News Highlights: Three MSF workers killed in Tigray; Key aid supply bridge destroyed in Tigray; Greece to allow refugee travel in EU

In this week’s news highlights:  Key supply bridge connecting western Tigray destroyed; EEPA webinar discusses Eritrean involvement in Tigray; Hundreds dying in inaccessible areas in Tigray; Three MSF workers murdered in Tigray; Organisations call for protection of civilians amid changes in Tigray; Kenya accused of illegally deporting asylum seekers; MSF workers forced to leave detention centres over risk of violence;; Greek minister reinstates freedom of travel for refugees and migrants; Four hundred migrants and refugees on hunger strike in Brussels; Seven refugees drown as boat capsizes off the coast of Lampedusa; Malta asks Libyan coast guard to intercept a refugee boat; IOM states that refugees and migrants healthcare being neglected on a global scale.

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

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Key supply bridge destroyed in Tigray while organisations urge for humanitarian aid
On 1 July, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) reported that a bridge on the Tekeze River, a key route for delivering humanitarian aid, was destroyed. The destruction of the bridge “means aid efforts will be even more severely hampered amid the ongoing conflict”, said the IRC in its Tweet. According to the United States up to 900,000 people are at risk of starvation by famine conditions that are “entirely man-made”, reports The Associated Press. Meanwhile, several international organisations have stated that while Tigray is in the midst of a power change the priority should be placed on the welfare of civilians and addressing acute shortages of food and humanitarian assistance. Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, said that “Amnesty International remains deeply concerned about the safety of civilians in Tigray, who have endured months of fighting and serious human rights abuses, including war crimes, by all sides […] protection of civilians must be paramount.” These statements come after the Ethiopian government declared an unilateral ceasefire in Tigray on 28 June. The Tigray government has stated that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has retaken the city of Mekelle back from the control of Ethiopian forces. In the midst of celebration there are fears of reprisal attacks against civilians in Tigray.

Ethiopia/Eritrea: EEPA webinar discusses Eritrean involvement in Tigray
On 29 June, EEPA hosted a webinar on “The involvement of Eritrea in the War” as part of the “Voices from Tigray“ series. The purpose of this webinar was to chronicle the reported presence and actions of the Eritrean military in Tigray since the outbreak of war. The webinar was interspersed with testimonies from first hand accounts including a former conscript to the Eritrean National Service, Eritrean refugees abducted by the Eritrean army, and victims of sexual assault and rape. The webinar also hosted an interview with Martin Plaut, a journalist and expert on the Horn of Africa, who stated what was happening in Tigray was “appalling”. Plaut spoke about the injustice faced by young Eritreans who are conscripted into national service at a young age and are “brutalised then sent into battle”. Plaut stated that Eritrea’s actions in Tigray, particularly the deliberate blockage of humanitarian aid and health services, could amount to “genocidal activity”. The chair  Hon. Duncan-Cassell called upon the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and all international communities to place pressure on Eritrea and Ethiopia to stop the human rights violations occurring in Tigray.

Ethiopia: A plea letter calling for help in inaccessible areas in Tigray
The Associated Press (AP) obtained a letter written by Berhe Desta Gebremariam, a local official in the Mai Kinetal district of Tigray, calling for help. The Mai Kinetal district of Tigray is one of the most inaccessible areas in Tigray and is currently completely cut off from receiving humanitarian aid. The letter stated that people “are falling like leaves” while at least 440 people had died in the district and over 550 people had been the victims of sexual violence. The letter also claimed that thousands of livestocks and crops had been seized or destroyed and over 5,000 homes had been looted. Gebremariam wrote “[p]eople are unable to move around to save their lives because Eritrean troops completely put us under siege with no transportation, and people are condemned to suffer and die.” One Tigray regional health official confirmed the contents of the letter stating “[i]t’s so terrible […]  [w]e know that people are dying everywhere.” A spokesperson for the United Nations (UN) told AP that Mai Kinetal was “an especially critical area” for the UN  to reach as that area has not received humanitarian aid since the conflict began last November.

Ethiopia: Three MSF workers killed in Tigray 
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that three of their workers – emergency coordinator Maria Hernandez, assistant coordinator Yohannes Halefom Reda and driver Tedros Gebremariam Gebremichael, – were murdered in Tigray last week. On 24 June, MSF lost contact with the victims who were travelling in an unnamed area of Tigray. On 25 June, MSF personnel discovered the bodies of the three individuals a few metres away from their vehicle. MSF has released a statement condemning the attack “in the strongest possible terms” and vowing to be “relentless in understanding what happened.” MSF further stated: “[t]he death of Maria, Yohannes and Tedros is a devastating blow to all of us who are part of the organisation both in Ethiopia and in the other countries where MSF operates around the world.”

Kenya/Turkey: HRW calls on Kenyan authorities to investigate illegal deportations of asylum seekers 
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised Kenya’s complicity in deporting asylum seekers after Selahaddin Gülen, a Turkish National and asylum seeker in Kenya, was allegedly abducted and eventually deported to Turkey despite a Kenyan court order prohibiting his deportation. HRW has called upon the Kenyan authorities to investigate the alleged abduction. Otsieno Namwaya, East Africa director at Human Rights Watch, stated that “Kenyan authorities have a responsibility for what happens within their borders, and should investigate the possibility of complicity of its officials in this flagrant disregard for due process”. “This is even more urgent given the negative history of alleged complicity of Kenyan authorities in previous incidents of abduction and deportation of asylum seekers”, Namwaya further added. According to HRW, the acquiescence of Kenyan authorities is an infringement of international law and the principle of nonrefoulement that prevents asylum seekers returning to their origin country if they would face harm.

