News Highlights: SAF withdraws from negotiations – US applies sanctions, Isaias visits Russia, Eritrean festivals cancelled in EU

In this week’s News Highlights: US imposes sanctions as SAF walks away from negotiations; Humanitarian situation in Sudan; Damage to healthcare facilities in Sudan; Destroyed infrastructure in Sudan; Youth Citizens Observers Network denounces violations in Sudan conflict; Sudan’s refugee situation; Roadmap for resolution of Sudan conflict adopted by AU; UNSC closed meeting on Sudan; Occupation of Western Tigray continues; Starvation and blackouts in Tigray continue; Ongoing humanitarian impact by unrest in Oromia and Amhara; Airline sued for excluding Tigrayans from services; President Isaias visits President Putin; 17 killed after al-Shabaab attack; Tunisian national guard arrests a smuggler and blocks crossing attempt; Eritrean PFDJ festivals cancelled in the Netherlands and Belgium; Proposal for EU reception quotas; Severe criticism of Frontex’s data reliability; The Commission aims at implementing EU’s visa-free travel regimes; EU neglects Afghan refugees, IRC says; NGOs accuse Malta of illegal pushback by proxy; Migrants and refugees stuck at the Poland-Belarus border; Germany to increase border controls; NGOs concerned over illegal pushbacks in Germany; Police officers arrested for smuggling in Greece; People rescued at sea off the Italian coast; French soldiers charged over migrant deaths; and British PM Sunak prioritises the fight against illegal migration.

Greater Horn of Africa

Sudan: US imposes sanctions as SAF walks away from negotiations
The US announced new financial and individual sanctions on Sudan after the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) announced their withdrawal from negotiations. The sanctions encompass entities and individuals connected to the SAF and the RSF. SAF suspended their participation in the Jeddah negotiations for the ceasefire and humanitarian access as a reaction to alleged ongoing occupation of hospitals by the RSF as well as their continuous breaches of the previously brokered humanitarian ceasefires, said SAF’s spokesperson Brigadier Nabil Abdalla. A five-day extension of the ceasefire was agreed between the fighting parties SAF and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on Monday 29 May, but continued clashes between SAF and RSF were reported in Khartoum, El Fasher, North Darfur, and in El Obeid, North Kordofan. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan visited soldiers of SAF in an unidentified location in Khartoum. Al-Burhan threatened that heavier fighting will follow if the defiance of the RSF does not stop. The African Union Security Council is meeting in Addis Ababa to discuss the situation in Sudan and implementation process of the AU Roadmap for the Resolution of the Conflict adopted over the weekend by the Peace and Security Commission.

Sudan: Humanitarian situation 
At least 510 people have been killed in El Geneina in Darfur, according to the Ministry of Health in Sudan. The governor of Darfur, Minni Minawi, called on civilians to arm themselves to defend their properties. Babies were reported to be dying in the Maygoma Orphanage in Khartoum due to malnutrition, dehydration, lack of (medical) care and long power outages. More than 320 babies are in critical conditions and 60 orphans are reported to have died. Workers warn that more casualties are expected if evacuation will not take place in the coming days. 27 people were killed and 106 injured by heavy tank attacks in Khartoum’s neighbourhood of Mayo. This part is largely inhabited by people who do not have the financial capacity to flee the conflict. The conflict in Sudan is expected to lead to an increase in cross-border weapons smuggling. This could lead to an increase in the breakdown of general law and order as weapons fall into the wrong hands. A curfew between 11pm and 5am local time was announced for Port Sudanese citizens based on the decision of the security committee of Sudan’s Red Sea State. The security committee has decided to issue a curfew based on the warning from the informants on potential “rebellious” activities planned in the neighbourhoods of the city. 

Sudan: Damage to healthcare facilities
Reports show the medical teams are working in fragile conditions with no electricity using their mobile phones as flashlights to care for their patients. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warns that its activities may come to a stop if it is not able to bring in essential supplies and personnel. MSF’s surgical team in Khartoum has been operating non-stop for 10 days straight. Remaining humanitarian staff are working under extreme pressure. MSF’s supplies have diminished due to looting and attacks on healthcare facilities. Sudanese doctor Alaaeldin Nugud has been arrested by Sudanese intelligence. Nugud previously reported the medical aid received from WHO has been misused by the army by redirecting the aid from hospitals to army barracks. 

