News Highlights: Starvation crimes reported in Tigray, EU leaders support Libya’s ‘migration management’, Protests in Greece

In this week’s news highlights: World Peace Foundation reports intentional starvation in Tigray; 35 christians arrested in Eritrea; Women and girls released after being abducted in South Sudan, more remain missing; Refugees face insecurity amid Kenya’s decision to shut down refugee camps; Somalia publishes plans for a durable social development strategy for IDPs;  EU and US possibly “working closely” on Tigray conflict; EU applauds Libyan interim government for “migration management”; EU is concerned about Turkish human rights violations but renews migrant deal; Tensions between Greece and Turkey over migration; Spanish riot police fire rubber bullets at migrants and refugees clashing over food; Lesbos refugees denounce dire conditions as EU promises to build new migrant facilities; 37 NGOs call for transparency as Maltese Armed Forces are accused of halting rescue operation; and UNHCR sheds light on lack of vaccines for refugees.

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

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Evidence shows people in Tigray are intentionally starved
On 6 April, the World Peace Foundation (WPF) published a report in which it documents how “Ethiopian and Eritrean belligerents in the war in Tigray have comprehensively dismantled the region’s economy and food system”. The report accuses the coalition of Ethiopian Federal forces, Amhara regional forces, and Eritrean troops of “committing starvation crimes on large scale”, and provides evidence drawing on public sources and interviews that shows how Ethiopian and Eritreans have committed international crimes by denying people essential tools for their survival. WPF calls for urgent life-saving assistance for the humanitarian disaster, and urges “all the belligerents to place the survival and welfare of the affected people above political and military goals.” The report is divided in 6 sections and states that “it is likely that the populations of [Central and Eastern Tigray] have been suffering elevated mortality rates over the last two months due to the effects of hunger, acute malnutrition and disease.” WPF concludes the report accusing the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea of starving the people of Tigray, adding that it has circumstantial evidence suggesting that this is “intentional, systematic and widespread.”

Eritrea: 35 christians arrested in Asmara and Assab
Release International reported that more than 35 christian Eriteans have been arrested. Police raids have targeted 23 women in Asmara and 12 in Assab, near the border to Djibouti. Persons from Asmara who were attending a prayer have been detained in Mai Sarawa prison, while the 12 women in Assab have been taken to a local prison. No official charges have been brought. This episode is the latest development in a six month cycle of arrests and releases of christians in Eritrea. According to Release International, “[o]bservers suggest a reason for the recent prisoner releases was to curry favour with the Ethiopian Prime Minister who is a Christian.” Dr Berhane Asmelash, a partner of Release International, stated that: “Unless there is a change of policy these will continue to be dangerous times for Christians in Eritrea, where many are suffering for their faith.” 

South Sudan: 58 abducted women and girls freed, hundreds more remain missing
The Lou Nuer, Murle and Dinka Bor ethnic communities of South Sudan have agreed to return 58 women and children who were abducted last year due to intercommunal fighting in Jonglei State. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has reported that “[…] as many as 686 women and children were abducted during the clashes that took place between January and August of last year.” UNMISS states that women and girls are frequently abducted in Jonglei State and subjected to sexual violence. UNMISS chief and UN Special Representative for South Sudan, David Shearer, said that the reunification of abducted women and girls with their families is “[…] an essential step to build trust and avoid the cycle of revenge”.

Kenya: Refugees “devastated” after Kenya’s decision to shut down refugee camps
Refugees in the Kakuma camp – located in northwest Kenya – and Dadaab camp – in eastern Kenya, close to the border with Somalia – are “devastated” by the decision of the Kenyan government to shut down both camps. On 24 March, Kenyan Interior Minister, Fred Matiang’i, stated the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) had two weeks to provide a roadmap for dismantling the refugee camps, otherwise Kenya would force the refugees to travel to Somalia. The refugees state that many have been living in the camps for more than 20 years, and others were born in the camps. Therefore, they do not possess properties in the countries they fled, where they often continue to face insecurity. Commenting on Kenya’s decision to shut down the camps, UNHCR stated it is “concerned about the impact this decision would have on the protection of refugees in Kenya, including in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic”, and urged the government to “ensure that any decisions allow for suitable and sustainable solutions to be found and that those who continue to need protection are able to receive it”.

