News Highlights: US sanctions Eritrean general amidst warnings of troop movement, EU response to Afghan refugees

In this week’s news highlights: US sanctions Eritrean General over atrocities in Tigray; EU and US warn of new Eritrean troops entering Tigray; UN Security Council meeting on Ethiopia; Tigray food supplies depleted; Concerns of forced conscription in Ethiopia; UN raises concern over Sudan and South Sudan forced displacement; 18 drown off Libyan coast; unidentified bodies from the desert; Refugees and migrants arrive in Lampedusa with marks of torture; EU struggles to respond collectively to Afghan refugees; Interior ministers meet to discuss the external border with Belarus; Report links European arms to forced displacement and instability; and IFRC launches multi-year plan to support people on the move.

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: US announces sanctions on Eritrean General 
The United States has announced that it is sanctioning the Chief of Staff of the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF) General Filipos Woldeyohannes for human rights abuses committed by Eritrean forces in Ethiopia. It is doing so under the Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. As commander of the EDF, Filipos is held responsible for atrocities committed, including rapes, looting, and killings of civilians by Eritrean forces in Tigray since the conflict started in November 2020. The conflict has seen a continuous stream of accounts of, among others, Eritrean soldiers shooting people on the street and forcefully returning refugees to Eritrea. The US Treasury department has said that it will continue to act against “those involved in serious human rights abuse around the world, including in the Tigray region of Ethiopia”. As part of the sanctions, Filipos Woldeyohannes’s assets in the US will be frozen, and American citizens and businesses will not be allowed to deal with him.

Ethiopia: EU and US warn of new Eritrean troop movements in Tigray
The EU and the US warn about a new Eritrean invasion of Tigray. On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that “the United States is concerned large numbers of (Eritrean Defence Forces) have re-entered Ethiopia, after withdrawing in June”. EU diplomats wrote in an internal memorandum seen by Reuters stating that Eritrean troops were crossing the border again. The document states that Eritrean troops have taken up positions near Adi Goshu and Humera. New clashes are also being reported between the EDF and TDF near Adigrat. Meanwhile, some analysts predict the possibility of use of Turkish drones in the renewed offensive, after the Ethiopian PM met with the Turkish President earlier this month. 

Ethiopia: UN Security Council discusses Tigray
The United Nations Security Council had convened on Thursday 26 august to discuss the conflict in Ethiopia at the request of Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US. Secretary-General António Guterres has briefed the Council during the open session, stating that a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in Ethiopia. “Inflammatory rhetoric and ethnic profiling are tearing apart the social fabric of the country,” he stated, as other actors are now entering the fight through mass mobilisations. Ambassador Richard Mills, US Deputy Representative to the United Nations, stated that the Ethiopian government continues to cut off food aid, even as aid agencies have run out of food stocks. In addition, Mills warned that “to avoid additional measures from the United States, the EDF [Eritrean Defence Forces] must immediately and permanently withdraw from northern Ethiopia.” A representative of the Ethiopian government was present during the open consultation. One of the topics likely to be on the agenda was finding a mediator to help solve the conflict. Both Sudanese Prime Minister Hamdok and Turkish President Erdogan have offered to serve in that role, but Ethiopia has not accepted these offers. In a letter sent to Guterres ahead of the meeting, seen by the Associated Press, Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael stated his  commitment to a negotiation process to end the war on the condition of an impartial mediator.

Ethiopia: USAID warns that food supplies could run out by the end of the week
USAID administrator Samantha Power has warned that if no new food supplies reached Tigray this week, aid workers would run out of food to distribute for the first time since the start of the conflict. Both USAID and its partners will have depleted their reserves. She added that in order to adequately supply Tigray and provide the 6 million in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, 100 trucks are required per day. Since 5 July, only 320 trucks of the 5000 required have arrived in Tigray. This represents just 7% of the needed aid. Power says that convoys providing aid have encountered “unacceptable delays at multiple checkpoints, some of which take hours to clear, as well as repeated intensive searches.” She added that aid workers have been harassed and that there has been an increase in harmful rhetoric from the Ethiopian government aimed at humanitarians. This report is among several raising alarm at the dangerous levels of food in Tigray. While aid organizations are able to reach a larger amount of people in Tigray, supplies are critically low.

Ethiopia: Concerns of forced conscription rise
Sources are reporting forced or pressured conscription by the Ethiopian army, as some warn of large numbers of casualties in ‘human waves’ strategies of combat. In one example of pressure targeting public sector employees, a letter was sent by the Ethiopian construction works corporation to the employees asking them to register and join the  Ethiopian defense forces (ENDF) to support the operations it currently is undertaking. The corporation also promises to continue paying their salaries if they join the ENDF. Furthermore, conflicting narratives have emerged over the recruitment of Oromo youth, which the Oromia regional state classifies as voluntary, but which the opposition argues is forced conscription. The BBC reported earlier that teenagers had become part of the propaganda war, as it had recorded interviews with Tigray youth who related stories of forced conscription by the TDF, but the BBC later realised that an Afar regional spokesman was telling the teenagers what to say.  

