News Highlights: African women call for peace initiative in the Horn, EU halts budget funds to Ethiopia, Tunisians majority of arrivals in Italy

In this week’s news highlights: Unhindered humanitarian aid not yet a reality in Tigray, Ethiopia; 120 African women sign appeal for peace force in the Horn; Somalia breaks diplomatic ties with Kenya; Recognition of Shona and Rwandan descendants by Kenyan government; HRW’s report addresses issues around abuses conducted by NSS agents in South Sudan; Young people flee from Tunisia a decade after the revolution; UNHCR states 930,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance in Libya; The EU halts annual budgetary support to Ethiopia over human rights concerns in Tigray; 3 persons arrested in Spain after degrading labour conditions for migrants discovered; The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner asks to Bosnian authorities to provide support for refugees; South Sudanese singer one of 3,000 to face potential deportation from The Netherlands; UNHCR celebrates 70th anniversary;  IOM and UNHCR stress need for universal health coverage.

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

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: International community calls to ensure safety of humanitarian workers
After the death of four humanitarian workers in a refugee camp in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, the international community calls to ensure that humanitarian workers are protected and are able to provide aid without fear of attack or being killed, reports The Washington Post. The United Nations states that 2.3 million children have been cut from aid in Tigray. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that over 63,000 people are displaced internally; the reported numbers are expected to increase as access to Tigray increases. Medical supplies and aid are slowly arriving almost a month after the conflict began, but the UN indicates it does not have full and unhindered access.

Horn of Africa: Appeal for a women’s peace force in the Horn signed by over 120 African women
Over 120 African women from 20 African countries have called for a women peacekeeping mission to put an end to the fighting in the Horn of Africa region, and to protect civilians and refugees. The appeal has been signed by a diversity of women from different backgrounds, including the former Minister of Gender From Liberia, Julia Duncan-Cassell, as well as entrepreneurs, teachers, humanitarian aid workers, scholars, civil servants, mothers, community workers, and health workers. Duncan-Cassell shares: “Let us recall that a female peace-keeping force in Liberia helped end the fighting, and for women and their families to return to a peaceful life. We found that female peacekeepers on the ground were very effective.” The appeal urges African leaders to create conditions for peace on the ground with the support of female peacekeepers. A petition was launched for further support to the initiative.

Somalia/Kenya: Somalia breaks diplomatic ties with Kenya
A few weeks before the general election, Somalia has broken diplomatic ties with Kenya over the accusation of meddling in the internal political affairs of Somalia, report various media. The Somalian government has instructed Somali diplomats to come back and Kenyan diplomats to leave. The tension came after relations tightened between Kenya and the Somali breakaway region of Somaliland after the Kenyan president hosted the leader of Somaliland, President Bihi. Demonstrations demanding a fair election process in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, are ongoing.

Kenya: UNHCR welcomes recognition of Shona and Rwandan stateless persons
On 14 December, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) released a statement congratulating Kenya’s government on the recognition of citizenship of 1,670 stateless Shona people and 1,300 stateless persons from Rwandan origins. The Government of Kenya has taken the decision following a UNHCR High-Level meeting about the “Segment on Statelessness”, held in October 2019. On this occasion, the Government of Kenya also pledged to accede to the UN conventions on statelessness. Shona people arrived in Kenya from Zimbabwe in the 60s following Christian missions and after the independence of Kenya, in 1963 they lost the opportunity to ask for Kenyan citizenship, a possibility available only for two years. Rwandans came to Kenya in the 1930s for work in the tea industry and their descendants have been stateless until now.

South Sudan: HRW releases report on abuses by NSS agents.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the South Sudanese authorities have been unable to address the problem of abuse by the country’s National Security Service (NSS). Since the outbreak of civil war in 2013, forced disappearances, abuse, violence, and arbitrary detention by NSS agents have been documented. Most of the perpetrators have not been brought to justice due to legal immunity for the agents involved. The 78-page HRW report covers the period 2014-2020 identifies critical issues in the justice system that hinder trials against the NSS. This includes the  absence of government control over the NSS, the lack of political will to resolve the situation, and the lack of a fair trial for those who have been arbitrarily detained. Detainees are held in Juba (Blue House), Riverside, and Hai Jalaba, or in secret places. Detention can last for years. As reported by HRW, the agency conducted illegal physical and telephone surveillance of some people released after the detention and several were forced to leave the country. It has also reportedly abducted South Sudanese people in neighbouring countries like Kenya and Uganda.

North Africa

Tunisia: Ten years after the Tunisian’s Arab Spring, people flee to Europe
10 years have passed since Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid on 17 December 2010 as a protest against the Ben Ali regime and the start of the Arab Spring in Tunisia. Ten years later, corruption is still present and the rate of unemployment is 15 percent, of which 85 percent is represented by young people, as reported by The Guardian. Wages are affected by inflation, while necessary reforms are slowed down by political instability. Especially in rural areas the economic crises force young people to embark for Europe. Tunisians are the majority of migrants that tried to reach Italy in 2020 by boat. The analyst Hamza Meddeb interviewed by France24 on the current situation after a decade from the beginning of the Arab Spring said that: “people don’t have the patience anymore to listen to speeches or announcements or declarations, […] They want concrete actions, now.”

