News Highlights: Refugees flee Ukraine as war erupts, Violations in Sudan investigated by UN, Deaths at EU borders

In this week’s news highlights: Ethiopian Government on negotiation and the National Dialogue Commission; Aid partners in Tigray forced to downscale further; GERD begins electricity production; UN expert to report on rights violations in Sudan; Sudanese protesters released from detention; Hemedti of Sudan in Russia; Egypt seeking mediation role in Sudan; 300,000 Somalians leave home in search of food; 4 people arrested in Kenya for alleged human trafficking; 129 migrants rescued by Sea Watch off Libya shore; UN calls for “free and fair elections” in Libya; Russia’s invasion drives refugees out of Ukraine; Digital borders to monitor migration; Vulnerable asylum seekers returned from Switzerland to Italy; How two persons died in violent pushback from Greece to Turkey; IOM warns about increasing deaths at EU borders; Alleged smuggler arrested after 7 die at sea; Nearly 600 people rescued by coastguards off Italy coast; UNHCR concerned about human rights violations at European borders; “Milestone” deal on migration policy between EU and Cyprus. 

The Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Ethiopian Government says negotiation goes through National Dialogue Commission
On Tuesday 22 February, Ethiopia’s Prosperity Party held an executive committee meeting, in which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed touched upon the conflict with Tigray. In a series of Twitter statements, the Office of the PM stated that “[n]egotiation is the upcoming all-inclusive national consultation. The Commissioners of the newly constituted National Dialogue Commission have simply been given the task of coming up with proposals; the Ethiopian people will make the final decisions.” In addition, the statement on the topic of negotiations stated: [w]e have been betrayed while making efforts to rebuild acknowledging that the region is a part of our country.”  Ethiopia’s parliament approved the formation of an 11-member National Dialogue Commission on Monday. The panel has been tasked with presenting proposals aimed at resolving the tensions nation’s ethnic and political groups and the conflict. Opposition parties have protested the process of selection of the Commission. 

Ethiopia: Aid partners in Tigray continue to downscale
Humanitarian aid partners in Tigray continue to be forced to scale down their aid programs in Tigray amidst ongoing lack of supplies, fuel and cash money. Although reports state a new deal between the United Nations and the Ethiopian government on aid may have been reached, no reports have come in of new trucks arriving. Airlifted medical supplies cannot be distributed due to fuel shortage. Head of Tigray’s Bureau of Health, Hagos Godefay, states: “For 15 months now, the international community has been accusing the Ethiopian  government of obstructing aid. But they have fallen short of taking punitive measures to compel the Ethiopian government to allow unfettered access into Tigray or bring the Ethiopian government to the negotiating table.” 

Ethiopia: Blue Nile mega-dam begins electricity production
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has begun producing electricity for the first time this Sunday. Sudan and Egypt say that it will cause severe water shortages downstream. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed responded by assuring neighbouring nations his country did not wish to harm their interests. “Ethiopia’s main interest is to bring lights to 60 percent of the population who is suffering in darkness, to save the labor of our mothers who are carrying wood on their backs in order to get energy.’’ Egypt  delivered a letter to the current President of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Russia, on Monday, stating that they categorically rejected Ethiopia’s unilateral commencement of operations of the GERD in light of the lack of a legally binding agreement with downstream countries.

Sudan: UN expert to report on rights violations in Sudan
On Sunday, Adama Dieng, the United Nations monitoring on human rights in Sudan, arrived in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. Adama Dieng was in Sudan to verify allegations of human rights violations after the October military coup that plunged the country into turmoil and triggered nearly daily street protests. This week, he has met with Sudanese officials as well as civil society groups. Speaking about the 82 deaths and thousands that have been wounded during the protests, Dieng stated: “I’m concerned about the violations [committed by] the authorities and the use of live ammunition against protesters.” Dieng will present his findings at the UN human rights council meeting next week. 

Sudan: Sudanese protesters released from detention
115 of 135 anti-coup protesters were released after being held for weeks, said Adama Dieng, the United Nations monitoring on human rights in Sudan. He called for the immediate release of all the other protesters,”I raised concern at the extension of law enforcement powers to the general security forces during the state of emergency and the temporary immunity from prosecution granted to these forces,” he said.

Sudan: Hemedti of Sudan in Russia
On Thursday, Deputy head of Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (also known as Hemedti) arrived in Russia to hold meetings with senior Russian officials. Hemedti wrote on his twitter account that his visit aims to expand relations between Sudan and Russia and strengthen cooperation. Independent analyst retired Major General Ismaeel Magzob told VOA the visit appears primarily to be about trade and investment. Economic analyst Samah Salman told VOA that Sudan may also look for Russian military and financial support amidst possible US sanctions over the coup. 

Sudan: Egypt seeking mediation role in Sudan
Egypt has kicked off a series of dialogues with political forces in Sudan to help overcome the Sudanese crisis. Meetings took place mid-February with various Sudanese officials, although the outcomes of the unannounced visits are not yet known. This happened a few weeks after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called the Sudanese parties to start a dialogue to agree on a road map that would facilitate the democratic transition process in Sudan and hold elections that would allow the people to ultimately choose their leadership. 