Sudan: Destroyed infrastructure
Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) have reportedly bombed the money printing press in order to prevent Rapid Support Forces (RSF) from funding its operations with illegally printed money. A hospital in East Nile which had been under RSF occupation was bombed by SAF. The headquarters of Zain Telecom have reportedly been seized by the RSF. This may bring even more disruption to the connectivity services, state observers. The closure of Sudanese airspace has been extended to 15 June by Sudan’s aviation authorities. The humanitarian aid flights are exempted from the closure. Food reserves and humanitarian aid assets of the World Food Program have been looted Thursday (1 June) in El Obeid. The attack on warehouses was confirmed by the UN WFP executive director Cindy McCain. IDPs within Sudan face a severe water crisis in Abu Shouk camp in North Darfur. Maintenance of wells is very complicated due to rising prices of fuel. The Sudanese central bank reverted to manual systems for processing some transactions, as technical systems failed. Services can take several days longer than usual. The Libyan embassy in Khartoum has been attacked and looted, confirmed the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). The staff members were evacuated. Libyan MoFA denounced the attack and called on all parties to ensure protection of the diplomatic mission. 

Sudan: Youth Citizens Observers Network denounces violations in Sudan conflict
Several violations by both warring sides of the Jeddah Declaration of Humanitarian Principles signed on 11 May have been documented and reported by The Youth Citizens Observers Network. Violations include the use of heavy weapons, airstrikes, restriction of civilian movement, arrests and assault of civilians and the continued occupation of health facilities and civilian homes, hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid. Violation of the negotiated ceasefire has been stronger in states where military clashes were heavy prior to the signing a ceasefire deal. More civilians are being armed in those states, as well as in El Fasher and West and Central Darfur. 

Sudan: Refugee situation
1,210,214 persons have been displaced across all 18 states of Sudan and 425,482 refugees crossed the borders, according to the Displacement Tracking Matrix of International Organization for Migration (IOM). A refugee camp in Gedaref in eastern Sudan has been affected by damage caused by the start of the rainy season, reports UNHCR. The full impact of the rains is currently being assessed by UNHCR local teams in refugee camps in Gedaref, Kassala and Blue Nile. Fundraising activities in support of Eritrean refugees trapped in the Sudan conflict have been initiated by the organisation One Day Seyoum. 250,000 people in West Darfur have been internally displaced and 90,000 people from West Darfur have fled to Chad. At least 33,400 people have entered Ethiopia from Sudan through the Metema border point. About 1,500 Ethiopian returnees have received financial support from the Ethiopian government to travel from the Metema border point of entry, while others returnees are using their own finances. More than 18,000 children under 5 years old as well as at least 4,000 pregnant and lactating women are facing malnutrition and have been displaced in Amhara, Ethiopia. 

Sudan/AU: Roadmap for resolution of Sudan conflict adopted by AU
The African Union adopted a roadmap on the resolution of the conflict in Sudan. The AU Roadmap was endorsed by The Expanded Mechanism for the Resolution of the Conflict in Sudan which gathered for its 3rd meeting in Addis Ababa. The roadmap includes six elements to ending the conflict. The elements entail a coordination mechanism for international actors, a permanent cessation of hostilities, humanitarian response, protection of civilians, strategic roles for neighbouring states and resumption of a political transition process in Sudan. In the meeting of the Expanded Mechanism on the roadmap, the United Nations (UN) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) spoke as part of the Trilateral Mechanism. The AU called on the fighting parties in Sudan to resume “the political transition process culminating in the conduct of elections, towards a democratic, civilian-led government”. 

Sudan/UNSC: UNSC closed meeting on Sudan
The UN Security Council (UNSC) held a closed meeting on the situation in Sudan on Wednesday (31 May). UN Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a briefing to the UNSC. Guterres said that it is up to the UNSC to decide if the UN Mission to Sudan will continue for another period or not. He reiterated his support and confidence in Volker Perthes as Special Representative of the Secretary-General of Sudan. These comments came after Abdel Fattah al-Burhan requested the removal of Perthes last week. Observers warn that Sudan’s conflict can spill over to Chad and the Central African Republic. Differences in cross border support towards the warring sides in Sudan, as well as presence of the Wagner group in the region, could contribute to the escalation of regional conflict.

