News Highlights: US announces Ethiopia sanctions, Joint Tigray probe completed but incomplete, Children at risk in Greek camps

In this week’s news highlights: Joint UN-EHRC investigation completed but incomplete; US announces sanctions over Ethiopia crisis; HRW publishes report on atrocities against Eritrean refugees; 31 Eritrean refugees sentenced to be returned to Eritrea; Humanitarian updates from Tigray look bleak against food shortage and locust reports; Tigray businesses see suspension of licenses; Tigray Atlas updated; UN calls for GERD dam tensions resolution; South Sudan food assistance suspended for many amidst shortages; Drought in Kenya; 20-year anniversary of mass arrests in Eritrea;  Two human traffickers arrested in Libya; Hundreds of Moroccan refugees illegally detained in Libya; 125 refugees rescued by Italian coast guards; Five alleged members of Libyan trafficking ring arrested in Italy; Children’s health at risk in Lesbos refugees camps; Refugees face 4 year prison sentence in the UK; Refugees treated like “prisoners” in UK quarantine hotels; MPI released report on resettlement and complementary pathways.

Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Joint UN-EHRC investigation did not visit Axum and other sites
The United Nations Human Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet, updated the UN Human Rights Council on Monday about the completion of the joint investigation of the UN and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). She said that the joint UN- Ethiopia investigation of abuses in the Tigray war was unable to reach Axum and investigate the massacre that occurred there. Bachelet said that due to “sudden changes in the security situation and in the conflict dynamics”, investigators were unable to proceed to Eastern and Central Tigray. No further details were given. Besides Axum, many other key sites, cities and villages in which atrocities have been reported were not reached in the investigation which many have called rushed and incomplete. In addition, the investigation did not cover Sudan, where refugees have fled atrocities. Reports have stated that Eritrean troops perpetrated a massacre there at the end of November 2020, which claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians. Some witnesses put the death toll at over a thousand. The joint probe indicated they have visited Mekelle, Wukro, Samre, Alamata, Bora, Maichew, Dansha, Maikadra, and Humera. The report is due to be published on 1 November. 

Ethiopia: US announces new sanctions
On Friday 17 September, the website of the United States White House published an executive order by President Joe Biden, announcing new sanctions over the conflict in Ethiopia. The order specifically mentioned “widespread violence, atrocities, and serious human rights abuse, including those involving ethnic-based violence, rape and other forms of gender-based violence, and obstruction of humanitarian operations.” Specific persons that will fall under the sanctions have not been mentioned but the order refers persons who contributed to human rights abuses, threats to peace and obstruction of humanitarian aid within “the Government of Ethiopia, the Government of Eritrea or its ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the Amhara regional government, or the Amhara regional or irregular forces.”

Ethiopia: HRW publishes report on atrocities committed against Eritrean refugees
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published a report about atrocities committed against Eritrean refugees in Tigray refugee camps by Eritrean soldiers and Tigrayan militia. The organization has interviewed 28 people, and supplemented their findings with videos, images, satellite imagery, and other sources. Refugees told HRW that Eritrean soldiers arrived in Hitsats on 19 November and immediately started killing residents and occupying the camp. Eritrean soldiers also detained refugees and sent them back to Eritrea. According to HRW Tigrayan militia later also attacked the camp amidst clashes with the Eritrean soldiers, killing several refugees and causing many more to flee Hitsats refugee camp. HRW says that when Tigrayan militia took back control of the camp in early December, they forced fleeing refugees back into the camp. They also shot stragglers, according to witnesses. Several women also say that they were raped by Tigrayan fighters. In Shimelba, Eritrean soldiers killed at least one refugee and raped four women. Laetitia Bader, the HRW director for the Horn, has said that the killing and rapes were clear war crimes. Getachew Reda, Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) spokesperson, commented that the special forces had not been present during the atrocities, but that he could not rule out that allied militia or irregular forces had committed crimes. He stated international investigation would be welcome. UNHCR says that 7.643 Eritrean refugees from two destroyed refugee camps are still missing. In addition, UNHCR commented that the access to two other refugee camps, Mai Aini and Adi Harush, is still severely limited. 

Ethiopia: Eritrean refugees sentenced to be deported
31 Eritrean refugees who tried to flee Ethiopia have been sentenced to be deported back to Eritrea by a court of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region in Ethiopia. It is not yet clear how or when the sentence will be executed. According to international law, such deportation would constitute an illegal refoulement. 

Ethiopia: Trade ministry suspends 80.000Tigrayan business licenses
Ethiopia’s trade ministry has said that it has suspended 80.000 licenses, revoked 500 business licenses, and sued over 2.200 businesses. According to the ministry, these licenses have been revoked for businesses involved in “Illegal activities”. The government has specifically said that it was taking action against those that supported the Tigrayan “terrorist group”. It accused the businesses of illegally raising funds. However, there are indications that these businesses are being closed for being owned by Tigrayans. There have been previous reports of ethnic profiling of Tigrayans in Ethiopia, and several Tigrayan business owners have said that their restaurants, cafés and shops have been closed without a proper reason provided. There have also been reports that Tigrayans have faced arbitrary arrest, and many have reportedly been deported to camps.

