News highlights: Eritrea refuses COVID-19 medical supplies, Italy declares ports unsafe, EU’s €15.6 billion COVID-19 plan for developing countries

In this week’s news highlights: COVID-19 supplies refused by Eritrea; Eritrean refugees in Hitsats camp in danger should the camp close – closure delayed due to coronavirus; Somalia on critical juncture to halting COVID-19; HRW urges Ethiopia for justice in deadly violence in October protests; Italy declares own ports unsafe; EU provides more than €15.6 billion to curb COVID-19; Asylum-seekers and migrants killed and abused along Greek-Turkish border, says Amnesty; Malta quaratines refugee camp due to COVID-19 cases; Second Greek refugee camp in lockdown; UNHCR needs $255 million for Africa COVID-19 response; IGAD COVID-19 summit; Story from the slums of Kenya; Libyan war continues; Tunisia provides help to migrants amid COVID-19; And migrants and refugees launch hunger strike Tunisia.

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: Eritrea refuses airplane with COVID-19 medical supplies
Eritrea has refused the COVID-19 supplies donated by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma and his Alibaba Group, reports VOA. The plane carrying the goods was not authorized to land in Eritrea, nor does Eritrea allow the goods to be delivered. The decision of the Eritrean government worries health experts because Eritrea is not equipped to fight a pandemic. Meron Estefanos, executive director of the Eritrean Initiative on Refugee Rights, said to VOA that “Eritrea is not ready for anything. First of all, just eight months ago they shut down 29 Catholic clinics. These were the best clinics in the country, giving free service to the public.” 95 Eritrean scholars and professionals have undersigned a statement expressing deep concern about the Eritrean healthcare situation and the government’s inadequate response.  

Ethiopia: Hitsats camp closure delayed – Eritrean refugees in danger should the camp close
In a series of letters, Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia have expressed that they are in danger  due to the possible closing of the Hitsats camp, reports Martin Plaut on EritreaHub. Hitsats camp houses more than 10.000 refugees from Eritrea. With the closing of the camp the refugees are given the choice to relocate to one of the other overcrowded camps, relocate to an Ethiopian city or to stay in Hitsats where they may not  receive services from NGOs or the Ethiopian government once the camp closes. In the letters the refugees say they have been physically threatened by armed agents and that they cannot relocate that easily. The UNHCR reported that closure of the camp is delayed due to the coronavirus-lockdown. 

Somalia: Somalia at a crossroads in curbing COVID-19
On April 4, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed its concern about the impact of COVID-19 on communities in Somalia that are weakened by violence and conflict and where displacement, malnutrition and outbreaks of disease are already widespread. The ICRC states that Somalia is at a critical moment where immediate action can still halt the spread of COVID-19. Juerg Eglin, the ICRC’s head of delegation for Somalia, stated that “Somalia is at a crossroads, where we can rapidly scale up to get information and resources out to communities and health care facilities against COVID-19, or move too slowly and never catch up”. Together with the Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS), the ICRC tries to reach 120.000 households with information on how to prevent COVID-19 and give them soap and chlorine tablets. The spread of the information is important because if the amount of COVID-19 cases rise,  “the health system will not be able to cope” according to the health coordinator for the ICRC in Somalia Maria Guzman. 

Ethiopia: HRW calls for justice for victims of deadly violence
In a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on April 1, the organization says that the Ethiopean government made little progress in investigating the inter-ethnic violence and in acting to prevent further abuses and violence. In October 2019, protests erupted in Addis Ababa and spread to about a dozen towns across the Oromia region which turned into unrest and communal violence. The inter-ethnic valence left over 86 people dead. Leatitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at HRW, said that the “Ethiopian authorities can’t brush the killing and maiming of scores of people, the destruction of homes and businesses, and attacks on hospitals under the carpet”.  Bader states that “[i]ncreasing trust in the security and judicial apparatus will be key to preventing a combustible situation before general elections are held”. 


Italy: Italy declares seaports “unsafe” for arriving migrants and refugees
In an April 7 decree the Italian government has declared its own seaports as unsafe for arriving migrants and refugees and will not authorize the landing of rescue boats until the end of the COVID-19 emergency, reports The Guardian. The measure is the first of its kind in Italian history and is sparked by the Alan Kurdi’s imminent arrival just a few kilometers from Lampedusa. Alan Kurdi, the only rescue boat still operating in the central Mediterranean, is operated by German NGO Sea-Eye, and currently carries about 150 people rescued from sea. Sea-Eye is now discussing evacuating the people to Germany. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, departures from Libya have increased the last week due to the good weather and the inhumane conditions in Libya.

EU: EU provides more than €15.6 billion to partner countries to curb COVID-19
On April 8, the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy presented plans for a “robust and targeted” EU response to help partner countries tackle the coronavirus pandemic. The EU provides more than €15.6 billion from existing external action funds for countries across Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Balkans to fight the coronavirus pandemic. €3.25 billion of the more than €15.6 billion are channelled to Africa, including €1.19 billion for the Northern African neighbourhood countries. High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said that “[c]ooperation and joint efforts at the international level and multilateral solutions are the way forward, for a true global agenda for the future”. Borrell stated that more than €5 billion in loans from the European Investment Bank will be made available more quickly and that no country would see less development aid. 

