News Highlights: Shelling and troop build-up in Tigray, Border checks in Schengen area, 97 people drown in Mediterranean

In this week’s News Highlights: Maxar satellite imagery shows Eritrean military buildup, ICHREE presents report to the UN;  sources report shelling in Tigray; UN aid truck hit by Ethiopian drone strike; Security forces accused of killing civilians in Gambella; Ethiopian Meskel celebrations overshadowed by continued fighting; The twin threat of famine and terrorism to Somalia; UN warns of escalating violence in South Sudan at UN summit;  Sudanese officials warn of disease risks from unidentified bodies; Hemedti attempts to build bridges with pro-democracy movement; 650.000 Sudanese children at risk of severe malnutrition; Sudanese government offers contribution to solve conflict in Ethiopia; Authorities take newspaper and bar association to court; Kenya workers suffer abuses and violation of rights;  UNSC renews mandate for inspection of vessels along Libyan coast; Greek Migration minister accuses EU of using external border states as “refugee parking lots”;  Refugee and migrant population down by 50% in Greece since last year; ECJ rules against Hungarian asylum law; Czech and Austrian border guards to renew checks on border with Slovakia; Pope Francis calls for support to migrants as Italy elects far right wing government; What do the Italian elections imply for EU migration policy?; and 97 asylum seekers dead after Lebanese boat capsizes.

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea/Ethiopia: Maxar satellite imagery shows military buildup, sources report shelling
On 28 September, satellite images were released showing Eritrean troop buildups in towns on both sides of Ethiopia’s shared border with Eritrea, says Maxar, a private US company. According to Maxar, the images from 19 September show heavy weaponry and troops deployed near the town or Serha on the Eritrean side of the border, followed by images collected on 26 September showing military vehicles and artillery positions around the town of Shiraro in Tigray. The images include artillery in shooting positions close to Shiraro. Sources on the ground in Tigray have also reported shelling in and around Shire, Adigrat and the Irob district in easter Tigray. Neither the Ethiopian nor Eritrean authorities provided any comments regarding the images as of now.

Ethiopia: International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia presents report
On 22 September, the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) presented its report to the UN Human Rights Council. The commission focused its presentation on two themes: sexual violence and the obstruction of humanitarian access. It also highlighted three incidents: the shelling of Mekelle on 28 November 2020, killings in Kobo and Chenna in August and September 2021 and a drone strike on a camp for internally displaced people in Dedebit on 7 January 2022. The Commission was not granted access to areas beyond Addis Ababa but found “reasonable grounds to believe that parties to the conflict have committed serious violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law since November 2020. We have reasonable grounds to believe that many of these acts amount to war crimes. We also have reasonable grounds to believe that the Federal Government and its allies have committed crimes against humanity in the Tigray region. Some of these crimes are ongoing”.

Ethiopia: UN aid truck hit by Ethiopian drone strike
On 26 September debris from a drone strike in the Tigray region of Ethiopia injured a World Food Programme (WFP) truck driver and damaged his truck which carried humanitarian aid, according to various media. According to media, the truck was bringing food to some of the hundreds of thousands internally displaced that have not received aid since 24 August as the fighting restarted. The WFP added that in the Amhara and Tigray region about 13 million people are in “desperate need of food and assistance”. 

Ethiopia: Security forces accused of killing civilians
A report by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) states that at least 50 people were extrajudicially killed in the Gambella region between 14 and 16 June 2022. The report accuses mostly government armed forces, but also Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and Gambella Liberation Front (GLF) militants. This took place following the retreat of the OLA and GLF from the city as security forces sought to punish civilians who they accused of hiding weapons and fighters; government forces were also accused of looting and buried the bodies in mass graves, denying access to the families, says Voice of America and Addis Standard.

Ethiopia: Meskel celebrations overshadowed by continued fighting
In Addis Ababa, the Meskel festival took place on 27 September, usually a joyous occasion, but this year’s iteration was dampened by the continuing conflict in the Tigray region, says Reuters. Archbishop Abuna Markos says “Just like the mothers were crying under the cross, our mothers in the North are also crying. They are suffering. This suffering is common to all of us. It’s our own,”. Deacon Haileyesus Mekelu called for peace offering “my prayer for the new year is that God says ‘enough’, because he is the owner of peace and he declared peace through his cross by denouncing hatred”.

Somalia: The twin threat of famine and terrorism
On 22 September Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud talked to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) about the challenges Somalia faces: Hunger, climate change and terrorism. Mohamud called on global partners to help Somalia avert a looming famine as the country faces the third severe hunger crisis in the past decade. He called for adequate financing of climate adaptation efforts, adding that Sub-Saharan Africa is one of “the most affected and vulnerable regions of the world”. Finally, he discussed Somalia’s ongoing fight against terrorism. Terrorism which he describes as contributing to and exacerbating all other issues. 

