News Highlights: Concern over indications of genocidal tendencies in Tigray, ‘Black book’ shows illegal pushbacks, Over 3,000 migration deaths in 2020

In this week’s news highlights: Conflict in Tigray appears to show indications of genocidal tendencies; Journalists present evidence of Eritrean military in the conflict, and damage, looting and humanitarian disaster in Tigray; Violence against Eritrean refugees in Tigray continues; UN calls for full access to Tigray as first assessment missions enter; Children in Sudanese refugee camps face post-traumatic symptoms; ARCI reports the EU continues externalisation of migration policy in Sudan; The NCHRL rejects settling migrants and refugees in Libya; Italian pathologist tries to identify around 1,000 deaths from 2015 shipwreck; The EU calls for action for migrants and refugees in Bosnia; Refugees experience increase in mental health problems at ‘Moria 2:0’ camp; ‘Black book’ exposes thousands of illegal pushbacks in Europe; and at least over 3,000 fatalities on migration routes so far in 2020

For frequent updates about the situation in the Horn, please see the EEPA Horn situation reports (which will continue during the next weeks). The EEPA team wishes you a Merry Christmas and a happy new year; the highlights will be back in 2021.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Reports on conflict in Tigray show indications of genocidal tendencies
Concern is increasing that the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia is showing signs of genocidal tendencies. A report indicates that a new provisional administrative department “Setit Humera zon​e”​ has been created which will include all the areas west of the Tekeze river in Tigray. This includes almost all the lowlands where many Tigrayans live. This new administrative department would be administered as part of the Amhara region. Many villages in the Western Tigray region are completely deserted. The first journalists to enter Tigray, from the Belgian VRT NWS, reported coming across ghost towns in the Shire area. The majority of the houses have been looted. The inhabitants have fled the area. A witness reports that security administrators in the region are encouraging Amhara to settle in the empty houses and bring their families. In Humera, it is reported that a large number of residents have fled and signs in Tigrinya have been covered. In Dansha, bars and hotels were renamed and reopened after their owners fled. According to a witness on the ground ENDF soldiers killed ‘many’ in Hagere Selam in Tigray. They are thought to have come to the town to take revenge after they lost a battle against Tigrayan forces. In subsequent days the town Hagere Selam was ‘entirely’ looted by Eritrean soldiers fighting on the side of the ENDF. The new reports support earlier fears and concerns of tendencies of ethnic cleansing as published by the New York Times on 9 December.

Ethiopia: Journalists in Tigray show evidence of damage, looting and humanitarian disaster as a result of what is referred to as a ‘law and order operation’
After weeks with no communication to the outside world, the Ethiopian government is slowly allowing foreigners into the country, shares VRT News. The Belgian news outlet team reports about the developments in the region while sharing images of empty towns and looted hospitals. Even though in some places the fighting seemed to have ended, people are too scared to return to their homes in fear of Eritrean soldiers looting their houses and harassing people. According to the VRT News, people have shared video footage allegedly showing how Eritrean soldiers steal the personal belongings of the people. “We have been able to determine that all signs indicate that Eritrean soldiers have crossed the border in Ethiopian uniforms”, states Stijn Vercruysse (VRT). Vercruysse further indicates that it seems Eritrean soldiers joined the fight and play a role in security in Tigray, but are looting instead of securing. Other reports describe extensive looting of factories Eritrean refugees have shared with the VRT news outlet that most of the doctors, nurses, and medical specialists have left the local hospitals, such as the hospital in Shire, due to the conflict and that they are left in horrible conditions with a serious shortage of food and medicine.

Ethiopia: Violence against Eritrean refugees in Tigray
According to various media, the situation in Eritrean refugee camps in Tigray is dire and people are in need of food and medical supplies. Reports continue of Eritrean refugees that have fled Tigray to Addis Ababa have been forced to return to the camps, and Eritreans from the camps forcibly returned to Eritrea. Chris Melzer, part of UNHCR’s emergency response team in Ethiopia, confirmed to VOA that his organization has not been allowed access to the four refugee camps in Tigray. He is concerned about abuses against refugees. Refugees stated that on Monday 21 December, two uniformed persons and three in civilian clothing attacked the Adi Harush refugee camp. The attack was aimed to confiscate 180 cellphones, in order to cut communications. Refugees were threatened with death in case of movement. Refugees in Adi Harush are not allowed to exit the camp but they do not feel safe inside the camp. The Adi Harush area is not under full control of the Federal Government and gunshots have been reported around the camp.

Ethiopia: UN and human rights organisations continue to call for full access
The UN Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that two humanitarian assessment missions entered Tigray on Monday, 21 December. UN High Commissioner Bachelet urges independent investigation of human rights abuses, stating “the need for independent human rights monitors to be given access to Tigray to adequately assess the human suffering resulting from the conflict, verify allegations and to help ensure accountability for violations”. Norwegian Refugee Council indicated that they were again appealing to Ethiopia to obtain access to Tigray, as their humanitarian workers and relief trucks were on standby. He stated aid should be delivered to all regions in Tigray and without military convoy. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Tuesday launched an urgent appeal for USD 156 million to assist 130,000 people affected by the ongoing violence in Tigray.

