News Highlights: Dutch prosecutors go after trafficker Kidane, Airstrikes in Tigray, Refugee ‘boat captains’ unlawfully criminalised

In this week news highlights: Humanitarian situation in Tigray deteriorating severely; Severe Acute Malnutrition among children; Ethiopian government conducts airstrikes on Tigray;  EU preparing sanctions; UN evacuates 100 staff from Tigray; OPS group warns planes not to fly over Northern Ethiopia; Djibouti starts Covid-19 vaccination for migrants; Migrants and refugees in dire condition in Libyan detention centres after crackdown; Dutch prosecutors are looking for human trafficker Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam; Captain of Italian commercial ship Asso 28 sentenced for returns to Libya; Report shows unlawful criminalization of asylum seekers accused of driving boats; 14 people dead and many missing in the Mediterranean and Atlantic Route; Migrants and refugees unable to access food in Greek camp; Poland passes legislation allowing pushbacks at the borders; Over 200 migrants and refugees rescued in the English Channel; and UNHCR says refugees are the most affected by food insecurity.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Humanitarian situation in Tigray deteriorating severely
Former UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said that 6 million Tigrayans are now facing mass starvation. Critical food and supply shortages are being reported in Tigray. A doctor told AP news that patients have not had meat, eggs or milk since June and that fuel to run ambulances has run out. Surgeries can only be conducted when fuel is available for the diesel generators. According to a staff member for the World Health Organisation, no more food is left to give even though food warehouses in Afar are full. In its latest report, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said that 211 trucks of humanitarian supplies arrived in Tigray last week, up from 80 trucks a week before. This remains an insufficient amount to meet the needs and as a result, many humanitarian partners in Tigray have halted or significantly reduced their programmes due to lack of supplies and funding.There is also a critical shortage of medicine. According to AP, soap and bleach have run out in Mekelle Hospital, and doctors are wrestling with “whether to give patients the expired medications that remain”. Little to no new medical supplies are arriving in Tigray. Nine trucks carrying medicines have been waiting for approval to proceed in Semera, since the beginning of August. Due to the lack of medicine, many cannot continue their treatments, and some have died as a result. A lecturer at the university of Mekelle says that his colleagues in the medical and agricultural sectors estimate that “hundreds are dying each day, that’s the estimation”. The actual death toll is unknown. The situation in rural areas is “unknown as the lack of fuel prevents most travel.”

Ethiopia: Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) among children
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that 2.3% of the 105.000 screened children under five were diagnosed with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).  That is up from 2.1% a week earlier. The International Medical Corps reports that SAM among children is even higher, at 2.8%. UNICEF has added that 18,600 children received SAM treatment from February to August, compared to 8,900 in 2020. One Catholic bishop in Adigrat told AP news that 8 children have died in the hospital there alone.

Ethiopia: Government conducts airstrikes on Tigray
Since the beginning of the week, the Ethiopian air force has been conducting a series of air strikes against Mekelle, the capital of Tigray. The Ethiopian government says that the strikes target industrial and telecommunications infrastructure. However, several people have told journalists that the strikes have also hit residential areas. According to the United Nations, three children were killed and 20 others wounded in the Monday strikes. Nine other people were wounded on Wednesday,  all were transported to Mekelle hospital, which says that it has run out of most types of medication. The Ethiopian government said new airstrikes took place on Thursday against military installations, but the Tigrayan spokesperson claimed that anti-air defenses stopped the attacks. The UN Secretary General is deeply concerned about the airstrikes on Tigray. He is stressing that hostilities need to stop as soon as possible, and that parties must avoid the targeting of civilians or civilian infrastructure.

Ethiopia: The United Nations evacuate 100 staff members
The UN said on Wednesday that it had evacuated staff from Tigray following the Ethiopian airstrikes in the region. 100 staff members and 17 “dependents” are being relocated out of Tigray for safety. There are nearly 2000 UN, national and international NGO staff members in Tigray, among them 400 UN staff. 

Ethiopia: OPS group warns planes not to fly over Northern Ethiopia
The OPS group, an organization that informs pilots and airlines about flying dangers, has issued a warning for flying over Northern Ethiopia at all levels. They note that pilots and carriers flying over the region are not being properly informed about the changing dangers occurring in the area. Changing circumstances on the ground, including recent airstrikes by the Ethiopian Air Force and increasing Tigrayan anti-air capabilities, are becoming a greater risk for planes flying over the region. They further note the use of drones and the conflict spilling over into neighboring regions as factors that can lead to a fatal “misidentification” and “miscalculation”. According to the NOTAMs, the notices alerting pilots to dangers enroute, aircraft can currently overfly the region on any airway if they are high enough, but OPS warns against this. OPS is warning that several air routes fly over or fly close to the active combat zone, and that they are not safe. 

