News highlights: Mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea extended, Greek abandonment results in homelessness of refugees, LNA invites Egyptian military to intervene in Libya

In this week’s news highlights: Mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea extended by one year; Eritrea says peace deal with Ethiopia insufficient;  Petition launched to urge UN to prevent starvation in Eritrea; FGM banned in Sudan amidst political reform; Tensions mount as Ethiopia starts to fill up controversial dam reservoir; Measures in Greece threathen to force thousands of refugees into homelessness; German states to take in refugee families; EU’s proposal for externalized asylum centers to feature in migration pact; EU’s far reaching surveillance apparatus for foreigners; EU to cooperate more with Africa to curb human trafficking; Libya’s LNA invites Egyptian military intervention; More displacement and COVID-19 in Libya; and COVID-19 is fuelling global hunger.

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: Mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea extended
Through a vote the United Nations Human Rights Council has extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea for one year, reports the United Nations Human Rights Council. 24 countries voted in favor of the mandate renewal, 10 voted against, including Eritrea and 13 countries abstained. The council has requested that the Eritrea’s government  cooperates with the Special Rapporteur this time, and that they will allow her access to the country. The news of the extension was “strongly rejected” by the Eritrean government in a Twitter response.

Eritrea/Ethiopia: Eritrean minister of information says peace deal with Ethiopia is falling short
Eritrea’s minister of information, Yemane Meskel, posted an editorial on the website of the Eritrean Ministry of Information that states that while the benefits of the peace agreement were “enormous,” they do not go far enough: “Two years after the signing of the Peace Agreement, Ethiopian troops continue to be present in our sovereign territories. Trade and economic ties of both countries have not resumed to the desired extent or scale.” Meskel emphasized the complexity of the Eritrea-Ethiopia situation because of their common histories and the “complex phase” of political transition “both” countries are experiencing. He states that there “are forces inside the country that crave for, and are frantically working to, scuttle the peace agreement and instigate renewed hostilities between the two countries […] who perceive the peace achieved between the two countries as a major obstacle to their selfish and narrow interests.”

Eritrea: Petition to the UN to prevent starvation in Eritrea
Human rights organization Eritrea Focus has launched a petition to the United Nations to prevent starvation in Eritrea, reports Eritrea Hub. It is open for signatures. In the petition Eritrea Focus calls upon the UN to investigate and coordinate relief for the “man-made starvation in Eritrea.” “Man-made” because of “disastrous policies” by the Eritrean regime that severely limit economic opportunity, trade, investment, agriculture and fishing as well as goods coming from abroad. Due to the regimes “futile military and diplomatic adventures”  there is no large-scale economic integration for Eritreans with neighboring countries while forced open-ended national service conscripts have “immobilised the most productive members of our society.” Taken away from their community, the young national service conscripts cannot work on farms to feed their families living hand-to-mouth while their labor under national service does not pay enough to provide for their family. Due to COVID-19 Eritrea is under lockdown, which means even less economic and agricultural activity. The lockdown in combination with a refusal of international aid leaves many Eritreans extremely vulnerable to starvation and to COVID-19, states the petition.

Sudan: Sudan announces political reforms, including a ban on FGM
Sudan’s transitional government has announced a series of political and judicial reforms, including a ban on female genital mutilation (FGM); the permitting of conversion from Islam (which used to be punishable by death); allowing women to travel with children unaccompanied by a man; and permitting non-Muslims to consume alcohol, report multiple news outlets. The transitional government took over from dictator Omar al-Bashir after he was toppled in 2019 and was formed through a power sharing agreement between civilian groups and the military. The transitional government has reshuffled its ranks and fired multiple people to take away power from those who were close to Omar al-Bashir in order to usher in economic and political change and break away from its hardline Islamist policies, writes The Guardian. While the ban on FGM is seen as an important step for women’s health and rights, it needs to be accompanied by awareness campaigns and police training, say human rights groups.

Ethiopia: Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam reservoir fills amidst tensions with Egypt
Without an agreement with Egypt and Sudan, the reservoir of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam located on the Nile is filling up, report multiple news outlets. Ethiopia sees the $4 billion hydroelectric dam as a crucial requirement for economic growth while Egypt and Sudan fear that the filling of the reservoir will greatly reduce their access to water, which would in turn diminish economic opportunities in the region and fuel tensions and conflicts. After years of failed negotiations, brinking on the threat of war, the reservoir has started to fill, a process that could take 7 years. Ethiopian Water Minister Seleshi Bekele said that the filling of the dam reservoir is happening naturally due to Ethiopia’s rain season, which is releasing too much water for the ‘bypass’ channels to handle. Sudan’s irrigation ministry on the other hand says that the Nile River’s waters have already declined since the fill-up started.


Greece: 11.000 refugees in Greece at risk of eviction amidst decongestion plan
Over 11.000 recognized refugees, many of them with severe mental and physical health problems, are threatened with homelessness as they may be cut off from cash assistance and healthcare and could be evicted from their accommodations, reports Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). This includes MSF patients. “Dozens of […] patients have been notified of eviction and had their cash assistance stopped, despite their vulnerable states. Meanwhile, the city squares are filling up with refugees with nowhere else to go, including children, pregnant women, newborn babies, people with severe chronic conditions and survivors of torture and sexual violence,” reports MSF. Amidst a global pandemic pregnant women “are sleeping in Victoria Square in central Athens,” says MSF medical coordinator in Greece, Marine Berthet. Multiple refugees are reported to have died already from lack of healthcare. Despite receiving EU funds to enlarge accommodation programmes, Greece’s Ministry of Migration and Asylum announced housing cuts of 30% in spending on housing programs for asylum seekers.

