News Highlights: EU adopts global human rights sanctions regime, UN’s new deal on access to Tigray, Agreement return unaccompanied minors to Morocco

In this week’s news highlights: After UN security team was detained and fired at in Tigray, UN reaches new aid deal with Ethiopia; Soldiers in Eritrean uniforms seen in Tigray while Eritrean refugees flee from camps; Protests for peace in Tigray on Human Rights Day; US Army plans to dismantle troops in Somalia, after Ethiopia withdraws 3000 troops; Amnesty appeals for extension of current UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur; NGOs disappointed on human rights after France-Egypt meeting; EU adopts human rights sanctions regime; Agreement signed between France and Morocco on return of unaccompanied minors; 19 suspects detained in Italy in alleged human smuggling ring; Germany delays refugee resettlement until 2021; People in new Greek refugee camp at risk of lead poisoning; NGOs accused of smuggling for providing visas to Turkey; UNHCR data shows 80 million displaced people by mid-2020.

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

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: UN security team fired at nearby refugee camp in Tigray; UN subsequently reaches new access deal
UN security team staff was blocked and fired at by Ethiopian federal troops as they were trying to gain access to Shimelba refugee camp in the Ethiopian region of Tigray.  The Ethiopian government acknowledged the shooting through Redwan Hussein, the Ethiopian government spokesman, who stated the UN workers ignored two checkpoints and they were trying to pass another one when federal troops stopped them, opened fire, and detained them. Stephane Dujarric, a UN spokesperson, replied that the UN officers were sent to assess the roads before the passage of UN aid convoys. The incident occurred more than a week after the signature of a deal between the UN and the Ethiopian government on free access to the region for humanitarian aid. According to the UN, a new deal has since been reached with the government which allows access to the whole of Tigray based on needs, without discrimination. 

Eritrea: Eritrean soldiers fight in Tigray while Eritrean refugees flee refugee camps
According to Bloomberg, UN security teams have seen soldiers in Eritrean uniforms were seen near the city of Mekelle, on the road towards Shire, and nearby the Eritrean border at Adwa and Adrigat. One diplomat and an international humanitarian member expressed their suspicion that soldiers were out to kidnap Eritrean refugees from the camps and with the intention to move them to Eritrea. An increasing number of Eritrean refugees is reportedly fleeing the camps in Tigray. Thousands are escaping by feet after incursions of militia in refugee camps, while those who remain report staying awake day and night out of fear of being attacked.

Ethiopia: Protests against war in Tigray taking place on Human Rights Day
In a press conference to mark Human Rights Day, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, stated that the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region was “spiralling out of control” and calls for the “urgent need for independent monitoring of the human rights situation […] to protect civilians, and for accountability for violations”, reports Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. On Human Rights Day, 10 December, protests against war and forced recruitment were organised, raising awareness of the forced recruitment of Eritreans into undefined national service and the ongoing war in Tigray. In the United Kingdom, protests against the war took place in diaspora communities.

Somalia: US Army plans to withdraw 700 troops from Somalia
The president of the United States, Donald Trump, has ordered the withdrawal of 700 troops from Somalia “by early 2021” as confirmed by the Pentagon. This follows the decision of the Ethiopian government to withdraw 3000 Ethiopian troops from the country. The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has around 700 troops on the ground in operations against al-Shabab, whose attacks in previous years have killed hundreds of people in Somalia, Kenya and Uganda. Amnesty International warns of  the consequences of this decision on civilians and on regional stability. Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa commented that: “[t]he troop withdrawal must not derail this momentum. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is not a concept that exists in international law, and AFRICOM has an ongoing duty of care to the civilians impacted by its operations.” 

Sudan: Amnesty International calls for an extension of UN peacekeeping support in Darfur
According to Amnesty International, the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) should extend its presence of UN peacekeepers in the Sudan region of Darfur for at least six months. Amnesty points to the lack of security provided by the Sudanese government and forces to protect civilians in the region. “With UNAMID’s mandate due to end at the close of the year, and the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) which is meant to replace it still not yet staffed or operationalized, […] we fear a security vacuum may arise with disastrous consequences for the people of Darfur” stated Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa. The statement follows the death of at least 70 people, mainly farmers and internally displaced people, killed by members of armed groups between July and September 2020 in various Darfur areas under the control of Sudanese security forces. In the same period, at least 78 other people were injured in attacks and 8.000 were forced to leave their houses due to the conflict between factions of the Sudan Liberation Army – Abdel Wahid (SLA-AW) in Central Darfur.

North Africa

Egypt: Meeting between Macron and el-Sisi disappoints NGOs
17 NGOs, among them Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, signed a statement calling for French pressure on adherence to human rights in Egypt. The call came before a scheduled meeting between the French president Emmanuel Macron and the Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Monday 7 December. Macron indicated France will not stop the sale of weapons to Egypt, despite documented human rights abuses in Egypt. The meeting came one day after the decision of an Egyptian court to freeze the assets of three senior directors from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). This decision follows other alleged violations against lawyers and human rights defenders, of which “authorities continue to arbitrarily detain thousands, including prisoners of conscience, execute dozens after unfair trials, and commit widespread torture and enforced disappearances with absolute impunity,” states Amnesty International. Hussein Baoumi, Amnesty International’s Egypt and Libya researcher, accused Macron of failing to hold el-Sisi to account on human rights.


