News highlights: Eritrean refugee children at risk in Ethiopia, IOM concerned over missing refugees in Libya, Partnership between MSF and SOS Mediterranee ends

This week’s news highlights: Unaccompanied Eritrean refugee children at risk; Sex workers in Kenyan slums face difficulties due to COVID-19; Concern about conditions in Eritrea’s prisons; Plan to close Hitsats camp despite COVID-19 concerns; New locust swarms threaten East Africa harvests; African refugee camps at risk of COVID-19; Increasing needs for forcibly displaced children; Number of people facing food crisis will double, warns WFP; Half of German refugee camp tested positive for COVID-19; MSF ends partnership with SOS Mediterranee; Alan Kurdi odyssey ends; European rescue solidarity plan requested by 4 member states; Refugees tested positive for COVID-19 in Portugal and Greece; Survey impact COVID-19 pandemic on migrants and refugees; Concerns about missing migrants and refugees in Libya; And Stranded Tunisian migrants return home

Greater Horn of Africa 

Ethiopia: Eritrean refugee children at risk
Unaccompanied Eritrean Children are at risk in Ethiopia due to the country’s revised refugee policy, reports Human Rights Watch. Ethiopia, which until recently had an open door policy, changed its asylum policy for reasons not made public, which complicates registration of certain Eritrean refugees, including unaccompanied minors.  These children are not entitled to protection services, refugee camp accommodations, food, shelter, or psychosocial support if they are not registered, and are thus exposed to greater risk, including exploitation.  Ethiopia hosts 171.876 Eritrean refugees, which is over a third of all currently registered Eritrean refugees in the world. Among them are many unaccompanied minors. According to the UN Refugee Agency children make up 44% of the refugee population in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, 27% of whom arrive as unaccompanied minors.  

Kenya: Commercial sex workers face additional hardship in slums in Kenya
With markets, bars and restaurants closed and a curfew from 7pm- 5am due to COVID-19 many commercial sex workers face increased risk of homelessness, hunger and inability to acquire basic needs. Many of the workers are young girls with children dependent on them. Apart from the financial restraints, the sex workers report a reduced access to essential health services and commodities such as condoms, which increases risk of HIV and other diseases. The workers appealed for COVID-19 support and healthcare access. 

Eritrea: HRCE concerned about conditions in Eritrea’s prisons
Human Rights Concern Eritrea (HRCE) is concerned that the poor conditions in Eritrea’s prisons make them risk areas for the spread of COVID-19;  a wave of infection could spread quickly through the prison complex, warns HRCE. Elizabeth Chyrum, Director of HRCE, stated that a “huge death toll from Covid-19 among Eritrea’s prison population is extremely likely if the government does not take immediate action to release all prisoners of conscience and short-term detainees”. Prison conditions in Eritrea are known to be some of the worst in the African continent, with poor hygiene standards and extreme overcrowding, according to HRCE. 

Ethiopia: Closure of Hitsats camp despite COVID-19 concerns
Ethiopia is stepping up preparations of the planned closure of the Hitsats camp for Eritrean refugees, despite concerns among residents and calls by aid agencies to stop their relocation over COVID-19 fears, reports AlJazeera. Eyob Awoke, deputy director general of Ethiopia’s Agency for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), told AlJazeera that they “are ready to start the relocation at any time”. On April 17, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) sent a statement to AlJazeera in which the UNHCR urged the government of Ethiopia to put on hold any relocation effort, saying it risked making refugees more vulnerable to COVID-19. 

East Africa: Locust swarms continue to threaten East Africa
Locust swarms in East Africa continue to mature while eggs will likely hatch in May, forming new swarms at the start of harvest season in June and July, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) reports in their Locust Watch report. FAO estimates that the locust swarm could increase 20 times if control activities are not stepped up. FAO has scaled up its relief appeal to $153.2 million; so far $114.4 million is collected. In the six worst affected East African countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania) 20.2 million people are already experiencing acute food insecurity.


Africa: Africa’s large refugee camps are at high risk of COVID-19
Refugee camps in Africa are at high risk of COVID-19, reports Ventures Africa. Africa hosts at least 25.5 million internally displaced people and refugees and has four of the world’s six largest refugee camps (in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia). Some of these camps house 200.000 internally displaced and refugees, and many camps are surrounded by makeshift camps or urban slums. The camps are underfunded, overcrowded and lack many facilities including water, sanitation and proper healthcare. Many countries rely almost entirely on international aid for nutrition, sanitation and healthcare, while preventable diseases and malnutrition remain urgent threats to life. 

World: Forcibly displaced children need more support
In a joint statement on April 20, Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, and Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that the needs of refugee and migrant children have become more acute with the rapid spread of COVID-19. Meeting those needs is key to safeguarding both their wellbeing today and their future potential. Displaced children are among those with limited access to prevention services, testing, treatment and other essential support. Fore and Grandi want to work together to improve the quality of life for refugee and migrant children and their families by doubling the number of children with access to education, ensuring that they can access clean water and sanitation services, addressing protection concerns, ensuring quality, child-friendly response services and identifying barriers to inclusion in national systems.

