News Highlights: Ethiopia-Tigray negotiations appear to stall, Famine looms in Somalia, Six die from dehydration on Mediterranean

AMISOM Photo / Tobin Jones. Original public domain image from Flickr

In this week’s News Highlights: Ethiopia negotiations stall despite public commitment by both parties; 12 dead in Tigray airstrikes; Tigray command gives statement on ongoing fighting; portrait of Kenyan president Ruto; Ethiopia faces war and inflation; Floods in South Sudan; FAO says 300.000 face famine in Somalia; al-Shabab loses ground in Somalia; Anti-military protests in Sudan; Migrant shot and killed by Moroccan police; Six people die from dehydration in mediterranean; Denmark reaches agreement to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda; Frontex says migrant and refugee arrivals up 75% in last 8 months; State of the Union speech; EU unveils legislation for forced labour produce ban; Ukraine shows EU possible alternative migration policy, says ECRE; Spanish expulsion of Ivorian migrant to Morocco cancelled; Syrians form caravan from Turkey to EU; and IOM says 50 million modern slaves in 2021. 

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Negotiations appear to have stalled, though both parties express commitment
Peace negotiations between the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigray government which took place in Djibouti this week appear to have stalled, state experts. No public statements have yet been made regarding the outcomes. Both parties have, however, publicly stated that they are willing to commit to an AU-led peace negotiation. On 11 September, the Tigray government released  a statement saying they would be open to African Union-led peace talks, under conditions that include mutually agreed upon mediators and international observers. The authorities of Tigray stated that “we are ready to abide by an immediate and mutually agreed cessation of hostilities in order to create a conducive atmosphere”. The Ethiopian government responded on 15 September, with Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen stating that “[t]he Ethiopian government is committed to the AU-led peace process”. The African Union reaffirmed their confidence in Obasanjo by extending his mandate. The Tigray statement was widely welcomed by international actors, including the EU, the US and various individual countries. 

Ethiopia: Airstrikes in Tigray leave 12 dead so far
At least two airstrikes hit Tigray’s capital of Mekelle this week, killing at least 12 persons. An official at Ayder Hospital in Ethiopia’s Tigray region told Reuters that an air raid hit the region’s capital, Mekelle, on 13 September. Dr Kibrom Gebreselassie, the hospital’s director general, said the targets of the raid were Mekelle University and the regional government-run television station, Dimtsi Weyane. Dr Kibrom said a second round of drone strikes was carried out in Mekelle on 14 September, which targeted a residential neighbourhood in two rounds of strikes. . Dr Kibrom Gebreselassie declared the death toll from both drone strikes had risen to 12, after two initial survivors succumbed to their injuries. After the attacks, Dimtsi Weyane stopped televising, says Tigrai Television, and the Mekelle University Management asked in a statement for pressure on the federal government to stop aerial attacks.

Ethiopia: Fighting continues, says the Central Command of the Tigray army
The Central Command of the Tigray army issued a statement on 13 September in Tigrinya, broadcast on Tigrai TV and social media, on what it called “the intense fighting that has been going on day and night for over three weeks”. TDF commander, Tadesse Worede, states that the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) were holding the frontline and acting strategically, coordinating with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). The statements also say the TDF has fought more than 100 divisions from Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) allied troops. The numbers could not be verified independently. Tadesse states the Tigrayan towns of Shiraro and Ademiti are occupied by the Eritrean forces and ENDF. Sources also indicate that a general mobilisation has been ordered in Eritrea for citizens between the ages of 18 and 55, and that Tigray announced general mobilisation of those between 18 and 45 

Kenya: Portrait of Kenya’s new president William Ruto
On 10 September, the New York Times published an article on the newly confirmed president of Kenya, William Ruto, the country’s fifth president. The NYT states that his victory is stained by accusations of human rights violations during the 2007 tensions that nearly resulted in a civil war and saw Ruto pass before the International criminal court before being discharged of all accusations in 2016 when witnesses altered their narrative, some say under threat and with the incentive of corruption. The peaceful transition marks a notable demarcation from previous troubled elections in the country, says AP news. Mr Ruto has also nominated his predecessor as continued chairman of the rounds of talks on Eastern Congo and Ethiopia which the international community feared might be neglected by the new administration, says AP news.

