News Highlights: Humanitarian crisis in Tigray, 110 deaths due to shipwrecks off Libyan coast, 15-year-old refugee killed in Libya

In this week’s news highlights: Statement on the Ethiopian conflict by Interreligious Council of Ethiopia; Conflict in Tigray enhances humanitarian crisis; At least 31,000 refugees from Ethiopia fled to Sudan; AMECEA Bishops call for peaceful talks amid the conflict in Ethiopia; 15-year-old Eritrean refugee killed in refugee shelter in Libya; At least 110 deaths in 4 shipwrecks off Libyan coasts; Spanish government concerned about high number of landings in Canary Islands; Locations of 32,000 asylum seekers in Greece unknown; Asylum seekers arrested for driving boats across the English Channel; Father charged after the death of his son in crossing; Irregular migrant camp dismantled by french police; Refugees raise alarm for violation of human rights in British camp; and Record law in refugee resettlement to be reached in 2020.

For frequent updates about the situation in the Horn, please see the EEPA Horn situation reports.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Statement by the Interreligious Council of Ethiopia on ongoing conflict in Ethiopia
The Interreligious Council of Ethiopia, also known as the Religious Fathers, released a statement on the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region. In the statement, they are condemning the killings of innocent civilians and are calling for peaceful dialogues to avoid further violence. Additionally, the Religious Fathers are presenting key points they advise the Federal and Tigray regional states to prioritise in order to ensure the safety of citizens and provide stability in the nation.

Ethiopia: Ongoing conflict in Tigray region aggravates humanitarian crisis
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is concerned about the current conflict in northern Ethiopia, which has forced thousands of people to flee, reports UNHCR. The fighting has moved close to the refugee camps, notably Shimelba and Hitsats. UNHCR reports that the four Tigray refugee camps host close to 90,000 Eritrean refugees. Large numbers of refugees are seeking refuge in neighbouring Sudan with the majority having crossed at the Hamdayet border point. However, the transit centre is overwhelmed with 6,000 people and sanitation facilities being insufficient, shares UNHCR. According to Human Rights Watch, the authorities should ease access for humanitarian groups, stop interfering in essential services, and return communication services in the region.

Ethiopia: At least 31,000 refugees left Ethiopia for Sudan
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and local officials, the number of refugees from Ethiopia seeking refuge in Sudan has increased to at least 31,000. Actors on the grounds are attempting to help the growing number of refugees with few possessions or provisions.

Ethiopia: AMECEA Bishops call for peaceful dialogue amid Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict
The prelates from the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) have articulated their concerns and called on the people of Ethiopia to hold peaceful dialogue to end the disagreements over the Tigray region, reports AMECEA. In a statement made by AMECEA chairman Bishop Charles Kasonde, the AMECEA bishops have joined hands with Pope Francis and their brother bishops in Ethiopia “to stop fueling this conflict by military operations.”

North Africa

Libya: 15-year-old Eritrean refugee killed in Libyan refugee shelter
Yacoub El Hillo, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, expressed grave concern over the refugee situation in Libya after the murder of an eritrean teenager in a refugee camp in Tripoli in the Gergaresh area by a group of men that entered the shelter and started shooting. The coordinator released a statement in which he felt: “[…] shocked and deeply saddened” about the accident. He added that: “[l]ike many Libyans, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers continue to pay the price of the protracted crisis in the country”. He calls for an internal investigation on the incident from Libyan authorities in order to find killers and to solve the situation in refugee camps.

Libya/Mediterranean Sea: 4 shipwrecks off the coast of Libya cause the death of more than 110 refugees
According to various media, 4 shipwrecks occurred in the Central Mediterranean within days. All of the boats capsized off the Libyan coast. The latest concerned a wooden boat with 23 refugees and migrants on board near the town of Sormon. The Alarm Phone rescue group had repeatedly raised the alarm, but the coast guards arrived too late for 20 of the refugees to be saved. A member of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) stated: “They were in shock and terrified; they saw loved ones disappear beneath the waves, dying in front of their eyes.” On Thursday 12 November, another boat with at least 120 persons sank. In this accident, at least 74 people lost their lives, while 111 people were rescued by Open Arms and 47 people were rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard and by a Libyan fisherman. The youngest victim of this shipwreck is a six-month-old newborn, carried on the Open Arms rescue boat.The child died a few hours after being rescued from sea. At the moment, Open Arms is the only rescue ship operating in the central Mediterranean.


Belgium: Academics and aid organisations call for active Belgian and EU diplomacy in Ethiopia
A group Flemish and international Professors, aid organisations and other academics have called for an active diplomacy intervention by the European Union and Belgium in the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The group calls for the Belgian government to cooperate with the EU to demand a ceasefire and to ensure access to the region for humanitarian organisations.

