News Highlights: TDF advances towards Djibouti-Addis Ababa road, IOM appeals for 40 million USD in Tigray, Refugees end hunger strike in Brussels

In this week’s highlights: 54,000 flee homes in Afar as Tigray conflict develops; WFP suspends operations via Semera into Tigray; IOM appeals for 40 million USD to assist 2 million people in Northern Ethiopia; Gender based violence increasing in Sudan; 17 refugees dead and 380 rescued in shipwreck off Tunisian coast; 476 migrants and refugees end mass hunger strike in Brussels; France and Britain agree to crackdown on migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Channel; NGOs demand Europe cease deportations to Afghanistan; Italy/Slovenia border patrols to resume; Three refugees die in a fire in France.

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

Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: TDF advances to Afar and Amhara regions
The conflict in Tigray spilled over into other regions of Ethiopia as reports of a quick advance by Tigray Defense Forces towards the main route linking Addis Ababa with Djibouti have come in. TDF is now operating in parts of the Afar and Amhara regions and has stated it will not disarm civilians, as long as they keep weapons in their houses. The conflict between the Tigray Defence Forces) and Ethiopian military forces in the Afar region has forced 54,000 people to flee their homes. Getachew Reda, a spokesperson for the TPLF, stated that the purpose of the TLPF entering the neighbouring Afar region was not a gambit for any “any territorial gains” but was instead a move in “degrading enemy fighting capabilities”. Yohannes Woldemariam, an Ethiopia analyst, told Deutsche Welle (DW) that the expansion into Afar was “very strategic because the road and the railway [linking the capital, Addis Ababa] to Djibouti run through there.” Many experts believe the conflict could further encompass the entire Horn of Africa. Woldemariam states that the conflict is “a very dangerous situation that’s evolving when you have so many groups who are fighting and they have their own issues and their own agendas”. This ingroup fighting is “a recipe for something really catastrophic. … It may make Rwanda look very small. That’s my fear” he said. Further adding to these concerns was a tweet made by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who labelled the TPLF a “cancer”, “weed” and “disease” that needed to be uprooted. Kjetil Tronvoll, a professor of peace and conflict studies, described the language in Abiy’s tweet as “very dangerous rhetoric, obviously bordering on genocidal rhetoric.” 

Ethiopia: WFP suspends aid operations via main route into Tigray
The World Food Programme has suspended its operations via Semera into Tigray after one of its food convoys came under attack by an as of yet unnamed force. On 18 July, a WFP lorry came under fire “while attempting to move essential humanitarian cargo into [the] Tigray region” around 70 miles from the town of Semera, WFP said in a released statement. The agency also reported that it was working with local authorities to determine the perpetrator behind the incident and ensure their worker’s safety. “WFP has suspended movement of all convoys from Semera until the security of the area can be assured and the drivers can proceed safely”, WFP wrote. The route via Semera has become an important passage to deliver humanitarian aid into Tigray in recent weeks after two key bridges connecting to western Tigray were destroyed in late June. 

Ethiopia: IOM appeals for 40 million USD to expand operations 
On 16 July, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) issued an urgent appeal for 40 million USD to help IOM assist internally displaced persons, including children and newborn babies, in northern Ethiopia. IOM is providing shelter and essential items such as food, water, clothing, medicine, sanitation supplies and hygiene services to over 500,000 people in Tigray and now aims to expand operations to cover the 2 million people living in “inhumane and undignified conditions and require critical and urgent support”, according to Maureen Achieng, IOM Chief of Mission to Ethiopia. IOM has estimated that 69.3 million USD is required to respond to the needs of the internally displaced populations in northern Ethiopia. IOM has only managed to secure 28.7 million USD in funds for this year and requires 40.6 million USD this year to be able to continue and further expand its assistance towards displaced persons. IOM, along with other humanitarian partners, estimate that 5.2 million people will be in need of life saving assistance if the conflict continues to escalate.

Sudan: First ever nation-wide gender based violence report shows domestic violence is increasing 
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) along with the Government of Sudan’s Combating Violence against Women Unit (CVAW) have published the first-ever nation-wide, qualitative assessment of gender-based violence (GBV) in Sudan. The study included 215 group discussions with communities overseen by 21 GBV experts in 60 localities and camps across the country between August and November 2020. Domestic and sexual violence were highlighted as the most common issues facing women and girls in local communities. The study also highlighted the limited access Sudanese women have to resources, as financial resources are controlled by men and access to opportunities, especially education, are overwhelmingly given to only boys and men and frequently penalise girls and women. Pressure to comply with existing gender norms and roles is prominent and this pressure has led to some instances of suicide. Domestic violence and forced marriages are reportedly increasing due to the deteriorating economic situation and the pressures of COVID-19. According to the report the open discussion of GBV “has not been possible for the last three decades” and as a consequence “GBV data is dramatically lacking” in the country. UNFPA and CVAW hope that this report reflects an increased openness by the government of Sudan that will translate into a significant advancement of women’s safety and rights.

