News highlights: Launch of IOM COVID-19 response plan in the Horn, EU countries to relocate unaccompanied minors from Greece, Ship missing in Mediterranean feared capsized

In this week’s news highlights: IOM launches COVID-19 response plan in the East and Horn of Africa; UN Solidarity Flights from Ethiopia; Surge of returnees to Ethiopia; Al-Fashaqa region returns to Sudanese sovereignty, says anonymous informant; Food shortage due to desert locust in the Horn;  Eritrean priest wants to help migrants and refugees fleeing Libya; Stampede for food aid in Kenya; KIU adopts online education system: EU countries taking in unaccompanied minors from Greek camps; Malta urged to take in rescued migrants; Controversy around Italy’s quarantining of migrants; European states urged to allow refugee health workers to help; Belgium COVID-19 measure allows asylum seekers to work; Worries about missing migrant ship in Mediterranean; Migrants and refugees flee Tripoli’s quarantined port; And Libyan government (GNA) takes back control over three cities.

Greater Horn of Africa 

Horn of Africa: IOM launches Response Plan COVID-19 funding appeal
The Regional Office for the East and Horn of Africa of the International Organization for Migration  (IOM)  has  launched  a Regional Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan COVID-19 appeal for $71.6 million which aims to protect migrants and internally displaced persons (IDPs) amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.  IOM Regional Director  Mohammed Abdike said that “[t]he COVID-19  outbreak  is  a serious public health problem. It is acutely worse for migrants in this region who depend so  heavily on being able to migrate for work to survive and support their families. The closure of air, land and sea borders is also of huge concern because so many migrants and local  communities  depend  on  being able to move freely between porous borders in the region”.

Africa: First UN “Solidarity Flights” depart from Ethiopia
On April 14, the first UN “Solidarity Flight” carrying COVID-19 medical supplies to all African nations departed from Addis Ababa, reports the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). The Solidarity Flight is part of a larger 95-country effort to distribute medical supplies to curb the virus and equip and protect health workers.  Also among the supplies are the donations by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Chinese Billionaire’s Jack Ma Foundation Initiative. With commercial flights grounded and medical cargo stuck, the WFP calls for coordination and cooperation to ensure the proper distribution of aid. Furthermore, more funds are required as the WFP has only received $84 million out of the $350 million (24%) required to provide common services around the globe.

Ethiopia: Increase of returnees to Ethiopia puts pressure on the country’s health system
More than 5.000 returnees have unexpectedly arrived in Ethiopia over the past two weeks without prior health screenings, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports.  2.870 Ethiopians have been deported from Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia expects to deport some 200.000 Ethiopians in total, Reuters reports. Other Arab Gulf states and Ethiopia’s neighboring countries are expected to repatriate Ethiopian migrants as well. All returned migrants are supposed to be tested and quarantined for 14 days, which puts immense pressure on Ethiopia’s healthcare system. Some of the repatriated migrants have already tested positive for COVID-19, although exact numbers are unknown. As a reaction, the UN called for a temporary suspension of flights to give the Ethiopian government time to safely organize the migrants’ repatriation.

Ethiopia/Sudan: Ethiopia returns sovereignty of the Al-Fashaqa region to Sudan
The Al-Fashaqa region, claimed by Khartoum and neighbouring Ethiopia, will return to Sudanese sovereignty within two weeks, an unconfirmed anonymous source told Asharq Al-Awsat. With the return of the disputed Al-Fashaqa region, the years-long border conflict between Ethiopia and Sudan is expected to end. According to the unconfirmed anonymous source, Ethiopia and Sudan took steps to start the processes of demarcating borders. This includes setting up border markers and withdrawing forces to behind the separation line.