Tigray: Occupation of Western Tigray continues
Militia and Amhara forces continue harassing and expelling Tigrayans from Western Tigray as part of an ethnic cleansing despite the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities agreement. Two officials, Col. Demeke Zewdu and Belay Ayalew, have been accused by Human Rights Watch (HRW) of arbitrarily detaining, torturing, and forcibly deporting Tigrayans from Western Tigray. HRW calls for independent investigations to be carried out in Western Tigray and prosecution of everyone implicated in the human rights abuses in the region. Significant parts of Tigray are still occupied by Eritrean forces as well. The AU’s MVCM is due to send a monitoring team to Humera on 6 June. The mission is threatened by the presence of Eritrean troops which will have negative implications on the outcome of the mission. “[T]here is practically nobody protecting us” said the AU monitoring team member to Tigrai Television. The African Union High-level panel has reportedly withheld information from the public on the Eritrean military stopping and preventing the AU Monitoring, Verification and Compliance Mission (MVCM) entering Eastern Tigray earlier in May. Around 100 schools in Tigray and Amhara are not used as learning facilities, due to these being used by armed groups as well as schools being used as shelters for IDPs. In Shire and surrounding areas, 50% of schools have re-opened. 

Tigray: Starvation and blackouts in Tigray continue 
Over 270 people died from starvation in the Northwestern Tigray zone in the last three months, of which 100 in IDP centres and in the remaining villages, the interim administrator of the Northwestern Tigray zone said. The starvation deaths come amidst a continued halting of food aid by USAID and the World Food Programme, although UNOCHA states it is working with small and non-traditional partners to organise targeted food assistance while the main partners have stopped distribution. Restoring electric power services in several cities across Tigray is stalled due to the lack of supplies, confirmed an Ethiopian Electric Utility official. Some parts of Tigray such as Zalambesa are still in complete black out. 

Ethiopia: Ongoing humanitarian impact by unrest in Oromia and Amhara
Unrest in Oromia continues, as the Ethiopian Government and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) independently said that no second round of peace talks is planned thus far. In addition, the regional government continues demolishing “illegal” buildings across the Oromia region is part of the strategic plan, said a regional Communication Bureau official. The ongoing campaign is deemed as “constitutional and legal” by the Oromia regional government and takes place in all cities within the region. The announcements come after protests against demolition of the Mosques in Shaggar city in Oromia. Approximately 859.000 people have been displaced from Western Oromia amidst the fighting and unrest. Poor health services cause high mortality and morbidity among the IDPs, and the protection needs are high. The sugar production of the Fincha Sugar Factory in Western Oromia has been suspended. The decision comes after the factory was attacked by militants killing 14 persons last week. The Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) have trained 800 militia to fight FANO and Amhara Special Forces refusing to disband in Gojjam, Amhara region. The training reportedly took just 20 days. In Amhara, high malnutrition rates are coupled with a lack of food supplies due to shortages. 

Ethiopia: Airline sued for excluding Tigrayans from services
Ethiopian Airlines has been sued for excluding Tigrayans aged 15 to 60 from booking the flights from Mekelle to Addis Ababa as well as unreasonably raising prices for people from Tigray. The Airlines’ staff members reportedly received orders not to sell the tickets to people from Tigray aged 15-65. Selling tickets to people from the restricted age group is possible only after extensive background checks of a passenger. The lawsuit was filed by a local NGO Human Rights First claiming the breach of constitutional rights.

Eritrea: President Isaias visits President Putin 
President Isaias is visiting Russian President Putin, after a visit to president Xi of China last week. The visit is a 4-day state visit. The delegation includes Eritrea Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and Commissioner for Culture and Sports, Ambassador Zemede Tecle. Putin intends to sign several bilateral agreements with Eritrea, during the visit of Eritrean Isaias to Russia. 

Somalia: 17 killed after al-Shabaab attack 
At least 17 people have died in Somalia after al-Shabaab attacked a military base in Masagawa. Of the 17 people who died, 12 were al-Shabaab fighters, confirmed a military officer in Masagawa. He further stated that they had managed to pursue the al-Shabaab fighters into the forest where the fighting continued. A few days earlier, a base with African Union peacekeeping Ugandan forces was attacked by al-Shabaab. 

North Africa

Tunisia: Tunisian national guard arrests a smuggler and blocks crossing attempts
Two groups of investigators in the Tunisian city of Sfax arrested a man suspected of smuggling migrants and refugees across the Mediterranean. The man “was wanted in 24 cases and had been sentenced to 79 years in prison”, said the Tunisian national guard. Among the crossings he allegedly organised was a failed one in which at least 20 people drowned last September. The Tunisian national guard also announced that it blocked 26 crossing attempts between 29 and 31 May, intercepting the 656 people aboard, and reported a shipwreck in which 4 people died. The tragedy followed a protest organised by a group of refugees and asylum seekers in front of the International Organization for Migration headquarters in Tunis. They were asking to be evacuated from Tunisia and relocated to a safer country, reports ANSA.