Sudan/South Sudan: UN raises concern over displacement
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, visited Sudan and South Sudan for three days, and closed his visit by raising concern over the 7 million forcibly displaced persons. Grandi stated that as part of the peace process, durable solutions to the displacement would have to be found. 

North Africa

Libya: 18 drown off the Libyan coast
18 people drowned on Tuesday 24 August as their boat capsized off the Libyan coast. The Libyan coast guard picked up 51 survivors. In its latest update, the UN Refugee Agency indicated that so far in 2021, the Libyan coast guard had intercepted and returned 21,120 refugees and migrants. 

Libya: Deaths in the desert cause overload in Libyan morgues
The New Arab reports that hospitals in Libya frequently deal with unidentified bodies coming from the desert, which sometimes remain there for months. Most are migrants and refugees that have attempted to cross into Libya. They pass away during the journey or have been killed by smuggling and trafficking gangs, says the report. 

Libya/Lampedusa: MSF nurse confirms migrants and refugees fleeing Libya have been beaten and tortured
Alida Serracchieri, a nurse working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Lampedusa, confirmed to the ANSA news that migrants and refugees who arrive from Libya show marks of physical abuse, beatings and torture. “Many of them say that they were beaten and tortured in the centers where they were detained prior to leaving,” said Serracchieri. MSF team has been helping migrants and refugees arriving in Lampedusa since June. Healthcare personnel is engaged in the screening of every migrant upon arrival and assists to the victims of torture, as well as persons with mental problems.


European Union: EU struggles with common approach to Afghan refugees
After a meeting of the G7 did not result in an extension of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan beyond 31 August, concerns rise for those remaining behind in the country. This has led to fears among European Union countries of a repeat of the situation in 2015, when Syrian refugees led to what was called a ‘refugee crisis’. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the EU would reserve a package of humanitarian aid for Afghanistan worth €200 million, although it would freeze the €1 billion multi-year funding until there is further clarity on the policies of the Taliban. Johansson stated that the new funding should support vulnerable people in Afghanistan and that the EU should act as one bloc on the issue of refugees. Countries like Greece, however, have already indicated they will block Afghans from entering, and the German CDU party indicated it would not have an open asylum policy towards Afghan refugees like they did in 2015 for Syrian refugees. The UK is planning offshore centres in third countries to process the people that it has ‘an obligation to’. Meanwhile, Turkey warned that it would not play a role in hosting Afghan refugees on behalf of the EU. NGOs warn that the situation in Afghanistan could lead to rising tensions over migration, even as experts predict most refugees will likely stay in neighbouring countries. 

European Union: Interior ministers meet to discuss the situation at the border with Belarus
On 18 August, EU Interior Ministers and High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell and Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson met via video conference to discuss the situation at the EU’s external border with Belarus. Belarus is accused of facilitating – against payments – the crossing of migrants into Lithuania. Poland, Estonia and Latvia have also noted border crossings. Poland has responded by tightening border security measures and temporarily legalising pushbacks, raising concerns for human rights of those crossing. Belarusian leader Alexander Lukaschenko has threatened to “flood the EU with migrants and drugs.” The four neighbouring countries accuse Belarus of weaponising refugees and migrants. The European Court ruled on Thursday 26 August that Poland and Latvia have to provide necessities for 32 Afghan refugees held up at the Polish border and 41 Kurdish Iraqi refugees at the Latvian border. 

European Union: Report highlights link between EU arms exports and forced displacement
A July 2021 report by the Transnational Institute titled “Smoking Guns: How European arms exports are forcing millions from their homes” shows that export of weapons and other military equipment produced and licensed in Europe is driving forced displacement and migration. The report states that the arms and other equipment can be traced beyond any reasonable doubt to show that it was used for destabilisation of entire countries and regions. Furthermore, “[t]he destabilisation, facilitated by arms supplied by Europe, then contributed to Europe hugely expanding its border security apparatus to respond to the apparent threat posed by refugees attempting to arrive and seek asylum,” states the report. The top five exporters mentioned are France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. One of the case studies mentioned in the report is the use of Italian-donated boats to Libyan coast guards which were used to forcibly pull back refugees and migrants.

Spain: Alleged smuggler arrested 
Spanish authorities have arrested the man who captained a boat with 47 people which arrived in Spain in late July. The other man alleged to have captained the boat passed away on the journey. At least 14 people died on the journey, after the boat ran out of fuel. The man that was arrested is charged with human trafficking and involuntary manslaughter. 


IFRC launches multi-year plan for protection of people on the move
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) announced a new three-year plan to assist people along migration routes. It is appealing for additional funding to support the plan. “We are extremely concerned that migrants and displaced people are not able, at all stages of their journey, to access what they need most – such as food, water and sanitation, shelter, and healthcare. Our multiregional humanitarian assistance plan aims to bridge this gap”, states Xavier Castellanos, IFRC Under-Secretary General. The plan will also provide support to search and rescue on the Mediterranean Sea.