News Highlights: Foundation calls for response to atrocities by Eritrea, Reports of clashes at Eritrean border, Legal challenge to UK’s Rwanda plan

In this week’s News Highlights: Foundation for Human Rights calls for immediate response to ‘atrocity crimes’ in Eritrea; Clashes at the border between TDF and Eritrean armies; Eritrean refugees in Amhara camps threatened; Gondar University replies to BBC allegations of covering evidences of mass murders in Tigray; IFRC secretary general calls for  a scale-up of humanitarian assistance in the Horn; 44 migrants and refugees drown off the coast of Western Sahara; Multiple rescues at sea; Legal action against UK Home Secretary plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda; More than 20 people missing off the Canary Island; Migrants and refugees arbitrarily detained near the front lines in Ukraine; 2,500 migrants and refugees detained in conditions unfavourable to mental health in Lithuania; Fire in migrant camp previously criticised for its poor conditions in Cyprus; Businessman arrested in the Ballearic Islands for exploiting migrants and refugees; 90 young migrants and refugees evicted; 5 human smugglers sentenced to jail in the UK; Eritrean refugee found hanged in a trailer in France; Opening of the COP15 of the UNCCD as Africa suffers worst droughts; The Human Right Council votes to increase scrutiny on Russian abuses in the war, Eritrea and China vote against.

The greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: Foundation for Human Rights calls for immediate response to ‘atrocity crimes’
On Tuesday 10 May, during a press conference, the Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans called on the international community to take immediate action to bring to justice President Isaias and his associates in Eritrea for human rights violations in Eritrea and beyond. The Foundation accuses the state of Eritrea of committing widespread atrocities for years, and explains that there is ample credible evidence. That is why it has also started an investigation into these facts, and also stated “it will use all legal means necessary to demonstrate discriminatory neglect by European Union and other international bodies on atrocity crimes committed by Isayas Afewerki, President of Eritrea and his accomplices in Eritrea, Sinai, Tigray and Libya”.

Ethiopia/Eritrea: Clashes at the border between TPLF and Eritrean armies
Around 8 May, Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) and the Eritrean army clashed at the border town of Badme and in the region of Rama, according to a source contacted by the BBC. Both sides used heavy artillery until the TDF forces retreated, according to the sources of the BBC.

Ethiopia: Eritrean refugees in Amhara camps threatened
Witnesses from camps where Eritrean refugees are now housed in the Amhara region say that people from the Amharan Fano militia have threatened them with weapons. They also state that refugees moving from the Adi Harush and Mai Aini camps in Tigray are taken to unknown places where their phones are taken and money is extorted from them, before they are taken to the new Alemwach camp in Amhara. One witness states that Fano and the Eritrean security cooperate to target specific refugees to bring them back to Eritrea. The witnesses state that they have inadequate protection from local authorities.

Ethiopia: Gondar University replies to allegations of covering up evidence of mass murders in Tigray
On 8 May, Gondar university addressed a response letter to the BBC regarding the allegations of covering up evidence of mass killings in Tigray. In an article published on 7 May, the BBC reported testimonies from eyewitnesses saying researchers from the University of Gondar were playing an important role in the digging up of mass graves and burning of bodies. An anonymous eyewitness said to the BBC: “It all started following the visit of experts from Gondar University. When they came, they came with trucks that were loaded with chemicals in white jerry cans. The experts were in the town for a few days giving training to the Amhara militia on how to dispose of the remains and then they returned”. In its response letter, Gondar University compared the article of the BBC to Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) propaganda, and negated altogether the implication of the University in the camouflage of the evidence and the mass killings: “The research team’s only motive is to scientifically investigate the reported acts of genocide committed against the local Amhara inhabitants in Welkite, Tegede, and Telemt over the past 40 years. No such evidence of ‘Tigrayan mass graves’ was ever discovered as alleged by the free-lance journalist.”.

Horn: IFRC secretary general calls for  a scale-up of humanitarian assistance
On 6 May, the secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Jagan Chapagain called for a large scale-up of assistance to communities in the Horn who are suffering from the drought and hunger. He said: “I have seen firsthand the level of suffering caused by drought in Marsabit [Kenya]. There are highly unacceptable levels of malnutrition, a global acute malnutrition (GAM) rate of 53.6 per cent in this particular ward – one of the highest in Africa. The situation is rapidly deteriorating. We need immediate humanitarian assistance to reach the most vulnerable. We also need long term solutions that address the impact of climate change including investment in resilient livelihoods”. According to United Nations Population Funds (UNFPA) women and girls are especially at risk. In the Somali region, “over the course of the next month alone an estimated 2,568 women and 3,425 newborns will experience complications with potentially deadly consequences if skilled care and services aren’t available” according to UNFPA. Thousands of Ethiopian refugees are seeking shelter from the war and the drought in Somaliland, according to The Guardian. Director of families and livelihoods for the authorities in the town of Baligubadle said “People are dying, […] We don’t have enough water and we need help. Our reservoirs are dry. We bring water trucks all the way from Hargeisa, but that is very expensive and we can’t manage to do that very often”.

