News Highlights: Refugees return from Yemen back to Djibouti; Dozens feared dead after boat sinks off Libyan coast; First COVID-19 death in Greek camp

In this week’s news highlights: Thousands of migrants and refugees arrive in Djibouti after suffering abuses trying to reach Saudi Arabia; At least 15 killed in an armed attack in Ethiopia; migrants drowned after boat capsized off the Libyan coast; NGO staff accused of smuggling in Greece; Tensions arise after first COVID-19 death at Malakasa camp in Greece; Alan Kurdi rescue boat docks in Sardinia, Italy; Lesbian refugee wins trial in the UK after unlawful deportation to Uganda; East German city to host asylum seekers in spite of rise of far-right movements; Remote Ascension Island considered among attempts by UK government to remotely host refugees; Italian warship, deployed to combat human smugglers, caught with contraband in 2018; Open letter to UK prime minister for changing family reunification law; “Anchor baby” argument devalues migrant womens’ journey; VODAN successfully achieves and stores patient data visit across continents.


Greater Horn of Africa

Djibouti: Thousands of African migrants and refugees arrive in Djibouti
Over three weeks, more than 2000 African migrants and refugees have reached Djibouti and received aid from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), reports IOM. The persons from Ethiopia and Somalia returned to Djibouti after being unable to reach the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, due to “COVID-19 movement restrictions, border closures, and extreme danger along this migratory route”, states IOM. According to IOM, they arrived hungry, tired, and in dire need of medical assistance. Many of them were forced to pay smugglers but were abandoned in the desert without food and water, resulting in fatalities. The mass return to Djibouti left many migrants and refugees stranded and unable to return home. IOM’s Regional Director, East & Horn of Africa, Mohammed Abdiker stated that “Djibouti is facing a colossal humanitarian challenge for a small country.”

Ethiopia: Armed attack against civilians leaves at least 15 people dead
On Friday 25 September, at least 15 people died due to an armed attack in the Benishangul-Gumuz region’s Metekel Zone in Ethiopia. According to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) there is a surge of attacks against the civil population in this western region. The increase in violence has forced more than 300 people to leave their houses. This is the third attack in one month.

North Africa

Libya: Migrants and refugees dead after boat sinks off the coast of Libya
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a rubber boat transporting 120 refugees and migrants sank off the Libyan coast. Anadolu Agency states that at least 15 people died. The survivors were picked up by the Libyan coastguard and brought back to the Libyan Zliten detention centre, according to Safa Msehli, IOM spokeswoman. There is a fear that the death toll could rise according to the Libyan coastguard, informs Aljazeera. Msehli shares that “[i]t is horrible that the loss of life is normalised […] we have consistently said that there is a need for dedicated state-led search-and-rescue capacity to save lives.”


Greece: 33 NGO members charged with smuggling of migrants
Thirty-three members of non-government organizations, along with three foreign nationals, are facing charges in Greece for allegedly having aided the illegal entry of asylum seekers from Turkey into Greece, reports Ekathimerini. The Greek Police (ELAS) stated that the members have been “helping smuggle migrants to the island of Lesvos since at least early June.” The Greek authorities investigated the “illegal smuggling network” over the span of several months and suspect that the members of having gathered, transported, and met migrants and refugees on boats that left the coast of Turkey, states Naftemporiki.

Greece: First COVID-19 death at Malakasa camp increases tensions among migrants and refugees
Officials have announced the first COVID-19 death of an asylum seeker in the Greek  Malakasa refugee camp, which has led to tensions and protests among the migrants and refugees, reports InfoMigrants. The overcrowded camp has been in lockdown since September 7, which has made it difficult for the refugees and migrants to maintain social distancing and follow health protocols. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the camp has been running at 132.4% capacity. The organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has raised red flags that living conditions do not meet public health protocols and are getting worse. Christina Psarra, director-general of MSF stated that “[t]he immediate evacuation of people is the only way to avoid chaos”.

Italy: The rescue boat Alan Kurdi lands in Sardinia
The rescue ship “Alan Kurdi” docked at Olbia, in Sardinia, on Friday 24, as reported by EuroNews. Onboard are 125 migrants and refugees that will be relocated to European countries. 25 of them will stay in Italy.

