News Highlights: Ethiopia states Eritrea will withdraw troops, Ethiopia acknowledges atrocities committed in Tigray, Eritrea to be sanctioned by EU  

In this week’s news highlights: Ethiopia states Eritrean troops will withdraw; Ethiopian Prime Minister confirms the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray; Health facilities in Tigray incapable of providing for IDPs; Ethiopian Head of State meets with US representative, Senator Coons, to discuss Tigray; Somali leaders should adopt electoral model, say international partners; New Libyan government introduced to UNSC, while numbers of refugees in detention continue to grow; 60 people feared dead, others rescued off the coast of Libya; EU to sanction four entities and eleven countries, including Eritrea; EU ministers discuss EU-Turkey relations; ‘MED 5’ states ask fellow EU members for more cooperation on migration; Prosecutors recommend  Italian Prime Minister to be tried on charges of migrant kidnapping; French Coast Guard intercepts two vessels; UN launches knowledge-sharing platform on migration.

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

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia/Eritrea: Ethiopia requests withdrawal of Eritrean troops
On Friday 26 March, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed released a statement asserting that Eritrea has agreed to withdraw its troops from the Tigray region. Following a visit from US Senator Chris Coons, on behalf of US President Joe Biden, PM Abiy Ahmed stated that Eritrean forces would leave the border areas and Ethiopian troops would assume control “effective immediately.” 

Ethiopia: Prime Minister acknowledges presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray
On 23 March, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed acknowledged for the first time since the start of the conflict in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, that Eritrean troops crossed the border into Tigray. PM Abiy thanked the Eritrean troops for their service, but acknowledged and condemned the reported atrocities committed against civilians in the Tigray region. In PM Abiy’s speech, he stated that “we don’t accept any damage because it is the Eritrean army, and we would not accept it if it were our soldiers. The military campaign was against our clearly targeted enemies, not against the people. We have discussed this four or five times with the Eritrean government.” He confirmed that Eritrean troops have been fighting throughout Tigray, suggesting that Eritrean soldiers are no longer there under his control. In follow up this Friday, 26 March, PM Abiy stated that the Eritrean troops had agreed to leave. The Prime Minister stated that the Ethiopian government had raised concerns of widespread looting and rights abuses by Eritrean soldiers in Tigray. In his speech, PM Ahmed compared the rape of girls and women committed by the Eritrean and Ethiopian troops to Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF)’s attack on the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) Northern Command base. Speaking in Amharic, he stated that “those who are complaining about the rights of raped women in Tigray, they should know that those women (Tigrayan women) were raped by men but our soldiers in the Northern command were attacked by daggers and nobody talks about them (the soldiers). Northern Command was not only attacked but also humiliated.” Finally, he dismissed fears of an imminent conflict with Sudan, stating that “Sudan in its current state isn’t in shape to fight with a neighbouring country, it has lots of problems. Ethiopia also has many problems. We don’t need war. It is better to settle it in a peaceful manner.”

Ethiopia: EHRC report reveals new information on Aksum massacre
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published a report regarding the massacre in Aksum. Based on witness testimonies, videos, photos and audio clips the report has established a timeline of events that roughly corresponds with previous reports made by Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW). The EHRC document generally confirms the events published in the reports of the two human rights organisations, but differs in the time the events took place, specific details and the death toll figure. According to the EHRC the majority of events took place a day earlier than believed. For example, the report alleges six people died in a shelling on November 18th, not the 19th and Eritrean soldiers entered the city on the 19th, not the 20th. The report also mentions reasons why certain events occurred. For instance, the shooting that occured on 28th November was possibly instigated by Eritrean soldiers  “[…] tr[ying] to loot Aksum Tsion Church […]”. Lastly the EHRC document purports that the death toll numbers over 100 which is significantly lower than AI who estimate the deaths to be at least 800. The report concludes that the massacre in Aksum “[…] may amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes […].”

