News Highlights: Eritrean troops block aid in Tigray, 2000 people land in Italy in 24 hours, Greek refugee camp “inhuman” conditions

In this week’s news highlights: CNN report states Eritrean soldiers still in Tigray, blocking key aid routes; US Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman visits Horn of Africa; Oromia authorities detaining adults and children with no charges; Ethiopian peacekeepers of Tigray origin seek asylum in Sudan; The Telegraph: leaked church letter states Ethiopian and Eritrean troops massacred priests and other church staff in Tigray; Japan-IOM joint project to support IDPs, refugees and vulnerable communities in Sudan; 5 migrants drowned and 23 missing off the coast of Libya, 700 returned; More than 2000 migrants landed in Lampedusa (Italy) in less than 24 hours; 70 migrants rescued off the coast of Malta; Allegations of severe abuse and misidentification by Greek and Frontex authorities in Greece; Joint meeting between the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs; EU and UNHCR reject UK asylum seekers relocation plan. 

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

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia/Eritrea: Humanitarian aid blocked in Tigray by Eritrean soldiers
On 12 May, CNN released a report describing how Eritrean soldiers, disguised as Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF), prevent humanitarian aid from reaching Aksum and other central and northwestern areas of Tigray. According to the CNN team, who traveled from Mekelle to Aksum between 21 and 28 April, Eritrean soldiers were still “manning checkpoints, obstructing and occupying critical aid routes, roaming the halls of one of the region’s few operating hospitals and threatening medical staff.” During the journey to reach Aksum, the CNN team was stopped three times by the Ethiopian and Eritrean army, but was able to interview doctors, soldiers and humanitarian workers. These interviews indicate, according to CNN, that the Eritreans are assisting the Ethiopian army in a “merciless campaign” against Tigray people, while in other places they are fully in charge. Furthermore, the picture described by humanitarian workers is that about 4.5 million out of 5.7 million people are in urgent need of food assistance, of which 1,25 million were unreachable by humanitarian aid. A UN update confirmed the blocking of aid convoys in a new report published on Friday, where the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) says Aman Desta, one of control officers, was killed by Eritrean and Ethiopian troops while distributing emergency food in Kola Tembien, in the Guya sub-district. The report said that of 19,000 observed children under five years old, 431 were found to be severely malnourished and 3,473 as moderately malnourished, while out of 4,447 observed women, 2,721 were found to be acutely malnourished. 

Horn of Africa: US Special Envoy met ECG and visits Eritrean President Afewerki
On 6 May, the US Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, started a visiting tour in Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan. In Eritrea, Feltman held a 3-hour talk with President Isaias Afewerki. This was the first time after several years that a member of the US delegation met a high-level Eritrean official in Asmara. The following day, Feltman and Payton Knopf, deputy of the US delegation, visited Sudan. Feltman and Knopf stressed concern about the escalating violence in Ethiopia, following the election of Abiy Ahmed in 2018. Previously, on 28 April, Feltman had a meeting with the Ethiopia Contact Group about the current situation in Tigray. In conclusion of the meeting, US and various EU member states concluded that Eritrean withdrawal was not taking place, and Eritrean troops were active across the region, committing human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, destruction of civilian infrastructure, and causing massive displacement.

Ethiopia: Oromia region authorities imprisoning children and adults without court orders
On 6 May, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) declared that Oromia authorities were detaining people without charge, including babies and children, in “unhygienic and overcrowded” police stations across the region. The EHRC reported that children as young as 5 months were being detained with their mothers, and that children as young as 9 were being imprisoned with adult detainees.  The EHRC visited over twenty police stations across the Oromia region between November and January of this year and witnessed “grave violations of human rights”. The report claimed that detainees were subjected to arbitrary and prolonged bouts of imprisonment in spite of charges being dropped or orders of release by law courts. The conditions of such places were described as “dire” with little to no access to water, food, healthcare or sanitation facilities. 

