News Highlights: Eritrea receives delegations, US’s Blinken in Ethiopia, 30 presumed dead off Libya as SaR fails again

In this week’s news highlights: Eritrea receives delegations from Somalia and Sudan; US State Secretary Blinken’s trip to Ethiopia; Ethiopian opposition walks out of transitional justice meeting; Opposition parties in Ethiopia face harassment; WHO increases health response among Somali refugees in Ethiopia; Disagreement over regional presidency candidates in Tigray delays CoH agreement implementation; Cash shortages in Tigray; Forced rehabilitation of diaspora youth in Somalia; Ethiopian PM travels to South Sudan; Sudanese Democratic Bloc rejects appointment of PM before political agreement; 30 presumed dead as rescue efforts fail, despite warnings, off Libya; Libya launches border security plan; UNSC expresses concern over situation of refugees and migrants in statement; Labour challenge to UK Illegal Migration Bill fails; EC defends lack of EU rescue response after latest tragedy; EC presents framework on border management and returns; Italy estimates 680.000 people want to cross to Europe from Libya – IOM highly doubts that; Germany arrests traffickers and smugglers; Italian ombudsman calls for more guardians for unaccompanied minors; and Wagner puts 15 million USD bounty on Italian defence minister amidst accusations over weaponised migration. 

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: Eritrean President separately receives Hemedti and Somali President
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki separately received two delegations from Sudan and Somalia in Asmara, Eritrea, earlier this week. President Isaias met with Mohamed Dagalo (Hemedti), Vice-President of Sudan’s governing Council and Commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), who travelled to Eritrea for a one-day visit on Monday, 13 March. The visit is reportedly linked to the context of US-Russia rivalry, as Eritrea is reinforcing ties with Russia and the RSF is “weaving alliances of its own with countries in the region and international powers”, said the journalist Abdelmonim Abu Idris to Radio Dabanga. On the same day, Hassan S. Mohamud, President of Somalia, travelled to Eritrea for a two-day visit to discuss bilateral issues as well as regional development with the Eritrean president. Eritrean Minister of Information, Yemane Gebremeskel, said that President Isaias reaffirmed to both of the delegations that the internal affairs of the countries should be resolved by people themselves and not by third external parties. 

Ethiopia: US State Secretary meeting on the CoH Agreement
On 15 March, the US State Secretary Antony Blinken visited Addis Ababa to discuss the implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) Agreement between Ethiopia and Tigray with PM Abiy Ahmed and the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen. During the meeting, the US State Secretary spoke out about the necessity of transitional justice in the form of “accountability for the atrocities perpetrated by all sides”, together with the need for human rights monitoring in the areas of conflict. Blinken added that Ethiopia first needs to fulfil prescribed benchmarks before it can rejoin the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade preference program. Blinken was received at the Addis airport by a junior Minister. Before the visit, the US Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) anticipated “spending $1.975 million to support independent investigations of human rights atrocities and justice and accountability processes for alleged atrocities committed by all sides in Ethiopia”, as written in the fact sheet of the US Department of State. Sources speculate the announcement may have caused the absence of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen for the reception of the delegation. On the occasion of his visit, Blinken also announced that the US will provide Ethiopia with a humanitarian aid package worth $331 million, of which $12 million will be directed to refugees and asylum seekers. Blinken also met with Getachew Reda, the spokesperson of Tigray regional government. Reda said that Blinken expressed commitment to strengthen mobilisation of resources for humanitarian support and rehabilitation. 

Ethiopia: Opposition walks out on transitional justice meeting
Several Ethiopian opposition leaders left a meeting organised over the joint definition of a policy to implement the process of transitional justice in Ethiopia. The opposition stated it is too early to talk about transition to peace when there are ongoing conflicts in the country. It is instead necessary to prioritise national political dialogue and ensure peace in the country, according to the opposition parties. 

Ethiopia: Political opposition parties face restriction and harassment from state security forces
The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) reported that government and security forces are imposing restrictions on the freedom of opposition political parties to hold their general assemblies, says Addis Standard referring to a statement from the board. NEBE stated that opposition parties Enat Party, Balderas For True Democracy, Gurage Unity and Justice Party (GOGOT) have faced extreme pressure from the government and were denied the right to hold their general assembly. Additionally, 12 leaders and officials of the Gurage Unity and Justice Party, a newly established opposition party, have been reportedly detained by the security forces out of which 10 were released and 2 remain in detention, reports Addis Standard. The party representative claims that the Ethiopian government has been pressuring against the establishment and members of the party, who have been intimidated and harassed by the security forces over the past period.

