In this week’s news highlights: Violence in Ethiopia claims 116 lives, Pope Francis calls migrant detention centers in Libya “concentration camps”, 52 migrants and refugees forced to stay in animal cages on ship

Artwork by Banksy

In this week’s news highlights: 116 people killed and opposition arrested in Ethiopia amid protests; 30 Eritrean Christians arrested at a wedding; COVID-19 restrictions fuel radicalization in Kenya; 3000 Congolese refugees entered in Uganda through temporary border opening exception; Eritrean road project only benefits multinational’s interests, states article; Call for eyewitness accounts of Sawa military school in Eritrea; Pope Francis calls Libyan detention centers  for migrants “concentration camps”; Foreign involvement in Libya at “unprecedented levels”; Italian Senate renews mission in Libya; Ocean Viking finally allowed to disembark; 52 migrants and refugees not allowed off animal cargo ship; EC announces monitoring system against illegal pushbacks; EU handbook for family reunification announced; Greece advised to roll back criminalization of NGOs; Law expert explains how the EU criminalized humanitarian help of refugees; And Eritrean refugees experience isolation and uncertainty in Europe.

Greater Horn of Africa 

Ethiopia: 166 people killed during protests following the murder of singer/activist
The protests and violence following the murder of Ethiopian singer and activist Hachalu Hundessa has resulted in the death of at least 166 people according to officials, reports the BBC. Violence in the capital has claimed the lives of ten people, but most violence takes place in the region of Oromia, the region which Hachalu Hundessa represented in his activism. Here, 145 civilians as well as 11 security officers have been killed. Hundreds more have been injured and around 1.084 people, including opposition party politicians, were arrested since July 2. Most have not been heard from yet because they are being held incommunicado without access to a lawyer. Ethiopian authorities have been criticized for their far-reaching and violent response against protestors while failing to protect people. Opposition leaders have been arbitrarily detained and the internet in the country has been temporarily shut off.

Eritrea: Dozens of Christians arrested at a wedding
In the last week of June 2020, around 30 Christians belonging to an unregistered denomination were arrested by Eritrean authorities in the capital of Asmara, reports Release Eritrea in a press release published on EritreaHub. Earlier, on April 15, Christians attending a church service had also been arrested and transported to a nearby prison camp. Eritrea recognizes just four religious denominations: Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, Orthodox Christian and Sunni Islam. Other denominations are seen as a potential threat by the Eritrean authorities  and its members are systematically persecuted and subjected to arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention, states Release Eritrea.

Kenya: COVID-19 restrictions and property destruction fuel radicalization in Pumwani
COVID-19 restrictions, fire outbreaks and demolition of businesses and residential premises have set the stage for extremist groups to exploit local grievances to gain support, reports Francis Kinyua from the Kamukunji Community Empowerment Initiative for EEPA. Pumwani, on the outskirts of Nairobi, used to be a hub for the  radicalization of youth by the militant group al-Shabab, until interventions to contain and prevent extremism took hold. However, COVID-19 restrictions have left many people unemployed and without income. Outbreaks of fires and government sponsored demolition of informal businesses and residential premises have left many without a livelihood. The lack of government support for poverty and hopelessness makes it easy for extremist groups to gain a following in Pumwani again, fears Kinyua.

Uganda: 3.000 refugees from Congo arrived in Uganda after temporary border opening
Over 3.000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) arrived in Uganda between July 1 and 3 after the border opened temporarily at two points, reports the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). 65% of the refugees were children and there were 33 pregnant women; many had been separated from their family and fled with only the clothes on their backs after their villages were attacked by militias. Uganda’s border is closed due to COVID-19, but with assistance of UNHCR an exception could be made. Quarantine centers were built, tests were performed and food, water, shelter, hygiene products and medicine were provided. After the two week quarantine, the group will be relocated to existing refugee settlements. The group of 3.000 is part of a larger number of 45.000 of DRC refugees that fled to the Ugandan border in May after deadly conflicts between militias took place. UNHCR shelters the refugees amidst chronic underfunding, with just 18% of the required $357 million received, states UNHCR.

