News Highlights: EU’s secret externalisation plans, IDPs in Ethiopia lack aid, Boat sinks off Libyan coast

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

In this week’s News Highlights: Process of forming interim Tigray government challenged; New book questions origin of Tigray conflict; Health drain in Tigray; IDPs and refugees in Ethiopia lack aid; Ethiopian Parliament warns of South Sudan armed group; OLA welcomes call for peace, but says it is unspecific; Eritrea continues collecting diaspora tax; Eritrea votes against UN resolution on Russia; Horn of Africa drought to worsen; UNSC meeting on Somalia; al-Shabaab attack in Somalia; Hemedti calls Sudan coup a mistake; AU Summit conclusions; Boat sinks off Libyan coast, killing at least 12; AU and UN express worry about Libya; National courts prosecute human traffickers active in Libya; EU’s secret externalisation plans; Italy signs anti-rescue law; UK plans to process 12,000 asylum seekers without interview; Russia’s increasing influence in Africa; EU increasingly forgetting core values in migration debate, state critics; and UN GA adopts various resolutions. 

Greater Horn of Africa

Tigray: Process of forming interim government
Plans are underway in Tigray to form an interim government, which will sit until elections are held. The interim government will respect and restore the territories of Tigray, stated General Taddesse Worede, head of Tigray Defense Forces and chair of Regional Interim Government Establishing Committee. He said that the release of budget and salaries from the federal government is linked with the establishment of an interim government in Tigray and the committee is working to speed up the process. General Tsadkan Gebretinsae, a member of central command of Tigray Defense Forces and Tigray peace delegation, issued a statement criticising the process. He questioned the legitimacy of the representation of the interim government establishing committee. He called upon the Government of Tigray to include other stakeholders to join the current committee in the ongoing processes. The Global Society of Tigray Scholars and Professionals (GSTS) also called for a larger inclusivity in the process of establishing an interim administration of Tigray in a statement of 18 February.

Tigray: New book goes back to origin of Tigray conflict
The origin of the Ethiopia Tigray war was “an invasion long in the planning” conclude Sara Vaughan and Martin Plaut, in their recently published book Understanding Ethiopia’s Tigray War: “The ENDF were sent by plane to capture and kill the leadership of the regional government”. Plaut states: “That was the spark that led to the outbreak of the fighting.” The event took place on 3 November 2020. All parties involved in the war knew it was coming. The authors also warn that the conflict in Ethiopia is far from over, as underlying factors, such as communal national identity and ethnonationalism, land hunger and score-settling persist.

Tigray: Health drain as doctors leave looking for payment
The Ayder hospital in Mekelle may face a shortage of medical doctors who leave looking for employment where they can be paid, stated Kibrom Gebresellasse, CEO of Mekelle Ayder hospital. He said “by the time salary and budget make it to Tigray, I am afraid not so many doctors will still be in their posts. The rate at which our hospital is losing its healthcare workers is alarming. The exodus is hemorrhaging the region. Healthcare is amongst the prime target.” Patrick Youssef, regional director of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), arrived in Mekelle on 21 February, for his visit to the Tigray region. He visited Ayder Hospital. He wrote that “the conflict caused immense suffering for the population. The humanitarian consequences are severe. And more aid is needed to protect and assist the affected people”. 

Ethiopia: IDPs and refugees lacking aid
Displaced persons in Ethiopia are struggling amidst a combination of conflict and climate-related pressures. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Irob currently residing in Adigrat state that there is an ongoing shortage of humanitarian assistance and lack of assessment carried out by aid organisations, reports Tigrai Television. Eritrean forces continue to be present in Tigray and are blocking the aid from reaching people in need, state the IDPs. Ongoing intense fighting has caused the internal displacement of 1.5 million people in the Oromia region, leading to a humanitarian crisis, states Oromia Physicians Association (OPA). OPA reports an acute shortage of medical supplies. In addition, “908 health posts, 158 health centers and 6 hospitals have been damaged or looted, with 179 health posts and 12 health centers burned.” The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) issued a statement in which it confirmed that the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) returning to their homes in Afar region struggle to return to their normal lives due to the restriction of free movement and lack of humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, tens of thousands of people are fleeing Somalia to Ethiopia’s Somali region; the refugees are temporarily settling in remote regions with little humanitarian assistance, warns the UN Refugee Agency. 

