News Highlights: Mass arrests of refugees in Libya, Ethiopian Airlines smuggled weapons into Eritrea, Warnings of new offensive in Tigray

In this week news highlights: Ethiopian Airlines smuggled weapons to Eritrea – CNN report; CNN report could lead to further US sanctions; New offensive in Tigray imminent as Abiy starts new term; European Parliament warns of sanctions in resolution; Further warnings of famine in Tigray; Whistleblower says Facebook fans the flames of ethnic violence in Ethiopia; Thousands of migrants and refugees arrested and imprisoned by Libyan authorities; Thousands intercepted and returned by Libyan coast guards; EU member state pushbacks under EU funded projects; 57 migrants and refugees drowned crossing the Canarian route; One death in fire in Italian migrant camp; Swiss parliament approved possibility to search asylum seekers’ personal devices ; 140 alleged smugglers arrested by Frontex; 18 people smugglers arrested in Romania; IOM report on missing migrants calls for governments’ support.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: CNN investigation finds Ethiopian National Airline smuggled weapons to Eritrea
A CNN investigation has found that Ethiopian Airlines, a commercial airliner, has shuttled weapons to and from Eritrea during the conflict in Tigray. CNN has gathered cargo manifests, witness testimony, and photographic evidence of arms being transported between Addis Ababa and the Eritrean cities of Asmara and Massawa. The transportation of weapons could constitute a violation of international law which prohibits the smuggling of arms for military use on civil aircrafts. Documents obtained by CNN show that flights started a few days after the conflict in Tigray started. Flights occurred on at least 6 occasions between 9 and 28 November 2020. Current and former Ethiopian Airlines employees said that the flights continued after November but were a lot less regular. Ethiopian airlines subsequently billed the Federal government thousands of dollars for the transport of guns, ammunition, and other military equipment to Eritrea. One employee said that he “had to stop a flight to Brussels, a 777-cargo plane, which was loaded with flowers, then we unloaded half of the perishable goods to make space for the armaments.” This plane flew to Eritrea, then returned to Addis Ababa, before flying to Belgium. Five of the planes could be tracked on online flight tracking platforms, but the signals disappeared as they approached Eritrea. Interviewed employees also said that weapons were being shipped from Eritrea to Ethiopia. One said that he saw tanks and heavy artillery loaded onto planes coming to Addis Ababa, while small arms — mortars, launchers — were dispatched to Asmara. Pictures CNN gathered showed that among the weapons being transported to Eritrea, were Bulgarian-manufactured weapons. According to the EU’s public database, Bulgaria last sold weapons to Ethiopia in 2020. 

Ethiopia: CNN report could lead to further Ethiopia sanctions
The Biden Administration warned Ethiopia that the reports of Ethiopian Airlines shuttling weapons to Eritrea are “incredibly grave”. It further warned Ethiopia that it was prepared to impose sanctions if the conflict in Tigray is prolonged. A senior official said “These allegations are incredibly grave; not only could they constitute a potential violation of the Chicago Convention [on international civil aviation]. The use of civilian aircraft to ferry military hardware upends norms and endangers passenger craft around the world.” The US warned it could lead to expelling of Ethiopia from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which grants duty-free access of goods to the US. Ethiopia responded with a video warning of the consequences of this. US Representative Tom Malinowski, called for “the airline and potentially its executives should be held accountable”, including potentially Airline Executives. Malinowski is also leading the effort in congress to push the administration to determine whether a genocide has occurred in Tigray. The US has already warned Ethiopia that current violations in Tigray “could affect Ethiopia’s future [AGOA] eligibility if unaddressed.” The US trade Representative is set to conduct an Ethiopian eligibility Review for AGOA in 2022. 