South Sudan: UN warns of escalating violence at UN summit
UN human rights experts warned the international community of escalating violence in South Sudan at the UN Summit in New York. They stated “it is critical donors and member states continue to monitor the peace agreement, security sector reform and ensure constitutional legislation is pushed through before elections.” South Sudan’s Vice-President, Hussein Abdelbagi Akol Agany, spoke on 22 September at the United Nations summit of the challenges and successes linked with the peace process that ended the country’s years-long civil conflict. He stated the parties have agreed to a roadmap leading to a 2025 election at the end of the transitional period, further emphasising the success of the unified command structure of the armed forces. He also underlined that the country has sought to make itself a trustworthy partner regionally and internationally, mediating conflicts between Ethiopia and Egypt as well as internal conflicts in Sudan. 

Sudan: Sudanese officials warn of disease risks from unidentified bodies
On 26 September, Sudanese medical officials warned of 1500 unidentified bodies spread in multiple morgues that could lead to disease outbreaks and argued they should be mass-buried; while pro-democracy protesters argue the bodies should be independently examined first. They argue that killed demonstrators are among the dead and accuse the government of covering up the cause of their deaths, says AP News. According to AP News, activists believe protesters killed during the government crackdown have been denied a proper autopsy to conceal the cause of death. Khalid Mohamed Khaled, spokesperson for the government’s medical body, has expressed fear that the bodies “could spread cholera among local residents” pushing for a mass burial for safety reasons, which would eliminate the opportunity for independent autopsies, says AP News

Sudan: Leader of Sudan coup attempts to build bridges with pro-democracy movement
A year after he backed a military coup in Sudan, paramilitary leader Mohamad Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) is attempting to position himself as a valuable ally to the pro-democracy groups protesting the military leadership in place, says Al Jazeera. Hemedti has made recent declarations painting the military coup as a failure amidst protests and economic downturn and highlighting his effort to curb violence in Sudan’s farther regions, says Al Jazeera. This change of posture comes as rumours of Hemedti’s potential desire to run for president in the upcoming elections are surfacing, driving a need for legitimacy, says Al Jazeera. According to the news outlet, gaining the trust of the pro-democracy movement could prove to be a challenge, as Hemedti is the leader of the Rapid Support Forces, a group accused of killing more than 120 protestos in Khartoum in June 2019; many of which were pro-democracy militants. 

Sudan: 650.000 children at risk of severe malnutrition
In Sudan, the combination of political turmoil and the October 2021 military coup leading to frozen international funds for aid operations has resulted in a predicted 325.000 children dying of malnutrition in what UN children’s Fund representative in Sudan, Mandeep O Brien, described as an “unprecedented crisis”. The World Food Program warns that as many as 18 million people could be going hungry everyday by the end of the month. The UN refugee agency and World Food Program warn that  intertribal conflicts combined with the Ukraine war, COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of the climate crisis have made the cost of life in Sudan rise very sharply, hitting the most vulnerable the hardest. 

Sudan: Sudanese government offers its contribution to solve conflict in Ethiopia
On 27 September, Sudan stated it was ready to contribute to solving  the ongoing conflict in Tigray, says the Sudan Tribune. After a meeting with the visiting European Union Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Annette Weber, the Sovereign Council of Sudan stated “Sudan’s readiness(…) as a chairman of IGAD and a neighbour, to contribute positively to the settlement of the conflict in the interest of regional stability”. While the Sudanese government has been in contact with both sides it is not clear if official mediation has been proposed; this is further complicated by the conflict between Khartoum and Addis Ababa over the GERD dam, potentially disqualifying Sudan as an independent mediator, says the Sudan Tribune. 

Sudan: Authorities take newspaper and bar association to court
On 26 September, the cyber crime unit of the Sudanese public prosecution issued an order blocking the website of Al-Sudani. A day before this they had summoned the head of the Sudanese Bar Association for questioning, seizing their headquarters. They have since then launched legal proceedings against Al-Sudani, causing fears that the authorities might be attempting to restrict basic freedoms a year after the military coup, says Voice of America. Al-Sudani seeks to fight the order claiming such an order could only be issued by the courts. The Bar Association recently developed a new constitution proposal in the hope of solving Sudans political crisis as the military and pro-democracy protestors continue to clash, says Voice of America. The public prosecutor’s media office has so far not provided any comments. 

Kenya/Saudi Arabia:  Kenya workers suffer abuses and violation of rights
The Kenyan government is coming under pressure in the face of reports of abuse and of migrant housekeepers working in the Gulf, says The Guardian. Under the Kafala system Saudi Arabia requires the worker to obtain permission from the employer to change jobs or leave the country. This has left many workers vulnerable to abuse, according to rights groups. Saudi Arabia has been widely considered one of the most dangerous places to work in the world due to its labor and human rights record with migrant workers alleging mental, phisical and sexual abuses for years, says The Guardian. While other countries have previously banned the export of their labour to the Kingdom, it is unlikely that Kenya would follow suit as the Gulf is the third largest labour export market for the country and the diaspora is responsible for a steady flow of currency back into Kenya where unemployment rates remain high, says The Guardian

North Africa

Libya: UNSC renews mandate for inspection of vessels along Libyan coast
On 29 September, the United Nations Security Council unanimously decided to renew the authorisation for inspection of vessels suspected of smuggling migrants or suspected of human trafficking off the coast of Libya for another year, says AP News. The Mediterranean remains the deadliest route of migration towards Europe, according to UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. He also called for a “decriminalising” of entry stay and departure from Libya, urging the EU’s 27 members to provide “a predictable and credible agreement for disembarkation”. Ultimately he called for a more “holistic approach” to migration in addressing the root causes of departures. 