Ethiopia: Parliament states armed group from South Sudan has crossed into Ethiopia
Members of the House of Peoples Representatives in Ethiopia stated that South Sudanese militias advanced up to 200 km into southwestern areas of Ethiopia using the security vacuum created due to the redeployment of Ethiopian defence forces to North Ethiopia during the Tigray war. Representatives cited witnesses who said that the militias were committing killings, looting and caused displacements. The armed groups are reportedly well trained and armed. The Ministry of Defence responded to the report by stating it “will act by giving priority or taking into consideration the intensity of the threats.” 

Ethiopia: OLA welcomes call for peace, but states it lacks clarity
The Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) said it welcomes the peaceful resolution of the conflict in the Oromia region “through civilized discourse” in reaction to a call for reconciliation from the Oromia regional president, Shimelsi Andissa, reports Addis Standard. In its statement, the OLA warned that the call for reconciliation “lacks the requisite clarity and nuance to be too optimistic about the overtures of an imminent peace process in Oromia.”

Eritrea: Diaspora tax collection by Eritrean regime abroad continues
The Eritrean government continues collecting diaspora tax through its consular offices around the world, according to an opinion piece in Al Jazeera. The Eritrean government instructs its embassies to use “questionable tactics” to collect an income tax from the Eritrean diaspora. “Eritrean consulates demand proof of diaspora tax payment to provide even the most basic consular services. They refuse to issue ID cards or any other legal documents until the tax is paid.” It is also reported that the Eritrean diaspora cannot sell their own properties unless they pay the diaspora tax, and may face demands for paybacks of all diaspora tax if they need any services. The author calls on the international community to start investigations into the tax and to put pressure on the Eritrean government to stop collecting it through “blackmail”. 

Eritrea: UN vote on Russia rejected by Eritrea
The UN General Assembly voted on a non-binding resolution that calls for Russia to leave Ukraine. Seven countries voted against the resolution, amongst which Eritrea. Eritrea and Russia have strengthened ties in the past months, with Foreign Minister Lavrov personally visiting the country in February.

Horn of Africa: Drought to worsen
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) said that it expects below-normal rainfall in the rainy season in the Horn of Africa over the next three months, making it the 6th failed consecutive season in the region. It is estimated that about 23 million people will suffer from food insecurity in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, according to a food security working group chaired by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Despite the prevalence of the “worst drought in decades” in Somalia, aid workers are reportedly expecting that humanitarian support to the country will decrease due to “donor fatigue” and “multiple crises”, according to VOA.Norwegian Refugee Council country director Mohamed Abdi said “the main reason why there’s a donor fatigue is because, as you can imagine, Somalia has been receiving humanitarian assistance for over three decades now and the situation has not been changing.” Because of persistent insecurity, conflicts, harsh climate conditions, unemployment, political persecution, and economic crisis in the region, about 1.4 million people are expected to migrate to Yemen and other gulf countries, according to the East African

Somalia: UN Security Council meets on Somalia
The UN Security Council (UNSC) held a meeting on the situation in  Somalia this week. Anita Kiki Gbeho, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia, briefed the Council on the latest developments in the country. She called for equal representation of women in the public sector and highlighted the challenges that are threatening stability and peace in Somalia, namely attacks of al-Shabaab and the threat of famine stemming from the historic droughts. Sima Sami Bahous, UN Women Executive Director, delivered a speech to the UNSC highlighting that women’s political participation is decreasing and sexual violence is increasing in Somalia. She said that although advocacy efforts were made during discussions on the establishment of the government, women constitute only 13% of the Somali cabinet.  Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Representative to the UN, praised the efforts in the fight against al-Shabaab and welcomed the steps towards federalism and political reconciliation. Thomas-Greenfield raised concerns about ongoing violence against civilians in Laascaanood, and called for immediate protection and unimpeded humanitarian access. 