European Council: Global human rights sanctions regime established by the EU
The European Council adopted a regulation establishing “a global human rights sanctions regime”, which would provide the European Union (EU) with a framework to “target individuals, entities and bodies responsible for, involved in or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide.” The framework applies to acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations or abuses (torture, slavery, arbitrary arrests or detentions). As presented by the European Council, other human rights violations or abuses that are “widespread, systematic or are otherwise of serious concern” will fall under the sanctions regime.

France/Morocco: Agreement on the return of unaccompanied minors signed by Morocco and France
France and Morocco have signed a deal on unaccompanied minors that contains the intention to develop “concrete tools to facilitate the return of minors from France to Morocco” reports Le Figaro. The French Minister of Justice, Eric Dupond-Moretti, states that the objective of the agreement is to “allow juvenile magistrates to have the essential elements to take the measures most suited to the interests of the children, including their return.” France has intensified its efforts to accelerate the returns of ‘irregular migrants’ but the processes for minors are the most complex as they fall under the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Currently, and according to the public authorities, there are between 16,000 and 40,000 unregistered foreign minors in France.

Italy: 19 suspects arrested for alleged involvement in a human smuggling ring
On Saturday 5 December, the Italian police arrested 19 suspects involved in what authorities called a “criminal organization that moved migrants from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan to Italy” reports Ekathimerini. According to the Italian police, among the suspects were Iraqi Kurds, Afghans, and Italians. One of the alleged ring’s bases was in Bari, southern Italy; other bases were located in Milan and Turin, as well as in the town of Ventimiglia, close to the French border. The ring appeared to provide false documents to either show that migrants had housing, which is a requirement for a residence permit, or falsified work contracts that successfully allows them to apply to reside in Italy.

Germany: Resettlement of refugees delayed until 2021
Several thousands of refugees were scheduled to be resettled to Germany in 2020 but due to restrictions implemented due to COVID-19, the German government declared that they will accept the remaining number next year, reports InfoMigrants. As part of its humanitarian programs, Germany pledged to admit 5,500 asylum seekers in 2020, but only 1,178 arrived in Germany. 

Greece: Refugees and employees at risk of lead poisoning in new Greek refugee camp
The new refugee camp on the island of Lesbos may put thousands of asylum-seekers, aid workers, as well as United Nations, Greek, and European Union employees at risk of lead poisoning as it was constructed on a repurposed military firing range, reports Human Rights Watch (HRW). HRW states that the Greek authorities did not administer a complete lead testing or soil remediation before moving migrants and refugees to the new camp, which puts both thousands of migrants and refugees, as well as employees,  at risk. As stated by Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at HRW, “the Greek government could be putting at risk families with young children, aid workers, and its own employees because it’s determined to hold asylum seekers on the island.” 

Greece/Turkey/Somalia: Greek minister accuses NGOs of smuggling of Somali refugees
On 8 December, according to Ekatimerini, Greece’s migration minister Notis Mitarakis accused NGOs of: “[…] helping Somali asylum seekers travel to Turkey and from there helped arrange their crossing to Greece via migrant smuggling networks.” Mitarakis states that NGOs pay for travel costs and student or healthcare visas from Somalia to Turkey, then migrants are transferred to the Turkish coast for departure to Greece on boats. He believes that a special network has been built for Somali refugees because more than half of the refugees who arrived in Lesbos since 1 November 2020 were Somali. Notis Mitarakis also accused Turkey of non application on the 2016 migrant deal between EU and Turkey, because of lack of control from the Turkish coast guards.


World: More than 80 million displaced people in 2020
According to a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report released on 9 December, at mid-year 2020 more than 80 million people were forcibly displaced globally. This includes 45.7 million internally displaced people (IDPs), 29.6 million refugees, and others forcibly displaced outside their country, and 4.2 million asylum seekers. It has been estimated that COVID-19 emergency, as well as ongoing and new conflicts, have worsened the situation. Fewer durable solutions were found for displaced persons in 2020, in comparison to the same period in 2019. Only 822,600 displaced people returned home, most of them (635,000) were IDPs. With 102,600 voluntary repatriations from January to June, refugee returns arose by 22% compared to 2019. Resettlement travel for refugees was suspended from March to June to the COVID-19 restrictions. Only 17,400 refugees were resettled in third countries in the first six months of 2020 according to government data. Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, stated that: “[w]ith forced displacement doubling in the last decade, the international community is failing to safeguard peace” He also added that: “[w]e are now surpassing another bleak milestone that will continue to grow unless world leaders stop wars.”