North Africa

Tunisia: 17 refugees dead and 380 rescued in shipwreck
At least 17 Bengali refugees have drowned and over 380 people have been rescued by Tunisian and Libyan authorities after a boat sank in the Mediterranean on 21 July. According to Mongi Slim, official of the Tunisian Red Crescent, survivors claimed that those who had perished had suffocated from smoke inhalation when the boat’s engine caught on fire. Slim stated that those refugees had been kept in the lower, and consequently more dangerous, part of the boat because they had paid less money to the smugglers than the others. Earlier this week, the Tunisian coast guard intercepted eight crossing attempts and arrested 130 migrants, according to National Guard spokesman Houssameddine Jebabli. The Libyan coast guard reportedly intercepted seven vessels and arrested 500 refugees between 20-21 July according to Safa Msehli, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM). IOM stated that since the beginning of the year, roughly 6,000 people have ended up in Libyan detention centers after attempting to cross and being returned.


Belgium: Migrants and Refugees end mass hunger strike
476 migrants and refugees in Brussels have ended a mass hunger strike after two months and thereby renouncing their demand for a collective regularisation of their legal status. The protestors were immediately taken to hospital where some remain in intensive care. Once recovered, migrants and refugees will be able to make individual applications for a residence permit as the Belgian government has refused collective amnesty as the current rules were “fair, correct and humane”, according to Sammy Mahdi, state secretary for asylum and migration. Mahdi later tweeted that the hunger strike “was not a fight against people, but for the correct policy.” Belgian prime minister, Alexander De Croo, welcomed the decision stating that it was “the only right decision.” Previously the plight of the refugees had divided the seven-party coalition of the Belgian government. Several socialist and Green party ministers had threatened to leave the coalition if one of the protesters had died which would effectively collapse the 10-month-old government. According to the United Nations, there are 150,000 undocumented refugees and migrants living in Belgium, with some having lived in the country for years.

France/Britain: Border control police double to crack down on refugees and migrants
After 430 migrants attempted to cross the channel on 19 July, the highest daily figure on record, the United Kingdom (UK) and France have announced a crackdown on irregular migration and an increase in border protection. Reuters reported that the UK and France have agreed that French authorities will double the deployment of police between the cities of Boulogne and Dunkirk and around the port of Dieppe, and will also invest in detection technology along the French coast. The majority of the measures aim to prevent migrant and refugee boats from even attempting to cross the Channel. Britain will help fund the reinforcements, including more migrant facilities in France, investing €62.7 million between 2021 and 2022. On the day the crossing attempt was made the British Parliament was debating the Nationality and Borders Bill, a law which would impose longer prison terms for refugees and migrants entering the UK illegally. Daniel Sohege, director of the human rights group Stand For All, argued that the Nationality and Borders Bill would make things “worse and more dangerous” for refugees who only attempt to cross the Channel when “they are out of options”. Previously The UK Refugee Council labelled the new legislation as the “anti-refugee bill”.

Europe: 30 NGOs call for the EU to cease deportations of Afghan nationals
On 21 July, 30 non-profit organisations (NGOs), including Caritas Europe, Save the Children, Pro Asyl, and the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, called on the European Union and its member states to “immediately” suspend deportations to Afghanistan. The statement made by the NGOs stated that “[t]he security situation in Afghanistan does not allow to return people to the country without putting their life at risk”. On July 11, Afghanistan authorities called on European countries to stop the deportations of Afghan nationals for three months due to an uptick in fighting between the government forces and the Taliban. Finland and Sweden suspended all deportations to the country due to the worsening security situation. According to the United Nations, an estimated 270,000 Afghans have been newly displaced since January 2021 and a total of 3.5 million Afghan nationals have been displaced due to fighting. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), between January and March 2021, 573 civilians including 64 women and 151 children have been killed – a 29% increase compared to the same period in 2020.

Italy/Slovenia: Joint border patrols to continue
Italy and Slovenia are to continue joint patrols along the border in “the hope [ ] that they will curb entrances” of migrants and refugees into Italy, according to the Trieste police commissioner, Irene Tittoni. Many refugees and migrants attempting to reach Italy do so via the Balkan route through southeastern Europe. According to InfoMigrants, the far-right, anti-migrant League party is influential and has a large following in this region. Marco Dreosto, regional coordinator of the League party, said “[t]he news of the starting of joint Italian-Slovenian patrols is good news” as “it is necessary to be as strict as possible to curb the entrances of undocumented migrants into our region”. Earlier this year, the Court of Rome ruled that the traditional readmission procedure between Italy and Slovenia was illegitimate as it was “in clear violation of international, European, and internal laws that regulate access to the asylum procedure”.

France: Three refugees die in Marseille fire
Three refugees have died, two have been seriously injured and nine more have been moderately injured in a fire in the southern French city of Marseille. In the early morning of July 17 a fire started in the housing estate “Les Flamants”, a public housing building known for boarding refugees. Three Nigerian men, aged between 20 and 30, perished after jumping from the windows while a two-year-old on the tenth floor was severely burned. A criminal investigation is being launched after two fires, one on the sixth floor and the other in the stairwell, were discovered. The Nigerian community of Marseille have accused the local drug dealers of causing the fire. Refugees interviewed by Agence France-Presse said that drug dealers terrorise the refugee community, threaten violence and force people to pay illegal rent to the dealers who operate in the building. One refugee stated that it was “less dangerous” to sleep on the streets than it was to squat in the building. According to a statement issued by Marseille’s city hall 91 people, including 28 women and 27 children, were taken to two gymnasiums for emergency shelter but Marseille officials were calling on the state “to offer dignified accommodation to all affected people.”