Italy: Italian ship to stop migrants was smuggling contraband and breaking the arms embargo
Caprera, a ship deployed by Italy to assist the Libyan coast guard in intercepting migrant and refugee boats, was caught smuggling contraband in 2018. The ship has become famous for having stopped more than 7000 migrants and refugees off the Libyan coast over the last 2 years, reports The New YorkTimes. The crew did so by preventing migrant boats from reaching international waters. But in July 2018 during an inspection by financial police, the vessel was found with 700.000 cigarettes and medical drugs. A trial is underway in Brindisi against five sailors, but documents seen by the New York Times show that more boats and individuals could be involved. The Times notes that the Caprera had also been accused of violating the UN Arms Embargo against Libya on at least three separate occasions.

UK: Lesbian asylum seeker wins case over deportation to Uganda
A lesbian asylum seeker, known as PN, won a case in the court of appeal against the Home Office as it was found that she was “unlawfully removed from the UK”, reports The Guardian. The decision comes after a seven-year battle of the woman to find a new place of safety. In December 2013, the Home Office removed the woman from the UK under a fast-track system. After that, she was gang-raped and feared for her life, she says. More than 10,000 cases were decided under the fast-track system, which has now been found unlawful.

UK: Ascension Island suggested as a new British refugee centre location among ‘offshoring’ asylum
The United Kingdom government is leaving no stone unturned in its search for offshore locations to house refugees and migrants. The remote Ascension Island, situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, was considered as one of the options for a new offshore asylum centre. The proposal was reportedly led by Home Secretary Priti Patel and supported by Laura Trott, Conservative MP for Sevenoaks in Kent, as reported by BBC News. No final decisions have been made. BBC quotes United Nations refugee agency representative to the UK, Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, stating that a similar model in Australia was causing “suffering for people, who are guilty of no more than seeking asylum, and it has also cost huge amounts of money”.

UK: Celebrities call for changing family reunification British law
In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, over 70 British celebrities demand that the Family Reunification Law be amended, as reported by The Guardian. UK stars united in a large coalition, which also includes Amnesty International and the UN Refugee Agency, to ask for a new safe and legal route for families of asylum seekers, with special regard for children; minors currently cannot apply to be reunited with parents or siblings, and children over 18 seeking to reunite with parents in the UK are also ineligible. The call came after an increase in numbers of migrants and refugees that crossed the channel from France to England (almost 7000 in 2020), many among them being minors. “[I] was separated from my mother when I was 14 years old. I had an extremely difficult asylum journey to come to the UK and thankfully I was granted refugee status two years ago,” explains Merhawi Hagos, 18 years old and a refugee from Eritrea.

Germany: City Neuruppin, will host migrants in opposition to the extreme-right party movement
The city of Neuruppin in Germany will host 75 migrants following the fire at the Moria refugee camp in Greece Camp. The town will be part of a small number of cities in eastern Germany where the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AFD) is rising in the polls. This request was made following Germany’s decision to take over 1500 migrants from Greece and to relocate them where available.

Europe: “Anchor baby” argument undermined
The New Humanitarian reports on the estimated 11% of women who arrive in Europe pregnant. The article breaks down the argument that women become pregnant on purpose for so-called “anchor babies” to exploit humanitarian protection systems, the reality is more complex. Many women fall victim to sexual abuse or experience pressure. The article emphasizes that women do, in fact, try to protect themselves against pregnancies and sexual violence, and ask for abortions after sexual abuse. Furthermore, according to studies, pregnant women a higher chance to die along the trip. Therefore, the author argues, to dismiss pregnancies as deliberate and calculated as “anchor babies” undermines the pregnant womens’ experiences.


Africa: Virus Outbreak Data Network Africa achieves a global milestone
A Partnership that began with a vision in March 2020 to provide machine readable access to critical data needed to fight and contain the coronavirus has reached a milestone. A first data visit took place between Europe and Africa through “deployment of seven machine-actionable FAIR Data Points (FDPs) that allows algorithms to find COVID-19 data over the internet.” Prof. Mirjam Van Reisen, the Global Coordinator VODAN Africa, shares how VODAN Africa’s Fair Data Initiative can provide data for scientists to understand the movement and development of the virus around the world and aid governments to reach out to protect communities. The test to execute machine-based querying of FAIR Data Points has been successful and the team is “[p]roud of the progress we have made. We have been able to access data, store ii, and kept it at the point of origin” states Dr. Mouhammad Mpezamihigo, Vice President of Kampala International University in Uganda.