News highlights: EU responds to the situation at the Greece-Turkey border, Canada mining firm can be sued in Canada over slavery use, UN to meet on Eritrea – diaspora urges action

In this week’s news highlights: EU presents Greece action plan of €700 million; Greece reacts to the situation at the border with Turkey; MSF requests Italy to stop quarantining rescue ships over coronavirus; Professor reflects on 10 years of human trafficking research; Record number of migrants arrive in Malta; Turkey promised Bulgaria that its borders will stay calm; The Netherlands pays fines due to slow asylum procedures; UN bodies to meet on Eritrea in Nairobi on 9 and 10 March – Eritrean diaspora calls for re-assessment of relations; Canadian mining company in Eritrea can be sued in Canada; Troops amass on the Kenya-Somalia border; Refugees prevented from speaking about situation in Sudanese refugee camp; British parliament questions EU’s road project in Eritrea; UN condemns lack of reform in Eritrea; UN urges for protection 56.000 displaced Somalis; Eritrean man dies in Libyan detention centre; Renewed fighting in Libya; and UN’s Ghassan Salamé resigns.


EU: EU presents €700 million action plan to support Greece as a “shield” at Turkish border
The European Commission has announced a €700 million action plan, of which €350 million is available immediately, for border control and migration management. Four EU leaders met with the Greek prime minister near the Turkish border on Tuesday March 2, where they stressed the importance of solidarity and cooperation with Greece. Ursula von der Leyen, The European Commission president, said “this border is not only a Greek border, it is also a European border … I thank Greece for being our European aspida [which translates to shield] in these times,” reports The Guardian.

Greece/Turkey: Greece takes action against high number of migrants at the Greece-Turkey border
On Sunday March 1, Greece took a series of measures as it tried to stop thousands of migrants arriving at the border with Turkey. Greece has already stopped more than 10.000 migrants at the border, Infomigrants reports. The decision of Greece to not accept any asylum applications for one month has been criticised by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). They claim there is no legal basis for this suspension. Greece also announced it will send migrants back the moment they enter Greece illegally and the country will step up military operations along the Greek-Turkish border. This came after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that he would open the border to Europe because Turkey could no longer handle the amount of refugees coming from Syria, The New York Times reports. According to different news agencies, one Syrian child died after being rescued close to the Greek island Lesbos and one Syrian migrant died at the border, but the Greek authorities deny these claims.

Italy: MSF urges Italian authorities to quit quarantining rescue vessels due to COVID-19
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls upon the Italian authorities to stop quarantining NGO-run vessels who perform rescue operations. According to Infomigrants, the humanitarian organization said: “Putting rescue vessels in quarantine is like stopping an ambulance in the middle of an emergency”. The rescue vessel Ocean Viking has been quarantined due to the novel coronavirus. MSF believes that: ”it is clear at this point that these measures of quarantine are implemented in a discriminatory manner only for search and rescue ships”.

The Netherlands: Professor states research shows more nuanced story about Africa
Mirjam van Reisen, Professor of International Relations, Innovation and Care at Tilburg University, looks back on 10 years of research on Eritrean refugees and human trafficking in the Horn of Africa. Over the years, she has seen it as her scientific duty to provide a more nuanced story about Africa. Van Reisen states that Africa is often simplified, both in political policy and in the public debate. During those 10 years, she exposed a criminal network and  produced several books on migration with the most recent ones from 2019: ‘Roaming Africa: Migration, Resilience and Social Protection’ and ‘Mobile Africa: Human Trafficking and the Digital Divide’.

Malta: The number of migrants arriving in Malta this year is a record
Since the beginning of 2020, 883 migrants arrived in Malta by boat from Libya, which is a record for the country. The number already accounts for 25% of all arrivals in 2019 and is 16% higher than the number in the same period last year. 2019 was already a record year with a total of 3.406 migrants arriving in the country, Infomigrants report.

Bulgaria: Erdogan Assures Bulgaria its borders will stay calm
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made this promise to Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on March 2 in Ankara. While Greece’s border is crowded with thousands of refugees, the Bulgarian border, that is just a few kilometers away, has remained calm. Borissov’s intended visit to Ankara was to broker a Summit between Greece and Turkey. However, Erdogan refuses to meet with Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis because of the force Greek security forces use against migrants at their border, citing two deaths, report Euractive and Balkan Insight. Greece on the other hand denies the deaths and Development Minister Adonis Georgiad criticizes Turkey for “making use of innocent people in its efforts to destabilize Greece and Europe”. Georgiad further states that the amassed migrants at the border are part of “an organized invasion from a foreign country,” reports Associated Press.

The Netherlands: Dutch Government to pay 1 million euro per week in fines due to slow asylum procedures
Internal documents show that there is chaos within the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND), reports NRC. The IND has no reliable statistics and faltering computer programs, which results in asylum procedures taking too long. The IND has six months to decide on asylum requests; if the process takes longer asylum seekers have the right  to seek a lawyer and demand a penalty payment for each delayed day. Even though the number of asylum requests was lower in 2019 compared to 2018, an increasing number of asylum seekers seek compensation from the IND due to the slow processing. The problems are much larger than Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, Ankie Broekers-Knol, reported at the end of 2019 as the IND has to pay an estimated € 70 million in compensation.

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: Eritrean diaspora calls upon UN to reassess relations with Eritrea ahead of Nairobi meeting
The United Nations is organising a meeting on 9 and 10 March in Nairobi which includes all UN bodies operating in Eritrea. Ahead of the meeting, Eritrea Focus sent a statement to the UN urging it to re-assess its “relations as normal” strategy. Instead, the organisation urges the UN to take an approach of careful and pressured human rights monitoring. The statement is supported by several other international Eritrean organisations.

