News Highlights: AU-EU Summit reveals critical issues, WHO cannot distribute medicines in Tigray, Refugees protest in Tunisia

This week news highlights: AU-EU Summit draws leaders to Brussels; Side event discusses Critical Issues For AU-EU Collaboration On Health And Science; Tigray demonstration at the sidelines of the AU-EU Summit; Hospitals in Tigray in trouble amidst severe shortages, WHO aid stuck; Amnesty report states Tigrayan forces committed atrocities in Amhara, Tigray government’s response; Response to the US “Ethiopia Stabilization, Peace and Democracy Act”; Early lifting of state emergency in Ethiopia; Possible removal of the TPLF from the Ethiopian list of terrorist groups, says EU Envoy; A dialogue between Sudanese and Ethiopian ambassadors; Sudan’s Sovereignty Council Chairman speaks to AU Chairman; 4.1 million Somalians need urgent food, warns UN; Refugees in Tunisia protest; Organisations urge the German government to help Afghan refugees; Hypothermia or injuries prevalent during UK crossing; Refugees fear becoming trapped in another conflict in Ukraine; East Europe prepares for refugees

AU-EU Summit

AU-EU Summit: African leaders travel to Brussels for first AU-EU Summit since 2017
The much-postponed African Union-European Union Summit is taking place, starting yesterday 17 February, and ending today, 18 February. Investment is at the top of the agenda, through Global Getaway, described by President of the European Commission von der Leyen as: “a strategy for investment in infrastructure and in people.”  Although outcomes of the Summit are still expected at the time of writing, an opening statement by the Chairperson of the African Union and the President of the European Council promised a partnership based on the key points of ‘respect and values’ and ‘partnership for prosperity’. “Peace and security will also be key priorities for our strengthened partnership,” according to the statement. Among the new measures announced is a pledge by the European Investment Bank (EIB) to make 500 million euros available for investment in the African health sector. It is part of a wider partnership with the World Health Organisation and European Commission to help identify gaps in Sub-Saharan national health systems and design strategies to increase resilience of those institutions. 

AU-EU: Side event discusses Critical Issues For AU-EU Collaboration On Health And Science
At the sidelines of the African Union – European Union Summit, leaders and experts from Africa and Europe gathered to discuss key issues on collaboration on health and science in a side event on 17 February. The speakers covered key topics on health and science, including localisation of vaccine production, as well as health data, cooperation on various common challenges and peace building. The Conference  Statement concludes “that the AU and the EU have much to share, in a common interest to increase security, ownership of personal data and the internet, reduce conflict, enhance resilience and set our economic cooperation on a sustainable foundation.” In his opening speech, the acting President of the Pan African Parliament reminded the participants that “While we face extraordinary challenges, as African and European people we have extraordinary resources that we share.” 

Ethiopia/EU/AU: Tigrayans and Eritreans express anger on the sidelines of the AU-EU Summit
The leaders of the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU), as well as those of their respective member states, met at the sixth European Union-African Union Summit in Brussels on 17-18 February 2022. Ethiopians, mostly Tigrayans, and Eritrean nationals gathered a few dozen metres from the European Council to denounce the political situation in Ethiopia, and to denounce the war in Tigray. The demonstrators called for the withdrawal of Ethiopian and Eritrean troops which they accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Among the many messages were calls for the access of emergency humanitarian aid, as the Tigray region has been in a humanitarian crisis for some months now. The calls were both directed at Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy, who is present at the Summit, as well as other leaders. “The world knows but they do nothing about it. The world is silent. We are disappointed”, said one of the protesters.

Greater Horn of Africa:

Ethiopia: WHO permitted to deliver aid, but no fuel available; hospitals in trouble
Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that it had been able to deliver emergency medicine supplies to Tigray, Ethiopia, for the first time since July 2021. However, those supplies are now waiting in storage spaces, because no fuel is available to distribute them to health centres. The shipments are just a fraction of what is needed, says the WHO. On Thursday 17 February, Chief Executive Director of the Ayder hospital, Dr. Amanuel, indicated that the situation at Ayder hospital in Mekelle is dire. “Our pharmacy drug and supplies stock, which used to be more than 80% in the years before the War, has plummeted to less than 10-15%. We reuse gloves, use traditional cotton made clothes as gauzes, expired drugs and supplies are widely used when available […] We lost more than 60 patients who could have been saved or kept alive by using dialysis service which is available only in our hospital.”

