News Highlights: Resumption of conflict in Tigray, President of AU to meet Putin on food shortages, UK to start Rwanda deportations

In this week’s News Highlights: European Development Days on 21 and 22 June; Resumption of conflict reported between Tigray and Eritrea; Afar People’s Party calls on federal government to respond humanitarian crisis; Weeks of arrests in Ethiopia; Eritrean youngsters hide from conscription; New droughts predicted in the Horn; Ethiopian crackdown on 111 “illegal” media; Europe not doing enough for migrants and refugees in Libya, IOM says; S&D seminar on democracy and human rights in Libya; First group of asylum seekers to be sent back to Rwanda from the UK; Greek government to triple size of wall with Turkey; Trial of 24 people rescuing migrants and refugees in Italy; Ocean Viking ship receives authorization to disembark 294 migrants and refugees in Sicily; Violent pushbacks by Bulgarian authorities; Migrant fruit pickers paying “exploitative and extortionate” fees in UK; Asylum seekers on hunger strike in Poland immigration holding centre; Person run over by a train near Calais; Simplification of the German admission process of Russians in danger; Local revolt blocks a centre for asylum seekers in UK; New government plan to attract graduate migrants in UK; President of the African Union to meet Putin on the food shortages in Africa.

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EU/Event: European Development Days on 21 and 22 June 2022
Organised by the European Commission, the European Development Days (EDDs) are Europe’s leading forum on international partnerships. It brings together key stakeholders to share ideas, experiences and projects, in order to inspire new partnerships and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. It is also an opportunity to address key topics in relation to human rights and the EU’s external policies, including amidst ongoing conflict in the Horn of Africa. EDDs 2022 is the 15th edition, and will focus on the theme “Global Gateway: building sustainable partnerships for a connected world”. The EDDs 2022 will take place physically at Brussels EXPO and online on 21 and 22 June 2022. Registration is open until 6 June. To register, first create a profile, and then register yourself as a participant on the dashboard of your profile.

The greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Shelling of Sheraro and resumption of conflict between Tigray and Eritrea
Around 28 and 29 May, the Tigrayan town of Sheraro was bombarded by Eritrean forces, according to internal UN documents seen by Reuters. A girl was killed and 18 people were injured over the weekend. A school was shelled as well as 12 houses. According to the Central Command of Tigray, the conflict between Eritrea and Tigray resumed on 24 May by an Eritrean attack on North-Western Tigray where Eritrean forces suffered heavy casualties. In the Amhara region, intense fighting is ongoing between FANO and Amhara Special Forces, according to internal sources.

Ethiopia: Afar People’s Party calls on federal government to respond to humanitarian crisis
On 31 May, the executive committee of the Afar People’s Party (APP) issued a statement calling on the federal government to respond to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region, reports Addis Standard. Calling on the authorities to fulfil their responsibilities in the conflict, the APP also accuses them of playing a “competition for power”, which would result in instability and chaos in the Afar region. “In our region, there have been huge war-related human rights violations” with women being raped, children being separated from their families, says the APP, accusing the government of failing to protect civilians. Finally, the APP expresses its concerns about the National Dialogue Commission, which “does not meet the minimum requirements mentioned [in the declaration]”.

Ethiopia: Weeks of arrests by the Ethiopian government
Ethiopian authorities have been arresting thousands of people in recent weeks, specifically in the Amhara region in the north of the country, reports the Columbia Journalism Review. On Saturday 28 May, the head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission called on the authorities to release the 18 journalists and media workers reportedly currently in detention. The arrests include former high-ranking military officers, such as Tefera Mamo, from the Amhara region, but also journalists who cover government repression, for example. A spokesperson for the US State Department expresses concern over “the narrowing space for freedom of expression and independent media in Ethiopia”, while the Ethiopian federal government says it “continue[s] to take irreversible measures on individuals involved in illegal activities who are planning and working to create havoc and chaos, also on those wearing a cloak of media outlets and journalists”. 