World: Number of people facing food crises will double in 2020 unless action is taken
The number of people facing acute food insecurity will double from 135 million people in 2019 to 265 million people in 2020 due to the consequences of COVID-19, reports the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP). The estimate was announced alongside the WFP’s 2020 Global Report on Food Crises. Many African countries are especially vulnerable including the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Nigeria. WFP Executive Director David Beasley warns of “multiple famines of biblical proportions” in which “300,000 people could starve to death every single day over a three-month period” if action is not undertaken. COVID-19 is an exebrabating threat to the tens of millions of people already on the “verge of starvation” and those living in economic uncertainty related to the consequences of the virus, says WFP chief economist Arif Husain. At least $12 billion is needed for relief, although that number could rise depending on the impact of the pandemic.


Germany: Half of people at a refugee camp tested positive for COVID-19
Almost half of the approximately 600 people at a refugee camp in Germany tested  positive for COVID-19, yet they are being forced to share facilities with everyone else at the camp. An anonymous resident alerted EUobserver with a picture inside the Ellwangen camp in Baden-Wurttemberg and said that “[e]veryone is scared to eat something because of crowds and we don’t know who has coronavirus or not”. The authorities at Ostalbkreis, where the Ellwangen camp is located, announced they will eventually retest everyone “in order to determine which persons have become additionally infected”. Seán McGinley, a manager at the Baden-Wurtenburg Refugee Council, stated that the authorities’ way of dealing with the situation at the Ellwangen camp is a recipe for disaster. He pointed out that the Refugee Council’s demand for an evacuation of the camp at the beginning of April was ignored by the authorities.  

Mediterranean: MSF ends partnership with SOS Mediterranee
On April 17, the medical humanitarian organization Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) ended its partnership with its operation partner SOS Mediterranee following a disagreement on how to proceed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. MSF said it wishes to continue rescue operations. It stated that the European governments must stop using the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to enforce deadly migration control policies and must immediately lift obstacles preventing NGOs from saving lives at sea. SOS Mediterranee said it will temporarily suspend rescue missions “until the circumstances allow us to safely resume our work”.  

Italy: Alan Kurdi voyage ends
On April 17, after nearly two weeks, the “odyssey” of the German rescue ship Alan Kurdi ended near the port of Palermo, reports Sea-Eye. The 146 rescued migrants and refugees on board were transferred to a more suitable boat to receive proper care and quarantine in a safe environment. The Alan Kurdi crew is also quarantined for 14 days. It is still unclear what will happen to the migrants and refugees after the quarantine.    

EU: Four EU states ask support for search and rescue solidarity plan
France, Germany, Italy and Spain urge the European Commission (EC) to support a “search and rescue solidarity mechanism”. The interior ministers from each of the four states shared their ideas in a joint letter, seen by EUobserver, and sent to the EC. The demand for support of the four countries fits into the commission’s planned relaunch of a failed common European asylum system, which is expected before the summer. The letter comes amid port closures in Italy and Malta, preventing NGO ships from disembarking people rescued at sea but the letter does not elaborate on the mechanism itself.

Europe: Asylum seekers in quarantine test positive for COVID-19
In a “migrant hostel” in Portugal 138 out of the 175 asylum seekers housed there tested positive for COVID-19, reports InfoMigrants. In Greece,  at least 150 out of the total 479 asylum seekers staying in a migrant hostel also tested positive. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) chief of mission in Greece, Gianluca Rosso, said that the hostel had now been “sanitized, its staff provided with PPEs and information disseminated about Greek National COVID-19 guidelines”.

Announcement: Survey on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on migrants and refugees
The study ApartTogether, coordinated by Ghent University, is looking for migrants and refugees to fill in a survey to study the psychosocial impact of COVID-19 on refugees and migrants and how they deal with any challenges that have arisen. Insights from the survey will be used to inform organisations and decision makers on how they can better support migrants and refugees during and after this pandemic. The study is available in 30 languages and includes audio.

North of Africa

Libya: IOM has grave concerns about missing migrants and refugees in Libya
In an April 17 statement, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) expresses grave concerns for the fate of hundreds of migrants and refugees returned to Libya by the coast guard this year and who are now unaccounted for. IOM spokesperson Safa Msehli said that the “lack of clarity about the fate of these missing people is a matter of the gravest concern”. The IOM said in the statement that, according to recent Libyan government figures, “roughly 1.500 people are currently detained in 11 state-run Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM) centres” and “at least 3.200 men, women and children aboard boats bound for Europe have been rescued or intercepted by the coast guard and returned to the war-torn north African country in 2020. Most end up in investigation facilities or unofficial detention centres.” IOM has no access to the unofficial centres. 

Tunisia: Hundreds of stranded Tunisian migrants return home from Libya
Some 652 Tunisian migrants stranded along the closed Libyan-Tunisian border were allowed to return, reports the Libya Observer. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) monitored the situation and provided aid to the people. Since the COVID-19 border shutdown some 1.300 Tunisian migrant workers have been stuck at the Ra Ijdir border point, around 20.000 are estimated to still be stranded in Libya.