News Highlights: Ethiopian PM visits Eritrea, Greece prepares for more refugees amid Turkey tensions, Refugees from the Horn on frontlines in Yemen

In this week’s News Highlights: Visit of Ethiopian PM in Eritrea; Eritrean president travels to Sudan; Amnesty international concerned about political detainees in Ethiopia; Ethiopian and Eritrean government accused of plotting against Tigray political party; Lack of funding for COVID-19 response in Ethiopia; Refugees from East Africa recruited to work in military camps in Yemen; Teenage pregnancies on the rise amid pandemic in Kenya; IOM response to Euronews investigation of returns; Greece prepares for higher number of refugees amid Turkey tension; Conference calls for better prosecution of human traffickers; Number of refugees in French informal camp increases; Protest of Sudanese asylum seekers in the Netherlands; COVID-19 affects mixed migration routes in North Africa; And health center for refugees and migrants re-opened. 


Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea/Ethiopia: Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed visits Eritrea
On 18 and 19 July, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, accompanied by a delegation, travelled to Eritrea for an official diplomatic visit to the neighbouring country. According to Yemane G. Meskel, Eritrean Minister of Information, leaders of two countries met in order to strengthen ties, strengthen regional cooperation and reflect on the progress made since the signing of the peace declaration, reports AfricaNews. Alongside his visit to Asmara, Abiy Ahmed also visited the military camp Sawa, normally closed to visitors, accompanied by Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki. President Isaias was accompanied by his son. The Sawa camp is known for basic military training of young national conscripts in Eritrea’s indefinite military service. The visit has raised questions of what both leaders are trying to reach, amid heightened tensions towards the Tigray region in Ethiopia. In addition, Eritrean delegations have visited Egypt and Ethiopia in the last months, and the visit of PM Abiy to Eritrea was immediately followed by a visit by an Eritrean delegation to Khartoum, Sudan.

Eritrea/Sudan: Three-day visit of Eritrean President to Sudan
President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea visited Sudan amid rising tensions over the Nile Dam. Details reported by Eritrea’s national press revealed little of what was discussed, beyond strengthening bilateral ties and regional issues. Security and defense were high on the agenda. Unconfirmed Tweets raised speculation about an agreement between Sudan and Eritrea to station an Eritrean army in Sudan, near Kassala. This has not been confirmed.

Ethiopia: Amnesty International expresses concerns over political detainees in Ethiopia
Amnesty International called on Ethiopian authorities to release arrested political prisoners who were detained after the protests following the killing of Oromo singer and activist, Hachalu Hundesssa. Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, expressed his concern over arbitrary arrests as well as unknown whereabouts of prisoners. Families of detainees are worried about “crowded, unsanitary conditions in places of detention amidst the COVID-19 pandemic”. 

Ethiopia/Eritrea: Tigray’s political party blames federal government of conspiracy
The political party of the Tigray region, Ethiopia, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), accused the Eritrean government and Federal Government of Ethiopia of conspiring against announced elections of Tigray region, reports Egeza. According to Debretsion Gebremichael, TPLF chairman, there have been noticeable activities around the border areas with Eritrea  of armed men “trying to mobilize the public to boycott the election”. He further denounced the state blockage of internet connection ordered by the federal government which can lead to negative economic impact. 

Ethiopia: UNHCR reports on shortage of funding and delayed procurement in Ethiopia
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) expressed its concerns over the lack of funding in Ethiopia to face the emergency caused by COVID-19, reports CGTN. Out of total $34.7 million required for COVID-19 response plans, only $3.4 million has been received so far. Alongside the shortage of funding, lack of “Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), medicines and medical supplies are among the key challenges hampering the response efforts” according to UNHCR. 

East Africa/Yemen: Refugees on the frontlines amid COVID-19 trouble
Middle East Eye reports that refugees and migrants from East Africa, stuck in Yemen amid COVID-19 restrictions, are being recruited to work in military camps in Yemen. COVID-19 has caused a decrease in already meager livelihood opportunities for the refugees and migrants aiming to reach Saudi Arabia. The first diagnosed case of COVID-19 in Yemen was a Somali refugee, which has led to stigmatisation and exploitation. The UNHCR currently has recorded 281,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Yemen, mainly from the Horn of Africa. 

