News Highlights: New disarmament talks amidst continued attacks, UN finishes investigative mission Libya, EU Search and Rescue crisis

UNICEF/Alessio Romenzi

In this week’s news highlights: Eritrean forces continue looting and kidnapping in Tigray, Ethiopian forces carry out mass arrests; Aid coming into Tigray fails to match the needs of the population; New talks to begin on Tigray disarmament; No date offered for the end of blackout in Tigray; Al Shabaab militants besiege hotel in Mogadishu; Committee against Torture adopts concluding observations on Somalia; 500.000 more people in South Sudan will need aid in 2023; UN experts call on South Sudan to investigate government official linked to sexual violence; A conference to chart the way towards Eritrean democracy; WFP pleads to world not to give up on drought-stricken Horn of Africa; A migratory route into the Mediterranean reopens from eastern Libya; UN finishes fifth investigative mission in Libya; Spanish government presents bill to fight human trafficking; Spanish authorities insist no death occurred on their soil during Melilla tragedy; Increasing privatisation of migrant rescue work; What next for the Search and Rescue crisis?; Frontex states irregular border crossings have increased by 77%; Commission president and AU chairperson meeting and statement; Hunger, insecurity and underfunding are worsening the risk of gender based violence; and UN seeks 51.5 billion USD “lifeline” for 2023.

Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Eritrean forces continue looting and kidnapping in Tigray, Ethiopian forces carry out mass arrests
Eye witnesses and aid workers told AP News that Eritrean forces and forces from the Amhara regional state have continued looting and detaining civilians weeks after the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. Aid workers, testifying anonymously, told AP that 300 youths were rounded up by Ethiopian federal forces in waves of mass detention; they were taken to some of the detention centres around the town where those believed to be associated with the TPLF were held captive following the fall of Shire. Eritrean troops have also repeatedly been seen looting in Shire, including hospitals. Similar scenes were witnessed and reported to AP in Alamata and Korem where Amhara special  forces arrested civilians said to have aided the Tigray Defense forces. Since the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement reports have continued to come in, showing that particularly Eritrean forces have continued extrajudicial killings such as most recently in Adi Daero where hundreds are reported to have been killed in the last two weeks or in Adigrat where 54 people are confirmed dead, 21 kidnapped, and 14 critically injured by Eritrean troops in the last few days.

Ethiopia: Aid coming into Tigray fails to match the needs of the population
The World Food Programme released a statement on 25 November saying that the aid deliveries trickling into Tigray are “not matching the needs” of the stricken population. The WFP stated they urgently needed full access to all parts of the region to deliver food and assistance to the 2.3 million vulnerable people in need of aid. While all four corridors into the region have reopened since the ceasefire and flights are able to reach the main cities, some zones remain inaccessible, particularly in the east and centre of the region, says the WFP. Full access is critical in this region where 90% of the population is estimated to depend on food assistance, says AP News. In the meantime, The WFP reports having reached 29% of their 2.9 million people caseload for food assistance in Tigray and t is continuing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Afar and Amhara regions with a fourth round of aid for this year currently underway seeking to reach 675.000 people.

Ethiopia: New talks to begin on Tigray disarmament
Ethiopia’s Government Communication Service stated that a joint committee of the Ethiopian government and Tigray military leaders had convened in Shire on 30 November to continue discussing disarmament plans in line with the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed on 02 November. The Agreement had initially planned for disarmament within 30 days but Tigray  officials have stated they could not disarm until forces from Eritrea and Amhara had been removed from Tigray, says AP News. The Ethiopian Government’s Communication Service stated the delay in the planning has occurred due to technical reasons. 

Ethiopia: No date offered for the end of blackout in Tigray
Ethiopia’s Minister for Innovation and Technology, Belete Molla, stated that there is no planned timeline for the restoration of the internet to the Tigray region. The resumption of this service should happen in parallel to the restoration of electricity and telecommunications, says AP News. The Ethiopian Electric Power states that the Shire substation will be repaired within a week bringing electricity back to the city and its surroundings. The Axum and Adwa power stations are expected to be back online within 3 weeks. A Cessation of Hostilities Agreement between the Tigray regional government and the Ethiopian Federal government commits to the restoration of services but the blackout has yet to be lifted, says AP News. Connectivity to Shire was briefly restored as part of a demonstration during the Internet Governance Forum, but was reportedly switched off afterwards.

Somalia: Al Shabaab militants besiege hotel in Mogadishu
Somali security forces ended a 12 hour siege of a hotel in Mogadishu taken over by Al Shabaab militants that resulted in 8 dead on 27 November, says France 24. The hotel located near the presidential palace is regularly used for official meetings and officials visiting the capital, says France 24. AP News  states that officials were rescued and escaped from the building. About 60 people had been trapped in the hotel and were subsequently freed, says AP. This last attack comes as the Somali government intensifies its campaign against the terrorist group in collaboration with the US. 