Ethiopia: Ethiopian IDPs in urgent need as health facilities are not equipped
Tigray Interim Administration head, Mulu Nega, stated that more than 900,000 people in Tigray are currently internally displaced persons (IDPs). This number is lower than the earlier reported 2,2 million IDPs estimated by the interim government in January. IDPs still face dire living conditions. According to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) on the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia, most IDPs located in Abi-Adi, Adwa, Aksum and Shire show evidence of acute malnutrition. Furthermore, IDPs report inappropriate infrastructure and damage to health facilities as well as lack of protection in IDP sites. As reported by the analysis: “At least 12 health facilities [in the Tigray region] were looted by armed actors in the past two weeks, according to the Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) meeting on 12 March”. According to the Health Cluster, hospitals and health centres in Tigray are not well-equipped for such an amount of IDPs, while others have no access to running water and to medical supplies. The inability to provide health assistance has been particularly evident in Shire, Adwa and Aksum, where the influx of IDPs from western Tigray has been considerable. Conditions are made even more difficult due to the lack of registration at displaced sites, as in some cases it is required to show identity cards, preventing people from showing up at check-points. 

Ethiopia: US Senator meets with Ethiopian Head of State to discuss Tigray
Last weekend, 20-21 March, US Senator Chris Coons travelled to Ethiopia as a US representative to discuss escalating tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan and accusations of war crimes and human rights abuses in the Tigray region. Senator Coons urged Ethiopian Prime Minister (PM), Abiy Ahmed, to declare a cease-fire in Tigray, a proposition that was rejected by the PM. Senator Coons stated that he “pressed for a unilateral declaration of a cease-fire, something the prime minister did not agree to”, adding that he “pressed for a rapid move towards a full political dialogue on Tigray’s future political structure”. The Senator also met Ethiopia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Demeke Mekonnen, regarding the border dispute between Ethiopia and Sudan and Tigrayan refugees entering Sudan to escape the conflict. Demeke Mekonnen reiterated Ethiopia’s stance of non-interference, stating that “our people and government do not want any interference in the law enforcement operation on Ethiopia’s territory.”

Somalia: International actors call for an election model agreement by Somali leaders
According to a joint press statement released on 21 March by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), international partners express concern over the Somali government’s decision to delay elections due to a quarrel on the election process. Welcomed by international partners, including the African Union, European Union and the United States, the summit of the Federal Government of Somalia and Federal Member State leaders started on 22 March in Mogadishu. The summit parties were urged to adopt a shared electoral model, in order to hold elections on 17 September 2021. Through the statement, international actors reject a “[…] partial or parallel electoral process or any initiatives leading to extension of prior mandates”. Because of this,  they call for a joint agreement by Somali leaders for a wide consensus on the election model to be implemented.

North Africa

Libya: Libyan government welcomed by UNSC while refugees are still imprisoned
As reported by UN News on 24 March, the United Nations Special Envoy and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Ján Kubiš, introduced the formation of a new Libyan government to the UN Security Council. He stated that “[t]he House of Representatives on 10 March overwhelmingly endorsed the Government of National Unity (GNU)”. The Special Envoy added that the new cabinet has marked a “historic political milestone” as it includes ministers from different regions and backgrounds. Despite the formation of a new government, the number of migrants and refugees imprisoned during the pandemic continued to rise. Mr. Kubiš noted that around 3,858 people are currently held in official detention centres “under extremely poor conditions without due process and with restrictions on humanitarian access”.

Libya: 60 possible deaths, multiple rescues off the coast of Libya
On 20 March, 106 migrants and refugees were rescued by Ocean Viking, NGO SOS Méditerranée’s boat, after their boat capsized off the coast of Sabratha, Libya. SOS Méditerranée said victims were nationals of West African states. On 18 March, 45 migrants and refugees were rescued by Libyan fishermen, after their boat caught fire because of an explosion off the coast of Zuwara. The survivors said at least 60 people died in that accident. NGO Alarm Phone said authorities were warned about the fire, but nobody provided assistance. The NGO added that once the migrants and refugees were brought back to Libya, they were arrested. Alarm Phone is conducting an investigation over this accident, after which, it said, it will provide a report. During the morning of 18 March, Ocean Viking rescued 11 people off the coast of Mellitah. 