Eritrea: Youngsters hide to avoid conscription
Young Eritreans are hiding at home to avoid forced conscription as military activities intensify, according to The Economist. According to a reporter for the Economist who was able to enter the country: “Cafés and bars once packed with young people are mostly empty. At the central market in Asmara piles of fruit are rotting in the stalls, while shelves in the shops are almost bare, save for what can be smuggled in from Sudan”. According to The Economist, a new military training camp has been opened. Life conditions are also worsening as medical supplies in the country are running low. Hundreds of people continue to flee from Eritrea to Sudan every month, states The Economist. The Economist calls for renewed sanctions on Eritrea to stop the internal and external human rights abuses.

Horn: New droughts predicted
On 30 May, a joint statement issued by meteorological agencies and humanitarian partners announced that the October-December rainy season in the Horn of Africa could also fail. According to this statement, climate change combined with complex meteorological phenomena could lead to a fifth failed rainy season, further aggravating the situation for the population of the Horn. According to The New Humanitarian, billions in funds are needed to help the Horn, which is not receiving enough international aid due to the global focus on Ukraine. 17 million people are facing hunger in the Horn, according to The New Humanitarian.

Ethiopia: Crackdown on 111 “illegal” internet based media
On 1 June, the federal authorities of Ethiopia announced that they identified 111 “illegal” internet based media spreading “false propaganda” to “separate the government from the people” and that they arrested 10 suspects linked to these media. These arrests follow the arrests of a dozen journalists, commentators and media practitioners, and are part of a government crackdown on the press, according to Addis Standard. Head of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Africa programme Angela Quintal said that “CPJ has documented a drastic decline in press freedom in Ethiopia over the last three years […] This decline has accelerated during the ongoing civil war. Numerous journalists have been arrested and detained without trial or for prolonged pre-charge periods”. According to Al Jazeera, some Ethiopian journalists are considering leaving the country and quitting their jobs.

North Africa

Libya/Europe: Europe does not do enough for migrants and refugees in Libya, IOM says
Following the publication of the International Organisation for Migration’s (IOM) Annual Report on Libya, chief of IOM’s mission in Libya Federico Soda told reporters that Europe is not doing enough to change Libya’s “environment of arbitrary detention and deplorable conditions” for migrants and refugees. According to Federico Soda, “kind of the acquiescence” from Europe towards rapes, tortures, killings and other crimes towards migrants and refugees in Libya is worrying. “On a number of issues in the country we [the IOM] are the only voice. That is problematic” said Federico Soda, who is asking for “more condemnation” and “more calls for law and order for investigations” from Europe.  According to the IOM 2021 Annual Report on Libya, 32,425 people on their way to Europe were returned to Libya after being rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

Libya/EU: S&D seminar on democracy and human rights in Libya
On 2 June, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) of the European Parliament held a seminar on democracy and human rights in Libya. The seminar was segmented in three panels, focusing on politics, human rights and migration in the country. Many issues regarding international collaboration with Libya were raised by the speakers, including the lack of presence of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on site, the targeting of human rights activists, the opacity of the situation in detention centres for migrants and refugees and the abuses committed there, and the European funds going to the Libyan coastguards who return refugees to situations of grave abuses. During the seminar, chairwoman of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights Maria Arena asked for Europe to take responsibility in the pushbacks and the crimes in Libya, especially regarding the collaboration with Libyan coastguards. The seminar ended with a screening of Sara Creta’s documentary “No Escape from Hell” about Libya.


UK: First group of asylum seekers to be sent back to Rwanda on 14 June
A first group of asylum seekers from Rwanda have been given notice by the UK government and will be on the first deportation flight to Rwanda on 14 June. This is the next legal step taken by the government, after issuing “notices of intent” to asylum seekers who arrived by irregular means, says The Guardian. Upon learning that they were to be deported, some asylum seekers went on a hunger strike at Brook House detention centre in Sussex, according to the BBC. Human rights activists are concerned for the mental health of these asylum seekers, who are usually unable to appeal the decision or even access legal advice, says The Guardian. The government has prepared for a wave of legal challenges and criticism, however Priti Patel has expressed that she will “not be deterred”. 

