News Highlights: Italy civil court rules return of refugees is illegal, UNHCR accused of starving refugees and migrants in Libya, Eritrean artist attacked in Ethiopia

In this week’s news highlights: UNHCR phases out food supply Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli; Libya will not receive boats from France; Sahara migration routes becoming more dangerous; Italian civil court rules refugee return to Libya is illegal; Italian coast guard and navy officials to stand trial; EU allegedly breaks law in external funding; MEPs urge to improve the situation for refugees in Greece; Member states need consensus on responsibility sharing; migrant farmworkers in Europe exploited; Tourists help stranded refugees; Attack on Eritrean artist; Prime minister of Sudan new chair IGAD; And New programme to help refugees move out of camps in Ethiopia.

North of Africa

Libya: UNHCR accused of purposely starving people in the ‘safety center’ in Tripoli
The Guardian reports that the UN allegedly starves refugees and migrants in a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in Tripoli. According to an analysis by the International Organization for Migration, a group of approximately 400 migrants and refugees did not receive food for weeks. Besides that, the UNHCR is going to stop providing food to another 600 people in the center, states an internal document viewed by the Guardian. UNHCR explains this has to due to overcrowding after the attack on the Tajoura detention center. UNHCR further argues they stepped up urban assistance to help people move out of the center. However, the situation outside the center is dangerous, people are scared of the war and do not want to end up in a detention center, New York Times reports.

Libya: France abandons the plan to provide boats to Libya after pressure by NGOs
Human rights group stopped France from providing six rescue boats to the Libyan coast guard, several news agencies report. France was planning on giving these  boats to help Libya to intercept more people, but eight human rights groups sued France on accounts of the  Libyan coast guard picking up migrants and refugees that try to cross the Mediterranean Sea and bringing them back to the detention center where they live in inhuman and degrading conditions. Providing boats to Libya would make France “complicit in crimes committed against migrants,” human rights groups said.

Sahara: Alarm phone saves lives in the desert, now that human traffickers take more dangerous routes
The crossing through the Sahara is a very dangerous journey that has cost the life of at least 30.000 migrants and refugees in the period of 2014 till 2018, the International Organization for Migration says. That is why, two years ago, Nigerien activists decided to start a helpline that people can call if they are lost in the desert, the Alarme Phone Sahara (APS). Since 2015, Niger has made the transport of migrants illegal on ‘advice’ from the EU, who wants to stop migration to Europe, Der Spiegel argues. The volunteers from the APS see that since this is illegal, smugglers are taking more dangerous routes to avoid getting caught by the police, they tell Der Spiegel.


Italy: Court decides return of refugees to Libya is illegal
“Refoulement is illegal and those who suffer them have the right to be compensated for the damage, but above all to apply for international protection in that country,” the Italian civil court ruled on november 28, Repubblica reports. This ruling was on the case of June 27 2006, when 89 people (mainly Eritreans) tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea in an inflatable boat, but were intercepted by an Italian ship and brought back to Libya. Amnesty International Italia and ASGI made an appeal, and the court ruled that these people have the right to receive compensation and can apply for asylum in Italy.

Italy: Coastguard to be held tried for deaths in the Mediterranean Sea
On October 11, 2013, more than 250 people drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, even though the Maltanese and Italian coast guard had been informed about the dangerous situation of the boat, Alarmphone reports. Several Italian coastguard and navy officials allegedly failed to react on time and went to criminal court on December 3. Alarmphone states that the situation has not improved; “today the behaviour of both Italian and Maltese coastguards is even worse than in 2013. Today, distress calls are often entirely ignored, delays in rescue operations are everyday phenomena”. Alarmphone hopes that the court case will help the survivors, send a message to others that fail to respond and make people aware of the cruelness of the EU border control.

EU: EU accused of breaking EU law in its external funds
Law professors at Vrije University in Amsterdam, Elies Steyger and Thomas Spijkerboer, accuse the EU of breaking EU law on public procurement in its external emergency funds and migration policies. They argue that there is no competition in the funds, causing the procedure to lack transparency because “an informal expert group carries out an examination of the project proposals” while negotiations are made between the European Commission, Member States, and the countries and partners concerned. The authors further find that some of the projects implemented in the emergency funds are not related to emergencies. Public procurement rules do not apply to emergency-related issues, but since some non-emergency related projects are also supported, EU law is then violated, as there should be rules regarding public procurement in these cases.

EU: 100 MEPs sign a letter for Justice and Home Affairs Ministers on situation in Greece
100 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have signed a letter to the Interior Ministers in the Justice and Home Affairs Council in the EU, requesting improvements on the Greek Islands. The MEPs ask for improvements in living conditions, including providing humanitarian assistance to people on the islands, as well as for the EU member states to relocate the people residing there. In the letter, they also demand the new plans of the Greek government on new, stricter refugee camps to be rejected and for the EU to better assist unaccompanied minors and support family reunification procedures.

EU: Consensus needed for relocation scheme
Raluca Bejan, Assistant Professor at St. Thomas University (Canada), argues in The Conversation that the main issue with the EU relocation scheme, which is put in place to share the responsibility of asylum seekers in Europe between member states, is the absence of a consensus on how this responsibility should be shared. Bejan’s research in Romania showed that GDP per capita, the national unemployment rate and demographic measures were seen by the Romanians as “inefficient in measuring whether member states had the economic capacity to welcome asylum-seekers.”. Bejan argues consensus should be reached in a fair way to share the responsibility of asylum seekers to create a working policy that involves cooperation of more EU member states.

Europe: exploitation of migrant workers in the agricultural sector in Europe
Italian authorities have discovered 95 cases of “irregular employment and exploitation” of migrant farmworkers in the Trentino-Alto Adige region, ANSA reports. Meanwhile, a recent report from The European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) concludes that “[a]gricultural regions in Europe becoming no-rights zones for migrant workers,” highlighting the human and labour rights violations of migrants working in the agricultural sector. Mohamed Yahya, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) representative in Nigeria, explains to TIME that “[i]n order to simply survive, they have to work outside the legal system, which obviously exposes them to hardship and systems of forced or undercompensated labor”.

Spain: Tourists help people that arrive ashore after crossing the Mediterranean  Sea
Tourists and emergency workers helped migrants and refugees that arrived at the shore of Gran Canaria after crossing the Mediterranean Sea in a small boat. The independent and Reuters report that the tourists were the first ones to undertake action and helped the exhausted and cold people that arrived by giving them water, towels and clothes.

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: Famous artist attacked
The Eritrean artist Tekle Negasi was attacked in Addis Ababa, says BBC Tigrinya. EritreaHub reports that “[a]ctivists working on human rights in Eritrea say the attack was designed to silence him [Tekle].” The police are currently investigating the attack.

IGAD: Sudanese Prime Minister will chair IGAD
The Sudanese Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, will take over as chairman of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a trade bloc consisting of 8 countries in the Horn of Africa, Nile Valley and the African Great Lakes region. The East African reports that “[t]he decision, reached by consensus, during the Ordinary Summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa is seen as compromise to avert fallout after Kenya, Djibouti differed over seat.” The news agency further highlights that Hamdok will chair the trade block for a year.

Ethiopia: Refugee programme to enhance independence of refugees
The EU provided €20 million to Ethiopia in for a project to make refugees in Ethiopia more independent, OutlookEthiopia reports. The project also aims to enhance the integration of refugees into society and include them into the regional and national development process. The focus of the  programme will be in the Somali Regional State.