Eritrea/EU: Eritrean road project aids multinationals, not Eritreans
The European Union’s (EU) consistent failure to facilitate any political improvement or containment of the refugee flow from Eritrea despite multiple multimillion-euro projects and aid packages is not just “ignorance or disinterest” of the country, it is part of a deliberate strategy, writes international relations expert Benoit Lannoo in the Belgian magazine Knack. The EU investments in the Eritrean road projects are not to benefit the Eritrean people, but to improve Europe’s geostrategic position in the Red Sea area with access to oil transport and trade in raw materials, argues Lannoo. Despite criticism from EU member states, the indirect funding of forced labour and the use of EU-taxpayer funds earmarked to curb poverty and migration, the EU finances one of the world’s most brutal regimes in order to benefit multinational companies, according to the article. The EU is not the only international player that sees the strategic advantage of Eritrea and neighbor Djibouti, with individual EU member states, Iran, Israel, India, the U.S., China and the United Emirate States all having military bases in either of the two countries.

Eritrea: Call for stories from those who experienced Sawa military school
The Twitter page #EndHighSchoolInSawa is looking for stories from those who experienced the harsh conditions and abuse in Sawa military school to better understand and document the impact those experiences had on the individual and their family.

North of Africa

Libya/Italy: Pope Francis calls Libya an “inferno […] concentration camp” for migrants
“You can’t imagine the inferno experienced there, the concentration camps for these people that were only coming with hope,” said Pope Francis in relation to the migrants and refugees trapped in Libyan detention centers on July 8, report multiple news outlets. In his address Pope Francis said that: “Those looking for God can meet Him in migrants and the poor and this meeting is an occasion of salvation […] I think about Libya, detention camps, abuses and violence that migrants are victims of, about the voyages of hope, rescue operations and rejections.”

Libya: Foreign Interference reaches “unprecedented levels” says UN Secretary-General
Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, has warned the United Nations Security Council that the Libyan civil war has entered a new phase “with foreign interference reaching unprecedented levels, including in the delivery of sophisticated equipment and the number of mercenaries involved in the fighting,” reports Al Jazeera.  Despite the UN weapons embargo, Russia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (and to a lesser extent France and Egypt) are supplying thousands of mercenary troops together with planes and ships full of weapons and equipment. Guterres also noted the many apparent war crimes committed during the fighting, with deliberate attacks on the civilian population and attacks on medical facilities. The violence and instability makes the situation for the many refugees trapped in the country ever more dire.

Libya/Italy: Italian Senate approves funding of Libyan military mission
With 260 votes in favor against just 14 opposition votes and 2 abstainees, the Italian Senate has agreed to resume funding for their military mission in Libya to train coastguards in an effort to curb the flow of migration and refugees, report multiple news outlets. The Italian government argues that it also benefits migrants and refugees.  Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio claims that with the mission “human rights of immigrants are preserved,” even though those caught by the Libyan coastguard are returned and detained in centers where their human rights are systematically violated.  Pope Francis earlier compared detention centers to an “inferno” and a “concentration camp.” Italian Defence Minister Lorenzo Guerini’s additional idea to work towards a non-military solution for the violence in Libya comes as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced that military involvement from “foreign interference [is] reaching unprecedented levels”.


Italy: Migrants and refugees onboard the Ocean Viking assisted after multiple suicide attempts
After eleven days, the 180 migrants and refugees aboard the Ocean Viking from private rescue and humanitarian organization SOS Mediterranee were allowed to disembark in Italy, reports SOS Mediterranee on their twitter. An Italian medical team had been deployed to test for COVID-19 and assess the situation on the ship on July 4th. They were deployed after Ocean Viking raised the alarm on July 3rd that the situation onboard was growing desperate and that 6 people attempted suicide the previous day. An Italian doctor onboard confirmed the “enormous psychological discomfort on the ship such as to consider the situation almost out of control”. The Ocean Viking had their request for disembarkment rejected or ignored from seven Italian and Maltese ports in the past week before finally being allowed to disembark in Sicily.

Italy/Malta: 52 migrants and refugees on animal cargo ship refused disembarkation
A Lebanese cargo ship which is used to transport livestock rescued 52 migrants and refugees from their sinking ship on July 3rd, but is not allowed to disembark them in a safe port, reports Al Jazeera. The rescue ship was first sent 55 kilometers to the closest port of Lampedusa, Italy, by Maltese authorities. Once there the ship was refused by Italy and the captain was told to go to Malta instead; after another 166 kilometer journey they were not allowed to disembark there either. Meanwhile, food and water is running out and the migrants and refugees have to stay in the animal cages, not yet cleaned from the previous animal transport, because there is no other room to house them. Many migrants and refugees are in dire need of mental and physical help after long exposure to abuse, torture and (sexual) violence in Libyan detention centers. Sea Watch’s head of mission, Marta Sarralde told Al Jazeera that the inhumane tactic is used by European countries to deter migrants and refugees from leaving Libya and for private vessels to ignore distress calls from sinking ships, even though this is against international law.

