News highlights: Eritrean road project scrutinised in EU meetings, UN warns of locust catastrophe in East Africa, Libya arms embargo main objective in Operation Sophia

In this week’s news highlights: European Parliament Development Committee discusses road project in Eritrea; Statement proposes EU benchmarks for progress in Eritrea, Spain returns did not break European law according to ECHR; Attacker of Eritrean journalist in London found guilty; Greece’s plans for new refugee detention centres delayed after protests; Two refugee boats missing in the Mediterranean; Pregnant African women disappear from Dutch asylum seeker centres; UN urges international community to take action against the locust plagues in East Africa; Ethiopia adopts tool for protecting Internally Displaced Persons; UN reviews Eritrean women’s rights; Bribes at refugee camp Sudan; Operation Sophia to enforce weapon embargo Libya as primary aim; Migrants and refugees in Tripoli increasingly vulnerable; And Tunisian refugee camp build for deported refugees from the EU, says journalist.


EU: EU funded road project in Eritrea is discussed in European Parliament
On 18 February, the Committee on Development (DEVE) discussed the EU development cooperation with Eritrea in the European Parliament together with representatives of the European Commission, United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), and Human Rights Watch (HRW). Laetitita Bader, HRW, stated: “The EU appears to have chosen to accept the risk of indirectly supporting forced labour by engaging in what is one of the more problematic sectors.” She stresses that “measures should be put in place” by the EU and underlines the importance of “independent safeguards” and monitoring. Michèle Rivasi, Member of the European Parliament, goes further by stating: “When you are fixing the roads, you are helping the dictators” in Eritrea. 

EU: Statement on the road building project in Eritrea
The European Commission organised a Roundtable meeting with several NGOs on the Eritrean road building project on 14 February. A statement by Kristina Melicherova, which can be accessed on the EEPA website, provides in-depth information and sources regarding the situation on the ground in Eritrea, and proposes benchmarks which are recommended as a minimum to achieve actual progress in Eritrea. According to the statement, “[i]t is critical that any EU support for development programmes is rigorously monitored to ensure that they are implemented with strict adherence to human rights obligations and conform with the EU’s core principles.”

Spain: European court rules Spain did not break law when sending refugees back
In 2014, Spain sent back two asylum seekers to Morocco without “performing an identification procedure”, Infomigrants reports. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) now ruled that Spain did not break European law by doing so. ECHR finds that Spain did not have to offer protection because the two persons climbed the six meter tall border fence in Melilla, a Spanish autonomous city in Morocco, and thus entered the enclave “irregularly”. Amnesty International spokeswoman Anna Shea reacted to the Agence France-Presse (AFP) and said: “That the court has today decided that Spain was within its rights to do this […] is truly a blow for refugees and migrant rights,” Infomigrants reports.

UK: Attacker of Eritrean journalist is found guilty by London court
On 18 February , Yakob Gebremedhin was found guilty of assaulting Amanuel Eyasu, the editor of the Eritrean opposition media Foundation Assenna and “given a 16 week suspended jail sentence” in addition to a fine, curfew and contact restriction, EritreaHub reports. Gebremedhin, together with other supporters of the Eritrean government, attacked the journalist in London on 26 November 2019.  “The message I want us to send loud and clear is that if any PFDJ thugs attack any Eritrean we will be on their side and bring the attackers to justice no matter the cost,” said Habte Hagos, chair of Assenna Foundation. 

Greece: Greece delays plans for new refugee detention centers
The Greek government has announced to pursue further discussions with local authorities about the replacement of the “open-air” refugee camps with closed detention centers on the Greek islands. “We will go on talking until Friday this week [with the aim] of coming to a solution”, the minister for migration affairs Notis Mitarach said to The Guardian. The decision to pause the plans comes after island residents protested against the plans for the detention centres because they are afraid these facilities would be there permanently. 

Spain: Rescue workers searching for missing people in the sea while returns to Mauritania continue
Spanish rescue workers are searching for two refugee boats with a total of 53 people on board that went missing in the Mediterranean Sea between Western Sahara and the Canary Islands, Aljazeera Reports. On February 18, AlarmPhone and Walking Borders announced 14 people died in the sea on their way to the Canary Islands. Spain continues to send undocumented migrants and refugees back. 55 people this week and 88 last month were sent by plane to Mauritania, who “agreed to receive any repatriated migrants who passed through its territory en route to the former, regardless of their nationality,” says Aljazeera. An increasing number of people try to reach the Canary Islands from Mauritania’s coast. 

