News highlights: Hitsats camp shutdown announced in Ethiopia, Attempt to resuscitate EU-Turkey deal, UNHCR bolsters COVID-19 measures

In this week’s news highlights: Hitsats refugee camp closure in the Tigray region of Ethiopia; UN cancels meeting on Eritrea due to Coronavirus; EU-funded road project in Eritrea allegedly uses slave labour; Natasja Bijl’s novel tells the story of an Eritrean refugee; Eritrean persecution of Catholics reinvigorated; the collective trauma of Eritrea’s youth; Somali and Kenyan officials meet to discuss border dispute; EU leaders and Erdogan meet to salvage EU-Turkey deal; UNHCR strengthens COVID-19 measures; Concerns about EU’s new Africa strategy highlighted by aid groups; Greece’s decision to hold migrants on war vessel criticized by HRW; Several EU member states offer to take children in from Greece; Call for better living conditions for asylum seekers in the Netherlands; Suspicions that arms keep pouring into Libya despite embargo; Ramtane Lamamra as possible next UN envoy for Libya; And Sudanese refugees in Niger sentenced for fire in camp.

Greater Horn of Africa 

Ethiopia: Closure of Hitsats refugee camp in Tigray region
It was reported that Ethiopian authorities announced the closing of the Hitsats refugee camp in the Northern Ethiopan Tigray region, which hosts around 18.000 Eritrean migrants, states The source writes that refugees have been told to relocate by authorities. The news has been confirmed by anonymous sources in the camp, who state that refugees are expected to relocate to a camp which is overcrowded and has no infrastructure. The Ethiopian authorities reportedly cited budget concerns as reason for the closure of the refugee camp, which would leave more than ten thousands of refugees, many of them minors, with an uncertain future. However, sources state that the budget had already been allocated and that the political situation with Eritrea is behind the closure. The refugees are reportedly refusing to leave the camp, and the situation is ongoing as government bodies and the UNHCR are discussing how the situation should be resolved.

UN: UN meeting on Eritrea in Nairobi called off due to coronavirus
The United Nations (UN) meeting on Eritrea, planned in Nairobi, was cancelled as a consequence of the travel ban by the UN regarding the coronavirus, Eritreahub reports. From March 9-10, the UN planned to meet in Nairobi to reflect on the best way to cooperate with the government and people of Eritrea. This meeting was seen as a unique opportunity for the entire UN ‘family’ to refocus its approach.

Eritrea: EU-funded project finances slave labour in Eritrea
There is ongoing controversy about the use of Eritrean slave labour in the European Union (EU)-funded road building project in Eritrea. The EU has allocated 20 million euros to the project and announced 60 million euros more through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa in December 2019. Conscripts in the Eritrean National Service are used to build a EU-funded road between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The EU knows that conscripts are used and they are concerned that the public will find this funded project culpable, Eritreahub reports.

Eritrea: the story of Eritrean refugee Awet Adem by Natasja Bijl
The novel “ADEM’’ by Natasja Bijl is based on the story of an Eritrean refugee, Awet Adem, who leaves Eritrea in fear of the dictatorship and comes to the Netherlands at a very young age without his parents. His escape route runs along a life-threatening smuggling route to Sudan, then to Libya and finally to Europe. The question “How to live this precious life? “is at the heart of this novel.

Eritrea: Eritrean persecution of Catholics grows
Eritrea’s Catholic schools and hospitals are being closed while Eritrea’s government continues to seize Church property, reports UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Daniela Kravetz, in a briefing in Brussels on 10 March. After Eritrea’s bishop published a critical letter regarding President Isiaias Afwerki in September 2019, persecution efforts have become more vigorous. 29 clinics and five schools operated by the Catholic Church have been closed. Because Eritrea offers no alternative, the seizure leaves many without access to education and healthcare. Furthermore, Catholic cardinals are barred from entering the country, despite possessing a valid visa.

Eritrea: Opinion piece addresses the collective trauma of Eritrea’s youth
In an opinion piece Paulos M Natnael, Eritrean activist and writer, addresses the “intergenerational trauma” of Eritrean’s youth. Youths have to complete their last year of high school at a military training center as members of the National Service. National Service recruits are trained under pressure and severely punished for minor infractions, with their conscription being indefinite and consisting of forced labor. Many desperate young people have opted to flee the country, a traumatizing experience that often ends deadly, states the piece. Based on their collective hardship in Eritrea the youth is referring to each other as  “‘nay Hmamey’, which literally means ‘of my illness/sickness’ […] By giving each other the epithet ‘nay Hmamey,’ they are telling each other ‘you have the same illness, the same pain that I have’”.

