News Highlights: Refugees returned to Libya are vanishing, Starvation deaths reported in Tigray, Deaths at Polish borders

In this week’s news highlights: Starvation reported in 20 Tigrayan districts; OCHA says it suspended food delivery due to shortages; Fighting in Amhara and Afar complicates humanitarian assistance; GCR2P warns about rising hate speech in Ethiopia; Reports of Eritrean troops relocating to Amhara; Turkish and Iranian weapons appearing in conflict; Twenty years since the crackdown on independent press and opposition in Eritrea; First Djibouti National Strategy for Migration launched; Heavy rains displace thousands in Sudan and South Sudan; Thousands of Europe-bound migrants and refugees disappearing in Libya; Poland increases border control after four found dead at Belarus border; Almost 190 people rescued in the Mediterranean; Fire breaks out in Greek refugee camp few days before transfer to “prison-like” Samos camp; Rights agencies call for independent monitoring at Greece borders; NGOs accuse Spain of asylum seekers pushback to Morocco; COVID-19 underfunding alarmingly affects refugees in poorest host countries.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: People starving to death in 20 districts, state humanitarian workers
The Associated Press has reported on the accounts of an aid group that people have starved to death in at least 20 Tigrayan districts. No exact numbers are available about the pockets of starvation; however, the Tigrayan External Affairs office said last week that at least 150 people had died of starvation. A humanitarian worker of the aid group told AP in his district more than 20 people have died. The aid organization has also run out of food and fuel. Another aid staffer who visited Tigray in August said that people had been “eating only green leaves for days”. The World Food Programme (WFP) has also said that malnutrition levels are dangerously high; 30% of children under five and 80% of pregnant women are currently estimated to be malnourished in Tigray. AP has also received pictures of 50 Tigrayan children receiving intensive care. In the area of Mekelle, people are in urgent need of food while hospitals struggle to provide medical treatment to undernourished children. People interviewed by Al Jazeera stated the worsening of the humanitarian crisis is mainly due to the blockade imposed when federal forces withdrew from the city in late June.

Ethiopia: OCHA states that food delivery has been suspended due to supply shortages
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has released data showing that many of their programmes in Tigray are currently suspended due to lack of supplies. In a first since the conflict started, the organisation has released information showing the availability of resources in Tigray, including food, fuel, and medicine. OCHA says that it only has 3% of the needed supply trucks, 12% of the fuel, and 0.2% of the cash needed to sustain their efforts. The programmes that have been cancelled as a result of the scarcity of resources include food deliveries, emergency kit deliveries, cholera vaccination programmes, and malnutrition management. According to OCHA 62 trucks arrived in Tigray on 20 September, the first that arrived in the region since 7 September. This is far below the 100 daily trucks that aid organizations say are required to provide the necessary aid to the region. OCHA is also saying that the Ethiopian government is blocking medical supplies from entering Tigray and that consequently there is a severe shortage of medicine. 

Ethiopia: Fighting in Amhara and Afar regions further complicates humanitarian assistance
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warns that the fighting in the Ethiopian Amhara and Afar regions is making the humanitarian situation worse. Hundreds of thousands of IDPs are fleeing the fighting in both regions.  The WFP says that there are not yet any signs of famine in Amhara, but “that as the offensive continues and large areas remain inaccessible due to active fighting, food insecurity in this zone is serious”. The mayor of Dessie, which hosts between 270.000 and 300.000 IDPs, told the Addis Standard that while they had enough food, accessing those that need it is difficult. BBC warns of some misleading images being spread in relation to stories of starvation in Amhara. “at this point we have no evidence of famine in North Wollo […] [but] as the offensive continues and large areas remain inaccessible due to active fighting, food insecurity in this zone is serious,” according to the WFP. 

Ethiopia: Hate speech against Tigrayans increasing in Ethiopia
The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) is warning about rising hate speech, starvation, and the aid blockade of Tigray. GCR2P is concerned that there is an increasing amount of rhetoric used by Ethiopian leaders calling for the eradication of Tigrayan people. Daniel Kibret, an influential political advisor to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, gave a speech last week in which he called for Tigrayans to be removed from historical records. Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of GCR2P told Agence Presse that “The references to people as weeds that need to be removed, or as monsters that must be erased, is classic hate speech. And calling for the total extermination of any political party and its supporters is tantamount to incitement to commit war crimes and other atrocities.” 