Eritrea: Nevsun can be sued in Canada according to the Canadian Supreme Court
On February 28, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that a Canadian mining company, Nevsun Resources, can be sued in a Canadian lower court, The Guardian reports. Nevsun Resources claimed that the case should be rejected based on state doctrine, when domestic courts can not assess acts of foreign governments, but this claim was not accepted by the Court. Three Eritreans filed a civil suit against Nevsun Resources for alleged forced labor amounting to slavery, violence and inhuman treatment during the construction of the mine.

Kenya/Somalia: Troops on both sides of Kenya-Somalia border
The Presidents of Kenya and Somalia have both stationed troops on either side of their common border since the increasing tension between the countries, Martin Plaut reports. The tensions rose because the Kenian President, Uhuru Kenyatta, refused Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo’s request to extradite the former Jubaland minister of security, Abdirashid Hassan Abdinur, after he fled from his prison sentence. This comes together with a maritime dispute because Kenya renewed its claims to Somali territorial waters.

Sudan: Situation in Shagarab camp remains unchanged: “Refugees are in terror”
Refugees living in Shagarab camp in Sudan tried to inform foreign visitors, believed to be UNHCR staff, on the degrading living situation in the camp, Araia Kidane reports. Araia posted a video recorded by a young refugee. Despite the fact that the refugees were stopped from speaking by security staff, two representatives from the camp managed to speak to the visitors. The situation in the refugee camp is still unchanged. Bribes, corruption, (sexual) harassment, arrests, limited office operation and difficulties to get the refugee status documents have become common practice in the Shagarab camp.

Eritrea: EU road project questioned in British Parliament 
The road project in Eritrea, funded through the European Union’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, is questioned in the British Parliament by Baroness Goudie, Member of the House of Lords in the UK Parliament. Goudie’s question refers to the use of national conscripts that are “at risk of sexual and gender-based violence” in the road rehabilitation programme in Eritrea. The question was answered by Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, by stating that the Government is “not aware of any reports of sexual or gender-based violence connected with this project or within the construction industry as a whole”. The use of national service conscripts for the road project was questioned before by Member of the European Parliament Michèle Rivasi in the European Parliament.

Eritrea: Eritrea’s lack of reform highlighted by UN Special Rapporteur 
Eritrea’s continued arrests of Christians, the indefinite national service and Eritrea’s failure to release political prisoners is condemned by Daniela Kravetz, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. The Special Rapporteur released her oral statement regarding the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council, in which she said: “[w]hile Eritrea has increased its engagements with regional and international actors, this engagement has so far not led to an actual improvement in the human rights situation in the country”. Tesfamicael Gerahtu, Eritrean Ambassador to the U.N, reacted on the statement by stating that: “[t]he present oral report of the special rapporteur is also unacceptable […] negating Eritrea’s ground reality and achievement […] and underestimates the transitional measures underway”. The EU and UK have also expressed their criticism on the human rights situation in Eritrea, reports EritreaHub. Meanwhile, the Eritrean Church protested the Eritrean government’s decision to deny access to Ethiopian Cardinal Berhaneyesus on 22 February.

Somalia: The UN urges protection for the estimated 56,000 civilians displaced after clashes in Southern Somalia
Following the early February stand-off between conflicting parties in the Jubaland region, the UN estimates that some 9000 households, or 56.000 people, have been displaced in the region. Adam Abdelmoula, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, says in the UN statement that all “efforts must be made to minimise harm to civilians and damage to schools, health centres and homes […] I urge parties to take all the necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian assets amid the escalation in violence.” Due to the climate shocks and ongoing conflicts, an estimated 2.6 million people are displaced in Somalia.

North of Africa

Libya: Eritrean man (26) dies in Libyan detention centre fire
A fire broke out in one of the buildings of the Dhar El-Jebel detention centre, 182 kilometers southwest of Tripoli, that houses 500 refugees and migrants mostly from Eritrea and Somalia reports Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which also operated in the facility since May 2019. According to MSF, the fire is another example to end the arbitrary detention in Libya. Its project coordinator, Christine Nivet, says “the fire and the resulting tragic death of a young man are adding up to a cycle of dreadful abuse and traumatic events that our patients have faced in Libya”.

Libya: Renewed fighting threatens truce 
Since February 28 the situation in Libya escalated after fighting resumed between the Eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Haftar and the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). The LNA fired rockets on the GNA controlled Mitiga airport in Tripoli as well as civilian neighborhoods. The LNA also attacked other government controlled positions. Libya’s Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha said in an interview with Reuters that the GNA will also begin a military offensive, stating that “our defense will also move to attack because there is no hope for the ceasefire.” Bashagha calls on the US and UK to pressure countries that support the LNA including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia. The LNA has opened an embassy in Syria to cooperate with Assad’s regime in fighting Turkish-backed militias.

Libya: UN Special Representative for Libya resigns
The UN Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, has resigned from his post on March 2 due to stress, reports AlJazeera. The resignation of Salamé further complicates the UN’s effort to end the conflict in the country. Salamé had been very critical of the renewed fighting over the weekend and has called the escalation “unacceptable” and reiterated that the Eastern-based government’s “shelling civilian areas could amount to war crimes”. He further stated that the direct and indirect involvement of foreign parties could transform the Libyan civil war into a broader regional conflict.