Ethiopia: One million people in need of food assistance due to desert locust invasion
About one million people are affected by the desert locust invasion and require emergency food assistance, reports the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.  Ethiopia’s Oromia and Somali regions are hit hardest and make up 75% of the people needing emergency food assistance. Nearly 200.000 hectares of croplands and 1.3 million hectares of pasture have been damaged with a loss of 356.000 tons of grains. The locust invasion is another obstacle to Ethiopia, which already had about 8.5 million people living with severe acute food insecurity in need of humanitarian assistance. In the six worst affected East African countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania) some 20 million people are already experiencing acute food insecurity.

Eritrea/Italy: Eritrean priest urges Italy to help migrants and refugees fleeing Libya
Father Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean priest and activist for migrant and refugee rights, asked the Italian authorities to help migrants and refugees fleeing from Libya who would like to enter Italy. On April 10, Father Mussie Zerai wrote that “[d]uring a pandemic, no port can be considered safe and especially not that of Libya, which is at war and also affected by COVID-19” in an appeal to Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Infomigrants reports. This comes after Italy’s decision to close its ports to migrant rescue vessels because, according to Italian authorities, the ports are no longer classified as places of safety due to COVID-19. On April 9, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) called on ”all states to uphold international obligations and exercise an inclusive, shared approach to these continued movements”.

Kenya: Stampede in Kenyan slum as residents compete for food aid
On April 10, thousands of people in Nairobi’s Kibera slum surged for food aid in a brief stampede at a food distribution center, reports Associated Press. Police had to fire teargas as people fought over the packages of food; several people were injured. Due to COVID-19 restrictions many people are unable to work or provide food for their families. They now  rely on food packages but it remains uncertain how consistent the Kenyan government can feed the millions of people living in these vulnerable conditions.

Uganda: Kampala International University adopts online learning system
The Kampala International University (KIU) has adopted an online learning system in order to still be able to teach its students despite the COVID-19 university lockdown, affirmed  KIU’s Vice Chancellor Dr. Mouhammad Mpezamihigo in an interview with NBS. Dr Mpezamihigo reiterates that the project is still in its pilot phase and that it is a learning experience for both students and staff. Course content is gradually being integrated into the online structure and KIU is in consultation with Uganda’s government to try and secure proper internet access for the entire campus.


Europe: EU countries to take in unaccompanied children from Greek camps
European countries are taking in, or looking for ways to take in, unaccompanied asylum seeking minors from Greek refugee camps, reports the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Ten European countries have agreed in early March to take up to 1.600 vulnerable minors from the Greek camps, Germany taking the brunt with 500 children, although most countries have not yet taken any concrete action. Germany has scheduled a flight on April 18 to initially take in 50 children,  Luxembourg has accepted the first 12 children on April 15, reports Deutsche Welle. Bureaucracy and COVID-19-related border restrictions have severely hampered relocation efforts of the children living in inhuman conditions. A majority of the Lower House of Dutch Parliament has called upon the Dutch government to harbor asylum seekers from the Greek islands on unused cruise ships and to better cooperate with other European countries to coordinate relocation efforts, reports AD. A campaign started by 100 humanitarian groups has called upon the Swiss government to take in people as well, noting the country’s responsibility as a “Dublin country” and the low numbers of asylum applications according to Swissinfo.

Malta: Malta called upon to take in migrants rescued from Mediterranean
On April 13, the Spanish humanitarian ship Aita Mari rescued 47 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. The vessel is searching a safe port in Malta to disembark the migrants. The ship responded to a distress call from Alarm Phone and rescued “about 47 people” on board of a small dinghy, InfoMigrants reports. The ship Aita Mari belongs to a Spanish NGO Salvamento Maritimo Humantario (SMH). SMH stated they contacted the Maltese authorities but received “no answer”. A group of NGOs appealed to the Maltese Prime Minister to open the harbours and “ensure that all persons within Malta’s responsibility are rescued and that their safety is guaranteed”, Times Malta reports. According to Alarm Phone, Aita Mari does not have “sufficient medical equipment or crew on board” to help people in need and “further support is needed”. Last week, Malta, like Italy, declared their ports “unsafe” due to COVID-19 and closed them.