North Africa

Libya: MSF workers leave detention centres over risk of violence
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been forced to suspend its operations in two Libyan detention centres over increasing violence towards refugees and migrants by detention guards. MSF personnel witnessed guards beating detainees, including those seeking treatment from MSF doctors, during a visit to the Mabani detention centre in Tripoli last week. Beatrice Lau, MSF head of mission in Libya, said that “[u]ntil the violence stops, and conditions improve, MSF can no longer provide humanitarian and medical care in these facilities”. According to MSF, the rise in violence has coincided with overcrowding in detention centres due to the increasing number of interceptions at sea. According to MSF 14,000 people have been intercepted and returned to Libya this year, already exceeding the total number of forced returns from 2020. 


Europe: Greece to allow refugees and migrants to travel freely in the EU
Tensions rise among European Union (EU) member states after Greece reaffirms its intention of allowing migrants and refugees to travel freely within the EU. Many critics argue that it is an attempt to remove unwanted refugees from Greece. On 22 June, Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi called the idea of secondary movement an “out of date concept” as “Europe is a common space” and Greece is “obliged to provide residence permits and travel documents to recognised refugees”. Interior ministers from France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland have called this a “flagrant abuse of refugee travel documents”. In a joint letter   they claim that refugees traveling in the EU from Greece have been lodging asylum claims under the pretext of family visits. “We would ask for a decisive step to be taken to put an immediate end to the flagrant abuse of refugee travel documents,” the ministers added. The  International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that 4,000 asylum seekers in total had been relocated from Greece to other European countries to date. It has been done under the EU relocation scheme, an officially-recognised mechanism to alleviate the demands faced by Greece as the front line of mass migration to Europe. IOM welcomed this news and stated that further steps should be taken towards creating a predictable, systematic European relocation mechanism. 

Belgium: Migrants and refugees on hunger strike for access to work and social services
Four men have stitched their lips together to protest their right to work and access to social services as part of a weeks-long hunger strike in Brussels. On May 23, over 400 migrants and refugees stopped eating after COVID-19 lockdowns reportedly destroyed their livelihoods. The health of the strikers is reported to be deteriorating with one protestor stating “I feel headaches, stomach pain, the whole body is full of pain.” The Brussels government has not yet responded to the strikers’ pleas.

Italy: Seven refugees die in a shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa
The Italian news agency ANSA has reported that on 30 June seven refugees, including a pregnant woman, drowned after their boat capsized nine kilometers off the coast of Lampedusa with 9 others reported as still missing. Italian coast guards saved 46 people after the vessel overturned and returned them to Lampedusa. ANSA also reported that at least 250 refugees reached the island that morning on four vessels. Lampedusa’s mayor, Toto Martello, said that “[t]his latest tragedy in the Mediterranean is heartbreaking, I wonder what else has to happen to make Italy and Europe understand that we cannot go on like this.”

Malta/Libya: Libya intercepts boat of 90 refugees on Malta’s instruction
On 27 June, sea rescue organisation Sea-Watch tweeted that the Maltese authorities had shared the coordinates of a boat in distress with Libyan authorities to prevent it from reaching Maltese waters. The boat carrying 90 refugees onboard was reportedly intercepted and returned to Libya. Sea-Watch stated that this incident was not unique and that Malta has previously coordinated with Libyan authorities to stop boats reaching Malta’s search and rescue (SAR) zone. Sea-Watch personnel have reported witnessing several instances of Malta giving instructions to the Libyan coast guard to intercept refugee boats within Malta’s SAR zone, despite Malta being responsible for those cases. Safa Msehli, spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration, told InfoMigrants that “Libya cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered a safe port. States have obligations under international law to assist people in distress and take them to a port of safety. Avoiding moral and legal obligations under international law should not, and cannot be a state practice”.


World: Migrants and refugees being left behind in the global AIDS and COVID-19 response
On 24 June, the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released a joint statement urging that migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are living with HIV must have equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. IOM reported that migrants, refugees and IDPs were more vulnerable to diseases, such as COVID-19 and HIV, and experience significant obstacles in accessing adequate healthcare. According to IOM, migrants and refugees repeatedly face numerous health risks due to dangerous “migration processes, substandard living situations, dangerous working conditions, as well as general lack of information, stigma, discrimination and isolation”. Migrants, refugees and IDPs often face  bureaucratic, financial, geographic, social and cultural obstacles which prevent them from receiving adequate healthcare with regularity or continuity. IOM Director General António Vitorino stated that “the global AIDS response and the COVID-19 response are leaving millions of people behind, including many migrants and forcibly displaced persons”. “We’ve seen that neglecting the health needs of marginalized groups can be devastating for communities. Together, all countries should pledge not to let it happen again”, Vitorino added.