News Highlights: Moria on fire, Tigray vote raises tensions in Ethiopia, 3 migrants jump from Maesk Etienne rescue boat

In this week’s news highlights: Tensions arise over vote in Tigray region, Ethiopia; Sudan ends 30 years of Islamic Law; New cohort of youth travels to national service training in Eritrea in crowded buses; Eritrean military colonel arrested in Asmara; US suspends part of aid to Ethiopia over Blue Nile dam dispute;  Eritrea – Sudan agree to bolster bilateral relations; UN chief Guterres calls for closing detention centers in Libya; Fires break out at Moria refugee camp; Migrants moved from centre on Lampedusa; 3 migrants jump from Maersk Etienne boat; Dutch advisory council recommends cooperation to prevent ‘digital colonialism’ in Africa; Opposing migration protests in Dover, UK; EU to improve integration of migrants in the labour market; and Ecological threats risk mass population displacement.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Tigray polls may escalate tensions with PM Abiy
On 9 September, elections took place for the 190-seat strong regional parliament in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The election took place despite objections of the Federal government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, which had postponed the general elections earlier this year, citing COVID-19 restrictions. The federal government warned that the Tigray elections were deemed “illegal” and opposed to the Coronavirus emergency law. Experts, including election observer Kjetil Tronvoll, reported rising tensions ahead of the elections and warnings that any interference could add elements to the secession cause in Tigray. More than 85% of Tigraian voters had cast their ballots, reports Aljazeera. Results will be announced by 13 September. Ethiopian security officials hindered at least 12 people, including four journalists and a senior think tank analyst, from flying to Tigray to cover the elections, reports Reuters

Sudan: Separating religion from state ends 30 years of Islamic Law
Sudan’s transitional government declared a separation of religion from the state, leading to the end of 30 years of Islamic rule, reports Bloomberg. A declaration adopting the principle was signed on 3 September between the Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu, the Chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North. The accord comes one week after the government signed the peace agreement with rebel forces that promises an end to the fighting in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

Eritrea: New national service recruits transported to Sawa despite COVID-19
Twitter messages show buses loaded full of Eritrean youngsters about to enter Sawa, the training camp for Eritrea’s national service. Radio Erena comments that despite the complete stop in public transport in Eritrea amid COVID-19 measures, an exemption is made for the national service, despite the lack of social distancing visible on the videos and pictures. The youngsters will spend Eritrean new year and Meskel, an annual religious holiday, away from family this month. 

Eritrea: Eritrean security and intelligence officer arrested in Asmara
Colonel Teame Goytom was reportedly arrested in Eritrea, Asmara, on 4 September. Teame was identified previously as having played a central role in Eritrea’s external security and intelligence operations, reports Eritrea Hub. It is unknown why he was arrested. In 2011, Colonel Goytom was identified by the UN Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Report as “Brigadier” involved in the support of armed Somali opposition groups.

Ethiopia: US suspends aid over Blue Nile dam dispute
The United States halted a portion of its aid to Ethiopia over issues related to its Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD), reports The Africa Report. The announcement was made days after US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, visited Sudan during his “Five-day tour to push for closer relations between Arab countries and Israel” quotes The Africa Report. In a separate statement made by the US Department, the decision to halt a portion of its aid is attributed to the concern about Ethiopia’s “unilateral decision to begin to fill the dam before an agreement and all necessary dam safety measures were in place”.

Eritrea/Sudan: Sudan’s Head of Council visits President Isaias in Asmara
On 8 September, the Head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Burhan and the Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki discussed bilateral affairs during a meeting held in Eritrea, reports ENA. According to the reports, both leaders agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation in different domains: economic, trade, security and military sectors. In addition, they engaged to bolster peace efforts between countries. The meeting was the latest in a series of exchanges between the two country’s leaders.

North Africa

Libya: UN Chief Antonio Guterres calls for closure of all detention centres United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls for the definitive closure of all detention centers where refugees and migrants are detained in inhuman conditions in Libya, reports Aljazeera. Guterres presented a report to the UN Security council, which outlined that more than 2780 persons continue to be detained in the prisons, 22% of whom are children. The UN chief explains that children are particularly affected by the daily violation of human rights in detention. Conditions of sexual abuse, lack of food, and lack of healthcare have been documented extensively. In addition, Guterres confirms that torture, executions, and shootings are common in Libyan detention.


