News Highlights: Millions face humanitarian crisis in the Horn, Hundreds forcibly returned to Libya, UK pushback plan abandoned

In this week’s News Highlights: UN warns of humanitarian catastrophe in the Horn of Africa; Tigray forces say they have withdrawn from the Afar region; ‘Collapse’ of the health system in Tigray; Twenty muslim worshippers killed in clash in Ethiopia; UN pushed towards the exit door of Sudan; UN warns against escalation in Darfur; 171 migrants and refugees rescued, hundreds more forcibly returned to Libya; 17 migrants and refugees found dead off Tunisian coast, several others still missing; New European plan to facilitate legal immigration; Pushback plan in the Channel from the UK abandoned for legal reasons; EU questions ecological aspects of the anti-migrant wall between Poland and Belarus; Bulgarian human trafficking network targeted in France.

The greater Horn of Africa

Horn: UN warns of humanitarian catastrophe amidst drought and resource shortages
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued a press release on 25 April, reporting on the drought in the Horn of Africa and the resulting “catastrophic” humanitarian consequences. At the moment, the Horn of Africa is experiencing one of the most severe droughts in years, with an estimated 15 million people experiencing immediate food insecurity, OCHA reports. The statement addresses several key elements, such as the alarming figures on the situation, particularly regarding child malnutrition: in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, about 5.7 million children are acutely malnourished. The communiqué also addresses the inflation that affects the Horn of Africa’s food supplies in view of the conflict in Ukraine, as well as water shortages. All of these elements combined are prompting widespread population displacement, desperate attempts to gain access to water or food, and therefore “women and girls are having to walk longer distances to access water, exacerbating their potential exposure to gender-based violence”, states the release.

Ethiopia: Tigray forces say they have withdrawn from the Afar region
On April 25, Getachew Reda, spokesman for the Tigray forces, said they had withdrawn from the Afar region of Ethiopia, adding his hope that this would allow for long-awaited food aid. Ahmed Harif, police commissioner in Afar, said Tigray forces had indeed withdrawn from the town of Abala, but not entirely from the region, so according to him, they still control the highway between Abala and Mekelle and three districts in the region. The Ethiopian government did not immediately comment on the situation, Al Jazeera reported.

Ethiopia: ‘Collapse’ of the health system in Tigray
The ongoing conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia, for nearly 18 months is having dramatic consequences in terms of access to health care, according to The New Humanitarian. Hospital staff told The New Humanitarian by phone about new ways of dealing with shortages, such as using expired drugs, using patients’ old clothes as gauze, reusing single-use equipment, etc. “This isn’t like the 21st century anymore; it’s more like the 16th or 17th […] Patients just die in front of your eyes” said a doctor, who requested anonymity. Doctors have not been paid for months, and patients who cannot buy their own food are no longer admitted to hospitals, added The New Humanitarian.

Ethiopia: Twenty muslim worshippers killed in clash 
Twenty Muslim worshippers were killed in a clash with gunmen in Ethiopia’s Amhara region on April 26, Reuters reported. The bloody clash was reportedly unrelated to the ongoing conflict in Tigray, Reuters added. Seid Muhammed, chairman of the Amhara Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, told Reuters that gunmen reportedly threw an explosive device into a crowd at a funeral in the town of Gondar, initially killing three people. The other victims were killed in subsequent confrontations. Gizachew Muluneh, a spokesman for the Amhara regional administration, announced that the clashes were currently under investigation.

Sudan: The UN pushed towards the exit door
Sudanese army chief General Abdel-Fattah Burhan and other military officials have called for the expulsion of Volker Perthes, head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, according to DW News. Volker Perthes had previously stated that “in the absence of a political agreement to return to an accepted transitional path, the economic situation, the humanitarian situation, and the security situation are deteriorating”. The military’s response prompted the UN to officially call for an end to “hate speech”. These verbal clashes come at a time when Sudan is quietly moving closer to a former ally, Russia, says DW News.

