News Highlights: International response to Tigray “woefully insufficient”, Eritrea documentary, 2,000 refugees died due to illegal EU pushbacks

In this week’s news highlights: Amnesty International says international community response to human rights violation in Tigray “has been woefully insufficient”; Report by International Rescue Committee shows gender based violence increasing in Tigray refugee and IDP camps; At least  5,000 children separated from parents by Tigray conflict are in danger, says Save the Children; Documentary film on Eritrea’s regime shows footage smuggled from inside; IOM warns of lack of medical assistance for South Sudan IDPs; UNHCR and Kenya will implement roadmap to close two refugee camps; IOM needs funds for health assistance in East and Horn of Africa; Migrants and refugees beaten by Libyan Coast Guard, video by Sea Watch 4; The Guardian says at least 2,000 refugee deaths have been caused due to illegal pushbacks supported by EU; 450 migrants disembarked in Sicily, at least 11 die off Libya coasts; People feel unsafe as Greece shut down refugee camp; New British refugee policy heavily criticised as a “sham” by over 200 organisations; “Serious and systematic violations of the rights of unaccompanied minors” denounced by French NGOs; IOM World Migration Report now available online.

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


Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Amnesty urges world leaders to “speak out” against human rights violations
On 4 May, Amnesty International said that “African and other world leaders must urgently speak out and do more to stem the ferocious tide of human rights and international humanitarian law violations in the armed conflict that has now raged for six months in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.” Amnesty International‘s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, stated that “[s]ix months on from the start of the conflict in Tigray, there is no lack of credible evidence of human rights and international humanitarian law violations, but the response from the African Union and United Nations has been woefully insufficient,” adding that “[t]he UN Security Council stalled for months before finally expressing concern about the increasingly dire situation in Tigray. The African Union and governments in the region, meanwhile, have done very little to speak out against the raft of likely war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Deprose Muchena concluded stating that “[i]t is imperative that international, independent investigations are carried out into the allegations of serious violations by all sides, with those responsible held to account, to send a clear message that there will be zero impunity,” adding that “[i]f the international community’s tepid response to the conflict in Tigray continues, there is a real threat that the already dire situation could spiral completely out of control.”

Ethiopia: Gender based violence increasing in Tigray
On 3 May, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) published a report detailing the gender based violence (GBV) and sexual exploitation of internally displaced women and girls in Tigray refugee camps and sites for IDPs. The report highlighted how gender and social norms impacted women and girls during the crisis. Female refugees were often coerced into sexually exploitative relationships in exchange for small amounts of cash (equivalent to $1.25) to buy food. Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and GBV, including sexual harassment, assault and rape, was reported to have peaked during and after the conflict, and continue to increase. The breakdown of traditional community accountability mechanisms, increased alcohol consumption, greater exposure and normalisation of sexual violence, economic anxiety and limited economic alternatives for women were all reported as contributing factors. The reporting and treatment of GBV is described as severely restricted due to the significant strain the crisis has placed on medical services and healthcare personnel. Pregnant women have died due to the limited reach of healthcare systems in the area and prenatal and postnatal care has been deeply affected and left lacking by the conflict. IRC will publish a more substantial report in mid-May.

Ethiopia: Nearly 5,000 children separated from their families in Tigray
Save the Children has stated that almost 5,000 children have been recorded by the UN as separated from their parents as a result of the conflict in Tigray and are now left living in dangerous conditions where they are vulnerable to neglect and abuse. With no adult caregiver, the children face enormous challenges in meeting their basic needs, such as finding food, water and shelter, as well as protecting themselves from threats of physical and sexual violence. Sexual violence against girls and women has significantly increased since the conflict began with 950 women reporting rape cases to the Ethiopian Bureau of Health in the last two months, and the actual numbers being much higher. Save the Children is setting up healthcare and social services to provide support to unaccompanied and separated children in Tigray. 

Eritrea: Documentary on violations of human rights
PBS Frontline released a documentary film called “Escaping Eritrea” where allegations of torture, military conscription and arbitrary detentions are described in around one hour of film. Testimonies of more than 30 witnesses and 10 hours of footage have been recorded, as part of an in-depth investigation that started in 2016. The video footage was smuggled out of the country by Eritreans risking their lives. Reporters interviewed eye-witnesses and children who fled Eritrea due to the fear of being conscripted in the indefinite National Service at 16 or 17 years old. Secret footage has been recorded from the Abi Abeto prison, in the outskirts of Asmara, where 2000 people are arbitrarily detained without having passed through a trial. Dire and overcrowded conditions of the  prison have been reported by a guard. Slavery-like conditions and possible crimes against humanity have been reported by the United Nations, as the National Service is a long-term conscription where those who try to escape the system are detained and tortured. Women conscripted reported sexual harassment and assaults during their service. The abuses continue outside of Eritrea, as a refugee recalled in the documentary that Eritrean troops entered Hitsats refugee camp with the aim of beating, killing, raping and kidnapping refugees.

