News Highlights: Landmark ruling for 5 Eritreans illegally pushed back to Libya, Increased use of dangerous routes amid restrictions, Sea-Watch allowed to disembark 353 people

artwork by banksy

In this week’s news highlights: Saudi Arabia detains and abuses African migrants in inhumane prisons; Increased locust threat Ethiopia and Eritrea; Increased pressure to stop migration creates more dangerous routes to Europe; Italian court rules in favour of 5 illegally pushed back Eritrean asylum seekers;  Escalation of conflict shapes up in Libya, warns UNSMIL; Tunisians increasingly leave for Europe; New refugee ship funded by Banksy enters Mediterranean; Sea-Watch 4 to bring 353 people to Palermo;  Refugee children negatively affected by EU migration policy, warns Save the Children; Asylum seekers in danger from error in Dutch asylum organisation; Migrant woman gives birth in helicopter; And British government accused of animosity towards refugees.

Greater Horn of Africa

Horn of Africa/ Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia detains African migrants amid COVID-19
Saudi Arabia is keeping many African migrants, most from the Horn of Africa, locked in overcrowded inhumane conditions amid measures against COVID-19, reports The Telegraph. Photographs sent to The Telegraph from within the prison show dozens of emaciated men lying on a bare floor; the detainees report they do not get enough food and water, and that multiple have died from heatstroke or suicide. Others are visibly scarred by the abuse of guards and untreated infections. One of the imprisoned migrants, Abebe from Ethiopia, told The Telegraph via a smuggled phone that “it’s hell in here. We are treated like animals and beaten every day […] My only crime is leaving my country in search of a better life. But they beat us with whips and electric cords as if we were murderers.” The migrants have been detained in the inhumane centers for over five months, after a COVID-19 deportation scheme fell through. A document leaked to The Telegraph shows that Ethiopia warns of legal repercussions for those who share the accounts and photos of abuse, so not to distress the families and other Ethiopians.

Ethiopia/ Eritrea: Locust infestation likely to increase substantially in Ethiopia and Eritrea
Despite control operations, desert locusts are expected to increase in number substantially in Eritrea, Ethiopia and to a lesser extent in Sudan, reports the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO). In northern Ethiopia, locust bands are forming due to summer breeding while the combination of August rains and locust invasions from Yemen and Ethiopia threaten Eritrea. Kenya, Sudan, Somalia and Uganda remain at risk as well, although many swarms in these regions are still immature.

North Africa

North Africa: COVID-19 restrictions make migrants and refugees more dependent on smugglers
COVID-19 restrictions have severely limited the movement of migrants and refugees, making them more dependent on smugglers who use increasingly dangerous routes, reports the Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) in their first series of global thematic updates on the impact of COVID-19 on migrant smuggling. The MMC interviewed 1.419 respondents from 11 countries in Latin America, Asia, West Africa and North Africa (Libya and Tunisia); many note that they have a greater need for smugglers, that prices for smuggling have gone up, and that smugglers increasingly use alternative routes to avoid detection by authorities. The greater dependency on smugglers has increased vulnerability to violence and human rights violations. In North Africa, smugglers, criminal gangs, government officials, armed groups and militias are most likely to cause violence against migrants and refugees on their journey writes the MMC.

North-West Africa: Migrants take a more dangerous route to reach Europe
Migrants and refugees are increasingly led by human traffickers and smugglers into taking more dangerous routes to reach European shores amid tightened security due to EU investments into stopping migration. They are crossing a part of the Atlantic Ocean to reach the Spanish Canary Islands, which is considered one of the deadliest routes towards Europe, reports AP News. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), so far more than 250 people have died or gone missing on this route this year, which is more than have died in the entirety of 2019 on the Western Mediterranean Route. The increase in the route to the Canaries comes after the “EU funded Morocco in 2019 to stop migrants from reaching southern Spain via the Mediterranean Sea” as stated by AP News.

Libya: UNSMIL reports on civil conflict, degrading socio-economic conditions and COVID-19
While active conflict between Haftar’s Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) and the armed groups of the Government of National Accord (GNA) remains relatively subdued since June 2020, there is significant risk of renewed combat, reports Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of Mission in Libya, Stephanie Williams in a briefing to the UN Security Council. Between July 7 and September 1, at least 70 resupply flights and 3 cargo vessels arrived to support the LAAF, while the GNA was supplied by 30 flights and 9 ships. The consistent influx of foreign arms, equipment, mercenaries and operatives in combination with rumors of an imminent offensive risk igniting large-scale fights, says Williams. Fights between local armed groups and militias are also on the rise, increasingly targeting the civilian population.  Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 cases has doubled in the last two weeks while the fragmented health sector cannot cope. Instability is further accelerated by degrading socio-economic conditions in Libya.

