News Highlights: Ethiopian troops executed three MSF workers in 2021 – NYT, Deaths off the Libyan coast, UN says EU has double standards

In this week’s News Highlights: NYT report states Ethiopian troops were ordered to execute three MSF aid workers; WHO Chief calls attention to humanitarian crisis in Tigray; Ethiopian government says it is investigating burning of man in Benishangul-Gumuz; Ethiopia suffering from ‘media fatigue’; UNITAMS concerned over West Darfur; South Sudan’s hunger crisis; 70 migrants and refugees dead off Libya in two weeks; UN concerned over Libyan politics; EU clears path to extend funding for Ukraine refugees; UN Human Rights chief scolds EU over double standards; Cyprus President promises to improve camps; Italy to provide allowance to non-EU migrants; One child refugee in Ukraine every second; Far-right Belgian party proposes to suspend asylum for all non-Ukrainian refugees; UK monthly cheque for people housing Ukrainians raises human trafficking concerns. 

The greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: NYT says Ethiopian troops responsible for deaths of aid workers in June 2021
The New York Times states that Ethiopian troops are responsible for the deaths of three Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) aid workers who set out to help wounded persons in Tigray in June 2021. Witnesses have told the NYT that the aid workers, who had their hands over their heads, were shot by retreating Ethiopian National Defence Forces troops at the orders of an Ethiopian army commander. The Ethiopian government put the blame on the Tigrayan forces after the deaths became public. MSF issued a statement urging the Ethiopian government to respond to the NYT report. 

Ethiopia: WHO Chief urges attention to Tigray conflict
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), spoke at a press conference on March 16 in Geneva about the situation in Tigray and the resulting humanitarian crisis. He called on the international community not to focus exclusively on the war in Ukraine, at the expense of the conflict in Tigray, since, according to him, “nowhere on earth are people more at risk than Tigray”. As a native of Tigray, he says he is particularly affected by the situation. “But as the director general of WHO, I have a duty to protect and promote health wherever it’s under threat. And there is nowhere on earth where the health of millions of people is more under threat than in Tigray,” he added. He called for an end to the blockade, so that humanitarian aid can reach people in desperate need. 

Ethiopia: Government to prosecute after a video of uniformed men burning civilians alive
The Ethiopian government says an investigation was launched by Ethiopian authorities on Saturday after a video circulated showing a group of men, some wearing army uniforms, setting fire to a defenceless man, according to VOA. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says that the man in question is a Tigrayan, and that he was suspected of having contact with a group of men accused of carrying out an attack the previous day in the Benishangul Gumuz region. About 64 people have died after this attack that targeted a civilian convoy and its military escort, said Al Jazeera.  “Regardless of their origin or identity, the government will take legal action against those responsible for this gross and inhumane act”, said the statement of the Ethiopian government about the video. The video could not be authenticated or verified, but does not appear to be related to the ongoing conflict in Tigray since November 2020, Reuters said. 

Ethiopia: Lack of humanitarian effort and “media fatigue”
As Ethiopia suffers from an unprecedented drought and 16-month conflict, the lack of humanitarian response and effort is condemning civilians to suffering, reports The Irish Times. Particularly in the Tigray region, the lack of access to medicine, basic health care, food or water, coupled with a lack of attention from the international community, are exacerbating a bad situation, states the article. “I think that you have seen the global media attention has very much been on Ukraine in the past several weeks. There’s always a risk with a protracted armed conflict that lasts for months and even many years that at some point there is a certain level of media fatigue… We should not forget that the needs are very, very high. Even though the media attention is not always there” said Alyona Synenko, regional spokesperson with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Sudan: UNITAMS Head expresses concerns over situation in Sudan
Saturday 12 March, Volker Perthes, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (SRSG) for Sudan, and head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), calls on the Sudanese authorities and all parties to restore peace in West Darfur, reports Dabanga. In a statement issued by his office, Perthes described acts of violence, such as “[…] the burning of villages and the unfortunate death of tens of Sudanese, representing another alarming sign of the increasing instability in Sudan”. He appeals to all parties to focus on the implementation of the National Plan on Civilian Protection, supported by the United Nations, said Dabanga.

