News Highlights: Humanitarian crisis worsens in Sudan, Eritrean refugees in dire conditions, Report on Croatian pushbacks

In this week’s news highlights: Humanitarian crisis worsens in Sudan; Seven-day ceasefire set and broken in Sudan; Eritrean refugees in dire conditions; Abiy warns Isaias; More than 100.000 people flee Sudan; UN and USAID pause aid in Tigray; UNSG sends a letter to Eritrea; UN Security Council report on arms embargo in South Sudan; Conflict in Amhara continues; Biden signs Executive Order; EUBAM attends border conference with Libyan delegation; Djibouti announces crackdown on migrants; Tunisian authorities to build new cemeteries for refugees and migrants; Report on Croatian pushbacks; Dutch Court stops returns of asylum seekers to Italy; Sea-Watch accuses Italy of handing over refugees and migrants to Libya; Austria and Italy allied against irregular migration; Pope Francis warns about nationalism in Europe; Kılıçdaroğlu vows to repatriate Syrian refugees; Germany to examine asylum procedures out of the EU.

Greater Horn of Africa

Sudan: Humanitarian crisis worsens
The Sudanese ministry of health reported 550 civilian deaths and 4,926 injured in the fighting between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in Sudan. The deaths counted in Sudan only include those that die in hospitals or who are brought into hospitals, resulting in vast underestimations of the numbers of deaths, Human Rights Watch states. Witnesses report large numbers of bodies on the streets. The World Health Organization warns many civilians will die due to the fighting, as well as lack of essential services and disease outbreaks. The price of basic commodities has risen by 40-60% or more. Civil resistance committees in Sudan are attempting to help people, who are trapped, to obtain resources and water. They also assist in the identification and burial of bodies. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) states that two-thirds of the fighting has been taking place in densely populated areas. Access to water is a key humanitarian issue, due to damage of water supplies, purifying equipment and lack of fuel to transport water to camps for refugees and displaced people. Sudanese doctors warn that the bodies left in the streets are causing contamination of water sources, causing people to drink from sources such as the Nile river. Two-thirds of the hospitals remain nonfunctional and medical supplies are critically low. 80 metric tonnes of medical aid is in Port Sudan awaiting clearance, says the WHO. Six trucks of humanitarian supplies were looted, stated UN aid chief Martin Griffiths. Most of the humanitarian supplies in Sudan have been decimated by looting, warns UN OCHA. It is exploring ways to bring in and distribute new supplies. Griffiths called for the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) to commit to safe passage agreements for humanitarian supplies. UN organisations warn that humanitarian supplies must be distributed before the rainy season starts in June, which will make access very difficult.

Sudan: Seven-day ceasefire set and broken
The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have agreed to a seven-day ceasefire from 4 to 11 May, according to a press release by the South Sudan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. South Sudan states that both parties have agreed to name their representatives for peace talks, but no location or date for the talks has been set. Neither party appears to be holding to the ceasefire, as witnesses report continued airstrikes and exchange of fire. The indiscriminate and wide-area effects of the explosive weapons used by both RSF and SAF, harming and killing civilians, constitute a violation of the laws of war, states Human Rights Watch (HRW). Through witnesses and satellite images, HRW verified reports of attacks on densely populated areas and critical infrastructure, including healthcare facilities and a water treatment plant. The Wagner group, Russia’s mercenary group, is present in Sudan; they have been seen in Port Sudan and are also operating in the heavy fighting near Khartoum. It has already been widely reported that the Wagner group has been supporting the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in the provision of weapons. The presence of the Wagner group in Sudan is likely in order to protect the export of gold out of the country and the import of grain into the country.