Ethiopia: Eritrean troops relocating to Amhara
There are indications that Eritrean troops are operating in Amhara in Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) uniforms. Reports say that large units of Eritrean troops have been relocated from Humera to Amhara to reinforce the ENDF, but are not under ENDF pay. Reportedly, Eritrean troops have also clashed with Amhara militias after the former started plundering in Amhara. 

Ethiopia: Turkish and Iranian weapons appearing in conflict, states report
Since the start of the conflict, the Ethiopian army has been believed to be operating drones. Tigrayan forces have accused the ENDF of using armed Chinese drones, while the Ethiopian Federal government has denied the use of armed drones and says that it only uses them for reconnaissance. While there is no conclusive proof of where these drones were procured, Bellingcat has determined that at least one of the drones being used is the Mohajer-6 of Iranian origin. It is capable of being armed with various missiles and bombs. There is also speculation that Ethiopia is acquiring drones and other weaponry from Turkey. Prime Minister Abiy visited Turkey in August. According to data from SavunmaSanayiST, Turkey has exported $51.7 million worth of weaponry to Ethiopia in August 2021. SavunmaSanayiST also says that it is “highly probable” that Turkey has supplied SİHAs (Turkish armed drones) to Ethiopia.

Eritrea: 20 years since crackdown on Journalists
This week marks 20 years since 21 high-profile politicians (G-15) and journalists critical of the Eritrean regime were arrested and detained without charge. Since then nothing has been heard from them. Of the 11 journalists that were detained, seven are believed to have died. Among those that may still live is Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak. Last month the UN said that it had indications that he was still alive, 20 years after his arrest, and is being held in Eiraeiro prison. Torture is reportedly a common practice there. The arrests in September 2001 came after the group of G15 signed a letter calling on the government to implement the constitution, have democratic dialogue in Eritrea, and hold elections. Following the arrest of the G-15, the Eritrean government also cracked down on the independent media.

Djibouti: Djibouti launches first National Strategy for Migration 
Djibouti launched its first National Strategy for Migration aiming to support migrants impacted by conflicts, climate change and unemployment in the region. The country is host to 150,000 undocumented migrants and refugees and a passage hub for thousands of persons from Ethiopia and Somalia migrating to the Gulf countries. The strategy, supported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and funded by the European Union (EU), aims to enhance collaboration between migration stakeholders and support the coordination between national institutions on migration laws and policies, as well as raise awareness on migrants rights and needs. Djibouti Minister of Interior Said Nouh Hassa stated that “[t]his strategy is a decisive step  towards effective migration management, in accordance with the commitments made by the Republic of Djibouti, during the signing of the Global Compact on Migration in 2018”. 

Sudan/South Sudan: Thousands displaced by heavy floods
Heavy floods impacted 288,000 residents and refugees in Sudan and displaced about 426,000 in South Sudan. Ibrahim Mohamed, senior official at Sudan’s refugee commission said they are facing difficulties in relocating displaced people and many remain homeless. Disease outbreaks are expected among the displaced persons, according to humanitarian agencies operating in the region. 150 refugees, including children, from al-Qanaa and al-Alagaya camps were diagnosed with malaria. An evacuee told African News “[w]e now have no food, medication or anything to fight the swarms of mosquitoes”. Another evacuee said that “mosquitoes are eating the children and the rains continue to pour down even as we live on the streets” and that “[t]here is little chance for survival under these conditions”. So far this year, floods killed more than 80 people and damaged or destroyed 35,000 houses, according to Sudanese officials.

North Africa 

Libya: IOM concerned about thousands of Europe-bound migrants and refugees disappearing
Thousands of migrants and refugees disappear after being intercepted and sent back to Libya. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) worries that migrants and refugees might fall into the hands of organised criminals and human traffickers or might be held for ransom, IOM spokesperson Safa Msehli said. So far this year, of the 24,000 migrants intercepted and returned to Libya by the Libyan coast guard, funded by the European Union (EU), only 6,000 are registered in the government-run detention centres of the African country. The Associated Press reports that detention centre authorities have been accused of sexually abusing migrants and refugees and many vanish from detention institutions, being sold to traffickers or to other facilities. An Associated Press request for comment was not promptly returned by the spokesperson for Libya’s Interior Ministry, which manages the detention centres.  


