News Highlights: UN alarmed over growing crisis in Tigray, Ukraine refugees vulnerable to traffickers, UN and AU warn of “grave danger” in Sudan

This week’s news highlights: UN update on human rights situation in Tigray and Northern Ethiopia; HRW calls for end of attacks on women and girls in Ethiopia; $205 million needed by UN to assist displaced people in Northern Ethiopia; United States embassy in Eritrea issues strong statement; Two protestors shot dead, UN and AU warn of ‘grave danger’ in Sudan; 2019 massacre tribunal raided by Sudanese authorities; Fresh attack on Sudan and South-Sudan border killing dozens; 50 persons die off Libyan coasts; Civilians detained unlawfully in Derna, Libya; 202 people rescued on French coasts; Ukrainian women and children vulnerable to  traffickers; Belgium to set tougher asylum rules for Afghan refugees; Syrian refugees in limbo in Denmark; Video showing police violence against a migrant in Melilla, Spain; Ukrainian refugees struggle with UK visas;  Unaccompanied minors can join parents in the UK; Event; a fair for gender equality in Europe held in Angers, France.

We are issuing a correction to the summary titled ‘Ethiopia: Employees of Mekelle University unpaid for over a year’. In it, it was noted that “According to the BBC, 700 employees of the Mekelle University in Tigray have not been paid […]”; while it should have been “According to the BBC, 7,000 employees of the Mekelle University in Tigray have not been paid […]”. 
We apologise for the inconvenience, and thank you again for reading.

The greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: UN update on human rights situation in Tigray and Northern Ethiopia
On 7 March, during the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet reported she is alarmed at the growing humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region in Ethiopia and other northern Ethiopian regions. The war continues to cause civilian casualties. Hostilities and insecurity continue to block the delivery of humanitarian supplies into Tigray by the Semera-Abala-Mekelle road, which has not been accessible since 15 December 2021, stated Bachelet. Prices for basic goods continue to rise, in the context of growing poverty. At the end of January 2022, World Food Programme (WFP) found that 4.6 million people – four out of every five people in the region – were food insecure, while half of the pregnant and breastfeeding women, and almost one in eight children under five, are malnourished. There is continued internal displacement of large numbers of people; Bachelet also noted displacement  in the Afar region, where some 300,000 people were reportedly displaced between 23 and 26 January 2022 due to fighting with Tigrayan forces. She went on to note some areas where the UN had found that progress was made, including the establishment of a ministerial Taskforce and the National Dialogue Commission.  

Ethiopia: HRW calls for end of attacks on women and girls in Ethiopia
In the Tigray region, warring parties have doubly victimized women and girls, subjecting them to widespread, horrific acts of sexual violence and then obstructing access to care, according to Laetitia Bader, Director Horn of Africa at Human Rights Watch (HRW). She stated that the Ethiopian government and regional authorities should end their effective siege on the civilian population in Tigray and, with international support, facilitate the scaling up of a robust, principled humanitarian response throughout northern Ethiopia. HRW calls on all warring parties in Ethiopia to take action to end abuses by their forces, including rape and other sexual violence against women and girls.

Ethiopia: $205 million needed by UN to assist displaced people in Northern Ethiopia
As more than 1.6 million people have been displaced by conflict in Northern Ethiopia, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is appealing for $205 million to assist the displaced people. Most of the people are displaced inside Ethiopia while nearly 60,000 have fled to neighbouring Sudan, according to the UN Refugee Agency. Shabia Mantoo, UNHCR spokeswoman, said that “[c]ivilians, including refugees and internally displaced people, have been displaced, amid widespread reports of gender-based violence, human rights abuses, loss of shelter and access to basic services, and critical levels of food insecurity. … Several camps and settlements hosting Eritrean refugees have been attacked or destroyed, further displacing tens of thousands within Ethiopia.” UNHCR states it needs funding to improve the shelter and resources available for displaced people. 

Eritrea/US: United States embassy in Eritrea issues strong statement
On 8 March, International Women’s Day, the United States embassy in Asmara, Eritrea, issued a strong statement commemorating Eritrean women who were jailed  for peacefully expressing their views. The statement openly criticised the Eritrean government for holding “too many female prisoners of conscience to list them all”. The statement noted: “We have not forgotten your names. We will not forget your names.” The US Embassy urged the Eritrean government, in recognition of International Women’s Day, to release all female political prisoners currently incarcerated in Eritrea.

