News highlights: Leaked EU document admits severity of conditions in Libya, Security forces in Sudan accused of crimes against humanity, Greece to close largest refugee camps

In this week’s news highlights: Security forces in Sudan accused of committing crimes against humanity in HRW report; Lifting the UN sanctions did not change economic situation in Eritrea; Referendum in Ethiopia on self-governing of ethnic minority group stirs unrest; UNHCR needs more funding to help refugees in Ethiopia; Leaked EU document admits worsening conditions and inability to monitor returns to Libya despite renewal of Libya deal; Greece closes largest refugee camps; Greece and Croatia accused of shooting at migrants and refugees at the border; Greece criminalizes rescue actions; Criticism on European border control; NGO rescue actions not a ‘pull factor’ for migrants and refugees to cross the Mediterranean Sea, says report; International community must protect people in Libya; Detainees in Libyan detention centres condemn EU policy; and Documentary on rescue action at the Mediterranean Sea.

Greater Horn of Africa

Sudan: Sudanese security forces allegedly committed crimes against humanity
Human Right Watch (HRW) published a report on the attacks of the Sudanese security forces from December 2018 until the establishment of the transitional government in September 2019. The report is based on witness interviews and interviews with family members. The report covers events during the protests against former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and the following protests demanding civilian rule. During this period, especially in June 2019, the security forces raped, abused and killed more than 100 protesters. HRW concludes these crimes were planned and “could amount to crimes against humanity”. Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at HRW, argues that “Sudan’s leaders should immediately follow up the important step of establishing a committee to investigate the crimes against protesters to ensure it meets international standards of fairness and independence”.

Eritrea: No change in economic situation, one year after the UN lifted its sanctions
The United Nations Security Council lifted its sanctions towards Eritrea shortly after the Eritrea-Ethiopia peace deal. BBC Tigrinya investigated the economic situation in Eritrea one year later. Eritrea Hub published the translated findings and reports that “the economic situation of the country has not improved at all, the standard of living in Eritrea remains very low and the quality of life continues to get worse”. The border towards Ethiopia was only open for a few months and no action was taken to demarcate the border or limit the national service. News agencies question whether Eritrea signing the peace deal was just a manoeuvre to get the UN to lift its sanctions.

Ethiopia: Sidama people to vote on self-governing rights in referendum
The Sidama people in Ethiopia, an ethnic minority group, currently celebrate the upcoming referendum, which will decide on the groups’ right to be self-governing. President Abiy Ahmed’s reforms have “emboldened ethnic groups to demand more rights”, reports Reuters. Peace and conflict studies professor at Bjørknes University in Norway, Kjetil Tronvoll, says to Reuters that this might cause “huge operational challenges for Ethiopia” if this will “inspire other vulnerable minority groups to seek regional statehood.”

Ethiopia: UNHCR is missing funding for refugees
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) states in an operational factsheet that the organisation is facing a large gap in funding for refugees in Ethiopia, as only $142 million out the requested $346,5 million has been funded, equivalent to 41% of the total amount. In the factsheet, UNHCR says that most of the funding goes to the wellbeing and protection of refugee children. In October, 700.000 people were registered as refugees in Ethiopia, 448,913 of them are children.


EU/Libya: Leaked document captures the EU admitting it cannot monitor its Libyan ‘partners’
The Guardian
reports on a leaked 13-page document of the European Union which states that the EU is unable to monitor the Libyan coast guard and that conditions for refugees and migrants, which continue to be returned to Libya with EU support, has severely deteriorated. The restricted report, written by the presidency of the EU council for a ‘high-level working group on asylum and migration,’ admits knowledge of links between detention centers and human trafficking, admits that they are not able to monitor, and states that Libyan officials are reluctant to cooperate and have failed to improve the situations in the detention centers. Despite the EU’s own damning report, the cooperation was recently extended and another 5 million EUR was added on top. The leaked document celebrates the success in reducing the numbers of arrivals, despite the documentation of gross human rights violations and the fact that the EU admits that detention of migrants and refugees is “a profitable business” for Libyan officials.

Greece: Greece will close three of its overcrowded camps and replace them with new stricter ones
Several news agencies report that Greece will close its three largest refugee camps on the islands Lesbos, Chios, and Samos. Instead, the government of Greece plans to extend and reconstruct two smaller camps with much stricter rules. The Guardian reports that “[a]sylum seekers will not be allowed to move freely in and out of the camps” and that people “will instead be locked up until they are either granted refugee status and relocated to the mainland or rejected and sent back to Turkey.” Greek Deputy Defence Minister, Alkiviadis Stefanis, has also announced stricter rules on NGOs so “[o]nly those (NGOs) that meet the requirements will stay and continue to operate in the country,” reports The Guardian.

