News Highlights: UN staff expelled from Ethiopia, Alleged trafficker ‘Bija’ to head coast guard, Another death at Polish border

In this week news highlights: Ethiopia declares seven UN staff persona non grata, including head of UNOCHA; Aid trucks stuck in Tigray; Malnutrition rates amongst pregnant and lactating women ‘unprecedented’, says UNOCHA;  US reviewing whether genocide was committed in Tigray; Report on disinformation around Tigray war; EU answers questions on its policy towards Tigray; WFP cuts food assistance to thousands of refugees in Kenya; Bija – sanctioned over trafficking allegations – to head western Libyan coast guard; Libya accused of arbitrary detention of migrants; Over 800 migrants and refugees land in Italy; France will cut visas for Mashreq countries; Fifth migrant found dead at Poland-Belarusian border; Poland accused of illegal pushback; and New IOM toolbox for migrant centres management.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Seven UN Staff declared persona non grata
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia has issued letters declaring seven staff members of United Nations organisations ‘persona non grata’. This follows criticism of aid workers over the aid blockade in Tigray. The seven persons must leave the country within 72 hours over accusations of “meddling in internal affairs of the country”. The expelled persons include the head of UNICEF in Ethiopia, the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and four other staff members, and a staff member of the United Nations Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights. UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated that he was shocked by the declaration, and reminded that “[a]ll UN humanitarian operations are guided by the core principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence.” 

Ethiopia: Tigray people may be facing famine as aid trucks struggle to access and exit the area
United Nations (UN) aid chief Martin Griffiths said in an interview with Reuters that he assumes famine has spread in Tigray due to the “de facto blockade” of aid deliveries. 466 aid vehicles entered Tigray through the Afar area during the last two months while only 38 returned, the UN said. The UN assessed in June that 400,000 people were at risk of famine, Griffiths said. UK Special Envoy for Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Affairs Nick Dyer tweeted on 28 September that 6 million people and 3 million of children need food, nutrition, health, water and medical care, calling for immediate access. The World Food Programme (WFP) tweeted on the same day that five convoys and 171 trucks entered Tigray with a load sufficient to feed more than 360,000 people for one month. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) said in a statement that trucks are unable to return because of insufficient fuel to make the journey, reports the BBC News. The TPLF also said that Tigrayan truck drivers have been subjected to assault and intimidation during inspections by Ethiopian military outside Tigray and are unwilling to go through the procedures again. The Ethiopian government acknowledges that the inability of trucks to return from Tigray has hampered food aid delivery while suggesting that the TPLF may have seized the aid vehicles. UN and other agencies said that “[..] the limitation of cash and the added difficulties in finding fuel, [..] it is highly challenging for the trucks to return from [the Tigrayan capital] Mekelle.”

Ethiopia: UNOCHA warns of ‘unprecedented’ rates of malnutrition amongst pregnant women
In its latest update, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) warns of unprecedented acute malnutrition rates as 79% of pregnant and lactating women that were screened were diagnosed with it. In addition, the number of people receiving food aid was reduced by half compared to last week, and the rations had gone down as well. Essential supplies in Tigray had seen a “huge price hike”, as commercial supplies remain blocked.  

Ethiopia: Legal review in the US of Eritrean and Ethiopian actions in Tigray
A senior US official states that the US State Department has started a legal review to determine whether actions of Eritrean and Ethiopian forces in Tigray may amount to genocide. The official said that “It’s a process that is not taken lightly and it’s a process that’s under consideration by the State Department”. In addition, Democrat Tom Malinowski wrote an amendment to the annual defence authorisation bill that would require the Secretary of State Antony Blinken to determine whether “actions in the Tigray region of Ethiopia by the Ethiopian and Eritrean armed forces constitute genocide”. The amendment was passed by the US House of Representatives, but not yet by the Senate. 

