News highlights: UNHCR closes transit centre in Libya, EU development aid tied to returns, Foreign aircraft carried out 2019 bombing of Tajoura Center, says UN

In this week’s news highlights: UNHCR closes GDF facility in Libya, citing safety concerns; Foreign country involved in the attack on Tajoura detention center in Libya; And refugee and migrant women more likely to experience sexual abuse than men; EU and China projects in Eritrea criticized; Ethiopian government allegedly violates human rights over protest arrests and kidnapping inaction; New Ethiopian navy in Djibouti; Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia strenghten ties; East African countries harmonize labour migration policy; Lack of basic support for refugees in Ethiopia; Illustrated story of an Eritrean refugee; Stories of refugee children from Eritrea; EU allegedly uses development aid  to secure returns; Sick children suffer in refugee camp Greece; Naval operation ‘Sophia’ might not change focus as member states disagree; And Open arms saves 237 people in the Mediterranean Sea.


North Africa

Libya: UNHCR announces closure of the GDF facility
The UN Refugee Agency announced that it would close its operations at the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in Tripoli, citing safety concerns for its staff and partners. The GDF was created as a transit facility to evacuate refugees from Libya, but has since stopped functioning. The UN organisation states that military training is taking place near the facility, and worries that the facility may become a military target. The UNHCR states that highly vulnerable refugees waiting for resettlement will be evacuated to “safer locations”, while others will be relocated to urban areas.

Libya/UN: Bombing on the Tajoura detention centre was carried out by foreign aircraft
In a new report, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the United Nations Human Rights Office conclude that a foreign state aircraft was involved in the attack on the Tajoura Detention Centre on July 2, 2019. However, in the report it is also stated that it remains unclear whether this attack was issued by the Libyan National Army, led by General Haftar, or the foreign state in question. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has condemned the attack to UN News, saying that “Libyans, migrants and refugees are trapped amid violence and atrocities that are in turn fuelled by impunity. Those guilty of crimes under international law must be held to account.” Regarding this matter, Germany has proposed to sanction “any country that breaks the arms embargo on Libya”, reports Deutsche Welle. The UNSMIL report further highlights the testimonies of refugees and migrants, who report torture in the detention centre prior to the attack. The UNSMIL investigation was hindered by the authorities responsible for the centre and the witnesses were reluctant to speak due to fear of retaliation.

Libya: women extra vulnerable to sexual abuse
Research from the Mixed Migration Center (MMC) shows that migrants and refugee women in Libya are three times more likely to experience or witness sexual abuse, Aljazeera reports. The MMC research quotes several women who experienced or witnessed sexual abuse. One woman states that “women were forcefully raped to the threat of abandonment in the desert” and sold to work as prostitutes. Another woman highlights the prevalence: “To be sold and forced to have sex with Arab or African men either to pay [for] the journey or to extract your money is a common thing to happen to you as a woman or a girl, all over the journey from day one in the desert until you depart Libya.”

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: Foreign actors involved in Eritrea despite human rights abuses
The European Commission (EC) has been highly criticised for funding the road building project that uses forced labour in Eritrea. In DeutschlandFund, Ana Pisonero, spokesperson of the EC, justifies the Road Project by saying that it will contribute to job creation in Eritrea. In a separate case, The Diplomat reports on China’s aim to strengthen economic and perhaps military ties with Eritrea through larger involvement in the Belt and Road Initiative project, China’s investment project across the global South, despite their awareness about human rights abuses in the country. Meanwhile, Switzerland confirmed further financial support of €5.6 million for vocational trainings, entrepreneurship and development projects in Eritrea.

Ethiopia: Ethiopian government accused of violating human rights
Amnesty International stated that 75 supporters of the opposition party in Ethiopia, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), have been arrested. Furthermore, the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia reported on 18 students (14 female) from the Dembi Dollo University that were kidnapped two months ago and of which the majority is still missing. Both occurrences are regarded as possible human rights violations. The arrests of the opposition “risk undermining the rights to freedom of expression and association ahead of the 2020 elections,” according to Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa. The Ethiopian government is accused of failing to protect the students and not undertaking action to bring them back. This silence is, according to Director of the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, Yared Hailemariam, “violating a tremendous number of their human rights”.

Horn of Africa: Ethiopian new Navy might be used as justification for national service in Eritrea
Africa ExPress reports on the newly established Ethiopian navy in Djibouti. Ethiopia lost access to the sea after Eritrea became independent and Eritrea did not allow Ethiopia to be present in the harbor city Assab. Ethiopia negotiated access to the ports of Sudan, Kenya, Somali and Djibouti. BBC reports that the Ethiopian government finds the presence of the Ethiopian navy in Djibouti important because “Djibouti was controlled by foreign naval forces”. Djibouti and Eritrea have many unaddressed issues. The Eritrean government did not officially respond but Africa ExPress expresses the concern that the government might feel threatened by the presence of Ethiopia in Djibouti and will use it as a reason to maintain the indefinite national service.