Italy: Controversy by NGOs about Italy quarantining migrants at sea
The Italian authorities decided that migrants and refugees  rescued by NGOs at sea must remain in quarantine on board of the ship, without disembarking. The decision unleashed criticism from NGOs. According to InfoMigrants Filippo Miraglia, National Director for the organisation ARCI, said that the decision “serves to dissuade NGOs from rescuing those human lives that seem to matter less, or not at all, in the eyes of the government”. On April 12, the Italian civil protection head Angelo Borrelli said in a press conference that “[t]here’s the need to guarantee health oversight – that is, quarantine or isolation – also for migrants who disembark”. Borrelli stated that Italy “will create facilities or areas on land or ships where migrants can be admitted”.

Europe: The Council of Europe and the UNHCR encourage states to allow refugee health workers
The Council of Europe and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) encourage states to benefit from the support refugee health professionals can provide to the national health systems in the fight against COVID-19. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that recently, “several States in Europe have publicly appealed for refugee health professionals to join in national responses to the virus. We fully support such initiatives and hope they can be further expanded across the continent and beyond”.

Belgium: The Belgian government grants asylum seekers access to labour market
On April 11, a small Council of Ministers together with the representatives of ten Belgian political parties had a virtual meeting in which they issued several simple orders or orders with special powers to combat COVID-19, Le Soir reports. Asylum seekers are granted access to the labour market on condition that they have submitted their application to the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRS). They will have the possibility to work for the duration of the procedure, including during the period of possible appeal before the ‘Conseil du Contentieux des Etrangers’ (Aliens’ Litigation Council). The aim is to make up for labour shortages, particularly among seasonal workers.

North of Africa

Libya/ The Mediterranean: Worries about missing migrant ship in the Mediterranean
On April 12, Frontex announced its search for a rubber dinghy believed to be carrying around 85 migrants that went missing after setting sail from Libya to Italy, reports InfoMigrants. The missing boat was one of four ships in distress. International organizations, NGOs and multiple European officials expressed their worries and criticism towards EU member states, fearing that the boat in distress has capsized even though it had been monitored for days without any rescue effort being initiated. Frontex argues that all four boats have been accounted for on April 13, with two arriving in Italy and two still being in Maltese search and rescue waters. Frontex, together with the Italian coastguard, claim there was a separate deflated rubber boat in Libyan waters, but that those migrants were saved by the Libyan coastguard. Sea-Watch International on the other hand claims the dinghy capsized.

Libya: Dozens of migrants and refugees flee Tripoli’s port
Dozens of migrants and refugees fled from Tripoli’s port amidst shelling on April 10, reports InfoMigrants. Around 280 migrants were held aboard a vessel which was intercepted and brought to Tripoli by the Libyan coastguard, but they were not allowed to disembark due to the unsafe situation with fighting around the capital. Around 200 migrants and refugees were apprehended and detained by Libyan authorities when they tried to flee the port. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has expressed its concern about the migrants and refugees due to the disappearances and conditions in detention centers.

Libya: UN-recognized government retakes three cities from Haftar’s forces
The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) has retaken the cities of Sabratha, Surman and al-Ajaylat from General Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA), reports Al Jazeera. The three cities, located some 90 kilometers west of Tripoli, are strategic coastal cities with which the GNA can “easily take control of all of the entire coast and the highway connecting Tripoli to the Tunisian border” said Al Jazeera‘s Mahmoud Abdelwahed. With Turkish drones and air support the GNA was able to shift air superiority away from Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Russia-backed LNA. On April 13, the GNA said it shot down two fighter jets and a helicopter while using drones to launch raids on LNA forces. Several United Nations (UN) and European Union backed attempts to reach a ceasefire have failed and the UN’s 2011 weapons embargo is continuously violated.