EU: European Commission announces system to monitor illegal pushback operations from Europe
The European Commission (EC) says it will propose a new monitoring system of illegal pushback operations by member states due to mounting evidence of violations and abuse, reports the EUobserver.  Violations include violence and abuse from masked thugs and state officials in Croatia, violence by Greek border guards and illegal push backs by Greek officials. Members of European Parliament and civil rights organizations have demanded answers from the reports of violence and illegal push back operations, especially from Greece, who has thus far denied the evidence in a mixed response of claiming ignorance, silence, denial and a defense of ‘fake news’ and ‘Turkish propaganda’- even though the latest scandal was uncovered by an investigation of a German newspaper, Der Spiegel. With a monitoring system the EC hopes to be able to verify the reports of these illegal activities.

EU: Handbook on family reunification for migrants and refugees announced
Ambassador Drahoslav Štefánek, Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees, is launching a handbook on family reunification, reports the Council of Europe. The handbook focuses specifically on the reunification of separated and unaccompanied children in order to  encourage discussion and reevaluation of solutions amongst member states. According to Štefánek family reunification remains a “feasible legal pathway to decongest facilities in frontline countries and to promote effective asylum procedures throughout the continent. It is a vital tool to ensure respect for children’s rights and their best interests.” Despite the many obstacles in place, family reunification is “equally beneficial to individuals and to states” according to Director General of Human Rights and Rule of Law of the Council of Europe, Christos Giakoumopoulos, because it allows for better protection, the return to normal life and better integration.

Greece: Greece advised to revise new measures that criminalize NGOs helping refugees
The Expert Council on NGO Law of the Conference of INGOs has stated in its report that the recently adopted Greek measures for NGOs working in Greece on migration, asylum and social inclusion are not compatible with the standards of the European Union,  reports the Council of Europe. The new measures by the Greek government excessively interfere with the legitimate work of NGOs and undermine Greek freedom of association and civil society space. The new measures are deemed undemocratic as they are made unilaterally without NGO consultation and they lack “legitimacy and proportionality.” NGO membership registration has become too complex, costly, time consuming and requires an excessive amount of personal data. The Expert Council concluded that under the new measures the protection and support of refugees by NGOs is criminalized because they are not realistically able to comply with all the new registration requirements. The Expert Council recommends that the measures are “substantially revised” to fit European standards and to consult NGOs in this revising.

EU: EU’s ambiguous definition of smuggling used against humanitarians
Due to deliberately ambiguous legislation, humanitarianism and protection of basic human rights is criminalized in an EU effort to curb migration, writes Laura Schack from the University of London in the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Law blog. Criminal investigations and arrests of humanitarian NGO members and individuals have increased dramatically since 2015 with at least 60 cases concerning 171 individuals in 13 member states since December 2019. Arrests are made due to the EU’s “ambiguous formulation” of human smuggling that deviates from the United Nations’ (UN) definition. The EU directive does not require the existence of financial and non-financial material benefits to be counted as ‘smuggling.’ Furthermore the clause that member states should not prosecute humanitarian assistance is voluntary. The ambiguity of the EU directive “resulted in legal uncertainty and widespread non-conformity of Member States to international rights standards,” writes Schack, which results in the criminalization of humanitarianism, saving lives and protection of human rights.

The Netherlands/Italy: Isolation and uncertainty for Eritrean refugees in Italy and the Netherlands
In an interview with OpenDemocracy Eritrean refugees tell their story of uncertainty and isolation when reaching Italy and the Netherlands. For years they dreamt of escaping the Eritrean dictatorship and risking their lives crossing the Eritrean border and traveling through Africa before finally crossing the Mediterranean sea. In Europe they hoped to find a home and a job, but both proved difficult. In Italy Eritreans are often exploited in very low paying and unskilled jobs, if they are able to find work at all. Due to the lack of inclusive policies many live on the margins of society and many reside in  shacks that can be cleared any moment. In the Netherlands, many also struggle to find a job or a way to integrate into Dutch society. The Dutch system of moving refugees to rural areas to take away some of the refugee concentration from the large cities has resulted in Eritreans being moved to small villages where there are even bigger outcasts and far removed from other Eritreans. Efforts to build Eritrean community centers or other places to meet are encountering strong local resistance from the neighborhoods or municipalities.