News highlights: Plan for floating barrier Greece, Italy continues migration deal with Libya, Malnutrition in Sudanese refugee camps

In this week’s news highlights: EU visits road construction project in Eritrea, reports Eritrean state news; Criticism on plans for a barrier between Greece and Turkey; Italy convicted of breaching the non-refoulement principle in 2009; Tear gas used by police at migrants and refugees in Lesbos; Sea Watch has no access to Frontex alerts; French police removes last refugee tent camp in Paris; Criticism on extension of Italian deal with Libyan coast guard; Libyan peace talks continue; Refugees in GDF in distress; The story of Mohammed who feels abandoned by the UN; Eritrea is not happy with American travel ban; Malnutrition is a big problem in Sudanese refugee camps; Reporters Without Borders urges Eritrean President to free Dawit Isaak and others; And discussion about Horn of Africa borders. 


EU: EU ambassadors visit the road construction project in Eritrea
On the 4th of February,  ambassadors of the European Union member states and the United Kingdom visited working sites of the road construction project in Eritrea funded through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, Eritrean state news agency TesfaNews reports. During the inspection, new machinery procured through the Trust Fund money was distributed at the sites.  The visit comes after various human rights groups criticised the lack of transparency and monitoring of the project. The news highlights that the work is “monitored by the owner of the project, that is the Eritrean government, through the Ministry of Public Works”. The article does not show photographs of the workers of the road construction. 

Greece: New strategy to keep people from entering europe meets criticism
The Greek government plans to put up a floating barrier in the sea between Greece and Turkey to lower the influx of refugees and migrants arriving on the Greek islands, several news agencies report. The Greek Minister for Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis, said to The Guardian that the barrier will send the message to smugglers that “the rules have changed’’ and thinks it will help control the area around the Turkish shores. According to human rights groups, the barrier “would increase the perils faced by asylum seekers amid growing tensions at camps on the Aegean Islands’’, The New York Times reports. The main opposition party in Greece, Syriza, calls the plan “a disgrace and an insult to humanity.”

Italy: Italy found guilty of illegally returning Eritrean nationals to Libya in 2009
In 2009, an Italian navy ship rescued 89 boat migrants after an engine failure on the high sea of Lampedusa. Italy ordered the return to Libya without doing any screening to determine whether any passengers needed protection or were vulnerable, and with that violated the principle of non-refoulement. An Italian court has now sentenced the Italian state to pay a compensation of €15,000 to each of the 14 Eritrean shipwreck survivors that brought this case to the court and admit them into Italy to apply for international protection, according to Statewatch.

Greece: Police uses tear gas amid migrant and refugee protest in Lesbos
The police fired tear gas at migrants and refugees that were protesting about the bad conditions in the refugee camps on Lesbos and the slow asylum procedure, several news agencies report. Hundreds of protesters walked to the city of Mytilene. A witness told Reuters that the march consisted mainly of women and children; some held signs with “freedom” written on it. The Greece government stated they will speed up the asylum process by introducing “fast track” procedures, Aljazeera reports. Aid groups are concerned the rapid procedure will violate the applicants rights. 

Europe: Sea Watch states it does not receive alerts from Frontex
A spokesperson from the NGO rescue-vessel Sea Watch told EUobserver that “Frontex would not alert civil rescue ships like Sea-Watch of any distress cases they find [in the Mediterranean Sea], as they know we would then take people to a safe port in Europe.” Sea Watch argues that Frontex contributes to the crimes and deaths that occur in the Mediterranean Sea. A spokesperson from Frontex responded by saying that they inform Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC) when they find a boat in danger. However, MRCC in Libya is “under the aegis of the war-torn country’s ministry of defence”, EUobserver states. 

France: The removal of refugee tent camps in northeastern Paris is complete
The last refugee tent camp in northeastern Paris has been taken down by the French police. The government describes these camps as “strewn with waste and refuse, overrun by rats and being a health hazard”, according to AlJazeera. Interior Minister Castaner’s promise to clear all camps from the city came together with the promise to increase the amount of shelters for asylum seekers. The progress on the latter plan has been criticised by rights groups and the Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, since there are not enough shelters. Hidalgo states that “[w]e are dealing with an unprecedented humanitarian crisis […]. We clearly have a huge problem with our reception policy”. 