Sudan: UN warns against escalation in Darfur
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on Sudanese authorities this Wednesday to de-escalate the situation in West Darfur and protect civilians. The statement comes after violence between Arab Rzeigat and African Masalit communities around the town of Kereneik killed nearly 200 individuals between 22 and 24 April. Other UN organisations, including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, particularly denounced the targeting of health facilities and children in the violence. 21 children have died in the violence and two health centres were attacked, states UN News

North Africa

Libya: 171 migrants and refugees rescued, hundreds more forcibly returned to Libya
On 23 and 24 April, the humanitarian vessels Ocean Viking and Geo Barents rescued 171 migrants and refugees whose boats were in distress at sea, reports InfoMigrants. SOS Méditerrannée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which operate the Ocean Viking and Geo Barents respectively, both said that the boats contained unaccompanied minors, young children and a pregnant woman. While the two NGOs managed to assist the rescued persons and then redirect them to a European port, hundreds of other migrants and refugees were intercepted and forcibly returned to Libya by the Libyan coastguard, according to reports by AFP and Anadolu. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said that since January 2022, at least 4,000 migrants and refugees have been intercepted and forcibly returned to Libya. 

Tunisia: 17 migrants and refugees found dead off Tunisian coast, several others still missing
At least 17 migrants and refugees have died and several others are missing after their four boats sank while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, according to Franceinfo. Ali Aayari, a Tunisian coast guard lieutenant colonel, added that 98 migrants and refugees were rescued off the coast of Sfax, in Tunisia. According to the testimonies of some of the rescued migrants and refugees, “there were between 30 and 32 people on each boat”. Mourad Turki, the spokesman for the Sfax court, said the people were mainly from Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Somalia and Nigeria.


EU: New plan to facilitate legal immigration
Wednesday 27 April, the European Commission proposed new measures on migration policy and in particular on how to provide legal migration channels in response to labour shortages, reports Politico. Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, said the EU needs workers, especially in the long-term care sector, which she said is expected to have 7 million job openings by 2030. The proposal aims to reform two aspects of existing legislation, according to Politico. The first change concerns the single permit and will allow migrants and refugees to have simpler and shorter procedures. The second concerns the long-term residence directive and will allow migrants and refugees to accumulate periods of residence in different member states. While humanitarian organisations, employers’ associations and some left-wing political parties welcome this news, some remain sceptical. “We don’t expect this package on legal migration to be the silver bullet to deal with irregular migration as a whole,” said Jeroen Lenaers, a Member of the European Parliament from the European People’s Party.

UK: Pushback plan in the Channel abandoned for legal reasons
United Kingdom government lawyers confirmed that the plan to push back small migrant boats crossing the Channel was “withdrawn”, according to UK media. Prime Minister Pritti Patell, who said earlier this month that “we [government] have to keep all options on the table”, abandoned the plan after government lawyers stated that the Ministry of Defence, now in charge of the situation, did not have permission to use the turnaround tactic.  This information comes as the UK government is exploring a migration scheme with Rwanda, which is currently heavily criticised, according to several sources. Recently, data analysis has shown that in 2021 only 172 people would have been sent to Rwanda if the scheme would have been active at the time, according to The Guardian.

Poland/Belarus: The EU questions the ecological aspects of the anti-migrant wall
In April, the environmental commission of the European Union asked Poland for guarantees regarding the wall against migration from Belarus which crosses a forest classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to pictures taken by activists, the wall is 5 metres high, passing across the well preserved forest of Bialowieza. According to Franceinfo, almost 1800 scientists have expressed their opposition to this project. In 2018, Poland was condemned by the Court of Justice of the European Union for logging in the Bialowieza forest, according to Franceinfo.

France/Bulgaria: Bulgarian human trafficking network targeted in France
During April, French authorities arrested 4 Bulgarian persons accused of human trafficking and forced prostitution next to Bordeaux in France. An investigation carried out since 2019 by the French authorities has indicated that the four were trafficking young Bulgarian girls whom they forced into prostitution in France. According to a report from 2021 of the US office to monitor and combat trafficking in persons, human trafficking is still present in Bulgaria and the state does not meet the minimum standards for its elimination.

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