The Netherlands: Pregnant migrants and refugees from Africa are missing
Since November 2019, dozens of pregnant African women have disappeared from asylum seeker centres in the Netherlands. The women may have become victims of human traffickers and illegal adoption networks, according to a memo from the Expertise Centre for Human Trafficking and Human Smuggling (EMM), reports NRC. The majority of the women come from Nigeria, Cameroon, DR Congo and Uganda. According to the EMM, it is not plausible that the women have left the asylum seeker centres by choice, because they have legal status in the Netherlands. According to Argos, an investigative journalism programme, these are not the only recent disappearances of asylum seekers. In a short period of time, four underage girls from Eritrea disappeared while they were on the train to the asylum seeker centre in Ter Apel, reports Het Parool.

Greater Horn of Africa

East Africa: UN urges international community to act on locusts destroying crops in East Africa
The United Nations (UN) announced that almost $76 million is needed to fund pesticides in East African countries where food security is endangered due to the large amount of locust swarms. “Swarms, which can contain 40-80 million locust adults, can consume crops in one day that would provide food for 35,000 people,” according to the UN.  If action is not taken soon, 15 times more funding is needed to help more than 13 million people in hunger, David Beasley, Executive Director for the UN World Food Programme, argues. 

Ethiopia: Legal instrument to support internally displaced persons adopted
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announces that Ethiopia made the ‘Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Africa’ legally binding. The Convention, also known as the Kampala Convention, is a regional legal tool that protects and supports IDPs, who are often vulnerable and experience difficulties to access basic rights. “The ratification of this Convention underscores the Government’s concern and attention to the large number of people who are displaced, whether as a result of conflict or changing climatic conditions,” said Ann Encontre, UNHCR’s Representative in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has one of the largest IDP populations of any country – 1.78 million people, says UNHCR. 

Eritrea: Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews the rights of women in Eritrea
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviewed the sixth periodic report of Eritrea on the rights of women, expressing concern about the ongoing infringement of women’s rights in the country. The Committee hopes that the peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia will create a better situation for protection of women’s rights in Eritrea, The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reports.  

Sudan: Araia Kidane addresses the IRCC to help refused refugees from Eritrea
The identification and registration process for Eritrean refugees at the Shagarab refugees camp in Sudan is heading in a positive direction, although there are still challenges, says Araia Kidane, who works for the Immigrant Center in Canada. Officers in the camps solicit bribes to speed up the process and the lack of proper management of the cases between Sudan and the UN Refugee Agency in Sudan results in the refusal of refugee immigration cases by the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Kidane calls upon the IRCC to “help these poor refugees”. 

North of Africa

Libya/EU: Libyan arms embargo becomes main objective of Operation Sophia
The European External Action Service (EEAS) discussed the future of Operation Sophia in a meeting with the permanent representatives of European Union (EU) member states, Statewatch reports. EU foreign ministers decided that stopping the entry of arms to Libya is to become Operation Sophia’s main objective, HRW reports. Monitoring human smuggling would be reduced to a “supporting task” and “naval assets can be deployed at least 100 km off the Libyan coast, where chances to conduct rescue operations are lower”, states a leaked non-paper by the EEAS. Since March 2019, Operation Sofia boats have been suspended mainly because Italy was continuously blocking the disembarkation procedures. . 

Libya: The vulnerability of asylum seekers in Tripoli is increasing
Caroline Gluck, spokeswoman of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), warns about the deteriorating situation of migrants and refugees in Libya and their vulnerability. The situation worsened after the UNHCR announced the closure of its refugee transit centre in Tripoli last month. Gluck said the number of people crossing to Europe intercepted by the Libyan coastguard “increased by more than 120 per cent” in January, Le Monde reports. The UNHCR is looking for a solution for the most vulnerable refugees. The current humanitarian conditions have further worsened after the onset of military hostilities in Libya. Recently, the 2020 Libya Humanitarian Response Plan was launched by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which seeks $115 million “to provide support to those in need, particularly the 345,000 of the most vulnerable people in Libya”. 

Tunisia: Journalist suspects new refugee camp Tunisia build to help the EU
Mourad Teyeb, a journalist based in Tunis, reports for Euractiv that Tunisia has picked the site of Bir Fatnassi to construct a refugee camp – officially to accommodate the people that flee the war in Libya. Human rights groups are concerned the refugee camp actually will be a “long-term “detention centre” for asylum seekers undesired by Europe”, Teyeb says. The European Union and several member states agreed to a Mobility Partnership with Tunisia in 2014. This included collaboration on the return of people that came to Europe “illegally”. It further seems the camp will consist of “long-lasting zinc tents” instead of the traditional, less strong, tents. The camp is close to Remada military airport, which is being rebuilt for “no other reason than to make it capable of hosting possible flights from Europe,” says Imed Daimi, a politician in Tunisia. Daimi is concerned Tunisia is going to be “the police for Europe”.