Ethiopia: Prime Minister Abiy sworn in for second term, as new offensive is expected soon 
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been sworn in for his second 5-year term following the elections on 21 June. In the process, he has reshuffled his cabinet. The new cabinet includes Abraham Belay who served as Federally-appointed Interim head of the Tigray Administration.  Belay will be serving as the new defense minister. The new cabinet also includes members from several other opposition parties. However, analysts do not believe this will change the attitude of the government regarding the conflict in Tigray. Cameron Hudson told Deutsche Welle that “I think he’s going to be even more empowered and emboldened to continue to pursue this course of action [in Tigray]”. New governmental offensives are expected following the end of the Ethiopian rainy season. Troops have been spotted assembling on roads leading to Tigray. Sky News reported seeing thousands of troops assembling with dozens of trucks and tanks. Among the soldiers were “middle and high school students called up last month”.  

Ethiopia: European Parliament calls for sanctions if the situation fails to improve
The European Parliament passed a resolution that demanded an immediate stop to hostilities in Tigray and free access to aid. This would include a ceasefire monitoring mechanism. The European Parliament deplored the human rights violations and the expulsion of seven UN officials. It suggested to the Commission that sanctions should be placed on officials from Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) “if the humanitarian situation has not significantly improved by the end of October 2021, in particular after a new Ethiopian Government has been formed.” 

Ethiopia: Facebook “literally fanning ethnic violence” in Ethiopia
During Facebook Whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony to the US senate, Haugen said that “literally fanning ethnic violence” in Ethiopia and Myanmar as Facebook does not adequately police online content outside the US. Haugen said this following her testimony in which she said that Facebook is putting profits over safety and people. During the hearings in the US senate Haugen said that “Facebook … knows, they have admitted in public that engagement-based ranking is dangerous without integrity and security systems, but then not rolled out those integrity and security systems to most of the languages in the world”. This system is  “what is causing things like ethnic violence in Ethiopia,” she stated. Many people in Ethiopia and Myanmar use Facebook as their primary source of news and Facebook algorithms have been promoting content that goes against its terms of service.

Ethiopia: UN Secretary General criticised expulsion of UN aid workers amidst warnings of famine
The UN Secretary General addressed the UN Security Council on Wednesday, criticising the expulsion of UN aid workers including the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). He also asked for the aid blockade to be lifted. Increasing images and testimonies warn of the spread of hunger in Tigray. Former UN chief humanitarian official Mark Lowcock stated to PBS Newshour: “What’s happening is that Ethiopian authorities are running a sophisticated campaign to stop aid getting in by, for example, making it impossible for truck drivers to operate by setting up checkpoints with official and with militia people, by preventing fuel getting in. And what they are trying to do is starve the population of Tigray into subjugation or out of existence.” PBS Newshour showed images and testimonies warning that the situation is especially dire in the rural areas. Doctors warn of lack of medicines. The war also causes problems for other regions, such as the Amhara and Afar regions, where the time to sow has come – but the agricultural systems are severely disrupted.  

Sudan/South Sudan: IGAD and UNHCR reflect on regional initiative supporting refugees and IDPs
On 5 October, UN refugee agency (UNHCR) together with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) held a high-level meeting to discuss progress reached under the Solutions Initiative programme, which addresses the ongoing problem of displacement in Sudan and South Sudan. The meeting observed a significant progress in the regional efforts adding that “[r]efugees, internally displaced people, returnees and host communities were extensively included in national dialogues, ensuring that their needs and interests are included in the planning and management of these national processes”. The Solutions Initiative was launched in 2020 under the leadership of IGAD aiming to mobilize support for internally displaced people, refugees and returnees in both countries. This programme gave a platform to the national governments to develop relevant strategies and action plans supporting 7 million forcibly displaced people.  

