News Highlights: Eritrean refugees in Tigray face critical conditions, Frontex to propose returns to Senegal, France/UK deal on Channel crossings

In this week’s news highlights: Eritrean refugees in Tigray face shortage of food, protection and assistance; African migrants stuck in Yemen; Letter urging UN Security Council for an extraordinary meeting; Global mobility database shows mobility in the East and Horn of Africa during COVID-19; Lawyer Giulia Tranchina interviewed on European migration policy in Libya; UK/France interior ministers sign agreement preventing crossings of the Channel; FROTEX propose to the EU Commission and Parliament a new agreement with Senegal on migrants returns; Rescue ship “Open Arms” returns back to Spain; Belgium will receive 150 asylum-seekers from Greece; EhoA Ministers agree to harmonize labour migration laws; Concerns for migrant children’s mental health in Spain. For frequent updates about the situation in the Horn, please see the EEPA Horn situation reports.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Eritrean refugees in Tigray face critical conditions
According to various media, close to 100,000 Eritrean asylum seekers living in Tigray refugee camps Mai Aini (where a water depot was destroyed), Hitsats, Shimelba and Adi Harush face an immediate shortage of water, food and other essentials. The UN raises alarms on malnutrition and risk to lives. Babar Baloch, UN Refugee Agency spokesman, said to Aljazeera that: “[w]e are asking for urgent access to these refugee camps, [t]here are also worrying reports that many refugees may have left the camp looking for safety and assistance including food in other areas of the Tigray region.” The UN has lost access and contact to the refugee camps since the previous month. It was announced that the UN and the Ethiopian government have now reached an agreement over access to Federally-controlled parts of Tigray. The UN has furthermore expressed concerns over reports of abductions and returns of Eritrean refugees from the camps to Eritrea.

Horn of Africa/Yemen: Migrants and refugees stuck in in Yemen
Tens of thousands of migrants and refugees en route from the Horn of Africa to Saudi Arabia find themselves trapped in Yemen with no possibility of escape from a country torn by civil war, reports LA Times. Most of them are stranded in the city of Ataq, from where they cannot cross the border with Saudi Arabia. They live on the street and earn less than a USD 1 per day. In 2019, almost 140,000 migrants from the Horn of Africa attempted to traverse Yemen, starting their journey by crossing the Aden Gulf from Obock, Djibouti or from the Bosaso port, in Somalia. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), even with the COVID-19 emergency, more than 34,000 migrants have attempted the journey in 2020. The first part of the trip can cost up to USD 260. When they arrive in Yemen, they risk being put in jail by local police or human traffickers and they have to pay to escape.

Ethiopia: Letter on the situation in Ethiopia calls for UN Security Council meeting
A call to the UN Secretary-General has been made by the World Refugee and Migration Council to assemble the UN Security Council for an extraordinary meeting to discuss the “dangerous and worsening situation on the ground in Ethiopia”. The signatories of the letter urge the Security Council to use all diplomatic channels to uphold international support for the African Union’s mediation efforts in order to end the deteriorating humanitarian and refugee situation.

East Africa/Horn of Africa: Ministers from the regions agree to harmonize labour migration laws
A Regional Ministerial Forum brought together ministers from East and Horn of Africa (EHoA) countries. The meeting addressed the harmonization of labour migration policies in the region, reports the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The forum introduced the next steps in what is being called the “Regional Ministerial Process on Harmonizing Labour Migration Policies in East and Horn of Africa: A United Approach on Safe, Regular and Humane Labour Migration”. The Ministers made commitments to make labour migration safe, orderly and humane, states IOM.

Horn of Africa: IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix on mobility during COVID-19
COVID-19 has impacted global mobility in the form of various travel disruptions and restrictions, reports the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In order to better understand how the pandemic has influenced global mobility, the IOM  has created a global mobility database that allows it to map and gather information “on the locations, status and different restrictions at Points of Entry (PoES), globally”. The Displacement Tracking Matrix groups nine of the ten countries covered by IOM Nairobi Regional Office, such as Uganda, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. The report presents that the data is collected at various locations within the nine countries, such as at airports, blue border crossing points (crossing point on sea, river or lake) or internal transit points. By knowing these key locations, and the restrictions levels implemented by each country due to COVID-19, allowed to see the mobility between these countries and which means were used.