Sudan/Ethiopia: Ethiopian peacekeepers seeking asylum brought to Sudanese refugee camp
On 9 May, 35 Ethiopian peacekeepers of Tigrayan origin were taken from Darfur, Sudan, to Um Gargour refugee camp near the border with Ethiopia after they sought asylum in Sudan. The Ethiopian peacekeepers were deployed in the context of the UNAMID peacekeeping operation in western Sudan’s Darfur region, and they were scheduled to be repatriated as part of the phased withdrawal from the region, after UNAMID ended on 31 December. “As of now, 120 former UNAMID peacekeepers who were due to be repatriated have sought international protection,” said a United Nations (UN) spokesperson. Al-Fateh Ibrahim Mohammed, head of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in North Darfur province said that the majority of those who requested asylum in Sudan come from Tigray, and are afraid of being detained if they go back to Ethiopia.  

Ethiopia: Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers took part in a number of mass killings
The Telegraph says it has obtained an official leaked church letter which states that “priests, deacons, choristers, and monks” have been “massacred” over the last five months in Tigray, adding that at least 78 priests were massacred in one zone of the Tigray region. The letter was addressed to the Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The news was confirmed by half a dozen survivors interviewed by the Telegraph, who said that both Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers took part in these massacres. Three witnesses told the Telegraph that Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers specifically target Saint’s celebration days to execute members of the church. A priest who survived a massacre at the church of Gergera Da Mariam stated there have been killings and massacres since early December 2020. A report from the Globe and Mail said a list of damaged religious sites and slain priests has been compiled, and it includes 14 churches and four monasteries damaged by shelling and looting by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops since the war began last November.

Sudan: Japan-IOM joint project to support 30,000 IDPs, returnees and vulnerable communities
The Japanese Government has donated 1.6 million USD to the International Organization for Migration (IOM)  for a new project that will support 30,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returnees and vulnerable communities who lack adequate access to water facilities, livelihood opportunities and healthcare facilities in West Darfur, North Darfur and South Kordofan. According to the Sudan Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO), nearly 14 million people require humanitarian assistance in Sudan and over 151,000 individuals have been displaced in West Darfur since the beginning of the year due to inter-communal conflict stemming from a lack of resources and opportunities. The Japan-funded project aims to improve vulnerable IDP and returnee access to essential basic services while stabilising and supporting the affected communities.

North Africa

Libya: 5 migrants drowned and 23 missing, while 700 returned to Libya
On 10 May, Safa Msehli, a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said at least 5 people died off the coast of Garabulli, 60 km East of Tripoli, after their boat capsized. The boat was carrying at least 45 people, said Msehli, adding that fishermen brought back 40 people. The same day, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) office in Libya tweeted that 42 migrants and refugees were brought back to Libya by its Coast Guard, while 23 others that were travelling with them were missing and feared dead after their boat capsized. Safa Msehli stated that on Sunday 9 May, 9 other boats were intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and more than 700 migrants and refugees were brought back to Libyan detention centres. Federico Soda, head of IOM – Libya, said he was “extremely concerned about the increased departures from Libya and the continuous loss of life,” and tweeted: “The situation cannot be ignored, and states must live up to their responsibilities and redeploy search and rescue vessels.” 


Italy: More than 2,000 migrants and refugees landed in Italy in less than 24 hours
Between 8 and 9 May, in less than 24 hours, 2,136 migrants and refugees arrived by sea in Lampedusa, Italy. On 10 May, the Italian authorities began an evacuation plan to relocate the migrants and refugees, given that the Lampedusa hotspot does not have the capacity to shelter this number of people. Around 200 of them have been taken to Sicily, where they have been relocated to different hotspots, while hundreds have been taken on board the ‘Splendid’ and ‘Gnv Azzurra’ boats. According to the Italian Home Affairs Ministry, 12,894 migrants and refugees have arrived in Italy since the beginning of 2021, which is three times the number that arrived in 2020 in the same period. Among those who arrived in 2021, 1,716 are nationals of Tunisia, and 601 are Eritreans, while 1,373 are minors. The Minister of Italian Home Affairs proposed to the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, to put together a ‘control room’ in which the Italian Minister of Home Affairs, Defence and Foreign Affairs would coordinate to better assist those arriving. 