Ethiopia/Sudan: Unaccompanied children at risk in Sudan camps
A report by Abdi Latif Dahir for The New York Times shows the situation of unaccompanied children at the Um Rakuba refugee camp, in Sudan. The children fled from Tigray, Ethiopia, to Sudan and were placed in refugee camps. At least 361 children were found unaccompanied. Many of the unaccompanied children said they were divided from their families as they bolted from their homes at night. They walked for days carrying nothing but clothes in order to reach safety. With a shortage of food, shelter, and care, humanitarian organizations say many of the children are at risk of abuse and violence. As reported by the UN Agency for children (UNICEF) children are showing signs of post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression

Sudan: Externalisation of EU borders in Sudan still ongoing, states ARCI
A report by Clotilde Warin and Jerome Tubiana for the Associazione Ricreativa e Culturale Italiana (ARCI) states that the EU continues its externalisation of migration policies in Sudan. Although the EU stated in July 2019 that it had suspended projects aiming to stop illegal migration in Sudan, the report from ARCI indicates that activities such as the “Better Migration Management” project, which includes training of Sudanese forces, were only delayed or postponed during the height of the 2019 crackdown in Sudan. In addition, the Regional Operational Centre in support of the Khartoum Process and AU-Horn of Africa Initiative (ROCK) was moved to Nairobi, Kenya. The EU cooperation with Sudan was criticised in the past over the appearance of reliance of Sudanese border control on the Janjaweed (also known as the Rapid Support Forces) in the past, although the EU has denied funding them. The report by ARCI states that the EU can now show it can cooperate with more acceptable partners, but the authors express fear that the enhanced cooperation could lead to  “more rejections of Sudanese asylum applications and justifying the deportation of rejected asylum seekers.”

North Africa

Libya: The NCHRL asks for a revised collaboration from the EU and African countries
On Friday 18 December, the National Commission for Human Rights – Libya (NCHRL) released a statement in which it explained it continues to object to settling African migrants and refugees in Libya. The NCHRL called instead for a joint action where the EU and the origin, transit, and destination countries would collaborate for ensuring human rights and refugee rights. The NCHRL objected particularly to the EU’s efforts to reduce arrivals from Libya and the return of migrants and refugees to Libya, expressing concern over “the violations they are subjected to in terms of physical and psychological torture, ill-treatment and violence, in addition to exploitation in private businesses and traffic by gangs and human trafficking networks.”

Libya/Italy: Italian pathologist tries to identify migrants dead due to a shipwreck in 2015
A group of around 1,000 refugees and migrants left Libyan coasts on 18 April 2015 on an overloaded fishing boat and died in a shipwreck at the Mediterranean Sea due to a collision with the King Jacob cargo boat. Since then the Italian forensic pathologist and anthropologist Cristina Cattaneo and her team started to give a name to any possible body found. Cattaneo opened files for more than 350 missing persons whose families were asking for news. Nationalities involved in the incident were more than a dozen, including Senegal, Mauritania, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Mali, Gambia, Somalia, and Eritrea. A Tunisian and a Syrian man were sentenced for human trafficking by an Italian court over the incident. Five years after the disaster,  the work to identify victims is still ongoing as only four of the dead have been officially named.


Bosnia/Serbia: Refugees face dire conditions and violence in Bosnia and Serbia
The European Union calls for urgent action to help migrants and refugees at the Bosnian border with Croatia. As reported by various media in previous weeks, the situation of thousands of refugees is alarming. The High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell, Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson and Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, in a statement, asked local authorities to cooperate in providing shelters and safe conditions to asylum seekers. In a joint statement on Monday 21 December, he stated that: “[w]e urge the authorities, once again, to rise above political considerations and reopen the center in Bira and open the facility in Ciljuge near Tuzla”. Threats of violence have repeatedly been reported at the borders as well as in cities like Belgrade, in Serbia. There, refugees were assaulted by vigilante groups. Danilo Curcic, member of the NGO The A11 Initiative said to Euronews that the “[f]ar-right group Leviathan recently published a video in which they caught some refugees and escorted them from Belgrade.” He confirmed that the silence of police and local authorities contributes to the rise of anti-migrant rhetoric.

Greece: Mental health problems among refugees in ‘Moria 2:0’ camp increase
Mental health problems are spiraling out of control in the refugee camp on Lesbos as winter comes closer and security tightens, reports the Guardian. A report by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which combines testimonies from 904 participants from camps on Lesbos, Chios, and Samos, revealed that “after the first lockdown in March there was a 71% increase in the number of people experiencing psychotic symptoms, and a 66% increase in self-harm.” According to Anna Schlegel, who works with children on Lesbos for Medical Volunteers International, “children [have] also started using self-harm to get rid of tension and the overwhelming emotions they face through the retraumatisation.” Médecins Sans Frontières is calling this a “mental health care emergency” that they have not witnessed before.

European Union: Thousands of illegal pushbacks documented in ‘black book’
The organisation Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) accumulated a collection of 892 group testimonies, describing “the experiences of 12,654 victims of human rights violations along the Balkan migration route”, reports the Guardian. The 1,500 page ‘black book’, which has recorded the illegal pushbacks of refugees and migrants by authorities on Europe’s external borders, was released last week and presented to the European Commission. As Simon Campbell, a field coordinator for BVMN described to the Guardian; “this book – which brings together four years of work – points to a gaping hole in accountability for perpetrating authorities, including member states and EU agencies, like Frontex.”


World: Over 3,000 deaths on migration journeys worldwide in 2020
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has recorded over 3,000 deaths on migration journeys through their Missing Migrants Project thus far in 2020. The overall number of people known to have lost their lives in 2020 is fewer than the previous years, but the real number is certainly higher, caused by COVID-19 difficulties and so-called “invisible shipwrecks”, reports Aljazeera. The IOM has indicated an increase in fatalities on some routes, such as the route to Spain’s Canary Islands where at least 593 people died so far in 2020, as compared to 210 recorded in 2019 and 45 in 2018. The route to Europe makes up the majority of fatalities recorded worldwide where at least 1,773 people died within and en route this year. However, deaths elsewhere are more likely to stay unnoticed, including deaths in the deserts and along other routes.