News Highlights: Refugees in Tigray under threat, Denmark returning Syrian refugees “a dangerous precedent”, 1 in 3 trafficking victims are minors

In this week’s highlights: Eritrean refugees unsafe in Ethiopia; WFP running out of food in Tigray; 3,000 Ethiopian refugees from Amhara crossed over into Sudan this week; 32 suspects of human trafficking arrested in Sudan; 5,500 people pushed back this year in Europe; Denmark to return Syrian refugees in “a dangerous precedent”; Trafficking victims exploited in Europe identified in Italy are increasingly mothers and children; Nearly 1,000 refugees have died crossing the Central Mediterranean; Turkey refusing to take on more refugee cases as 500 refugees intercepted this week; Over 550 refugees intercepted by UK and French coast guard; 70th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention; COVID-19 has worsened global malnutrition.

Important message from the EEPA team – The news highlights team will take a brief holiday to recharge. We will see you again at the end of August. The situation reports on the Horn will continue.

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

Horn of Africa

Eritrea/Ethiopia: Eritrean refugees disproportionately vulnerable in Ethiopia
Several Eritrean sources state that 500 Eritrean forces that are moved to Humera are instructed to take control of the Eritrean refugee camps Mai Aini and Adi Harish in Tigray to abduct refugees to Eritrea. This comes after the other two refugee camps in Tigray, Hitsats and Shimelba, were destroyed by Eritrean soldiers earlier in the conflict. Concern for the refugees is rising, as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has no access to the remaining camps. On 29 July, hundreds of Eritrean protestors picketed outside the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Addis Ababa demanding the active protection and evacuation of Eritrean refugees trapped in refugee camps in Mai Aini and Adi Harush. The Associated Press writes that the Tigray conflict has affected thousands of Eritrean refugees who have been attacked in their camps by forces on both sides. United Nations officials have reported that “forces have attacked the camps, abducted or killed some of the residents, and stolen their food and possessions.” The most recent incident was on 13 July in the Mai Aini camp where a clash between Tigrayan forces against Ethiopian soldiers and Amharan troops turned violent and resulted in the death of at least one Eritrean refugee. Ann Encontre, Ethiopia representative at the UNHCR, stated that “[t]ens of thousands of refugees, fearful for their lives, are currently trapped and unable to move due to the insecurity and ongoing movement of troops”. A high-level source close to the Tigray regional government stated that the allegations of Tigray troops attacking the refugees are false: “the people in the regional government of Tigray have been hosting Eritrean refugees for over two decades. They continue to be welcome.” The protestors outside the UNHCR offices called on the UN to relocate the refugees currently stuck in warzones, provide them with basic support like shelter, food, medications, blankets and ensure that all refugees have a form of identification and proof of refugee registration.

Ethiopia: WFP food convoys for Tigray trapped in Afar, refugees will run out of food soon
David Beasley, Executive Director for the World Food Programme (WFP), tweeted on 27 July that the WFP will “run out of food” for Eritrean refugees in Tigray by today, Friday 30 July, if supply convoys stuck in the Afar region were not allowed to enter Tigray. Beasley stated that over a hundred food trucks per day are needed to feed everyone the WFP aims to reach in Tigray and currently 170 food trucks are trapped in Afar. According to the United Nations (UN), the only remaining road giving access to Tigray is through Afar. According to The New York Times, in the past month only one UN convoy, consisting of 50 aid trucks i.e. half of the minimum amount per day to prevent starvation of the Tigray population and the refugees, managed to successfully traverse this route. Aid personnel speaking to The New York Times state that the largest obstacle in accessing the Tigray region is the unofficial Ethiopian government blockade. One aid convoy headed for Tigray came under attack on 18 July by armed forces and was forced to turn around. Over 24,000 Eritrean refugees are believed to be trapped in the Mai Aini and Adi Harush refugee camps and in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. Babar Baloch, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), stated that the last food shipment given to the refugees was in June and was only enough to last for thirty days. The UNHCR has not been able to access the two refugee camps since 14 June. “There is a real danger of hunger among these refugees if supplies do not resume as they may have already run out of food supplies that were given to them,” Baloch added. Other regions in Ethiopia are also in dire need of aid.

