News highlights: Eritrean organisations urge an end to roundups in Sudan, First Global Refugee Forum launched, More countries get involved in Libya conflict

In this week’s news highlights: Eritrean organisations urge UNHCR and authorities to address roundups in Sudan; US sanctions South Sudan officials; PM Abiy Ahmed wants to work on peace with Eritrean President; Protection for human rights defenders in Ethiopia; Missing ministers in Eritrea; First Global Refugee Forum launced to improve conditions for refugees; Greece urges EU to “share the burden”; Children suicidal in Moria refugee camp, Greece; Teenagers accused of terrorism after interception at sea; Red cross argues EU should adress needs refugees and host communities instead of keeping them out; Turkey to support UN-backed government in Libya; Libyan coast guard and Europe critized by Ocean Viking coordinator; Personal experiences of conditions in Libya; And World Bank recalculates refugee data is needed.

Greater Horn of Africa

Sudan: Eritrean organisations demand the end of random arrests refugees
Harnnet published a letter in which Eritrean civil society organisations urge the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Khartoum and the local Sudanese authorities to end the random roundup of Eritrean refugees in Khartoum. In these roundups, refugees are randomly arrested and must pay a large amount of money to be released. The organisations demand the safe release of  the arrested refugees, payback of their money and to provision of the work and training opportunities for refugees that were promised.

Ethiopia: Africa Refugee Summit brings together refugee community leaders
Earlier this month, the Africa Refugee Summit was held in Addis Ababa, bringing together around 70 community leaders from refugee communities to exchange about refugee participation. The Summit identified opportunities for refugee input and collaboration in policies and actions around refugees. The event, organised by Global Refugee-Led Network (GRN) in cooperation with several organisations, including Oxfam International, advocates for more pathways for refugee input, as they are often underrepresented in the processes that govern their lives,according to the press release of the Summit.

South Sudan: US sanctions South Sudanese officials
On December 16, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced sanctions on two South Sudanese ministers, the Minister of Cabinet Affairs Martin Elia Lomuro and Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs Kuol Manyang Juuk, for “obstructing the reconciliation process or peace talks”. The two of them are blamed for initiating violence; Lomuro is additionally accused of ordering the military to attack the opposition and Juuk is additionally accused of not retrieving military forces from areas of conflict as promised. The sanctions will include a constraint on businesses and suspending “any U.S. assets held by the officials”, reports Reuters. Separately, President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, said on December 17 that a unity government will be created, reports Reuters in a different article.

Ethiopia: PM Abiy Ahmed wishes to meet with President Isaias Afwerki
Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, said that he wants to meet soon with the President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, “to jumpstart the stalled reconciliation process”, Abiy tells Addis Ababa AFP, France24 reports. When the Prime Minister collected the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, it was highlighted by Norwegian Nobel Committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Anderson that the peace process “seems to be at a standstill” and encouraged PM Abiy Ahmed to continue working on the peace process for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Ethiopia: Coalition to protect human rights defenders
From December 9 to 13, several human rights defenders and organisations met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and established the Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Coalition. DefendDefenders reports that the coalition aims to protect human rights defenders, to create a safe work environment for them and to increase attention to “most at risk defenders”, including the women human rights defenders and journalists reporting on high-level corruption.

Eritrea: The abnormal government without ministers
On december 14, The National Association of the Society of Eritrean Earth Science and Mining Engineers “held its founding congress” in Eritrea, without the presence of the relevant Eritrean minister of Mines and Energy, EritreaHub reports. According to EritreaHub, several Eritrean ministries do not have an effective minister. The ministers that are in place are not influential as all the power is held by President Isaias Afwerki. The presence of ministeries is said to be just a “mask of normality on an extraordinary state”.


Switzerland: The first Global Refugee Forum to create better conditions for refugees is held
On December 16-18, the first Global Refugee Forum was launched by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other actors, including heads of states, civil society organisations, and UN representatives with the aim of securing better conditions for refugees in the future. UNHCR highlights that after the forum ended, 250 million USD were “pledged by business groups and initiatives launched that will lead to at least 15,000 jobs being made available to refugees” as well as counselling being provided. The European Commission also said that European Member States have announced more than 30,000 resettlement places in 2020, which the Commission will support economically.

Greece: Greece requests help from EU to manage influx of migrants and refugees
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the European Union needs to undertake action as asylum seekers keep on arriving in Greece and the islands have “reached their limit”, The Guardian reports. In order to manage all the people seeking asylum, the EU is pressured to share responsibility by Mitsotakis who stated to Bild am Sonntag that “we need more burden sharing”. Also the UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi urges the EU to act and tells The Guardian: “Europe has to get its act together […] [It] has to have a new system that is based on sharing, responsibility sharing.” Greece expects 100,000 more people will arrive on the Greek islands from Turkey in 2020, Deutsche Welle reports.