Ethiopia: Extensive report on disinformation around the Tigray war
Authors Claire Wilmot, Ellen Tveteraas, and Alexi Drew have written a report on the information campaigns around the war in Tigray. The report was written on the basis of analysis of interviews, data collection and open source/secondary research. It aims to disentangle and describe the tactics and actors in the information vortex around the conflict. The report found the spread of misinformation as well as widespread discrediting of information. In addition, it found that high-profile accounts from Eritrea had joined in the Twitter campaigns on the side of the Ethiopian government. The report finds among others that “fear of disinformation poses an additional challenge in this context. “Fake news” functions as a kind of political bogeyman, allowing people to dismiss substantiated reports of atrocity crimes against Tigrayans as fabricated or overblown.” 

Ethiopia: European Union policy towards conflict in Tigray
A spokesperson for the European Union (EU) responded to questions from journalist Martin Plaut on the EU’s policy towards the conflict in Tigray. The spokesperson said that the EU has maintained constant diplomatic and humanitarian outreach with Ethiopian officials from the beginning of the conflict in Tigray. The EU High Representative Josep Borrell indicated earlier that the EU is ready to deploy all of its foreign policy tools. The EU spokesperson emphasized that this comment is still valid given the situation’s ongoing deterioration. The spokesperson remarked that the newly approved communication on EU humanitarian action calls for the implementation of mechanisms that place the promotion and application of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) at the centre of European foreign policy. The EU continues to stand in solidarity with Ethiopian civilians and advocates for unrestricted humanitarian access in accordance with IHL, the spokesperson said.  

Kenya: WFP reduces food assistance to 440,000 refugees in Kenya due to budget deficit
Due to budget deficits, the World Food Programme (WFP) will cut food rations for 440,000 refugees in Kenya. The WFP warned that it may be obliged to stop providing aid entirely by the end of the year if the funding shortage continues. Refugees will have to survive with substandard rations of food from October. This measure will enable the WFP to maintain its presence until December, after which food assistance will be stopped. The WFP has not been able to provide full rations to refugees since 2018. Other aid initiatives such as self-reliance opportunities for refugees like kitchen gardens to grow fresh foods for consumption or extra income are at risk of failing due to drought, which is why the WFP stresses the refugees are now more reliant on food aid.  

North of Africa 

Libya: ‘Bija’ to head Coast Guard
Libya Review reports that Abdel-Rahman Milad (Al-Bidja or Bija), who is on the UN Security Council’s sanctions list over human trafficking activities, was assigned as officer at the Libyan Naval Academy. Deputy Head of the Libyan Presidential Council, Abdullah Al-Lafi, met with him on Sunday. As officer, Bija is to head the Coast Guard in the western region. Bija was arrested in 2020 over the allegations of trafficking, but was released due to ‘lack of evidence’.

Morocco/Libya: Moroccan migrants and refugees detained in inhuman conditions
The NGO Euro-Med Monitor accused Libya of arbitrarily detaining Moroccan migrants and refugees in inhuman conditions. The NGO stated that detention centre authorities fail to provide migrants and refugees with access to basic needs such as food, safe drinking water and medical assistance. Migrants and refugees attempting to reach Europe are reported to land-cross Libya, where some are detained by border authorities and others by Libyan coast guards. An interviewee talked to Euro-Med Monitor about his son, detained by Libyan border authorities in April. The interviewee said his son “[..] described the conditions as very difficult in terms of lack of food, water, and hygiene, as well as the outbreak of the coronavirus among the detainees”. The NGO called on Libyan authorities to release the detained migrants and provide medical care to those in need, respecting the rights and dignity of detainees. Morocco should “cooperate actively with the Libyan authorities to end the suffering of hundreds of families who are always worried about the fate of their children”, stated Youssef Salam, legal researcher at Euro-Med Monitor. 


Italy: Over 800 migrants and refugees landed on Lampedusa
Over 800 migrants and refugees landed on Lampedusa late Monday. The majority of them arrived on a fishing boat believed to have sailed from Libya. Five persons were reportedly sent to a hospital for urgent medical assistance. 686 migrants and refugees arrived during the night between Monday 27 and Tuesday, while another 117 arrived on Tuesday morning. The migrants and refugees were brought to a reception facility, now hosting more than 1,000 despite the capacity number being 250 people, ANSA reported. The Italian Interior Ministry recorded almost 45,000 arrivals up to today since the start of 2021, about twice as many as throughout the entirety of 2020 and more than six times as many as at the same period in 2019. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least 1,392 individuals died while attempting to reach Europe from northern Africa only this year. The IOM estimates that more than 25,000 individuals, including around 1,700 women and 917 kids, have been returned to Libya by the Libyan coast guard so far this year. 