Sudan: Two protestors shot dead, UN and AU warn of ‘grave danger’ in Sudan
On Thursday, during a protest in Khartoum and Omdurman, Sudan, two protestors were shot dead. The United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) officials warned that the country was in ‘grave danger’. “All indicators available to us at the UN and AU show that the country is in grave danger,” said African Union envoy Mohamed Lebatt. Pro-democracy doctors said that security forces shot dead one protester in Omdurman and another in Khartoum.

Sudan: 2019 massacre tribunal raided by Sudanese authorities
On Monday, in the city of Khartoum, a commission that was investigating the 2019 massacre of protesters has been raided by Sudanese security forces, forcing it to suspend operations. Al Jazeera was informed by a witness who requested for anonymity for fear of retribution that the raid was a joint military operation carried out by forces from the army intelligence and the Rapid Support Forces (also known as the Janjaweed).

Sudan/South Sudan: Fresh attack on Sudan and South-Sudan border killing dozens in Abyei
On Wednesday, the United Nations office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and a local office said dozens of people have been killed in an outbreak of intercommunal violence in a disputed oil region in South Sudan. The fight has left 36 people dead, an unknown number injured and 50,000 displaced as of March 6. On Sunday evening, 27 people were killed and four injured in a fresh attack in Abyei, the disputed administrative area bordering Sudan and South Sudan, says spokesperson for the government of the Abyei special administrative area, Deng Ajak. Mr. Ajak told The EastAfrican that armed people attacked two areas. “This is the second attack, another attack happened on Saturday, but the tragic one was the Sunday one when armed men, with others riding horses, attacked Mading-Thon and Kuol-Bol areas on the western side of the Abyei, an attack that killed many.’’

North Africa

Libya: Shipwreck causes death of 50 persons on Libyan coasts
Nearly 50 migrants and refugees trying to flee Libya died at sea on 27 February after their boat sank, according to the NGO Alarm Phone. In the days following the sinking, several of the bodies were found on the beaches of Sabratha, Libya, according to InfoMigrants. Alarm Phone announced that it rescued 407 boats in distress in the Central Mediterranean last year, in 2021, a much higher figure than in previous years, knowing that these rescues sometimes cannot prevent shipwrecks, causing the death of migrants and refugees, reports InfoMigrants. In 2021, the number of deaths at sea reached 1,550, while the number of missing persons is not counted, and is probably higher, InfoMigrants says.

Libya: Five escapees targeted unlawfully by armed groups in Derna
In Derna, Libya, the armed group Tarek Bin Ziyad Battalion continues to detain at least 50 civilians unlawfully, reports Human Rights Watch. Close to the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), the Tarek Bin Ziyad Battalion arrested 50 or more Derna residents on January 16, 2022, because five prisoners had escaped. Although the five were returned to prison, the Derna residents, including family members of the escapees and other former Derna detainees, remain in prison, states HRW. In 2019, the LAAF took control of Derna, and is said to have initiated arbitrary detentions, mistreatment of prisoners and destruction of homes, Human Rights Watch reports. 


France: 202 people rescued at sea
On Wednesday 2 March, 202 migrants and refugees were rescued in the Channel on the French coast, at night, reports InfoMigrants. The regional surveillance and rescue operational centre (CROSS) reportedly spotted several boats in need of assistance and saw shipwrecked people in the sea, requiring 6 rescue operations. “All of the shipwrecked people, once they have returned to the docks, are being looked after by the border police and the departmental fire and rescue services”, states the press release from the Maritime Prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea. The origin of these migrants and refugees is unknown.

Germany/Poland: Ukrainian women and children as potential prey for traffickers
Authorities in some EU states, such as Poland, are warning women and children fleeing Ukraine of the potential risk of being trafficked, according to The Daily Mail. Across the border, in Germany, the police have confirmed rumours that some women have been approached by people offering them money if they would stay with them in exchange. Germany has been a hub for migrants and refugees for some years, but the persons crossing the Mediterranean Sea during the height of the ‘refugee crisis’ were usually single men, says InfoMigrants. Due to the conflict in Ukraine, the proportion of women and children in refugee populations is rising.. “War and refugee crises make women especially vulnerable and at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking and other crimes,” says Jadwiga, a Bavaria-based group helping women who have been victims of trafficking and forced prostitution. The group therefore calls on women to be extremely careful and to not “blindly trust women – it’s not only men that are human traffickers.”