Sudan/Eritrea: Eritrean refugees in dire conditions in Kassala and Eritrea
According to reports from the ground, Eritrean refugees are leaving Khartoum for Kassala State and are being stopped en route by Sudanese authorities.Those refugees that possess personal documents issued by the official immigration authorities, around 150, have been  deported directly to Shegarab camp in eastern Sudan. Those who do not have any official documents, around 1300, are either forcefully deported directly to the Eritrean borders and handed over to the Eritrean authorities, exact numbers are unknown, or deported to Wad Sherifay camp. Those forcibly deported from Sudan to Eritrea have already started returning from Eritrea to Kassala out of fear for their safety. Conditions in the 4 reception centres along the Sudan-Eritrea border, Wad Sherifay, Al-Qarqaf, Hamdayet and Shegarab,  are dire due to the lack of support, limited services and space. The Eritrean  government has set up a processing centre in Teseney (Eritrea). No UN agencies are involved in the processing in Teseney. While Eritrea has been communicating it is ‘evacuating’ Eritreans from Sudan, observers report that no Eritreans are returning, except for those reportedly being kidnapped by the Eritrean authorities”. The involuntary deportation of tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees from Tigray in 2021 to Eritrea is creating fear that the same may happen in Sudan to Eritrean refugees located in camps under international protection. Eritrean security forces are active in these camps, located in east Sudan. Nine Eritreans have died because they jumped out of moving buses involuntarily taking them to Eritrea.

Eritrea/Ethiopia/Sudan: Abiy warns Isaias; Eritrea’s spoiler role continues
Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed warned ‘non-Ethiopian forces’ to stop destabilising Ethiopia and interfering in its affairs, speaking in relation to the killing of Amhara PP Head Girma Yeshitilla and five others. Observers believe this statement refers to Eritrea and that it is a clear PM Abiy is distancing himself from President Isaias referring to ‘external forces’ and asking Eritrea ‘to stop meddling’. The bimonthly magazine of the Eritrean opposition party EPDP in exile observes: “The Eritrean tyrant was involved practically in all armed hostilities in the region since the 1990s.” EPDP adds that “Every observer saw his fingerprints all over in the tragic developments in Ethiopia of the past two years. Now, it is Sudan’s turn to burn.” Hemedti held a meeting in Asmara in March 2023 following Russian Minister Lavrov’s visit to Eritrea. This possibly included Wagner members. This points to the possibility of Eritrean involvement in the Sudan conflict.

Sudan: More than 100.000 people flee Sudan
More than 100.000 people have fled Sudan, states the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Most have fled to Egypt, Chad and South Sudan. 334.000 people are estimated to have been internally displaced. UNHCR estimates that the number of refugees from Sudan may rise to over 800.000. Refugees who previously fled from South Sudan to Sudan are crossing back into South Sudan, but there are no means to support them. There is no security or other support, nor preparations for support from international organisations, observers note. Eritrean refugees and undocumented Eritreans in Sudan are moving on to new locations, such as Chad and South Sudan. There is little if any support in these locations. Refugees on their way to Chad reported that they were intercepted by a group of RSF with four-wheel-drive cars and motorcycles and were searched. Everything, including in some cases phones, was taken away. RSF on motorcycles were reportedly patrolling everywhere. A number of settlements for IDPs in Sudan have been destroyed.

Tigray: UN and USAID pause aid
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) temporarily suspended deliveries of food to the Tigray region in Ethiopia amidst an investigation into stealing of supplies. WFP announced this to humanitarian partners on 20 April, states AP. USAID announced afterwards that it too will pause food assistance to Tigray until further notice. USAID administrator Samantha Power stated that “USAID uncovered that food aid, intended for the people of Tigray suffering under famine-like conditions, was being diverted and sold on the local market.” USAID states that the Interim Regional Government of Tigray and the Federal Government have promised to work with USAID to identify the culprits and hold them to account. USAID will not continue food support until “strong oversight measures are in place.” 

Eritrea: UNSG sends a letter to Eritrea
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki met with UNDP Administrator and Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG), Achim Steiner, on 2 May, according to Eritrean state media. UNSG Antonio Guterres reportedly had a letter delivered upon the visit, stating the UN would like to strengthen relations with Eritrea. Observers note that the UN is assigning too much importance to Eritrea through the meeting and the letter, and that this will make Isaias view the institution as weak. Steiner states that he met with Afwerki and senior government officials, mainly focusing on development.

