News Highlights: Ceasefire extended in Sudan – conflict continues, Deaths off Tunisia and Libya, UK Court of Appeals on UK Asylum Bill

In this week’s news highlights: Delicate ceasefire in Sudan, negotiations pending; Humanitarian situation worsening in Sudan, death toll mounts; Fighting over key infrastructure in Sudan; Civilians and refugees in Sudan at risk as deportations loom, prices rise; Peace talks between OLA and Ethiopia; Delegation from regional states arrives in Tigray; Christians arrested in Eritrea; Fighting around Laascaanood, Somaliland, likely to resume; Drought would not have occurred without climate change, says report; 70 bodies recovered off Tunisian coast and 372 people returned; 57 bodies recovered off Libyan coast; Lawyers say UK Illegal Migration Bill is unlawful; Healthcare bodies raise concern over UK’s Illegal Migration Bill; Asylum seeker children treated as adults in the UK; EU Commission optimistic on approval of migration pact; EU ready to normalise relations with Ethiopia; Italy approves Cutro decree; Hundreds of refugees and migrants reach Italy; Germany and Italy tighten control on migration.

Greater Horn of Africa

Sudan: Delicate ceasefire in Sudan, negotiations pending
A delicate 72-hour ceasefire, partially holding, was reached this week in Sudan, but fighting continued in key areas. On Thursday evening, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) made a proposal to extend the current truce by an additional 72-hours which was accepted by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Both sides were asked to send their envoy representatives to Juba, where the negotiations are set to take place hosted by IGAD. The truce includes that both sides committed to hold the positions they control. Leaders are focusing on the establishment of humanitarian corridors to deliver aid and collect bodies. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Moussa Faki, AU Commission Chair, discussed the US-AU collaboration in support of ending hostilities and establishing a peace process in Sudan. Both parties reiterated that the AU should hold a pivotal role in applying diplomatic pressure on warring sides to silence the guns and create humanitarian corridors. EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, Dr. Annette Weber, met with Moussa Faki, the AU Commission Chairman, and other regional stakeholders to discuss the efforts in support of peace in Sudan. The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, called on the warring parties in Sudan to immediately stop fighting. During his address at the Security Council, he urged for an “all-out effort for peace”. Guterres further confirmed that the UN established a hub in Port Sudan in support of peace and delivery of humanitarian assistance. 

Sudan: Humanitarian situation worsening, death toll mounts
Despite the ceasefire, including civilian-brokered ceasefires in many locations in Darfur, fighting continued at various locations in Sudan. Sudan’s Ministry of Health confirmed that at least 512 civilians have been killed. Medical supplies were delivered to a health facility in Khartoum but the health care situation across the country remains dire, confirmed MSF. Safe passage for ambulances and civilians seeking healthcare, and facilitation of movement of those who are delivering humanitarian assistance, is urgently needed, says Dr Abubakr Bashir Bakri, MSF operations manager for Sudan. The World Food Programme (WFP) has started evacuation of their staff members from Sudan, confirmed a WFP spokesperson Steve Taravella. An estimated 50,000 acutely malnourished children are left without treatment as the nutrition programmes have been suspended, confirmed the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation Chief, said in a press briefing that 61% of health facilities in Sudan are closed, and only 16% are operating as normal. The death toll is still expected to increase due to disease outbreaks, lack of access to food and water, and disruptions to health services such as immunisation, says WHO. Furthermore, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) called on the international community to give appropriate attention and humanitarian assistance to all people who remain trapped in Sudan.  “European leaders are focused on evacuating their citizens, but there is no time to waste in shifting focus on supporting and protecting those who remain”, said David Miliband, President of the IRC.

Sudan: Fighting over key infrastructure
The Centre of Public Health Laboratory in Khartoum has been seized and occupied by one of the fighting sides in Sudan. The technicians and personnel of the laboratory were ordered to leave. The biological risk associated with the occupation of the central public health lab is high, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), as the laboratory holds samples of measles, polio and cholera. The WHO further warns that key hospitals in Khartoum are being occupied by fighting forces. The El Jeili refinery in the eastern part of Khartoum North is reportedly under control of RSF while other key infrastructure has been destroyed by fighting. Analysts fear that the RSF may target oil civinfrastructure between South Sudan and Khartoum, of which the revenues are controlled by SAF. 

Sudan: Civilians and refugees at risk as deportations loom, prices rise
Eritrean refugees are reportedly being forcibly returned from Sudan to Eritrea, which has been called an ‘evaluation’ by Tesfanews, the official outlet of the Eritrean regime. Observers are concerned that the refugees will be mobilised for indefinite national service or will end up in prison. Meanwhile, Eritreans fleeing a dictatorship are trying to move towards Kassala, while prices for the transportation costs for people fleeing from Khartoum to Kassala are increasing, as well as the prices of fuel and basic necessities. The costs of the buses have become prohibitive and the passage through the many checkpoints, controlled by the paramilitaries of the RSF, is risky for refugees who lack documentation. Without papers they are more likely to be targeted for extortion and abuse. Reports further show that networks of human traffickers and smugglers that are preying on refugees, who are squeezed between the fighting, are worsening the situation for refugees in Sudan. Other reports confirm that the bus drivers increased the prices also to other border crossings with Egypt and Port Sudan. Thousands of people including children and elders are reportedly stuck at the Argeen border to cross from Sudan into Egypt, without food and water. Additionally, there is an acute shortage of cash reported by citizens in Khartoum and reports of banks being looted. With the lack of access to hospitals in the capital, the humanitarian situation is close to catastrophic. 