Mediterranean: 97 asylum seekers dead after Lebanese boat capsizes
On 21 September a small boat filled with 150 passengers left the coast of Lebanon to reach Italy, capsizing a few hours later killing 97 people with others still missing, says Al Jazeera. According to the United Nations the boat contained both children and elderly. When the engine died four hours after departure, the stranded asylum seekers called Lebanese authorities to no avail and were threatened with death by their smugglers if they returned to shore, says Al Jazeera. The boat filled with Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians turned over 50 kilometres off the port of Tartus. 20 were rescued while a few managed to reach the coast by their own means, says Al Jazeera

Greece: Migration minister accuses EU of using external border states as “refugee parking lots”
On 26 September, Greek migration minister, Notis Mitarachi, called on the European Union to lift movement restrictions for refugees. AP News says he accuses the Union of double standards between Ukrainians and victims of other conflicts. Mitarachi believes a “lack of solidarity” is what holds up efforts to reform rules around migration. He accuses the Union of using the countries of entry as “parking lots for refugees who want to come to Europe” when talking of the rules restricting the mobility of refugees inside the Union. 

Greece: Refugee and migrant population down by 50% since last year
According to the Greek authorities on migration the number of refugees and migrants in Greece has halved since last year. The Government had previously committed to a “equal and fair distribution of asylum seekers below 1% of the general population”. This has brought the number of migrants currently residing in Greece to 18.587 as of august 2022 according to Ansa. Greek minister of migration, Notis Mitarachi, stated that they “ continue to make every effort to effectively manage migration, against the efforts of the trafficking rings and the instrumentalization model that Turkey is pursuing.”  This happens as the Greek government is pursuing a systematic effort to relocate, return or deport migrants to other European countries or third countries, says Ansa.

Europe: ECJ rules against Hungarian asylum law
On 23 September, the European Court of Justice ruled that Hungary’s asylum process is in violation of EU law. The ruling indicated that the Hungarian legal system limits access to case files for applicants and their legal aides, according to InfoMigrants. The ECJ ruled that, in the case of a Syrian asylum seeker appealing against the removal of his protection status, the restriction of his right to information on his application was unlawful. The court ruled that decisions on asylum cannot be made exclusively based on national security agencies, as Hungarian law states, says InfoMigrants. According to InfoMigrants, this is not the first time the Luxembourg court has struck down parts of the Hungarian asylum system in similar rulings. 

Czech Republic/Austria: Czech and Austrian border guards to renew checks on border with Slovakia amid wave of migration
From 27 September onwards the Czech government has decided to reinstate checks at its border with Slovakia for 10 days at least, says AP News. While both countries are part of the  Schengen zone, the Slovak government has agreed to the measure, nevertheless stating it would like to see it discussed at EU level. As of 28 September Austria will be adopting a similar measure on its border with Slovakia. The Austrian government describes this as a measure to prevent smugglers from using the country as an alternative route once the Czech border control measures take effect, says AP News. The Czech interior minister states the measures were needed following the detaining of 12.000 ‘illegal migrants’ on their national territory this year; most of which were making their way to western Europe.  

Italy: Pope Francis calls for support to migrants as Italy elects far right wing government
On 25 September, Pope Francis called for Italians to help migrants as Italians elected a far right coalition a few days later. The Pope reminded Italians that “migrants are to be welcomed, accompanied, promoted and integrated” at an open air mass in Matera. Migration had been a major theme of the campaign of Giorgia Meloni, leader of Brothers of Italy, leading party in the elections, who was quoted as saying “repatriate the migrants back to their countries and then sink the boats that rescued them”, says The Guardian. 

Italy: What do the Italian elections imply for EU migration policy?
As of 29 September a right wing coalition, made up of the Brothers of Italy, the League and Forza Italia, has been elected to lead Italy. This could have severe impacts on Italian migration policy, says Info Migrants. It would not be the first time that Italy adopts a hard line against migration, as Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, had previously done so during his tenure as minister of interior. His policy of hostility towards migrants resulting in greatly increased numbers of deaths at sea, says  Info Migrants. On a European level, this shift would push Italy’s new government towards the natioalist right in Poland or the newly elected Sweden democrats, all belonging to the European Conservatives and Reformists group which new Italian PM Meloni has led since 2020. The increasing weight of these far right wing politicians throughout Europe is likely to leave a mark on the overall European approach to migration with major implications for policy in regards to asylum and migration, says Info Migrants.