Somalia: Somalia announces programme for forced displaced people
On 31 March, the Federal Government of Somalia released a strategy document on long-term solutions to forced displacements, which was republished by Reliefweb on 6 April. The project is aiming to increase coordination between government, international organisations and local authorities for a better management of internally displaced people. The report describes how “[a]nchoring the work on durable solutions within Somalia’s Social Development priorities has also created an enabling environment that can support more innovative and impactful durable solutions initiatives.” Furthermore, the government’s engagement on social development would contribute to reducing poverty, mostly in urban areas. The government states the project aims to enhance education, jobs, livelihoods and resilience of IDPs who have no free access to basic needs: “[t]he National Durable Solutions Strategy (NDSS) will help the Somalia government guarantee a fiscal and political space for the durable solutions agenda, develop a clear and realistic vision for durable solutions, guide implementation, and link durable solutions with other policy actions to achieve comprehensive outcomes.”

Horn of Africa: US and EU could be “working closely” to solve Tigray conflict
Martin Plaut draws attention to possible collaboration between the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) in a bid to resolve both the Tigray conflict and the GERD dispute. He highlights that on the one hand, the US sent Senator Chris Coons to talk with Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, and to press him for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Eritrean and Amhara forces. Even though a ceasefire was not declared, Ethiopian PM announced that Eritrean forces were withdrawing, which, according to Plaut, can be counted as a victory for the US. On the other hand, the EU has sent Finnish Foreign Minister and EU Special Envoy, Pekka Haavisto, for a second trip in Addis Ababa to press for the end of hostilities, unhindered humanitarian access, and the withdrawal of Eritrean troops. The EU Envoy will report back to the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 19 April. Martin Plaut concludes stating that “[i]t is likely that the EU is working closely with the Biden administration. If the EU and US are to make progress on the issue, […] then Brussels and Washington must coordinate their approach.” 

North Africa

EU/Libya: EU shows support to Libyan interim government
On 6 April, Libya’s interim Prime Minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, received the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, who urged the interim government to maintain the ceasefire and applauded Libya for its efforts in migration management, stating that the issue is “not just geopolitical but humanitarian”. PM Draghi also expressed satisfaction with how Libya is managing rescue operations. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) commented on Draghi’s observation, stating that a rescue operation only ends when refugees and migrants are brought to a safe port, while when they are brought back to Libya, they are condemned to torture and violence in detention centres. MSF highlighted that this is not a situation to be satisfied about. On 4 April, Libya’s interim Prime Minister welcomed European Council President, Charles Michel, who stated that migration is a “major theme” in the European Union (EU)-Libya relations, adding that “[e]conomic recovery, elections, the fight against illegal immigration […] are areas in which the EU can help.” Michel said the EU “will work with the new government and support it,” and called for “all mercenaries and foreign soldiers to quickly leave” Libya, so that the country can undertake a “process of national reconciliation” that  “[t]he European Union actively supports.” 


EU/Turkey: EU concerns about Turkey violations of human rights but continue support to migration deal
On 6 April, various media reported that the European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen expressed concern over Turkey’s violations of human rights. Aljazeera reported that the European institutions were particularly concerned about Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on gender violence as well as the formal attempt to exclude the Kurdish party from the political arena. Aljazeera added that Erdogan did not  reply to the EU concerns, while his office released a statement confirming Turkey’s intention “to take concrete steps to support a positive [EU-Turkey] agenda”. Regarding migrant and refugee support, prevention of illegal departures, and acceptance of returns from Greece, Ursula Von der Leyen stated that: “I am very much committed to ensuring the continuity of European funding [to Turkey].” This comment is in line with last month’s engagement of Turkey with the EU on preserving and boosting the 2016’s migration pact, as reported by DW.

