News Highlights: Military tensions in the Horn, Refugee arrests in Libya, IFRC accuses EU of double standards

In this week’s News Highlights: Military tensions building in the Horn; Ethiopian Federal government and Oromo opposition clash in conflict that affects civilians; Journalist from The Economist expelled from Ethiopia; OCHA humanitarian update on Northern Ethiopia; Hassan Sheikh Mohamud elected as President of Somalia; One person in the Horn is dying from hunger every 48 seconds, warn international organisations; Press conference recording announcing investigation into atrocity crimes in Eritrea; Campaign of refugee arrests in Libya; 19 persons drowned between Spain from Algeria; Network of 11 alleged human smugglers shut down between Morocco and Spain; Ukrainian women at risk of sex trafficking, OSCE warns; Camp of around 350 people evicted in Calais; A dozen alleged sex traffickers arrested in the UK and Romania; Petition for the recognition of gender-based violence in migration submitted to EU Parliament; Increase in crossings of the Channel due to milder weather conditions; Palermo Court hears of ‘dire conditions’ endured by refugees during 2019 rescue; Training programme for refugees and vulnerable migrants in Italy; Wreckage of boat to be erected as memorial in Calabria; and IFRC President says Europe applies “double standards”.

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The greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia/Eritrea: Military tensions building
Pictures shared on the internet show military truck convoys in Djibouti. Other pictures shared on the internet show Round 34 of Eritrean National Service leaving the Sawa training camp for Asmara to join the 31st year of Independence Day festivities on 24 May. They appear to be wearing uniforms similar to the Ethiopian uniforms. At the same time, it is reported that increased activity is observed in Sawa and other military sites in Eritrea. Unverified reports state that build-up of troops is taking place around Badme, Rama and Zalembessa on the Eritrean – Tigray border. Language on social media and Eritrean TV is reported to be increasingly hostile. A statement by the Eritrean government on 17 May says that Tigrayan forces are advancing for another war with “support and blessing from the west” and vowed to defend itself.

Ethiopia: Federal government and Oromo opposition clash in conflict that affects civilians
Ethiopia’s government communications department announced Saturday, May 14, that security forces in Oromia Regional State have killed a large number of Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) members and that a counterinsurgency operation is underway to eliminate the entire OLA. An Oromo opposition official spoke to The EastAfrican and confirmed the ongoing military operation. “The Ethiopian army is carrying out drone strikes to conduct targeted killings in many areas. […] However, several innocent civilians are also victims of the ongoing warfare,” he added. A few days earlier, an Oromo opposition political party, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), said in a statement that a “secret war” was underway in the region, and called for an independent international investigation into possible massacres of civilians.

Ethiopia: Journalist from The Economist expelled for ‘misguided approach’
The Economist’s Ethiopia correspondent was expelled from the country on May 13 by authorities who accuse him of having a “misguided approach” to journalism, VOA reported. His press accreditation was revoked, and he was given 48 hours to leave the country, The Economist said in a statement. “The Economist rejects this characterization of Mr. Gardner and deplores his expulsion from Ethiopia. Mr Gardner is an outstanding reporter who adheres to the highest standards of journalistic ethics. His reporting from Ethiopia, including on the conflict in the northern region of Tigray, has been professional, unbiased and often courageous,” the statement said. In early May 2021, the authorities had already expelled a correspondent of the New York Times, and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had also called on the authorities to release two online television journalists, accused of “undermining the Constitution,” adds Le Monde.

Ethiopia: OCHA humanitarian update
The latest humanitarian update on the situation in Northern Ethiopia by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) indicates that while aid to Tigray is speeding up, over four times more is needed to meet urgent needs. The situation “remains tense and unpredictable,” states the report. 319 trucks managed to enter Tigray in one week, which is the highest number since June 2021. However, as the flow remains insufficient, food prices continue to rise. Households that had a reliable income before the conflict have now because vulnerable groups, warns OCHA. Furthermore, seeds and fertilisers are urgently needed as the planting season of Meher is starting. 

Somalia: Hassan Sheikh Mohamud elected as President
Somalia elected a new President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, on 15 May. Mohamud governed the country already between 2012 and 2017. Bloomberg reports that the election means a shift in relations with Ethiopia and Eritrea. Former Somalian President Farmaajo was seen as pro Eritrean President Isayas and pro Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy in the war against Tigray. 