Ethiopia: EU preparing sanctions
The EU has said that as humanitarian aid is prevented from entering Tigray, preparations for an adequate response, including sanctions, are being made. EU Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, will travel to Ethiopia with EU special Representative to the Horn, Annette Weber. They will raise the key issues of humanitarian access, the cessation of hostilities, and inclusive national dialogue.

Djibouti: Djibouti opens vaccinations against Covid-19 for migrants 
Djibouti started to vaccinate migrants against Covid-19 with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Djibouti is an important transit country for thousands of migrants and refugees attempting to reach the Gulf countries and a destination country for migrants fleeing the war in Yemen, the IOM considers. Despite the restricted movement as part of pandemic measures, more than 112,000 migrants travelled through Djibouti in 2020, according to the IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix. IOM’s Chief of Mission in Djibouti Stéphanie Daviot said that “[t]he inclusion of migrants in the vaccine roll-out shows the Government of Djibouti’s commitment to include some of the countries’ most vulnerable people in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic”. 

North Africa

Libya: Migrants and refugees arbitrarily detained in unsanitary conditions
Migrants and refugees in Tripoli’s Al Mabani detention centre are held in unsanitary conditions after the crackdown launched on 1 October. Hundreds of refugees and migrants are camping out in front of the United Nations (UN) centre in Tripoli for three weeks demanding to be evacuated from Libya, as they fear being arrested, AlJazeera reports. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) calls for the immediate release of all detained refugees and migrants and for the end of arbitrary detentions. A 17-year old Eritrean who managed to escape told the UNHCR that thousands of individuals are forced into the Al Mabani detention centre without access to hygienic facilities and food. Another interviewee who has been released told the UNHCR that she fears being arrested again and that it is “dangerous to move”. As no national asylum law exists, asylum seekers in Libya are considered “illegal migrants” and are subjected to arrest, imprisonment and abuse, the UNHCR stated. 


Netherlands: Arrest warrant issued for human trafficker Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam
As part of an international investigation, The Netherlands has issued an arrest warrant for the convicted human trafficker Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam and added him on the Dutch most wanted list. Kidane is an Eritrean National sought for arrest on the basis of leading a criminal organization that kidnaps, beats, rapes refugees. Kidane is also suspected of extorting money from relatives living, among others, in the Netherlands by torturing kidnapped refugees and demanding money from their relatives for their release. Kidane was already tried in absentia in Ethiopia, as he escaped last February from the court building and his whereabouts have since been unknown. The Dutch prosecutors call upon any person who may know the whereabouts of Kidane, or who has experienced abuses under Kidane, to contact the police. This information has also been translated into Tigrinya. Any tips can be given to the police in complete anonymity. 

Italy: Report shows unlawful imprisonment of asylum seekers  
A report produced by three migrant rights groups shows evidence of police officials convincing migrants and refugees to testify against boat drivers in exchange for immigration documents. According to the NGOs, the boat drivers are often asylum seekers forced to pilot the boats by traffickers. The report analysed over 1,000 cases filed against refugees suspected of piloting ships transporting asylum seekers across the Mediterranean, The Guardian reports. One of the witnesses was offered school access and accommodation by providing an accusation statement against the boat driver, The Guardian reports. The Arci Porco Rosso spokesperson Maria Giulia Fava said that when during the sea crossing some people die, “[…] the boat driver is charged with murder. It is in those moments that justice is transformed into a terrible machine that risks destroying the lives of these people forever”. The report finds that since 2013 at least 24 people have received sentences of more than ten years, with six receiving life sentences, The Guardian notes. 