Ethiopia: Peace talks between OLA and Ethiopia
Peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) started on 24 April in Zanzibar, Tanzania. The Ethiopian delegation, led by Amb. Redwan, involves Gideon Timoteos (Ministry of Justice) and Kofalo Teferra, a security advisor of the Government of Oromia. Observers said that several rounds of talks are planned. Kenya, Sweden, Norway and the US are mediating the talks between the Ethiopian government and OLA. Chief of OLA, Merro Diriba, said that the negotiations “will be as simple as the one with Tigray”, according to Oromia Media Network, OMN.  The negotiations are being held behind closed doors. In response to the question on what OLA expects from the negotiation, he said “We expect to reach a peace agreement that addresses the political demands of the Oromo people.” He also mentioned there will be ‘give and take’ in the negotiation but the basic demands of the Oromo people will not be compromised.

Tigray/Ethiopia: Delegation from regional states arrives in Tigray
Presidents of the Ethiopian regional states, city mayors and senior party officials arrived in Mekelle on Thursday (27 April). The purpose of the visit, according to PM Abiy Ahmed, is to show brotherly partnership for reconstruction. The delegation led by the vice president of the Prosperity Party Adam Farah was received by the Tigray Interim Administration Getachew Reda and other authorities of the region. The delegation includes Oromia region president Shimelis Abdissa, Amhara region president Dr Yilkal Kefale and Addis Ababa mayor Adanech Abebie and other high ranking officials. Officials visited factories in Wukro city which were destroyed during the war. 

Eritrea: Christians arrested
103 Christians, mostly students, were arrested earlier in April by Eritrean authorities while the group was recording videos of Christian music for social media, say Release International. They were sent to Mai Serwa prison, a prison that is known for the mistreatment of its inmates and for its use of torture. With the addition of this arrest, the number of Christian prisoners detained indefinitely without trial in Eritrea counts over 500. 

Somalia: Fighting around Laascaanood likely to resume
Analysts warn that fighting around Laascaanood is likely to resume. The mayor of Laascaanood, Abdirahin Ali Ismail, has called on the SSC clan forces to defeat the Somaliland forces. Amnesty International reported extensive human rights abuses ongoing around Laascaanood, which resulted in the death of at least over 100 people and more than 600 injured. Infrastructure, including hospitals, schools and mosques, were severely damaged due to bombing by Somaliland forces. 

Horn of Africa: Drought would not have occurred without climate change, study says
A study by the World Weather Attribution investigating the drought in the Horn of Africa shows that the “exceptional” drought would not have occurred were it not for climate change. Looking at historical data, the study concludes that the conditions of low rainfall and high evaporation would not have led to the current state of drought had the world climate been 1.2 degrees cooler. The study also warns that increasing temperatures make such drought conditions more likely in the future. 

North Africa

Tunisia: 70 bodies recovered off Tunisian coast and 372 people returned
At least 70 bodies of refugees and migrants who drowned trying to reach Italy have been recovered off the Tunisian coast between the 21 and 24 April by the Tunisian coast guard. The bodies were found affected by the waves of the sea, said the spokesman of the Tunisian Coast Guard. The persons who drowned are of sub-Saharan African nationalities. Judicial official Faouzi Masmoudi told Reuters about the severe pressure that Sfax hospitals are facing due to the increasing number of corpses found at sea due to the low number of morgues. On 24 April, the Tunisian Coast Guard intercepted 372 migrants about to leave the shores of Sfax on unseaworthy boats. The refugees and migrants told AfricaNews they engaged in the trip hoping to reach at least international waters, where to be rescued and taken to Europe. The refugees and migrants, from Syria and Bangladesh but mainly from sub-Saharan West Africa, were returned to Tunisia.

Libya: 57 bodies recovered off Libyan coast
57 bodies were recovered on the shores of two different towns in western Libya between 20 and 25 April. 11 bodies, including that of a child, were recovered by the Libyan Coast Guard off Qarabulli city after a boat sank in the Mediterranean. The boat was carrying about 80 people, said a survivor, who described the scene of the sinking as “horrific”, reports Reuters. 46 other bodies were recovered by the Libyan Red Crescent Society off the coast of Sabratha. A Red Crescent aid worker said they were all “illegal migrants” from one boat, reports Reuters


UK/Rwanda: Lawyers say Illegal Migration Bill is unlawful
On 24 April, lawyers said the Illegal Migration Bill proposed by the UK government to send refugees and migrants who enter the UK irregularly to Rwanda is unlawful. The statement came during the first of a four day hearing where the Court of Appeal is called to decide whether two High Court judges rightfully dismissed legal bids against the bill and whether the Rwanda scheme is “systemically unfair”, reports The Irish News. The lawyers represented a group of asylum seekers from Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Iran and Vietnam who challenged the bill along with some human rights organisations. One of the lawyers, Raza Husain, said that Rwanda is not a “safe third country”, contrary to what the government says, but an authoritarian one-party state that represses any opposition, reports Reuters. Lawyers for the British government responded that the UK-Rwanda deal is “subject to an exacting set of monitoring arrangements”, including by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). However, an amendment will be made to the bill giving Home Secretary Suella Braverman the power to neglect the court’s interim injunctions that halt the deportation of refugees and migrants. 