North of Africa

Libya/Italy: Extension of the deal with Libyan coast guard condemned
On February 2, the deal between Italy and Libya was extended despite the ongoing war in Libya and the human rights violations in the detention centers. This deal holds that Italy helps the Libyan coast guard to intercept and return migrants and refugees that try to reach Europe via sea. Amnesty International states that “[b]y supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, Italy has made itself complicit in this abuse”. The Commissioner for Human Rights urges the Italian government to end the cooperation “until clear guarantees of human rights compliance are in place”. Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio announced to revise the deal “with particular regard to respecting the rights of migrants and asylum seekers,” Infomigrants reports. 

Libya: UN involved in Libya peace talks Geneva
The United Nations (UN) special envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, announced that the UN is sponsoring peace talks in Geneva. Five senior officers from both The Libyan National Army, led by Khalifa Haftar, and the UN-recognised Government of National Accord are meeting this week to create an enduring ceasefire between the parties involved in the Libyan war, The Guardian reports. Both sides continued to fight and thus have violated the weapon embargo frequently since the peace talks in Berlin this January

Libya: Growing anxiety and uncertainty among migrants in the GDF in Libya
The UN Refugee Agency has decided to discontinue its work in the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in Tripoli as a result of the growing conflict within Libya. The New Humanitarian (TNH) states that a lot of anxiety and uncertainty can be observed among the migrants in the GDF. A person who lives inside the GDF reports to TNH that: “People are refusing to go out, and don’t know what to do. They stopped giving food yesterday”. The UNHCR raised the alarm earlier this week on the urgent need for more resettlement places worldwide.

Libya: Mohammed lives on a dump in Tripoli and blames the UN Refugee Agency
Infomigrants reports on the story of Mohammed, a Sudanese refugee stuck in Libya. Mohammed fled Sudan and now lives with nine others on a landfill near the Abu Salim detention center in Tripoli. He tried to reach Europe, but was returned to Libya by the coast guards twice. “I was distraught by this, and so I went to knock on the door of the UNHCR’s offices in Tripoli to ask for help. But I didn’t get any,” Mohammed says. “Get out of my office, slave!” a UNHCR employee said, according to Mohammed. Mohammed and the others are in good health, but have been attacked by the Libyans and were forced to work for them. 

Greater Horn of Africa

US/Eritrea: Eritrea responds to the U.S. visa ban with displeasure
On Friday 31st of January, U.S. President Donald Trump added six countries to the U.S. visa ban, among which Eritrea. Reuters reports that, with this visa ban, Trump targets prospective immigrants in an allegedly discriminatory way. Osman Saleh Mohammed, Eritrean Foreing Minister said to Reuters that this ban is unacceptable and the Eritrean government tends to see this action as a political move that could have consequences for the relation between Eritrea and the U.S. The ban could affect refugees from Eritrea looking for asylum.

Sudan: Poor conditions in Sudanese refugee camps
Médecins sans frontières (MSF) opened a new hospital in Al Kashafa refugee camp in Sudan. The hospital includes a ‘malnutrition stabilisation centre’. MSF highlights that humanitarian assistance in the Sudanese refugee camps is necessary as there is a lack of water, food and paid jobs. The living conditions cause many people to suffer from “malnutrition, diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections (including TB), malaria and skin diseases,” says MSF. Sudan is currently hosting, among other nationalities, 861,000 South Sudanese refugees. The World Food Programme warns more South Sudense people will be in need of aid this year, partly due to the recent floodings, Aljazeera reports.

Eritrea: Swedish journalist group protests the long-lasting imprisonment of journalists in Eritrea
The Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak has been imprisoned in Eritrea since 2001 without being charged or sentenced, together with other political prisoners. The EastAfrican reports that the lobby group “Reporters Without Borders/Sweden” wrote a letter to Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki to remind Isaias of the pending case for Dawit before the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. Furthermore, they express their wish to lift the ban on free press in the country. Eritrea has been consistently ranked as one of the worst countries in terms of freedom of the press. 

Horn of Africa: A discussion about the borders of the Horn of Africa
Eritreahub reports on a discussion held in Chatham House, a major foreign policy think tank in London, about the Horn of Africa and its unstable borders. More specifically, three Somali thinkers and political figures discussed the economic and political challenges, which have become  increasingly transboundary. There was a special focus on security concerns in relation to the significant amount of young people in the region.