North Africa

Libya: Over 5,000 migrants and refugees arbitrarily detained by Libyan authorities in major crackdown
More than 5,000 migrants and refugees have been captured by Libyan authorities in a crackdown which started on Friday. The number includes 215 children and over 540 women, among them at least 30 pregnant, according to the United Nations (UN). The number of migrants and refugees in detention centres has more than tripled, warns Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Libyan officials claimed the raid was framed in a security effort against illegal immigration and drug trafficking. However, the Libyan Interior Ministry in charge of the operation made no mention of any traffickers or smugglers being apprehended. Photos from the Interior Ministry show hundreds of migrants sitting with their hands tied behind them or being driven away in vehicles, Reuters reports. The UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya, Georgette Gagnon, stated that one migrant was killed and at least 15 injured. “Unarmed migrants were harassed in their homes, beaten and shot”, Georgette Gagnon added. The Norwegian Refugee Council’s Libya Country Director Dax Roque stated that “[m]igrants and refugees in Libya, particularly those without legal residency in the country, are often at risk of arbitrary detention. Torture, sexual violence, and extortion is rampant in Libyan detention centres” and that “[a]mong those arrested, there are already registered refugees”. The raid began in the city of Gargaresh and the arrested migrants were transferred to Tripoli’s migrant centre called Collection and Return Center, from which they were distributed in detention centres, the centre’s commander Col. Nouri al-Grettli said. Alexandra Saieh from the Norwegian Refugee Council told the Associated Press (AP) that migrants in Libya have been afraid to leave their houses for fear of being imprisoned. 

Libya: UN report details crimes against humanity in Libya
Possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against detainees and detained migrants in Libyan detention centres have been detailed in a recently released United Nations (UN) report. The report accuses mercenaries hired by the Russian security company Wagner of shooting people in September 2019. The investigators also discovered a computer belonging to Wagner, which contained information on where land mines were planted in 35 locations near civilian facilities. According to UN investigators, Mohammed al-Kani, a commander reportedly killed in July during a raid by the Libyan National Army (LNA), committed some of the atrocities and led the killings. Libyan officials have given no official confirmation of his death.

Libya: Thousands of migrants and refugees returned by Libyan coast guards
500 Europe-bound migrants and refugees were intercepted by Libyan coast guards on Sunday. The day before, 90 individuals were intercepted, among them eight women and three children, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Meanwhile, the Libyan Red Crescent found 17 bodies washed ashore on Tuesday. Intercepted migrants and refugees are frequently sent to detention centres, where Human Rights Watch has documented widespread and brutal mistreatment, AlJazeera reports. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 44,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean sea from Tunisia and Libya attempting to reach Europe’s coasts in 2021 so far. More than 25,000 individuals have been caught and returned to Libya by the Libyan coastguard while more than 1,100 migrants are considered dead or missing at sea, AlJazeera indicates. 


Europe: Illegal pushbacks conducted by EU member states using EU funds
EU member state national police units use harsh and unlawful measures to push asylum seekers back across their borders using EU funded operations, according to a new report. Evidence obtained by the NGO Lighthouse Reports discloses armed men with covered faces beating asylum seekers. The masked men’s clothes, guns, and equipment were those used by Croatia’s riot police that gets funding from the EU to monitor borders, according to Jelena Sesar, researcher at Amnesty International’s Europe office. Jelena Sesar further noted that Croatia received a €14 million emergency financial allocation from the European Commission in July. A 16-years-old interviewee, currently staying in Bosnia, said to the report investigators that the police kicked her brother and stole their money while they were attempting to travel into Croatia. The interviewee added that “[the police] say it’s not possible [to ask for asylum] in Croatia. If you tell them that you are not going back to Bosnia, they get angry.” Croatian Interior Ministry spokesperson Marina Mandić told ARD they are carrying out investigations. Since March 2020, the investigators have gathered video evidence of 635 presumed pushback activities in the Aegean by Greek border officials. In one of the videos, a Greek coast guard appears to hit a group of 25 asylum seekers with a stick and later shoots at the water. Different footage from Romania shows border authorities conducting pushback operations towards the Serbian border. Interviewees said to the investigators they were assaulted during the same operations. An EU spokesperson said that the EU strongly opposed pushbacks tactics and called national authorities to investigate any allegation, the Independent reports.

Spain: Nearly 60 migrants and refugees drowned attempting to reach Spanish Canary Islands
57 individuals, including 12 children, drowned while attempting to reach Europe in the past few days. The victims were among 62 individuals who sailed last week from the Western Sahara area administered by Morocco, reported Helena Maleno Garzón from the NGO Caminando Fronteras. Helena Maleno said individuals on the boat managed to call for help by phone and asked to be rescued. “They were going around in circles because they lost their way, which is what happens to a lot of the boats that leave from Dakhla, and they then tried to get back, which is when this tragedy happened,” Ms Maleno added. Most of the people on board were from Guinea Conakry and Côte d’Ivoire, according to Caminando Fronteras. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) expressed its concern about the increase in deaths and disappearances on the different routes of the boats to the Canary Islands, which so far counts around 750 persons, double the number in 2020 on the same date, elDiario reports.