Greece: Children at Moria camp express suicidal thoughts
Children at the Moria camp on Lesbos are exposed to harsh conditions; this has a severe impact on the children, report psychologists in the camp. Many harm themselves and express suicidal thoughts. Child psychologist from Médecins Sans Frontières, Angela Modarelli, says in a video to BBC that “you can see children banging their head against the wall for instance, pulling their hairs off. […] we see children start to cut themselves, strongly start to talk about the desire of dying.” The Irish Times says that regarding the refugee camps in Greece, the actions of the EU deviate from its core values of respecting human rights and argues that “public policy has become detached from those values.”

EU/Libya: Teenagers charged with terrorism after interception at sea
Aljazeera reports on the story of three teenagers being accused of terrorism and piracy after being intercepted on the Mediterranean Sea. The officer on the boat promised to sail to Europe but instead sailed in the direction of Libya. According to the officer, the three teenagers seized control over the boat. For this reason, the teenagers were recently bailed out of prison in Malta, but still possibly face imprisonment for life. The United Nations and human rights groups find the punishment extreme and disproportionate. Researcher for Amnesty International Elisa di Pieri argues that their lives would be at risk if they were taken back to Libya and stresses that “[w]hatever happened on that boat needs to be seen against this context.’’

Bosnia/Herzegovina: Red Cross argues EU needs different priorities
In December, Vucjak refugee camp closed because of its conditions, such as  overcrowded tents and lack of toilets, running water and electricity. Denis Haveaux, director of the International Red Cross office in Brussels, sees the situation at the Vucjak camp as an illustration of the European Union’s migration priorities. The director argues that the EU’s focus on keeping people out of Europe “has the effect of limiting the scope for needs-based interventions”. Haveaux hopes the multiannual financial framework, the EU’s budget plan for the next seven years, will address the needs of migrants, refugees and local communities.

North Africa

Libya: Foreign countries get involved in conflict Libya
On December 15, Turkish President Erdogan said Turkey is ready to send military support to Libya to help the UN-backed government led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj (GNA), several news agencies report. Italy and Russia also announced to support Fayez al-Serraj in the battle against General Khalifa Haftar’s forces (LNA). These announcements come after Haftar stated on December 12  that LNA is going to take over Tripoli and “overthrow the GNA”, reports Voice of America. Refugees and migrants in the Libyan detention centers have been targeted by the war in Libya, as seen during the attack on the Tajoura detention centre in July.

Libya: Search and Rescue operator calls out Europe’s neglect of people coming from Libya
In an interview with Aljazeera, search and rescue coordinator for SOS Mediterranee at the Ocean Viking, Nicholas Romaniuk, talks about search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea. He criticizes the Libyan Coastguard, with whom it is difficult to coordinate rescue actions. He argues that while the Libyan Coastguard do save people from drowning, it cannot be referred to as rescuing people from danger because people are returned to Libya. Romaniuk further states that the EU neglects its responsibility of saving people and expresses that “[i]t’s unacceptable that, on the doorsteps of Europe, we’re allowing thousands and thousands to drown and do nothing while removing any hope they have of surviving.”

Libya: Refugee tells stories of Libya
On December 18, Voice of America brings the story Abdulrasoul Ibrahim Omar, a refugee who fled Sudan and experienced the conditions Libya. He tells about a pregnant woman, who was raped by a smuggler. She miscarried her child, only to get pregnant by her rapist for which her husband left her. Another woman said that her son was trafficked for ransom, leaving scars on his body from the beating he endured, whilst he was held hostage. Omar and his family managed to escape from Libya and arrived in Tunisia through the desert by paying a smuggler. UNHCR spokesperson, Charlie Yaxley, says that people in Libya are “suffering some of the gravest human rights abuses in the world today” and that “[o]nly 5% of the people determined to be eligible for resettlement are placed”, reports Voice of America.

Worldbank: The meaning of data on refugees
The world bank argued more attention should be given to the meaning of data on refugees, which can be useful to create policy but should be adequately analyzed. The World Bank re-calculated data from the UNHCR and found that the average amount of years people are in exile is 10.3 years, instead of the 17 years that are often mentioned. The bank highlights that this is not per definition a positive outcome: “a decline in the average duration of exile is typically not an improvement, but rather the consequence of a degradation of the global situation.” The average duration of exile drops when a large number of refugees are coming in, the World Bank explains.