Horn: One person dying from hunger every 48 seconds, warn international organisations
Oxfam Novib and Save the Children warn that according to their estimations, one person dies from hunger in the Horn of Africa every 48 seconds in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. “The number of people experiencing extreme hunger in the three countries has more than doubled since last year – from over 10 million to more than 23 million today,” states the report. The organisations warn that the international community must respond to the catastrophe. Among other things, the organisations call on “G7 and Western leaders [to] immediately inject money to meet the $4.4 billion UN appeal for Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, and ensure the funding is flexible enough to be used where it is most needed.” 

Eritrea: Foundation posts press conference recording announcing investigation into atrocity crimes in Eritrea
On 16 May, The Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans has posted the recording of a 10 May press conference in which it announced that, together with its lawyer, it is investigating atrocity crimes of the Eritrean President and his associates. The  Foundation draws a comparison between the swift and justified measures taken against Russia for its alleged human rights violations in Ukraine, but no such action is taken to protect victims of such alleged abuses in Eritrea, Tigray, Sinai and Libya by the Eritrean authorities, led by President Isaias Afewerki. 

North Africa

Libya: Campaign of migrant and refugee arrests
Libyan authorities are conducting a large-scale campaign of migrant and refugee arrests, according to Africanews. According to local authorities, 3,000 migrants and refugees have been arrested during the last 3 months and were referred to the Bureau of Illegal Immigration. According to Africanews, several NGOs worry that the migrants and refugees will be put in detention centers where they will face ill treatment.

Algeria: 19 persons drowned in two shipwrecks
Between 15 and 16 May, at least 19 persons drowned in the sinking of 2 ships trying to reach Spain, according to InfoMigrants. According to NGO Héroes del Mar, 11 persons died and 5 went missing following the capsize of their boat off the coast of Tipaza, and 5 other persons died in a shipwreck off the coast of the Spanish town of Almeria. According to founder of Héroes del Mar Francisco Jose Clemente Martin: “departures for Spain have multiplied in recent weeks”.

Morocco/Spain: Network of 11 alleged human smugglers shut down
A network of 11 alleged human smugglers operating between Ceuta and Cadix was shut down in Ceuta, according to El País. According to the Spanish national police, the network “had been operating in the Strait for many years, mainly dedicated to drug trafficking, but which, with the difficulties that the pandemic generated for drug trafficking, expanded the business to human trafficking”. During 2021, the network allegedly smuggled 160 migrants and refugees, including 60 minors, from Ceuta to Cadix using jet skis and boats, according to El País.


Ukraine: Ukrainian women are at risk of sex trafficking, OSCE warns
Ukrainian women are still at risk of sex trafficking as the number of internet searches related to their sexual exploitation has recently increased sharply, according to La Repubblica. On 17 May, during the meeting of the Civil Society Platform against Trafficking in Human Beings at the European Parliament, coordinator for combating human trafficking at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Valiant Richey said: “The search key ‘Ukraine’ increased by 600% on pornographic sites, while searches for ‘Ukrainian escorts’ grew by 200% on search engines. […] Our office receives constant reports of men approaching Ukrainian women in railway stations or places of arrival with false offers of accommodation, transport and money”. According to several NGO reports, the unaccompanied girls between 16 and 18 are especially at risk. According to NGO Ave Copii, some private bus companies are accepting to let minors cross the border without legal representation, exposing them to greater risk of being trafficked.

France: Camp of around 350 migrants and refugees evicted in Calais
On 13 May, a camp of around 350 migrants and refugees was evicted in Calais, according to Le Figaro. Local authorities stated that migrants and refugees were offered “a proposal for shelter” and that the ones who accepted it were “oriented towards accommodation structures” in the region. Human Rights Observers (HRO) told AFP that they were considering this action as “enforced sheltering”. According to HRO, the confiscation by the authorities of the tents of the migrants and refugees is “a technique to force them to leave”.

UK/Romania: A dozen alleged sex traffickers arrested
On 18 May, a group of a dozen alleged human traffickers was arrested in London and in Romania, according to the London police department. The group is accused of trafficking young Romanian women in the UK for sexual exploitation through “advertisements posted on different escort sites”, according to Romanian authorities. According to a statement of the Romanian Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT), since 2012 “the suspects made around 3 million euros by exploiting the victims, who were subjected to acts of violence against them or their families”.