Ethiopia/ Somalia: WHO boosts health response for Somali refugees in Ethiopia
WHO Ethiopia said it is increasing its response to enhance essential health services for Somali refugees who have been arriving in the Dollo zone of Ethiopia. Dr Nonhlanhla Dlamini, Acting WHO Representative to Ethiopia said “There is the need for increased partner presence and robust coordination mechanisms to support the government’s response in a well-coordinated approach”. About 100 000 refugees from Somalia arrived in the Dollo zone since the beginning of February this year, reports WHO in Ethiopia. The refugees mostly consist of women and minors as well as wounded and sick people. They are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

Tigray: Candidates for regional presidency
Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed does not want Debretsion Gebremichael to stay on as the regional President of Tigray and blames him for starting the war, reports the Washington Post, even though he still has the support of most people in Mekelle. General Tsadkan and Getachew Reda, the spokesperson for the regional government, are among the ones considered for the position of regional President of the interim government of Tigray, states WP. The difficulties in forming an interim government in the region have caused a slowing in the implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities agreement. 

Tigray: Citizens experience ongoing cash shortages
Residents in Mekelle have trouble buying goods due to the cash shortages, and traders are reluctant to accept transfers through banks as payment. A bank manager in Mekelle stated that traders and rich persons withdrew all their money in cash in the two weeks after 5 billion birr was sent to the banks in Tigray, depleting the funds. Limitations on withdrawals were circumvented through methods such as transferring smaller amounts to the accounts of family and friends.

Somalia: Diaspora youth returned to the country face forced rehabilitation
Children and teenagers with Somali heritage living abroad are brought “back home” by their families under the pretext of visiting their relatives or going on holiday; but, once arrived, they are forcibly put in rehabilitation centres aimed at strictly educating them according to the Somali culture and religion, as reported by an article in The Guardian. The dhaqan celis (“return to culture”) are meant to rid the youngsters of their western habits, like drinking alcohol, or to cure what is believed to be mental sickness, according to witnesses. British and American Somalis who experienced this told The Guardian that these detention centres are not about education as they spend most of the time reading the Quran and, if they misbehave, are subjected to physical violence, isolation and punishments, while sexual and mental abuse is routine.

South Sudan/Ethiopia: Ethiopia’s Prime Minister travels to South Sudan
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed travelled to South Sudan for a one-day working visit on Monday 13 March. He and his delegation were received by the President, Salva Kiir Mayardit, upon arrival in Juba.  During the talks, the delegation assured South Sudan that Ethiopia will support peace and stability efforts.

Sudan: Non-framework agreement parties reject appointment of PM
Minni Minnawi, Political Secretary of the Sudanese Democratic Bloc, rejected the appointment of a PM before reaching full agreement on the processes of a political declaration and (transitional) constitution, states Sudan Tribune. Yasir Arman, a leading member of the Sudanese Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), is reported to have discussed with the military leaders over the appointment of a new PM as the political process is almost at the end stage. On March 13, leaders of the National Umma Party and the Democratic Bloc met in order to end the political stalemate, but no significant steps have been reached in the political process, according to Sudan Tribune.

North Africa

Libya: 30 presumed dead at sea following shipwreck off Libya
A boat carrying 47 people departing from Libya capsized along the Central Mediterranean route, and 30 people are missing at sea and are presumed dead. The day before the capsizing happened, the NGO Alarm Phone sought immediate rescue for the people on the boat in distress due to the bad weather conditions. According to media, Libyan authorities called Italian authorities stating they lacked the means to perform a rescue. However, Italian authorities stated that the boat was outside of their rescue area. Human Rights Watch stated: “For 27 hours, the Italian authorities not only refused to intervene but also instructed nearby vessels not to do so either and to liaise with the Libyan authorities.” However, when Libyan authorities failed to rescue the people on the boat, the Italian authorities asked merchant ships to assist instead, but the boat capsized during the attempt by the merchant ship to transfer people to their ship. Only 17 people were saved and brought to Italy. In a tweet of March 14, Alarm Phone wrote, “The 30 people who died could be still alive, if only the Italian and Maltese authorities had decided to immediately coordinate a proper rescue operation”. Maltese Minister of Home Affairs Camilleri commented on the incident, stating: “Prevention can save lives. Prevention prevents people from making the crossing”.

Libya: Libyan Minister of Interior launches a border security plan
The Libyan Minister of Interior, Imad Al-Trabelsi, announced the introduction of measures to fight migrant and refugee smuggling by securing borders, ports and the desert, as reported by the Libya Observer. The statement came during a meeting with the Chief of the General Staff of the Libyan Army, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Al-Haddad, and other security agency  components. The meeting was aimed at discussing issues related to border security and at improving the coordination in this field between the Ministry of Interior and the military apparatus.