South Sudan: UN Security Council report on arms embargo
The UN Security Council (UNSC) Secretary General published a report on progress on the arms embargo in South Sudan, in the runup to the scheduled talks on the embargo in the UNSC this month. The report states that although progress was made on some benchmarks, other key benchmarks have seen no progress. The Secretary General is particularly concerned over the “continued lack of funding and political support for the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process.” There is also concern over lack of progress in the collection and disposal of weapons, including those in civilian hands, in the run-up to possible elections.  

Ethiopia: Conflict in Amhara continues as peace talks with OLA conclude
Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) deployed a large number of troops in the North Shewa Zone of the Amhara region. Local reports state that the ENDF is in control of all major towns along the road from Dessie to Bahir Dar. There are reports about intensive fighting going on between ENDF and the Fano militia. Fano forces are said to be withdrawing to more remote areas. An ENDF commander stated that it is difficult to identify Fano fighters because the Ethiopian government distributed large numbers of arms in Amhara during the war against Tigray. As a result, all adults have been armed in Amhara, stated the commander. Former regional security forces in the Gambela region in Ethiopia were called up for military training in the context of their integration into the ENDF. However, ENDF had no uniforms or shoes available for the troops, report sources. The people of Gambella were called upon to donate shoes and clothing. Furthermore, the first round of peace talks in Tanzania between the Ethiopian Federal Government and the Oromo Liberation Army has finished. Ambassador Redwan Hussien states no agreement was reached, but called the talks “largely constructive.” He states that both parties have agreed to continue the talks. 

US/Sudan: Biden signs Executive Order for sanctioning persons threatening Sudan’s security
US President Biden signs an Executive Order to expand the scope of the national emergency, finding that the situation in Sudan constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. The Executive Order identifies sanctions that will hold individuals responsible “for threatening the peace, security, and stability of Sudan; undermining Sudan’s democratic transition; using violence against civilians; or committing serious human rights abuses.” The Executive Order expands the ability of the U.S. authorities to respond to the violence that began on April 15, says President Biden in a statement. The reasoning refers to the military’s seizure of power in October 2021 and the outbreak of inter-service fighting in April 2023. This expands on the Executive Order 13067 of November 3, 1997 (Blocking Sudanese Government Property and Prohibiting Transactions With Sudan), which was expanded by Executive Order 13400 of April 26, 2006 (Blocking Property of Persons in Connection With the Conflict in Sudan’s Darfur Region).  

Djibouti: Djibouti announces crackdown on migrants
Djibouti launched tighter policies on migrants and refugees who are entering the country without documentation. Said Nouh Hassan, the Interior Minister, said 3,000 migrants were detained and transported to deportation centres over the weekend and are awaiting transportation to their country of origin. Hassan further stated that asylum seekers who had already found work would be allowed a chance to register while anybody who didn’t have work would have to “return immediately and voluntarily”. Asylum seekers have a 30-day deadline to comply with the new rules. 

North Africa

Libya/EU: EU border assistance mission attends border conference with Libyan delegation
The EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) Libya went to the World Border Security Congress 2023 in Skopje/North Macedonia together with a Libyan delegation of Libyan coast guards and customs officers. The congress was aimed at enhancing collaboration on international challenges, including border and migration management, and at discussing the use of electronic border assistance systems for enhancing security at borders. Luis Puig, EUBAM Libya’s Head of the Border Management Unit, stated that the Libyan border guards are lacking operational capabilities, equipment and technologies to fully implement border surveillance and tackle cross-border crimes. EUBAM also reported they gained insight into “what the future holds for the management of migration and refugee movement.”

Tunisia: Authorities to build new cemeteries for refugees and migrants 
Tunisian authorities are considering building new cemeteries, as the existing ones cannot keep up with the high number of migrants and refugees who lost their lives at sea. Hospitals and morgues are under pressure as well, resulting in the need to hold funerals every day in order to release pressure on hospitals, who are keeping the bodies that cannot go to the full morgues. A statement from the Sfax governorate reported by The Guardian said that the forensic medicine department of Habib Bourghiba university hospital is filled up, with more than 170 bodies, exceeding its capacity.


