News Highlights: EU-US meeting on Tigray ahead of G7, Tigrayans starving to death, Webinar highlights destruction of heritage

In this week’s news highlights: Webinar highlights the destruction of heritage and holy sites and massacres of Tigray religious leaders; In-depth report on Mai Kadra massacre published by Reuters; BBC interviewed Tigryans who said they are starving to death; UNHCR concerned about Ethiopian refugees returned from Djibouti against their will; MMC report on onward migration of refugees and migrants from East Africa; Libyan PM meets the EU Commissioner Johnsson on migration and political transition; EU and US talk about crisis in Tigray ahead of G7; People seeking asylum in Denmark could be deported according to new law; UK MPs call for parliamentary inquiry on Eritrea’s role in Tigray; Court of Auditors found “worrying” deficiencies in Frontex’s procedures; Kent threatens legal action against Home secretary over poor services for child asylum seekers; Kent council threatens to reject asylum seeker applications for speaking to the media. 

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

EEPA is holding its third Webinar “Crimes against Refugees Committed in Tigray”, which is part of the Webinar series “Voices From Tigray”. The webinar takes place on 15th of June at 14:00-16:00 EAT, 13:00-15:00 CEST, and 07:00-09:00 USA Eastern.
You can register here for the webinar:

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: EEPA webinar discusses the widespread destruction and massacres happening in Tigray
On 8 June 2021, EEPA hosted a webinar on “Brutalities against Religious leaders, Holy Places and Heritage in Tigray Confirmation” as a part of the webinar series “Voices from Tigray”. The webinar gave a platform to testimonies about the mass destruction and looting of cultural and religious heritage sites and large-scale violence against religious leaders and civilians by Eritrean, Ethiopian and other soldiers. His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos, from the Coptic Orthodox Church of the UK, opened the event stating the destruction of such holy sites was a tragedy for the cultural heritage they represented. Dr. Khataza Gondwe, Head of Advocacy and African Middle East Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, stated that the desecration of holy sites and attacks against religious believers were a part of a “systematic and intentional” effort. The speakers stressed the importance of the international community condemning the violations occurring in Tigray.

Ethiopia: Reuters in-depth report on Mai Kadra massacre
On 7 June, Reuters published an in-depth report on the massacre that took place in Mai Kadra, Western Tigray, in mid-November 2020. According to three different lists, at least 767 people were killed in Mai Kadra, where Tigrayans and Amharas lived together. Reuters interviewed over 120 people and cross-checked those accounts with 44 unpublished testimonies. The report says that the violence started, according to Amhara witnesses, on 9 November 2020, as Tigrayan youths and militias are said to have killed hundreds of Amhara civilians. There have been accusations that a Tigrayan captain, identified as Capt. Kassaye Mehar, directed youths initially, from four Amhara witnesses. Reuters sent questions to Capt. Kassaye via the TPLF. TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said that  Kassaye is not known and denied that the TPLF targeted Amhara civilians in Mai Kadra. In the following days, Amhara youth and militias started “revenge killings”, and targeted ethnic Tigrayans in retribution. Amhara forces also forced Tigrayans out of their homes and seized Tigrayan homes and the surrounding farmland. Reuters also reported seeing “fleets of mini-buses packed with household goods and mattresses strapped to the roofs traveling from Amhara into western Tigray. New Amhara settlers were among the passengers.” Amhara officials and representatives have said that they have taken control of Western-Tigray, and plan to resettle up to “half a million Amhara’s” there. The spokesman of the Amhara regional government said “[t]here is no space called western Tigray because this area is part of the Amhara region.” However, there were instances of both Amhara and Tigrayans helping each other escape while the massacres were taking place.

Ethiopia: Tigrayans are starving and prevented from leaving – BBC interview
Tigrayans interviewed by the BBC said they do not have anything to eat and are starving. The BBC contacted people living in Qafta Humera, a district in west Tigray near the borders of Sudan and Eritrea. A farmer told the BBC: “We are civilians, our crops and cattle have been taken by the armed men.” Another farmer added: “We were eating small remains of crops that we managed to hide, but now we don’t have anything. Nobody has given us any aid. Almost everyone is on the verge of death – our eyes are affected by hunger, the situation is perilous. Death is knocking on our door. You can see the hunger on the face of each of us.” According to a local official, no federal assistance has been provided, and “limited assistance was coming through for neighbouring Amhara.” Tigrayans also told the BBC that they cannot flee, as the reads are blocked and those that have vehicles have been prevented from leaving by militias. A farmer told the BBC that those who tried to flee on foot have been asked to pay bribes, which people cannot afford as they do not have any possessions left. Another farmer said that: “If we try to go to the place where there is aid we will be killed in the forest.”