Somalia: Al-Shabaab attack kills civilians
An al-Shabaab attack in Mogadishu, Somalia,  killed at least 10 civilians and injured others on 21 February. The attack was reportedly aimed at a house where Somali lawmakers were reported to be staying. During the attack, a car bomb was set off, followed by a gun fight. Somalia’s information ministry said the fight went on for eight hours between the militants and the security forces, and that four of the al-Shabaab militants were killed in the fight.
Earlier, A military operation by the Somali National Army resulted in the killing of more that 200 militants of al-Shabaab, including some commanders, reported Garowe Online. Abdirahman Yusuf Aladdala, the Deputy Minister of Information, confirmed on Thursday (16 February) that government troops conducted the operation together with the international support of the US Africa Command at Fiji village in HirShabelle region of central Somalia. 

Sudan: Hemedti calls coup “a mistake”  
Gen. Mohamed Dagalo (Hemedti), the deputy head of Sudan’s ruling council, said that the 2021 coup d’etat overpowering the civilian-led transitional government was a “mistake” as it had played into the hands of the supporters of former President Omar al-Bashir. According to the BBC, the comments can be seen as an attempt of Hemedti to ally with civilian protesters, as there is increasing tension between Hemedti’s Rapid Support Forces and the army chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Protest took place in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, this week in which protesters demanded removal of the current country’s military leadership and called for transition to civilian rule, reports Africa News.  

AU: African Union Summit conclusions
The 36th session of the African Union Summit took place in Addis Ababa between 18 and 19 February. The African Union announced it is concerned about the situation in Libya and that it intends to mediate. The concern includes the situation of migrants in Libya. According to an AU official, the AU requested the departure of mercenaries in Libya. Moussa Faki, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, and other high-ranking African leaders praised the efforts of Ethiopia to resolve its conflict. At the AU summit, the UN Secretary General (UNSG), António Guterres, pledged that the UN will “fully support the peace process”. As a sideline meeting of the AU summit in Addis Ababa, President of the European Council Charles Michel and Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed discussed the progress made in implementing the Pretoria Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, Ethiopia’s development efforts, and its relationships with the EU. In his message to the AU Summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the AU as “an effective mechanism of multilateral political, economic, and humanitarian cooperation,” reports the Ethiopian Press Agency (EPA). The EPA quoted President Putin as saying “We are united by the aspiration to build a just multipolar world order based on genuine equality and rule of international law, free from any forms of discrimination, coercive dictatorship, and sanction pressure.” 

North Africa

Libya: Boat sinks off the coast of Khoms
A rubber boat with refugees sank off the coast of  the city of Khoms in Libya in an attempt to cross the sea to Europe on Monday. The sinking caused the deaths of at least 12 Sudanese people and the disappearance of dozens, according to an official of the Voluntary Humanitarian Return program from Libya. Around 1300 refugees and migrants arrived in Italy or were disembarked from rescue ships over the weekend. NGO Life Support head of mission stated that “[l]ots of them have marks on their skin which show the signs of beatings and mistreatment.” 885 migrants and refugees were intercepted and returned to Libya in the period between 12-18 February 2023, reported the IOM. 2,850 migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya, among which at least 56 died and 101 went missing off the Libyan coast since the start of 2023. The IOM further announced that in 2022 24,684 migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya. 529 migrants died and 848 others went missing on the Central Mediterranean route.

Libya: AU and UN worried about situation in Libya
At the African Union summit, African leaders expressed concern over the situation in Libya, including the situation of refugees and migrants; and the AU announced its intent to mediate. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated that political will is needed to break the stalemate. 

