News Highlights: ‘Al-Bidja’ arrested in Libya on charges of trafficking, RSF starts case against Eritrean authorities, Minors in UK held in unfit detention for days

In this week’s news highlights: Eritrea’s President accused of crimes against humanity in case launched by RSF; 12 migrants found dead along Djibouti coast; UK Africa Minister worries about human rights violations in Eritrea; Eritrean refugees cross the Ethiopian border; “Al-Bidja” arrested in Libya accused of trafficking and smuggling; UNHCR restarts refugee evacuation flights from Libya; New documentary depicts difficult lives of migrants and transporters in Agadez; 15 migrants drown off Libyan coast; Croatian police accused of violence towards asylum seekers; Refugee children forced to wait long for accommodation in the UK; Greece finalises planning to build a new wall against migrants at Turkish border; Young victims of child trafficking risk of deportation when turning 18 in the UK; “Welcome event” for asylum seekers in Kent (UK); COVID-19 causes decrease in remittances in 2020; And joint statement on the new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum.

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea/Sweden: Reporters Without Borders brings case against Eritrea’s president
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) filed a case at the office of the Swedish prosecutor for International Crimes, accusing Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki and seven other senior Eritrean officials of crimes against humanity over the imprisonment of journalist Dawit Isaak since 2001. The Swedish-Eritrean journalist and poet was arrested without trial or process by the Eritrean regime and has been held for the past 19 years. He has been allowed no contact with family or lawyers. It is believed that he is being kept in inhumane conditions at the Eiraeiro detention centre. RSF’s case “aims to pressure the Swedish judicial authorities into arresting those held responsible for Isaak’s fate if they enter Sweden”. RSF furthermore hopes this case could improve press freedom and help to end the impunity for crimes of violence in the country.

Djibouti: 12 migrants confirmed dead off the coast of Djibouti
The death of at least 12 people along the coast of Obock, Djibouti, has been reported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on 16 October. According to the UN Agency, a group of about 50 Ethiopian migrants and refugees was being returned back by a smuggler boat from Yemen to Djibouti, due to the high unemployment rate in the Arabic country and the lack of food. The 34 rescued refugees and migrants reported small injuries and a state of shock. Mohammed Abdiker, the IOM Regional Director for East & Horn of Africa stated as the news of the deaths came in earlier: “[J]ust days ago eight were left dead in Djibouti. Now ten. To say more needs to be done to respond to the migrants trying to reach the country. […] Djibouti as a transit and destination country is shouldering huge responsibility and needs support.”

Eritrea/UK: UK Africa Minister reacts to concerns about human rights violations in Eritrea
The British Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, replied to the concerns on human rights violations in Eritrea in a letter to Lord Alton, a Member of the House of Lords. In his response, Duddridge stated that Eritrea continues to systematically violate human rights and he called for raising awareness and attempting different ways of engagement with Eritrea. Duddridge shares that he is “concerned, about the large numbers of Eritreans who continue to leave Eritrea because of: a desire to avoid national service; […] the continuing detention of political opponents as well as journalists; and the restrictions placed on unregistered religious communities.”  Discussions with the Eritrean Government on freedom of religion or belief are difficult but the British Government seeks to have a specific dialogue on religious tolerance, the letter states.

Eritrea/Ethiopia: Eritrean refugees are arriving in Ethiopia across the border
Eritrean civil society actors state that refugees have been resuming entry into Tigray, Ethiopia, through the Zalambessa area during the visit of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki to Ethiopia, reports United Eritreans for Justice.

North Africa

Libya: Abd al-Rahman al-Milad arrested in Tripoli on charges of human trafficking
The infamous Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, known as “Al-Bidja” was arrested and detained on charges of human trafficking and smuggling by Libyan authorities on Wednesday, 14 October. Al-Bidja was wanted by INTERPOL and was put under sanctions by the United Nations. He was chief of the Libyan regional coast guard for the north-western coastal town of Zawiya, where a lot of refugees passed through detention and faced violence and abuse by guards. Al-Bidja has been accused of direct involvement in the sinking of migrant boats with firearms and in the facilitation of smuggling. He is also accused of direct violence and torture of migrants and refugees.

Libya: Evacuation of refugees starts again after months of suspension
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) restarted flights for the evacuation of refugees from Libya to Niger through the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM). 153 people were transported on October 18. Most of the evacuees are nationals from Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan, including many unaccompanied minors. The flights aim to evacuate some of the 3,400 refugees and migrants held in government detention centers. The ETM centre in Niger serves as a temporary location to house refugees in order to prepare them for their resettlement in other countries, including in Europe. UNHCR has called for more spaces for refugee resettlement to accommodate the evacuees.