Tunisia: Tunisians increasingly leave their country for Italy and France
Many Tunisians are leaving for Italy and France due to economic hardship, reports journalist and researcher Morgane Wirtz. In 2020, Tunisians represent nearly 40% of all illegal arrivals in Italy and Lampedusa was overwhelmed this August by boats filled with hundreds of people from Tunisia. COVID-19 has exacerbated the already fragile economic situation in Tunisia. The 160.000 additional jobs lost have brought the unemployment rate up to 18%, while GDP has declined by 21%. Some towns are desolate of young people, like the coastal town of Zarzis, in the south of Tunisia, where the sea beckons those without a  future in Tunisia to the economic opportunities and freedom in Europe. However, Italy cooperated with Tunisian authorities to stem the flow of migration through an 11 million-euro plan and a repatriation mechanism.


Italy: Italy receives 5 Eritrean asylum seekers after illegal pushback
After more than 10 years, the Court of Rome acknowledged the right of five Eritrean citizens to apply for asylum in a landmark ruling, reports InfoMigrants. In 2009, Italy rescued the refugees from the Mediterranean Sea and sent them back illegally to Libya, where they faced inhumane treatment, violence and torture. The return of the refugees to Italy is considered “exceptionally symbolic” according to a statement released by Amnesty International Italia and the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI). The ruling sets a historic precedent as it is the first time in an Italian court that asylum was granted for someone who is not physically present in Italy.

United Kingdom: Banksy funds refugee rescue ship
Artist Banksy has financed a search-and-rescue ship, the Louise Michel, named after the French feminist anarchist, reports The Guardian. The ship, bright pink and featuring a Banksy artwork of Louise Michel, sailed to the Mediterranean Sea in secret to avoid interception by authorities. Although the boat is small, it is much faster than other NGO search-and-rescue vessels while it can “hopefully outrun the so-called Libyan coastguard before they get to boats with refugees and migrants and pull them back to the detention camps in Libya,” says Louise Michel’s captain Pia Klemp. Between August 27 and 29 the Louise Michel rescued over 200 people, reports AlJazeera.

Italy: The 353 people onboard Sea Watch 4 will be taken in by Palermo
The 353 rescued migrants and refugees on the ship Sea Watch 4 will be taken to Palermo, Sicily, after a quarantine period, says Sea-Watch International in a Tweet. Some of the migrants and refugees had been on the Sea-Watch 4 since August 22. Among the 353 people were migrants and refugees rescued by the Louise Michel, a new NGO search-and-rescue ship funded by the British artist Banksy. 49 other people onboard the Louise Michel had already been evacuated by the Italian coastguard on August 30 after the ship became too overcrowded to move, reports AlJazeera.

Europe-Turkey: The impact of the “refugee crisis” on children
A report from Save the Children highlights the continued negative effect on children impacted by the policies around the ‘refugee crisis’. The report was launched on the day when the world saw the image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body lying on the shore of the Turkish coast on 2 September 2015. The image became the “tragic symbol of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’”, as one million migrants and refugees arrived to Europe. During the last five years, the position of migrants and refugees has gotten worse, especially for children, states Save the Children. The report raises awareness of European Union (EU) policies in response to the “refugee crisis” and anti-migration sentiment, which endangers children. Save the Children also highlights the unchanging situations in countries of origin.

The Netherlands: Error on COA-site puts 150 asylum seekers in danger
A data breach at the Dutch Central Organization for Asylum Seekers (COA) puts 150 suspected victims of human trafficking at risk, reports NOS. According to the COA, the error was caused by  “human error” as data that should have been anonymised was left visible, and they removed the information immediately after it was discovered by NRC and the programme Argos on NPO Radio 1. The breach of personal data from the 150 asylum seekers means that they can be identified through their name, date of birth, telephone number or residence location. In June this year, COA also accidentally leaked 1.200 detailed police reports with sensitive information concerning the extortion, threathening, human trafficking and prostituting of asylum seekers by human traffickers, the mafia, abusers and IS recruiters, reported NRC at the time.

Italy: Migrant woman with coronavirus gives birth in helicopter
A woman infected with COVID-19 has given birth in a helicopter while being transported from an overcrowded migrant centre in Lampedusa, reports BBC. The woman was staying in a migrant holding centre, which continues to be overcrowded from the increase of migrants and refugees arriving at the Italian shores. Currently, about 19,400 migrants and refugees have arrived in Italy this year, according to Reuters. The story of the birth illustrates the  urgent problems related to lack of hygiene options for migrants and refugees, especially for children and women. On 1st of September, hundreds of migrants put up tents in Paris to raise awareness of the unsafe sanitary conditions asylum seekers face, especially during the current pandemic.

United Kingdom: Government blamed for lacking compassion for asylum seekers
Several ministers and anti-racist groups have criticised the British government for “lacking in compassion and competence,” reports the Guardian. One of the criticised government officials is immigration minister Chris Philp, due to his statement that safe routes from Europe to the UK are not the answer to the migration problem, as asylum seekers “in Europe are already in a safe country” and do not need to be relocated. Such sentiments have attracted criticism by government officials and human rights organizations as they state it does nothing to alleviate the problems while it strengthens racist sentiments. With the end of the Brexit transition period approaching, the deportation of people could be made easier in the UK as the Dublin regulation will no longer be binding.