Italy: Over 180 migrants and refugees land in Sicily 
122 migrants and refugees disembarked in Sicily over the weekend. Another 60 landed on the island on Wednesday, after waiting several days to be assigned a port where to disembark, Médecins sans frontières (MSF) reported. The rescue of 60 migrants and refugees carried out by Geo Barents included a seven-week-old newborn, six women and 21 unaccompanied minors, InfoMigrants reports. Hager Saadallah, MSF psychologist, said that “the uncertainty about the disembarkation process cause[d] severe distress for people on board”. According to the Associated Press, the migrants and refugees departed from Zawiya, a Libyan coastal town. When the group was rescued, MSF tweeted that “most of the survivors are suffering from mild fuel exposure and some of them have sustained small injuries on the boat in distress”.

France: France will cut visas for people from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia over returns dispute
France will reduce visas granted to people from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia because their governments fail to take back ‘illegal migrants’ banned from France. The French government plans to cut the number of visas available to Algerians and Moroccans in half, and Tunisians by about a third. A top official in the French administration cited by the Associated Press has stated that Paris wants North African countries to accept the return of persons who have been identified for extremism. In response to the decision, Algeria summoned the French ambassador to notify formal protest. Morocco called the decision unjustified and asked for explanation and dialogue. 

Poland/Belarus: Fifth migrant dead at the Poland-Belarusian border
A fifth migrant was reported dead at the Poland-Belarusian border after a failed attempt of reanimation by an ambulance team. The incident follows the death of four others last week. The migrant was part of a group of Iraqi migrants and refugees detained by the Polish border guard near the border with Belarus on Thursday 23 September. Meanwhile, the number of migrants and refugees crossing Germany’s border from Belarus, via Poland, is increasing, states the German Interior Ministry. According to a preliminary assessment by the German Interior Ministry, 400 migrants and refugees were registered at the German-Polish border in the first half of September, as many as in the entire month of August. According to German public broadcast rbb24, another 125 individuals have been reported this past weekend near the Polish border in Frankfurt. As reported by KNA, Germany’s federal police perceive there is a “connection between the situation at the German-Polish border [in the state of Brandenburg] and the situation at the Polish-Belarusian border”. Poland and Lithuania have accused Belarus of seeking to destabilize the European Union (EU) by encouraging illegal crossings through its borders. The two countries are erecting razor wire barriers and strengthening border police. 

Poland/Belarus: Poland accused of illegal pushback of Afghan refugees
Amnesty International (AI) accuses Poland of illegal pushback of Afghan refugees back into Belarusian borders. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) urged Poland to help 32 Afghans, including a 15-year-old girl, stranded near the Belarusian border for weeks with no access to food, clean water, shelter or medicine. According to AI, satellite data from 18 August shows refugees moving from Polish territory back into Belarus after Polish border guards reached their makeshift camp. Therefore, the human rights group surmises that forced repatriation took place. The ECHR accepted an appeal of the refugee group against Poland and urged Warsaw to provide refugees with basic needs, however the appeal remained unanswered. The Court warned non-compliance with the requirements might result in legal consequences for “hinder[ing] the right of Afghans to have recourse to the ECHR”.


World: IOM creates guidance toolbox for migrant centre management
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) released an online toolbox for the administration and management of migrant centres. The instrument focuses in particular on the centres created within the Migrant Resource and Response Mechanisms (MRRMs) in transit countries. The centres aim to guarantee the respect of human rights and access to basic assistance, such as food, housing, medical care and mental support and interaction with consular officials to acquire travel papers, the IOM stated. The toolkit, developed under the European Union (EU)-IOM Joint initiative, launched in 2016 with support from the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), covers four sections, namely administration, migrant centre management, protection and management of migration data information.