News Highlights: Fighting erupts in Sudan, EP approves part of EU migration reform, Concern over political situation in Tunisia

In this week’s news highlights: Fighting erupts between RSF and SAF in Sudan; Sudan’s humanitarian situation; Efforts to mediate in Sudan; Targeting of diplomats and aid workers in Sudan; Ethiopia says it finalised the dismantling of the regional forces – clashes continue; Shide talks with the World Bank Group President; Tigray meeting on Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration; Kenya’s Ruto seeks resumption of talks; South Sudan cabinet approves Election Act; Joint call on the Laascaanood conflict; Concern over political situation in Tunisia; US cuts funds for Libya-Tunisia Electronic Border Security Program; EP approves central part of EU migration reform; Warning from analysts to ensure AI does not harm refugees and migrants; Meloni announces “Mattei Plan” in Ethiopia; Italy’s plans to crack down on migration; 60 rescued in Malta after pressure from NGO; One dies after boat capsizes off Greek coast; and Law condoning pushbacks passed in Lithuania.

Greater Horn of Africa

Sudan: Fighting erupts between RSF and SAF 
Fighting broke out in Khartoum and other Sudanese cities and locations as the two military factions, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), are fighting to gain control of the country. On the morning of 15 April, gunfire and blasts were reported in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. The fighting erupted after a deal to restore civilian power collapsed as the SAF proposed a 2-year timeline for the integration of the RSF, while the RSF demanded a minimum of ten years for the integration. The Sudanese army issued a statement declaring the RSF a “rebel force”, while the air force started operations against the RSF and the fighting spread from Khartoum and the Merowe military base to other parts of the country. Hemedti replied by calling army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan a criminal and accused him of conducting the coup. The situation is rapidly evolving as both sides make contradictory claims. Libyan militia (under control of Khalifa Haftar) have provided military support to RSF. Meanwhile, Egypt has sent planes and pilots to support the SAF.  Sources state Eritrea is providing logistical support to RSF in Kassala to take control of the airport. Heavy shelling was reported in Khartoum throughout the week. Senior military hostages as well as their families (including children) are being held hostage by the RSF. Many embassies have declared the situation ‘too volatile’ to allow for evacuations of foreign nationals. Attempts at ceasefires throughout the week have collapsed, with the latest diplomatic push for a ceasefire around the celebration of Eid al-Fitr pending. 

Sudan: Sudan’s humanitarian situation 
The security and humanitarian situation in Sudan is in dire as the ongoing fighting led to casualties, healthcare disruption and displacement of people. As of 20 April, 350 people are reported to be dead and about 3200 injured as a result of fighting, said Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, in a press briefing. Furthermore, about 40 Khartoum hospitals out of 59 are not functioning due to ongoing fighting. The Sudanese Doctors Syndicate secretary, Dr Attia Abdullah Attia, told Al Jazeera that the two fighting factions are using the hospitals as military headquarters. The remaining functioning hospitals are overwhelmed by rising numbers of patients, lacking staff and supplies. Hospitals and facilities have been looted by the RSF, while sources report that stores and markets are closed. Thousands of people are fleeing Khartoum, trying to escape to neighbouring regions, mainly Gezira and River Nile, which report a calmer situation. For many others who live in heavy fighting areas, trying to exit their houses is too risky and they are forced to lock themselves in, without electricity nor water. So it is for several students who are trapped in schools and universities, reports Al Jazeera.

Sudan: Efforts to mediate
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) will send the presidents William Ruto of Kenya, Salva Kiir of South Sudan and Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti to Sudan to mediate the conflict and attempt to restore stability.  IGAD calls for an cessation of hostilities between the different groups, said Mohamud Sheekh, a spokesperson for IGAD’s executive secretary. Sheekh furthermore stressed the ramifications that a conflict in Sudan can have on other countries in the region that will also be hit by security, social, economic and humanitarian implications. The African Union warned against any outside interference in the conflict and urged for the support to restore the country to its transitional process. The EU released a statement condemning the fighting in Sudan and calling on actors to facilitate humanitarian access, and protect civilians and humanitarian personnel. The US is preparing to implement new sanctions against the RSF and SAF in Sudan. Diplomatic pressure on both parties is mounting to implement a longer ceasefire over Eid al-Fitr.

