News Highlights: Heavy weapons hand-over starts in Tigray, Alleged Eritrean trafficker appears in court, Italy’s decree could cause more deaths at sea

In this week’s News Highlights: TDF starts hand-over of heavy weapons; Presence of Eritrean troops continues in Tigray; German and French Foreign Ministers visit Ethiopia; Fighting escalates in Oromia; Ethiopian airlines restricts passengers flying between Addis and Mekelle; Alleged human trafficker Kidane arrested in Sudan; Final round of talks between military and civilian leaders in Sudan; Three aid workers and 11 civilians killed in South Sudan; Over 1000 migrants and refugees already returned to Libya this year; HRW warns that Italy’s anti-rescue decree risks more deaths at sea; Human trafficking suspect Welid appears in court in the Netherlands; UNHCR urges EU to treat all refugees equally; EU provides additional EUR 25.5 million to address food crisis in Africa; and German ruling published states Eritreans should not be forced to embassy for papers. 

Horn of Africa

Tigray: TDF hands over heavy weapons
On 10 January 2023, Tigray spokesperson Getachew Reda stated that the TDF handed over heavy weapons to ENDF as part of the Pretoria Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, and that the AU monitoring and verification Committee has witnessed this. ENDF confirmed it has received a “first round” of weapons. An Ethiopian army commander stated the transfer includes tanks, rockets, and mortars, states VoA. TDF representative Mulugeta Gebrechristos said on Tigrai TV that he hopes the start of the disarmament process will play a large role in restoring peace. 

Tigray: Presence of Eritrea troops continues 
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) says the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray is slowing down the peace process. CSW called for the International Community to “move swiftly” to “ensure that Eritrean forces” leave Tigray. CSW says that the continuing presence of Eritrean troops, which are “implicated in the commission of the gravest of international crimes” threatens the peace process and security of Tigrayan civilians. Eritrean Ambassador in Russia, Petros Tsegay, says Eritrean troops will not leave Tigray unless Ethiopia demands it, reports The Ambassador indicated that Ethiopia has not yet requested Eritrea to withdraw from Tigray. The Ambassador said that the US and others do not have the right to press Eritrea to withdraw its forces from Ethiopia. He alleged that ‘’the US is supporting the TPLF and this may resume the war’’. Reports state that Eritrean troops have started setting up and operating businesses in the central zone of Tigray. They are reportedly running businesses like  transport and trade in areas like Maykinetal. It was earlier reported that in some northern Tigray areas Eritrean IDs were given out. On Thursday, the Ethiopian government announced that the Amhara special forces had withdrawn from Shire. However, Reuters stated it did not appear that Amhara troops had left western Tigray.  

Ethiopia: German and French Foreign Ministers visit
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and her French counterpart Catherine Colona are in Addis Ababa for a two-day visit, to support the positive peace efforts in Ethiopia, says the German Foreign Ministry. The Ministers visited a World Food Programme distribution centre on the first day, 12 January. Baerbock highlighted crimes including “systematic sexualized violence” committed during the Tigray conflict. Both ministers urged for accountability for the crimes committed. Addis Standard said their visit aims to explore ways in which France, Germany and the EU can support Ethiopia in order to ensure a lasting peace. According to the Chinese embassy in Addis Ababa, the Chinese Foreign Minister Ambassador Qin Gang is visiting Ethiopia and other African countries between 9-16 January 2023. It is reported he met PM Abiy. Ethiopian deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen and Qin Gang signed a Memorandum of Understanding to expand ”all rounded” bilateral ties. The Foreign Ministers call on the international community to beef up support to the reconstruction of conflict affected areas.

Ethiopia: Escalation in Oromia
The situation in Oromia is escalating, with fighting reported in Kellem (Kelam Welega), Oromia, between government forces and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). It is reported that many soldiers are treated in Dembi Dollo hospital. According to the report, the Ethiopia National Defense Forces (ENDF) entered Kellem from Benishangul and Gambella. The federal troops are preventing OLA from fleeing into South Sudan and Sudan. Heavy fighting is also reported in West Oromia, districts of Anfilo and Begi. It is reported that the government has deployed a large number of troops recently in these areas. Earlier in the week, the OLA launched a military operation on a prison camp in the Bule Hora city of Western Guji zone of Oromia, says OMN. In the operation over 500 prisoners were reportedly set free, added OMN.

Ethiopia: Ethiopian Airlines restricts passengers flying between Tigray and Addis
Dimtsi Woyane (DW) reported on 7 January that Ethiopia Airlines has imposed restrictions on passengers travelling from and to Mekelle, capital of Tigray. Since the weekend, the airline is reportedly allowing only elders, teenagers below 16, and people with evidence of medical problems to travel from Mekelle to Addis Ababa.It is also reported that there are similar restrictions on passengers from Addis Ababa to Mekelle. Pictures of stranded travellers circulated.

