News Highlights: East Africa faces lack of aid funding, Interim Libyan government wants help on migration, Life sentence for smugglers proposed in UK

In this week’s news highlights: Humanitarian conditions are worsening in the Horn amidst funding reduction for aid; UN comments on human rights violations in Tigray; Statement of UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea; Testimonies on violence by Eritrean troops in Ethiopia amidst international inaction; Interim Libyan PM asks for international assistance on migration; at least 15 deaths off Libya coast; life sentence plan introduced for smugglers in UK; refugees protest in Greece; UN Committee for Children says Spain violated a minor’s rights in invasive determining of age; Report on increase of migrants and refugees landing in Italy; The IOM raises the attention migrant and refugee vaccinations.

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

Greater Horn of Africa

Horn of Africa: 3 million refugees at risks of ration cuts in Eastern Africa
According to the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 3 million refugees in Eastern Africa are affected by ration cuts due to insufficient funding provided to WFP and UNHCR. The lack of funds and the COVID-19 restriction on markets prevent refugees from sustaining their families as well as causing reduction of food supplies. This intensifies the risk of malnutrition, disease, anemia and stunted child growth. As reported by UNHCR News: “[f]unding shortfalls have forced WFP to slash its monthly assistance for refugees by up to […], 30 per cent in South Sudan, 23 per cent in Djibouti and 16 per cent in Ethiopia.” Both the UNHCR and the WFP call for US$266 million in additional funding for the next six months. Michael Dunford, WFP Regional Director for Eastern Africa, stated that if the funding cuts continue, refugees “[…] will be faced with a very difficult decision: stay in the camps where food and nutrition security is deteriorating or consider risking going back when it is unsafe.”

Ethiopia: International community accused of inaction amidst testimonies of violence
Human Rights Watch published a report on the massacre of civilians in the Tigray city of Aksum. HRW says that Eritrean troops are consistently identified by their distinctive clothes and license plates. HRW calls for immediate UN investigation. Al Jazeera gained access to the Tigray region and published testimonies of survivors of the conflict, who allege severe violations by Eritrean troops. Survivors recount that Eritrean soldiers shot people, raped women, displaced thousands and triggered shortages of food, medicine and water. Ethiopia and Eritrea had denied Eritrean involvement in the conflict, but Al Jazeera stated that it obtained images of Eritrean license plates in Tigray. According to Alex De Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, the Ethiopian army collapsed in most of Tigray, and the fighting is being carried out by the Eritrean soldiers. He also writes for the Boston Review  that a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Tigray, and that the “international community […] have known for months that something truly horrendous is happening. But like shocked onlookers, they haven’t wanted to believe the facts.” Finally, he criticized the “breakthrough” the UN announced when a few dozen aid workers were allowed in Tigray. De Waal states that the aid groups are too small to provide effective and efficient support to those who need it, and calls for the Ethiopian government to allow “[i]nternational agencies [to] be able to travel widely” in the affected areas. 

Ethiopia: Human rights violations and ethnic targeting in Tigray
On 4 March, United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, stated that “[c]redible information […] continues to emerge about serious violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law by all parties” in Tigray, adding that a first analysis of the information received by the UN suggests that multiple parties to the conflict, including the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, Eritrean forces, Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Amhara forces, and other militias, had committed “violations of international law, possibly amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity”. The UN Security Council was also warned that the humanitarian situation in Tigray continues to escalate in a meeting on 4 March. Survivors of conflict in Tigray report Eritrean forces looted and set on fire their homes. VICE World News conducted a series of interviews that pointed to destruction of livelihoods and damage of infrastructures in the Tigray areas controlled by Eritrean troops. This was confirmed by satellite images analysed by the research organization DX Open Network based in the United Kingdom. Testimonies suggested that ethnic targeting was carried out by Eritrean soldiers. Furthermore, 15 Tigrayan members of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) deployed with the UN peacekeeping operation in Juba, South Sudan, were called “traitors backed by the UNHCR and Tigrayans working in the UN” by the ENDF. Stephane Dujarric, UN spokesperson, stated that the peacekeepers “remain safe in the care of South Sudanese and UNHCR authorities, and they are being assessed. […] [T]heir right to request asylum and protection is being taken extremely seriously and is being respected.”

Eritrea: UN Special Rapporteur concerned about  human rights violations in Eritrea
In a statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur, Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, expressed his concerns on the current human rights situation in Eritrea as well as the situation of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia. He reported on the dire conditions of Eritrean refugees residing in Hitsats, Mai-Aini, Adi Harush, and Shimelba refugee camps in Tigray, Ethiopia. Babiker reported “first-hand accounts of allegations of grave human rights and humanitarian law violations, including extra judicial killings, targeted abductions and forced return of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers to Eritrea, allegedly by Eritrean forces.” Furthermore, Babiker raised concern about alleged involvement of Eritrean soldiers in severe violations of human rights against civilians in the Tigray region and he asked for an urgent international investigation into these allegations. He also reported on inadequate progress on the human rights situation inside Eritrea including ongoing indefinite national service, lack of minimum democracy standards, absence of  the rule of law, and lack of  religious freedom. Regarding to COVID-19 situation, Babiker asked for the release of more vulnerable and older detainees. In his conclusion, Babiker called for the immediate release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, which include journalists and political opponents. He asked for the opportunity for a constructive dialogue and commitment with Eritrean officials for the promotion of human rights in Eritrea.

