrants were saved by Sea Watch. Almasard reports that one of the men is Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, or al-Bija. According to UN reports, al-Bija directs a Libyan coast guard team “consistently linked with violence against migrants and other human smugglers”. Al-Bija has also been linked to human trafficking. Al-Bija stated in an interview with Reuters: “Yes I strike migrants and this is so they sit correctly and don’t move about.” According to agreements  signed between Tripoli, Rome and Brussels, around 285 million will be provided to the Libyan Coast Guard by 2023.


European Union: European migratory policy deemed vague and criminalizing by activists
According to the New Humanitarian, an increasing amount of people are being arrested across Europe for helping migrants and refugees. This “criminalisation of solidarity” leads to the policy that only countries can decide the guilt of humanitarian agencies, and thus the prosecution for helping illegally undocumented migrants. “People [are] being prosecuted just for sort of simple acts of decency” said Liz Fekete, director of the Institute of Race Relations in Britain. The New Humanitarian highlights how the policy directive of 2002 known as the “Facilitators’ Package” leaves much space to Member States for determination of penalties for those who help migrants and refugees.

Italy: Stand-off around Sea Watch 3 boat as rescued migrants are refused disembarkation rights
42 rescued migrants and refugees remain trapped on the Sea Watch 3, which has reached the island of Lampedusa. The crew of the Sea Watch 3 indicated readiness to go to prison, as the situation on the boat was becoming untenable, they stated. The Sea Watch 3 entered Italian waters despite warnings, but was refused docking. No country has yet come forward to help. According to the Sea Watch crew, the migrants, rescued on 12 June, are in danger.

European Union: New policy proposal on temporary arrangements for disembarkation
The Council of the European Union presented a new policy proposal on the guidelines for temporary arrangements for disembarkation of refugees and migrants on the Mediterranean Sea. The proposal stresses the importance of shared efforts, voluntary contributions by Member States and EU support, covering arrivals from search and rescue operations and/or other sea arrivals of a humanitarian nature. The draft leans heavily on voluntary actions by member states and it would be non-binding. The overall idea is that a rescue mission would trigger a Temporary Arrangement (TA), where the member state that is under pressure to allow disembarkation could request another member state to voluntarily relocate the refugees and migrants, under guidelines and assistance provided by the EU and actors such as IOM and UNHCR.

Germany: Annual Kirchentag meeting criticizes European migratory policy and right-wing extremism
Protestant Churches met in Dortmund through the Kirchentag event to discuss peace and security, especially migration and far-right extremism. German chancellor, Angela Merkel declared that right-wing extremism must be fought “without any taboo“. During the discussion led by Marina Peter, minister of state Niels Annen, Professor Mirjam van Reisen, Dr. Albaqir Mukhtar from KACE and Dr. Mehari Maru, AU-IGAD strategist, discussed the journey of refugees through the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe, states Eritreahub. The speakers denounced in particular the European migration-push-back policy, which includes funding the Libyan detention centres and coast guards and blocking the rescue ships in the Mediterranean Sea. According to the speakers, this breaches European values and principles.