News Highlights: Eritrean troops continue committing violations in Tigray, Ethiopian Orthodox Church deal, Fortress Europe costing lives

In this week’s News Highlights: Eritrean troops still blocking aid and committing violence in Tigray; Eritrean President blames TPLF for start war; Ethiopian Orthodox Church reaces agreement; EHRC reports on IDP massacre; Experts caution re-engagement with Ethiopia should be benchmarked; New Ethiopian representative UN; Wagner may export minerals through Sudan; Sudan amputation sentence raises concerns of extremisation; IOM raises alarm over Horn migration to Yemen; EU renews Rwanda agreement for evacuees Libya; EU carries responsibility for deaths at sea, says Save the Children; Parliament approves Frontex support to North Macedonia; Internal warnings of Frontex operations in Greece ignored; Ethiopian woman dies at Polish border; Portugal interested to lead EU-AU relations; AU Summit kicks off.

Greater Horn of Africa

Tigray/Eritrea: Eritrean troops in Tigray blocking aid, committing sexual violence
Various sources report that Eritrean troops continue committing human rights violations in Tigray. Citing a woman who was forced to leave a village west of Zalambessa on 15 February, Joanne Hodges, a documentary filmmaker based in Canada, said “Eritrean soldiers are actively evicting residents, digging trenches & arming explosive devices to act as barriers.” The Eritrean troops are reportedly controlling subdistricts (Kebeles) of Gulomakeda district, located in the eastern zone of Tigray. Eritrean forces reportedly fired today (17 February) at humanitarian workers of CARE Ethiopia in the Eastern Zone of Tigray, according to former Mekelle University President Professor Kindeya who cited local sources. He said the Eritrean forces fired at a specific location called Agere Lekoma Eingel and forced the humanitarian staff to return to Adigrat city. He added the humanitarian staff were going to Irob woreda with two aid trucks carrying food.  Professor Kindeya also said “Eritrean forces are in many areas inside Tigray, manning checkpoints, blocking roads & obstructing humanitarian aid.” Sexual violence by Eritrean soldiers has continued in Tigray despite the CoH Agreement, victims, health workers and aid organisations told BBC. Sister Mulu Mesfin, who assists rape victims at hospital in Mekelle, told BBC that women, most of whom were raped in the last one or two months, continue to come in from different parts of Tigray. 

Eritrea: President gives interview blaming TPLF for start of war
President Isaias Afewerki from Eritrea gave an interview to Eri-TV of which the first 20 minutes were focused on the war in Tigray. He made the accusation that the TPLF started the war. President Afewerki commented that the ENDF had “not finished off” the TPLF. Afewerki said the failure was due to pressure from the US.  Afewerki also stated that the US assisted the TDF in the humanitarian break in between the fighting periods.

Ethiopia: Ethiopian Orthodox Church reaches deal with breakaway group
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church stated that it had reached a deal with the breakaway group led by three Archbishops. The deal was made in the presence of Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed. As part of the deal, the three Archbishops were reinstated, and the church agreed to distribute funding and resources to churches in Oromia. In addition, the church promised more attention to Oromo language and ethnic Oromos in the high clergy. 

Ethiopia: EHRC reports on attack on IDP camp
At least 50 people including youth and children residing in an IDP camp were killed in an attack between 2 and 4 February in East Wollega Zone of the Oromia region, reports Addis Standard citing the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The EHRC blamed the attacks on the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). The EHRC said witnesses stated the large group of armed men that perpetrated the attack were dressed in OLA uniforms. After federal  security forces recaptured the town, they reportedly killed 8 youths, accusing them of cooperating with the OLA. 

Ethiopia/EU: Experts caution EU to benchmark its engagement with Ethiopia
Concerned Horn of Africa experts from Civil Society Organisations and academia circulated a note calling for well-defined benchmarks in the engagement of the EU and its member states with Ethiopia. The note defines milestones and benchmarks for a gradual roadmap in normalising relations. It calls, among others, for the commencement of peace processes for all conflicts in Ethiopia, verified protection of civilians, and an independent process for accountability. A separate statement by the high representative on behalf of the EU says that “the sustained implementation of the CoHa (…) will allow gradual reestablishment of the full spectrum of EU’s development cooperation and economic support”. 

Ethiopia: New permanent representative to the UN
The new Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations, Tesfaye Yilma Sabo, presented his credentials to UN Secretary-General António Guterres on 13 February. Sabo previously served as State Minister for Foreign Affairs in Ethiopia, and Ethiopia’s Permanent Representative to the African Union as well as the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa between 2018 and 2022.