Belgium: Tougher asylum rules for Afghan migrants and refugees
The Belgian government no longer considers Afghanistan to be a risk country, which will lead to the rejection of some asylum seekers. Since the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban in August 2021, Belgium had been relaxing its procedures. If the application for asylum was refused, the decision was suspended and the file was put on hold, reports InfoMigrants. But on 2 March, the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRA) of Belgium announced that it could resort to expulsion again. Furthermore, protection status will no longer be granted on the basis of the security situation in Afghanistan: “With the takeover by the Taliban, the security situation has changed significantly […] There is no longer a real risk of being a victim of random violence in Afghanistan”, says the CGRA. “What we fear is that the protection rate will decrease,” worries Clément Valentin, a policy worker in charge of international protection at Ciré, a network of Belgian associations specialising in supporting returnees.

Denmark: Syrian refugees in the long wait for forced return
In 2019, the Danish government decided that Syria was no longer a high-risk country and so began revoking temporary asylum status; however since then, many have been stuck in deportation centres scattered across Denmark, says The New York Times. While the refugees no longer have residency status, and thus technically no longer have the right to stay in the country legally, they cannot be sent back to Syria either, since the Danish government does not maintain diplomatic relations with Syria. Dozens of refugees are therefore stuck in centres, facing an interminable wait that will only lead to an unfavourable outcome, according to The NYT. “Being here is like dying slowly,” says Haitham Kurdi, a 61-year-old asylum seeker who has been stuck in one of these centres for about six months.

Spain: Video showing police violence against a migrant in Melilla
A video filmed by Daniel Howden, managing director for Lighthouse Reports, shows five police officers beating and pepper-spraying a young man trying to cross the barrier between Morocco and Spain, in Melilla, on 5 March. Visiting Melilla on 6 March, Spanish Interior Minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, said that the use of force by police officers was justified, Spanish News writes. “A democratic state with the rule of law cannot allow its borders – which in this case are the EU borders – to be violently attacked,” Grande-Marlaska said. Within the past few days, 60 law enforcement officials and 52 migrants and refugees were injured in the crossing of this border, he adds. Spain’s public ombudsman, Ángel Gabilondo, expressed concerns about “what would appear to be a disproportionate use of force by the officers”. 

France/UK: Ukrainian refugees in transit in Calais
Ukrainians wishing to join relatives in the United Kingdom are denied access due to lack of visa and a lot of them remain stuck in France, says Le Monde. Although it is home to a number of Ukrainians (around 100,000), the United Kingdom remains the only European country to refuse access to its territory to anyone without a visa, according to Le Monde. Misha Raminishvili, his Ukrainian wife Maria and their two children are in this waiting situation, says the BBC. Although Misha and his son have visas, he cannot bring in his wife and daughter, who do not. As a result, they have been stranded in Calais for five days, even though they left Ukraine on 24 February, according to the BBC. “I feel left out. Who else is going to help me if not my own government?” he told the journalist. 

UK: Unaccompanied minors will be able to join their parents
Members of the House of Lords have voted in favour of the Dubs amendment, which allows unaccompanied minors from European countries to join family members in the UK, reports The Mirror. This will provide a safe and legal route for minors to join their relatives, which has not been possible since Brexit. “Without safe passage, refugee children have no choice but to risk their lives by travelling in the back of lorries or on inflatable boats across the Channel to reach their relatives and refuge in the UK,” says Beth Gardiner-Smith, director of the NGO Safe Passage International. Although the Dubs amendment was agreed a few weeks after the EU exit was implemented, it was never applied, says InfoMigrants. Similarly, family reunification under the Dublin Regulation – an EU regulation – was no longer possible. The amendment must now be approved by the House of Commons in the coming weeks.

France: Event; a fair for gender equality in Europe
Organised in the framework of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union and on the occasion of the International Women’s Rights Day, an equality forum was held on 8, 9, and 10 March in Angers, France. For three days, some forty speakers gathered around round tables to discuss issues relating to gender equality, the visibility given to women, empowerment, but also more generally to diversity within companies, inclusion inside the public space and benevolence from and within organisations.  Speakers included Ministers, writers, journalists, CEOs, scientists, architects, members of the European Commission, professors, physicists, and psychologists. They engaged  in debates on vital subjects, as critics warn that women’s rights have experienced a setback. According to a report of the Davos Economic Forum, complete gender equality has been set back 36 years since the pandemic and could therefore be achieved as late as in some 136 years.

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.