UK/Rwanda: Healthcare bodies raise concern over Illegal Migration Bill
Over 840 UK healthcare professionals signed a letter to the PM in order to express their concern over the removal of migrants and asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda. The signatories point at the health implications that such a policy has on individuals seeking safety, many of whom already suffer from serious health problems and traumas. They therefore state that persisting in this policy despite the well documented health consequences is “unconscionable”, as written in the letter published by Doctors without Borders. Finally, they urge the government to abandon the policy in order to protect migrants and asylum seekers’ rights and safety. 

UK: Asylum seeker children treated as adults
867 out of 1,386 asylum seekers deemed to be adults by the UK Home Office turned out to be children. The charities Helen Bamber Foundation, Humans for Rights Network and Asylum Aid published a report collecting the responses from 70 different local authorities in the UK on the issue of age assessments, based on information from a request of Freedom of Information’s (FoI). The authors said that the number of children mistakenly recorded as adults is likely to be an underestimate. The Guardian reports that the wrong classification could result in the wrong placement of children in accommodations with unrelated adults or in adult immigration detention centres. The government announced its willingness to amend the Illegal Migration Bill in order to include scientific age assessments, which anyone who refuses to undergo will be automatically treated as an adult.

EU: EU Commission optimistic on approval of migration pact
The EU Commission is optimistic that the negotiations on the migration and asylum pact will lead to its approval before 2024 EU elections. Negotiations on the legislative package officially started between the EU Parliament and the EU ministers and, once the EU ministers agree on remaining details, the trilogues will start. EURACTIV reported that one of the regulations that gained relative consensus was the solidarity mechanism according to which member states can provide support to first arrival countries as they receive a higher number of asylum seekers and migrants. However, experts on the subject showed less optimism. Sergio Carrera, an expert on European migration policy at Centre of European Policy Studies (CEPS) told EURACTIV that the solidarity mechanism “does not eliminate the strong disparities in burden-sharing”. Another key topic of the Pact on migration and asylum is the “reduction of irregular departures by supporting Tunisian border and migration management as well as search and rescue capacities” states a European Commission memo. 

EU: Ready to normalise relations with Ethiopia
The Council of the European Union approved conclusions stating that the EU is ready to support Ethiopia. It states that the EU will progressively normalise relations with Ethiopia. The conclusions says it stands ready to resume aid through its multi-annual indicative programme with Ethiopia, and says the EU stands ready to support the process of achieving transitional justice and accountability. The EU Council “welcomes the agreed withdrawal of foreign forces” from Ethiopia but does not comment further on the current status of those foreign forces. The Council stated that it welcomes cooperation and stands ready to support the EHRC and the UN Human Rights Commission in accountability and transitional justice. It “looks forward to the final report” by ICHREE to be presented in September 2023 and expresses concern over the tensions and rights violations in Amhara and Oromia.

Italy: Italy approves Cutro decree
The Cutro migrant decree has been approved, with 92 votes in favour and 65 against, by the Italian Senate. The decree will go to the Lower Chamber for approval on 9 May, where the decree will be turned into a set of laws. The laws would eliminate or vastly limit the amount of people who will receive special protection status. 

Italy: Hundreds of refugees and migrants reach Europe
Between 23 and 24 April, more than 800 refugees and migrants reached the Italian island of Lampedusa.  Last week refugees and migrants in Lampedusa had been transferred to Sicily or the main land by Italian authorities to allow Lampedusa’s reception centres to host new arrivals. However the facility is again overcrowded, reports InfoMigrants. On 25 April, Italian Minister of the Interior Matteo Piantedosi went to Lampedusa and promised the mayor of the municipality that it will be provided with a task force charged with dealing with the emergency, reports the Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA). InfoMigrants also reported that the EU-led Operation IRINI has saved more than 1200 migrants and asylum seekers in the month of April. 

Germany/Italy/UK: Germany and Italy tighten control on migration
Germany will adopt a strict approach during the EU negotiations on the Migration Pact and will agree on the accelerated asylum procedure, which allows member states to keep asylum seekers in transit zones and provide a faster repatriation in case of rejection, reports EURACTIV. It proposes some changes which would make the accelerated return procedure somewhat more lenient. On 27 April, Italian and UK Prime Ministers Giorgia Meloni and Rishi Sunak signed an agreement to cooperate on irregular migration and human trafficking. Meloni also praised her UK counterpart on migration policy and stated she “absolutely agrees”.