News highlights: Ethiopia reports arrest of human trafficker Kidane, Coronavirus measures impact refugees and asylum seekers, Schengen external borders closed for 30 days

In this week’s news highlights: UNHCR and IOM temporarily suspend refugee resettlement; Mixed Migration Centre criticizes ‘root cause’ approach to migration; COVID-19 could “decimate” refugee communities; Ethiopia reports the arrest of notorious human trafficker Kidane Zekarias Haftemariam and five others; 77.6 million dollar aid plan for Ethiopia; Refugees concerned about digital registration; UN Security Council proposes to end UNAMID mission in Darfur, Sudan; Nevsun’s Eritrea-slavery case has legal implications for other Canadian companies, EU closes the external Schengen borders for 30 days, exempting those seeking international protection; Migrants on Greek islands can receive 2.000 euro in new voluntary return initiative; Human traffickers sentenced to 125 years by Turkish court; Child dies in Lesbos refugee camp fire; The Netherlands closes asylum seekers’ centres for new inhabitants amid COVID-19 measures; Registration of asylum applications suspended in Belgium amid COVID-19 measures; Malta accused of ignoring distress calls; UN and IOM decry return of a refugee boat to Libya; And International community calls for a ceasefire in Libya to focus on COVID-19.


World: UNHCR and IOM have announced a temporary suspension of refugee resettlement
On March 17, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Migration Agency (IOM) announced the decision to temporarily suspend the refugee resettlement procedure. The decision was made because International travel would potentially expose refugees to the COVID-19 virus. Furthermore, many countries have already restricted travel and resettlement. UNHCR and IOM emphasize that it is a temporary measure, as resettlement “provides a vital lifeline for particularly vulnerable refugees”. The UNHCR furthermore reiterates that, while states have sovereign rights to manage public health risks, they cannot breach international laws by denying asylum seeking opportunities or risking refoulement of asylum seekers.

World: MMC’s Op-Ed questions the ‘root cause’ approach to mixed migration
The Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) argues that the ‘root cause’ approach often used in migration policy and funding is ineffective and dishonest. According to the Op-Ed, this approach portrays migration in an overly negative light and focuses too much on the push factors. Moreover, even within the approach the actual ‘root causes’ are not addressed. Violence, conflict and lack of economic opportunity are neglected in favor of the short-term benefits of restrictive policies. Conflicts in Syria and Yemen that cause the displacement of millions are fought with the weapons of European and U.S arms dealers, and African local economies are outcompeted by European and U.S corporations, thereby creating an influx of unemployed people. Furthermore, The EU’s strategy to combat migration has not been addressing the structural social, economic and political problems of countries from which migrants originate, but has focused mostly on border control. This includes supporting and cooperating with human rights abusing authoritarian regimes; which in the long run only exacerbates existing security problems that cause displacement.

World: NRC warns COVID-19 could decimate refugee communities around the world
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) calls upon world leaders not to abandon refugee communities around the world, reports Infomigrants. NRC notes that out of the world’s 29 million refugees, 84% are hosted by countries with weak water, health and sanitation systems. In overcrowded, unstable and unsanitary conditions COVID-19 could spread fast without people being able to isolate, protect themselves or seek access to healthcare professionals. Other reports have already noted the vulnerability of refugees in their countries of origin as well as their host countries. Ethiopia has a high importation risk with high vulnerability to COVID-19, researchers reported in a Lancet article. Libya, Somalia and Eritrea are all in the “least prepared” category of the Global Health Security Index.

Greater Horn of Africa 

Ethiopia: Reports on the arrest of notorious human trafficker Kidane Zekarias Haftemariam
Ethiopian media report the arrest of human trafficker Kidane Zekarias Haftemariam, the alleged leader of networks operating between the Horn of Africa and Europe. The reports are based on a police statement issued by Ethiopia. The statement explains that the arrest was made after a manhunt of several years and was the result of cooperation between Ethiopian police and the police of other countries in the region. Five other members of the trafficking network were also arrested. The six traffickers will be charged with “abduction, rape, arbitrary arrest, corrosive handling and killing of migrants”, reports

Ethiopia: IOM launched an appeal for 77.6 million dollar to offer humanitarian aid
On March 13, the UN Migration Agency (IOM) launched a 77.6 million dollar appeal to offer humanitarian assistance to more than 1.2 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), migrants, returnees, and host community members in Ethiopia. Ester Ruiz De Azua, working at the Emergency and Post-Crisis Unit of IOM, emphasizes that the IOM calls “on the donor community to continue providing life-saving support to the people of Ethiopia”. Ruiz De Azua also said that “Ethiopia faces one of the most complex human mobility environments in the world”.

Ethiopia: concern amongst refugees about digital registration
The use of the Biometric Identity Management System (BIMS), introduced in Ethiopia in 2017, has raised concerns about privacy and exclusion amongst refugees living in Jewi camp, located in the northern region of Tigray. The refugees told Global Voices that the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) never mentioned the drawbacks of biometric technology. BIMS enables refugees to create a digital ID that allows them access to various aid services and rights but it also registers multiple characteristics including fingerprints and iris recognition. A UNHCR official, Gebregzabiher, reacted by stating that: “Refugee data are not shared with any external parties. The UNHCR data protection policies govern the data protection for all data owned by UNHCR.”

Sudan: UN Security Council proposes to end UNAMID
A United Nations Security Council draft resolution proposes an end to the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). The proposal includes a transition to “a political, peace support and peace-building mission,” which would be named United Nations Political and Peace-building Integrated Mission in Sudan or UNPPIMS, according to The Associated Press, who obtained the draft document. The responsibility would be transferred to Sudan’s transitional government. Human Rights Watch criticised the plans, stating that the proposal “does not include any uniformed personnel to protect civilians in Darfur, where risks remain acute”.