Greece/Turkey: Asylum seekers abused and killed along the Greek-Turkish border
At least two men were killed and one woman remains missing following violence along the Greek-Turkish border after Turkey’s decision to open its border on February 27, reports Amnesty International. Greek border forces reportedly fired tear gas and live ammunition against asylum seekers while Turkish authorities “recklessly encouraged them to travel to Greece under false pretences.” The Amnesty International research report calls Greece’s “draconian measures” along the border aimed at denying asylum seekers the right to requesting asylum a “blatant breach of the right to asylum and the principle of non-refoulement”.

Malta: Migrant and refugee camp quarantined after 8 confirmed COVID-19 cases
On April 5, Malta put one of the country’s largest migrant and refugee camps, Hal Far, under quarantine for 14 days after 8 people tested positive for COVID-19. Around 1.000 – mainly African – migrants and refugees live in the Hal Far tent camp in Malta. Malta’s Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne said that “[e]very person who has the symptoms of the virus will be treated with dignity and will receive all the medical treatment needed”. Fearne stated that the “medical presence at the open center had been increased”. The Maltese Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said that everything has been done to communicate the decision to the camp’s residents and explained that it was taken “for their own good, to protect them and to protect society”. 

Greece: Lockdown of second camp due to confirmed COVID-19 case
On April 5, Greece announced that a second migrant and refugee camp was put under lockdown on its mainland. The decision comes after a 53-year-old Afghan person, who lived in the Malakasa camp, tested positive for COVID-19. Reuters reports that the Greek Migration Ministry decided that the camp will stay under quarantine for at least 14 days.  At least 110.000 people currently live in migrant facilities in Greece – 40.000 of them in overcrowded camps on five Greek islands. Human rights organizations have called on the Greek authorities to transfer migrants from the centers on the islands to mainland centers – which are considered less crowded, reports Deutsche Welle


Africa: UNHCR ramps up COVID-19 efforts in Africa
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is ramping up efforts to fight COVID-19 across the East, Horn and Great Lakes regions of Africa, which hosts some of the largest refugee populations of the world in vulnerable conditions and inadequate healthcare capacities. Through cooperation with national governments, the World Health Organization and humanitarian aid, the UNHCR hopes to better prepare countries for the impact of the pandemic. The UNHCR has appealed for $255 million to support countries fighting COVID-19, $15 million of which has been requested for East and Horn of  Africa countries. Virologist and COVID-19 advisor to Uganda, Monica Musenero, warns in an interview with De Volkskrant that African countries are “not prepared for conditions like in Europe.” She, like other experts, hopes that the early lockdown measures and relative young populations of African countries will curb the spread of the virus.

Africa: IGAD holds virtual summit to curb COVID-19
On April 6, the Heads of States of member countries of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) agreed to formulate a plan to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The leaders of Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan together with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and the First Vice President of South Sudan held a virtual summit as the amount of confirmed COVID-19 cases keeps increasing in their countries. The EastAfrican reports that due to the already stretched poor health systems, the infection curve is projected to rise sharply. Eritrea was the only IGAD member state absent during the virtual summit. 

Kenya: Illustrated story from difficulties related to COVID-19 in a slum area in Kenya
A 19-year-old girl living in a slum area in Eastleigh, Nairobi, Kenya provides an illustrated story about living in a situation where there are immense barriers to accessing health, water and sanitation systems. In addition, there is a shortage of food and physical distancing and isolation are extremely difficult in these densely populated communities. The situation could get decidedly worse if COVID-19 starts infecting more of the world’s most vulnerable populations and communities who have limited access to prevention and health care, like the source of this story. 

North of Africa

Libya: War continues despite imminent COVID-19 threat
Despite the threat of COVID-19 and international calls for a ceasefire, the civil war in Libya continues, reports the European External Action Service. The ongoing violence has already severely impacted the country’s health system with many health facilities closed, damaged and short on equipment. On April 7 medical facilities were shelled again, including Tripoli’s general hospital. The situation is especially dangerous for many internally displaced people and 700.000 refugees and migrants living in vulnerable conditions to COVID-19. 

Tunisia: Tunisia provides help to migrants amid COVID-19
On 7 April, Tunisian authorities adopted measures enabling foreigners, including migrants residing in the country to apply for “financial and in-kind help” during COVID-19 measures, writes researcher Morgane Wirtz. As many migrants work in the informal sector they cannot rely on their daily income. Wirtz calls for more work to be done in protection of migrants in reception centres where they are exposed to poor conditions without possibility of social distancing and proper sanitary tools.

Tunisia: Migrants and refugees in detention center on hunger strike and demand release
On April 7, Sofian Philip Naceur, a freelance journalist, stated on Twitter that dozens of migrants and refugees living in Wardia, a detention center in Tunis – Tunisia, launched a hunger strike and demanded their immediate release. The migrants took this decision because of the poor living conditions in the facility and the fear of a possible spread of COVID-19 as no protective measures are taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the detention center.