Ethiopia: A new year starts with war and inflation
A report published by the World Bank on 8 September warns that the current drought combined with the ongoing armed conflict and the ensuing poor economic situation of Ethiopia could undo recent economic progress. The UN Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs warns that about 20 million Ethiopians will need help to face the historic drought combined with the price hikes. The effect of July’s 30% inflation rate is felt by the population, says Le Monde, as the  nation’s defence budget increased by a further 1.7 billion dollars according to AP news. Ethiopian authorities state that while they are not yet able to reign back inflation they have been able to stabilise it. The Ethiopian government banks on the predicted 6% growth rate over the coming year to ameliorate the situation, says Le Monde. The loss of favourable tariffs towards the US market could hurt those numbers as their loss directly hurt the Ethiopian manufacturing boom, says Voice Of America

South Sudan: Natural disaster declared due to floods
The Government of South Sudan has declared a state of national disaster in areas of the country affected by the recent floods. President Salva Kiir has appealed to humanitarian partners for help, as the country has experienced extreme flooding since 2019, reports Associated Press. Some health centres have had to close because of the floods, and people have been isolated as a result, being exposed to disease, the Associated Press writes.

Somalia: FAO says 300,000 people will face famine
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warns that 6.7 million Somalis are likely to suffer from hunger this year whereas 300.000 will likely face a famine. This risk of famine will mainly affect rural residents of the Baidao and Burhakana districts in the south of the country, says FAO. Peterschmitt, FAO representative in Somalia, warns: “Act now or a famine will occur within the next few weeks.” The drought is spreading and high food prices combined with conflict have created catastrophic levels of food unavailability, states FAO. Peterschmitt warns that the situation increasingly resembles the one faced by the country in 2011. As malnutrition becomes an increasing problem, James Elder, spokesman for UNICEF, warns diarrhoea and measles begin to cause havoc among children; he warns as many as half a million could die. 

Somalia: Somali military retakes 20 villages from al-Shabab
Somali military says 20 villages and the small town of Fidow, near the Ethiopian border, have been recaptured from Al-Shabab by 12 September. The Somali Information Ministry said operation is a first step in implementing the government’s vision for ridding national territory of terrorist threat. Abdulkarim Abdulle, a Mogadishu-based independent security analyst, states that local militias have committed to assisting the government in its operations. He emphasises the importance the groups have had in the success of the operation. This comes as Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud declared a total war against the al-Shabab movement in August 2022 after the siege of a hotel in the capital, Mogadishu. According to Le Monde, fears are that al-Shabab may now adopt a strategy of penetration and long lasting integration in neighbouring Ethiopia.

Sudan: Anti military protests continue in Sudan
On 13 September protests continued against the military takeover of the government in Sudan. Some people were injured as police tried to disperse the crowd, says Al Jazeera. After taking over power in 2021 following the overthrowing of Omar Al-Bashir in 2019, the military administration claims it wants to step aside to leave space for negotiation between civilian factions. Protestors do not trust the proposal, with civilian leaders calling it a “ruse”, says Al Jazeera

North Africa

Morocco: Moroccan police opens fire on migrants
On 11 September, a young woman attempting to board a boat departing to the Canary Islands was shot and killed by Moroccan police attempting to prevent the boat’s departure, says Spanish news agency EFE. Helena Maleno, from the NGO Caminando Fronteras, states that Moroccan police opened fire multiple times, hitting the young woman in the chest; a further three were also injured and two were run over by police vehicles. The Moroccan media outlet Badna24 says that the “warning shots” were fired in an attempt to stop a human smuggling operation. This comes after Moroccan and Spanish authorities have been accused of using excessive force against African migrants trying to enter into Melilla on June 24 killing 37.


Mediterranean Sea: Six people die of dehydration on a boat
Six people, including two babies, died of dehydration on a migrant boat that arrived at a port in Sicily, Italy, on 12 September, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has confirmed. “They died of thirst, hunger and severe burns […] This is unacceptable. Strengthening rescue at sea is the only way to prevent these tragedies” said Chiara Cardoletti, UNHCR official in Italy. The boat reportedly left Turkey on 30 August, broke down and drifted towards eastern Libya, according to the UN agency’s spokesperson. They were rescued after several days by a cargo ship, but six of them were already dead, according to InfoMigrants. The boat initially had 32 passengers on board, and several of the survivors are in a serious condition due to exposure to wind, sun and sea, InfoMigrants reports. 

Denmark/Rwanda: Possible agreement to transfer asylum seekers
The governments of Denmark and Rwanda have signed an agreement on the possible transfer of asylum seekers, which would allow for the movement of around 1000 people to Rwanda, according to InfoMigrants. The joint statement said the two governments were “exploring the establishment of a program through which spontaneous asylum seekers arriving in Denmark may be transferred to Rwanda for consideration of their asylum applications.” The agreement was presented on 9 September, while the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, had already raised grave concerns about such relocation processes of asylum reception centres. Denmark declared its policy “humanitarian”, as it would “discourage” people from embarking on dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea. Critics have pointed in response to a similar plan of the United Kingdom to send asylum seekers to Rwanda that there is no evidence to suggest that this would discourage persons from crossing.

