News Highlights: Humanitarian truce in Ethiopia, Eritreans deported from Egypt, Tigray demonstration in Brussels as leaders gather

In this week’s News Highlights: Indefinite humanitarian truce in Tigray; Attack on Ethiopian IDP camp likely a war crime, says HRW; Do not look away from Ethiopia now, warns journalist; Millions in Tigray food-insecure as they wait for aid; US Envoy visits Ethiopia as Ethiopia sanction bill is discussed; Tigray education bureau states 88% of classrooms severely damaged; US sanctions Sudan’s Central Reserve Police for violence against protestors; Save the Children warns of hunger due to wheat shortage in Sudan; Concern as main opposition party of South Sudan withdraws from security mechanisms; ‘hellish existence’ for women and girls in South Sudan conflict; Eritreans deported from Egypt, says refugee platform; 25 bodies found from shipwreck off Tunisian coasts, fears for 25 others; Amnesty International calls Libyan authority to respect freedom of speech; Tigray diaspora protest in Brussels on occasion of visit of Biden; UK crossings increase due to good weather; Tensions arises between London and Brussels over Ukrainian refugees; Number of migrants and refugees trying to cross the border between Poland and Belarus on the rise; Syrian refugee to sue Frontex for illegal pushback to Turkey.

The greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Humanitarian truce in Tigray accepted by both sides
The Ethiopian government has announced an indefinite ceasefire in the conflict in Tigray. A statement published on Thursday 24 March, the government said that it would halt the fighting in order to allow aid to enter the region. The announcement follows a visit to Ethiopia of the US Special Envoy on the Horn of Africa. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) accepted the proposal for ceasefire, noting: “while the Government of Tigray is committed to the success of this endeavor, we would like to note that linking political and humanitarian issues are unacceptable. Nonetheless, the people and Government of Tigray will do their best to give peace a chance.” 

Ethiopia: Attack on IDP camp likely a war crime, says HRW
Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted that the airstrike by the Ethiopian government on a camp for Internally Displaced People in Tigray on 7 January 2022 is likely a war crime. On 7 January, an armed drone dropped three bombs on a school hosting internally displaced Tigrayans, killing 57 civilians. Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch, stated that “[u]sing guided bombs without evidence of any military target indicates that this was an apparent war crime.”

Ethiopia: Do not look away now, warns journalist
An opinion article in Bloomberg warns that the war in Ukraine threatens to take away attention and pressure from the Ethiopia conflict, which could lead to more deaths in the conflict. Bloomberg foreign affairs columnist Bobby Ghosh warns that there “is little prospect of progress toward reconciliation and peace without more outside pressure.” He points out that data increasingly shows that Tigray is on the brink of further humanitarian disaster due to starvation. Tigray People’s Liberation Front spokesperson Getachew Reda also published an article in Foreign Policy, drawing parallels between the conflict in Ethiopia and Ukraine. Both comments came before the announcement of the ceasefire on Thursday, however, experts warn that the ceasefire does not yet equate peaceful negotiations, and fighting may still break out again.

Ethiopia: Millions in Tigray to go hungry as they wait for aid
The Guardian warns that millions in Tigray wait for aid, while hundreds of thousands are already in ‘famine-like conditions’. US officials state that 80% of the population is food-insecure. Due to the aid blockade, only 10% of the necessary aid has been able to reach Mekelle, the capital of Tigray. In addition, Ayder hospital in Mekelle warns that “almost all medical units are on the brink of total failure.” The World Health Organization has warned of the growing food insecurity earlier this week. In addition, researchers have analysed remote sensing data, showing that crops are likely to fail due to lack of ploughing due to the war. 

Ethiopia: US Envoy visits Ethiopia as Ethiopia sanction bill is discussed
The US Envoy for the Horn of Africa, David Satterfield, finished a trip of two days in Ethiopia, where he met with African Union officials and most likely Ethiopian officials as well. On Wednesday, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee met over a sanctions bill that would impact anyone trying to undermine negotiations in Ethiopia, said The National. Reuters spoke to Satterfield, who indicated that the US’s main priority is the sending of aid to Tigray, which has been virtually closed off from it.

Ethiopia: Tigray education bureau states 88% of classrooms severely damaged
The Tigray education bureau published a preliminary assessment study stating that 88% of classrooms and 95% of classroom instruments were severely damaged or destroyed in the war. The study included over 2000 schools in Tigray-controlled areas. As a result of the destruction, students now have to walk much further and classroom student numbers are much higher. The Tigray education bureau also stated that it had compiled identities of 1,911 students and 235 elementary and high-school teachers who were killed during the war.

Sudan: US sanctions Sudan’s Central Reserve Police for violence against peaceful protestors
On 21 March, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions against Sudan’s Central Reserve Police (CRP) for using violence against peaceful demonstrators since the coup on 25 October, reported Voice of America. “Since the military seized power on October 25, Sudan’s Central Reserve Police have used excessive force and violence to silence activists and civilian protesters,” said Brian E. Nelson, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. Human rights activists in Sudan welcome the news, although they believe further action should be taken against the military regime itself, Voice of America reports. The Central Committee of Sudan Doctors stated that a 17-year-old protester was killed on Monday, bringing the reported death toll of the protests to 89 since the coup. 

Sudan: Save the Children warns of hunger due to wheat shortage
The NGO Save the Children warns that Sudanese people face acute hunger as almost 90% of its wheat comes from Russia and Ukraine. The NGO estimates that 20 million people out of Sudan’s total population of 45 million will face food insecurity. Exacerbated by other key events such as rampant inflation and promised food aid not arriving, the upcoming hunger may cause families to resort to “bad coping strategies” such as marrying off teenage daughters, warns Save the Children. CARE warns that other Horn countries, such as Somalia which also receives around 90% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, are facing similar issues.