Sudan: Thousand protesters rally agains  the military coup
Thousands of Sudanese protesters took to the streets on Monday across the country of Sudan to rally against the coup while also demanding the release of prisoners. According to an Independent group of medics, at least 82 people have been killed in the crackdown, many of them shot dead, and hundreds wounded by security forces. The latest death came on Sunday. According to AFP news agency, hundreds of protesters who tried to rally outside the presidential palace, where the ruling Sovereign Council is based along the Nile River, were fired at with tear gas by security forces.

Somalia: 300,000 people leave home in search of food, refugee camps in Somalia face severe pressure
In search of food and water, 300,000 Somalian individuals left their houses causing severe pressure on the displacement camps in the nation as Somalia encounters its worst drought in decades, The Guardian reported. Aliow Mohamed, disaster response manager at Islamic Relief, explained, “[t]he camps are the only place they know there is help, so if all of your food is gone and livestock is dead you go there.’’ He states that due to this, pressure has been increasing in the displacement camps. 

Kenya: 4 people arrested for human trafficking of Ethiopian nationals.
Four suspects were arrested for allegedly being part of a larger human trafficking syndicate across the Horn of Africa. 108 Ethiopian nationals were rescued from the human trafficking syndicate on Friday in Kirigiti, Kiambu in Kenya, according to Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) boss George Kinoti.  

North Africa

Libya: 129 migrants rescued by Sea Watch off Libya shore
In the early morning hours of Saturday 19 February, 121 migrants and refugees who had set off from the Libyan coast aboard a dinghy were found in distress in the central Mediterranean, and were rescued by Sea Watch. Later on, the Sea Watch’s airplane crew spotted a small boat carrying 8 people who were saved in a second rescue operation. Sea-watch said,“Onboard our ship, the crew is now providing a total of 129 people with basic necessities such as medical care, food, and fresh clothing.’’

Libya/UN: UN calls for “free and fair elections”
Stephanie Williams, United Nations (UN) special adviser on Libya, reiterated the call of the international community to hold proper and peaceful elections in Libya. After meeting with the High Council of State in Libya, “I emphasized the need for the various Libyan political forces to pursue the broadest possible consensus, through an inclusive and transparent process”, she said on Twitter. She met last week with Libyan senior politicians to discuss the political process, while the country faces rising anxiety about the future, reports the Daily Sabah. Elections were supposed to take place in December 2021, but have been postponed amidst ongoing political tensions. 


Ukraine: Russia’s invasion gives way to fear for the civilian population
After the Russian president announced a military operation in Ukraine on the night of Wednesday 23 to Thursday 24 February 2022, many Ukrainians are trying to leave Kiev and the areas under attack. The theatre of bombing throughout the day, the country has seen its inhabitants rushing out of its borders. The international community mobilised: countries such as Hungary, Slovakia or Poland stated they are ready to welcome Ukrainian refugees, according to Reuters. “We will do everything to ensure that every person who enters the territory of Poland has access to healthcare, including hospitalisation”, the health ministry of Poland said. On the other side of the border, despite threats from the authorities, several demonstrations against the war took place in Russia, notably in Moscow and St Petersburg, says Le Parisien. The NGO OVD-Info numbers the arrests of protesters at 788 throughout the day on Thursday. The majority of the international community stands in solidarity with Ukraine, calling to halt the invasion “in the name of humanity” , says António Guterres, Secretary-general of the United Nations.

EU: Digital borders to monitor migration
The European Union (EU), through its border agency, Frontex, is increasingly using new technologies and digital equipment to monitor the continent’s internal and external borders, according to research published by the investigative magazine Altreconomia. Governments like France, or Italy for example, are already using cameras and monitoring equipment. A group of experts, interviewed by Altreconomia, fear that tracking technology is being deployed to evade legal responsibilities, with EU member states and agencies avoiding the provision of access to asylum under international law. In a response to InfoMigrants, Frontex said that “in any potential search and rescue, the priority for Frontex is to save lives”. However, experts still question the further use of data and the cooperation between Italian and Libyan governments. They accused the Italian government of delivering equipment to Libya, which Frontex denies, according to InfoMigrants.

Switzerland: Refugee Council’s call to end transfers of vulnerable asylum seekers
The Swiss Refugee Council (SFH) called on the Swiss government to avoid returning migrants and refugees with mental health problems to Italy, which they do under the Dublin Regulation, says InfoMigrants. The Dublin Regulation is an European Union (EU) law, that determines which country is in charge of examining an asylum application (generally the first country in which migrants and refugees set foot in). It allows Switzerland to send them back to Italy, which is usually the first European country they cross, explains InfoMigrants. In a report published on Thursday 17 February, the SFH says that even migrants who suffer from psychological issues can be forcibly returned in this way. The SFH also says that, according to mental health experts, migrants and refugees are much more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and so severe mental health issues, than the rest of the population. The SFH called on the Swiss government to put an end to these returns, given the problems of accessing health care in Italy; language difficulties from the medical personnel create lack of care, treatment and recognition of mental illness. 

