News Highlights: Tigray refugees tortured for ransom in Libya, UK’s Sunak seeks ECHR reform, Nearly a million displaced in Sudan

In this week’s News Highlights: Peace talks resume in Jeddah – Burhan relieves Hemedti from Deputy position; Humanitarian situation continues to worsen in Sudan; Two humanitarian aid plans for Sudan and refugees to launch; 936 thousand displaced as Sudan conflict continues; Kidnappings of Tigray refugees, trafficking to Libya; Border between Kenya and Somalia to reopen; Floods impact Ethiopia and Somalia; OLF and OLA accuse government of offensive, despite negotiation process; Isaias travels to China for talks; NGOs call for extension of SR mandate and ‘substantive’ assessment in Eritrea; Italy commends Tunisia for efforts on stopping migration; Frontex reports record number of border crossings in Central Mediterranean; Sunak talks with ECHR’s President over UK deportation plan; Greek police rescues a group of 17 migrants and refugees; Concerns over unsanitary conditions in asylum seeker centres in Germany; EU-Montenegro deal to provide Frontex border guards; ECHR ruling on Hungary pushbacks; and South Africa accused of supplying arms to Russia.

Greater Horn of Africa

Sudan: Peace talks continue, as al-Burhan relieves Hemedti of position
Talks resumed on Sunday between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but fighting has continued with no indication of respect for the ceasefire. In addition, head of the Sovereign Council and SAF leader al-Burhan issued a decree removing RSF commander and deputy of the Sovereign Council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti), from his position. Civilian representatives of the Forces of Freedom and Change-Central Council aim to become part of the peace negotiations between SAF and RSF. The Civilian coalition will elect the representatives who are proposed to join the negotiations. The situation in Sudan will further be discussed with priority at the summit of The Arab League scheduled for today, 19 May, in Jeddah. Ambassador Hossam Zaki, Deputy Secretary of the Arab League, confirmed that a peaceful resolution in Sudan is important for preserving stability within the Arab system. Volker Perthes, SR and head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission Sudan, will meet with AU and IGAD to coordinate trilateral efforts on ending Sudan’s conflict. They will meet in Addis Ababa on Friday (19 May).   

Sudan: Humanitarian situation continues to worsen
The humanitarian situation in Sudan continues to worsen, particularly around the capital and in West Darfur. At least 280 people were killed in el Geneina, West Darfur, on Saturday and Sunday alone, reports the Sudan Doctors’ Union. Tens of thousands were displaced by the violence there. The fighting occurred between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and armed civilian groups. Heavy airstrikes continued over the weekend and afterwards Khartoum and surrounding cities with reports that they are intensifying in Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri. The Sudan Doctors’ Union said earlier in the week that a total of 822 civilians across Sudan have been recorded as killed since the conflict started, and over 3000 injured. At least 190 people have gone missing, with the RSF implicated in most cases. A Coptic Church was attacked, injuring five people including a priest. RSF was responsible for the attack, a source told Reuters. Rapes are committed as part of the violence against civilians in Sudan. The real numbers are unknown as many cases go unreported, stated Suliema Ishaq, the director of the combating violence against women unit at the Ministry of Social Affairs in Sudan. Sudanese journalists are facing death threats and intimidation for reports that do not explicitly support the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). Some journalists have implicated the National Congress Party (NCP), which is tied to former Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir and the islamist movement, in the threats. RSF has also been implicated in targeting journalists, through threats but also by storming a media office last week and by shooting at a journalist filming on the streets.Furthermore, Al-Burhan froze the bank accounts of the RSF and affiliated firms. He also removed Hussain Yahia Jankol as head of Sudan’s central bank. Sudanese airspace will remain closed until at least 31 May 2023, reports Reuters. Internet levels in Sudan dropped to 1% of regular levels, reports Netblocks