Eritrea/Sudan: Alleged human trafficker Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam arrested
Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam and a group of collaborators were arrested by the Middle Eastern Chapter of Interpol on 1 January 2023 in the airport of Khartoum, Sudan. Kidane is accused of being the ringleader of an unimaginably cruel trafficking network in which thousands of refugees were trafficked for ransom. Victims that survived state he is guilty of severe human rights abuses, including torture and rape. He was taken to the United Arab Emirates, where he is expected to be tried. The accusations leading to the trial are understood to be in any case financial malpractice and whitewashing. The Netherlands has requested extradition to the Netherlands for the crimes of smuggling and human trafficking. The Netherlands is part of an international team leading the investigation of human trafficking in Libya together with Italy, the UK and other international partners. Kidane was arrested in Ethiopia in 2020, but managed to escape in 2021 and has been wanted since. 

Sudan: Talks between military and civilian leaders
Sudanese military and civilian leaders held talks this week to reach a final agreement on a civilian government in Sudan, and to resolve outstanding issues such as the dismantling of Omar al-Bashir-era institutions. The UN Secretary General welcomed the last phase of the talks between military and civilian leaders in Sudan. The talks were expected to continue for four days, but no official statements on the outcomes have come out yet (at the time of writing). The UN SG urged other  stakeholders  who did not sign the Political Framework Agreement on 5 December 2022 to join the political process. In a statement, President William Ruto of Kenya expressed his support for the Agreement. 

South Sudan: Three aid workers and 11 civilians killed
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) states that three aid workers and 11 civilians were killed this month in South Sudan. The fourteen people were killed in an attack by armed men in the oil-rich and disputed region of Abyei.

North Africa

Libya: More than 1000 migrants and refugees already returned this year
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that in the first week of January, 1067 migrants and refugees were intercepted at sea and returned to Libya. One person was recorded to have died at sea. 


Italy: Anti-rescue policy increasing risk of deaths at sea
Human Rights Watch (HRW) warns that Italy’s new decree which prohibits private rescue boats from performing multiple rescues in one trip is putting lives at risk on the Mediterranean Sea. According to the decree, boats have to return to port immediately after a rescue. HRW states that this policy breaks multiple international laws which state that captains should provide immediate assistance to people in distress. In addition, HRW states that the boats are often assigned distant ports for disembarkation, which means that they lose a lot of time and incur more costs per rescue. The decree also forces NGOs to collect information from survivors, such as whether they intend to claim asylum, and report this to authorities. The Times of Malta fact-checked the claim that NGO rescues provide a so-called ‘pull factor’ for migrants and refugees, and found it to be false. “If this claim were to be true, we would expect to see more migrant crossings at times when there is higher NGO search and rescue activity. Most studies suggest the opposite is the case.” 

Netherlands: Human trafficking suspect Welid appears in court
Alleged Eritrean human trafficker Tewelde Goitom (Welid) appeared at a pre-trial hearing in The Netherlands today, 10 January 2022. He is accused of participating in a criminal organisation which organised kidnapping, extortion and violence, among which sexual violence, in Libya. He claims to be a victim of mistaken identity – his identity is currently being established by a Dutch forensics lab. The next hearing in the case will take place on 6 April 2023.  The Dutch prosecution is seeking to join the case of Welid with the one of Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam, recently arrested, and also accused of violent human trafficking. He was arrested in Sudan on 1 January 2023 as a result of an international investigation. Five other persons in The Netherlands are also suspects in the human trafficking case, in addition to Welid and Kidane, making the total suspects of the trafficking ring seven.

European Union: UNHCR urges EU to learn from Ukraine experience
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) published a paper calling on the EU, and in particular the EU Council Presidencies for 2023, Sweden and Spain, to build on the experience of taking in millions of Ukrainian refugees. The UNHCR urges governments to show “solidarity with all refugees and asylum-seekers, wherever they may come from”. The UNHCR urges the EU to uphold the right to seek asylum for all. Migration reform will be high on the agenda in the EU in the coming year. EuroNews states that the expectations on the Swedish Presidency to resolve the gridlock are not high, as the right-wing government of Sweden looks unfavourably at migration.

European Union: Additional funding for food aid in Africa
The European Commission announced it will provide an additional EUR 25.5 million to assist African countries in overcoming the food shortages caused by the war in Ukraine. The war severely impacted the agricultural market. Sudan is set to receive the largest part of the funding, EUR 10 million, following UN warnings that many communities in Sudan face famine.

Germany: German ruling – Eritreans should not be forced to go to embassy for papers
A German Federal Administrative Court ruling of 11 October 2022 is published in full. The ruling states that Eritreans can not be forced to go to Eritrean embassies to get documents such as passports. The court ruled that the “regret forms” that Eritreans have to sign to obtain documents, amounted to being forced to admit a criminal offence. It ruled that it is not reasonable to subject a person in need of protection to make a statement that threatens them in the future, or their relatives still in Eritrea. The Court also rejects the obligation for the Eritrean refugees of the payment of the “reconstruction diaspora tax” of 2% equivalent to 2% of a person’s income.