Greece/Turkey: Tensions flare over migrant crossings
Greek Minister for Migration, Notis Mitarachi, has insinuated that the Turkish Coast Guard has been leading refugees and migrants into “the border of Europe, in an effort to provoke an escalation” with Greece. Turkish Deputy Interior Minister Ismail Catakli counter argued that Greece refused over 200 migrants on 2 April and that Turkish authorities were rescuing the people that “you [the Hellenic Coast Guard] left to death.” The Hellenic Coast Guard reports they have video evidence of Turkish vessels accompanying migrants into Greek territorial waters. Mitarachi stated that Turkey should “live up to” the commitments they made in the EU-Turkey migrant deal.

Spain: Police shoot rubber bullets at migrants as fights over food surge
On 6 April, riot police arrested 8 persons and reportedly fired rubber bullets during a squabble amongst migrants and refugees at Las Raíces camp, the largest migrant facility on the island of Tenerife. The facility has been criticised in the past as overcrowded and housing people in deplorable conditions with complaints including inadequate hot water supply and inadequate food. The most recent fight on 6 April is reported to have started between the inhabitants of the camps from different nationalities over food. Police have arrested several migrants this month over tensions about food.

Greece: Protests against abusive conditions in refugee camps as EU promises to construct more
EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, faced criticism and protests from locals and refugees on the island of Lesbos as she inspected the construction of new migrant camps on the island last week. The new migrant camps are a part of a EU-funded €276-million effort to build more migrant facilities on Lesbos and four other Aegean islands. The move is unpopular with Lesbos locals who are at the ‘limit of their patience’ with how the influx of migrants and refugees has affected their daily ‘rhythm’. Johansson told journalists that she “can understand that everybody has a limit to their patience […] this limit is close, also here on Lesbos and in some other areas.” The prospect of new camps has highlighted the substandard conditions migrants and refugees face on the island. The island has been criticised for its isolated and far removed location as well as for the inadequate shelter which includes refugees sleeping in tents during the winter last year. On 1 April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that refugees at a camp in Lesbos were at a risk of lead poisoning due to contaminated soil. HRW stated that the Greek government had “known the risks since at least December 2020 […]” and its failure to take action is “serious negligence”.

Malta: Armed Forces accused of halting rescue operation, 37 NGOs call for transparency
On 6 April, 37 NGOs called for Malta to be more transparent in managing migration and to publish all information regarding a rescue operation that was allegedly halted by the Armed Forces of Malta. On 2 April, a ship carrying more than 100 people was in distress in the Maltese SAR zone and was being approached by NordicStar, a merchant vessel. However, Sea Watch International stated that NordicStar changed course and did not rescue the people, accusing the Armed Forces of Malta of “actively hindering the rescue of the people, instead of coordinating it.” The 37 NGOs released a statement in which they recognize that they “are unable to say where [the 100 people] are, if they have been pushed back to Libya or even if they are alive,” adding that “[i]t is unacceptable that Malta relinquishes its duty to coordinate the rescue of persons in distress in its search and rescue zone.” They stated that “[i]t is also undemocratic and reprehensible that Malta has repeatedly refused to provide information on its decisions and actions,” calling for the immediate publication of information.


World: UNHCR concerned about the lack of vaccine availability for refugees
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) commended the recent decisions of Serbia, Nepal, Rwanda, Jordan to give free access to COVID-19 vaccines for asylum seekers. Nevertheless, UNHCR raises the attention to the need to provide free and equitable access to refugees on a global scale. Around 85 percent of the world’s refugees are based in poor or underdeveloped countries. According to UNHCR, these countries face economic and financial obstacles that hinder their access to vaccines, and they can lack well-equipped health facilities. As a result, host countries cannot provide equal treatment and availability to vaccines for refugees. According to UNHCR News, Filippo Grandi recently stated that: “[t]he blatant imbalances observed in vaccine-sharing among States are counterproductive and shortsighted. A ‘my country first’ approach just cannot work in a pandemic that knows no borders.”