News Highlights: UNHCR’s operation in Libya investigated, Operation Sophia extended, First evacuations from Libya to Rwanda

In this week’s news highlights: UNHCR in Libya accused of neglect and mismanagement in 4-part investigation; First group of people evacuated from Libya to Rwanda; Returnees flee after arrival in Libya; IOM urges closure of Tajoura detention centre; New Country of Origin Information on Eritrea confirms no change in human rights; RSF accused of pressuring the European Union; Bad conditions at Shagarab Camp in Sudan; Belgian and Eritrean Catholic Church representatives meet in Belgium; Three Jehovah’s Witnesses imprisoned for 25 years in Eritrea; Operation Sophia continues for an additional six months; Two people die in a fire at Greek refugee camp; Greece calls for help from other EU member states and Frontex; and Germany strengthens random checks at borders.

North Africa

Libya: UNHCR in Libya is accused of negligence and poor management
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Libya has been put under a spot light by its former staff member who disclosed practices of “corruption, mismanagement and incompetence”, reports Euronews. In a four-part long investigative story, journalists Sara Creta and Lillo Montalto Monella reveal striking realities from detention centres in Libya. They describe a “chaotic infrastructure” of the UNHCR as well as questionable money transactions. Alongside the testimony of the former UNHCR staff, they bring forward evidence about the militia network which controls the detention centres where migrants are tortured, being sold and extorted for money. Refugees and migrants confirmed that out of desperation they “bribed their way into Libya’s notorious detention centres in an effort to speed up their asylum claims”.

Libya/Rwanda: First group of refugees evacuated to Rwanda
The UN refugee agency reports that the first 66 migrants and refugees were evacuated from the Libyan detention center to the transit center in Rwanda on 26 September. The Mixed Migration Center (MMC) welcomes these evacuations, but also highlights that this does not solve the issues on the long term. The organization is concerned about Rwanda’s human rights track record and questions the political aspects of the deal. MMC argues that “[t]his expansion of externalizing borders seems to further mainstream a new normal”. According to the center, the policy does not stop migration flows and does not help the people it claims to help.

Libya: Returnees flee after interception at sea
On Sunday 29, a group of 71 migrants and refugees that were intercepted at sea by Libyan coast guards fled after they were brought back to Libya. A navy official said no force was used during the interception and that the authorities did not try to return them to detention centers. Nevertheless, coastguard official Ayoub Qassem, said to Reuters that “the migrants had been released after failed attempts to move them to a detention center”.

Libya: IOM urges the closure of Tajoura detention centre
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) states in an official press release that while the Tajoura detention centre was wrecked in July 2019, the accommodation is still used to detain migrants and refugees deported back to Libya. The organization further accentuates the need for closing the facility in Libya to ensure that such incidents will not re-occur.

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: European Asylum Support Office releases new report on Eritrea
On 30 September, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) released a new report on Country of Origin Information on Eritrea, as an update to a previous report on the same issue. The publication covers areas of the indefinite national service of Eritrea, legal and illegal ways of exiting the country and aspects of voluntary and forced returns to the country. EASO declares in the report that peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia “has not yet led to any significant policy changes.” EASO acknowledges that punishment for leaving the country illegally remains intact. It is stated in the report that returned citizens are imprisoned and may be subjected to torture.

Sudan: RSF allegedly putting pressure on EU for support
InfoMigrants reports that border guards in Sudan arrested 138 African migrants who attempted to cross the border with Libya. According to Jerome Tubiana, a researcher and journalist covering Sudan, this is a way to put pressure on the EU which has stopped funding the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the controversial military group which plays a large role in guarding the borders of Sudan. “‘They [RSF] are trying to tell her that if she [the EU] wants fewer migrants on her territory, she must support the RSF because they are the only ones to know this dangerous region,” says Tubiana.

Sudan: Poor conditions at Shagarab Camp in Sudan
An official working in the Sudanese refugee camp Shagarab, reports on the conditions in the camp and the lack of progress on registration. None of the 110 refugees that were interviewed by staff members have received refugee status documents, and thousands are on the waiting list. “Reports from the camp reveal that the staff and management of the camp are less willing to facilitate the process and provide effective and efficient services to the refugees,” Kidane states in a Facebook message. He calls upon the international community to take responsibility and to intervene in the situation.

Eritrea/Belgium: Eritrean Arch Bishop visits Belgium
On September 30, the Archbishop of Asmara and President of the Catholic Church of Ge’ez-rite, Mgr Menghesteab Tesfamariam, met with Cardinal Jozef De Kesel and Mgr Herman Cosijns, the President and Secretary General of the Belgian Conference of Bishops. Here the Belgian representatives were officially thanked for their support to the Eritrean Catholic Church following the closure of the catholic health centres and confiscation of religious schools.

Eritrea: Three Jehovah’s Witnesses supporters have been imprisoned for 25 years without trial
Three supporters of the religious group, Jehovah’s Witnesses, have been held in prison for 25 years for not participating in the national service of Eritrea. Newsweek explains that the men have “never come before the court”, because “formal charges were never filled”. The men have been asked to renounce their religion in order to gain freedom, but did not do so. According to the newspaper, many religious activities are frowned upon by the Eritrean government despite the Eritrean constitution officially recognizing freedom of religion. The three are part of many prisoners of conscience in Eritrea.


Europe: Operation Sophia will continue for an additional six months
In an official press release, the Council of the European Union confirms that the EU will persist on using Operation Sophia as a part of the inter-state agreement with the Libyan Coast Guard for an additional six months. The press release further says that “the Operation’s naval assets will remain temporarily suspended” as EU member states still seek to develop a framework for disembarkation. The official aim of the operation is to combat smuggling and trafficking of migrants, gathering of information as well as training of the Libyan coast guard.

Greece: Two people die in a fire at Greek refugee camp Moria
On September 29, two fires broke out on the Greek Island Lesbos, in and nearby the Moria refugee camp. The UN Refugee Agency confirmed that a woman and a child, living in the Moria camp, lost their lives when they got trapped in a burning container. “This tragedy is the direct result of a brutal policy that is trapping 13,000 people in a camp made for 3,000”, said the Medecins Sans Frontieres field director to Reuters. Greece aims to relocate at least 3.000 people to mainland camps by the end of October.

Greece: Calls for the broader EU assistance towards Greece, while Greece ask for help from Frontex
The Greek government and the US ambassador in Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt, encourage EU member states to strengthen their assistance towards Greece in terms of migration. Pyatt explains that supporting the migrants and refugees coming to Greek shores “is not a Greece-Turkey problem. This is an EU-Turkey problem and it needs to be shared by all 27 members of the European Union”, reports Ekathimerini. On 30 September, Greece pledged for further help from the EU’s border agency, Frontex, to manage the amount of people arriving at the shores.

Germany: Police control intensifies at all German borders.
The German interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, is planning on raising the amount of random searches at all German borders in order to keep migrants from moving between EU member states, Deutsche Welle reports. Earlier in September, the Minister already increased the controls at the Austrian-German border and extended this strategy until spring 2020. Because “[s]ecurity begins at the borders,” Seehofer told Bild. However, this move sends a “dangerous, anti-European signal,” according to Irene Mihalic, Green party spokeswoman for domestic affairs.