Sudan: Targeting of diplomats and aid workers
Aid workers and diplomatic staff have been targeted in the violence in Sudan. The Head of Office at DG European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office in Sudan, Wim Fransen, was shot at in Khartoum on Sunday evening. The official is alive and receiving medical attention, according to four witnesses. He went missing for two days before his colleagues found him on Tuesday. In another incident, a US diplomatic convoy was fired upon. RSF fighters also attempted to break into the Norwegian Embassy where staff was working to destroy sensitive internal documents in case the embassy was breached, according to two officials. The World Food Programme halted activities in Sudan after three of its workers were killed. It is unclear whether foreign diplomats and aid workers are being purposefully targeted as part of a broader strategy by the warring factions or have simply been caught in the crossfire of the fighting.

Ethiopia: Ethiopia says it finalised the dismantling of the regional forces
Ethiopia’s army chief announced that the dismantling of regional forces in the country has been completed and that the regional forces structure has now ceased to exist. The policy brings all Ethiopian Special Forces under Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) or integrates them into police forces. The decision came despite the violent protests in Amhara state, which claimed civilian lives. Sources report that clashes between ENDF forces and Amhara FANO militia continued this week, and that ENDF has launched a “special operation”. It is understood that the ENDF is now formally in control over the Western Tigray region (Wolkait) since regional special forces are under control of the ENDF. There are reports that the Amharic Fano militia have been moved to Eritrea.

Ethiopia: Shide talks with the World Bank Group President
On 14 April, the Ethiopian Minister of Finance Ahmed Shide met the World Bank (WB) Group President David Malpass to discuss economic policy reforms in the context of drought, internal conflicts, debt distress and compounding structural challenges, reports the World Bank. President Malpass “urged to remove macroeconomic distortions which will help slow inflation and unlock investment”. Highlighting the WB Group’s economic support to Ethiopia, he also recommended the government to abandon the state-driven economic model and rely more on private-sector led growth. 

Ethiopia: Ethiopia’s efforts examined by the UN Committee Against Torture
On 17 April, the UN Committee Against Torture started a session to discuss the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in several countries, including Ethiopia. This is part of a system of regular reviews that will take place until 12 May, with Ethiopia being examined on 3 and 4 May. 

Tigray: Meeting on Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration
On 14 April, the interim administration of Tigray and the National Rehabilitation Commission met in Mekelle to discuss Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration (DDR). After evaluating “the process undertaken thus far and the tasks ahead”, Getachew Reda, president of the interim administration of Tigray, agreed with the Commission’s Ambassador Teshome Toga “to work closely on Demobilization and Reintegration efforts in Tigray”, says Getachew on his Twitter profile. The two officials reached an agreement on the conditions allowing the acceleration of the remaining tasks, such as “the establishment of shelters and camps as well as registrations” to carry out the demobilisation of the former combatants, said Teshome. Furthermore, he stated that the rehabilitation of former combatants will intensify.

Kenya: Ruto seeks resumption of talks
On 16 April, Kenyan President William Ruto called on the opposition to agree on resuming the talks with the government. The call came after Ruto’s main opponent Raila Odinga called for a new wave of protests to begin at the end of Ramadan, which will coincide with the planned talks. While Odinga’s coalition Azimio La Umoja wants to address a wider agenda of content during the talks, which includes the high cost of living and the review of 2022 presidential results, Ruto’s alliance Kenya Kwanza wants to focus solely on the selection of new electoral officials and the reform of the commission. The two leaders also disagree on who should take part in the talks, with Odinga pushing for a wider participation and Ruto willing to restrict it to only lawmakers. 

South Sudan: Cabinet approves Election Act
On 14 April, the Council of Ministers (CoM) in South Sudan approved the National Election Act 2012, amendment Bill 2023, which regulates the election system. The cabinet then submitted it to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to table it before the Reconstituted Transitional National Legislative Assembly for endorsement, said Michael Makuei Lueth, the Minister of Information. Makuei also said that it was agreed that 50 percent of the parliamentary seats will go to constituencies, 35 for women, 13 for youth, and 2 for people with special needs. The election law, if approved, will regulate the elections that will take place in December 2024, after the end of the transitional period.

Somalia: Joint call on the Laascaanood conflict
On 15 April, a group of 15 International Partners held a call with H.E. the President of Somaliland, Muse Bihi Abdi, to discuss the armed conflict in Laascaanood. As the main parties to the conflict did not implement their commitment to a ceasefire, the international partners called for the parties to establish a dialogue and find a compromise to end the hostilities. Also, the partners pushed for them to make sure that “the security and well-being of the population would be put at the centre of all political decisions”, as written in the joint statement published by the Delegation of the European Union to Somalia. During the call, the issue of delayed elections in Somaliland came up and the EU Delegation to Somalia asked the Somali President to lay out a timeline with steps to achieve in preparation for the elections. The President assured that he is committed to ensuring peace and dialogue and to allow for unhindered humanitarian access to Laascaanood, according to the statement.