North Africa

Libya: Interview with Giulia Tranchina on European migration policy in Libya
The daily reality for thousands of migrants and refugees in Libya includes “torture, extortion and arbitrary detention in both government detention centres and at the hand of human traffickers” reports Routed. They illustrate this reality through an interview with Giulia Tranchina, an immigration solicitor specialised in asylum and human rights, who has been in daily contact with refugees in Libya. Through messaging apps, she has been able to follow the plight of some 380 refugees and migrants, mostly Eritreans, from the detention centre in Zintan. In the interview, Tranchina explains European efforts to keep refugees and migrants from crossing and how UN agencies are frequently unsuccessful to protect them. She states that “the European governments are paying millions to Libyan authorities through the European Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF). […] So that LIbyan authorities keep refugees from crossing the Mediterranean.”


UK/France: Refugees and Migrants rescued in the Channel after UK-France deal on stop crossings
According to various media, on 29 November a boat with 19 migrants and refugees on board was intercepted off the French coast. On the previous day, another ship with at least 45 migrants and refugees, including two children, was rescued by British authorities in the English channel after the engine failed. The interception and the accident occurred after the signature of a UK-France deal in order to prevent asylum seekers’ departures from France to the British coast. The agreement has the aim to: “[…] make this route unviable” as the British interior ministers Priti Patel said to the press. The deal was established to double the number of French police patrols along the coastline targeted by people-smuggling networks and in Channel’s waters. Also, French vessels will be equipped with drones and radar for intercepting small boats. Amnesty International and other NGOs considered the agreements as “profoundly disappointing”, suggesting that the best way to stop departures is to provide safe and legal routes for asylum seekers.

EU/Spain: Frontex considering a deal with Senegal for return of migrants
The EU Agency Frontex is planning to propose an agreement with Dakar in order to return migrants intercepted in the Atlantic Ocean to Senegal, as reported by La Repubblica. The proposal has been included in the 2020 Annual Report to the European Council and Parliament, where Frontex declares that the operational plan of the Hera mission would include the possibility to transport foreign nationals intercepted at sea during naval and air patrols of the EU’s external borders to Senegal. This follows a Spanish study in 2018 on the asylum and human rights protection system in Senegal, in which Spain stated that the Senegalese authorities “are not involved in practices such as violations of fundamental rights or violations of the principle of non-refoulement”. Following the high number of landings in the previous months, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said during a visit to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria that “[e]xpulsions must be intensified and accelerated in the cases of people who do not need international protection”. On 30 November, the Spanish authorities started to dismantle the Arguineguín refugee camp, due to “deplorable” conditions and sanitary risk. At the moment, more than 6,000 asylum seekers are hosted in hotels but the mayor of Morgan asks for the transfer of the migrants and refugees to mainland Spain as soon as possible.

Italy: Rescue ship ‘Open Arms’ heads back to the Mediterranean
The Spanish rescue ship ‘Open Arms’ announced on 29 November that it was setting sail, after two weeks of quarantine, from Trapani on the Italian island of Sicily towards Barcelona, Spain, reports Info Migrants. The ship arrived at the Italian coast in mid-November with more “than 250 people rescued from distress on board” states Der Spiegel. After a crew swap in Barcelona, the rescue ship ‘Open Arms’ will return back to the Mediterranean Sea.

Belgium: 150 refugees and asylum-seekers from Greece to be received by year-end
During a conference call between Deputy Migration Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos and the Belgian secretary of state for asylum and migration, Sammy Mahdi, Belgium has confirmed its pledge to receive 150 refugees and asylum-seekers, reports Ekathimerini. The two countries acknowledge that “ad hoc measures are not sustainable in the long run” and in order to have a structural solution, a comprehensive approach is needed.

Spain: Concern for mental health of migrant and refugee children after sea crossing
Save the Children raises concerns over the mental health of children who live in overcrowded facilities after crossing the dangerous route alone from the West African coast to the Canary Islands. Over 2000 children who arrived in Spain are “unaccompanied and include asylum seekers who fled conflict in the Sahel region” shares Save the Children. According to Eric Hazard, Pan-African Campaign and Advocacy Director at Save the Children the “migration crisis is also a child rights crisis: these children are in a difficult situation […] They’re in need of psychological support because of what they have seen and gone through.”