Ethiopia: Humanitarian update; medicines removed from air bridge supplies
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) updated its situation report on Tigray, indicating that the first EU Humanitarian Air Bridge flight arrived in Tigray on 11 September. It was carrying nutritional supplies. Medicines were removed from the delivery during inspection in Addis Ababa. OCHA indicated that since 12 July, only 482 trucks of aid were able to enter, and persons have now been put on restricted rations. “Some supplies have not been allowed to enter, including fuel, without which humanitarian operations will not continue,” OCHA warned. Furthermore, desert locust swarms are forming and have been seen in Tigray. As breeding grounds cannot be reached for containment, the swarms could cause severe food insecurity in Tigray, other areas of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. 

Ethiopia: UGent Team updates Atlas on Tigray.
A team at the university of Gent has published a new version of the Atlas of the Humanitarian situation in Tigray. The Atlas includes maps of estimated areas of control, documented civilian casualties, and humanitarian access to the region.

Horn of Africa: UNSC statement calls for “binding agreement” over the GERD dam
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is calling for Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan to reach a “binding agreement on the filling and operation of the [Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam] GERD”. The construction and filling of the GERD dam has been a key source of contention amongst all three neighbouring countries with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed remaining steadfast in continuing the GERD operations despite protests from the Egyptian and Sudanese governments that disruptions to the Nile river would have devastating consequences downstream. Experts fear this may lead to further conflicts. In a statement made by the UNSC the council “encourages” Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to restart negotiations “in a constructive and cooperative manner” whilst “refrain[ing] from making any statements or taking any action that may jeopardize the negotiation process”. 

Eritrea: Twenty years after the mass arrest of G-15 political opponents
It has been 20 years since eleven members of the political opponents known as G-15, former members of the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) party, were arrested after calling for democratic reforms in Eritrea in an open letter to all members of the PFDJ. None of them was taken before a court nor convicted of any crime, Eritrea Hub reports. Besides the arrest of the G-15, many journalists, students and others were arrested. President Isaias Afewerki responded to the demands of greater freedoms for the Eritrean population with oppression, shutting down the independent newspapers supporting the cause, states EritreaHub. Since the reprisal of 18 and 19 September 2001, the group of politicians, journalists and many others have been held as political prisoners. It is unclear whether they are still alive, as their location and wellbeing is unknown.

South Sudan: Food assistance will be suspended for more than 100,000 internally displaced
Lifesaving food assistance will be suspended for 106,000 displaced persons in Wau, Juba and Bor South camps until the beginning of 2022 due to funding shortage, the Word Food Programme (WFP) said. According to WFP, more than 60 percent of the South Sudanese population is affected by food insecurity, exacerbated by floods and ongoing subnational conflicts in the country. The measure, starting in October, is part of a wider reduction plan by which 700,000 refugees and internally displaced persons already receive substandard food rations. “If funding levels continue to drop, we may have no choice but to make further cuts as the needs of vulnerable communities continue to outpace available resources”, explained Matthew Hollingworth, Representative and Country Director of WFP in South Sudan. 

Kenya: 2.1 million at risk of starvation
Over 2 million Kenyans are in “urgent need” of food after mass flooding affected the seasonal food harvest in over 23 counties, according to The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA). The crisis was further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, previous flooding, locust infestations and tribal warfare. Asha Mohammed, secretary general of the Kenya Red Cross, stated that the current food situation facing Kenya is “the making of a disaster”. The NDMA and the Kenya Red Cross have called on the Kenya government to consider long-term solutions regarding climate change as, according to Mohammad, the situation “is going to get worse”.

North Africa

Libya: 53 migrants returned to Egypt, two suspected human traffickers arrested 
Libyan authorities have arrested two people suspected of human trafficking and sent  53 Egyptians back to their home country. The two persons arrested were identified as Haj Hakeem and Hassan Qeidi  who are accused of detaining people for ransom while Qeidi is further accused of killing, torturing, abusing migrants and refugees for ransom and trafficking their organs. In 2021 so far, more than 1,100 migrants died or are presumed dead in boat accidents, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM and international human rights groups stated that the European Union’s migration deal with Libya has prevented migrants and refugees from entering the EU which has increased the risk of migrants and refugees relying on armed groups and being moved to detention centers where they are abused and harmed.   