Ethiopia: Amnesty report states Tigrayan forces committed atrocities in Amhara; Tigray government’s response
The NGO Amnesty International released a report on Wednesday 16 February which states that it finds atrocities have been perpetrated by Tigray-affiliated fighters in the Amhara region in late August and early September 2021. The Tigray government responded to the report on 17 February. In its response, the Tigray government points to militarisation of civilians by the Ethiopian government, denying it had deliberately targeted civilians, and states the allegations are part of a smear campaign; stating “there can never be equivalence between isolated incidents of misconduct by Tigrayan forces and the systematic campaign to exterminate the people of Tigray. […] The Government of Tigray believes that only an independent investigation by an impartial international body can get to the bottom of all atrocities committed.” Amnesty states that based on witness reports, summary killings and violent rape were documented. Amnesty says it interviewed women and girls – some as young as 14 – who state they were raped, as well as victims of other forms of violence in the towns of Chenna and Kobo in August and September after they were taken over by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). In the attacks, Tigrayan forces showed “an utter disregard for fundamental rules of international humanitarian law”, said Sarah Jackson, Amesty’s deputy regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes. TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda stated: “we take the allegations seriously and will hold anyone involved responsible.”

Ethiopia: ENA response to the “Ethiopia Stabilization, Peace and Democracy Act”
The Ethiopian News Agency (ENA), the official news agency of the Government of Ethiopia, denounces the United States “Ethiopia Stabilization, Peace and Democracy Act” (HR 6600), describing it as “Orwellian”. This bill, if adopted, would suspend all US financial and security assistance to the Ethiopian government. The US House of Representatives intends to impose sanctions on Ethiopians committing human rights abuses and blocking food aid delivery, reports VOA. “Today, Congress is coming together to say that the conflict must end, and to hold accountable all those responsible for perpetuating it” said Congressman Tom Malinowski. The bill passed the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, and now awaits a vote by the full House.

Ethiopia: Early lifting of state emergency
This Tuesday, 15 February, the Ethiopian parliament lifted the state of emergency imposed in November as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) approached Addis Ababa. Initially imposed until May 2022, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s cabinet proposed a relaxation of the state of emergency last month, which was passed by Parliament by 228 to 63 votes (21 abstained). The state of emergency was “causing more damage that its benefits”, said Tesfaye Beljige, chief government whip, according to Reuters. Opposition parties remain concerned; Desalegn Chanie, from the National Movement of Amhara party, said that “[Lifting state of emergency] in order to please the diplomatic community without ensuring the safety of fellow citizens” was premature, reports Reuters. Regarding the persons imprisoned during the state of emergency, they now “will be treated by the regular legal system”, Lemma Tesema, chairman of the state of emergency inquiry board, said. 

Ethiopia/EU: Possible removal of the TPLF from the Ethiopian list of terrorist groups
The Ethiopian government appears to be considering removing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) from the list of terrorist groups, suggested EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa Annette Weber. “Regarding the designation of terrorism or the delisting, there are discussion right now, that there is a possibility – of course, it goes through the parliament – there is a possibility for delisting” she said on Friday 11 February. She says she had a recent conversation with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on a “path towards peace”. The Council of Ministers approved the resolution to designate the TPLF as a terror group in May 2020, followed by the Parliament, says Garowe Online. 

Ethiopia/Sudan: A dialogue between ambassadors
Last Wednesday, 9 February, Sudan’s acting Foreign Minister, Ambassador Ali Al-Sadiq met with the Ethiopian ambassador to Sudan, Yibeltal Aemero Alemu, to resume discussions on issues of common interest. “The Ethiopian ambassador stressed that there are positive developments between the two countries on the disputed issues such as the (Grand Ethiopian) Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the border dispute, after the visit of the Vice-Chairman of the Sovereign Council to Addis Ababa recently,” says a statement published after the meeting. Border tensions have been relatively high since confrontations in November 2020, following the expulsion of Ethiopian farmers from the Fashaga region by the Sudanese army, says the Sudan Tribune. Talks have been announced on these contentious issues, but no further details have been released yet, the Sudan Tribune also reports.

Sudan: Sudan’s Sovereignty Council Chairman meets with AU Chairman
Sudan’s Sovereignty Council Chairman, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, met Sunday 13 February with the Chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki, to discuss the resolution of the ongoing political crisis in the country. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan “stressed the need to unite international and regional efforts to resolve the current crisis in Sudan,” in a statement later released by the Sovereign Council. The Council also reiterated its intention to amend the constitutional document, establish a transitional government of technocrats and hold free and fair elections, says the Sudan Tribune. The same day, Sudanese intellectuals and actors wrote a letter to Moussa Faki, calling for the African Union to back the UN effort to settle the ongoing crisis in Sudan, reports the Sudan Tribune. “We should not allow the African Union to become a club of governments instead of being a forum for supporting and realising the aspirations of the African people,” reads the letter. Two protesters were killed in protests in Sudan, as protesters continue to demand a civilian government to lead the transition.

