News Highlights: Closure of migrant reception centre, Refugees released from Tajoura detention centre, Letter on the special rapporteur mandate

In this week’s news highlights: Matteo Salvini shuts one of the largest migrant reception centre in Sicily; Sea Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete sues Matteo Salvini for defamation; Madrid plans to tax Open Arms NGO with fines for rescuing migrants; Sea Eye NGO boat allows to disembark 65 migrants in Malta; EU Commissioner Dimitri Avramopoulos urges the EU to reform migrants’ arrival process; Sudanese citizens slowly access internet on mobile phone after one-month-shutdown; No progress detected one year after peace deal between Eritrea and Ethiopia; Organizations call for support of the mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea; Eritrea: Former Sawa students of Eritrean military high school describe practices of Eritrean authorities; Refugees detained in Libyan detention centre share horrific experiences of the military strike; UN arrays emergency assistance for refugees in Tajoura; Migrants in Tajoura centre start hunger strike to be evacuated.


Italy: Migrant reception centre in Sicily is Closed by Matteo Salvini
On Tuesday 9 July, Italian Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, attended the closure of Mineo centre, one of the largest migrant reception centres in Sicily. The leader of the populist League party has always critically opposed the Mineo centre, which accommodated about 4,100 people at its peak in 2014 according to Al-Jazeera. During Tuesday’s press conference Italy’s Interior Minister said Mineo had been a centre for “drugs, prostitution and violence.” Salvini added that the closing of Mineo was “beautiful morning” reports France 24.

Italy: Sea Watch 3 boat captain sues Matteo Salvini for defamation
Following the release of Carola Rackete, captain of the NGO rescue ship Sea Watch 3, her lawyer Alessandro Gamberini announced that her client would file a complaint against the Italian Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, for defamation. Salvini reportedly called her a “pirate” and an “outlaw”, ignoring military orders and endangering lives, reports Reuters. Last week, the captain docked on the Italian island of Lampedusa in defiance of the refusal of officials to give permission. There were 40 migrants onboard. Although Rackete was released by from detention she still faces possible charges for aiding illegal immigration and disregarding public officials.

Spain: Spanish government to sanction Open Arms NGO with fines in rescuing migrants
On 27 June, the Spanish government warned the Spanish NGO Open Arms of being sanctioned with heavy fines, up to €900,000, for breaching maritime law if its humanitarian vessel keeps rescuing migrants in the rescue area off Libya, writes EuroWeekly. According to the article, Opens Arms’ ship was blocked all winter in the port of Barcelona and was only allowed to go to Greece to bring humanitarian supplies. The head of the Spanish merchant fleet, Benito Nunez Quintanilla, warned the NGO that the authorities will order the Spanish registered ship to “return to a Spanish port in order to freeze its operations if it persists” in rescuing migrants, says InfoMigrants.

Malta: Prime Minister of Malta accepts undocking of 65 migrants after Italy’s refusal
On 7 July, the Alan Kurdi ship of the NGO Sea-Eye landed in Malta to disembark 65 migrants, writes the BBC. The ship arrived on Sunday, after unsuccessfully attempting a landing in Lampedusa, where the Italian authorities ban the ship from entering Italian waters, invoking a decree signed by Matteo Salvini. The BBC reports that Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, said that after talks with the European Commission and German government all 65 migrants would be relocated to other EU member states. “We cannot be responsible for boats with people rescued from shipwrecks on board spending weeks on the Mediterranean because they can’t find a port,” Horst Seehofer, German Interior Minister, was quoted by AFP news agency.

Europe: EU Commissioner Dimitri Avramopoulos urges countries and European institutions to reform migrants’ arrival process
On 24 June the EU Commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, Dimitri Avramopoulos, tweeted that efforts to manage borders, reinforce partnerships with third countries, and to protect migrants along the migration routes have to be enhanced. According to InfoMigrants, Avramopoulos calls for a “provisional agreement” between the countries to deal with the people who come ashore. The challenges of migration could not only be the responsibility of Italy and Malta, he said. On 9 July, the Commissioner told Die Welt that “Until the new rules governing the so-called Dublin Agreement come into force, EU Member States need to work together on a preliminary sharing mechanism for rescued migrants, so that those in danger in Libya who required protection could be more quickly evacuated.” He also specified that the situation was urgent following the recent bomb attacks in Tripoli that killed at least 53 people.