Niger/Libya: Documentary Teghadez Agadez highlights impact of policy on migration
The documentary Teghadez Agadez by Morgane Wirtz asks the question of why some have more right of movement than others. The documentary follows André, a man who made his living by transporting migrants between Agadez (Niger) and Libya. After 2016, a new crackdown on illegal migration with support of EU funding led to increased difficulty for both those transporting and those travelling on the dangerous routes. The documentary tells the story of those detained, tortured and enslaved in Libya. It premiered in Brussels on 21 October.

Libya: Migrant boat sinks off Libyan coast, at least 15 dead
On 21 October, at least 15 migrants and refugees died after their boat sank off the Libyan coast, near Sabratha. According to IOM and reported by different media, 5 other migrants and refugees were found alive and were returned to the coast with the help of fishermen. Federico Soda, the IOM mission chief in Libya states: “(M)ore than 70 others were intercepted and returned to Libya by the coast guard last night.”


Croatia: Violence and sexual abuse towards refugees by Croatian police
The Guardian reports that members of Croatian police have been accused of whipping, robbing, beating and sexually abusing migrants and refugees at the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) has also noted an increase in violence towards refugees on Croatian territory between 12 and 16 October near the refugee camp of Šiljkovača, where 700 migrants and refugees currently live. Victims have reported injuries such as bruises and cuts on the back. Local NGOs, the UN Refugee Agency and witnesses ask for an EU intervention and internal investigation on border monitoring mechanisms.

United Kingdom: Minor asylum-seekers left detained without access to beds
After crossing the Channel between France and the United Kingdom (UK), unaccompanied children have to wait for days in a UK holding unit without proper access to beds and sanitary facilities before being moved into local authority care, reports The Independent. The Home Office announced that underage arrivals would be placed at the Kent Intake Unit for short-term holding until being transferred to social services. However, the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, reports that due to delays, the children are now spending days in this “untenable situation.” Longfield states that the system and processes for distributing child asylum-seekers within the UK are in urgent need of reform.

Greece:  Anti-immigration barrier at Turkish border to be extended
On 19 October, Greece finished its planning in order to extend a wall at the border with Turkey to prevent the entering of migrants and refugees in Europe, reports Daily Sabah. An additional 26 km will be added to the existing border wall of 10 km. In addition, the government will increase the number of border guards to more than 400 for the northeastern Evros border. Human Rights Watch has collected interviews from refugees in which they reported illegal push-back activities from Greece to Turkey, as well as violence by guards and police against migrants and refugees. UNHCR is concerned about the alleged informal returns of migrants and refugees that previously disembarked in Greece.

United Kingdom: Minor human trafficking victims at risk of deportation upon turning 18
According to new data obtained by the organisation Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (Ecpat UK), victims of child trafficking are at risk of being deported from the United Kingdom (UK) upon turning 18, reports The Guardian. Over the past four years, only 28 children and 549 adults out of almost 4,700 confirmed victims of trafficking were granted “discretionary leave to remain in the UK” for an additional four years. Such discretionary leave is given normally if people have endured hardship on their journey. Chief executive of campaigning at Ecpat, Patricia Durr, was shocked at the low number granted leave to remain, and the effort it took to obtain the limited dataset from the Home Office. The Guardian questions what this data reveals about the UK’s pledge to safeguard victims of human trafficking.

United Kingdom: Event in support of  asylum seekers in Kent
More than 200 people have come together to oppose rising far-right activity against migrants and refugees in Kent, reports The Guardian. Bridget Chapman from the Kent Refugee Action Network, states that “the vast majority of people are supportive of migrants, but we don’t always hear their voice, we hear the voice of a very vocal, significant minority.” Tensions increased midday as police stopped far-right protesters from surrounding refugee supporters at the event.


World: International remittances for migrant families decrease amidst COVID-19
Migrants make international transfers to support their families back home, but these have diminished drastically since the start of the global pandemic, reports Deutsche Welle. Sunil N., a tour guide from Sri Lanka, reports that he has seen a shift in his source of income due to the coronavirus pandemic. With the tourist industry being hit by the pandemic, people such as Sunil depend on money sent from friends and family abroad. However, according to the World Bank (WB) spokesperson Alexandra Klopfer Hernandez, global payments have dropped recently. He states:  “We predict a further decline of remittances because of high global unemployment among migrants and the economic crisis.”

EU/World: The EU Pact on Migration and Asylum needs revision, say NGOs
A joint statement by civil society organisations analyses the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum and highlights key points of criticism. In particular, it criticizes how the Pact has made the Dublin System more complex, under the new tag of “return sponsorship”. The organisations also fear that the plans for automatic sharing of responsibility are non-applicable. The Pact enhances the use of detention centres. This is in contrast with human rights conventions, state the NGOs. In case of increased influx of refugees and migrants, the Pact allows member states not to follow the European directives on safeguards for refugees, which would provide a lower standard of asylum procedures, warns the statement. The statement calls instead for effective support, rescue and inclusion, as well as shared responsibility.