Greece: Two migrants die after allegedly being thrown overboard by coastguard
According to a multi-media investigation, the bodies of two migrants were found off the Turkish coast, following pushbacks from Greek coastguards. The coastguards allegedly beat and then threw overboard three migrants, without dinghies or life jackets, in September 2021. German news magazine Der Spiegel, Dutch investigative platform Lighthouse Reports, the British daily newspaper The Guardian and the French newspaper Mediapart, alleged that Greek border guards took migrants – arrived from Turkey – back onto boats and threw them overboard. Two of the men are reported to have drowned, following this event. The testimony of the survivor, Ibrahim, an asylum seeker, and the subsequent media investigation provide a detailed account of the events, during which the coast guards used extreme violence and illegal practices, such as refoulement and strip-searches. However, the Greek government continues denying these allegations, claiming that the Turkish government is deliberately spreading fake news, reports InfoMigrants. “Turkey’s propaganda about illegal migration often leads to false stories appearing in the media”, said Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitaraki. The Turkish government does not seem to have commented on the issue as of yet.

Greece/Turkey: IOM warns about migrant and refugee deaths
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is concerned about increasing migrant and refugee deaths on the Greek-Turkish border, numbering them at 21 since the beginning of 2022. In a statement published on 18 February, the IOM denounces the use of violence against migrants and refugees from both Greek and Turkish authorities, together with illegal pushbacks. “The instrumentalization of migrants is unacceptable and saving lives should remain the number one priority”, IOM said. Furthermore, the IOM underlines that the right to asylum and welcome refugees is a part of European “State’s commitments and obligations under international and regional law”. 

Italy: Alleged smuggler arrested after 7 migrants die at sea
On Saturday 19 February, an Egyptian suspected of being a smuggler was arrested by the Italian police, following the death of seven migrants in January, relates InfoMigrants. The man was identified through the testimonies of survivors of the journey, who accuse him of organising a crossing of the Mediterranean for 287 people on a 16m long boat, despite extremely bad weather conditions. The 7 died due to “inhumane travel conditions”, according to the police. The suspect is believed to have been previously convicted in Sicily as a smuggler in 2011, the police added, without giving further details. 

Italy: Nearly 600 migrants rescued by coastguards off Calabria’s coast
The Italian coastguard announced on Tuesday 22 February that it had rescued 573 migrants and refugees on the high seas on Monday night. Among them are 59 minors, many of whom appear to be unaccompanied. The refugees were found on “two overloaded fishing boats and left at the mercy of waves with unfavourable weather conditions that were expected to worsen significantly”, according to the coastguard service. The migrants and refugees have then been disembarked in the Sicilian port of Augusta, says InfoMigrants. One person did not survive the crossing; this person “had already been dead for a few days” when found by the coastguard, said witnesses.

EU/UN: UNHCR concerned about human rights violations at European borders
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) expresses serious concerns about the increasing number of incidents of violence against migrants and refugees at the European borders. A statement by Filippo Grandi, the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees, reads: “Violence, ill-treatment and pushbacks continue to be regularly reported at multiple entry points at land and sea borders, within and beyond the European Union (EU), despite repeated calls by UN agencies, including UNHCR, intergovernmental organizations and NGOs to end such practices”. The statement highlights the violence suffered by migrants and refugees, while at the same time expressing incomprehension about the non-reaction of European states to the practices mentioned. The statement particularly denounces the construction of walls and fences. Filippo Grandi asks for the States to “uphold their commitments and respect fundamental human rights, including the right to life and right to asylum”. 

Cyprus/EU: “Milestone” deal on migration policy
The Cypriot interior minister, Nicos Nouris, and the European Union (EU) Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, have reached an agreement that will help the Cypriot government improve the migrants and refugees reception facilities, but also make rejection of asylum seekers easier, says InfoMigrants. “Today is a milestone for the Republic of Cyprus and efforts made by the government to manage a problem that has plagued our country”, Nouris said. The interior minister deplores the instrumentalization of immigration, claiming that Turkey is encouraging migratory movements from migrants and asylum seekers from Syria and sub-Saharan Africa. According to the EU’s border agency, Frontex, the amount of migrants and asylum seekers nearly doubled since last year, reports InfoMigrants

Disclaimer: All information in these highlights is presented as a fluid update report, as to the best knowledge and understanding of the authors at the moment of publication. EEPA does not claim that the information is correct but verifies to the best of ability within the circumstances. Publication is weighed on the basis of interest to understand potential impacts of events (or perceptions of these) on the situation. Check all information against updates and other media. EEPA does not take responsibility for the use of the information or impact thereof. All information reported originates from third parties and the content of all reported and linked information remains the sole responsibility of these third parties. Report to any additional information and corrections.