South Sudan: Concern as main opposition party withdraws from security mechanisms
The South Sudanese opposition party SPLA-IO, led by First Vice President Riek Machar Teny, has withdrawn from the security mechanisms in South Sudan. In a statement, the party explains that they are withdrawing due to attacks on its bases, which it states are not addressed by the monitoring mechanisms. This means the SPLA-IO will no longer participate in the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC), the body which oversees the implementation of the South Sudan peace agreement. 

South Sudan: ‘hellish existence’ for women and girls through the conflict
On 21 March, the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan released a report on the exploitation of women and sexual violence in the conflict, according to UN News. Based on interviews with victims and witnesses, the report describes a “hellish existence for women and girls” because of the continuing widespread rape by armed groups, UN News writes. “Sexual violence in South Sudan has been instrumentalized as a reward and entitlement for youth and men participating in conflict,” writes the report. “It is outrageous and completely unacceptable that women’s bodies are systematically used on this scale as the spoils of war,” declared Yasmin Sooka, Chair of the UN Commission. Yasmin Sooka urgently calls on the authorities to react, and to stop allowing the use of women’s bodies as “territory” for men to control at will.

North Africa

Egypt: Eritreans deported, says refugee platform
The Refugees Platform in Egypt (RPE) warns that in one week, Egypt has forcibly deported 31 Eritrean asylum seekers back to Eritrea. In addition, dozens more have been taken to detention in preparation for deportation, warns RPE. The first deportation took place on 16 March, and included 24 people, including women and children. Furthermore, the Eritreans detained in Egypt are deprived of legal representation and are held in extremely poor conditions, according to RPE.

Tunisia: 25 bodies found from shipwreck, fears of 25 others
Tunisian coastguards recovered the bodies of 25 migrants and refugees on Friday 18, Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 March, after their ship sank while attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The boat may have been carrying 60 migrants and refugees, mainly from Syria and Tunisia, raising fears that another 35 people are missing and have likely died, according to Reuters. Searches are still underway on the Central Mediterranean route, which has already seen some 1,300 migrants and refugees go missing at sea in 2021, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR.

Libya: Amnesty International calls Libyan authority to respect freedom of speech
On 23 March, Amnesty International called on the Libyan authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression of Libyan youth, following the publication of videos in which detainees “confessed” under apparent duress to spreading “contempt” for Islam, reports Amnesty International. The Tripoli-based Internal Security Agency (ISA) has reportedly arrested at least 7 Libyan youths for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and detained them in arbitrary conditions, under the pretext of protecting “Libyan and Islamic values”, Amnesty International stated. “The ISA’s release of video ‘confessions’ is a flagrant violation of fair trial rights including the right not to self-incriminate. This unlawful and reckless move has incited hatred against a group of Libyans daring to peacefully express their views,” said Hussein Baoumi, Amnesty International’s Libya researcher.


EU/Tigray: Tigray diaspora protest in Brussels on occasion of visit of Biden
Tigray diaspora demonstrated in Brussels on 24 March against 500 days of conflict in Tigray. 24 March saw world leaders gather in Brussels for consecutive Summits, including gatherings of NATO, G7 and EU leaders. Among the leaders addressed by the demonstration was US President Biden. The protesters called for an “end to the humanitarian siege” and the “Tigray genocide”. 

UK: Good weather causes increase in attempted crossings
On Monday 21 March, the UK Border Force authorities intercepted around 200 migrants and refugees, including children, who were on their way to reach the United Kingdom from France, according to InfoMigrants. Good weather has seen an increase in crossings. The UK parliament will debate the Nationality and Borders Bill on Wednesday 23 March, which should give border forces more powers and allow them to “redirect vessels”, says InfoMigrants. This is a contentious issue, particularly with pro-migrant and refugee organisations, and the French government, which says it would amount to illegal refoulements, according to InfoMigrants.

UK/EU: Tensions arises between London and Brussels over Ukrainian refugees
EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson addressed the European Parliament on Wednesday 16 March to highlight the difficulty for Ukrainian refugees to enter the UK due to visa problems, reports InfoMigrants. Since Brexit, the UK requires migrants and refugees to have a visa to enter the country, making no exception for the Ukrainian refugees fleeing war, says InfoMigrants. This is raising tensions between London and Brussels, as Ylva Johansson is actively asking the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to resolve the visa issue. So far, out of 20,000 visa applications from Ukrainian refugees, only 5,500 have been approved, reports InfoMigrants.

Poland/Belarus: Number of migrants and refugees trying to cross the border on the rise
Polish border authorities have announced that 134 migrants and refugees travelling from Belarus attempted to cross the border between Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 March, reports InfoMigrants. Humanitarian groups have warned that many people continued to be “brutally” pushed back to Belarus. The migrants and refugees are believed to be mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Turkey and Cuba, according to a statement from the border guards. This is an increasing number and a “record this year”, says the Polish authorities. Later, on 23 March, the border guards published a video showing the new metal fence between the Polish and Belarusian border, to which barbed wire will be added, reports InfoMigrants.

EU/Greece/Turkey: Syrian refugee to sue Frontex for illegal pushback to Turkey
In the week of 7 March, Alaa Hamoudi, a Syrian national, sued the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) for illegal refoulement in Turkey, reports SchengenVisaInfo. He claims to have been turned away by the Greek authorities, in collaboration with the Frontex agency, while also claiming that he was not the only one to have been the victim of such an act, SchengenVisaInfo said. “After [the coastguard] had forced all of us onto the raft to frighten us, he brought a stick with a pointy thing on it. He was holding it as if he wanted to puncture the raft. He was scaring us,” Alaa Hamoudi said.

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