Italy: Fire breaks out in camp causing one death
One person died in the fire that destroyed a Sicilian migrant camp on September 29. The camp, a former concrete factory, sheltered the migrants in cardboard, fibre cement, and wooden tents. The other migrants managed to escape the fire but their shelters were destroyed, InfoMigrants reports. The day after the fire, around 50 people from the camp protested in the streets asking for “decent accommodation”. The concrete plant closed in 2010 and has been used as shelter by migrants working in olive harvesting for years. The owner reported having filed complaints with law enforcement for private property violations, but the migrant camp was never evacuated, InfoMigrants reports. In other news, in early October, the NGO Sant’Egidio will start the transfer of 40 individuals from the Kara Tepe refugee camp on Lesbos, Greece, to Italy. Humanitarian organizations have criticized the alarming conditions in which migrants and refugees live in Greek refugee camps. According to InfoMigrants, the Kara Tepe camp is still home to an estimated 3,500 individuals, many of whom are women and children. 

Switzerland: Swiss parliament votes to allow migration authorities to access personal devices of asylum seekers
The Swiss parliament voted to enable the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) to access the cellphone data of asylum seekers to authenticate their identification, in case no other alternatives are available. The data collected will be stored for one year. The Swiss Refugee Council spokesperson Elian Engeler considers the decision to be disproportionate and a serious violation of refugees’ privacy. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the access to personal data is a violation of the right to privacy envisioned both under international law and the Swiss constitution. “Such an intrusion is admissible only under certain conditions, which this law does not fulfil,” stated Anja Klug, head of the UNHCR’s Switzerland and Liechtenstein office. 

Romania/Germany: 18 suspected people smugglers arrested 
Eighteen suspected smugglers were arrested on October 5. The suspects are believed to have smuggled nearly 200 individuals. According to police investigations, smuggled individuals, mostly Afghans, were transported in lorries and crammed between wooden pallets or logs in life-threatening conditions, InfoMigrants reports. People were exposed to cold temperatures for long periods and were handed plastic bottles for their physiological needs, the police statement documented. Police discovered that many of the lorry drivers were not aware of the presence of migrants and refugees in the trunk of the vehicles, as smugglers compromised lorry truck locks in order to load the individuals. Several smuggled migrants informed the investigators that they traveled through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey and then transported through Greece, Serbia and Romania. The smugglers were paid between €5,000 and €7,000 for the journey, Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR24) reported. 

Europe: Over 140 suspected smugglers arrested by Frontex on Balkan route
Around 140 suspected people smugglers have been arrested in an operation led by Frontex in early September. The operation conducted in central and southeastern Europe resulted furthermore in the detection of 6,656 migrants, 76 fraudulent documents and 13 stolen automobiles, Frontex reports. The operation was part of Frontex’s European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT), a four-year initiative to tackle organized crime, according to the European agency. The action involved EU member state police and law enforcement agencies, European institutions and foreign organizations. Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Greece, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Albania were among the countries that took part in the operation.


World: IOM’s new report on missing migrants calls for support from governments
The International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) released a report calling for governments’ support for thousands of families missing their loved ones and being forced to rely on smugglers or other informal networks for tracing them. The testimonials of the families reported in the document reveal psychological pain, as well as legal, financial, and administrative consequences of their relatives’ disappearance, the IOM states. The report showed that families resorted to informal networks and smugglers because of insufficient action from governmental actors. It also illustrates how authorities frequently frame missing migrant cases as investigations into migrant smuggling activities, the IOM reports. The GMDAC Director Frank Laczko said that “[t]he study aims to amplify the voices of people with loved ones missing on migration journeys, and to better understand their challenges”, and that “[s]haring these findings with the public is but a first step in improving the support mechanisms for migrants and the people they leave behind”.