News Highlights: Eritrea named ‘most censored country’, Norway reconsiders Eritrean asylum requests, agreement with Rwanda on Libya evacuations

In this week’s news highlights: Bishops criticize the seizure of Eritrean schools; Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and Eritrean President Afwerki meet; Eritrea tops list of most censored countries in report; Humanitarian aid suspended in Gambela, Ethiopia after two aid workers died; New Eritrean representative gives credentials to the UN; Ugandan refugee camp’s alternative approach; Announcement of Refugee Summit in Addis Ababa; Turkey pressures the EU for more money; Undocumented refugees and migrants do not access social services; Norwegian government reviews asylum status Eritrean refugees celebrating with Eritrean regime; Teams of rescue ships in political dilemma; MOU on evacuating refugees from Libya to Rwanda; Interior Minister of Libya meets with INTERPOL; and thousands of people die on African migration routes.

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: Bishops condemn attack on religious Eritrean schools
Eritrean bishops wrote a letter to the Eritrean Ministry of Education, criticizing the Eritrean government’s seizure of schools run by religious institutions. The criticism not only focuses on the attack on Catholic schools, but the bishops also condemn the actions carried out against Orthodox and Muslim schools as a show of solidarity. The bishops state in their letter that the attack on schools is a crime against the people of Eritrea, as these schools highly contribute to the education of Eritrean people. In addition, an Eritrean pastor resettled in Australia recounted details of torture, hard labour, discrimination and starvation endured by Christian prisoners in Eritrea.

Eritrea/UAE: Eritrean President Afwerki and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed discuss further cooperation
On September 9, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, met with Eritrean President, Isaias Afwerki in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The leaders discussed regional and international developments, bilateral cooperation as well as possible ways to strengthen the relation between both countries in order “to benefit their respective peoples” reports The National.

Eritrea: New report names Eritrea the most censored country in the world
The Committee to Protect Journalists
(CPJ) reported that Eritrea is the world’s most censored country as the government systematically controls and monitors internet use of its citizens. North Korea is ranked second, followed by Turkmenistan. The CPJ’s report explains that after the shut down of all independent media in 2001 the government has monopolized the broadcasts and has since imprisoned at least 16 journalists without any legal trial. Amnesty International has started a campaign on behalf of the journalists and other prisoners of conscience, in which they ask Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki to “release those persons who ’disappeared’ into your prisons eighteen years ago”. Meanwhile, Eritrea was accepted as Observer State in a Financial Action Task Force group of the Council of Ministers of the Eastern and Southern Anti-Money Laundering Group.

Ethiopia: Humanitarian aid is put on hold after two aid workers got killed
Humanitarian support, provided by several organizations including the UN, has been adjourned in Gambela region of western Ethiopia after two aid workers died on September 6th. The car with two staff members of Action Against Hunger, a US-based aid group, was attacked on the way to the Nguenyyiel Refugee Camp. Steven Were Omamo, the UN humanitarian coordinator to Ethiopia, told the Voice of America that aid operation will be suspended until the situation in the region is stabilized.

Eritrea: New Eritrean ambassador presents credentials to the UN
Sophia Tesfamariam Yohannes, one of the most prolific (social) media supporters of the Eritrean regime, was appointed as the new Permanent Representative of Eritrea to the United Nations in July 2019. Sophia Tesfamariam has presented her credentials to UN Secretary-General António Guterres on 6 September. During her meeting with Guterres, she submitted her letter of credentials and discussed the possible reinforcement of good relations between the State of Eritrea and the UN.

Uganda: Refugee camp Bidi Bidi aims to improve lives of both locals and refugees
In one of Uganda’s largest refugee camps, Bidi Bidi camp, alternative methods are used to improve the lives of both the local citizens and refugees from South-Sudan. Voice Of America explains that the funding is utilized differently, so that everyone benefits from the money. Uganda employs some of the international funding on local amenities, while refugees are given small pieces of land for them to harvest their own crops, states Voice Of America. This method has resulted in the camp being turned into a little community, where refugees prefer to live rather than in their home country, as many fear the ongoing reports of violence in South Sudan.

