News highlights: Border skirmish between Ethiopia and Sudan, 30 migrants and refugees murdered in Libya, NGO health workers in Somalia abducted and executed

In this week’s news highlights: Somalian NGO health workers abducted and murdered; Border skirmish on Ethiopia-Sudan border; Amnesty International urges Ethiopia to prosecute human rights violations of security forces; TPLF calls for elections; Eritrean organisations write to Abiy Ahmed over refugee policy; Reports of deliberate starvation in Eritrea;  Dire situation in Eritrea explained 2 years after the peace agreement; Malta and Libya to set up ‘centres’ countering migration; Dutch foreign affairs minister answers parliamentary questions on Eritrea; European Parliament asks the EU to stop forced labour; Local Greeks protest expansion of migrant camp; Asylum seekers in Greece protest eviction; UNHCR concerned over asylum seekers in Greece; ECRE overview of COVID-19 response in Europe; 30 migrants and refugees murdered in Libya by trafficker’s family; UK’s financial support to Libya under judicial review; UNICEF helps displaced families near Tripoli; And Africa needs solidarity amid economic and health consequences of COVID-19

Greater Horn of Africa

Somalia: Statement about abduction and killing of NGO health personnel in Somalia
On May 28, the Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Adam Abdelmoula, expressed his shock and condolences about the abduction and killing of 7 NGO health personnel on May 27. Abdelmoula stated he is “shocked to hear seven Somali health personnel and a civilian were abducted from an NGO-run health clinic located in Gololey village, Balcad District [in Somalia]. All eight were subsequently killed”. Abdelmoula finds it “unbelievable that this attack comes at a time when Somalia is grappling to contain a triple threat of a pandemic, flooding and the resurgence of desert locusts.”  He expects an exhaustive and transparent investigation.

Ethiopia/Sudan: Ethiopian army in deadly skirmish with Sudanese army 
Between May 26 and May 28 Ethiopian militias backed by the Ethiopian army have clashed with the Sudanese army along the border, report multiple news outlets. One Sudanese child and one military commander were killed while three civilians and six soldiers were wounded. According to General Amer Mohamed al-Hassan, Sudan’s army spokesman, Ethiopian militiamen were denied access to water from the Atbara River by the Sudanese army, which resulted in a firefight. Afterwards, Ethiopian militias backed up by the army crossed the border again to confiscate Sudanese resources and attacked Sundaneze officials and agricultural projects. The governments of both countries have said they will seek a diplomatic solution to the incident.

Ethiopia: Amnesty urges Ethiopia to address human rights violations by security forces
Amnesty International has called upon the Ethiopian government to address the human rights violations committed with impunity by its security forces between December 2018 and December 2019. The report argues that government officials not only failed to prevent inter-communal violence in the Amhara and Oromia regions, but that it took part in the violence and “committed horrendous human rights violations including burning homes to the ground, extrajudicial executions, rape, arbitrary arrests and detentions, sometimes of entire families.” Security forces worked together with vigilante groups to burn down communities and murder innocent people indiscriminately, including children, states Amnesty. Amnesty International is concerned that the upcoming election will be highly contested due to the return of exiled political parties. It argues that if security forces continue to take sides in the communal violence and keep committing crimes Ethiopian democracy and stability become threatened.  

Ethiopia: TPLF calls for elections despite Abiy Ahmed’s decision to postpone
Ethiopia’s Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) calls for elections despite Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s decision to postpone. In their press release, the TPLF called for the protection of the constitution and democracy by allowing for the elections to happen in combination with safety measures against COVID-19. According to the TPLF the party of Abiy Ahmed, the Prosperity Party, is using the COVID-crisis for a power grab. TPLF says it aims to defeat the “dictatorial clique” and calls “the people of Tigray, especially the youth, to ensure your readiness for struggle and to organize to peacefully and legally resist the illegal ‘Prosperity’ clique’s path of expediency and warmongering.” The TPLF is the largest part of Ethiopia’s northern Tigiray and is one of the major opposition parties. Tigiray hosts many Eritrean refugees and is in political conflict with the national governments of both Eritrea and Ethiopia over the issues including refugees and self-administration.          