Eritrea/Ethiopia/Somalia: Presidents of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia meet
On January 27, the presidents of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia met in the capital of Eritrea to discuss combatting terrorism, trafficking and drugs as well as “strengthening ties in the Horn of African region”, reports EritreaHub. The news agency further highlights that “[t]he three leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Tripartite Agreement they signed in September 2018”, making them cooperate on several political, social and economical issues. The three counties now “adopted a Joint Plan of Action for 2020” that focuses on economic and security cooperation.

East Africa region: Ministers agree on new cooperation to improve labour migration and fight human trafficking
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) highlights that Labour and Social Protection ministers in eleven East African countries have agreed to engage in a regional cooperation. This cooperation aims to impede the work of human traffickers and improve labour migration by standardizing labour migration policy. IOM finds that “[t]he lack of harmonized labour migration policies means migrants risk exploitation and abuse through unfair practices including excessive working hours, passport confiscation, confinement and denial of salary”, but argues that this new cooperation “is an important step” in fighting human trafficking and the abuse of African workers.

Ethiopia: More money needed to meet basic needs of refugees in Ethiopia
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) stated 6,000 Eritrean asylum seekers came to Ethiopia per month in 2019 and listed 139,281 “persons of concern” in the Afar and Tigray regions. Concerns are raised because of the lack of, or decline in, protection, health care, food, non-food items, education, shelter, sanitation services and electricity. UNHCR announced it needs $658 million this year to provide for the basic needs of refugees in Ethiopia.

Eritrea/UK: Witness the illustrated story of an Eritrean refugee
The Huffington Post has published the interactive story ‘Fleeing into the Unknown: A Journey from Eritrea to England’, describing the journey from Eritrea to the UK. It follows the story of Merha, an Eritrean woman. Fleeing the national conscription in Eritrea, Merha escapes to Ethiopia and afterwards Sudan, where she and her companions meet a smuggler who demands money for their release. Merha ends up in Khartoum, where she waits months before travelling to Libya. From here she travels to Italy and then the UK through several smugglers, where her asylum application is accepted. On her journey, she witnesses rape and beatings, endures starvation and homelessness, but in the end “has hope for a better future”, illustrates The Huffington Post.

Eritrea: Stories of Eritrean youth on the run
Student Sophie Stocker tells the stories of several Eritrean children that have fled the country.  Stocker was in contact with Daniel, a 15-year old boy that is stuck in Libya. Daniel tells her over WhatsApp that there is “no freedom” in Eritrea. He tells about the cruel things he saw on his journey; people getting beaten and raped. While his sister lives in Sweden, family reunification is made difficult due to “a mistake in the system”. Stocker spoke to more Eritrean youth, who were not much younger then she herself is. They all tell her about the dangerous, difficult journey they had to make to get to the Netherlands. “Imagine if that was you”, she writes. “Or your child. Or your sister and brother. Just imagine”.


EU: EU accused of using development projects for returns of people to Africa
The NGO Oxfam published a report is accusing the EU of using development funds through the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF for Africa) on returns of people to Africa. The report highlights that money for the projects in the EUTF “is increasingly being tied to the EU’s desire to stop irregular migration and reach agreements with African countries on the return of their nationals” and that money in the budget is given “to specific regions and countries in Africa in accordance with the nationalities of people arriving in the EU after crossing the Mediterranean”. Oxfam therefore finds that the EU accepts and funds projects through the EUTF to countries that have agreed on these returns.

Greece: Greece accused of not taking care of ill children in refugee camps
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) stated that Greece is intentionally denying medical care for children with life-threatening diseases that live in the Moria refugee camp, Lesbos. “The government’s general unwillingness to find a swift, systematic solution for these children, including some babies, is outrageous—it harms their health and could lead to lifelong consequences or even death”, said Dr. Hilde Vochten, MSF medical coordinator in Greece. MSF urges the Greek government to evacuate the seriously ill children to the mainland or other EU member states. On January 28, the European Asylum Support Office announced that “it will double its staff to 1,000 in Greece” to assist in “processing of asylum requests”,  Reuters reports.

EU: plan to change operation ‘Sophia’ reportedly set to fail
Die Welt reports that the European Union failed to shift the focus of the naval mission ‘Sophia’ on Libya.  The EU expressed the ambition to change the aim of the operation from stopping human trafficking in the Mediterranean to enforcing the UN weapon embargo on Libya. However, the EU committee responsible could not reach an agreement during an extraordinary meeting on the matter. Representatives of several countries raised the concern that the change of mission would lead to an increase in migrants and refugees arriving in Europe. However, according to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, it is necessary, because “[i]t’s clear that the arms embargo requires high-level control and if you want to keep the ceasefire alive someone has to monitor it,” Deutsche Welle reports.

Mediterranean: Three rescue missions – 237 people saved
Several news agencies report that the NGO Open Arms rescued 237 migrants and refugees that were trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in small boats. 158 people were saved from “probable death”, Open Arms said. The NGO highlighted that another 500 people on board of other rescue vessels, the Ocean Viking and Alan Kurd, are waiting to get ashore safely.