South Sudan: 800,000 to lose access to life-saving medical care due to funding issues
More than 800,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees and returnees in South Sudan are at risk of losing access to primary, life-saving healthcare services due to a scarcity of humanitarian funding, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The reduction of vital medical services could start taking effect as early as June. Jacqueline Weekers, Director of Migration Health for IOM, stated that “when some people don’t have access to health services, everyone can be at risk. […] Health is not a luxury, it’s a right and a necessity. We must mobilize to ensure no one is left behind.” Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the South Sudanese healthcare system was already overwhelmed and heavily dependent on international humanitarian actors. Now South Sudan faces the rainy season which significantly increases the risk of cholera, malaria and respiratory infections which impact the local population. Peter Van der Auweraert, IOM’s Chief of Mission in South Sudan, said that if IOM had to withdraw their healthcare services due to a lack of funding then “an even bigger humanitarian crisis” could face South Sudan. The cost of continuing life-saving healthcare services in South Sudan amounts to 744,175 USD per month or 11 USD per beneficiary per year.

Kenya: UNHCR and government to implement roadmap to close two refugee camps
On 29 April, Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, and the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, met in Nairobi to discuss the status of Kakuma and Dadaab refugees camps, which shelter over 400,000 refugees and asylum-seekers mostly from Somalia and South Sudan. In March, the Kenyan government gave an ultimatum to the UNHCR to provide a plan to close these two camps. In the beginning of April, UNHCR presented a roadmap that includes voluntary repatriation and arrangements to facilitate departures to third countries, while other refugees from East African Community (EAC) countries will be allowed to stay in Kenya under alternative options. Human rights groups are asking the Kenyan government to reconsider the closure of these camps, as “[m]any of the refugees in Kenya are third-generation refugees”, said Irungu Houghton, executive director at Amnesty International Kenya, according to whom “option[s] should be explored and supported for those refugees that would prefer to stay in a country that they have known.” George Musamali, a security analyst in Kenya added: “[l]et’s provide resources to the refugee camps, and you’ll find that some of these refugees were born there, so you are sending them to countries that they have never been to, they don’t even know.”

East/Horn of Africa: IOM in need of funds for support on vaccines
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is seeking USD 87 million in funds for providing health assistance and vaccine access for the populations of East and Horn of Africa. Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are most vulnerable to humanitarian crises, worsened by COVID-19 emergency. Funds are collected under the “COVID-19 Strategic Response and Recovery Plan (SRP) 2021 for East and Horn of Africa” and they will provide continuative support medical services, including medical devices and vaccines. Mohammed Abdiker, IOM Regional Director for East and Horn of Africa, stated that “[m]igrants remain among the most vulnerable to the loss of economic opportunities, eviction and homelessness, as well as stigmatization and exclusion from essential services.”

North Africa

Libya: Video shows Libyan Coast Guard beating migrants intercepted at sea
NGO Sea Watch 4 released a video on Twitter that shows the Libyan Coast Guard beating migrants and refugees intercepted at sea. Sea Watch 4 was navigating towards the boat in distress when it witnessed the Libyan Coast Guard approaching the migrant boat, beating migrants and refugees and “taking them back to Libya against their will in the name of Europe”, writes the NGO. Sea Watch 4 carried out six interventions at sea in 72 hours, and accused Europe of forcing migrants to attempt crossing the Mediterranean because of lack of alternatives. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) – Libya tweeted “In the period of 25 April – 1 May, 818 migrants were rescued/intercepted at sea and returned to Libya,” and added that “Libya is not a safe port.”


EU: Analysis shows deadly illegal pushbacks affecting 40,000 refugees
The Guardian released an in-depth analysis on EU illegal pushbacks to external borders, and revealed that at least 2,000 migrant and refugee deaths are linked to  illegal operations. According to The Guardian, illegal operations supported by the EU Border Agency Frontex returned at least 40,000 refugees (including children) out of European borders. NGOs state that pushbacks are increasing amidst COVID-19 restrictions. Data underpinning The Guardian’s analysis has been collected from matching UN Agency reports and NGO databases on incidents. As reported by The Guardian’s inquiry, violence and illegal methods such as assault, detention and transportation have been used by police, non-EU states and private vessels to stop refugees from reaching Europe. In Libyan waters, NGOs report that the EU coast guard agencies refuse to respond. The Guardian analysis comes as European Anti-Fraud Agency Olaf is investigating allegations against Frontex of harassment, misconduct and unlawful operations. Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo, professor of asylum law at the University of Palermo, said to The Guardian that: “[r]ecent reports suggest an increase of deaths of migrants attempting to reach Europe and, at the same time, an increase of the collaboration between EU countries with non-EU countries such as Libya, which has led to the failure of several rescue operations.”