Sudan: Two humanitarian aid plans to launch 
$3.03 billion is needed to provide urgent responses to both humanitarian needs across Sudan and refugee needs in neighbouring countries, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in a joint launch of two response plans. The first is the Revised Humanitarian Response Plan for Sudan which aims to target 18 million people and has a financial requirement of $2.56 billion in 2023. The strategy is supported by 92 partner organisations working on distribution of food, water and sanitation as well as protection and prevention of gender-based violence. The second, the Regional Refugee Response Plan, will support refugees, returnees and host communities, in the context of the Sudan conflict, in the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan through a multisector strategy and cooperation of 140 partners. Bashàïr Ahmed, CEO of a research organisation, argues that a decentralised humanitarian response which empowers local actors to deliver assistance should be supported by international actors to reach Sudanese people in need, often located thousands of kilometres from the new aid base of Port Sudan.

Sudan/Egypt/Somalia: 936 thousand refugees displaced as Sudan conflict continues
At least 936,000 people have been newly displaced due to the conflict in Sudan, of which 736,200 internally with more than 82,000 children that fled from Sudan to neighbouring countries and an estimated 368,000 internally displaced within Sudan, said UNICEF. Diabetic refugees fleeing Sudan face difficulties to keep their insulin cooled down amid extreme heat waves during the day. Male refugees fleeing from Sudan to Egypt are reportedly required to have visas in order to be allowed to enter the country. Visa requirements for male refugees between ages 16 and 50 cause delays, long queues on the Sudan-Egypt borders and family separation due to denied entry. Ethiopia is scaling up the support and resources to support a wave of refugees arriving from Sudan who are arriving mostly through the Metema border crossing. 57 hectares of land in Amhara region has been dedicated for establishing a new refugee settlement. More than 15,500 Somali refugees currently residing in Ethiopia are being relocated to the new refugee camp in the Somali region in Bokh area. 

Ethiopia/Eritrea/Sudan: Kidnappings of Tigray refugees; torture for ransom in Libya
Refugees from Tigray have been kidnapped and taken to Libya where they have been tortured for ransom, witnesses told The Guardian. Refugees from the refugee camp Tunaydbah were abducted while being transported to their place of work. They were taken to armed traffickers, who transported them to Libya. Others were kidnapped and sold by Sudanese police when they exited the camps without permission. In Libya, the refugees were trafficked to the Libyan border and sold to other traffickers, who imprisoned them together with Eritrean and Somali refugees. They were tortured through beatings with plastic pipes and cables, burning and through electric shocks. One witness said the traffickers were Eritrean and Libyan. An Eritrean trafficker told The Guardian that there has been a large increase of Tigrayans trapped in the trafficking networks. One refugee was forced to pay 6000 USD but was then sold on two more times (paying 2000 USD more) before he managed to escape. Two women and one man recounted they were raped in both Sudan and Libya. The UN did not take additional measures for protection after having been alerted to the protection risk for Tigray refugees, a humanitarian worker said. 

Ethiopia: OLF and OLA accuse government of offensive, despite negotiation process
The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) accused the Ethiopian Federal government of launching an all-out offensive in the Oromia region in Ethiopia. The  offensive goes against the negotiation process, stated OLF and OLA in a joint statement. The first round of peace talks took place in early May in Tanzania. No dates have been set for subsequent rounds. The joint OLA-OLF statement accused the Ethiopian government of perpetrating various crimes against civilians, pressuring farmers to be drafted into local militias and civil servants to finance military operations. 

Eritrea/China: Isaias travels to China for talks
On 15 May, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki met in Beijing to discuss bilateral relations and partnership. The Chinese president said that his country opposes external interference in Eritrean affairs and the imposition of unilateral sanctions on Eritrea, reports Chinese media Xinhuanet. As reported by Reuters, Xi said he values the friendship between China and Eritrea because it is key for maintaining peace in the Horn of Africa and for serving both countries’ interests. Xi expressed his intention in implementing strategic and long-term partnership with Eritrea, adding that China will support Eritrea in development-related matters and investments, particularly in infrastructure construction, telecommunications, agriculture, mining and fisheries. 