North Africa

Tunisia: Concern over political situation
The EU has said that they expressed “great concern” over the political situation in Tunisia after Rachel Ghannouchi, the leader of the opposition, was arrested and the party headquarters shut down. On Monday, Ghannouchi was interrogated by Tunisia’s security services, reports Euractiv. The EU is waiting on official information as the Tunisian government has not yet commented on this arrest. The EU has in recent years been funding Saied’s government and will soon start negotiations for border management in exchange for financial support. 

Tunisia/Libya: US cuts funds for Electronic Border Security Program
The US decided to cut the funds to implement the third and last phase of the Tunisian program, also funded by Germany, to secure its borders with Libya. The final phase would consist of the establishment of an electronically tracked surveillance system that covers 200 kilometres of the Tunisia-Libya border, aimed at preventing access to the territory. As reported by The Libya Observer, the decision came as a consequence of the “excesses of the Tunisian regime”.


European Parliament: EP approves central part of EU migration reform
The European Parliament has approved three proposals with new policies on migration, on Thursday 20 April. This includes an emergency plan which would ensure that the 27 EU member states share the burden of hosting refugees and migrants. One of the proposals would make it binding for EU countries to contribute to sharing the load of migrant and refugee arrivals. When an EU member state would announce a crisis, cooperation in physical relocations would also become mandatory. The relocations would be based on “meaningful links” reports Reuters and AP. The member states only have until the elections of May 2024 to ensure that the reforms are functional. If these proposals are not successful, the project could be abandoned or overhauled by the next European Commission, says AP News

EU: Warning from analysts to ensure AI does not harm refugees and migrants
An open letter from several analysts warns that the proposed act to regulate Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Europe, the EU AI Act, does not ban AI systems from being used in harmful ways in the context of immigration enforcement. They warn that AI is already being used to reinforce violent pushback systems at the border. These tools push people to take more dangerous routes, warn the analysts. The analysts propose amendments to the AI Act to ensure that dangerous uses of AI systems are regulated. 

Italy: Meloni announces “Mattei Plan” in Ethiopia
Over the weekend, Italian PM Giorgia Meloni went on a two-day visit to Ethiopia to meet Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed and discuss the strengthening of bilateral ties. Meloni announced that during the next Italy-Africa intergovernmental summit in October 2023 the Italian government will launch the “Mattei Plan”, an energy cooperation plan with Africa. As for national interests, the plan is aimed at making Italy a major hub in Europe for the distribution of energy imported from North Africa and the Mediterranean. Italy claims the plan will also foster the curbing of migratory flows. Ethiopia’s stability represents a priority for the Italian government as for migration management due to its position on the migratory route to North Africa and Europe, reports the Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA).

Italy: Plans to crack down on migration
Italy is urging for plans that would crackdown on migrants arriving in Italy. A new proposal would make it more difficult for migrants arriving in Italy to be granted temporary permission to stay. The status of “special protection” would be removed so that it would no longer be a “pull factor” which encourages people to make the journey across the Mediterranean Sea to enter Europe, claims Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister. Previously the “special protection” would allow for a migrant to stay in Italy for up to 2 years while waiting for asylum. Some other coalition parties have pushed for the time to 6 months instead of 2 years. This came after a warning from the minister saying that Italy was under “ethnic substitution” due to the high influx of migrants. 

Malta: 60 rescued after pressure from NGO
60 people have been rescued in the Mediterranean and brought to Malta, reports Reuters. The refugees and migrants were rescued by two merchant vessels. The Maltese authorities ordered the ships to rescue 2 boats carrying approximately 30 people each in the central Mediterranean within the Maltese Search and Rescue (SAR) zone after being alerted by the Alarm Phone organisation. Initially, Alarm Phone stated that the Maltese authorities told nearby ships to not intervene, which changed later on. 

Greece: One dies after boat capsizes off Greek coast
On 20 April, a man died after the boat he was travelling on capsized off the southern coast of Greece. The boat was carrying over 50 migrants and refugees, but only 46, including 15 minors, were found according to the Greek Coast Guard. An operation was led to probe the area and rescue any survivors, reports VaticanNews. Meanwhile, four minors and three women were taken to hospital for medical examination, as reported by Anadolu Agency.

Lithuania: Law condoning pushbacks passed
Amnesty International warns that Lituania recently passed a law which effectively condones pushback of refugees and migrants. The people pushed back are at risk of violence, intimidation and ill-treatment in Belarus, states Amnesty. This comes after the Comittee for the Prevention of Torture released a report stating that many European countries used torture on refugees crossing Europe’s border, especially targeted on non-european people.