Sudan: Young woman allegedly raped by security forces
Sulaima Ishaq, head of Sudan’s Violence against Women Unit at the Ministry of Social Development, stated that a young woman was raped by security forces while a demonstration against military rule was taking place in Khartoum, Sudan. The woman was travelling by bus and was not among the protesters, Africa News reported. The military forces reportedly forced the bus to stop and removed all the passengers before assaulting the woman, Africa News said. In response, several marches began in Bahri and Omdurman, with placards reading “Wars are not fought on women’s bodies”, says Africa News. The police have so far made no comment on the accusations.

South Sudan: A hunger crisis in the shadow
More than 70 percent of the population of South Sudan is at risk of suffering an unprecedented hunger crisis, the World Food Program (WFP) announced in a press release issued on 11 March 2022. While the international community’s attention is focused on the war in Ukraine, an estimated 8.3 million southern Sudanese are “pushed to the limit” in silence, the statement wrote. The food insecurity facing South Sudan is caused not only by climate change, but also by conflict attacks on aid workers, the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation, according to the WFP and The Guardian. “The extent and depth of this crisis is unsettling. We’re seeing people across the country have exhausted all their available options to make ends meet and now they are left with nothing,” said Deputy Country Director of the WFP in South Sudan, Adeyinka Badejo. Annette Hearns, deputy head of the United Nations’ office for humanitarian affairs called on the government to protect civilians by securing roads, which would allow for essential aid. “Ultimately, it’s the most vulnerable of the most vulnerable who suffer most,” she added.

North Africa

Libya: 19 migrants and refugees missing at sea
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has reported that at least 70 migrants and refugees have died or are presumed dead trying to cross the mediterranean over the last two weeks. They come from two separate incidents. The first one occurred on 27 February and the second on 12 March. The IOM presumes that 50 people died in the 27 february incident, while the Libyan coast guard reported it rescued only 6 people from the 25 reported to be on board in the 12 March incident. Seven bodies have also been recovered since that incident. IOM Chief in Libya said that he is “appalled by the continuing loss of life in the Central Mediterranean and the lack of action to tackle this ongoing tragedy.” The extreme conditions in which the refugees travel, often in unseaworthy rubber boats and extreme weather conditions, continues to claim many lives. The IOM estimates that 215 migrants and refugees have already drowned in the Mediterranean this year.

Libya/UN: Under-Secretary General to call for an end of political impasse
Rosemary DiCarlo, UN Under-Secretary General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, warned about the political crisis in Libya during a Security Council session on this issue on 16 March, reports UN News. Elections scheduled for December 2021 were postponed, and in February 2022, the country’s eastern-based House of Representatives voted to design a new government, despite the objections of Prime Minister in office, Abdul Hamid Dbeiba. Since then, the political improvements in Libya have been at a standstill, says UN News. Rosemary DiCarlo has pointed out the increase in abuses resulting from this situation, such as violations of human rights, hate speech and defamation, violence against activists and journalists, writes UN News. “Libya is now facing a new phase of political polarization, which risks dividing its institutions once again and reversing the gains achieved over the past two years,” she warned.


EU: Council adopts measures to release additional funding for refugees
The Council of the EU (Council) has approved the European Commission proposal on Cohesion’s Action for Refugees in Europe (CARE). The proposal aims to provide flexibility in the reallocation of funding to provide assistance to refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. Transfer of resources will be specifically possible from the European Social Fund, European Regional Development Fund, and the Fund for European Aid for the Most Deprived. The measure will allow member states to speed up the use of unused funds from the 2014-2020 period. It also allows states to use € 10 billion from the 2022 REACT-EU programme. The CARE proposal now needs to pass by the European Parliament. 