Spain: 320 refugees rescued off Canary Islands and reception centres under pressure
On Tuesday 17 November, the Spanish rescue system announced that ten boats with 320 migrants and refugees on board were intercepted off the coast of Gran Canaria Island. As reported by The Independent, all asylum seekers were from Northwest Africa and they were carried to the Arguineguín dock by coast guards. In addition to these, more than 2,000 migrants and refugees have already landed on the island in recent days (of which 700 on Saturday 14 November). While over 4,000 are already hosted in tourist hotels, the reception centres and Red Cross are overburdened and many refugees do not have access to accommodation. NGOs and the Spanish government are concerned about the increasing number of landings in the last month, which is more than half of this year’s total landings.

Greece: The location of at least 32,000 asylum-seekers remains unknown
On November 12, migration minister Notis Mitarakis disclosed that the whereabouts of 32,574 asylum seekers whose asylum requests have been denied are unknown, reports Ekathimerini. At a press conference, Mitarakis states that authorities are unaware of what the asylum seekers did after the rejection of their request.

UK: Asylum-seekers arrested for steering dinghies across the English Channel
According to the Independent, asylum-seekers are being arrested for steering dinghies across the English Channel even though an official report states that none of the people on board are from “organised crime group members”. The Home Office has moved to criminalise crossings and the immigration enforcement unit is examining “drone footage of small boats to single out migrants to be prosecuted for steering them” states Lizzie Daerden in the article. In Home Affairs press releases, migrants and refugees steering dinghies have been referred to as “people smugglers” but the label does fit the UN Refugee Agency definition of smugglers “as facilitating journeys for financial or other material benefits.”

Greece: Father charged for recklessness in the death of his son
After the death of a six-year-old boy trying to reach the Greek island of Samos from Turkey, his father faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty for endangering his son’s life, reports The Guardian. Currently, the charge has been called “a direct attack on the right to seek asylum” as the cause of death has not been confirmed. The lawyer of the father, Dimitris Choulis, said to The Guardian that “there is a bigger concern that these charges are going to be used as one more obstacle to any asylum seeker […] to apply for asylum.” As mentioned by Josie Naughten, CEO of charity Choose Love, “the criminalisation of a father who was trying to seek safety […] reflects the failure of European migration and asylum policy.”

France: 2,000 migrants evacuated from a non-standard camp near Paris
According to various media, French police have dismantled an irregular migrant camp near Paris. People were established under a motorway slip road since August and the population of the camp grew increasingly faster in recent months, hosting more than  2,000 refugees in November. Police officers said that living conditions in the camp were difficult and that this operation had the objective of: “[…] to ensure that people in a regular situation are sheltered and those in an irregular situation are not intended to remain on the territory.” All inhabitants were transferred to reception centres and sports halls in the Ile-de-France region.

UK: Refugees call attention to dangerous camp conditions
As reported by the BBC, asylum seekers hosted in an army training camp in Pembrokeshire (UK) raise alarm over dangerous living conditions. Refugees in the camp called Penally protested against human rights violations in the camp: a video recorded damage to toilets, showers, and washing machines. Protests emerged following Home Affairs’ decision to increase the number of refugees housed in the facility to 250. Residents state they are daily targets of far-right protests. Two inhabitants described the camps as: “[i]t’s like a jail […] there’s no privacy in the room. Six people in a room […] it’s not safe with coronavirus. Life here is very bad.” A Home Affairs officer states that the conditions of the camp are suitable to host asylum seekers, well equipped, and in line with contractual regulations.

European Parliament: IOM calls on the EU to ensure COVID-19 vaccine for refugees
In a meeting on migration and asylum in the European Parliament, Antonio Vitorino, director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), called on the European Union to ensure that refugees and migrants will have access to COVID-19 vaccines. As the race for the vaccine is speeding up, the IOM called on the EU to ensure that all, not just citizens, have access, stating “nobody is safe until everybody is safe”. Vitorino also warned that COVID-19 was putting extra pressure on migratory flows in Africa.


World: Refugee resettlement to reach record low in 2020
According to the UN Refugee Agency, the amount of refugees resettled to safe countries is the lowest of last 20 years. In 2020, only 5,425 refugees have been relocated globally in comparison to 63,726 in the previous year. This number is the result of multiple factors that affect relocations. The  COVID-19 emergency and the suspensions of resettlement programs in safe countries contributed most. Addressing the UK, UNHCR called for a deeper engagement and reforms of the UK resettlement system, in order to provide assistance to the most vulnerable asylum seekers. Gillian Triggs, the UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for protection stressed that “[e]xpanding safe and legal pathways to protection, including through resettlement, saves refugees’ lives and it can also mitigate their resort to dangerous journeys by land or sea.”