North Africa

Libya: Interim PM asks for international support on migration
According to the new Libyan interim Prime Minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, Libya is unable to manage the situation around refugees and migrants by itself. Dbeibah, elected in early February through a UN inter-Libyan dialogue in Geneva, stated that: “[t]he problem of migration does not concern Libya alone… it is a global problem that concerns the entire world”. For that reason, he calls for a concerted action of the international community, with the aim to support the humanitarian crises which involve more than 570,000 migrants and refugees currently based in Libya. Meanwhile, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) recently said that: “[a]t least 3,700 men, women, and children, were returned [to Libya] this year” while they were trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, confirming the need of international aid in managing the current situation. 

Libya: At least 15 dead after boat sinking off Libya
On Sunday 28 February, a boat carrying at least 110 people capsized off the Libyan coast. The Libyan Coast Guard picked up 95 people, while 15 others drowned. The survivors were returned to Libya. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the boat left from the coastal town of Zawiya on Friday, but started to sink early on Sunday. Alarm Phone launched the alarm about the sinking, but stated that the Libyan Coast Guard refused to immediately provide assistance. International organizations denounce the return of refugees and migrants to Libya due to the dire living conditions in detention centres. According to IOM, at least 3,700 people have been returned to Libya in 2021. Meanwhile, NGO Sea Watch 3 carried out at least three operations between the 27th and 28th of February, in which it saved around 200 people in the Central Mediterranean. The three operations were carried out in the Search and Rescue (SAR) area of Libya.


UK: Possible life sentence for people smugglers introduced
Priti Patel, United Kingdom (UK) Secretary of State for the Home Department,  introduced a new plan to tackle illegal crossings of migrants and refugees through the Channel. Under this plan, smugglers will face life sentences, extending the current maximum jail term of 14 years. The decision comes after Patel voiced concerns about the average jail term sentence for people smugglers, which is 3 years. There is also  fear among UK ministers that more migrants and refugees will try to cross the Channel this year before the UK laws on migrations tighten. The plan would be part of measures that will be implemented next year. 

Greece:  Refugees protest in Greece
A protest in the Ritsona refugee camp in central Greece has been ongoing since Monday. Refugees are asking for equal and fast access to documents and respect for their rights. Refugees protesting were asking state representatives or authorities from the ministry of migration to open a discussion with them. On Thursday morning, protest escalated when Greek police used teargas against refugees. Additionally, on Sunday evening, 28 February, refugees and migrants started protesting in Athens’ Victoria Square, after the Greek government shut down the Filoxenia housing program. The program provided shelter to vulnerable asylum seekers who were hosted in hotels leased by the government. Vasilika Moon, from the Filoxenia house program in Corinth, stated that because of the shut down “almost 7,000 people are now on the streets in distress, among them many families and children.” The main problem for those who will be evicted from the hotels will be that “[t]he majority of them still don’t have official documents, so they can’t travel or be included in other help programs,” said Moon. 

Spain: Spain violated rights of a refugee minor in 2017
According to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Spain has failed in protecting the human rights of a refugee minor in 2017, subjecting the minor to invasive medical exams, with the aim to determine her age. The minor, originally from Cameroon where she had been a victim of sexual abuse, noted she was16 years old upon her arrival in 2017 while applying for asylum. The Spanish prosecutor doubted the girl’s age and forced her to undress and to be submitted to medical checks of her breasts and genitals, after which they declared her to be an adult, and taking away her special minor refugee protection rights. In 2019, the CRC accused Spain of violation of the minor’s rights and asked for the inclusion of the girl in the protection programme as a recognized refugee. The CRC stated that the procedure to determine her age constituted an “illegal interference into her private life as a victim of sexual violence” in a report by the Spanish NGO Fundación Raíces

Italy: Increase in arrivals of migrants and refugees on the Italian shores
Mediterranea Saving Humans, an Italian NGO operating in the Mediterranean Sea, released a report documenting that migrant and refugee arrivals on Italian shores have doubled compared to last year. Only in February 2021, 3895 migrants and refugees arrived in Italy, among them 398 minors, the majority of whom were fleeing from Libya. This number has almost tripled compared to February 2020. Mediterranea states that departures from Tunisia, which were already on the rise last August, are still increasing. The NGO also reports that Libyan Coast Guard pushbacks have increased as well. From the beginning of 2021 up until 1 March, 4029 people have been intercepted and brought back to Libyan detention centres. Furthermore, on 1 March, Totò Martello, the mayor of Lampedusa, voiced his concerns over the surge of migrant arrivals, after around 400 people arrived in Lampedusa in the previous three days. The mayor stated that for now Lampedusa is able to provide for those arriving, “[b]ut in the coming weeks, when the numbers grow, what will happen? If one doesn’t intervene on the causes and the origin countries of migration flows, we will continue to go from one emergency to the next”. 


World: The IOM calls for access to vaccines for migrants and refugees
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), in a statement released on 3 March, calls for the complete availability of COVID-19 vaccines for all migrants and refugees. The United Nations Network on Migration asks United Nations member countries to “guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to vaccines for all”, underlining the need to include migrants and refugees in lists for vaccination as a human right. Furthermore, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goals include universal health coverage which should cover migrants and refugees in the health system of the country where they live. Finally, the United Nations Network on Migration raised attention to the right for non-discrimination in procedures as well as ensuring vaccines regardless of migrant status by all UN member states. The engagement includes: “mitigating potential cultural, linguistic or other barriers to migrants’ […] vaccines and […] allowing migrants anywhere to protect themselves and their communities”.