Ethiopia/Djibouti: UNHCR worries about Ethiopian refugees returned against their will from Djibouti
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it is concerned about reports of recognized Ethiopian refugees in Djibouti being returned against their will to Ethiopia. UNHCR said it contacted the Djiboutian authorities as soon as it learned about this, to raise its concerns about the breach of international law. Clementine Nkweta-Salami, UNHCR’s Regional Director for the East, Horn of Africa and Great Lakes, said that “Djibouti has been an exemplary host to refugees in many ways, so it is disappointing to learn of these developments. We call upon the Djibouti authorities to uphold their international obligations in relation to asylum.” Currently, over 12,000 Ethiopians, some 300 of Tigrayan background, are recognized as refugees and asylum-seekers in Djibouti.

East Africa: Mixed Migration Centre’s report on onward migration
On 9 June, the Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) published its research report titled “Moving on: Exploring onward migration of refugees and migrants from East Africa,” in which it applies an “evidence-based approach to onward migration by investigating the dynamics of onward migration and policy responses, with a focus on the East Africa region.” 340 respondents from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia and Yemen, who engaged in onward migration, mainly from Ethiopia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, were interviewed and provided the basis for data analysis. The main drivers of onward migration among respondents were economic factors (58%), violence and general insecurity (51%), and lack of rights (51%). Among the key findings reported, family and friends are recognized as being “critical to decision making before and during the onward migration journey.” Also, the report stated that onward migration has become a politicised global discourse, in which attention shifted from refugees’ needs to “framing onward migration as a problem that needs to be solved.” The report recognizes that “many regional or local policy and legislative measures that directly or indirectly ‘address’ onward migration are framed to stop or stem movement from the region.”

North Africa

Libya/EU: Libyan PM and EU Commissioner discuss about migration
As reported by various media, the Libyan Prime Minister Abd Alhamid Aldabaiba received the European Union Commissioner for Internal Affairs, Ylva Johansson, on 7 June. They discussed about migration and human trafficking, as well as the promotion of new strategies aiming to support the Libyan government in combatting these. Commissioner Johansson and PM Aldabaiba analysed the negative consequences related to the insatiable situation in Libya, such as terrorism, trade in organs and people smuggling. Johansson, in a separate meeting with Libyan Interior Minister Mazen, discussed in-depth about the ‘illegal migration’. They both agreed that this is an international problem that the EU and Libya have to face together through training and technical support to Libyan authorities and the Libyan Coast Guard. After the meeting, the EU Commissioner posted on Twitter that: “[w]e [the EU] stand ready to support the political process and step up our support to the Government of National Unity on state building, stabilisation, reconstruction and reconciliation.”


EU/US: Virtual high level meeting on Tigray crisis
On 10 June, the European Commission and the United States (US) held a virtual high level meeting in which several panelists discussed the crisis in Tigray in anticipation of the G7 meeting taking place between the 11th-13th of June. The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, opened the panel stating that the UN Security Council (UNSC) failure to act on the unfolding crisis in Tigray is unacceptable. She said that thousands of people have been killed, raped, and tortured, and it is time for the UNSC to have a vision on what is happening and to respond with a sense of responsibility. UN Humanitarian Chief, Mark Lowcock, shared his frustration of USNC inaction, and referring to the recently published Integrated food security Phase Classification (IPC) report, he said that “there is famine now”. The famine situation in Tigray is worse than anywhere in the world since the famine in Somalia in 2011. Those feelings were echoed by EU Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, who said that using starvation as a weapon of war was in contravention of humanitarian law. He also said that while the EU will continue to provide humanitarian support, it is not satisfactory and that it has not been enough for many months already. Participants also warned of the destabilising effects the conflict could have on the broader region. All the participants emphasised the importance of the G7 and the leading role it can play in shaping international action on Tigray. Action needs to be taken right away, and the worst can still be avoided, they stated. 

Denmark: Controversial law to deport asylum seekers to countries outside of Europe
Denmark’s parliament has passed a law permitting the deportation of asylum seekers in Denmark to countries outside of Europe as part of a move to stop asylum seekers from entering the country, according to Al Jazeera. Rasmus Stoklund, member of the Danish Social Democrats, stated that “if you apply for asylum in Denmark you know that you will be sent back to a country outside Europe, and therefore we hope that people will stop seeking asylum in Denmark.” The new law has been criticised by human rights advocates and organisations from around the world for the risk it puts on refugees and asylum seekers and for undermining the country’s obligations within the EU, which may become a domino effect that would affect refugees and asylum seekers all across the globe. Charlotte Slente, head of the Danish Refugee Council, said: “If a rich country such as Denmark is not willing to take responsibility, there is a significant risk that countries hosting far larger number[s] of refugees will also opt out and give up on global efforts to find joint and sustainable solutions.”