Eritrea: Canadian Supreme Court ruling in Nevsun Eritrea-slavery case has wider implications
A ruling of the Canadian Supreme Court determined that the Canadian mining company Nevsun Resources Ltd., operating in Eritrea, can be prosecuted under national law. This sets new legal implications for Canadian companies, reports WeirFoulds LLP. If a Canadian corporation working under foreign jurisdiction violates customary international law it “may give rise to a private cause of action”. Further interpretation of the new ruling and legal guidance for companies is yet to be determined. Meanwhile companies are advised to implement “robust human rights and corporate social responsibility policies” and conduct strict review and monitoring of all projects.


EU: The external borders of the Schengen area closed for at least 30 days
On Tuesday March 17, the proposal made by the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, to close the external borders of the Schengen area was approved by all Schengen area member states. This measure is taken for a period of at least 30 days with the aim to stop further spreading of COVID-19. There are exemptions, including an exemption for persons seeking international protection.

EU: EU representative foreign affairs defends EU project in Eritrea from forced labor
The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, defends the European Union’s (EU) €80 million road project in Eritrea, reports Devex. According to Borrell the EU cannot “always be playing the Good Samaritan and handing out donations but not getting into the political evolution of a country” and while reform in the political structure has been slow “things have got better”. However, United Nations special rapporteur on Eritrea, Daniela Kravetz, noted no progress whatsoever in Eritrea’s juridical and political landscape, including the forced and indefinite national service, reports Devex. Human rights groups and Members of European Parliament have criticized the EU because it aids a dictatorship, while the road project itself is built through forced labor from Eritrean national service conscripts.

Greece: Migrants in Greece to receive €2.000 to return voluntarily to their home country
The European Commission (EC), the Greek government and the UN Migration Agency (IOM) announced that they will offer €2.000 to migrants on the five Greek Aegean islands to voluntarily return to their home country. Infomigrants contacted IOM’s public information officer in Greece, Christine Nikolaidou, who said that the one-month voluntary return initiative did not start yet because they are still debating some “modalities”.

EU/Turkey: Turkish court sentences human traffickers to 125 years
On Friday March 13, three human traffickers responsible for the death of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi and five other refugees were sentenced to 125 years prison each by Turkish court, Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu reports. The traffickers had fled but were captured in Turkey days before the trial. In 2015, Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on a beach near the city of Bodrum and five other refugees, who were in the same boat, were also found dead.

Greece: Child dies in fire in Lesbos refugee camp
On March 16 a young child died in a fire in one of the refugee camps on Lesbos, reports Reuters. The fire burned down two living containers as well as several tents. The refugee camp, Moria, was built to accommodate 3.000 people, but some 19.400 are living in the camp in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. The cause of the fire is not yet known.

The Netherlands: New asylum seekers are no longer allowed into Dutch centers due to coronavirus
New asylum seekers can neither be identified, registered nor housed in asylum seekers’ centers at least until April 6. The Minister of Justice and Security, Ferdinand Grapperhaus, made the measure known in a letter to the Dutch House of Representatives. Where the asylum seekers should go is not made clear in the letter. According to Grappenhaus, the measure was taken to protect the people living in asylum seekers’ centers as well as the Dutch society in general from COVID-19, because it is not known though which countries new asylum seekers traveled before arriving in The Netherlands.

Belgium: Belgium suspends the registration of asylum applications due to coronavirus
The biggest reception centre in Belgium, Petit-Château, suspends the registration of asylum applications. Between 100 and 150 people normally register and apply for asylum in Belgium every day. The Federal Agency for the Reception of asylum seekers (Fedasil) closed this reception centre because it wants to comply with the measures taken by the Belgian National Security Council in regard to COVID-19. Enforcing the rules of social distancing became complicated since applicants had to wait on a bench next to each other and there was an increasing risk for the staff, RTBF reports.

Malta: Malta accused of ignoring calls for help from the Mediterranean Sea
The sea rescue organization Alarm Phone accuses Malta of ignoring migrants and refugees from Libya in distress in the Mediterranean Sea, Deutsche Welle reports. On Saturday March 14, Alarm Phone received the information that 110 migrants coming from Libya, trying to cross the Mediterranean in an inflatable boat, were at risk of drowning. According to Alarm Phone, Malta ignored the calls for help although the migrants were in a rescue area under the jurisdiction of Malta.

Malta: UN and IOM denounce return of refugee boat with 49 people to Libya
A boat with 49 people was stranded in Maltese waters, but sent back to Libya, reports The Guardian. The United Nations (UN) as well as the UN Migration Agency (IOM) were alarmed by the breach of international law of non-refoulement, which states that asylum seekers cannot be sent back to a country where they risk persecution. Safa Msehli, spokeswoman for IOM, said that “Libya is not a safe port and that is recognised by the UN and other European states […] the return of people from Maltese waters – of which we have confirmation from various sources – is a breach of international law and we would like to remind states of their responsibility towards vulnerable people that are fleeing abuse and violence in Libya”.

North of Africa 

Libya: International call for ceasefire to properly respond to COVID-19
Western and Arab countries have urged Libya’s rival factions to stop fighting and focus on the corona virus threat, reports Reuters. On March 17, a joint statement from the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Algeria, The United States, The European Union, France, Britain, Germany, The Netherlands and Italy stated that a truce would assist in the efforts to tackle the virus, reports Reuters. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has joined the call as well.