Europe: 14 migrants dead and almost 50 missing
At least 14 migrants and refugees died and 47 are missing after four separate shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Route. On Sunday, October 17, rescue workers picked up two individuals who sailed from Algeria after their boat overturned. 12 other people who were on the same boat are missing, InfoMigrants reports. On the same day, four Tunisian migrants were found dead while 19 are still missing, AFP reports. The spokesperson for the Mahdia and Monastir court on Tunisia’s east coast, Farid Ben Jha, said four persons have been arrested for helping in the planning of the attempted sea crossing. On October 14, four persons were rescued off Spain’s Atlantic coast while nine were found dead. 16 are believed to be missing, InfoMigrants reports. On Sunday, 44 migrants and refugees, including minors, were found on a boat in Spanish Gran Canaria island. One person was found dead, InfoMigrants reports. 

Greece: Migrants and refugees unable to access food in Greek refugee camp
Migrants and refugees in Nea Kavala camp in Greece protested the adoption of a new camp protocol preventing them access to food and other essentials. As of 1 October, Greece took over the assistance program which enabled the payment of a financial allowance for 200,000 asylum seekers. The program was formerly managed by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). According to a refugee interviewed by Infomigrants, Greek authorities fail to properly manage the program and the interviewee lamented the suspension of the allowance, explaining that “[w]ith this money, people were autonomous, they could go shopping and cook for their families”. Another interviewee explained that “[t]he [Greek] authorities decided to distribute a card to be entitled to food in the camp, [b]ut there are more of us who don’t have the card than those who have it”. InfoMigrants reported that individuals who had already been given the refugee status or whose asylum applications had been denied have not obtained the card. 

Poland: Legislation passed allowing pushbacks at the borders
The Polish parliament passed legislation allowing migrants and refugees to be pushed back at the border. According to the legislation, individuals who are apprehended illegally entering the Polish border will be forced to leave the country and prohibited from entering for a period of six months to three years, Euractiv explains. Moreover, under the new text, asylum applications presented by individuals who entered the country by illegal means could be left unchecked by Polish authorities. An exception is made for those who travelled directly from the country where their life and freedom is undermined, Euractiv reports. Polish President Andrzej Duda must now approve the new regulations for them to take effect. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and Poland’s Human Rights Ombudsman warn that the new law does not provide adequate remedies for persons seeking international protection. The UNHCR representative in Poland Christine Goyer said that “according to the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Poland is signatory, people seeking asylum should never be penalized, even for irregular border crossing”. Meanwhile, another two dead bodies have been found at the border with Belarus on Wednesday. This raises the total number of dead individuals found in the area in the last months to eight. 

France: 213 migrants and refugees rescued in the English Channel
213 migrants and refugees were rescued in the English Channel on Sunday and Monday after their boats experienced difficulties. The individuals were rescued by the French authorities and the NGO National Society for Rescue at Sea (SNSM). 40 individuals were found in a state of hypothermia, the responsible prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea said in a statement. More than 1,100 migrants crossed the English Channel in 40 boats over the course of two days earlier this month while around 410 individuals were prevented from crossing the border by French officials, AFP reports.

Italy: Italian captain given one-year sentence for returning migrants to Libya
The captain of the Italian commercial ship Asso 28, Giuseppe Sotgiu, received a one-year sentence for returning 101 people to Libya. The migrants and refugees, including five pregnant women, were found by the Italian vessel in international waters and turned over to the Libyan coastguard back in 2018, Euronews reports. Captain Sotgiu is convicted for abandonment-related charges. However, the defendant was absolved of abuse of office, Euronews reports. International organizations working in the Mediterranean Sea said to AlJazeera that the ruling punishes a single person while ignoring Libya’s and European Union member states’ responsibility. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) spokesperson Frauke Ossig underlined that “Libya is not a place where people can be brought back to safety”. Meanwhile, 11 Nigerian nationals have been sentenced to prison in Italy for prostitution trafficking of young women from Nigeria. The investigations identified at least 15 victims and exposed the network that transported young women and girls to Italy, including minors, and forced them into prostitution, ANSA reports. 


World: The UNHCR calls for inclusive local food systems to tackle refugee food insecurity 
Refugees and the most vulnerable are the hardest hit by food insecurity, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the World Food Programme (WFP) state. According to UNHCR, almost 11 million refugees receive humanitarian aid to meet food and nutrition needs. The UNHCR Director of the Division of Resilience and Solutions Sajjad Malik said that “[f]ood security and nutrition in forcibly displaced populations, particularly refugees, is of urgent concern.” Ahead of the World Food Day on 16 October, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations Office in Geneva H.E. Felix Bauman urged the inclusion of refugees, internally displaced persons and returnees in local food systems, as this will contribute to strengthening the system and boost communities’ prosperity.