News Highlights: MSF stops activities in 3 Tigray locations, Lithuania to build refugee barrier on Belarus border, Libyan boat fires at refugees

In this week’s news highlights: Over 900,000 people are starving in Tigray in a “man-made famine” while 1 million more are “just one step away”; MSF suspends activities in Abi Adi, Adigrat and Aksum following killings of aid workers; UNICEF reports that in 4.5 million children are in “desperate need of support” in South Sudan; Thousands of Tigrayans discriminated and detained across Ethiopia; New report details the Tigray war and the regional implications; 60 refugees feared dead after 4 boats sink off Tunisia; Video shows Libyan coast guard firing at and attempt to ram at a refugee boat in distress; Lithuania to build barrier on Belarus border to stop migrants and refugees; Four men fined over abusing asylum seekers in Germany; Greece cracking down on refugee NGOs; and Twelve refugees in the UK found struggling to breathe in the back of a lorry.

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

EEPA is holding its fifth Webinar “Hunger For Peace, Hunger For Justice”, which is the last part of the Webinar series “Voices From Tigray”. The Webinar will take place on 13 July, 14:00-16:00 EAT, 13:00-15:00 CEST, 07.00-09.00 US Eastern. 

The registration link is:  

Greater Horn of Africa: 

Ethiopia: TPLF poses conditions for ceasefire as millions are facing starvation
Over 900,000 people in the Tigray region are facing starvation in a “man-made famine” caused by Ethiopian forces, says the European Commission. On 6 July, Janez Lenarčič, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, said that “[f]amine is now a reality in Tigray for an estimated 900,000 people and another 1 million people are just one step away … This famine is entirely man made and it’s a disgrace to those who are responsible for it”. The United Nations and European Commission have urged both sides to cease fighting and allow inaccessible regions receive humanitarian aid. On 4 July, The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) accepted “a ceasefire in principle” with Ethiopian forces. The conditions set for the ceasefire include withdrawal of Eritrean forces and Amhara forces, and the restoration of the Tigray government that was elected in September 2020. Since the conflict began eight months ago, a reported 5.2 million people require aid. UN humanitarian chief Ramesh Rajasingham stated that Tigrayans need food and assistance to “reach them now. Not next week. Now.” New report details the Tigray war and the regional implications

Ethiopia: MSF suspends activities in central and eastern Tigray in response to the deaths of three MSF workers
In response to the murder of three Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff members in Tigray last week on 24 June, MSF has called for an immediate investigation into their killings and has suspended humanitarian activities in Abi Adi, Adigrat and Aksum in central and eastern Tigray, demanding that aid workers be allowed to do their jobs in safety. The interruption of MSF activities in central and eastern Tigray will have major medical and humanitarian repercussions on an already overwhelmed healthcare system, warns MSF. On 7 July, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) published a news release documenting the impact the conflict has had on maternal services in Tigray. According to the release, only 59 per cent of healthcare facilities are functional in Tigray and only four are able to perform surgical procedures for pregnant women experiencing complications. Teresa Sancristoval, MSF operations director, stated that MSF’s decision to suspend humanitarian services “will leave a gap in lifesaving assistance”. “We know that countless patients will go unattended and some of them will die; we know that the burden on what little remains of the health system will be crushing”, but MSF “teams must be allowed to provide humanitarian assistance in response to the needs of crisis-affected communities in safety,” Sancristoval also stated.

South Sudan: UNICEF estimates 1 in 10 children die before fifth birthday
On 6 July, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) published a report stating that 4.5 million children, two thirds of the child population in South Sudan, are in “desperate need of support”. According to UNICEF South Sudan has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world with one in ten children dying before they reach their fifth birthday. Christine Saida, a UNICEF Child Reporter in South Sudan, stated that “children in South Sudan are facing many crises, including child abduction, cattle raiding, communal conflict, displacement, violence in the country, gender-based violence. Flooding and violence are making things worse for children, contributing to high levels of malnutrition.” Malnutrition was reported as one of the largest concerns facing children in South Sudan with 1.4 million children expected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year and 300,000 at risk of dying from starvation, the highest number ever in the country. Andrea Suley, UNICEF South Sudan Representative, stated that if humanitarian organisations “do not receive sufficient funding, the reality for children and families is that no help will be coming” as humanitarian organisations “are responsible for almost all service delivery in South Sudan”.

Ethiopia: Thousands of Tigrayans discriminated and detained across Ethiopia
Reuters has published a report stating that thousands of ethnic Tigrayans have been arrested by Ethiopian authorities due to ethnic discrimination since the conflict began last November. Across Ethiopia, government officials, rights groups and lawyers have testified that Tigrayans are being detained, harassed, fired, had their work suspended or had their bank accounts temporarily frozen. Several Tigrayans spoke to Reuters claiming to have had their careers and personal lives destroyed because of their ethnicity. Families of Tigrayan soldiers stated that their relatives have been put in detention camps, Tigrayan diplomats said that they had been dismissed from their postings, Tigrayan academics claimed they had been barred from lecturing and Tigrayan civilians spoke about being arbitrarily rounded up and detained. Nigusu Mahari, a twenty-five year old Tigrayan street trader, said he was arrested and accused of being a rebel fighter for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) because he spoke Tigrinya. “I saw 35 Tigrayans, and I told myself that this is not about the TPLF. It’s about the Tigrayan people” he stated. Nigusu was released in December of last year and has since left Addis Ababa to stay with family in the warring region in Tigray. “I came here (to Addis Ababa) to beat poverty and change my life,” Nigusu said. “But now I would rather lose my hand than live here. After this, I am not an Ethiopian”, he added.