Sudan: Wagner may export minerals through Sudan, warns WSJ
The Russian mercenary group Wagner is spreading its influence in Africa, states the Wall Street Journal. In particular, Wagner is working with the Central African Republic government to seize mineral-rich areas. These could be exported through Sudan. European officials say that Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti), who was deputy-chair of the Sudan Transitional Military Council, made an informal agreement to assist in the creation of corridors for the Central African Republic’s army and Wagner to transport mining machinery, gold and diamonds. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov praised the conditions for Russian mining operations in Sudan during his visit to Sudan last week. Sudan and Russia have finalised the terms of an agreement on a logistical centre for the Russian Navy. The plans were announced in 2020, but had not yet been ratified.  The deal needs to be approved by Sudan’s parliament, which has not yet been formed. 

Sudan: Amputation sentence sparks fears of increased state extremism
Three men in Sudan have been sentenced to hand amputation for stealing, which is the first time in a decade that the courts have used this punishment, amidst fears of increased state extremism. The men were convicted for stealing gas cylinders. The Africa Center for Justice and Peace Studies referred to the punishment as a form of state-sanctioned torture.

Horn of Africa: Increase in migration through Yemen alarms UN organisations
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is concerned about an increase in migration from the Horn of Africa through Yemen. The Eastern Migration Route, passing by Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti, has increased by 64 percent in the last year, states IOM Director General Antonio Vitorino. A rising number of women and children are making the difficult journey to find a better life, stated Vitorino, while formerly it would have been predominantly men making the passage. The IOM states different socio-economic drivers have contributed to this surge on the trajectory, including conflict, harsh environment and health crises. Only a fraction of the deaths and disappearances on the route are recorded.

North Africa

Libya/Rwanda: EU renews funding for hosting evacuees from Libya in Rwanda
The EU has renewed its funding to Rwanda for €22 million for hosting refugees from Libya. This agreement will be extended until 2026. Under the system, refugees evacuated from Libya in need of international protection are first taken to Rwanda and Niger, where preparations for resettlement take place. 


EU: EU carries responsibility for deaths at sea, says Save the Children
Save the Children states that the European Union is partly responsible for deaths of refugees and migrants at sea because of their “draconian” measures to keep refugees out. Save the Children also criticised the EU for their double standards regarding migration as they accepted Ukrainian refugees but stopped refugees from across Europe’s borders. Save the Children notes that in the past 4 years, at least 8,468 refugees have died at sea and half a million have gone missing trying to reach European borders. In addition, analysts warn that the EU is embracing more extreme narratives on stopping migration.

EU: Parliament approves Frontex support for border management North Macedonia
The European Parliament approved for the border and coast guard agency Frontex tol provide operational support in the border management of North Macedonia, “with full respect for fundamental rights”. The proposal was approved on 15 February. Under the agreement, Frontex will manage migration at North Macedonia’s border. 

Greece: Confidential documents said Frontex should stop operating in Greece
The human rights chief of the EU border agency Frontex stated that the organisation should stop operating in Greece due to human rights abuses of Greek border guards amidst violent pushbacks, states the New York Times on the basis of confidential documents it has seen. Nothing happened with the warning, states the NYT on the basis of a follow-up communication which found “no change in the reported practice.”

Poland: Deceased Ethiopian woman found on the Belarus border: 
Activists from Podlaskie Voluntary Humanitarian Emergency Service, a humanitarian group in Poland, found the body of a 28-year-old Ethiopian woman at the Belarusian border, reports InfoMigrants. The woman’s husband and another companion had left her in the woods alone to go get help, but were sent back over the border of Belarus by Polish border guards. The activists started looking for her when she was reported missing by her relatives and found her several days later. She had already died. An investigation is now being called.

Portugal: EU-Africa relations
João Gomes Cravinho, the Foreign Minister of Portugal, stated that he wants Portugal to be more involved in the relationship between the EU and Africa, reports Euractiv. The minister informed Lusa, a portuguese news outlet, at the African Union Summit that the country will “help the European Union understand what is changing on the African continent and how best to adapt its approach to supporting peace, security and stability in Africa”. 


AU: African Union Summit 2023 to discuss ACFTA and security
The AU Summit in Addis Ababa started this week. Theme of the summit is ‘‘The Year of AfCFTA: Acceleration of the African Continental Free Trade Area Implementation’, says The EastAfrican. This entails free trade and free movement of people and goods, although some countries are hesitant to open their borders, says the Brussels Times. The AfCFTA has been signed by all of the AU countries except Eritrea. Food security and agricultural development will be an important point of discussion, report several different sources. This is also especially important in relation to gender equity, announces ActionAgainstHunger. According to a draft of the summit’s conclusions, African leaders will push for permanent seats for the continent on the UN Security Council and the G20 group of major economies, reports France24. A US delegation travelled to Addis Ababa between 14 and 19 February for meetings with officials on the sidelines of the AU Summit. According to The EastAfrican the US representatives will “meet with stakeholders to discuss the global food security crisis and its disproportionate impact on Africa, as well as to follow up on US commitments made at the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit”. The delegation will be led by the US assistant secretary for Africa, Molly Phee.