Europe: Migrant and refugee arrivals in EU up 75% in 8 months, says Frontex
According to Frontex, the first 8 months of 2022 saw the highest numbers of arrivals since 2016. This has mostly concerned the Western Balkan routes and Eastern Mediterranean terrestrial routes. This has resulted in 188.200 irregular entries into the European border, according to Frontex. Frontex believes this number can in part be attributed to repeated crossing in the region of the Western Balkans. Frontex has not included migration flows from Ukraine into its figures. This trend takes place in a climate of continued abuse of migrants at the EU’s external border, says Infomigrants.

Europe: Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the Union speech
On 14 September, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen gave her State of the Union speech. At the centre of its focus was Ukraine. She declared that “our actions toward Ukrainian refugees must not be an exception” and should instead be “a blueprint for going forward.” There were also what appeared to be remarks decrying the accusations of pushbacks targeting Frontex in Greece, says Politico. According to Politico and Euractiv, Von der Leyen spent little attention to increasing food insecurity across the globe, omitting to mention potential EU efforts to combat it, only making passing reference to “solidarity lanes” opened in Ukraine to allow export of food products via the EU. 

Europe: Commission unveils proposal to rid EU market of products tied to forced labour
On 14 September the European Commission released a Q&A on their planned legislation seeking to rid the European market of any goods produced using forced labour. The EU uses the definition of forced labour by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which is “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.” The ILO estimates that 27.6 million people are currently coerced into labour. The EU sees forced labour as an important battleground as it continues to strive for the promotion of human rights, says the Commission. According to the Commission, the objective of the proposed piece of legislation is to “effectively prohibit the placing on the EU market of products made with forced labour, as well as their export from the EU.”

European Union: Ukraine shows potential for alternative policies towards migration
September is a busy legislative period for the EU and this one will be worse than usual as the European Parliament and Council hurry to pass asylum reforms before 2024; the end of the Parliament and commission mandates, says the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE). The ECRE points out that the coming Council presidencies of Hungary, Poland and Denmark, all countries with conservative stances on migration, may lead to only partial reforms. According to ECRE, such reforms would focus on increasing member state independence with regard to EU law and standards; this could result in decreased standards of protection for migrants. CRE contrasts this with the solidarity and inclusiveness-based response shown by member states when faced with forcefully displaced populations coming from Ukraine. 

Spain: Ivorian migrant to be sent to Morocco, before expulsion cancelled
On 8 September an Ivorian man deported to Morocco by Spanish authorities was allowed to return due to a fault in the asylum request evaluation procedure. While on the plane to Morocco the order was revoked. It was found the man had not been provided adequate legal assistance, a failure by the Spanish state to guarantee the respect of his rights, says Infomigrants, basing themselves on the decision of a Spanish court. LS (identification provided for the man) believes sending him to Morocco would have placed him in danger as he “fears Morocco is not a safe place for us”. Two Spanish NGOs, Coordinadora de Barrios and Caminando Fronteras, denounced the case stating that protocols were not respected in the bilateral agreement between Spain and Morocco, further emphasising that it results in people like this young man being sent to countries they have no relation to. The Spanish interior minister stated that “National police always treat this type of cases by abiding to legally established procedures and scrupulously respecting the rights of the affected person recognized by our legal system”.

Turkey/EU: Syrian group to form caravan to EU
A group of Syrian refugees in Turkey are forming a caravan to reach the European Union, and are asking for help from international organisations in the journey, reports InfoMigrants. The organisers denounce the discrimination and racism suffered by Syrians in Turkey and have developed their project via the social network Telegram, on a channel followed by nearly 70,000 people, says InfoMigrants. They invite people to bring basic necessities and sleeping equipment, and say the caravan will be divided into groups of up to 50 people, each group led by a supervisor.


UN: International Organization for Migration finds 50 million worldwide in slavery in 2021
A report published on 12 September by the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) finds that in 2021, 50 million people were victims of modern slavery. Of these, 28 million were coerced into forced labour and an estimated 22 million were trapped in forced marriages. This represents an increase of 10 million since 2016. IOM states that every country is affected, with about 52% of this taking place in upper middle to high income countries. State imposed slavery represents 14% of this number the remainder being made up of private sector sponsored activities. About 23% of this is represented by sexual exploitation, overwhelmingly of women and girls. Children represent about 1 out of 8, of which half are exploited sexually, according to the report.