News highlights: South Sudan forms coalition government, Malta’s secret Libya deal, Italian Court justifies actions of Sea-Watch captain

In this week’s news highlights: Commissioner calls Italy to discontinue cooperation with Libya; Commission may abandon the Dublin regulation reform; Researchers indicate EU breaks Law of the Sea with return policy; Secret Malta-Libya pact criticised by NGOs; Sea-Watch 4 launched by United4Rescue; Sea-Watch captain acquitted by Italian top court;  Meditteranean Sea turned into graveyard by Europe; Coalition government formed in South Sudan; Over 100 million USD needed for humanitarian assistance in South Sudan; Rumors of closure of Ethiopian refugee camps in Tigray; Head of Catholic church in Ethiopia not allowed to enter Eritrea despite visa; IOM says concrete action is needed in Libya; And few resettlement places for evacuated refugees in Rwanda.


EU: Commissioner urges Italy to suspend cooperation with Libya
Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio to stop the collaboration with the Libyan coast guard. In a letter to Di Maio, the Commissioner asked the minister to, in future migration collaboration with Libya, “introduce human rights in the Memorandum of Understanding between Italy and Libya,” Infomigrants reports. The Italian representative in Strasbourg said that Italy “is confident that an amended accord with improved terms of cooperation can be reached in a timely matter.”

EU: European Commission might drop the 2016 Dublin Regulation reform proposal
According to EUobserver, the European Commission might dismiss the 2016 proposal for the Dublin Regulation reform in the new Pact on Asylum and Migration. The Greek commissioner in charge of migration, Margaritis Schinas, said that “[w]e are in the post-Dublin horizon” and the regulation will have to be taken out of the broader migration package that will be announced at the end of March, according to EUobserver. This indicates a shift in the commission’s plan to review internal EU asylum rules – in the midst of promises of a new migration package by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

EU: EU allegedly breaks International law by returning migrants and refugees to ‘unsafe’ places
In a research for the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Professors Anuscheh Farahat and Nora Markard concluded that Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia can not be considered as “safe places” to return migrants and refugees to. The professors find that the EU violates the international law of the sea by doing so. “EU cannot avoid responsibility by outsourcing the dirty job to proxy countries, in particular the Libyan Coast Guard”. By sending people back to North Africa the “EU is undermining human rights” the professors said, Brussels Times reports.

Malta: NGOs react to ‘secret’ Malta-Libya pact
Malta had a covert pact with Libya to prevent migrant boats from leaving Libyan waters, revealed former Maltese government official Neville Gafà. Gafà was the key player in the pact. The NGO Aditus Foundation commented on this by stating that “Malta ensured that hundreds of men, women and children were returned to a situation which the United Nations described as ‘ghastly and horrific’”, Maltatoday reports on February 24. The Civil Society Network (CSN) has urged a public inquiry into the secret Malta-Libya pact. According to Maltatoday, CSN said: “Neville Gafà’s recent testimony suggests an illegal pact, resulting in a potential serious breach of international refugee law.”

Germany: United4Rescue launches new rescue vessel
The new rescue vessel ‘Sea-Watch 4’ was launched by United4Rescue, backed by the German protestant church (EDK) and over 400 other organizations. “This ship has to be out there because European states do not intend, nor do they manage to rescue people in the Mediterranean,” stated the head of EDK Bedford-Strohm during the inauguration, Infomigrants reports. The rescue vessel assigned to Sea-Watch will start its first rescue operation in April, functioning as an addition to the Sea-Watch 3.

Italy: Italian Court acquits Sea-Watch captain
The supreme Court of Cassation (Italy) ruled that Carola Rackete, the captain of rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3, made the right decision when she brought rescued migrants and refugees to Lampedusa last summer, ANSA reports. The court stated that Rackete was obliged to disembark the rescued people “in a safe place” and it was “justified” that the captain entered the Italian port despite of a naval blockade organized by former interior minister Matteo Salvini, reports Infomigrants. 