Eritrea/UK: MPs ask for a parliamentary inquiry on Eritrean involvement in Tigray
Members of the UK Parliament Lord Alton and Fiona Bruce, co-chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea, wrote a letter to the chairs of the House of Commons, the International Development Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee of the UK Parliament. In this letter they appreciated the Parliament’s work in providing an in-depth report on the humanitarian situation in Tigray, published on 30 April 2021. Furthermore, they expressed the request for a fuller inquiry by both the International and Foreign Affairs Committees about the current situation in the Tigray region. This new inquiry would take into consideration evidence of government ministers, NGOs, humanitarian agencies and diaspora witnesses. The inquiry would analyse: the Eritrean role in the conflict, with a focus on the presence of Eritrean troops on various areas in Tigray and the forced conscription of minors into Eritrean national service. In addition, the letter dedicated attention to rape and sexual abuse committed by Eritrean soldiers against local population. The aim of the inquiry is ensuring accountability for those guilty of atrocity crimes. In their concluding remarks, members of the UK Parliament suggested finding innovative solutions for providing humanitarian aid to civilians and refugees displaced in Tigray and in Sudan, using sanctions against the Eritrean regime as well as investigating how remittances are used to fund the conflict in Tigray. 

EU: EU Court of Auditors found gaps in Frontex procedures
On 8 June, Euronews reported that the EU Court of Auditors expressed concern about the effectiveness of the EU Border Agency Frontex in providing an active response to illegal migration and cross-borders crimes. This is stated in a report published on Monday 7 June by the European Court of Auditors. Despite Frontex’s budget increasing by €440 million and adding up to 10,000 employees in following years, current results are not satisfactory, state the ECA. In the report, the Court of Auditors underlined that there were “worrying” deficiencies in Frontex’s procedures; particular failures were found about how information was exchanged between Frontex and EU countries, hampering their ability to properly monitor external borders. Gaps regarded mainly incomplete or low-quality data and lack of transparency between Frontex and EU member states. Chris Borowski, Frontex spokesman, told Euronews that: “[t]he agency is determined to deliver on its core mission to support EU members at their external borders. Frontex is aware that improvements are needed and has been working hard to make the agency stronger and more effective.” The agency has  accepted all of the recommendations. 

UK: Services for child asylum seekers at breaking point in parts of the UK
Kent county council has threatened legal action against Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary, over services to unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) becoming overstretched. This is the second time this year that the Kent security council has warned that services to protect unaccompanied children have reached a breaking point, as reported by The Independent. Kent has almost twice the amount of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children that is safe to house, according to government guidelines, the council has said. The council’s proposal requests that the Home Secretary use her existing powers to direct local authorities from regions all over the country to accept more UASCs. Kent County Council leader Roger Gough has stressed the need for a “robust, long-term solution” for the “future welfare of all children.” Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, states the British government as the child’s “corporate parent” is “failing in its duty to provide the love and care these children desperately need”. “This cannot go on, we need decisive action to ensure that no child who comes to the UK alone seeking safety is neglected by the state”, Solomon further added.

UK: Refugees in Kent threatened with blacklisting for speaking to the press
Asylum seekers held in the Napier military barracks in Kent have spoken out about their asylum applications being blacklisted due to their testimonies about the harrowing living conditions asylum seekers face in the Napier site, according to The Guardian. Maddie Harris from Humans for Rights Network stated that staff officers employed by private Home Office contractors at the Napier barracks singled out residents who were believed to have spoken to the media and said that the residents’ application had been compromised. “They were specifically told that it was known they had spoken to the media and this would affect their claim”, Harris said. “They were told by staff that there is a full list of people in the camp and that names have been circled who are known to have spoken to journalists. They were told it’s going to be a problem for their asylum claim”, Harris further added. These remarks have come as a retaliation after asylum seekers won a legal challenge against the government in the high courts that ruled the centre’s accommodation to have failed to meet the minimum standard. 

Europe: UNHCR congratulates the Council of Europe for resolution on refugees
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) released a joint statement where they congratulated the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) about the resolution “Role of parliaments in implementing the United Nations Global Compacts for Migrants and Refugees”. This resolution would encourage European members of Parliament to apply the principles of the Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration. The resolution outlined the urgent need to actively promote member state parliamentarians’ support towards the rights of refugees and migrants. UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs, commented on the resolution: “parliamentarians have a crucial role to play in helping protect refugees. Their engagement is essential in preserving access to asylum, facilitating refugee integration, addressing the root causes that give rise to displacement, and also supporting other refugee host countries.”