Greece/Croatia: Alleged shootings at migrants in Greece and Croatia
According to several news agencies, migrants and refugees in both Greece and Croatia have been shot at by armed forces. According to Daily Sabah, the Greek coast guard allegedly shot at 27 asylum seekers who tried to reach the Greek Island Chios by boat. The people managed to return to Turkish waters unharmed, but report that they were shot at 100 times. In an unrelated event, the Croatian police force shot at a group of people that tried to cross the border towards Slovenia, leaving one man seriously injured. Reuters reports that “[m]any migrants have been complaining of brutality of Croatian police officers”.

Greece: Search and rescue operators face 25 years in prison
Amnesty International reports that two voluntary search and rescue operators, Sarah Mardini and Sean Binder, were arrested by Greek authorities in 2018 and now may face 25 years in prison. In a video, Sean Binder says that they were arrested on the grounds of “assisting illegal aliens into Greece, being part of a criminal organisation, money laundering, and spionage.” Amnesty International states in the video that “across Europe, people like Sarah and Sean have been targeted with criminal action… just for helping refugees” and calls for the release of the two search and rescue operators.

EU: Western countries’ usage of border control and externalisation of migration criticized
Several news agencies report that Western countries are too focused on the usage of border control and externalisation of migration. Privacy International says that EU’s policies “rel[y] on utilising modern technology, training, and equipping authorities in third countries to export the border far beyond its shores,” referring to the arrangements made by the EU with several African countries. These arrangements are accepted and celebrated by the EU as being successful solely based on the result in lowering the number of arrivals of refugees and migrants, states a report in Foreign Policy. However, the authors Professor David Keen and associate Professor Rubin Andersson argue that these policies “ha[ve] fueled abuses that undermine the EU’s global role and its avowed values.”

EU: EU urged to rethink migration policy by the Court of Auditors
The European Court of Auditors stated in a new report that the EU needs to change its assistance towards Greece and Italy as the undertaken efforts did not have the desired effect. Especially the Dublin Regulation was criticized; while under this regulation, 160.000 refugees should have been evacuated from Italy and Greece to other EU member states, less than 35.000 people were actually relocated, InfoMigrants reports. Meanwhile, the Director of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Catherine Woollard, also criticizes EU migration policy and told Euronews: “The situation in Greece is the direct result of European policy and particularly the Greek-Turkey deal.”

EU: President of the Institute for European Prospective and Security discusses challenges to migration
In an interview with SputnikNews, President of the Institute for European Prospective and Security (IPSE), Emmanuel Dupuy, expresses his thoughts on modern migration and its challenges. He argues that the new challenge of migration is that young people do not return to their home countries, which “means that a certain number of states are weakened by the fact that they are losing their human capability.” Another key challenge is that European member states have their own internal policy towards migration, Dupuy states. He argues that Europe must decide on a common framework for migration and that job creation in Africa must be a priority in order to avoid young people revolting against the states.

North Africa

Libya: NGO rescue actions at sea are not a pull factor for migrants and refugees to cross the Mediterranean Sea
The Guardian
reports on recent research, conducted by Eugenio Cusumano and Matteo Villa from the European University Institute, that shows “no valid statistical link exists between the likelihood that migrants will be rescued at sea and the number of attempted Mediterranean crossings.” The study shows that restricting NGOs rescue actions at sea is not helping to lower the number of migrants and refugees trying to cross the Mediteranean Sea.

Libya: International community needs to protect people in Libya against kidnapping
Libya is a lawless country run by different groups, making migrants and refugees vulnerable to kidnapping and extortion, state Anna Triandafyllidou and Katie Kuschminder in The Conversation. The authors say that there is a need for an “international protection regime” to protect migrants and refugees from being kidnapped and extorted in Libya. They further argue it is important to recognize the crimes against migrants and refugees in Libya as kidnapping and extortion rather than human smuggling and -trafficking. These crimes should be addressed as crimes against humanity; meaning that the international community has to act.

Libya: conditions in Libyan detention center – detainees condemn EU policy
The nation
visited several detention centers in Libya and reports on the terrible situation of the migrants and refugees there. The journalist spoke with people that were evacuated from the center in Tripoli because of the war and who have been relocated to the Dhar-el-Jebel detention center near Zintan. Those people do not feel their situation has improved as conditions stay bad and many suffer and die from tuberculosis without receiving medical support. They feel the UNHCR has forgotten about them, try to get the attention of the international community through social media and state they: “condemn EU policy on innocent detainee refugees in Libya.”

Libya: Documentary shows rescue action at the Mediterranean Sea
The documentary Lifeboat gives an insight in a search-and-rescue action 32 km from the Libyan coast. Director, Skye Fitzgerald, tells Al Jazeera that the goal of the movie is “to bring […] a story that would engender a deeper understanding of the plight of asylum seekers pursuing a humanitarian corridor across the Mediterranean.’’ According to the director, the film highlights the outcome of the EU deal with the Libyan Coast Guard. It shows the harsh situation of those fleeing their country, which is “more vital and important than ever,” he tells Al Jazeera.