Somalia/UN: 4.1 million Somalians need urgent food, warns UN
Victor Chinyama, head of communications for UNICEF’s Somalia operations, called for urgent action to combat malnutrition in Somalia. “If you wait until things get worse, or until the famine is declared, it may be too late”, he said. 4.1 million are in urgent need of food aid, states UNICEF, estimating that the most severely affected of these are children, who number 1.4 million, with almost half of those under five at risk of severe malnutrition by the end of the year. Severe acute malnutrition can lead to death, which is why UNICEF urgently needs $7m by March to buy the therapeutic foods needed, said Chinyama.

North Africa

Tunisia: Refugees in Tunisia protest, demanding evacuation
In Tunisia, dozens of refugees from Sudan and sub-Sahara African countries protested at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) offices on Monday 14 February,  complaining of ‘’marginalisation’’ and demanding evacuation from the country, said an AFP correspondent. Tunisia faces economic problems but it hosts a large number of migrants and refugees, predominantly sub-Saharan Africans, many of whom have repeatedly complained of ill-treatment. One Sudanese protester told AFP, ‘’we have refugee status but this organisation (UNHCR) does not care about us. We are marginalised. Our conditions are inhumane.’’ Among others, NGOs state that refugees are subjected to escalating emergency measures, including arbitrary arrests. ‘’We do not want to stay in Tunisia’’ chanted demonstrators, including women and children, asking for  “immediate evacuation.’’


Germany: International organisations urge the German government to help Afghan refugees
Three organisations have issued a statement calling the German government to speed up efforts to bring Afghans at risk from the Taliban to safety. On Monday, 14 February, the German interior ministry said that 11,202 people from Afghanistan had been accepted under the admission process. They included 2,064 former locally employed staff of German ministries and institutions, with 6,659 of their dependents. 683 people from a list of especially vulnerable Afghans, accompanied by 1,615 family members, had been brought to Germany, says a spokesperson. However, the organisations state that the process should be sped up, visas should be provided and more should be done to ensure safe evacuation from Afghanistan. Foreign minister Annalena Barbock warned that Afghanistan was ‘’heading for the biggest humanitarian catastrophe of our time.’’

UK: Many asylum seekers in the UK on small boats suffer hypothermia or injuries
After crossing the channel two-thirds of asylum seekers arriving in the UK on small boats were suffering from hypothermia, while hundreds had burns or suspected broken bones, according to Home Office data obtained by the Guardian. According to an analysis by the Press Association, data for the period of January to June 2021, when 6,000 people crossed the Channel in small boats, shows that 4,075 were suffering hypothermia when they reached the Kent coast. Shortly after arriving 354 people had petrol or saltwater burns sustained on the journey and 27 were taken to hospital with suspected broken bones.

Ukraine: Refugees fear becoming trapped in another conflict
Ukraine-Russia tension has caused heightened tensions for local population as well as refugees for more than two months, after diplomatic efforts to resolve it have not yet been successful, states Politico. As many as 1.5 million displaced people who are hosted in Ukraine fear that they will have to run if Russia attacks, uprooting their lives all over again. They come from inside Ukraine, neighbouring countries, and a few from further away. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Ukraine grants refugee status to only about 100 people a year; last August about 700 Afghan refugees arrived in Ukraine but fewer than 400 have asked for asylum. For these refugees, the prospect of another war is particularly traumatising, states Politico.

Eastern Europe: As Ukraine-Russia tension simmers, East Europe prepares for refugees
Countries in East Europe, including Poland, Romania, and Latvia, are preparing for the potential arrival of thousands of refugees from Ukraine if the tension with Russia escalates, states Al Jazeera. Near the Ukrainian border, governments and towns are getting ready to take in refugees. On Monday, Deputy foreign minister Marcin Przydacz stated to Catholic broadcaster Radio Plus that Poland, which is already home to between 1-2 million Ukrainians, said it was preparing for a worst-case scenario. On Sunday, Romania, which shares a long border with Ukraine, finalised an action plan, Interior Minister Lucian Bode told television station B1. “We have taken several hypotheses into account […] We are currently analysing how many refugee camps we can install in a relatively short time, 10, 12, 24 hours. We are analysing existing lodging capacities in border counties but we are also discussing the second stage, with neighbouring counties, and the third stage across the country.”

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