Greece: Fires erupt at overcrowded Moria refugee camp
Major fires broke out at the overcrowded refugee camp of Moria on the island of Lesbos in Greece. The camp, housing over 12,000 people, has been in lockdown since 3 September after a refugee tested positive for the novel coronavirus. According to BBC, unconfirmed rumors state that camp inhabitants may have started the fire to protest the lockdown measures and severe conditions. Lesbos project coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Marco Sandrone, affirms to the BBC that “[i]t was difficult to say what caused the blaze” but that “[i]t’s a time bomb that finally exploded” as the refugees have been living in “inhuman conditions” for years. The fires have left more than 12,000 people without shelter. Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, calls for the Greek authorities to help those displaced and states that she will present a new proposal until 30 September to help resolve this humanitarian crisis by the end of the month.

Italy: Hundreds of migrants moved from the overcrowded centre of Lampedusa
Hundreds of migrants and refugees were relocated from a facility on the island of Lampedusa to a ferry, where they need to spend two weeks in quarantine, reports Euronews. The move comes after Prime Minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte, made an agreement with the Sicilian governor, Sebastiano “Nello” Musumeci, after an emergency meeting on 2 September. According to Euronews, Musumeci ordered the removal of the migrant camps in the region due to a “sanitary emergency”, which led to a legal conflict with the central government. The reception centre of Lampedusa, which has a capacity of fewer than 200 people, has housed more than 1,000 people due to the increase of arrivals of migrants and refugees this summer.

Mediterranean: Three migrants jump from Maersk Etienne boat
Three migrants aboard the Danish-flagged vessel Maersk Etienne have jumped overboard in desperation on September 6, reports InfoMigrants. The three migrants are part of a group of 27 migrants, including a pregnant woman and child, that were saved by the ship at the requests from Maltese authorities more than a month ago. Currently, the Maersk Etienne awaits approval to disembark. Delays have caused tension on the ship. The crew have safely recovered the migrants, and are asking for “immediate help” as they “[h]ave been sharing food, water and blankets with those rescued” and resources will not last indefinitely, stated Volodymyr Yeroshkin, captain of the Maersk Etienne. Amnesty International issued a report calling on Malta and the European Union to put a halt to the humanitarian crisis onboard the ship.

Netherlands: Advisory body comments on ‘digital colonialism’
The Dutch Advisory Council on Foreign Affairs advised the Dutch government to support strong regulatory frameworks on the internet in Africa. The advise comments on the dangers of digital colonialism through initiatives such as the ‘2Africa’ cable that is under construction by Facebook. Through such initiatives, tech giants such as companies in the United States and China could take advantage of the lack of data protection laws to ‘mine’ valuable data. The advise recommended stronger cooperation on data protection and privacy. 

United Kingdom: Rival protests on migration in Dover
Two rival protests happened in the Kent port town of Dover on 5 September; one protest to show solidarity with migrants and refugees, and the other an anti-immigration protest, reports InfoMigrants. These protests were caused by the tensions over the increase in refugees crossing the English Channel. The anti-immigration protest involved about 60 people shouting “freedom” while wearing Union flag masks or carrying flags, according to the BBC. During the protests, far-right protesters collided with the police, and 10 people arrested “[o]n suspicion of a racially aggravated public order offence, violent disorder and assaulting an emergency worker” states InfoMigrants.

European Commission: Improving the integration of migrants and refugees into the labour market.
On 7 September, the European Commission, trade unions, chambers of commerce, and employers’ organisations (ETUC, Business Europe, SMEUnited, CEEP, Eurochambres) renewed the deal for a deepening integration through the European Partnership for Integration (2017) of refugees in the labour market. Reported by a joint statement and a press release from the Commission, the Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit and the Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson welcomed the renewed commitment. They hope that this engagement will lead to new support for the European integration of refugees in social cohesion.

World: Ecological threats may cause forced migration of more than a billion people by 2050
The Ecological Threat Register (ERT) report has been published by leading international think-tank the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), which measures the ecological threats countries currently face and supplies projections towards 2050, reports Cision. The report “[a]nalyses risk from population growth, water stress, food security, droughts, floods, cyclones, rising temperatures and sea levels” and found that “141 countries are exposed to at least one ecological threat by 2050” shares Cision. The resilience of 31 countries is likely insufficient to withstand the impact of ecological events, which will likely lead to mass population displacement. Countries such as Pakistan, Ethiopia and Iran are the countries with the largest number of people at risk of mass displacements.