Greece: Government to triple size of wall with Turkey
Notis Mitarachi, Greek minister for migration affairs, announced on Sunday 29 May Greece’s intention to triple the length of a wall along its border with Turkey, from 40 to 120 km of steel, with work due to start this year. The government is appealing for financial support from the European Union, Al Jazeera reports. Tensions between Greece and Turkey erupted in 2020 during a naval standoff over energy exploration rights in the Mediterranean Sea, Al Jazeera said. Since then, the two governments have clashed constantly, particularly over the issue of migrants and refugees, with Greece accusing its neighbour of “instrumentalising” migration as a means of putting pressure on the European Union, while Turkey claims to be taking on a disproportionate burden of migrants and refugees from the war in Syria. On 26 May, the Greek authorities were accused of violently pushing migrants and refugees back to Turkey again, confiscating their personal belongings, creating a new conflict between Greece and Turkey, reports the Daily Sabah. 

Italy: Trial of 24 people rescuing migrants and refugees at sea
On 28 May, after four years of investigations, the trial of 24 people working with NGOs rescuing migrants and refugees at sea started in Trapani, according to il Post. It is the first time a file like this one reaches the preliminary hearings, according to il Post.  The investigation targets three NGOs: Jugend Rettet; Médecin Sans Frontières (MSF); Save the Childrens. These NGOs are accused, among other charges, of collaborating with human traffickers in Libya. According to human rights expert Alison West: “the trial is essentially about trying to criminalise the mobilisation of civil society”. According to the lawyer of the 4 accused members of Jugend Rettet, they could face up to 20 years in prison. The peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Father Zerai, probed since 2017 for allegedly helping Jugend Rettet in illegal activities, has been cleared of all charges, according to Ansa.

Italy: Ocean Viking ship receives authorization to disembark 294 migrants and refugees 
The humanitarian rescue ship Ocean Viking, belonging to the association SOS Méditerranée, received permission from the Italian authorities on 29 May to disembark 294 people rescued at sea in Sicily, reports InfoMigrants. These migrants and refugees had been saved thanks to different operations, started on 19 May, explains Associated Press, which means that they remained 10 days and 10 nights on the ship. The rescuers said that this wait had been “draining” and that one of the passengers had even jumped from the ship “out of exhaustion & despair”, before being rescued a second time. Among these 294 people are nearly 50 minors, the youngest of whom was only three months old, according to the NGO. In recent weeks, and with the arrival of milder weather, Italy has seen an increase in migrants and refugees, more than 31% more than last year, according to the Interior Ministry. “The problem hits our countries at first, but is a question facing the whole continent,” Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said, as she is about to host 5 countries to discuss the migration situation. 

Bulgaria: Violent pushbacks and police dog attacks on migrants and refugees
On 26 May, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Bulgarian authorities were violently pushing back migrants and refugees at the Turkish border. “The Bulgarian authorities beat, rob, strip, and use police dogs to attack Afghans and other asylum seekers and migrants, then push them back to Turkey without a formal interview or asylum procedure,” they wrote. The NGO interviewed 15 Afghan men between November 2021 and April 2022, and they described being subjected to numerous violent push-backs, robberies and “stripped them of their clothes, in some cases leaving them without shoes, only in underwear and t-shirts in freezing temperatures,” HRW wrote. The Bulgarian government has so far not responded to the HRW report, although some officials have previously denied mistreating migrants and refugees, says Al Jazeera

UK: Migrant fruit pickers paying “exploitative and extortionate” fees
As many as 150 Nepali seasonal fruit pickers in English farms had to pay thousands pounds in illegal fees related to their flights and their visa applications, according to a joint investigation of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Guardian. Those fees, described as “exploitative and extortionate” by labour rights experts, are linked to flaws in the seasonal workers visa scheme launched in 2019, according to the joint investigations. Researcher and former adviser to the UK’s independent anti-slavery commissioner Emily Kenway said: “Everyone who works on labour rights, modern slavery and trafficking has been saying from day one that there is a massive chance that we’re going to have exploitation taking place through the scheme because of its design and the lack of resourcing going into it”. According to the joint investigation, thousands of migrant labourers could be at risk of exploitation with the current seasonal workers scheme.