Croatia: Pushbacks violate right to seek asylum
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that the violence and humiliation used by Croatian border police to push back migrants and refugees from the country to Bosnia and Herzegovina counters the right to seek asylum. It also accuses the EU of turning a blind eye to the practices, which constitute collective expulsion. HRW defines the Croatian operating procedure as “another link in a chain of state lawlessness and inhumanity”, which includes other countries, like Iran, Turkey and Greece, committing abuses and unlawful treatment towards people seeking international protection. HRW condemned the EU for turning a “blind eye” on Croatian “standard operating procedure”, which does not include any assessment of people’s protection needs. HRW also blames the EU for falling for the “deflection and empty promises” of the Croatian government and urges the EU Commission to take measures in order to tackle the situation and to start investigating the Croatian violations.

Netherlands: Court stops returns of asylum seekers to Italy citing human rights concerns
Under order of the Dutch court, immigration authorities will not return migrants and asylum seekers to Italy. The decision followed the verification that Italy is not able to provide migrants and refugees with sufficient basic needs and the risk of human rights violations is high. The Netherlands will therefore assess the asylum application of migrants and refugees that arrived after travelling through Italy, instead of returning them as per the Dublin agreement. 

Italy: Sea-Watch accuses Italy of handing over refugees and migrants to Libya
In a tweet of 29 April, the NGO Sea-Watch Italy accused Italy of turning in a boat with 30 migrants and refugees on board to Libyan authorities. The NGO reported that Italian authorities ordered Grimstad, the merchant ship that rescued the boat, to hand over the migrants and refugees to the Libyan authorities off the coast of Zueitina. The rescue by the Grimstad ship happened after Libya denied it was responsible for the rescue, as reported by Sea-Watch. According to TeleSUR, Italian authorities stated that the boat in distress had called from the Libyan Search and Rescue zone.

Austria/Italy: Austria and Italy allied against irregular migration
The leaders of Austria and Italy discussed an alliance between the two states in order to combat irregular migration to Europe. Italian Prime Minister Giogria Meloni and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer talked about several challenges that they will collaborate on, including irregular migration. Meloni said that both countries have similar visions and that they both wanted to follow the example that Denmark has set to decrease the inflow of migrants – which is to reduce social support in order to ‘deter’ refugees. There are talks of reforming the Agreement on the Stability and Growth Pact, which Meloni stated must consider the new geopolitical situation which has changed due to the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hungary: Pope Francis warns about nationalism in Europe
On 28 April, Pope Francis visited Hungary, where he met government leaders, including Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Pope Francis urged the government to embody the “European spirit”, by looking “beyond national boundaries” and putting aside nationalist interests. Accepting migrants would be a true sign of Christianity, the Pope told Orbán, who previously ordered the building of a fence along the Serbian border to prevent migrants and refugees from entering the country. 

Turkey: Kılıçdaroğlu vows to repatriate Syrian refugees
On 2 May, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Turkish presidential candidate and leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), published a video on Twitter where he promised that, if elected as new president, he will send Syrian refugees back home. He underlined that the decision is not led by racism, but by the scarcity of resources, explaining that the rampant climate crisis is increasing the risk of drought and famine for Turkey. He therefore announced that he would cooperate with the EU and the Mediterranean countries to tackle the refugee issue and negotiate a protocol with the Syrian government “for the safety of life and property” for the repatriated Syrians. 

Germany: Germany to examine asylum procedures outside the EU
The German government is examining the possibility for asylum applications to be processed in non-EU countries. The government seeks agreements with third countries which would be aligned with the rule of law and human rights standards, confirmed Nancy Faeser, the German Interior Minister, to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung am Sonntag. The proposal came as Germany is receiving a rising number of asylum applications and facing a humanitarian challenge.