Somalia/Kenya: Meeting between Kenyan and Somali presidents regarding border dispute
On March 8, the President of Somalia, Mohamad Adbullahi Mohamed, met with Kenya’s interior minister and other security officials, the North Africa Post reports. This comes after a call between Somalia’s President and the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, in which they agreed to cooperate on securing the border. There have been tensions at the Mandera border when Somali troops collided with those of the semi-autonomous state of Jubaland within Kenyan territory.


EU: Erdogan meets with EU leaders in Brussels to save EU-Turkey Deal
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel on Monday March 9, reports Politico. Von der Leyen expressed that the EU wants to “develop a workable agreement”. How much money would be allocated to Turkey is not yet known and there are still multiple hurdles in the EU-Turkey cooperation. One being Turkey’s frustration with promised EU funds going to non-governmental organizations. Other issues include the restricted visas and a customs union which was part of the original 2016 refugee deal but withdrawn after Erdogan’s heavy response to the 2016 coup attempt.

UN: UNHCR increases its efforts against the coronavirus
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) launched its initial COVID-19 appeal. UNHCR wants to strengthen the preparedness, prevention and response efforts for migrants and refugees affected by the novel coronavirus. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, stated that “[E]veryone on this planet – including refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people– should be able to access health facilities and services”.

EU: Aid charities concerned about new EU strategy with Africa
On Monday March 9, the European Commission published its strategy “Towards a comprehensive Strategy with Africa”, with which they aim for a fresh start after the 2015 migration crisis, Reuters reports. Within the strategy, the EU focuses on various subjects such as climate change, energy and the creation of jobs in Africa. Aid groups like Oxfam and Caritas cautioned that the strategy, including new EU funds associated with it, would be overshadowed by migration and the desire of the EU to stem arrivals into Europe.

Greece: Greece criticised by HRW for holding migrants on a navy vessel
Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized Greece because the country is holding more than 450 migrants on a navy vessel docked at the Greek Aegean island of Lesbos, in the Mytilene port. HRW’s director of migrant and refugee rights, Bill Frelick, asked Greece to “immediately reverse this draconian policy, properly receive these people in safe and decent conditions, and allow them to lodge asylum claims”. HRW spoke to one Syrian person on the vessel who claimed that the conditions on the ship are inhumane, infomigrants reports. The refugees can not request asylum in Greece due to the one month asylum application suspension.

EU: Germany and others to take in refugee children from Greece
Germany, as well as France, Finland, Portugal and Luxembourg have announced that they will take in unaccompanied children or children who are very sick from some of Greece’s overcrowded refugee camps. Specific numbers are not yet known, but Germany will likely take in 1500 children. The latest report from the UN Refugee Agency and the European Council on Refugees and Exiles shows the insufficiency of the EU’s relocation mechanism from Greece. Between 2015 and 2018 only 34,705 refugees were relocated from Greece and Italy, which is only 21.6% of the planned 160.000 refugees, despite the EU’s €10.000 financial incentive for each resettled refugee.

The Netherlands: Ombudsmen call upon Dutch government to improve the living facilities for asylum seekers
The Dutch national Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children called upon the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, Ankie Broekers-Knol, to improve living facilities for asylum seekers in a letter on March 9. The request was issued in regard to the process reception locations. These locations are meant for short stays for asylum seekers in the first phase of their asylum procedure and are run by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND). Because of problems within the IND, the procedure takes much longer. 9000 asylum seekers are waiting for their process to start and some have been waiting close to two years. The facilities are not equipped for these long term stays, argue the two Ombudsmen. Asylum seekers hardly have any privacy, arranged activities, services nor a living allowance or participation options. The poor living conditions and insecurity are especially harmful to children.

North of Africa 

Libya: Despite a UN embargo, suspected military supplies pour into Libya
The United Arab Emirates has sent over 100 air deliveries to the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by general Khalifa Haftar, reports The Guardian. The UAE flights leave from both military bases in the UAE as well as a UAE controlled base in Eritrea. Arms supplies and fighting continues as General Haftar met with French president Emmanuel Macron on March 9, followed by a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on March 10, to discuss a renewed ceasefire.

Libya: Former Algerian diplomat Ramtane Lamamra being considered as new UN Libya envoy
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has consulted with UN Security Council members to appoint ex-diplomat and former Algerian Foreign Minister, Ramtane Lamamra,  as the new Libya envoy, Reuters reports. Between 2008 and 2013 Lamamra worked as an African Union commissioner for peace and security, and he has been a mediator in several African conflicts.

Niger: Sudanese refugees to receive 6-12 month prison sentences
The 121 refugees accused of burning down their refugee camp in Agadez have been sentenced to between 6 and 12 months in prison in a short trial in Niger. They were charged with disturbance of public peace, rebellion and deliberate destruction by fire.