Libya/Morocco: Hundreds of Moroccans detained without trial in Libya
According to a statement released by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor (Euro-Med) hundreds of Moroccan migrants are being detained for months without legal justification while living in inhumane conditions in detention centers throughout western Libya. Euro-Med recorded more than eighty testimonies describing poor healthcare, insufficient quantities of food and substandard drinking water. The Moroccan government has reported that they are in talks with Libyan authorities to release 195 Moroccans currently detained in Libya without trial. EuroMed has called on the Libyan government to release all detainees from its custody and provide adequate and humane living conditions to migrants and refugees in detention facilities. EuroMed also called on the Moroccan government to exert greater interest in helping release those detained and play a more proactive role in negotiations with the Libyan government.


Italy: 125 migrants and refugees rescued by Italian coast guards
125 migrants and refugees, among them 20 minors, that had been stranded on the rocks of a very small uninhabited island have been rescued by Italian coast guards. Rescuers said people were “in a clear state of shock” but they succeeded to hoist all of them safely. In the last months, a high number of migrants and refugees reached Italian coasts and some of them showed visible signs of mistreatment and torture, as reported by the local medical staff. 

Italy/Libya: Five Egyptians arrested suspected  of trafficking 530 refugees in Lampedusa
Five Egyptians have been arrested by Italian authorities after a boat with 530 refugees and migrants disembarked on the island of Lampedusa on 28 August. The Egyptians were believed to be members of a criminal organisation active in Libya that specialises in the organisation of human trafficking, said the Italian authorities. Conditions on the boat were reportedly poor with refugees reporting that if they “didn’t obey orders [they] were beaten with hoses and belts”. 

Greece: Children’s mental health and education at risk in Lesbos refugee camps
Aid organizations operating in Lesbos refugee camps warn about the implications of COVID-19 on children’s educational and mental development, due to pandemic guidelines restricting access to schooling and recreational activities for child migrants and refugees. Although some associations offer informal education, Greek authorities fail to provide schooling for children on the island as envisioned in national rules, states Babis Petsikos from Lesvos Solidarity. Artemis Christodoulou from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) explains that hazardous living conditions could cause children to grow up in a perpetual state of stress. Christodoulou encountered “many cases of incontinence, nightmares, often suicidal ideas and sometimes suicide attempts. A seven year old child told me he wanted to drown in the sea”. Delruba, 25, mother of five-year-old Irad and nine months pregnant, talked to Infomigrants about her concern that their appeal will be denied, resulting in the loss of benefits that are provided to asylum seekers, and about how she will be able to take care of the newborn in the camp. 

UK: Refugees travelling illegal routes face criminalization under the UK border bill
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) representative in the UK Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor states that the border bill, introduced on 6 July 2021, could criminalise refugees fleeing Afghanistan because they reached the United Kingdom (UK) by illegal routes, risking four years in prison. UNHCR warns the bill could contravene the Refugee Convention in creating a discriminatory two-tier asylum system. Already existing refugee assistance schemes in the country are difficult to access, especially for people hiding in Afghanistan who are required to resubmit applications, reports The Guardian. The Home Office representative claims that the new Afghan Citizens resettlement scheme, published on 18 August 2021, will welcome up to 20,000 refugees in the coming years, supporting persons travelling from safe and regular routes, while deterring irregular migration. The Refugee Council’s chief executive, Enver Solomon, argues the plan would be difficult to accomplish in light of the department’s prior statements that it would create a “hostile environment” for individuals who entered the UK illegally. 

UK: Afghan evacuees stuck in hotels
Afghan refugees in the United Kingdom (UK) have reported to The Guardian that they feel like “prisoners” after abiding by overly long quarantine conditions that have left some in inhospitable conditions. Witnesses reported their mental health declining after the bridging accommodation promised to them by the British government never came to fruition, which left many trapped in hotels not designed for long term living and unable to go outside with no news of when they can leave. One refugee who had been living in a quarantine hotel for over twenty days stated that “[i]n 24 hours, we’re allowed out for just 15 minutes. There are a lot of children inside this hotel too. People are fed up and crying”. Another evacuee stated that “[t]he anxiety is there is nobody to ask what is happening next. I asked for a phone number for somebody to contact at the Home Office but they wouldn’t give it to me. The system is broken.”  On 13 September the Home Office announced that they would allocate  20 million GBP to the resettlement scheme, although the government admitted that only 100 councils have offered accommodation to the Afghan evacuees. 


World: Report on resettlement and complementary pathways
A report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) maps opportunities and challenges for third-country resettlement and complementary pathways to support the United Nations Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) work in protection and resettlement. The report was commissioned by the UNHCR. The report stresses on some key points for improving resettlement: the need to understand and take into account public opinion on resettlement and country-specific needs and possibilities, promote peer support and the exchange of good practices. Moreover, the report suggests the formulation of country-specific solutions to remove legal and administrative barriers to refugees accessing employment and education opportunities in host countries, map refugee skills and experiences, increase the diversity of actors involved in supporting national resettlement programs and improve coordination. In 2020, the UNHCR estimated 1.44 million refugees in need of resettlement. However, only 22,800 were able to leave for a third country under the UNHCR mandate, as departures were slowed down by the Covid-19 pandemic.