Poland: Asylum seekers on hunger strike against conditions at immigration holding centre
Ten Kurdish asylum seekers in Poland are entering their third week of hunger strike, protesting against the living conditions of migrants and refugees in Poland, reports InfoMigrants. The strike began on 4 May, and the asylum seekers are staying in an immigration detention centre in Lesznowola, where they describe prison-like living conditions and slow asylum procedures. One of the strikers’ spokespersons stressed that the strikers were “very weak, with some of them having begun to refuse to accept asylum too”. According to AFP, the strikers are particularly protesting against limited access to telephone and internet, as well as difficulties in contacting lawyers.

France: Person run over by a train near Calais
On 29 May, a migrant, probably of African origins, died hit by a freight train near Calais, according to Franceinfo. According to local authorities, the investigation leans “either towards the hypothesis of suicide, or that of significant alcoholism, with disorientation”. It’s the second time this year that a migrant is hit by a train this year, according to Franceinfo.

Germany: Simplification of the admission process of Russians in danger
The Federal Government has agreed to simplify the admission of Russians at risk in their home country, according to Süddeutsche Zeitung. According to Interior Minister Nancy Faeser: “Russia’s increasingly brutal aggression against Ukraine is being accompanied by ever-increasing internal repression, especially against the press, against human rights activists and members of the opposition […] We offer protection in Germany to Russians who are being persecuted and threatened”. The administrative changes especially targets journalists for whom staying in Russia has become dangerous since the recent reforms on the press. 

UK: Local revolt blocks a new centre for asylum seekers
On 30 May, the first 60 asylum seekers supposed to arrive at the new migrant camp located at Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire have been delayed following protests and legal-actions conducted by local conservatives, according to the Telegraph. The centre, located in a former Royal Air Force (RAF) base, is supposed to accommodate 1,500 asylum seekers. Local conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Kevin Hollinrake, has begun legal proceedings to oppose the centre with a pre-action letter to the Home Office, according to the Telegraph. The Home Office stated that: “no final decision has been taken by ministers to accommodate asylum seekers at RAF Linton”. Linton-on-Ouse RAF base is the first of a network of new proposed asylum camps settled by the government to end the use of hotels for asylum seekers, according to the Telegraph.

UK: New government plan to attract graduate migrants
On Monday 30 May, the UK announced a new scheme to offer work visas to graduates of one of the top 50 foreign universities, in a bid to attract the “best and brightest” workers, reports Al Jazeera. The scheme will allow them to apply for a two-year work visa, and those with a PhD will even be able to apply for a three-year visa, as well as being allowed to bring in their family members, the government said. Eligible universities must be listed in specific rankings, such as the Times Higher Education World University Ranking or the World University Academic Ranking, which ultimately includes about 20 US universities, as well as other Western universities or universities from wealthy countries (such as France, Japan, China and Germany), Al Jazeera says. While this represents an incredible opportunity according to Rishi Sunak, the Minister of Finance, it was quickly criticised on social media, accusing the government of excluding universities in the South. Some users even called the policy “elitist” and “racist”, reports Al Jazeera.


AU/Russia: President of the African Union to meet Vladimir Putin on the shortages in Africa
Macky Sall, President of the African Union and Senegal, accompanied by Moussa Faki Mahamat, President of the African Union Commission, will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday 3 June, in Russia, says Politico. The purpose of this visit is planned “amid efforts from the presidency to contribute to deescalation amid the war in Ukraine, and to free stocks of cereals and fertilizers, the blockade of which particularly impacts African countries”, according to a statement to the Senegalese news agency. Two days earlier, on Wednesday 1 June, Macky Sall participated in the European Council summit discussions on food security, alarming the various leaders that the food shortage in Africa was “very serious and alarming”. 

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.