Malta: 70 migrants rescued, fate of others still unknown
On 11 May, nearly 70 migrants and refugees landed in Malta after being rescued by an armed forces patrol boat in the Mediterranean. This week Alarm Phone, an emergency hotline for migrants in distress in the Mediterranean, reported that over 400 migrants and refugees had been in Malta’s search and rescue zone.

Greece: Authorities accused of severe abuse, deliberate misidentification by Frontex
On 6 May, the Council of Europe published an annual overview report stating that Greek authorities had abused prison detainees by depriving them of oxygen via asphyxiation. The allegations described “baton blows to the soles of the feet (falaka) and the application of a plastic bag over the head of a suspect during police interview.” The accusations outlined in the report were similar to the conclusions made by the UN Security Council’s report last year, however since then there have been no criminal prosecutions made regarding the accusations of police ill-treatment. The report stressed that budget cuts and the ramifications of COVID-19 had severely impacted the already overcrowded, understaffed and overly violent conditions of Greek prisons. European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex has been accused of systematically mislabeling adolescent asylum seekers as adults on the Greek islands. One adolescent asylum seeker was forced to live in the adult section of a Lesbos refugee camp where he was then abused and discriminated against for his sexuality despite arriving on the island at the age of seventeen.  The conditions of the refugee camps on the Greek Islands “are synonymous with overcrowding and inhuman conditions”, according to Dr Apostolos Veizis, Executive Director of NGO Intersos. Veizis stated that “[p]eople are exposed on a daily basis to rats, rubbish and violence. In clinics across the islands children are often admitted with signs of rat bites.”  On 7 May, The Guardian wrote that a Somali refugee’s body was partially chewed on by rats at a refugee camp on the Greek island of Chios after authorities took 12 hours to respond to the news of the twenty-eight year old’s passing. 

EU/UN: UNHCR High Commissioner remarks EU on Migration and Asylum Pact
A joint meeting between the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, highlighted that the EU has to improve the European Pact on Migration and Asylum. According to Grandi’s remarks: “[…] what we need is a more and more predictable, more efficient State-led mechanism to rescue people at sea, because we’ve also seen in the last few weeks a lot of loss of life.” He underlined the need to prevent pushbacks and promote a mechanism that facilitates resettlement among EU member States. In the meantime, the EU must provide a fair and efficient system to return rejected asylum seekers to their countries. Finally, the UNHCR High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi, stated that the external dimension of the Migration Pact has to better manage flows of migrants coming from hosting or transit countries. The aim of this keypoint is to prevent people from starting dangerous journeys, including embarking to the sea. He stressed how the UNHCR is supporting the European Union and member States in the arrangement of these procedures.

UK: Asylum seeker relocation plan rejected by the EU and UNHCR
As reported by various media, all the EU member states refused to support the United Kingdom (UK) asylum seeker return plans to France and other European Union (EU) countries. According to the UN Refugee Agency, the plan is in contrast to international legislation on refugee protection and the UN refugee convention. Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR representative to the UK, told the Observer that: “There’s no question that the UK has won a reputation as a country of asylum, and with it considerable global credibility – which, incidentally, it has used to advocate for open asylum abroad. The aim should be a system that balances responsibility sharing among countries.” Furthermore, the UNHCR said it offered its help to reform the UK asylum system, but it has not received any formal response from Priti Patel’s Home Office. Meanwhile, last week hundreds of asylum seekers were announced to be relocated outside the UK, despite the fact that the UK has no power to move asylum seekers to the EU countries, due to Brexit agreements. Nevertheless, a UK government spokesperson said that: “[o]ur new plan for immigration is fully in line with our international and legal obligations including the UN refugee convention and the European convention on human rights.