News Highlights: Sudan forms transitional sovereign council, sweeping violations in Greece, Churches criticize excommunication of Patriarch Antonios

This week’s news highlights will cover news over the month of August: Sudan forms transitional sovereign council; UNHCR completes investigation on bribes for resettlement; Orthodox Churches criticize excommunication of Patriarch Antonios of Eritrea; New report on national service and education in Eritrea; Ethiopians face violence and trafficking in Saudi Arabia and Yemen; Ethiopia-Eritrea road to open; 40 people feared dead after boat capsizes off Libyan coast; Europe fears increase of people fleeing Libya; Tunisia sends back migrants; NGO report denounces human rights violations in Greece; 900.000 asylum seekers in limbo in EU; and increasingly risky crossings to the UK.


Greater Horn of Africa

Sudan: Transitional sovereign council is formed
On 21 August, the new transitional sovereign council was formed in Sudan after months of negotiations and violent repression of protests. The 11-member council has five military representatives, five civilian representatives and one judicial person chosen by both sides. The council is responsible for overseeing a three-year transition to democracy in the country. The new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was set to pick a new cabinet of ministers on Wednesday 28 August, but delayed the decision, citing the need for more time. The transitional sovereign council faces many challenges, including economic reforms and peace with armed groups.

Sudan: UNHCR staff member solicited bribes for resettlement, shows UNHCR probe
The New Humanitarian
reports that an internal UN Refugee Agency probe found that a Sudanese staff member solicited bribes in the resettlement programme. Disciplinary action was taken against the staff member, according to the UNHCR. However, refugees and staff members of UNHCR interviewed by The New Humanitarian fear the problem is much more pervasive in Sudan and in other countries. Witnesses are afraid to speak up due to fear of retaliation; such retaliation was also reported by the refugees in Sudan who first called attention to the issue.

Eritrea: Calls to rescind the decision to excommunicate Eritrean Patriarch Antonios
The Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches, which includes the Orthodox Churches of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Egypt, Syria, Armenia and India, published a letter of protest to the Eritrean Church over the excommunication of Patriarch Antonios. Patriarch Antonios, the 90-year-old Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, was excommunicated several weeks ago. He had been under house arrest since May 2007 due to his refusal to excommunicate members of the church on order of the Eritrean government. The letter by the Standing Conference stated that the excommunication “was carried out by government fiat without a formal ecclesiastical trial at which His Holiness might offer a defense against the charges offered.” Although the letter was already published at the end of July, it received little coverage. Christian news website Eternity reports that 150 Eritrean Christians have been reportedly arrested since June 2019.

Eritrea: Report – National service restricting education of young Eritreans
A report by Human Rights Watch has highlighted the effect of the indefinite national service on the education of young people. It reports on forcible conscription, including of children, forced labour and severe mistreatment during the militarized education and military training in Sawa. Many take drastic measures, such as failing school or escaping Eritrea, to avoid conscription.

Ethiopia/Saudi Arabia: Ethiopians face violence in Saudi Arabia and human trafficking in Yemen
A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that Ethiopians being deported from Saudi Arabia face violence and abuse in prison and during arrests, including beatings, shooting, unhygienic conditions and humiliation.  The abuse is so severe that some deportees die upon return to Addis Ababa. Around 300.000 Ethiopians have been forcibly deported from Saudi Arabia since 2017, according to numbers from the International Organization for Migration. In addition, Ethiopians attempting to reach Saudi Arabia face the risk of torture and extortion for ransom by human trafficking networks in Yemen, states HRW.

Ethiopia/Eritrea: New road to be inaugurated
A new road from Eritrea to Ethiopia will be inaugurated in September 2019 around the Ethiopian new year on 11 September, states the Ethiopian Ministry of Infrastructure. The road building projects are executed by Eritrea, including through using indefinite national service labour, and have been supported by the European Union’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.

North of Africa

Libya: At least 40 people feared dead as boat capsizes
At least 40 people are missing, feared dead, as a boat bound for Europe capsized off the coast of Libya. The Libyan coast guard stated they had rescued 60 people. Alarm Phone stated they had received a distress call from the boat and that up to a hundred people were on board.

Libya: Europe unprepared for possible increase of people fleeing Libya
According to Buzzfeed, the latest internal report on Operation Sophia, the European Union fears that according to estimates by the International Organisation for Migration, around 300.000 people may flee Libya if the violence continues. The EU states that it may be forced to act in this case, as the Libyan coast guard would be overstretched. However, this is complicated by the fact that operation Sophia currently has no ships and its mandate is set to end in September, if it is not extended. Meanwhile, Buzzfeed reports, the detention centres that Libya promised to close in the beginning of August – Misrata, Tajoura and Khoms – remain open.

Tunisia: Migrants sent back to Libya
In the beginning of August, InfoMigrants reported that two groups of migrants numbering 33 Ivorian and 20 Sudanese people were sent back to Libya after crossing the border with Tunisia. In a video on Facebook, the people stated that they had been left in the desert without food or water. More people are now entering Tunisia from Libya, fleeing the insecurity of the ongoing civil war.


Greece: NGO report finds evidence of sweeping human rights violations
The NGO Refugee Rights Europe and partner organisations published a report in light of Greece’s review as a party of the Convention Against Torture. The report focuses on the treatment of asylum seekers on the islands of Chios, Lesvos and Samos, and states that violations were found “that could amount to cruel and unusual treatment and torture.” Violations found include reports of ill treatment by authorities, gender-based violence, overcrowding, lack of access to lawyers, unhygienic conditions and lack of access to medical care.

Europe: Around 900.000 asylum seekers waiting for a decision on their application
The Guardian
reports on the latest EU statistics, which show that around 900.000 asylum seekers in Europe are waiting for their claims to be processed. Factors include an increased number of rejections – almost double the number of three years ago -, which result in long appeal processes.

France: NGO captain refuses medal in protest of anti-immigrant policies
Former captain of rescue ship Juventa, Pia Kemp, refused to accept a medal from Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. In a Facebook post, Kemp explained her considerations, citing the repression of demonstrations and criminalization of those that protect the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers. “We do not need medals. We do not need authorities who decide who is a ‘hero’ and who is ‘illegal’,” stated Kemp.

UK: PM Boris Johnson threatens to return those that successfully arrive across the channel
Attempts to reach the United Kingdom from France through increasingly dangerous routes, such as by boats across the channel, has increased. According to campaigners cited by the Independent, the increase is due to strict policies in Calais and around Dunkirk. PM Boris Johnson threatened to send back anyone who successfully made the crossing.