Libya: 930,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance, states UNHCR
According to the UN Refugee Agency, around 930,000 people are in need of humanitarian assistance. IDPs, refugees, and migrants are the most affected. Since the restart of the conflict in the country in April 2019, around 200.000 people have been internally displaced in Libya. Since 19 November the UNHCR relaunched its winter distribution programme of essential items such as blankets, seasonal clothes, hygiene kits, and solar lamps and providing basic assistance UNHCR states they continue support of people rescued at sea.


Europe Union: EU postpones budgetary financial support to Ethiopia
As reported by various media, the European Union will delay around EUR 90 million in budgetary support funds to Ethiopia, which was planned before the end of the year. The EU cites concerns over humanitarian access and hostilities in Tigray, as well as media access. Johan Borgstam, the EU Head of Delegation to Ethiopia, stated that the stop of budgetary assistance has the aim to “[…] creat[e] political space to assess the current situation and request a response with regard to the EU’s concerns.” The EU requests include free humanitarian and media access, the end of hostilities, the promise that civilians fleeing to neighboring countries are allowed to leave, and independent investigation of human rights violations. Borgstam added that all other EU aid programs will not be suspended.

Bosnia-Herzegovina: EU human rights commissioner calls for urgent protection of refugees
On 11 December, Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner joined the European Union in asking for urgent measures to aid asylum seekers stuck in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mijatovic wrote a letter to Zoran Tegeltija, Bosnia’s head of government, and to Selmo Cikotic, the security minister, to urge for addressing the lack of sanitary conditions in the refugee camps. Mijatovic added that the precarious situation in the northwest of the countries will be exacerbated by the rigid winter conditions. According to AP news, she stated that “[t]he authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina must ensure as a matter of urgency that basic needs such as adequate accommodation and access to health care, food, water and clothing are met.” She also asked for an improvement of procedures for asylum-seekers, an end of the anti-migrant rhetoric and to provide better care for nearly 500 unaccompanied refugee children in Bosnia.

The Netherlands: Sudanese singer’s asylum application denied
According to The Guardian, The Netherlands has refused to proceed with the asylum application of the Sudanese singer Mohamed al-Tayeb. The singer lived in the Netherlands for two years after having received threats from security agents after an appearance in a TV contest. The Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) considers the return of Mohamed al-Tayeb to the Sudanese region of Darfur as safe after the fall of the regime of Omar al-Bashir in 2019. NGOs and critics believe that the Dutch government is pursuing the deportation under the pressure of anti-migrant rhetoric. The case of al-Tayeb is one of the cases from Sudan’s Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions being reassessed, as the asylum applicants had received temporary residence permits which offer limited status. The reassessment could affect up to 3,000 people.  In a statement, the singer said: “I fear for my life and my freedom after threats of being detained by the militias and the security authorities, because I was arrested three times in Sudan and they threatened my mother recently.” In the Netherlands, asylum-seekers get full asylum status less often than in neighboring European countries. Instead, they receive “subsidiary protection”, which is offered to someone who is believed not to qualify for individual refugee status but is believed to be at “risk of serious harm upon return”, reports De Groene Amsterdammer.

Spain: Police arrests 3 persons after degrading labour conditions for migrants
According to the BBC, Spanish police have arrested three persons after discovering 21 migrants working long hours in degrading conditions in a second-hand clothing warehouse. The three suspects, a father and two sons, have been arrested for running the illegal business in the south-eastern province of Murcia. Spanish authorities stated that the owners of the business “took advantage of their vulnerability and their situation of need, to subject them to harsh working conditions.”


UNHCR: Celebrating 70 year anniversary
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) celebrated its 70th anniversary on 14 December. The mandate of the UNHCR, since its foundation in 1950, has been to ensure the international protection of uprooted people worldwide. The individuals working at UNHCR “take great pride in the differences they have made, in the lives they have protected, changed and saved” states The Telegraph. For the 70th anniversary, Filippo Granci challenges the international community to “put him out of a job.”

IOM/UNHCR: COVID-19 has shown the urgency of universal health coverage
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, and Director of the International Organization of Migration (IOM), António Vitorino, health services need to be available to everyone, including migrants, refugees and internally displaced and stateless people. With the start of the first vaccines for COVID-19, IOM and UNHCR have urged world leaders “to seize this opportunity and ensure refugees and migrants are included in governments’ vaccine allocation and distribution plans.” Refugees and migrants remain one of the most vulnerable groups affected by diseases, lack proper health services, and excluded from health systems.