Eritrea: Eritreans appeal to Ethiopia over refugees
Eritrean human rights organizations have written to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed about the fate of Eritrean refugees in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, reports EritreaHub. The signatories address the recent change in Ethiopia’s refugee policy in relation to Eritrea. In the last twenty years Ethiopia had an open door policy to Eritrean refugees fleeing what the letter calls a “brutal dictatorship”. While Eritrea’s political system remains unchanged, Ethiopia has radically changed its policy. The organizations express their  “genuine concern about this historic mistake”. The livelihood of Eritrean refugees is threatened by Ethiopia’s decision to cease registration of asylum seekers, thereby denying them access to government services. Furthermore, with the shutdown of Hitsats refugee camp thousands of refugees are forced to relocate to other already overcrowded camps  during the COVID-19 pandemic, states the letter.

Eritrea: Reports of starvation in the Dankalia region in Eritrea
A  statement from the Red Sea Afar Human Rights Organization (RSAHRO) argues that the Eritrean regime is “Systematically Starving” the population of the region “by enforcing the policy of ethnic cleansing and forced displacement in continuation of the wide criminal plan to empty the region from its people.” The area is allegedly “besieged” by the Asmara government which deliberately devoids the region of food and medicine. Hospitals were emptied out and closed, convoys of food were intercepted and confiscated and fishers were detained and their boats confiscated, states the organisation. The Eritrean Afar National Congress also describes the interceptions, confiscations and detentions as a political ploy against the local population.  On Twitter,  #Save_Dankalia, as the region also is called, addresses the “political warfare against indigenous” people of the region.

Eritrea: Dire situation in Eritrea explained with special concerns for Catholic Eritreans
Marc Lavergne, a specialist on the Horn of Africa and director of research at the National Centre for Scientific Research, explained in a KTO video that the situation in Eritrea, 2 years after the peace agreement with Ethiopia, is still disastrous in terms of human rights. Lavergne explains that the military dictatorship in Eritrea maintains a strong grip on the population, as evidenced by the compulsory national service for life. Benoit Lannoo explains in the video that this compulsory national service forms a resource of unpaid, forced labour for an EU road building project. The programme showed a video of said roads. Furthermore, the video highlights that in 2019, Catholic hospitals and schools have been closed by the government, causing great concern among Catholic bishops. 


Malta/Libya: Malta and Libya to set up units to coordinate actions against illegal migration
On May 28, The Maltese government announced that Malta and Libya will set up centres to coordinate operations against ‘illegal migration’ in both countries, reports Times of Malta. The authorities did not provide additional information except that the centres are expected to start operating in the next few weeks. The statement follows an unannounced visit by Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri and Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo to the head of the UN-backed Government of Libya, Fayez al-Sarraj and Libyan deputy minister responsible for migration, Mohammed Sheibani. The aim of the visit was to discuss migration and the need to strengthen cooperation to ensure that lives are not lost at sea and to combat human traffickers on the ground and at sea. 

The Netherlands: Minister of foreign affairs answers parliamentary questions on Eritrea
Dutch minister of foreign affairs, Stef Blok, answered parliamentary questions concerning cooperation and diplomacy with Eritrea on June 3. The parliamentary questions were asked with regard to Dutch bilateral and multilateral cooperation with Eritrea after Catholic schools and clinics were closed and the patriarch Antonios of the Eritrean Othodox Tewahedo church was excommunicated and detained in 2019 after criticizing the regime. Minister Stef Blok says that there has been no visible change in the human rights situation in Eritrea and that there have been no political reforms that might facilitate this change. Blok furthermore states that the Netherlands has pressured the Eritrean regime for political improvement while also pressuring the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) to address these issues and put pressure on Eritrea as well. However, Blok also says that the Eritrean authorities have decided to keep contact with the international community at a minimum, which means that the international community has limited diplomatic instruments to sanction the Eritrean regime’s behavior to facilitate reform and improvement. 

European Parliament: EP calls on European Commission to prevent forced labour
In a report adopted by the European Parliament about the discharge of the European Development Fund budget, the Parliament “[c]alls on the Commission to ensure that no forced labour and conditions of slavery are used at the working sites of Union co-funded projects […]”. The Parliament refers to the project that the European Union funds in Eritrea for road building, which provides funding to Eritrean national construction companies. The EP asks for “clear and transparent human rights clauses” in this and similar projects.

Greece: Locals protest the expansion of a migrant camp near Athens
Local Greek residents protested plans to expand the Malakasa camp near Athens, reports InfoMigrants. Six police officers and two protestors were wounded during the protest. Residents fear that an enlargement of the camp could bring additional COVID-19 related health risks and disturbances to the area, including gatherings in local squares or barbequing in the nearby forests. Fear also stems from the close proximity in which the residents of the camp are forced to live, making a COVID-19 outbreak a concrete threat. Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said that tight monitoring will be introduced and that anyone not authorized to be in Malakasa will be deported. 