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: Human rights organizations call for the mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
On 10 July, CSW, a human rights organization, together with Human Rights Concern Eritrea, published a letter to the UN member states regarding their concern over Human Rights situation in Eritrea. The letter urges the international community to support the draft resolution adopted jointly by Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands, “which renews the mandate of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.” The letter highlights that the role of the Special Rapporteur should address primarily human rights violations committed by the Eritrean regime.

Eritrea: Former Sawa students describe practices of Eritrea’s military high school
Eritrea Digest published an interview with two former students of Sawa High School, a school where young Eritreans undertake compulsory military training. The interview reveals how students are being brought to Sawa at the age 16 or 17, their experience with military training, and academic practices. Students are able to leave Sawa only if they reach sufficient academic results. One student, Mehret said “if you pass you go home, if not you stay there. It’s one of the worst feelings for the students who didn’t get a passing score.” Interviewees also described students being exposed to humiliating and degrading treatments, physical beatings, and challenging living conditions.

Eritrea & Ethiopia: The euphoria of the peace deal a year ago has now made way to disappointment and bitterness
One year after the signing of a peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the euphoria from this historical moment has evaporated, says Martin Plaut and Selam Kidane in an article for African Arguments and The Conversation.  The peace deal was signed in order to normalise diplomatic relations and to launch an economic cooperation in the region. Contrarily, one year later the borders have been re-closed without any explanation. “It appears that Eritrean authorities feared that members of the opposition might cross over from Ethiopia where they had been stationed for many years” state the authors in their article. The main remaining signs of the peace deal are the daily flight connections that are only available to a small group of Eritreans sanctioned with official clearance.

Sudan: Sudanese civilians incrementally regain internet on mobile phones
On 10 July, Al-Jazeera stated that the internet on mobile phone was slowly being restored in Sudan, after the military crackdown on protesters which interrupted the service in June. A court decision has been delivered in favour of Abdelazim al-Hassan, a lawyer who started a lawsuit challenging the blockade. Internet services were cut after government forces killed more than 100 people during a peaceful sit-in protest. Al-Jazeera points out that the internet shutdown was a governmental attempt to hide the violation against the civilians, especially because of the incriminating images and pictures of the military authorities. Last week, the military and protesters reached an agreement to form a civilian-military ruling body, which will install a new government for a transitional period of three years.

North Africa

 Libya: Refugees share horrific experiences of the attack on the detention center
The deadly attack on Tajoura detention center on 3 July 2019 killed at least 53 refugees and injured more than 130. Victims of the attack confirm that numbers are much higher than the official ones, informs The Guardian. Those who survived the bombing described the horrific scene in the detention centre as full of “bodies, blood and pieces of flesh everywhere,” reports InfoMigrants.  A Sudanese refugee was cited in The Guardian saying “I saw the hell with my eyes. I saw things that I had seen during the Darfur war.”

Libya: Refugees leave bombed Tajoura detention centre
In the aftermath of the airstrike on the Tajoura detention centre, the Government of Libya is considering closure of all migrant detention centres, reports The Guardian. Detainees from the bombed centre were released upon the decision of the authorities, said UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley for Reuters. A UNHCR’s departure facility provided shelter and emergency assistance to some 260 refugees who shall receive further medical care, water and food aid in a community day centre. Reuters further reported that about 55 of the most vulnerable refugees, including unaccompanied children and women, are listed for evacuation to a third country. As the demands on capacities of the UNHCR reach its maximum, Mr. Yaxley called upon the international community saying: “we are relying on states to come forward with evacuation places to get people out.”

Libya: Migrants start hunger strike in order to be evacuated
Prior to the evacuation of Tajura Detention Centre, the German newspaper Die Deutsche Welle reported that more than 360 people participated in a hunger strike that started over the weekend at the centre. According to the article, migrants wanted the UN to guarantee their safety after two airstrikes hit the facility last week, killing more than 50 people and wounding about 130 individuals. A migrant in contact with Al-Jazeera stated that “We haven’t eaten since yesterday morning. We are fasting… until they make a decision.” In accordance with VOA News, migrants “are in the grave”. The article exposes refugees’ desperate call for help: “Save us from the next bomb. We are survivors, but still we are targeted.” Detainees refuse to sleep indoors, because of the risk of attacks during the night, said Mahmoud Taweer, Tajoura centre’s spokesman: “many of those killed were crushed when the building’s roof collapsed”.