News Highlights: Libyan authorities kill 3 migrants, COVID-19 spike in Ethiopia, Malta waits 30 hours to rescue distressed refugees

Photo by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

In this week’s news highlights: Libyan authorities kill 3 migrants;  200 children intercepted and detained in Libya; Widespread human rights violations on route to Mediteranean; COVID-19 a significant threat to Ethiopia; Millions at risk in South Sudan; Human rights abuses and trafficking in South Sudan; Appeal against Eritrea’s conflict preparations; Maltese authorities wait 30 hours to rescue migrants and refugees; 100 vulnerable asylum seekers relocated from Greece; Hundreds try to flee Italian overcrowded asylum centers; And Migrants and refugees to be transferred from Lampedusa.

Highlights go on summer break

During the month of August, the news highlights will stop for a few weeks. The news highlights will return the first week of September.

North Africa

Libya: Libyan authorities shoot and kill three migrants
Libyan authorities have shot dead three migrants from Sudan who tried to escape the disembarkation point after they were intercepted and returned to shore by the Libyan coastguard, multiple news outlets report. The victims were part of a group of 70 migrants and refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Upon their return, many tried to escape and Libyan authorities opened fire. In a statement, the International Organization for Migration Libya Chief of Mission, Federico Soda, described the shooting as the “use of excessive violence [which] results yet again in the senseless loss of life, amid a lack of action to change a system that often fails to provide any degree of protection.”

Libya: Over 200 children have been intercepted at sea and detained in Libya in 2020
Over 200 migrant and refugee children, including infants and children with disabilities, have been returned to Libya in 2020 while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. In Libya, they have been arbitrarily detained in centres where they receive hardly any support, reports the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Most of these children are  between the ages of 12 and 15,coming  from Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia.  The IRC writes that  children are taken to overcrowded and unsanitary detention centers plagued by systematic violence and abuse. IRC’s Country Director in Libya, Tom Garofalo, said that “[a]bsolutely no one should be detained in Libya’s detention centres – least of all a child.”

North Africa: Refugees face systematic abuse on route to the Mediterranean
Many refugees and migrants suffered “extreme human rights abuses”, kidnapping and death on their journey between West and East Africa and on route to the Mediterranean Coast, reports the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in a joined report with the Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) at the Danish Refugee Council. Victims fleeing war, persecution and poverty often  witness “unspeakable brutality” of State officials, smugglers, traffickers and militias.  UNHCR’s High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi, said that  “[f]or too long, the harrowing abuses experienced by refugees and migrants along these overland routes have remained largely invisible.” With an average of at least 72 deaths per month, the route is amongst the most dangerous for migrants and refugees in the world. Sexual and gender-based violence, abuse, torture, forced prostitution and traumas that result in “lasting and severe mental health issues” are common practices of perpetrators. The report also describes the widespread and systematic human rights abuses in Libya’s detention centers.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Ethiopia hits a new record of confirmed COVID-19 cases
Despite Ethiopia’s and international efforts, COVID-19 remains a major threat in Ethiopia, with a record of 761 new confirmed cases on July 24, reports the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Although most cases were confirmed in the capital, the OCHA is especially worried for internally displaced people and returnees in quarantine centers and “point of entry” centers in different regions. While food and hygiene products are distributed regularly, it is hardly available at point of entry. OCHA further writes, “critical gaps were observed in food, shelter and NFIs [non-food items], WaSH, health and nutrition and protection” in terms of basic service.  Many centers lack clean water, latrines, showers or testing. Due to the government’s reconciliation programmes, thousands of displaced families can return home, but this also brings the risk of spreading the virus. Furthermore, the rainy season that lasts until September will likely affect over 2 million people and displace over 434.000. OCHA requires $1.65 billion to help over 16 million people.

South Sudan: Violence, hunger and COVID-19 restrictions threaten the lives of millions of South Sudanese
More than a half of the South Sudanese population, 6.5 million people, face acute food insecurity and is  in dire need of humanitarian assistance, reports the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Due to violence across the country and looting of humanitarian organizations, many people in need cannot be reached. Violence in the Eastern region has displaced over 60.000 people and has crippled the livelihood and food security. Due to the violence many communities have lost livestock and farming has been halted, which will result in lower harvests later this year. The insecurity and violence has also led to the looting of humanitarian food parcels, over 430 metric tons. Children are especially threatened. The nutrition of milk lost by cattle raids cannot be replaced while the damaging or occupation of schools results in a permanent educational setback. The violence in combination with COVID-19 measures resulted in 2.2 million children missing out on education.  Forced to stay at home, young girls are at increased risk of sexual violence and child marriage reports Save the Children and Human Rights Watch.