Kenya: Unintended teenage pregnancies in slums on the rise amid COVID-19
The organization Kamukunji Community Empowerment Initiative (KACEI) is concerned that many teenagers (ages 11-18) will fail to complete their studies due to unintended pregnancies resulting in early marriages in the Pumwani Majengo slum in Nairobi, Kenya. “What we have been seeing on the roadsides and alleys while heading home to beat the curfew time is really dreadful,” a KACEI official stated, in relation to the emerging threats of COVID-19 on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) of teenage girls. “Teenage girls and boys are engaging in sexual matters, which will affect them after the coronavirus pandemic is over. We are going to have a lot of early unintended teenage pregnancies and early marriages after this,” the KACEI official emphasizes.

Horn of Africa: IOM responds to Euronews investigation into voluntary returns from Libya
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) responded to an earlier series of articles in Euronews which critically assessed the joint EU-IOM Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration. The IOM claimed that the three-part series was one-sided and addressed specific concerns with the articles in question. In relation to one of the Euronews articles which addressed specific concerns about returns to Eritrea, IOM stated that no Eritreans were forced to board the plane after changing their minds, and that a quote from a report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea in relation to systematic ill-treatment of returnees could not be classified as “recent”. The IOM did “recognize […] its limited access and presence in Eritrea.”  


Greece: Preparations for heightened tensions with Turkey
Greece is preparing for an increase in refugees from Turkey, as tensions heighten between the European Union (EU) and Turkey over their migration deal. On top of this, Turkey has announced that it will explore drilling for hydrocarbon in the Mediterranean Sea. While France urges the EU to implement sanctions over the possible drilling, the EU is pressured by Turkish President Erdogan’s threat to break its deal and allow around 3.3 million migrants and refugees residing in Turkey to travel to Greece. 

European Union: Conference calls for better prosecution of human traffickers and protection of victims
The OSCE Alliance Conference against Trafficking in Persons, held in Vienna, calls for an increase in prosecution rates for human traffickers. Participants urged to focus on protection of victims, particularly those with increased vulnerability due to the COVID-19 crisis. Following the money was identified as a key strategy to ensure that human traffickers would not benefit from their crimes. 

Netherlands: Sudanese asylum seekers protest against new policy
Sudanese asylum seekers, currently residing in the Netherlands, held a protest in The Hague against the new policy of the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service. According to the new policy, all asylum applications from Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states are subjected to reassessment as an “improved situation since 2017” has been observed. Protesters also issued an open letter to Khadija Arib, Chairperson of the Dutch House of Representatives in which they called on the Ministry of Justice and Security to “base their policies towards Sudanese refugees on the actual security situation in Sudan”. 

France: Increase in refugees in French informal camp raises alarms
NGOs have warned about a breakdown in France’s reception system, as a small informal camp north of Paris has seen an increase from 400 to 1000 people in just a month. Increased arrivals and reduced French capacity in reception due to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to an increase in people without shelter. This includes persons that are in transit or have been rejected, but also includes recognised refugees who have lost their jobs amid the pandemic. The sanitary and safety conditions in the makeshift camp cause concerns, with NGOs urging France to improve its reception system. 

North of Africa

North Africa: Mixed migration routes are affected by COVID-19
A new report by the Mixed Migration Centre describes developments and updates in mixed migration in North African countries occurring during the second quarter of 2020. Mixed migration patterns and movements along the Central Mediterranean Route were affected by the spread of COVID-19 and related measures. Most of the official border crossings were closed over the past period, “severely constraining cross-border mobility” which added “extra layer of livelihood constraints for refugees and migrants”. In addition, resettlement and evacuation procedures of refugees and migrants had to be put on hold. 

Libya: Health facility for refugees and migrants re-opens gates after the lockdown
A health care center in Gergaresh near Tripoli, serving a community with a high concentration of refugees and migrants, has reopened its facility with the help from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the International Rescue Committee. The health facility was closed due to a state of emergency declared to prevent spreading the novel coronavirus. The center provides a broad range of health services to both local and refugee communities which includes psychosocial support ensuring that all patients follow social distancing measures.