News Highlights: Eritrea and Sudan to collaborate on security, Eritrean political prisoners still detained, Alleged human traffickers arrested in Italy

In this week’s news highlights: Eritrean prisoners of conscience still in prison after 18 years; Eritrea and Sudan to collaborate on security; Eritrean political expert argues EU does not recognize abnormality of Eritrean regime; More child soldiers in South Sudan despite peace deal; Italian officials accused of being responsible for the deaths of 268 refugees; Rescue ship allowed to dock in Italy; Council: EU member states should ‘deliver on commitments’ on human trafficking; Council of the European Union implements revised torture guidelines; Three men accused of rape and other crimes in Libyan detention center; 98 refugees evacuated from Libya to Italy; Migrants in Libyan detention centers anxious about future after evacuation to Rwanda; and the number of refugee growth is outpacing the world’s population growth rate.

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: Eritrean political prisoners are still in prison after 18 years
This week marks 18 years since 11 politicians and 17 journalists were arrested in 2001 after requesting Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki to hold elections and criticizing the government’s policy. They were sentenced without any judicial procedure and until today, their families do not know their whereabouts neither if they are alive. Amnesty International states: “Like hundreds of other prisoners […], these 28 men and women are prisoners of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally.” President Afwerki’s Advisor, Yemane Gebreab, argues in a controversial interview with Geeskaafrica, that these prisoners were military commanders during the war with Ethiopia. Gebreab accuses them of conspiring with the enemy and holds these prisoners responsible for “the death of thousands of Eritreans”. For Gebreab’s claims, Eritrean opposition and experts point out, there is no evidence.

Eritrea/Sudan: Eritrea and Sudan pledge to work together in a number of fields
During an official visit of Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki to Sudan, the governments of both countries pledged to enhance their inter-state cooperation. According to China Global Television Network Africa, the mutual collaboration between the countries will specifically regard the areas of defense, military, and security, which entails “exchange of information, capacity building and combat of organized cross-border crimes”. The agreement is yet to be enacted.

Eritrea: Fourth part of interview states institutions fail to act upon the abnormality of Eritrean regime
On September 17, Asmarino published the fourth part of an interview series with political expert Yosief Ghebrehiwet in which he argues that the EU, UN and UNESCO are harming the Eritrean population as they do not recognize the true objectives of the Eritrean regime and the abnormality of the state. According to Ghebrehiwet, these institutions should not treat Eritrea as if it is any normal country. He further claims that the EU’s financial aid should be used to pressure for internal change in the country, the UN needs to keep its sanctions in place and UNESCO should stop normalizing the country and take Asmara off the World Heritage List.

South Sudan: Number of child soldiers in South Sudan increases despite peace deal
On September 16, United Nations observers said that a growing number of children in South Sudan is forcibly recruited as soldiers, even though the government and rebel groups signed a peace deal. This increases the fear of the internal conflict starting up again. The chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, Yasmin Sooka, said to Reuters: “Ironically, the prospect of a peace deal has accelerated the forced recruitment of children, with various groups now seeking to boost their numbers before they move into the cantonment sites”. As the November deadline to form a unity government in South Sudan is approaching, but several deadlock issues remain to be resolved.


EU: Commissioner for Human Rights calls for new approach to stop human trafficking
On September 12, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, encouraged the member states to enhance protection of victims of human trafficking and “deliver on commitments”. The commissioner stated: “actions taken by member states to combat smuggling and prevent irregular migration may be making it more difficult to fight human trafficking and to identify and protect its victims.” Mijatovic argued that more legal and safe channels for migrants and refugees to access Europe can help to prevent human trafficking. She laments that currently “Examples of migration policies impacting on the rights of victims of human trafficking are numerous.”

Italy: Italian officials accused of being responsible for refugees and migrants dying at sea
Two Italian officials “face multiple charges of manslaughter and negligence” for the deaths of 268 people after a shipwreck in 2013, reports Aljazeera. As put forward by the newspaper, the officials waited with answering emergency calls, while the boat sank. The trial will scrutinize whether their hesitance resulted in the deaths of the people on the boat. The trial will begin December 3rd.

Italy: The new Italian government permits a rescue ship to dock in Lampedusa
On September 14, the new Italian government allowed a French rescue ship to dock after saving 82 refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. This seems to be a turn around after the ‘closed-door policy’ introduced by the previous Italian government, however, the head of the 5-star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, said: “the Ocean Viking was only being given access to the southern island of Lampedusa because other European states had agreed to take in many of those on board”. In De Standaard, migration-expert Matteo Villa claims it is too soon to conclude that the Italian harbors are open again for all rescue boats.

EU: Council of the European Union approves revised guidelines on torture
The Council of the European Union has “adopted its conclusions on the revised Guidelines on EU policy towards third countries on torture or cruel forms of treatment or punishment”, reports New Europe. The European Union has therefore accepted an agreement saying that all means of torture and similar practice must be prevented. The revised guidelines include a “wide range of tools that can be used in their engagement with third countries.”

North of Africa

Libya/Italy: Authorities arrest men accused of rape and torture in Libyan detention centre
Three men were arrested in Sicily after being accused of trafficking, raping and torturing dozens of migrants and refugees in Zawiya detention center in the north-west of Libya. The prosecutors collected statements from several refugees who said they recognized their former kidnappers at a migrant registration center in Italy. The Irish Times, having refugee informants in Zawiya detention center, reports that the refugees support the arrests but also state that the refugee’s situation remains unchanged: “People are still tortured, beaten, [made into] slaves and sold like a goat”, affirmed a Libya detainee for The Irish Times.

Libya/Italy: UNHCR evacuates 98 refugees from Libya to Italy
On September 13, 98 refugees, including 52 unaccompanied children, were evacuated from a detention center in Libya to Italy. “Such evacuations are a lifeline for the most vulnerable refugees living in detention centres and urban areas, who are in dire need of safety and protection,” according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). However, UNHCR Chief of Mission for Libya, Jean-Paul Cavalieri, highlights that this evacuation only helps a small amount of people while there are “thousands who need such help’’. Direct evacuations from Libya to Italy are done on the basis of humanitarian visas, which many EU member states have not (yet) made available.

Libya: People in detention centres in Libya feel dubious about new relocation deal
The new deal between Libya and Rwanda is causing uncertainty amongst people living in detention centres in Libya, according to The Irish Times. Rwanda is expected to accept 500 refugees and migrants, but while some people in the centres welcome the new deal, others are skeptical. They fear that the evacuation process will take time, and that people will be forced to linger in the centres. Others are doubtful as to whether they can obtain a working permit and if they will be allowed to resettle in other countries. However, many are pragmatic: “We have been living in hell for over three years now and want out.”

Increase in number of refugees and migrants in the world
As put forward by UN News, the number of refugees and migrants in the world has risen to 272 million. The organisation states that this number is “outpacing the growth rate of the world’s population”. Compared to the year 2000, the number of international migrants was 174 million, which shows an increase of nearly 100 million people in less than two decades.