EU: Petition for the recognition of gender-based violence in migration submitted to EU Parliament
On 18 May, a petition from the Feminist Asylum coalition asking for the recognition of violence specifically suffered by women, girls and LGBTQIA+ persons during asylum applications was submitted to the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament in Brussels. This petition, carried by several NGOs, is aiming to “Guarantee the right to international protection through the effective recognition of any specific asylum grounds for women, girls and LGBTIQA+ people”, “Establish a European Monitoring Body to ensure the effective implementation of articles 60 and 61 of the Istanbul Convention and articles 10 to 16 of the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings” and “Ensure access to asylum in European countries for women, girls and LGBTIQA+ people”, according to Feminist Asylum manifesto. According to the feminist activist Sonia Mitralia: “When they cross the Mediterranean, they [women and girls] are not seated in boats like men. And since they are already poorer, the smugglers very often ask them for sexual services. Very often they drown because they can’t swim”. The petition was signed by 39,093 individuals, 261 organisations from 18 European countries and 104 political, cultural and sport personalities.

France/UK: Increase in crossings due to milder weather conditions
The arrival of milder temperatures, and therefore calm weather conditions at sea, allowed nearly 600 migrants and refugees to cross the Channel over the weekend of 14 and 15 May, reports InfoMigrants. On Tuesday 17 May, around 120 more were also reported to have made the crossing, making a total of around 8,300 migrants and refugees to have made the journey since the beginning of 2022, says InfoMigrants. BBC reporter Simon Jones, who was present when the migrants and refugees arrived on 17 May, said the authorities told him that the boats used were getting “bigger with more and more people on board”. Bridget Chapman, spokesperson and media officer for the Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) therefore called on the government to provide “safe and legal routes” for migrants and refugees to seek asylum, not only to offer them safety, but also because “that would kill the smuggler’s business overnight”.

Italy: Description to Palermo Court of ‘dire conditions’ endured by refugees during rescue
The deplorable conditions that migrants and refugees had to endure during a rescue from the Open Arms ship in 2019 were presented to a court in Palermo on 13 May, by Annabelle Montes, head of mission of the Spanish NGO that runs Open Arms. Montes testified in the trial against then Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, accused of refusing to let the Open Arms disembark the migrants and refugees on board. For days, the passengers had to endure deplorable conditions, with only two bathrooms for more than 100 people, and rations for basic necessities, Montes said. “The hygienic, physical and psychological conditions of migrants were extremely hard. People were desperate”, she added. The situation reportedly even caused some of the migrants and refugees to jump ship. Salvini’s lawyer based her defence on the issues caused by ISIS at the time, explaining a “legitimate concern”. During a break in the trial taking place in the Ucciardone bunker room, Salvini declared: “It is frustrating to be on trial in a court that hosted the worst Mafia members, after fighting human trafficking.”

Italy: Training programme for refugees and vulnerable migrants 
On Monday 16 May, the Italian government, the national association of Italian builders ANCE and trade unions in the sector signed a three-year Memorandum of Understanding to enable the training of 3,000 refugees and vulnerable migrants in the construction sector, according to InfoMigrants. The programme will facilitate access to the labour market for migrants and refugees with international protection as well as unaccompanied minors. Those who will have the opportunity to participate will be selected in reception centres and then included in construction schools, according to Labour Minister Andrea Orlando. He declared that he hoped there would be “similar agreements signed for other sectors soon as well”. 

France/Italy: Two alleged human smugglers caught in the Valley of La Roaya
On 15 May, two alleged smugglers trying to reach France through the Valley of La Roaya with 23 refugees and migrants in their van were arrested by French authorities, according to InfoMigrants. The smugglers were put in contact with the migrants and refugees by a tout from the Italian city of Ventimiglia, and persons paid 100 and 150 euros for the transportation, according to InfoMigrants. According to InfoMigrants, the Valley of La Roaya is an important crossing point for migrants seeking to leave Italy for France.

Italy: Wreckage of migrant and refugee boat to be erected as memorial
In the Italian region of Calabria, in Crotone, the wreckage of a migrant and refugee boat is about to be transformed into a monument to the memory of those who disappeared at sea trying to cross the Mediterranean, reports InfoMigrants. The ceremony of handing over the wreck to the municipality by the customs agency took place on 13 May, and will then be transformed by an artist, Massimo Sirelli, into a work of art placed at the entrance of the port. “This wreck, which will be restored to beauty, has a particular meaning for those who reach our land after fleeing horrible places,” said the mayor of Crotone, Vincenzo Voce.


IFRC: IFRC President says Europe applies “double standards” when it comes to migration
Francesco Rocca, the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said that Europe applies “double standards” to migrants and refugees trying to reach the continent. He elaborated by saying that people fleeing from African and Middle Eastern countries are not given the same welcome as those fleeing Ukraine. “The political, public and humanitarian response to the Ukraine crisis has shown what is possible when humanity and dignity comes first […] This must be extended to everyone in need, wherever they come from. Ethnicity and nationality should not be deciding factors in saving lives”, said in parallel Francesco Rocca in a statement.

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 its 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.