Poland/Belarus: Increased border control after deaths at the border
Near the Polish-Belarus border, four Iraqi persons were found dead on Sunday. UN agencies responded with shock and called for an investigation into the cause of death. BBC reports that the stranded migrants and refugees at the border are freezing to death. Poland considers the incident a provocation, accusing Belarus of staging a planned assault, and responded by sending an additional 500 troops to the border to stop the crossings of migrants and refugees. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) have documented illegal pushbacks and persons stranded at the border, unable to receive any form of assistance or asylum, and left in hazardous situations. The agencies requested urgent access to the borders to provide migrants and refugees with aid. While acknowledging the “significant challenges posed [to states] by irregular movements,” the IOM and UNHCR called for the “situation [to] be managed in accordance with international legal obligations, and for states to work collaboratively to resolve the situation, prioritizing human rights”. Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania declared states of emergency to prevent illicit border crossings, blocking access to several border areas. Poland militarized the area even further, alleging the incidents are part of Belarusian President Lukashenko’s plan to destabilize Europe.

Europe: Almost 190 people rescued from the Mediterranean Sea
Private rescue ships rescued around 190 migrants and refugees, including 21 unaccompanied kids and a newborn, over the past few days. According to SOS Mediterranee, two of them needed emergency medical care due to a chronic condition. Because there are no official European search and rescue operations currently active, human rights activists call for action to prevent the migrants and refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean. Ocean Viking rescued almost 130 of the migrants and refugees over the weekend. Some of them were found in precarious boats near the Libyan shores, while others were drifting off the coast of Malta. Geo Barents rescued 54 of the migrants and refugees found on a rubber dinghy and other 6 persons on a fibreglass boat, located in the Libyan search and rescue region.

Greece: Migrants and refugees transferred to new “prison-like” camp after fire
Fire spread in the Vathy refugee camp in Greece, which still houses about 300 persons waiting to be transferred to the new “prison-like” refugee camp on Samos island, complete with barbed-wire fencing and surveillance cameras. No one was injured in the soon-to-be-closed Vathy camp, as migrants and refugees were evacuated to a safe area near the camp, the Greek Ministry of Migration said. In the inauguration of the new Samos camp, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi admitted the poor conditions at the Vathy camp. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) stresses that the new Samos facility “comes with military-grade barbed wire fences and advanced surveillance systems. All of this to detain people whose only ‘crime’ is seeking safety and stability”. Many refugees on Samos island were subjected to torture on the routes and present symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and “come to their appointments with the fear of being locked up in the new centre, feeling completely abandoned and helpless”, MSF explained, expressing concern about the dehumanization and marginalization of people seeking protection in Europe.

Greece: UN urges independent border monitoring at Greece borders
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other human rights agencies issued a call for the creation of an Independent National Border Monitoring Mechanism at Greek borders, urging for the respect of fundamental human rights, including the right to asylum. Greek border authorities have been accused of illegal pushbacks and faced criticism for the increased militarization of borders. While recognizing Greece’s right to manage its borders, the UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) issued a document with 10 criteria that the organisations argue should be fulfilled by the monitoring mechanism. The document stresses the protection of fundamental rights, the independent and autonomous work of the mechanism and the respect of transparency and accountability principles.

Spain: NGOs accuse Spain of asylum seekers pushback
Several Spanish NGOs, the Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR) and Caminando Fronteras reported the pushback of 125 migrants and refugees to Morocco, despite the majority of them stating the intention to seek asylum. The group landed in the Spanish enclave of Peñón di Vélez de la Gomera during the night between Sunday and Monday, and was sent back to Morocco less than 24 hours later, as reported by Spanish NGOs. El Pais documented over 60 women and eight children among the group. The NGOs reminded the Spanish Ministry of Interior of the duty of authorities to examine each asylum request before adopting any procedure against asylum seekers. The Ministry claimed it had no information on the matter in response to a request from ANSA. 


UN: UNHCR warns refugees are facing alarming consequences from COVID-19 lack of funding 
UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warns vaccine inequity and lack of funding undermine the livelihoods of forcibly displaced persons and the UNHCR’s ability to assist them. While the majority of refugees are hosted in low-income countries with feeble health systems, 80% of global vaccine doses have been delivered to high- and middle-income countries. The economic repercussions of the pandemic further affect forcibly displaced persons and stateless people, often unable to afford rent, food and basic necessities, UNHCR Chief of Public Health Section, Ann Burton explained. This exacerbates the risk of  exploitation and gender-based violence, Ann Burton added.