News highlights: Peace talks in Libya, Rejected asylum seekers imprisoned in Denmark, Religious arrests in Eritrea

In this week’s news highlights: Eritrean government keeps arresting religious citizens; Eritrean football players that fled the country still fear the Eritrea government; EU funding of road project in Eritrea meets more criticism; Human smugglers arrested in Gibraltar; UK denies child refugees right for family reunification; Rejected asylum seekers in facility in Denmark are imprisoned in bad conditions; Peace talks in Libya; UNHCR urges 2020 to be year of refugee protection; European Commission shares information contributing to deportation to Libya; More than 1,000 migrants and refugees sent back to Libya in 2020; Eritrean refugees shot and killed in Tripoli; Norway and Tunisia willing to take in people detained in Libya; And lack of hope caused crackdown in refugee camp Agadez.

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: Government arrests citizens for practising religion
On January 13, Human Rights Concern Eritrea (HRCE) reported on the arrests of approximately 21 Eritrean muslims that took place on November 28, 2019. The people were taken from their workplace, businesses or homes and are still detained in an unknown place for unknown reasons. “Disturbing evidence keeps emerging from Eritrea that government persecution of citizens for their religion, and activities connected with it, is extending far and wide, whatever the faith, be it Christianity or Islam,” HRCE director Elizabeh Chyrum states.

Eritrea: Football players escaped but still fear the Eritrean government
In September 2019, four football players from Eritrea fled their hotel in Uganda after they had participated in an international tournament. In an interview with The Guardian, one of the players, Mewael Yosief, explains that he and some of his teammates fear a possible retaliation from the Eritrean government and says that “[i]f they find us it’s either death or kidnap. If they are successful, they will manage to bring us back to Eritrea and punish us for the rest of our lives. You would never hear again from any of us.” The Guardian reports that the players hope to receive asylum in Uganda.


EU: More criticism of EU funding road projects in Eritrea
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and Human Right Watch (HRW) criticized the EU for giving more money to a road project in Eritrea in which forced labour is used. In an interview with Bureau Buitenland, MEP Kati Piri highlights the lack of monitoring and transparency in the project. According to MEP Michele Rivasi, who asked questions about this matter to the Commission, the EU does not take responsibility for the human rights violations occurring in the project. The Commission says the project is managed by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS). However, the UNOPS stated to New York Times that they are not able to manage the project, but rely on information from the Eritrean government. Laetitia Bader from HRW finds this “incredibly problematic” and states to Euronews that Eritrea is said to “continue to rely on national service conscripts.”

Gibraltar/Morocco: Alleged human smuggling gang arrested in Gibraltar
Close to 50 people have been taken into custody by the police for having smuggled about 130 people from Morocco to Gibraltar under UK tourist visas. The Guardian reports that “[t]he gang charged about €8,000 […] per person” and that they have earned “more than €1m from its illicit activities”. Spanish police officers explain to The Guardian that the gang bought plane tickets for the persons and afterwards transferred them to Spain by car from “where they could stay or board coaches to different countries”.

UK: Children denied family reunification
Boris Johnson reversed the government’s amendment to provide refugee minors the opportunity to reunite with their family. By doing so, Johnson denies refugee children in the UK the right to unite with their family. A Home Office spokesperson tells The Guardian that family reunification “must not create perverse incentives for people, particularly children, to […] risk dangerous journeys hoping relatives can join them later”. However, the report ‘Without My Family’  by Amnesty International UK shows that most kids that flee do not know about family reunification opportunities in the host country. Daniela Reale of Save the Children UK highlights that separation from the family can have disastrous effects on the lives of these children.

Denmark: Rejected asylum seekers live in prison  conditions in Danish asylum facility
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has criticised the conditions in the Danish asylum facility, Ellebæk, where rejected asylum seekers, including victims of human trafficking, are imprisoned. The Danish newspaper Information reports on the conditions in the centre and finds that “rejected asylum seekers are kept behind bars to prevent them from going into hiding, before being sent out [of the country]. They are imprisoned, despite most of them having done no crime”. It is further found that female prisoners are barely allowed outside, that inmates are denied access to phones and “[s]uicidal [inmates] can be placed naked in an observation cell”, says the newspaper. The newspaper further states that CPT has labelled the facility “as one of the worst places in the EU”.