The Netherlands/Belgium/Eritrea: PFDJ festivals cancelled
A festival organised by PFDJ, the ruling party in Eritrea, at Event Plaza in The Netherlands, Rijswijk, was cancelled on Sunday. The festival was organised on the occasion of independence day, but Eritrean refugees warned that the festivals were used as a tool to put pressure on Eritreans in the Netherlands. Multiple people were injured after clashes broke out on Sunday. Experts have called for an investigation, especially into the weapons available at the festival. Hundreds of human rights defenders were protesting against the festival. The pressure experienced by Eritreans during such festivals includes paying financial contributions to the Eritrean regime, which reportedly also uses the festivals to gauge the loyalty of refugees towards the Eritrean regime. The refugees had written to the mayor of Rijswijk to say they felt threatened and that the event was organised by people trained in Sawa military camp in Eritrea. The organisers reportedly attempted to move the festival to Belgium, but it was cancelled by the owner of the event location for security reasons. The event was supposed to take place on 3 June in Eeklo. 

EU: Proposal for reception quotas
During the EU talks on the Migration and Asylum Pact, the Swedish EU presidency proposed to set up reception quotas for each member to streamline migrant hosting. The mechanism would provide for an annual threshold for each state, calculated on the basis of its net migration, in order to ease the migratory pressure on the countries that experience the highest number of arrivals. The mechanism would imply a “mandatory solidarity”, as it includes a system of transfer of people to other countries. Med5 countries – Italy, Malta, Cyprus, Greece and Spain – valued some of the proposals raised during the talks, reports ANSA, but said that more work is needed to come up with effective and sustainable solutions. The aim would be achieving an optimal balance between solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility.

EU/Frontex: Severe criticism of Frontex’s data reliability
The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) slammed the EU border agency Frontex for producing untrustworthy analyses based on data with low reliability. The EDPS states that the methodologies of Frontex lack “clear mapping and exhaustive overview of the processing of personal data”. The data are also insufficiently protected, noted EDPS. The interviews used by Frontex are moreover conducted under pressure, as the interviewees are locked up – rendering the interviews potentially involuntary. This unreliable information is then used by Frontex to produce risk analysis, which have implications for groups who may be “unduly targeted or represented” as a result, warns EDPS. 

EU: The Commission aims at implementing EU’s visa-free travel regimes
On 30 May, the EU Commission adopted a Communication on the monitoring of the EU’s visa-free travel regimes and on the EU’s visa suspension mechanism. The Commission noted that visa-free travel regimes, besides having a positive economic, social and cultural impact on the countries involved, can also bring “challenges” on migration and security. The Commission communication highlights that a visa-free country can become a transit hub for irregular entries to the EU and claims it can lead to security threats like infiltration of organised crime, money-laundering, tax evasion and corruption, reports the Commission press release. The Commission will start a consultation process with the European Parliament and the Council in order to discuss ways to implement the functioning of visa-free regimes and to revise the EU’s visa suspension mechanism. At the end of 2023, the Commission will come up with a legislative proposal on the issue.

EU: EU neglects Afghan refugees, IRC says
A new report by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) unveils the negligence of the EU states in the protection of the Afghan diaspora. The report, titled “Two years on: Still no safe pathways for Afghans”, highlights the lack of implementation of the admission schemes promised by the EU and the overall shortage of efforts to provide the Afghan refugees with protection pathways to Europe. Many Afghans are abandoned in Afghanistan or in neighbouring countries and are impeded from accessing the safe routes to Europe, states IRC. Furthermore, the few who succeed in reaching Europe are still not fully safe as they could be forcibly returned, prevented from seeking asylum or detained for long periods upon arrival. The IRC urges the EU states and institutions to pledge their commitment in overcoming the lack of protection tools for the Afghans.

Malta: NGOs accuse Malta of illegal pushback by proxy
The NGOs Alarm Phone, Sea-Watch, Mediterranea Saving Humans and EMERGENCY published a joint statement where they accused Malta of performing the illegal pushback by proxy of migrants and refugees. The allegations come after RCC Malta, the responsible authority for the Maltese search and rescue zone, failed to coordinate a rescue operation of a boat carrying 500 people which was reported to be in distress in the Maltese SAR zone. Instead, the people abroad were forcibly returned to Libya, allegedly by a Libyan fishing boat and under the coordination of Malta. According to their relatives, the 500 migrants and refugees were then imprisoned in Benghazi. The Armed Forces of Malta told The Associated Press that “no boat was sighted in the reported position”. 