EU: EU plans sanctions and restrictions in Libya, South Sudan and Eritrea
On 22 March, as reported by a press release of the Council of the EU, the European Union plans to impose restrictive measures on eleven countries and four entities due to violations of human rights. Sanctions include an asset freeze in the EU, a travel ban and the restriction of the use of European funds. The list includes Libya, due to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, as well as South Sudan and Eritrea. Regarding Eritrea, Reuters reports that EU sanctions are planned to be put in action because “[t]he National Security Office is responsible for serious human rights violations in Eritrea, in particular arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances of persons and torture”.

EU: Foreign Affairs Ministers discuss EU-Turkey relations amid talks of new migrant deal
EU Minister for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, has stated that EU-Turkey relations were going in “ the right direction” and that steps had been made towards “ de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean”. At a recent Foreign Affairs Council held last Sunday, 21 March, the minister stressed that while recent developments were optimistic he cautioned that the current state of progress was “fragile  [and]  need to be sustained”. Borrell further stated that the status of human rights in Turkey was of “serious concern” and that hostile decisions made by the Turkish government could “tak[e] Turkey out of the European path”. Such comments come in light of the fast approaching European Council, on the 25-26th March, which will discuss the possibility of a renewal of the EU-Turkey migrant deal.

EU: Five EU states demand help to manage migrant arrivals and processing
On Saturday 20 March, the interior ministers for Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain – the MED 5 states – urged that fellow European Union (EU) states help alleviate the demands placed on them as the front line states for migration into Europe. The Maltese Minister for Home Affairs, Byron Camilleri, stated that “we [the MED 5] can no longer be punished for our geographical position.” The five states presented a pact that asked for better cooperation between countries in regions of origin such as South Asia, the Middle East and Africa; greater acceptance rates of migrant and refugee relocations by other EU members; and a centralised European migration return mechanism overseen by the EU. The Greek Minister for Migration, Notis Mitarachi, argued that “the problems of the frontline reception countries are recognised by all the member states. [….] But now this must be reflected in the new pact.”

Italy: Former Italian Minister to be tried for preventing migrants from landing
On Saturday 20 March, Italian prosecutors formally recommended that Matteo Salvini, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Italy, ex-Minister of the Interior and current leader of right-wing populist party Lega Nord, should be indicted on charges of kidnapping stemming from his decision to leave over 100 migrants stranded at sea in 2019. This most recent development is the result of a long-running legal process that required the Italian Senate to remove Salvini’s parliamentary immunity and authorise prosecutors to investigate Salvini. If found guilty, Salvini could face up to 15 years in prison. Open Arms, a migrant rescue charity operation, welcomed the news stating that “violating the rights of vulnerable people is a crime in any democratic country that respects the constitution and international conventions.”

France: Two vessels intercepted while crossing the English Channel
On 21 March, the Coast Guard of France intercepted two vessels carrying a total of 72 people off the coast of Calais, while attempting to reach the United Kingdom (UK). The first boat was carrying 38 migrants, who were then taken back to Calais, while the second vessel was carrying 34 migrants, who were taken back to Boulogne-sur-Mer. Both the vessels had difficulties while crossing the English Channel. Because of tighter border controls, in particular on trains and trucks, the number of migrants trying to reach the UK by boat is growing. According to the French Coast Guard, in 2020 there were around 9,500 attempted crossings, which is more than four times the number of 2019.


World: Migration Network Hub to provide high quality information on migration
On 18 March, the United Nations (UN) Network on Migration launched the Migration Network Hub, a platform of knowledge sharing and connection centre created to help UN Member States to implement the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Coordinator of the United Nations Network on Migration, António Vitorino, stated that “[w]orking collaboratively on migration is a founding principle of the Global Compact for Migration. The launch of the Hub is a milestone in this regard as it allows us to work better together, learn from each other’s experiences and exchange ideas on how to foster the implementation of the Compact at all levels.” IOM states that the Migration Network Hub is a tool of capacity building which aims at fostering expertise, good practices and knowledge on migration. According to IOM, high quality is ensured by peer review. The Hub wants also to provide clear and truthful information on migration, since contradictory information was pointed out as a main challenge by researchers who were interviewed by the Migration Policy Institute on behalf of the UN Network on Migration prior to the launch of the platform.