Europe: The Mediterranean turned into graveyard according to NGO
At a press conference in Tunis, the president of the NGO Mediterranea Saving Humans, Alessandra Sciurba, said that “Europe has decided to turn the Mediterranean into a graveyard instead of a place in which civilisations meet and encourage the free movement of people,” TAP reports. TAP further reports that the Mediterranean regional director of Avocats sans Frontieres (ASF), Antonio Manganella, stressed the need to bring attention to the deaths in the Mediterranean. According to the International Organization for Migration, over 20.000 migrants and refugees have died at the attempt of crossing the Mediterranean since 2014.

Greater Horn of Africa

South Sudan: South Sudan’s rival leaders form coalition
Several news agencies report that President Salva Kiir and his opponent Riek Machar formed a coalition government that will rule South Sudan until the general elections take place in three years. Kirr stated this means “the official end of the [civil] war”, that started in 2013. Experts and aid groups highlight the challenge of merging the thousands-strong rival armies and ending the fights between ethnic groups. They further warn human rights violations might continue. In a recent report, the UN investigators note that: “Today in South Sudan, civilians are deliberately starved, systematically surveilled and silenced, arbitrarily arrested and detained and denied meaningful access to justice,” Aljazeera reports.

South Sudan: IOM needs 119.3 million USD to tackle challenges in South Sudan.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has released its 2020 Consolidated Appeal, which builds on the Southern Sudan Humanitarian Aid Plan for 2020. In the Consolidate Appeal, the IOM calls for 119.311.000 USD to help the estimated 7.5 million South Sudanese people that suffer from food shortages, lack of protection and the lack of access to basic services.

Ethiopia/Eritrea: Rumours about closure of refugee camps in Ethiopia
EritreaDigest reports that, according to rumors on Eritrean social media, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed wants to close the refugee camps in the country, where thousands of Eritreans live. Abiy proposes refugees will get “permanent identification” which allows them to move freely through Ethiopia. Debretsion Ghebremichael, Tigray Region’s Deputy Administrator, is worried this will lead to Eritrean spies in Ethiopia. According to EritreaDigest, neither PM Abiy, Debretsion nor Eritrean President Isaias take action to limit the amount of Eritrean refugees. The news agency finds that “[b]y opening diplomatic doors and legitimizing him [Isaias] as a peace ally, Dr. Abiy Ahmed has decided to empower Isaias Afwerki as he pursues policies detrimental to the Eritrean people,” such as indefinite national service.

Eritrea: Head of Ethiopian catholic church in denied entry into Eritrea
On February 22, Ethiopian Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew arrived in Asmara but was not allowed to leave the airport and had to return to Ethiopia the next day. The Cardinal had received a visa but Eritrean officials told him the orders came from “higher up”, BBC reports. According to BBC, Berhaneyesus planned to attend the “50th anniversary of the construction of Kidane Mehret Cathedral”. Last year, the Eritrean government’s relation with the Catholic Church changed when bishops urged for political reform. The government started to close down catholic schools and health centers.

North of Africa

Libya: IOM calls upon the international community to act on the dire situation in Libya.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is calling the international community for urgent action on the miserable conditions of migrants in Libya. The IOM insists on “finding alternative solutions and a safe disembarkation mechanism for migrants rescued fleeing Libya.” The Libya Chief of Mission, Federico Soda, said that “[i]t is time for concrete action to ensure lives rescued at sea are taken to ports of safety”. Investigations of the Sharah Zawiya ‘transit’ centre, south of the Libyan capital, reveal that refugees often stay a longer period in the centre than the originally intended 48 hours. Refugees state they had to pay ransom to Libyans, were locked up for days and IOM was only allowed to enter the center since last week, Infomigrants reports.

Libya: Criticism on evacuation of migrants from detention centres in Libya to Rwanda
Foreignpolicy interviewed evacuated refugees in Rwanda and found that all 15 expected to be resettled in Europe or North America. However, Matteo de Bellis, a migration researcher at Amnesty International, said “only a reduced number of people have been able to benefit from this opportunity, as most countries—including EU countries that have cooperated with Libya to contain refugees and migrants there—are offering very few places for resettlement.” The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) states that it is unable to provide security for the refugee population in Libya, meaning that the only alternative is evacuation.