EU: UN Human Rights chief slams EU double standard
During her annual report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, UN Human Rights Chief Bachelet said that she is “encouraged” by the rapid and unanimous actions taken by the EU and its member states to help the refugees fleeing Ukraine. Bachelet was, however, also critical of the EU, saying that their actions “contrasts starkly with the treatment of migrants from other countries at European borders”. The EU and its member states have been involved in pushbacks, limiting opportunities for asylum, inadequate housing conditions, and other inhumane measures, stated Bachelet. She said over 2000 asylum seekers died trying to cross the Mediterranean last year, bringing the total up to 10.000 since 1017. She said the EU does not do enough to prevent this loss of life, and provide other avenues to seek asylum in Europe. Bachelet said that “A humane and principled approach should not be the exception: it should be the rule.”

Cyprus: President promises improved living conditions in migrants and refugee camps 
Nicos Anastasiades, president of Cyprus, acknowledged on Monday 14 March that living conditions in the refugee camps were not adequate, and promised an improvement of the situation, according to InfoMigrants. Reception camps for unaccompanied minors are particularly targeted. On 9 March, the country’s children’s rights commissioner, Despo Michaelidou, visited the camp for young migrants and refugees in Pournara, and declared that conditions were “miserable” and “unhygienic”, in a report published by Cypriot media and the Associated Press. The Minister of the Interior rejected the accusations at the time. But the Cypriot president visited the Pournara camp anyway, following which he stated that “intensive efforts are being made to address the existing problems” on Twitter.

Italy: Household allowance allowed for non-EU citizens
Non-European migrants with long-term residence and a work permit in Italy will be entitled to receive a state allowance, on the same basis as Italians, thanks to the Italian Constitutional Court, says InfoMigrants. Even if family members, such as spouses or children, are temporarily resident in their country of origin, these non-European residents will be able to receive this household allowance benefit, which is as much based on household needs as it is on a social support programme, according to InfoMigrants. Alberto Guariso, attorney of the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI), a participant in the hearing before the Constitutional Court, also stated that “those who have been excluded from this benefit can apply for arrears for the last five years, up until February 28, 2022”.

Ukraine/UNICEF: One refugee child per second in Ukraine
UN humanitarians said on Tuesday that every second in Ukraine, a child becomes a war refugee, UN News reported. About 1.5 million children have already fled the country since the war began on February 24, which represents “every minute, 55 children fleeing the country,” said James Elder, spokesperson for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Over 3 million people have fled in total. He points out the risk that the children could become prey for traffickers, who mix with people with good intentions, only wanting to help these refugees, writes UN News

Belgium: Far-right party proposals to suspend all asylum applications from non-Ukrainians
Tom Van Grieken, from the Flemish far-right Vlaams Belang party, proposed on Tuesday 15 March that the Belgian government temporarily suspend all asylum applications from non-Ukrainian refugees, says The Brussels Times. While, according to Sammy Mahdi, State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, 200,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine are expected in Belgium, Tom Van Grieken wants to take a radical position: “After all, the war that is being fought just 2,000 kilometres from our door is an exceptional emergency, and necessity knows no law,” he said in a statement. Sammy Mahdi, on the other hand, opposed the idea, calling it illegal and disrespectful, reports The Brussels Times. “Freezing asylum applications from people coming from Syria or Afghanistan, for example, is not only legally impossible – it shows little respect for people fleeing violence,” he said.

UK: Refugee scheme could lead to abuses
The UK has introduced a scheme to help Ukrainian refugees, which will give Britons who take them in a monthly cheque for £350, which has human trafficking policy experts concerned, according to The Guardian. While the initiative is welcomed and well-intentioned, Lauren Agnew, human trafficking policy expert at Christian Action, Research and Education, said it could lead to abuse and exploitation. “With large numbers of applications needing to be processed quickly, red flags could be missed in the vetting of potential hosts. […] Recent statistics from the National Crime Agency estimate there are at least 6,000-8,000 modern slavery offenders in the UK. We can be certain that some of this number will be seeing the Homes for Ukraine scheme as an opportunity to turn a profit,” she said. The massive and rapid arrival of Ukrainian refugees does not necessarily leave time to ensure the safety of the accommodation offered, writes The Guardian.