Sudan/Ethiopia: Thousands of Ethiopian refugees cross over into Sudan
Sudanese authorities state that at least 3,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled into Sudan this week after the conflict in Tigray spread to the neighbouring Amhara region. Aid workers are reporting that refugee camps are struggling to support so many refugees and have asked the state and international organisations to quickly intervene. According to the World Food Program (WFP) over 60,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled to Sudan from Tigray and are currently camping in the eastern cities bordering Ethiopia. Sudanese analysts warn that an influx of Ethiopians from the Amhara region might create tension and lead to infighting between Amhara and Tigrayan people in the refugee camps.

Sudan: INTERPOL operation arrests 32 suspects of human trafficking
INTERPOL has reported that it has completed a global operation between 5 and 9 July in which it arrested 286 suspects of human trafficking and human smuggling. It reported that law enforcement from 47 countries participated in the operation, and that 430 human trafficking victims were identified and freed during the operation. One of the targeted hotspots was Sudan, where INTERPOL has arrested 32 suspects and freed 253 victims of human trafficking. No further information on the suspects or the victims was given. 

North Africa

Libya: 57 die in shipwreck as death toll along central Mediterranean route nears 1,000
On 26 July, over 57 people died in a shipwreck off the Libyan coast, increasing this year’s total Central Mediterranean (mainly departing from Libya and Tunisia) death toll to almost 1,000. Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said that the latest incident raised the mortality rate to 987 whereas last year had 272 deaths – four times more than last year’s figure in the same period. Di Giacomo implored authorities to “no longer hesitate, and do everything to strengthen the system of patrols at sea”. According to Di Giacomo, sea patrols by European vessels and non-profit rescue boats have significantly decreased in recent years, leading to a rise in deaths. “Today, when migrants send out distress calls after their departures, it takes hours for the authorities to intervene and when they do it is often too late,” he said. Over 18,000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants have been intercepted by the Libyan coast guard and returned to Libya this year, double the number of last year, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


Europe: Over 5,500 people pushed back this year
Protecting Rights at Borders (PRAB) has published a report this week stating that between 16 April and 30 June the organisation had witnessed over 3,400 people being pushed back at European borders. The total number of incidents for this year is over 5,500 with the highest rate of push back being at the Croatia-Bosnia and Herzegovina and Hungary-Serbia borders. During the reporting period PRAB witnessed 57 unaccompanied and separated children being pushed back by French, Croatian and Hungarian border guards. Many minors were falsely identified as adults and were treated inappropriately, states the organisation. Refugees and asylum seekers reported various human rights violations such as physical violence, abusive and degrading treatment, denied access to asylum procedures, and group expulsions regardless of nationality, gender, legal status and/or specific needs. PRAB described the stance of some European states as a “flagrant breach of legal frameworks” and an “unwillingness” to “respect rights of people on the move”. The PRAB report recommends that the refugee rights monitoring mechanism in the European Commission changes to be a system independent of national authorities that enforces consequences on national governments who fail to cooperate with the independent mechanism.

Denmark: Decision to return Syrian refugees “set[s] a dangerous precedent”
Denmark’s decision to return hundreds of Syrian refugees to Damascus after adjudging the city to be safe will “set a dangerous precedent” for other countries to do the same, claim the lawyers preparing to take Danish authorities to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over the issue. Danish authorities have justified their rejection of Syrian refugees’ renewal applications for temporary residency status on the basis of one report that stated the security situation in certain parts of the country had “improved significantly”. Over one thousand people from Damascus currently living in Denmark are believed to have been affected by this change in policy. One lawyer stated that “[t]he situation in Denmark is deeply concerning. While the risk of direct conflict-related violence may have diminished in some parts of Syria, the risk of political violence remains as great as ever, and refugees returning from Europe are being targeted by regime security forces […] If the Danish government’s efforts to forcibly return refugees to Syria is successful, it will set a dangerous precedent, which several other European states are likely to follow”. Ghalia, a 27-year old Syrian refugee, stated that Denmark’s decision has made her feel “helpless”. “I have no control over my life and I feel like I haven’t done anything to deserve this,” she stated.

