News Highlights: Experts call for de-escalation of Tigray conflict, Nearly 1,000 refugees returned to Libya, UN calls for new resettlement system in the UK

In this week’s news highlights: Experts call for de-escalation of violence in Ethiopia as military offense starts against Tigray; 54 Amhara people killed in Oromia region of Ethiopia; Renewed relations between Sudan and Israel leaves refugees in fear of deportation; Increase in COVID-19 cases in the East and Horn of Africa; 1,000 refugees returned by Libyan coastguards within days; Statistical analysis on migrant vulnerability on the move in Libya; UN calls for new resettlement system in the UK after tragic family death; Two smugglers taken into custody for piloting boats across the Channel; 1,600 refugees arrive in Lampedusa and 300 await to disembark; Fires burn down tents in refugee centre on the island of Samos; Dutch Government leads a project for digital transition in Africa; Second COVID-19 wave puts women, children, and migrants in danger of human trafficking; 10 countries that receive the most refugees.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Calls for de-escalation of conflict with the Tigray region
Experts and other external actors have called for a de-escalation of conflict and have emphasized the need for peaceful dialogue after tensions escalated in Ethiopia this week. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offense against the Tigray region on Wednesday night after reports of an attack on a Tigray army base. Experts, the UN, the EU and other organisations have issued statements and comments calling for peaceful resolution of the conflict and continued dialogue between all parties.  Sounds of shelling and shooting have been reported in the Tigray region since Wednesday. A 6-month state of emergency has been declared in the region, and electricity, phone lines and internet have been shut down. PM Abiy has accused Tigray of manufacturing Eritrean uniforms amid concerns that neighbouring country Eritrea could get involved in the conflict. “Building a national consensus through an inclusive national dialogue, comprising all the relevant political actors, is now more important than ever,” as per a statement of the EU External Action Service. Experts have suggested that both parties should agree to cease fire and engage in an inclusive process of dialogue.

Ethiopia: At least 54 ethnic Amhara killed by armed group
According to Amnesty International, at least 54 people died in an attack in Ethiopia’s Oromia region on November 1. The attack took place in a schoolyard in the village of Gawa Qanqa. Most of the victims were women, children, and elderly people. Furthermore, property was looted and set on fire. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) shares that the attacker’s targeted members of the Amhara ethnic group and victims “were dragged from their homes and taken to a school, where they were killed.

Sudan/Israel: After normalisation of relations between Sudan and Israel, refugees face new life challenges
Sudanese asylum seekers living in Israel fear for expulsion from Israel, after the agreement to improve and strengthen the relations between the two countries. According to AP News, Israel has indicated that migration will be part of the discussion, including in relation to the return of some 6.000 Sudanese asylum seekers currently in Israel. In 2012, Israel deported about 1,000 refugees to South Sudan after an Israeli Court determined that they were no longer at risk of persecution, which led to the deaths of some by conflict and disease, states AP. Now that ties are normalising, Sudanese refugees fear that deportations may start again. Sigal Rozen from the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants in Israel warned: “If Israel will dare to deport Sudanese with open asylum claims it will be a grave violation of the most fundamental principle of the refugee convention.”

Horn of Africa: Rise of COVID-19 cases in the East and Horn of Africa
As the second wave hits the globe, the number of individuals infected with COVID-19 increases in the East and Horn of Africa reports the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Migrants and refugees are amid the most vulnerable groups affected by the impacts of the pandemic and are more susceptible to the spread of the virus due to lack of access to proper sanitation and being confined in overcrowded circumstances. IOM is working closely with governments across the area to counter the impacts of COVID-19 and campaigning for all migrants to be included in all national government decisions to combat this pandemic.

North Africa

Libya: Around 1,000 refugees intercepted by Libyan coast guard and sent back
More than 935 migrants have been intercepted by Libyan coast guards and sent back to the shore between Sunday and Tuesday, as reported by InfoMigrants. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), present in the port to receive some of the returnees, condemns the ongoing abuses and violations of human rights that returnees face in detention centres in Libya. Safa Msehli, spokesperson at IOM in Geneva, stated: “[…] Most end up in detention where the UN has been documenting dire conditions and horrific abuses. We reiterate that the system of arbitrary detention must be abolished”. IOM calls for the prompt transfer of refugees out of detention centres and asks for the immediate closure of these centres, where violence and exploitation regularly take place.

North Africa: Statistical analysis on migrant vulnerability on the move in Libya
The Mixed Migration Centre published a report on the vulnerability of refugees and migrants to ‘protection incidents’ such as killings, torture and arbitrary detention. The goal of the report was to statistically analyse what characteristics could make people vulnerable to such incidents. The analysis of more than 5.000 migrants and refugees showed that all were vulnerable to protection incidents in Libya, but the report mentions several factors that increase vulnerability, such as age, the intention to move towards Europe, and nationality (Nigerian, Eritrean, and Chadian respondents were more vulnerable). The concept of migrant vulnerability has been used more and more as a lens for analysis and “an operational category through which to pursue protection, assistance and the promotion of rights for all people on the move” shares the Mixed Migration Centre.