South Sudan: Violence and weak government induce human trafficking in South Sudan
Since gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan remains a country challenged by conflict, constrained socioeconomic development, weak government and weak criminal justice persecution and protection; This has created an environment in which there are many internally displaced and many vulnerable people that are hardly protected, reports the International Organization for Migration (IOM). As a result, human rights abuses and trafficking in persons are both prevalent in the country. Examples include forced recruitment by armed forces and groups, forced marriages, servitude,  labour exploitation and sexual exploitation- also of young children who are sold or abducted.  Due to the weak legal system many crimes are underreported or unpunished. The IOM urges for international cooperation and the buildup of national and local institutions to tackle the problems affecting

Eritrea: Eritrean government blamed for focusing on war rather than ongoing hunger
In an opinionated article by Petros Tesfagiorgis, author criticises current practices of the Eritrean government claiming that the regime tends to conspire against Tigray region in Ethiopia rather than focusing on hunger of its own citizens.  He claims that the Eritrean people are suffering under the brutality of the regime, while COVID-19 restrictions leave many in increased food and water insecurity. COVID-19 lockdown measures, which include a ban on farming, fishing and trading are strictly enforced but the Eritrean regime offers no alternatives for food or water, states Tesfagiorgis. Multiple countries and organizations have offered COVID-19 relief but the Eritrean regime keeps refusing such help. Concerns over the “impending famine” are hardly addressed in Eritrea due to the suppression of civil society. Eritrea has used its temporary position in the Human Rights commission not to address the vulnerability of its people but to lobby against the UN Special rapporteur mission, who has never been allowed inside the country. Tesfagiorgis, as well as Eritrean Diaspora groups, urge to avoid a costly conflict with Tigray and focus on the wellbeing of the many poverty stricken Eritreans.


Malta: Malta waited 30 hours to rescue 95 migrants in distress
After 30 hours and mounting pressure from activists and NGOs, Maltese authorities rescued 95 migrants and refugees in distress after problems with the engine in the Mediterranean Sea, report multiple news outlets. The incident, one of dozens in the past weeks, is criticized by the International Organization for Migration and NGO Alarm Phone because it shows a pattern of Maltese, as well as Italian policy to bring significant risk to human lives with the aim to curb migration and refugee crossings. The other part of this policy is preventing NGO rescue ships from doing their work; with the Italian coastguard blocking SOS Mediterranée over “administrative failures,” writes The New York Times. Thousands of migrants and refugees have drowned trying to brave the Mediterranean. In May,  Alarm Phone also contacted European and Libyan authorities after receiving a distress call from a sinking ship. Similar to the events of this week, Alarm Phone was ignored for hours on end which resulted in the disappearance of the distressed boat with all on board presumably drowned, reported the BBC.

Greece/ EU: 100 vulnerable asylum seekers relocated from Cyprus and Greece
Almost 100 vulnerable asylum seekers have been relocated from Cyprus and Greece to be relocated to other European member states, reports the European Asylum Support Office (EASO).  Within the relocation scheme, EASO seeks to assist vulnerable people including sick children, unaccompanied minors On July 24, 83 people were relocated from Greece to Germany and July 27, 16 people were relocated from Cyprus to Finland as part of the EU pledge to relocate a total of 1.600 minors. Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor sees the relocations as “commendable steps,” but also urges for a more systematic and adequate response to  the overcrowded and poorly serviced centers along the Mediterranean; also by taking in larger numbers of (vulnerable) asylum seekers from countries like Greece for fair redistribution within the EU. Greece alone is responsible for over 5000 unaccompanied asylum seeking minors.

Italy: Asylum seekers escape overcrowded migration centers in Sicily
On 26 and 27 July around 280 asylum seekers escaped from two Sicilian migration centers, reports ANSA. Around 100 of escapees ran from the civil protection department migrant centre based in Porto Empedocle, which houses some 520 asylum seekers despite a claimed maximum capacity of 100 people. Further, around 180 asylum seekers broke out of  the Pian del Lago migrant centre of Caltanissetta. Most of the asylum seekers have already been captured by authorities and they will be placed in quarantine. Major of Caltanissetta, Roberto Gambino, said he was “to write to (Interior Minister Luciana) Lamorgese reiterating that the Caltanissetta facility cannot hold these people because it is not suitable.”

Italy: Migrants and refugees transferred from Lampedusa
Italian authorities have approved the transfer of 200 migrants and refugees from Lampedusa to Sicily and mainland Italy, reports ANSA. On July 27, 43 migrants were already transferred. The reception and housing facilities of Lampedusa have been overwhelmed and overcrowded, with nearly 650 people staying in accommodation designed for 95 people.  Between July 22 and 24, nearly 1000 migrants and refugees arrived on the small island, which prompted a visit from former interior minister Matteo Salvini to promote his anti-migration platform. Democratic Party member Enrico Borghi said that the current Italian government is not planning to “watch men and women drown” while accusing Matteo Salvini of being a “demagogue,” reports Reuters.