Greece: Protests outside UN office in Athens due to eviction concerns
On May 29, dozens of migrants and refugees gathered in protest outside the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) office in Athens carrying placards and status documents from the Greek authorities, reports the video news agency Ruptly. Tens of thousands of migrants and refugees, who were previously given asylum in Greece, risk becoming homeless due to the end of accommodation support. Greece plans to return the migrants and refugees living in apartments and refugee centres funded by the UN to the Aegean islands with the purpose to reduce the flow of migrants and refugees to mainland Greece.  A syrian migrant at the protest asked: “They want to throw us on the street. Where will the children live?”. The protesters demand a solution or travel documents so they can travel to other EU countries to seek refuge. 

Greece: UNHCR concerned over transition to self-reliance of refugees in Greece
In a June 2 press briefing, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Andrej Mahecic expressed concern over the “exit of some 9,000 recognized refugees from Greece’s reception system” which started on June 1. In June, another 11.000 refugees will “have to transit from assistance for asylum seekers to general social welfare, once recognized as refugees by Greece’s asylum authorities”. In March 2020, Greece reduced the period to make a transition from organized accommodation and basic support to an independent living from 6 months to 30 days. The aim is to make more resources and space available for migrants and refugees as the reception system in Greece is facing a shortage of places. However, the UNHCR states that “forcing people to leave their accommodation without a safety net and measures to ensure their self-reliance may push many into poverty and homelessness”. 

Europe: List of COVID-19 measures related to asylum and migration published by ECRE
On May 28, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) published an information sheet in which ECRE compiled a non-exhaustive list of measures related to asylum and migration introduced by over 20 European countries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The information sheet is published and distributed to assist other countries and governments in monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. 

North Africa

Libya: 30 migrants and refugees murdered in Libya
on May 27, 30 migrants and refugees were murdered by the family of a Libyan trafficker as revenge for his death, report multiple news outlets. The killings took place 150 kilometers south of Tripoli by the family of a 30-year-old alleged human trafficker who was killed by migrants. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says it deplores the killings and has called for an investigation. IOM Libya Chief of Mission Federico Soda said “[t]his senseless crime is a bleak reminder of the horrors migrants have to endure at the hands of smugglers and traffickers in Libya […] These criminal groups are taking advantage of the instability and security situation to prey on desperate people and exploit their vulnerabilities”.  

Libya: Judicial review challenges money provided to Libya from UK
Isabella Kirwan describes the deplorable situation in Libya through the testimonials of 2 claimants, a refugee from Sudan and an asylum seeker from Eritrea. Kirwan is part of the legal team of Duncan Lewis Public Law Department in the UK. Over the last few years, Kirwan represented more than 25 clients who passed through Libya. The UK Government provides millions of pounds to Libya each year. The claimants argue that the UK failed in assessing and mitigating the risks when sending money to countries where there is a risk it could be contributing towards violation of international human rights law. Kirwan believes that millions are going to criminal networks perpetraiting mass killings, torture and crimes against humanity in Libya. In April 2020, Kirwan together with the two claimants launched a judicial review challenge against the money the UK uses to fund Libyan detention centres and the Libyan Coastguard. 

Libya: UNICEF helps 35 displaced families amid ongoing attacks in Tripoli
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) provided assistance such as hygiene items, entertainment kits for children and blankets to more than 35 displaced families, including 70 children in Tripoli, The Libya Observer reports on June 2. The displaced families are affected by the ongoing war and shelling in the city. A UN report that was released earlier this year showed that the continued shelling and attacks by Haftar’s militias on Tripoli has made life difficult for over 2 million people living in the city and it resulted in the displacement of more than 140 thousand people. The movement restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic make the situation even worse. 

Africa: Call to support Africa as part of interconnectivity in the context of COVID-19
An opinion piece by Prof. Mirjam van Reisen calls upon the Dutch government and people to show solidarity and critically examine development aid from the Netherlands and the distribution of money, because Africa is in ‘respiratory distress’. On June 4, Van Reisen, member of the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) to the Dutch Government, stated in a blogpost that in all 54 African countries together, 152.442 people are infected with COVID-19 and the number of victims runs into the thousands. It is feared that many undetected infections occur due to lack of testing capacity. The economic consequences are extreme in Africa. It is up to the Netherlands as a trading partner and up to the EU in general to offer support, as no country is isolated in this crisis,  and invest in Africa to mitigate the socio-economic consequences, in correspondence with the advise of the AIV.