Germany: German states pledge to take in refugee families from Greece
Multiple German states have pledged to take in several refugee families with sick children from Greek refugee camps, reports InfoMigrants. Bavaria announced it will take in 82 people, including 20 “critically ill” children. Berlin is set to take in 142 people, North-Rhine Westphalia 220, Rhineland-Palatinate 66 and Baden-Württemberg 50. Germany first focused on taking in unaccompanied minors from the Greek islands, especially girls, but now also opted to take in sick children and their families due to the inhumane and dangerous situation of Greek refugee camps.

EU: New EU migration pact includes asylum centers on the EU border
The long-delayed migration pact of the European Commission will include “asylum centres along the outer rim of the European Union,” reports EUobserver. The EU envisions that asylum seekers can go through a rapid pre-screening in these centers before entering the EU. The EU claims this will take away some of the administrative and logistical pressure as ‘irregular and economic migrants’ without a chance to claim asylum are currently mixed with asylum seekers and refugees inside of the EU. This means that asylum applications would now be able to be rejected when the applicants are still outside EU territory. However, human rights organizations, like Oxfam, fear that the project will result in similar inhumane circumstances to those on the Greek islands, who were constructed with the same idea of speeding up asylum application systems and temporary stays while in practice people had to wait for years in tent camps constructed for temporary shelter. Details of the EU migration pact will be revealed in September 2020.

EU: EU’s far-reaching and dangerous surveillance initiative
“Automated suspicion” is how Statewatch describes the new European Union’s travel surveillance initiatives in their report. Under these initiatives the EU uses technology to screen and profile people entering the EU zone and collect this data in a biometrical database. Besides the fundamental risks this poses to basic rights and civil liberties, the untested technological tools and a “pre-crime” watchlist signal a broad suspicion of all non-EU people. The buildup of a comprehensive surveillance-state apparatus is “setting alarm bells ringing amongst privacy advocates and civil rights campaigners,” says the report. The data collected will be far reaching, as it includes photographs and fingerprints as well as data on family members, criminal convictions, education and occupation- including from children from the age of six. The data will feed a profiling algorithm. How this massive amount of personal information will lead to more security remains uncertain, as authorities cannot properly process and interpret the data currently in their possession.. Statewatch warns that the large data set collected and stored with untested technological tools poses a great risk for mistakes and abuse, which could lead to xenophobia or attacks on migrants.

EU: The EU to enhance cooperation with Africa to combat human trafficking
After an online meeting between European interior ministers and North African ministers, Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, says the EU wants to enhance cooperation with Africa to combat human smuggling and trafficking, reports Vanguard.  Johansson said that the cooperation is needed to protect people from “Gangs [that] prey on vulnerable people and profit from the dangerous journeys they organise. These routes are deadly, we have lost thousands of lives during these routes while smugglers are gaining money.” Amnesty International on the other hand said that the reason is more self-motivated; to prevent migrants and refugees from reaching Europe by placing the burden of hosting and protection on African countries, writes Vanguard.

North Africa

Libya: Libya’s eastern-based parliament invites Egyptian military intervention
The Libyan National Army (LNA), spearheaded by General Khalifa Haftar, has passed a resolution which approves direct military intervention from Egypt, report multiple news outlets. The resolution was passed to counter the military victories of the Turkish-backed and internationally recognized Government of National Accord, which has launched renewed assaults on the LNA-held city of Sirte, the gateway to Libyan oil. In June Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi already proposed to send troops to Libya. Egyptian troops already carried out military, naval and special force exercises near the border in preparation. GNA said it considered the proposal a declaration of war. Russia and the United Arab Emirates also back the LNA with arms and mercenaries.

Libya: More violence, displacements and COVID-19 cases in Libya 
Intensification of conflict around southern Tripoli, Sirte and Tarhuna has forced 28.000 people from their homes in June, reports the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Reports are made of fighting, looting and acts of retribution while multiple mass graves have been discovered.  In other areas people were able to return home but are still at risk as the area is contaminated with explosive hazards. The number of COVID-19 cases has significantly increased in June and the socioeconomic impact and effect on food security has been dire. Humanitarian organizations still have trouble gaining access to many of the people in need. 430.000 people remain displaced inside Libya and more than a million people require humanitarian assistance, including 49.000 migrants and refugees,  says the OCHA.


World: COVID-19 is fuelling hunger in the world
COVID-19 is exacerbating the hunger crisis around the globe and for millions it is the final straw, reports Oxfam. At the end of 2020, some 12.000 people could die from hunger each day due to conflict, inequality, dwindling humanitarian aid, climate change and an overall “broken food system.” Millions of food producers and workers live in squalor while the eight biggest food multinationals paid over $18 billion to shareholders since January 2020, ten times more than is requested by the United Nations to stop hunger.  In Africa, hunger also fuels conflict, causing a vicious circle of hunger, violence and property destruction. COVID-19 has worsened the situation with lockdowns, an economic downturn, mass unemployment and aid funds diverted to combat the virus. Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan are amongst the top-10 “extreme hunger hotspots.”