Africa: Sign-up details for refugee event on 16-19 October
The Uganda-based Refugee-Led Organizations Network (RELON) is organizing a Summit from 16 – 19 October 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with a goal to build the network and to provide a platform for refugees living in Africa to advocate for refugee participation and self-representation. The theme of the Summit is “The role of refugee leaders in promoting and advocating for Refugee participation and self-representation.” Signing up for this event can be done using the link below.


Greece: Turkish President Erdogan demands more money to prevent refugees coming to the EU
Several news agencies report that Turkish President, Tayyip Erdoğan, has been insisting on getting greater financial support from the European Union in order to retain Syrian refugees in Turkey. As put forward by Euractiv, President Erdoğan threatened that Turkey would send refugees to Greece if his financial request is not fulfilled. The Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has met this request with criticism by saying that “Mr Erdogan must understand that he cannot threaten Greece and Europe in an attempt to secure more resources to handle the refugee (issue)”.

Europe: Refugees and migrants do not use social services due to lack of documentation
Many undocumented refugees and migrants in Europe do not and cannot use available social services, such as health and emergency services, due to lack of documentation and concerns of “being deported”, as put forward by the director of the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, Michelle LeVoy. Horizon explains that without data on undocumented migrants and refugees, it is difficult to measure the appropriate help that is needed.

Norway: Asylum applications of 150 Eritreans revised
The Norwegian government is taking action against the Eritrean refugees that were present during the 25th anniversary celebration of the Eritrean indefinite national service. The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration has been asked to reconsider 150 cases of asylum applications of the Eritrean refugees that were granted asylum status and residence permit in the past. Because of their participation at the celebration, the ground on which their asylum status was granted is being disputed.

Italy/Malta: Team of rescue-ships caught in political dilemma when saving lives
Rescue-ship operations are caught in a political dilemma increasingly often when trying to dock and disembark in ports of Italy and Malta, reports InfoMigrants. Such rescue operations are increasingly resulting in investigations by authorities as well as the confiscation of boats. Last week, Claus-Peter Reisch, the captain of the Eleonore rescue vessel, was accused of not following official guidelines set by the Libyan Coast Guard and acting against international laws while docking at one of the Sicilian ports. Reisch has been subjected to pay a fine of 300.000 euro for his decision to disembark without permission of the authorities, due to the emergency situation on board of the ship. Meanwhile, it is reported that Italy, Malta, France and Germany are in the process of negotiating a new relocation plan.

North of Africa

Libya/Rwanda: Evacuation of refugees from Libya to Rwanda is criticized
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports that the government of Rwanda, the UNHCR, and the African Union signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ which will facilitate evacuation of refugees from Libya to Rwanda. A similar approach to the Emergency Transit Mechanism in Niger to take in refugees from Libya is envisioned. In the New York Times, Judith Sunderland from Human Rights Watch criticizes this approach, saying: “The Niger program has suffered from a lot of setbacks, hesitation, very slow processing by European and other countries, very low numbers of actual resettlements.” According to Sunderland “[t]here’s not much hope then that the exact same process in Rwanda would lead to dramatically different outcomes.” However, the need for evacuation from Libya remains great, as abuse is ongoing.

Libya: Interior Minister of Libya discusses human trafficking concerns with INTERPOL
Libya’s Interior Minister, Fathi Bashagh, discussed concerns related to people smuggling, human trafficking, terrorism and law enforcement capacity building with INTERPOL officials. INTERPOL states that: “Information sharing via INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau in Tripoli on Da’esh affiliates and international syndicates behind people smuggling towards the Mediterranean was at the core of the visit.” Both parties agreed to undertake joint efforts to follow such groups to other regions.

North Africa: Thousands of people have lost their lives on African migration routes since 2014
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) states that at least 7,400 people have lost their lives on African migration routes to Europe and the Arabian peninsula since 2014. IOM states that this suggests “African migrants are perishing at a rate of about 25 persons per week – or about 1,300 annually – on the African continent, even before embarking on perilous sea journeys to Europe or the Arabian Peninsula”. The numbers only include disclosed deaths that have been observed by people, which implies that the number in fact could be much higher.