Somalia: Committee against Torture adopts concluding observations on Somalia
On 25 November the UN Committee against Torture adopted its concluding remarks on Somalia. The committee expressed its concern regarding the absence of an established definition of torture as a specific offense in Somali legislation. It was disturbed by reports of torture and ill treatment, including gender-based violence, committed by national intelligence officers and security agency as well as by the Somali National Guard and other actors. The committee also decries the continued practice of public executions and the conditions of detentions of Somali prisoners both in state and Al Shabaab prisons. The committee asked the Somali government to establish a definition of torture as an offense in compliance with the Convention and national human rights institution as well as to ensure accountability for those victim of abuses.

South Sudan: 500.000 additional people will need aid in 2023
The World Food Programme warns that next year 9.4 million people in South Sudan will be in need of humanitarian assistance. This represents an increase of half a million compared to the current number. The agency adds that a third of the 12.4 million people living in South Sudan are currently facing severe food insecurity. These conditions have worsened in part due to endemic violence and conflict, access constraints, operational interference, public health challenges and climate change, says the report on the conditions in South Sudan published on 25 November. The report estimates that this number will be 8.4 million next year or 64% of the population. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by these conditions. They are at increased risk when moving to access aid, says the WFP. The Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, Ms. Sara Beysolow Nyanti, stated that “Physical violence, rape and other forms of gender-based violence will be a reality some 2.8 million people will face in 2023”.

South Sudan: UN experts call on South Sudan to investigate government official linked to sexual violence
UN experts attending the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) conference in London stated that, if the South Sudan government is serious about accountability for sexual violence, it should remove and investigate governors and county commissioners that have been credibly linked to systematic rape. The UN Commission has reasonable grounds to believe that a government-appointed county commissioner in the Unity State was present overseeing systematic gang rapes at a cantonement site. It is not the first time this individual comes under scrutiny and his reinstatement showcases the culture of impunity prevalent in the country, says the report. The Chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, Yasmin Sooka, stated that “[n]owhere in the world do you find so many women who experience conflict by being repeatedly gang raped (…) while the men responsible are promoted and rewarded” adding that “[i]t is meaningless for the Government to come up with an array of declarations, national commitments, pledges and plans if no action is taken against those in high office who are responsible”. 

Eritrea: A conference to chart the way towards Eritrean democracy
A conference organised by Eritrea Focus took place from 22-24 November in London, with the focus of charting a way towards democracy for Eritrea. The conference addressed the topics of Eritrean international relations and how to improve them going forward, economic reform drawing inspiration from successful African ventures, the rehabilitation of the Rule of Law in the country and transitional justice. Mebrahtu Atewberhan, member of Eritrea Focus, stated that “Eritrea has become a prison state” and that the Eritreans are ready for change – but are lacking the leadership.

Horn of Africa: WFP pleads to world not to give up on drought-stricken Horn of Africa
Top UN World Food Programme (WFP) official in the Horn of Africa region, Michael Dunford, warns that “[u]nfortunately, we have not yet seen the worst of this crisis (…) We cannot give up on the needs of the population in the Horn”. The region is facing its driest conditions in four decades and extreme food shortages, says the UN official. Declaration of a famine in parts of Somalia is likely to happen early next year and the drought will continue, likely spreading a similar situation to neighbouring countries, he continues. However, while famine has yet to be declared in Somalia, Paul Healy, Somalia country director for Trócaire, states: “if you’re arguing about whether it’s famine or not, you’re already too late and people are dying”. And as the situation worsens in the region neighbouring countries fall under increased pressure as their own resources dwindle, states Voice of America. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 80.000 Somalis have fled to Kenyan camps due to the drought. The Kenyan government has now instituted a ban on the registration of refugees from Somalia. Aid agencies warn the influx is straining their capacity to help, says Voice of America

North Africa

Libya: A migratory route into the Mediterranean reopens from eastern Libya
Departures from the shores of Cyrenaica have multiplied in the past months after the route in the Central Mediterranean had seemingly fallen out of favour, says Le Monde. This renewed activity brings to it increased attention of the Italian authorities. The refugees and migrants that take this new route are mostly of Egyptian but also Bangladeshi and Syrian origins; contrary to the mostly Sub-Saharan users of the western Libyan routes, says Le Monde. According to the news outlet, these migrants of the eastern route often embark on sturdier crafts, more able to resist sea travel and are often rescued around Sicily and Calabre by Italian coast guards, who often do not communicate around these operations. According to data collected by Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime this route now represents the majority of traffic towards Italy from Libya. 

Libya: UN finishes fifth investigative mission in Libya
The UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya has concluded its fifth investigative mission. The extended field visit to Tripoli took place between 20 October and 21 November. The mission interviewed witnesses, civil society organisations and women human rights defenders as well as conducting field investigations with Libya authorities. It was denied access to prison centres nor given access to the city of Sebha. The report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2023.