UK: After refugee family dies in Channel, UN calls for a new resettlement system in the UK
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) asks for the creation of a safe and legal route for asylum seekers through a new UK resettlement framework, in order to facilitate the recognition of refugee status between the UK and EU, according to The Guardian. The present resettlement system which would bring permanent support to refugees in the UK has been suspended due to the COVID-19 emergency. The call was made following the drowning of an entire Iranian Kurd family of refugees who tried to cross the Channel. It was the third attempt for the family to reach the UK, this time by boat. During the crossing, four members of the family died and the fifteen year old son is still missing. UNHCR’s UK representative Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor stressed that “[r]eopening and expanding legal pathways for more refugees to come to the UK in safety is one tangible way that this country can help.”

UK: Two Iranian men arrested for piloting boats across the English Channel
Two Iranian men have been sentenced to two years of jail due to smuggling activities across the Channel, as reported by BBC News. The two were said to have piloted small inflatable boats carrying two groups of asylum seekers across the Channel on different occasions: on 13 July, Zadeh smuggled himself and twelve other asylum seekers, while on 12 August Quadir smuggled himself and seventeen other asylum seekers (among them four children) into the UK.

Italy: 1,600 refugees disembark in Lampedusa, over 300 others still in need of aid
1.600 refugees and migrants landed in Lampedusa in the last 48 hours and five boats with over 300 more persons are asking for help, reports La Repubblica. Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese expressed her concern. The five other boats are facing difficulty in travelling to the island, according to the Alarm Phone emergency call centre. The Lampedusa’s hotspot is overcrowded with almost a thousand refugees and migrants who disembarked last night, in a sequence of arrivals that was the largest since  20 September.

Greece: Fire burns down tents in overcrowded refugee centre on the island of Samos
Greek authorities reported on Monday that a small fire burned down 15 tents in the refugee centre on Greece’s eastern Aegean island of Samos, shares Ekathimerini. The fire department brought the fire under control and no-one has been injured, but the fire has left at least 150 people without shelter, reports InfoMigrants. The centre was originally built for 650 people but according to official numbers, 4,200 people are living at the Vathy camp, states the Associated Press.

Netherlands/Africa: The Netherlands pushes for digital revolution in Africa
According to Mirjam van Reisen and Linda Broekhuizen, Members of the Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV), The Netherlands should take a leading role in ensuring responsible African digitalisation, as it is a key factor which can positively or negatively influence youth employment. This suggestion follows the Council’s advice in the paper ‘Digitalisation and Youth Employment in Africa’. Dutch expertise could contribute to an effective and responsible digital transition of African countries, as tech giants like Google and Facebook are ready to close the gaps in connectivity. In this process, privacy, data protection and freedom of speech should be safeguarded. An example of existing cooperation between Africa and Europe is the Virus Outbreak Data Africa Network (VODAN) FAIR Data initiative, which responds to data issues amidst COVID-19.


World/Senegal: Boat capsized off Senegal coast: 140 refugees died and 60 rescued
On Saturday 31 October, a boat carrying out 200 refugees burned out and sank off the coast of Senegal, near the city of Mbour, as reported by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). It is estimated that at least 140 people lost their lives in what is estimated to be the deadliest shipwreck of 2020. According to different media, 60 migrants were rescued by Senegalese and Spanish coast guards. In addition, 20 dead bodies were found nearby by local fishermen and the navies. This accident raised international attention to the sea route from West Africa to the Canary Islands, which sharply increased in traffic in the previous weeks. Most of the migrants and refugees following this route come from Mali, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Guinea and they report fleeing from conflict and torture. The closure of borders in the Sahel region due to COVID-19 situation is reported to have contributed to the increase of departures along this route.

World: Second COVID-19 wave puts children, women, migrants at risk of exploitation and trafficking
A United Nations (UN) expert explains that the second wave of COVID-19 has “increased the risk of exploitation of women, children, migrants, and other vulnerable people” reports the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (UNHCR). According to Siobhán Mullaly, United Nations special rapporteur on trafficking, “human traffickers are adapting quickly, especially to online exploitation, but governments and civil society are struggling to provide effective protection to victims of trafficking.” The pandemic continues to highlight the limits of anti-trafficking responses and the need to recognise human trafficking as a crucial human rights violation, warns the UN.

World: 10 countries that receive the most refugees
According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, Lebanon is the country hosting the most refugees as a proportion of the total population, with 21.8% of the total population. The top hosting countries are in need of assistance from the rest of the world, especially Lebanon, states the NRC.