Libya/UN: The UN Security Council adopts statement on Libya
The UN Security Council adopted a statement on progress in relation to elections in Libya. The SC noted that the political processes should be accompanied by full compliance with human rights and international law. A UN statement noted that the members of the SC were concerned about ongoing issues such as “smuggling of migrants and refugees through Libya, human trafficking, and the situation faced by migrants and refugees — including children — in the country.” 


UK: The House of Commons approves the Illegal Migration Bill 
An attempt by the UK Labour Party to block the controversial Illegal Migration Bill was defeated in the House of Commons. The bill has among its purposes the detention and removal from the country of people entering illegally. The attempt to block the bill was defeated 312 to 249. The decision was taken amidst protests by hundreds of people who gathered in front of the House of Parliament to show their support to asylum seekers. The EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson warned last week that the bill potentially contravenes international law.

EU/Libya: European Commission defends EU’s lack of rescue role in IRINI
Peter Stano, European Commission’s spokesperson, stated that the area patrolled by the EU’s IRINI Operation’s ships “is not where the main migratory routes are running through”. The comments came during the 13 March Midday Press Briefing where Stano was questioned about the non-action of IRINI vessels to prevent the loss of lives following the Libyan shipwreck of 12 March, which caused the presumed death of 30 people. He also underlined that the primary task of Operation IRINI is to monitor the UN arms embargo on Libya, while the dismantling of smuggling networks and the Search and Rescue (SaR) operations represent secondary tasks. In addition to that, Stano made clear that IRINI vessels “can’t operate in Libyan waters”, which only Libya can access for SaR operations – despite the fact that Libya was unable to help in this case. Ana Pisonero, another European Commission’s spokesperson, announced that additional patrol boats will be given to the Libyan Coast Guard in order to “enhance the borders management capacities of Libya”.

EU: Commission introduces new framework on integrated border management and returns
The European Commission (EC) presented a strategic framework for European integrated border management (EIBM) and a recommendation of the EC to EU member states on more effective return procedures on Tuesday 14 March.  The EIBM multiannual strategic policy includes 15 key components including border controls supported by IT systems, a common system for returns, and more effective cooperation with third countries. The policy concerns all member states as well as Frontex and the EC envisions will be implemented over the next 5 years. The new framework and recommendations were presented at a press conference by the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Yohansson, and the Vice-President of the EC, Margaritis Schinas. Yohanson highlighted that the EU “needs migration, but it has to be in a legal and orderly way”, claiming that such an approach is the most sustainable way to save lives. The EC urged member states to increase returns and to recognise migrant return agreements, stating that this would increase trust in the systems. 

Italy: Italy estimates 685k people wanting to cross from Libya but IOM disputes its credibility
The Italian secret service has estimated that about 685,000 migrants and refugees in Libya are waiting for opportunities to cross the Mediterranean sea, said Tommaso Foti, Member of the Chamber of Deputies of Italy. The spokesperson of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Flavio Di Giacomo, questioned the credibility of the number and warned it resembles the total estimated number of migrants and refugees in Libya rather than those that actually aspire to go to Europe. Di Giacomo added “only a minimum part want to leave and only a minimum part succeeds in leaving”. 

Germany: Police operation detects and arrests human traffickers and smugglers
A large-scale police operation was carried out to break the network of human traffickers and smugglers accused of illicit activities in German cities of Berlin and Halle an der Saale. About 400 police officers carried out raids on 15 March, searching more than 20 apartments. Out of several suspects, 5 people were arrested and further 18 are being investigated. Suspects are accused of trafficking and smuggling of people mainly from Turkey and Iraq into Germany.

Italy: Ombudsman for children calls for more guardians for unaccompanied minors
Italian Ombudsman for children and adolescents, Carla Garlatti, warned that there is a lack of guardians to assist unaccompanied minors arriving in Italy, reports ANSA. She called on the citizens to volunteer if they have capacity to take care of refugee children. “We must guarantee that these minors have the same rights that international conventions on infancy and adolescence would recognize for any other child and teen” added Garlatti. The lack of guardians relates to the higher number of the unaccompanied children who arrived in Italy in the past period. 

Italy: Italian defence minister blames Wagner group for surge in migration
The Italian defence minister, Guido Crosetto, has blamed the Russian Wagner group for provoking more migration to Italy from Africa in a joint news conference in Rome with the British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani and British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, according to several sources. The Wagner group has been more active within the African continent, being present in Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic. Crosetto said that the Wagner groups’ presence in Africa was a “clear strategy of hybrid warfare” so that more migrants would make the journey to Italy.  The leader in the Senate for the Lega Nord party, Massimiliano Romeo, stated that “Russia is creating a migration bomb”. As a response to the statement, the Wagner group has put a $15 million bounty on Crosetto. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Chief, stated that the Wagner group has other issues to deal with than migration and that Crosetto should handle his own problems instead of putting blame on the Wagner group, states Euractiv.