Italy: 1 in 3 trafficking victims are minors
Save the Children has published a report documenting that in 2020 the Italian anti-trafficking system had over 2,000 trafficking victims in its care which had been trafficked in other European countries and were returned through the Dublin regulation to Italy, 716 of which were new cases that emerged during the year. According to Save the Children, the global number of trafficking victims has more than tripled in the last 15 years with the vast majority of trafficking victims being female and one in three (34%) being underage. The majority of exploitation trafficking victims were subjected to was sexual in nature (78.4%), with the second largest being forced labor (13.8%), followed by working in illegal economies (1%) and begging (0.6%). The total number of cases involving mothers with minors in Italy’s system rose from 6% to 11.6%, with a further increase of 0.4% in the first six months of 2021. According to the report, since 2018 there has been an increase in young women and girls being transferred back to Italy after having lived for years in other European countries. The national Italian anti-trafficking system is currently supporting over 190 vulnerable families, including 226 minors. Raffaela Milano, Save the Children’s Italy-Europe Programmes Director stated that “[t]he children of the victims of trafficking and exploitation are often prisoners, with their mothers, of a circuit of violence, blackmail and abuse that must be broken at all costs”.

Turkey: Foreign ministry refusing to take on more refugee cases as 500 refugees intercepted this week
This week Turkish authorities have detained 415 migrants and refugees during a series of raids in Istanbul and a further 86 people in an eastern operation in Van province. According to Aljazeera, the growing number of refugee arrivals in Turkey has led to a renewal of anti-refugee sentiments. On 26 July the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement declaring that “Turkey will not take a new wave of migration” as “Turkey will not be a border guard or a refugee camp for the EU.” Dogus Simsek, researcher on migrant and refugee issues for Kingston University London, stated that the current European refugee policy with Turkey was “not good for refugees and it’s not good for Turkey” and puts “the lives of refugees in danger.” “What will happen is refugees will try to reach Europe in irregular ways and we will see a lot of refugees losing their lives, being left alone in the hands of smugglers and traffickers”, Simsek added.

UK/France: Over 550 refugees intercepted after €60 million surveillance plan comes into effect
On 25 July the United Kingdom (UK) coastal authorities detained 378 migrants and refugees whilst French naval ships intercepted 178 others, stopping 556 people from crossing the Channel in total. More than 700 people reportedly succeeded in crossing the Channel on Monday and Tuesday, with many landing on Dungeness beach in Kent. Patrol vessels and French warships were witnessed as actively monitoring in the Dover Strait on Wednesday. Last week, the British Home Secretary  Priti Patel stated that the UK and France had come to a 54 million PND agreement to double the number of police patrolling the French coast to prevent refugees crossing the channel. 


World: Forced displacement at  “unprecedented levels” as the world remarks on 70th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention
As this Wednesday (28 July) marked the 70th anniversary of the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention, many experts, such as former Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, criticised the “unprecedented levels” of world-wide forced displacement leading many to question if the refugee protection guarantees in the 1951 Convention “are being ignored”. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi stated that “the international community is manifestly failing to unite in search of durable solutions” for refugees going so far as to “deny refugees asylum and even to outsource responsibility for their protection by “warehousing” them elsewhere.” Grandi criticised that there was “not enough political will” to create long term solutions for refugees and the internally displaced. Ki-Moon stated that “[t]he Global North’s regressive asylum policies stand in stark contrast to the generosity of developing countries, who continue to host 86% of the world’s refugees.” Grandi argued that this anniversary was “a chance for us to revitalise our commitment to that ideal. Let us renew that vow, not break it.”

World: COVID-19 has worsened global malnutrition
According to the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased global poverty and malnutrition leaving 800 million people without food security which is an increase of 130 million since the pandemic started. On 26 July at the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit Draghi stated that “[m]alnutrition is spreading and has become the leading cause of health problems and death.” Pope Francis wrote a letter to the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, stating that world-wide starvation “constitutes a real scandal, a crime that violates fundamental human rights. Therefore, it is everyone’s duty to eradicate this injustice through concrete actions and good practices, and through bold local and international policies.” Draghi said that “the goal is to achieve food security for all.”