Eritrea: NGOs call extension of SR mandate and ‘substantive’ assessment
An open letter by NGOs urges the UN Human Rights Council to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea for another year. In addition, the letter calls for a strong resolution on the human rights situation in Eritrea. Instead of a business as usual approach, the NGOs urge the Council to “produce a substantive assess­ment” on the situation in Eritrea. The letter points out that Eritrean authorities continue to commit grave and widespread human rights abuses inside and outside Eritrea with impunity. 

Somalia/Ethiopia: Floods impact Ethiopia and Somalia
After years of dry conditions, heavy rains have caused flooding in parts of Somalia and Ethiopia, causing destruction and displacement. The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) published a report where it highlighted the consequences of the recent floods happening in Ethiopia. OCHA reports widespread destruction and displacement in Somali, Oromia, Southern Nations Nationalities & Peoples’, South West Ethiopia Peoples’ and Afar regions. The floods caused loss of life and livelihoods and destruction of homes, schools, health facilities and farms with crops. It also brought to the contamination of water sources and to increased health risks, including cholera, measles and malaria. In central Somalia, after months of drought, heavy rains led to the overflowing of the River Shabelle in Beledweyne. The flooding caused the displacement of thousands of people and damaged villages and infrastructure, with many important facilities, like the town’s main hospital, forced to close. OCHA reported in Somalia more than 460,000 people have been affected, among which nearly 219,000 people have been displaced.

Somalia/Kenya: Border between Kenya and Somalia to reopen
On 15 May, during a high-level joint ministerial meeting in Nairobi, Kenya and Somalia agreed on a phased reopening of their land border at three border crossings. Kithure Kindiki, Kenya’s interior minister, announced that the Mandera-Bulahawa border post will be opened within the next 30 days. The crossing of Liboi-Harhar will follow in 60 days and the crossing of Kiunga-Ras Kamboni on 1 July. A fourth border crossing might be added as well. The frontier was officially closed by Kenya in 2011 in order to limit the attacks in the country by the radical Islamist group al-Shabaab. 

North Africa

Tunisia/Italy: Italy commends Tunisia for curbing ‘illegal migration’
Italian Interior minister Matteo Piantedosi met his Tunisian counterpart, Kamel Feki, on 15 May and commended Tunisia’s efforts in guarding the borders, countering trafficking networks and repatriating migrants and refugees rescued at sea, as reported by various media. Piantedosi also met Tunisian President Kais Saied to discuss bilateral ties and migration in the Mediterranean. During the meeting, Saied stated that the “security approach” showed its limitations in coping with what he referred to as “irregular migration” and called for a new collective approach to deal with it. For this purpose, he raised a proposal for an international meeting with the countries “hit by the migratory crisis”, reports ANSA, to agree on tools to solve the root causes of the phenomenon.

Mediterranean Sea: Frontex reports record number of border crossings in Central Mediterranean
The EU border agency Frontex reported a record number of detections of border crossings at EU’s external borders in the first four months of 2023, which amounts to 80.700 people detected. This is the highest number for the January-April period since 2016. The peak in detections is due to the increase of crossings recorded along the Central Mediterranean route (42.200 detections). All the other top seven routes saw declines in the number of crossings, with the Western Balkan route, the second most active, recording around 22.500 detections. Frontex also reported that Syrian nationality was the most frequently detected in the first four months of 2023. Even so, the number of Syrian arrivals has been decreasing in recent months whereas the number of nationals from Sub-Saharan countries is increasing. 