Ethiopia: 255-page report details the Tigray war and the regional implications
EritreaFocus and Oslo Analytica published a comprehensive report detailing the Tigray war from November 2020 to June 2021. The report aims to provide an early analysis of the conflict from the perspective of various contributing scholars. The 255-page document assesses the war itself, shining a light on the inter-Ethiopian politics as well. It also details the diplomatic efforts made so far by various external actors. The consequences of the war, including the humanitarian situation, the situation of Eritrean refugees, destruction of heritage and sexual violence are also documented. According to Prof. Kjetil Tronvoll, Director of Oslo Analytica, the report contributes to “a three-fold objective: a) to support conflict prevention and mitigation; b) to alleviate the plight of the citizens of the Horn of Africa; and c) to end human rights violations and war crimes committed with impunity.” 

North Africa: 

Tunisia: 49 bodies retrieved after several refugee boats sink off Tunisia
Forty-nine bodies have been recovered near the coastal city of Sfax, Tunisia, with at least a further ten people feared dead after four boats sank between Wednesday and Sunday of last week. The latest shipwreck occurred on 3 July when a vessel with 127 refugees on board from Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Bangladesh heading towards Italy from Libya capsized near the southeastern Tunisian city of Zarzis. According to the International Organization for Migration, over eight hundred refugees and migrants have died at sea trying to reach Europe from North Africa this year. 

Libya: Coast guard fired two shots at boat in distress carrying over 60 refugees
On 30 June, German sea rescue organisation Sea-Watch recorded video footage of the Libyan coast guard ramming and firing at a boat carrying 64 refugees that was in distress in the Mediterranean Sea. The video showed the Libyan coast guard attempting to ram a small wooden vessel and firing at least two shots in the direction of the vessel that was carrying refugee children and families. Libyan officers were shown to have thrown objects at the passengers including a rope with a buoy behind it in an attempt to catch the boat. Felix Weiss of Sea-Watch stated that “Those who shoot at refugees and try to capsize their boats are not there to save them. The EU must immediately end cooperation with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. European states like Malta must take back responsibility for their rescue zones and fulfil their duty to rescue.” The Libyan boat shown in the footage is the PB 648, Ras Jadir, one of four patrol boats given to Libya by Italy as part of the 2017 Italy-Libya migration pact. 


Lithuania/Belarus: Lithuania plans to build barrier to stop migrants and refugees from entering
Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte has announced that Lithuania will deploy troops and build a barrier on the border with Belarus to deter migrants and refugees from entering the EU after 1,000 migrants and refugees were reported to have crossed the border since 1 June. Simonyte accused Belarus of flying in migrants and refugees into the EU. “There are travel agencies, direct flights that connect Minsk with Baghdad for example, and there are agencies both in Belarus and other countries that operate and attract ‘tourists’ to Minsk” Simonyte said. President Alexander Lukashenko had previously warned that Belarus would no longer stop refugees and migrants from crossing over its western border into the EU. Since then, the numbers of persons crossing have increased substantially, as the year 2020 saw just 81 refugees intercepted in total. According toAljazeera, Belarus is allowing the crossings as a move against the European Union (EU) after the EU criticised and placed sanctions on the country for intercepting a European airliner and detaining a journalist previously. In response to these developments, Turkey is reportedly considering to hold talks with the Lithuanian delegation over countering migration and human trafficking in the EU. 

Germany: Four men fined in asylum seekers abuse court case
On 7 July the German court fined four men, three security guards and one social worker, between €900 and €3,500 for abusing refugees and asylum seekers and depriving them of their freedom at a reception center. The court case began in 2018 and originally held 38 facility guards and workers as defendants after a picture surfaced of a guard standing on the neck of a person lying on the floor with hands cuffed behind his back in 2014. The court found nine instances in which defendants locked up asylum seekers in so-called “problem rooms” for innocuous reasons such as having smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol. One asylum seeker was reportedly beaten and locked in a problem room for five days after arriving back at the center drunk and past curfew. Asylum seekers were alleged to have been slapped across the face, beaten with sticks until the point of passing out and vomiting, bound to lamp posts, and pepper-sprayed by multiple staff members of the facility. The German court acquitted six defendants and dismissed five. Fourteen defendants have been convicted, including the former director of the reception center who was sentenced to a year on parole in 2019. One defendant has died since the court case bagan and eight independent trials are still ongoing.

Greece: Cyprus cracking down on refugee based NGOs
Notis Mitarakis, Greek Minister of Immigration and Asylum, has stated that migration flows into Greece have decreased by 96% in the last 12 months as refugee support networks and refugee non-profit organisations (NGOs) are facing crackdowns by Greek authorities. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that Cypriot authorities are attempting to shut down refugee-focused NGOs, such as the  local NGO KISA, over failing to comply with technicalities in new laws. KISA is currently being deregistered for failing to file within a certain time limit a form with the Register of Associations, a new 2020 amendment to the law of registrations. KISA is appealing the decision before the Supreme Court. Dunja Mijatović, a Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that the current working environment for NGOs in Cyprus was “worrying”. According to Mijatović, NGOs should only be dissolved in instances of “serious misconduct”. HRW has stated that international humanitarian organisations are dependent on the work of small NGOs around the world, such as KISA, and that effective activism on both a local and international scale cannot be sustained if NGOs are prevented from continuing their work over technicalities. 

UK: Twelve refugees found struggling to breathe in the back of a lorry
On 1 July, twelve people were found struggling to breathe in the back of a lorry on the M25 near Chertsey, England. Eleven men and one woman, believed to be Ethiopian refugees, were found inside the lorry. Refugees and migrants attempting to enter the United Kingdom (UK) could face up to four years in prison in new legislation proposed by the Home Office. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary of the UK, intends for the proposed legislation to make it a criminal offence for a refugee or asylum seeker to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission. The maximum sentence proposed would increase imprisonment of refugees from six months to four years.