Spain: Spanish government presents bill to fight human trafficking
Spain’s government has presented a bill seeking to provide better protection to economically vulnerable migrants and refugees becoming victim to human trafficking rings, says AP News. The bill presented on 28 November would provide personalised and free legal assistance to those identified as victims and provide assistance with financial needs and housing. It appears to be mainly aimed at migrants and refugees who are exploited within Spain itself. The bill also provides for a new police office dedicated to trafficking victims. 

Spain: Spanish authorities insist no death occurred on their soil during Melilla tragedy
Spain’s interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, told the Spanish parliament on 30 November that no deaths had occurred on Spanish soil during the tragic events in Melilla in June 2022 when at least 23 people died. This statement represents a rejection of the statements released by the media, says Al Jazeera. The minister maintained that the aggressive response to the situation by Spanish and Moroccan authorities was necessary to handle the situation. He stated that “I know of no country that would accept a violent attack on its frontier […] Even though I empathize with the underlying cause (of the migrants), that does not justify either directly or indirectly a direct, violent attack on our frontier with the hypothetical motive to exercise the right (to asylum).”

EU: Increasing privatisation of migrant rescue work
The European Union has increasingly been outsourcing parts of its migration policy now relying heavily on privately owned ships to patrol the Mediterranean for asylum seekers in need of assistance, says Politico. These privately owned rescue ships have been at the centre of controversy in recent weeks. NGOs have become a more easy target of regulation than an actual reform of the EU’s “outdated and fractured” asylum system, says Politico. Politico says that there is a conflict between southern European countries led by Italy, arguing that the presence of these boats encourages asylum seekers to attempt the crossing whereas countries like Germany, where those boats are often registered, fear that southern countries seek to expel NGO boats. The EU states it does not have  the authority to legislate on this topic. Stephanie Pope, an EU migration expert with the humanitarian organisation Oxfam, states that “Outsourcing migration (…) is a distraction of the issue at hand, which is that member states and EU institutions have continuously failed to … agree on a fair and effective responsibility sharing mechanism”. 

Mediterranean: What next for the Search and Rescue crisis?
Following the election of a far right government in Italy a new search and rescue crisis has emerged in the Mediterranean, says the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE). Though the new Prime Minister, Georgia Meloni, tried to reassure the EU that her government would not be disruptive, conflict has rapidly erupted over Search and Rescue in the Mediterranean, says the ECRE. Her cabinet features a number of hardliners on the subject such as Salvini, Nello Musumeci and Piantedosi who ECRE believe all stand to gain from such a crisis in terms of domestic politics. This has resulted in an extraordinary EU summit called on 25 November by the Czech presidency for the Justice and Home Affairs Council, says the ECRE. While negotiations take place in Brussels, ECRE proposes guidelines.

EU: Frontex states irregular border crossings have increased by 77%
According to Frontex, 281.000 people have irregularly crossed the EU border between January and October 2022; a number that represents a 77% increase from the 2021. This increase has prompted questions about the role of the agency, especially as the scandal of pushbacks revealed by OLAF resulted in the head of the  agency stepping down in April 2022, says Euractiv. According to Euractiv the agency has since then undergone significant leadership and administrative changes. The European Parliament held a hearing on 30 November for the three candidates for the leadership of Frontex: Terezika Gras, current state Secretary at the Croatian Interior Ministry; Hans Leijtens, a high ranking military official from The Netherlands; and current interim director Aija Kalnaja.

EU/ AU: Commission president and AU chairperson meeting and statement
On 28 November European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, and African Union Chairperson, Moussa Faki, met. Von der Leyen released a statement following the meeting stating that three topics were on the agenda: food security, the energy crisis and the implementation of joint priorities, namely the agenda agreed upon at the February EU – AU summit. The statement ended on the acknowledgement and vow of support to Africa’s ambition to play a larger role in the global multilateral system, reiterating the commitments made at the COP27 in working towards climate justice.


UN: Hunger, insecurity and underfunding are worsening the risk of gender based violence
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees warns that insecurity, hunger and underfunding of programmes are worsening the risks of gender based violence occurring for forcibly displaced women and girls. UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi stated that “A toxic mix of crises — conflicts, climate, skyrocketing costs, and the ripple effects of the Ukraine war – are inflicting a devastating toll on the forcibly displaced. This is being felt across the world, but women and girls are particularly suffering”. Displaced women and children are typically the populations most at risk to shocks due to their comparatively smaller means of subsistence and assets meaning any disruption of their security networks initiate critical decisions to ensure survival, says the UNHCR. 

UN: UN seeks 51.5 billion USD “lifeline” for 2023
The United Nations and its partners have called for funds amounting to a record 51.5 billion USD for the year 2023, says Al Jazeera. The UN Global Humanitarian Overview estimated tens of millions of people will be added to those currently needing humanitarian assistance putting the total of people in need up to 339 million people across 68 countries. This appeal comes as a result of overlapping crises and represents a 25% increase compared to 2022, as agencies are already struggling to meet needs.