UK: Sunak talks with ECHR’s President about UK deportation plan
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak held a meeting with Siofra O’Leary, the president of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), during the summit of the Council of Europe on 16 May, where EU leaders, other European states and the ECHR took part. Sunak sought for the ECHR to apply changes to rule 39, as one of its injunctions allowed the ECHR to block the first scheduled deportation flight to Rwanda. Sunak argued that by adapting this rule, the ECHR would be “fair” to Britain as it would allow the country to pursue its plans to deport ‘illegal migrants’. The request comes as the right-wingers in the UK Parliament demanded the PM to harden the illegal migration bill in order to overlook the ECHR rulings on small boat crossings, reports The Guardian. The PM also insisted on the need of a Europe-wide cooperation “across borders and across jurisdictions to end illegal migration and stop the boats”. He therefore expressed the necessity of an agreement among European countries to create a global asylum system “fit for purpose”, reports The Times.

Greece: Police rescues a group of 17 migrants and refugees
Greek police rescued a group of 17 migrants and refugees, including 8 children, from an islet in the Evros River, which is located on the Greece-Turkey northeastern border. The group, reportedly Syrians, received first aid and psychosocial support from the Red Cross and were later taken to the pre-removal detention center in Orestiada. The Greek Police’s statement reports that the migrants were smuggled in a boat from Turkey to the small island where they were later found. Just a week before, Greek police had rescued another group of 39 migrants and refugees from an islet in the Evros River.

Germany: Unsanitary conditions in asylum seeker centres raise concerns
The accommodation centres for asylum seekers in a city near Cologne, Germany, are “appalling”, states Infomigrants together with WDR, a German media outlet. Several refugees have told media sources that the centres are unsanitary, with rats and mould present. Local volunteers said the traumatised refugees struggle to maintain hygiene in the centres. Plans for new buildings are underway, but will reportedly take time. 

Montenegro: EU-Montenegro deal to provide Frontex border guards
A deal has been signed between the European Union and Montenegro to deploy more Frontex guards to Montenegro. This has the purpose of dissuading refugees from arriving into Europe, says Infomigrants. This new deal, which was also signed by the Presidency to the EU Council, will replace an agreement made in 2020 which still has two ongoing joint operations. This new deal is part of a proposal by the European Commission to provide 39 million euro to the Balkans to increase border control. 

Spain: Alleged people smugglers arrested
Several people that have been suspected to participate in the smuggling of refugees, including the smuggling of minors, have been arrested by the Spanish police. This has been part of a crackdown on smuggling networks. The suspects were believed to be tied to a network based in Morocco, and have been estimated to have earned at least 100,000 euro by facilitating departures from the Canary Islands. 

Hungary: ECHR rules Hungary at fault in violent pushback cases
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the Hungarian state has violated the human rights of asylum seekers in cases of violent pushbacks. Hungary has to pay a total of 17.500 euro compensation to the three refugees who were detained for months and pushed back into Serbia violently. Two of the refugees were detained after having sought asylum while the other was assaulted, and left with a head wound, at the border by Hungarian guards. According to Doctors Without Borders, the humanitarian situation in Hungary for asylum seekers continues to worsen, stating that they have had to treat 498 people since January of 2021 after alleged assault by Hungarian border authorities. 

Italy: 1,000 hotspot places will be added in Calabria and Sicily
The Italian government stated that they will provide more hotspot facilities in Sicily and Calabria to receive more refugees and migrants arriving via the Mediterranean Sea. Valerio Valenti, the special commissioner for the migrant emergency, said that they will add at least 1,000 places for refugee reception during a press conference in Rome. The existing hotspot in Lampedusa will also be improved as it is regularly overcrowded. This hotspot will be managed by the Italian Red Cross. Specific facilities will be allocated for people who are due to be repatriated. Facilities will be set up in many different buildings, including two properties that were confiscated from the mafia by the authorities.  


South Africa/Russia: South Africa accused of supplying arms to Russia 
US Ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, has made public that the US alleges South Africa to supply arms to Russia through the Russian vessel the Lady R. Ukraine President  Zelensky weighed in on the issue, warning South African President Ramaphosa against the deal. The alleged arms delivery is threatening the position of South Africa under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which would be a significant development. The transponder of the Lady R vessel was turned off for several days and the ship was secretly loading while moored in Cape Town, the Financial Times states, following its own investigation.