EU: UNHCR urges EU to change migration policies
In a press release, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) states that the EU should alter its migration system, including improving and fastening asylum procedures, and improving its “responsibility sharing”. Spokesperson for the UNHCR, Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, explains that “[a]s we enter a new decade, and following the success of the Global Refugee Forum, the EU under its Presidencies has the chance to make 2020 the year of change for robust refugee protection” and encourages the EU to focus on “solutions” rather than “displacement”.

North Africa 

Libya: Peace talks on Libya conflict disrupted but are expected to continue
On January 12, two of the main opposing groups, the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) agreed to a temporary halt in the fighting due to pressure from both Russia and Turkey “for a ceasefire in the conflict”, reports CNN. However, a peace agreement failed to be enacted, as General Khalifa Haftar (LNA) did not “sign a binding truce” and left Russia, where the peace talks took place, reports Reuters. President of GNA, Fayez al-Sarraj, did sign the agreement. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, however, reports that after a meeting with General Haftar, the general indicated he has agreed with the terms of a ceasefire. No official message from Haftar himself has thus far been sent out.  The peace talks are expected to continue in Berlin on Sunday 19 January

Libya: European Commission assists in deportation of migrants fleeing Libya
In an answer to a parliamentary question about information sharing between the EU and the Libyan Coastguard, the European Commission indicates that the EU assists in deportation of people coming from Libya by sharing information on its monitoring of the seas with the Libyan Coastguard. The Commission says in the answer to the question that “information or sightings regarding distress situations/potential distress situations at sea […] are shared with all competent Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC)”, such as the Libyan Coastguard.

Libya: Migrants and refugees send back to Libya at risk of trafficking
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that, since the beginning of 2020, close to 1,000 people have been intercepted at the Meditteranean Sea and sent back to Libya. Aid workers told Reuters they saw that people taken back to detention centers were sold to human traffickers on the spot. Anais Deprade, a spokeswoman for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said to Reuters that: “There is no guarantee that prevents refugees and migrants returned to Libyan shores from falling back into the clutches of traffickers.”

Libya: Two Eritreans killed in Tripoli
New York Times reports on two Eritrean asylum seekers shot dead in Tripoli. This happened a few days after they had to leave the UN Refugee Agency’s facility due to overcrowding. The UN Refugee Agency states to be “deeply saddened” by this. These killings are seen as a “terrible reminder” of the situation in Libya getting worse.

Libya: Countries ready to take refugees from Libya
Both Norway and Tunisia have pledged to accept refugees from Libya, several news agencies report. Norway has stated that it will take 600 people from Libya that were taken to Rwanda. The Norwegian Justice and Immigration Minister Joaran Kallmyr tells The Associated Press that “[f]or me it is important to send a signal that we will not back smuggling routes and cynical backers, but instead bring in people with protection needs in organized form”. Meanwhile, in a different case, the city in Tunisia, Tataouine, “has been chosen to receive eventual migrants fleeing the war in Libya”, reports InfoMigrants on a piece of news from ANSA News Agency. UNHCR highlighted in October that “[r]esettlement remains a crucial tool to save the lives of the most vulnerable but is and will remain limited.”

Niger:  Fire refugee camp was act of desperation
In the beginning of January,  asylum seekers in Agadez (Niger) started a fire that destroyed the refugee camp they were living in. Amoumoune Aghali, regional advisor in Agadez, states to Le Point that [i]t is not normal when we welcome a foreigner in a host country that he allows himself to take this kind of act”. Refugees told Aljazeera that “abandonment and lack of hope” caused the crackdown. Many people in the Agadez camp have already been waiting for more than two years for their asylum request to be processed.