Ethiopia: UN ask for an investigation on recent clashes between Christians and Muslims
On 7 May, The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet asked the Ethiopian authorities to investigate the recent clashes between Christians and Muslims, according to Le Figaro. Those clashes, which started in Gondar and stretched to Addis Ababa, killed 30 people and injured more than 100 during the end of April. According to The Amhara Islamic Affairs Council, the conflict started with the attack by Christians of an Islamic funeral, and escalated to the point where two Christians were burnt alive, one man was killed by an axe and multiple mosques and churches were destroyed. Michelle Bachelet called for broader action to reconcile communities in Ethiopia: “To prevent further interfaith violence, it is crucial to quickly address the underlying causes of this violence”.

North Africa

Western Sahara/Morocco: 44 migrants and refugees drown off the coast of Western Sahara
On 8 May, 44 migrants and refugees died in the capsizing of their boat off the coast of Western Sahara, according to the NGO Caminando Fronteras. According to France 24, they were probably trying to reach the Canary archipelago. According to founder of the NGO Caminando Fronteras Helena Maleno, 12 others survived the capsizing and were arrested by the Moroccan authorities. In 2021, 4,404 migrants and refugees died or disappeared at sea on their journey to Spain, according to Caminando Fronteras.


Mediterranean Sea: Multiple rescues at sea for a total of 122 migrants and refugees saved
On Sunday 9 May, the NGO Sea-Watch International announced that the crew of its vessel Sea-Watch 4 had rescued 88 people in distress at sea over the weekend, and that its vessel now had 145 people on board. “People who – if the #EU had had its way – would have been drowned or been illegally pulled back to #Libya,” Sea-Watch International also wrote in its tweet. That same weekend, other rescue operations took place in the Mediterranean. The ship of the NGO Sea-Eye also announced the rescue of 34 migrants and refugees. The German news agency dpa reported that a total of 122 migrants and refugees were rescued over the weekend. These various operations make it possible to come to the aid of boats in difficulty in the middle of the sea, and therefore of migrants and refugees who have been at sea for days and are “totally exhausted”, according to Sea-Eye

Spain: More than 20 migrants and refugees missing and feared dead in the Atlantic
The Spanish authorities announced on Monday that more than 20 migrants and refugees have disappeared and are feared drowned in the Atlantic Ocean, off the Canary Islands. The boat was initially carrying around 40 people according to witnesses, and the coastguards rescued 13 survivors by helicopter, reports Al Jazeera. The coastguards said a rescue plane had spotted the boat in trouble, a barely floating dinghy. The 13 survivors were taken to Gran Canaria and Tenerife, and some were transferred to health centres due to their hypothermic state. In 2021, 22,316 migrants and refugees are estimated to have crossed the sea to Spain via the Canary Islands, reports Al Jazeera.

UK: Legal action against Home Secretary plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda
On Tuesday 10 May, a legal action was launched against the UK government, and more specifically against Home Secretary Priti Patal’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, as a first group of migrants and refugees wait to be informed of possible transfer to Rwanda. The action was launched by the Nottingham-based law firm InstaLaw, which specialises, among other things, in public and international law. The firm said the Home Secretary’s proposals are contrary to international law and the UN Refugee Convention, and also the UK Data Protection Act, InfoMigrants explains. The UN refugee agency (UNODC) accused the UK of “inviting” its European neighbours to adopt the same immigration policy. “I can understand from their perspective why they would do that – it would give such deals more perceived legitimacy if others do the same,” said UNHCR’s acting UK representative Larry Bottinick.

Ukraine: Migrants and refugees arbitrarily detained near the front lines
On 6 May, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) reiterated its call on Ukraine to release all migrants and asylum seekers locked up in a migrant detention centre in Mykolaiv, which is close to the front lines in the south of the country. HRW had already written twice in March and April to the Ukrainian authorities. “Migrants and asylum seekers have been locked up for nearly two months on the edge of a war zone […] Detainees are terrified and in danger, and there is no justification for keeping them in immigration detention” said Nadia Hardman, refugee and migrant rights researcher at HRW. Some of those interviewed said they were detained in the month before the Russian invasion while trying to cross the Polish border, HRW reported. Initially, these migrants and refugees were detained administratively, but since the start of the conflict, Ukraine is no longer able to deport anyone, and their continued detention is becoming “arbitrary,” writes HRW.

Lithuania: 2,500 migrants and refugees detained in conditions unfavourable to mental health
On May 6, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a press release denouncing the conditions of detention of more than 2,500 asylum seekers and migrants in Lithuania for months. MSF is particularly concerned about the mental health of these people. “People do not have access to a fair asylum process and there is no specialized support for psychiatric disorders or survivors of torture and sexual violence […]”, says Georgina Brown, MSF representative in Lithuania. In these centres, people can be held for up to a year, which can be extended to 18 months if necessary, MSF writes. Uncertainty about their situation, limited access to legal aid, detention conditions and the various traumas of migrants and refugees have caused an increase in MSF’s mental health interventions. The organisation regrets the lack of alternatives to detention for those identified as more fragile or in need of appropriate care.