Italy/Libya: 450 migrants land in Sicily, UNHCR calls for better protection
UNHCR spokesperson Carlotta Sami gave a statement about the disembarkation of more than 450 migrants and refugees, of which 160 minors, in the port of Trapani, Italy. The people were rescued by NGO ship Sea Watch and carried to Sicily. The UNHCR has reported that since the first of May, 1,500 people have landed in Italy, and in this case the number of unaccompanied children was particularly high. Carlotta Sami said that: “[…] [t]he majority of arrivals originate from Mali and the Sahel/West Africa, Eritrea and North Africa. The reasons behind these movements are complex. Many are fleeing from war and conflicts, like in the Sahel where indiscriminate attacks constantly lead to death and forced displacement. Many are fleeing persecution and being trafficked and sold like commodities.” She called for an international commitment to improve efforts in protecting migrants and refugees who start a journey. In another incident,  the deaths of at least 11 people were recorded when a boat carrying around 24 people capsized off the coast of Zawiya, Libya. 12 other people were picked up by Libyan coastguards. The IOM commented with a tweet that: “[t]he continuous loss of life calls for an urgent change in approach to the situation in Libya and the Central Med.”

Greece: Refugees relocated to new camp do not feel safe
In April, the Greek government shutdown Kara Tepe refugee camp in Lesbos, and moved almost 1,000 migrants and refugees to a tent city called Mavrovouni. Human rights groups considered Kara Tepe “safe”, as the camp was gated and families could leave their children unsupervised. On the contrary, migrants and refugees do not feel safe in Mavrovouni, because “[a] tent that doesn’t have a door you can close isn’t safe,” said one of the migrants. A volunteer with an aid group that works in Mavrovouni said “[i]t’s not clean, the accommodations aren’t properly waterproofed, they’re not on flat ground […]. There are no mattresses, it’s not a suitable place for people to stay.” The Greek government assured the Mavrovouni camp is safe, but female patients of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) recounted being raped. Karolien Janssens, a doctor with MSF, stated that “[i]n the nighttime, you feel too scared to go out of your tent, certainly if you’re a woman you cannot go to the toilet. You stop drinking at two in the afternoon to avoid going to the toilet. If you have to go, you pee in a bottle.” The Syrian community leader stated that “[w]hat we need from the European countries is help the people, help the children here inside this camp.”

UK: New changes to British refugee policy labeled a “sham”
Over 200 organisations have criticised the United Kingdom (UK) government’s New Plan for Immigration policy, labelling it cruel, rushed, poorly designed, ambiguous, impractical and possibly illegal. The plan had been in a consulting stage which ended on 6 May. Tim Naor Hilton, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, stated that “this consultation is an attempt to gift wrap the ugliest attack on the asylum system in a generation.” Hilton further added that “the government must scrap its proposed changes to refugee policy and work properly with stakeholders to create a system that is fair, effective and compassionate.” Organisations have been primarily concerned with the UK government’s plans to deport people to third countries; detain persons in warehouses labelled as reception centres; force refugees and migrants to reapply for protection every 30 months; and place pressure on organisations to submit a response within six weeks. Chai Patel, legal policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said that “the government is proposing radical and dangerous changes to the UK’s refugee protection system, which need serious consideration. [The consultation] is a sham intended to mislead parliament into believing there is merit to plans which will deny safety to people fleeing war and persecution.”

France: NGOs denounce “serious and systematic violations of the rights of unaccompanied minors”
NGOs French Council of Associations for the Rights of the Child (COFRADE) and Kids Empowerment, together with other associations and citizen groups, denounced the “serious and systematic violations of the rights of unaccompanied minors observed in France,” and presented a petition to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), calling for an investigation. The NGO Utopia 56 said such investigation would be a “fundamental step towards reforming the current regulatory framework in France and overcoming condemnable local practices.” The NGOs presented extensive data, including events they witnessed during fieldwork, on how “the rights of these minors, deprived of the protection of their families, are not respected.” The NGOs are asking the UNCRC “to investigate violations committed by France, a signatory of the international Convention on the Rights of the Child, in relation to the rights set out in this convention in terms of the reception and care of unaccompanied minors present in national territory; and to formulate observations and recommendations necessary for the protection of the rights of these children.” The organizations stated that “[c]urrently thousands of unaccompanied minors can count only on the help of associations and groups of committed citizens, while each of them should be able to count on, just as every minor in the country, the protection of minors for which French public authorities are responsible.”


World: IOM launches new website for information on migration
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has digitised its traditional flagship publication known as the World Migration Report (WMR) series to now be available online. The new web page contains the latest global and regional information on migration which can now be displayed through the medium of interactive visualisation such as maps, videos and statistical charts. The website can also help users interact with all the WMR data published over the last 30 years to quickly identify migration trends and patterns on a global and regional scale. The WMR site is currently available in English, French and Spanish.