Libya: National courts prosecuting human traffickers from Libya
An article from JusticeInfo looks at the international investigations of Italy, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Spain, Europol, and the International Criminal Court. One Eritrean human trafficker accused of crimes against refugees in Libya was extradited to Italy, and another to the Netherlands, which has requested extradition of a third trafficker; Dutch prosecutors traced the money flows and are able to prosecute the case because Eritreans in the Netherlands were able to explain how the money was extorted from them for their relatives in Libya.  However, national courts are limited, states JusticeInfo; The Netherlands is prosecuting for membership of a criminal organisation, rather than the extensive human rights abuses.  “We would need a foot on the ground in Libya, which is not the case at the moment,” says Wilbrink, spokesman for the Dutch prosecutor’s office. For crimes such as crimes against humanity, needs to step in, states JusticeInfo. 


European Union: Secret plans of externalisation
The European Union has used the externalisation of borders as a strategy to curb irregular migration, often under a cloak of secrecy, states EurActiv. Tools such as bilateral deals, diplomatic contacts and cooperation between country agencies are used, which are “not subject to traditional forms of parliamentary scrutiny,” states EurActiv. EurActiv has filed dozens of freedom of information requests, but often received no response or outright denial of access. Agencies such as Frontex also keep their doors shut to requests for information. The externalisation of the EU involves cooperation with countries not known for respecting human rights. “Without transparency and democratic scrutiny, there is nothing left but state PR”, remarks EurActiv.

Italy: Anti-rescue law signed
Italy’s parliament signed a controversial law which restricts NGO and other private rescue ships on the Mediterranean Sea. It restricts NGOs from making multiple rescues per trip, which may put captains in violation of international law. Hours after the vote, Medicins sans Frontieres (MSF) said its Geo Barents ship was blocked for 20 days and MSF was fined EUR 10,000.

UK: Asylum seekers will be processed without interviews 
The dossiers of 12,000 asylum seekers in the UK will be reviewed without in person interviews. This is a move to reduce the ‘asylum backlog’. A questionnaire will be used to decide the cases of migrants from 5 nationalities: Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria and Yemen. The rest of the procedure will remain the same; however it will be without face to face interviews. The British Red Cross warns that aspects of the questionnaire, namely the fact that it has to be filled in in English and within twenty days, could be very damaging to the procedures of traumatised refugees who may speak little English. In 2022, 166,000 people were in the backlog. 

Russia: Increasing influence in Africa
The Russian government is engaged in an effort to increase its influence on Africa by using propaganda, weapons sales, and hiring mercenaries. Financial Times editor, David Pilling, says Wagner has been present in the Central African Republic, Sudan, Mozambique, Mali, and Burkina Faso, all of which have been affected by insecurity and where Russian mercenaries have been hired to fight insurgents. Pilling says that Russia is establishing their ‘second front’ in Africa, which enables them to destabilise the west. Italy has warned that the increasing Russian presence in the Mediterranean region is causing increasing tensions which could lead to a possible ‘incident’. Enrico Credendino, Navy Chief of Staff, reported that many more Russian ships have been spotted in the Mediterranean over the last few weeks. He further mentioned that “until a few weeks ago”, Russia held 15 ships and 3 submarines in the region and that it “needs to be constantly monitored”. 

EU: Tensions around migration issues
Critics state that the European Union is increasingly letting go of its core values in the considerations to stop migration to the EU. This includes border fences and funding of external migration control. At the same time, the EU pledged more support to Ukrainian refugees on the anniversary of the conflict. EU officals met on Friday in a migration conference organised by Greece, Austria, Poland and Lithuania to discuss issues that include border management problems, including border wall construction. 966,000 asylum seekers were recorded in 2022 by the European Union, Switzerland and Norway, excluding 4 million Ukrainian refugees. This was a 50% increase from the previous year, says Politico


UN: General Assembly adopts various resolutions
The UN General Assembly adopted five consensus resolutions on 20 February on Africa’s development and durable peace across the continent, sustainable development, global health and chemical weapons. In the peacebuilding resolution, the assembly welcomed the initiative to provide sustainable financing for peacebuilding.