Cyprus: Fire in migrant camp previously criticised for its poor conditions
On Wednesday 11 May, a fire at the Pournara migrant reception centre in Cyprus reportedly injured at least six people, InfoMigrants reports. The six, who are from Nigeria, were taken to hospital with various injuries, while the fire service is still investigating the cause of the fire, reports the German news agency dpa. The conditions at the centre have been criticised several times already, not only by the camp residents but also by aid workers and the UN. Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades himself described the living conditions as “tragic” after a visit to the camp last March.

Spain: Businessman arrested for exploiting migrants and refugees
A businessman has been arrested in the Balearic Islands, Spain, for alleged crimes against labour rights and moral integrity for exploiting migrant and refugee workers for an indefinite period of time, reports El Periódico. The Balearic Islands are a key point where migrants and refugees try to reach from Africa, and their precarious conditions allegedly allowed this businessman to exploit them in his company, says L’Indépendant. He initially offered them jobs as welders, working from 7:30 to 18:00, for more than 1,500 euros a month, with the added bonus of registering for social security. The reality was different, since he reportedly made them work more than 68 hours per week, with days of 12 hours minimum, and receiving only a part of the salary, explains L’Indépendant. The evidence collected allowed the Spanish police to arrest him.

France: 90 young migrants and refugees to be evicted from facility 
On 6 May, the Administrative Court of Toulouse, France, decided to evict 90 minor migrants and refugees from the facility where they had been housed since 2019, reports France 3 Occitanie. The establishment in question, a former elderly home, was authorised for use by associations for the protection and integration of these unaccompanied minors, mostly from West Africa. The city’s Centre Communal d’Action Sociale (CCAS) referred the matter to the Administrative Court to enforce the closure of the site, which had already been decided in 2021 for incidents and violence, but was suspended due to the winter break. This argument remains refuted by a collective formed by associations and volunteers. “The CCAS puts forward violence by extrapolating it in an unfair way. These incidents are the work of 5 or 6 people at the most. The associations which work on the spot confirm it”, underlined their lawyer, Benjamin Francos. The associations and the 90 young migrants and refugees have 20 days to find a solution, reports France 3 Occitanie.

UK: 5 human smugglers sentenced to jail
On 9 May, five human smugglers responsible for the smuggling of 35 Afghan refugees were sentenced to prison, according to Manchester Evening News (MEN). The smugglers were locking the refugees in “coffin-like” hides and transporting them in vans across France, Belgium and the UK. Deputy Director for Immigration Enforcement’s Criminal Financial Investigations, Ben Thomas said: “The operation run by this criminal group put children and vulnerable people’s lives in danger for the sake of making a profit. I hope these sentencings send a powerful message that breaking the law and putting individuals’ lives at risk will not go unpunished”. According to MEN, the UK government drew wide criticism for its failure to follow through on promises of visas to Afghan refugees after the Taliban comeback to power.

France: Eritrean refugee found hanged in a trailer
On 11 May, an Eritrean refugee was found hanged in a trailer in the town of Marck in the North of France, according to several sources. The victim, who could not be identified by local authorities but was aged between 20 and 25, most likely killed himself. Coordinator of the NGO Utopia 56’s local branch Marguerite Combes said: “it is a meaningful act, a drama that could certainly have been avoided if a real policy of unconditional, dignified reception had been carried out in France, if there were safe ways of passage to England”.


UN: Opening of the COP15 of the UNCCD as Africa suffers worst droughts
The fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) began on Monday, May 9, in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and aims to put in place concrete solutions against rapid land degradation. For 10 days, 196 states and the European Union will try to reach consensus on measures that will help restore the land to its natural state, reports RFi. The conference is “a call to action to ensure land, the lifeline on this planet, continues to benefit present and future generations,” the UNCCD secretariat said in a statement. Currently, the African continent is the hardest hit by desertification, especially in the Horn of Africa, where droughts seem to be continuous and severe, RFi said.

UN: The Human Right Council votes to increase scrutiny on Russian abuses in the war
On May 12, the UN Human Right Council (UNHRC) voted to increase scrutiny on “deteriorating human rights situation in #Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression”, according to the UNHRC Twitter account. 33 countries voted in favour, 12 abstained and only 2 countries voted against: China and Eritrea. Chinese ambassador Chen Xu said the resolution “could add fuel to the fire”, according to Al Jazeera. In a statement, Russian ambassador to the UN Gennady Gatilov said: “Instead of discussing the true causes that led to the crisis in this country and looking for ways to resolve them, the ‘collective West’ is organising another political route to demonise Russia”. Following accusations of Ukrainian local authorities of humanitarian workers pushbacks, the UN’s top rights body also called on Russia to immediately allow humanitarian workers access to civilians taken from Ukraine to Russia.

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