Poland: Migrants and refugees stuck at the Poland-Belarus border
A group of 30 migrants and refugees has been stuck at the Poland-Belarus border for days, reported EurActiv on 30 May. The group has been camping in the forest near Bialowieza, 250 kilometres east of Warsaw, along the border fence. According to a Polish border guard statement, the group was “outside the [Polish] jurisdiction” and so Poland could not accept any asylum applications. Activists from Grupa Granica (Polish for “Border Group”) stated instead that the people were on Polish territory even if they did not cross the border wall and they are therefore illegally stopped from seeking asylum. Activist Marta Staniszewska told The Associated Press that those people cannot return to Belarus either, because there “they are not safe”.

Germany: Germany to increase border controls
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser announced an increase in controls on trains and air traffic at the border with Poland. The announcement came during the talks with her Polish counterpart Mariusz Kaminski held in the Polish border town of Swiecko. Faeser said she is confident that the strengthened border controls will enable the two countries to “cope jointly with the new migration pressure”. She opposed the reintroduction of fixed checkpoints to limit the increasing number of crossings of migrants and refugees from Belarus, reports Deutsche Welle

Germany: NGOs concerned over illegal pushbacks
The three NGOs Pushback Alarm Austria, Border Violence Monitoring Network and Bavarian Refugee Council published a joint press release to raise their concern over alleged evidence of Germany pushing back people at the border with Austria. The allegations were supported by the testimonies of migrants and refugees who said they were impeded to apply for asylum and then brought back to Austria. Unlawful deportations are becoming a systematic practice and raise questions about access to the asylum procedure in Germany, state the NGOs. Among other demands, the NGOs seek immediate clarification about the pushback allegations, the end of deportations and the protection of the right to asylum.

Greece: Police officers arrested for smuggling
Greek authorities arrested five police officers on suspicion of facilitating the smuggling of migrants and refugees across the Evros River from Turkey. They were working for a special border guard force near the river and have been charged for taking bribes and breach of duty. The officers were in contact with the smuggling network since October, said a police statement, and contributed to the entry of at least 100 people into the Greek territory since then. Investigations were carried out by the police internal affairs squad and were followed by the arrest of the police officers with the confiscation of cash and mobile phones.

Italy: People rescued at sea
The NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) tweeted that its vessel Geo Barents rescued 606 migrants and refugees off the Sicilian coast on 27 May. The group spent five days in distress at sea before being rescued. Geo Barents was asked by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) to carry out the rescue under the supervision of the Italian coast guard. On 30 May, the Geo Barents ship arrived at the Bari port to disembark the migrants and refugees. Some of them told the rescue team that they departed from Libya, where they experienced atrocious suffering. The search and rescue organisation SOS Humanity rescued 88 migrants and refugees off the Libyan coast on 26 May. The ship, Humanity 1, arrived in the port of Livorno, Italy, on 30 May. Meanwhile, Italy announced that it ended the search for bodies of migrants and refugees who lost their life in the Cutro shipwreck of 26 February 2023. The search coordination center will be shut down, reports InfoMigrants.

France: Soldiers charged over migrant deaths
French magistrates issued preliminary charges against five soldiers for not assisting people in danger at sea. The charge is related to the English Channel tragedy of November 2021, which caused the death of 27 migrants and refugees and represents the deadliest accident on record in the seaway between France and Britain. The five soldiers were on duty at a French maritime surveillance and rescue centre for the English Channel, in charge of search and rescue operations, and they allegedly ignored fifteen calls from the boat, reports Radio France Internationale (RFI). Charlotte Kwantes from the organisation Utopia56 told RFI that beyond investigating the responsibility of individuals, “we want to shed light on the responsibility of both the French and British authorities in this tragedy”. 

UK/EU: PM Sunak prioritises the fight against illegal migration
UK Prime minister Rishi Sunak said that he is making cooperation on tackling illegal migration a priority in the international agenda, reports the BBC. It came during the European Political Community (EPC) summit held in Moldova, which focused largely on the Ukraine war. During his stay in Moldova, Sunak tweeted that the UK is “taking the lead” in the effort to stop the boats and that it already made agreements with Albania, France and the EU to pursue this effort. He said, “In every meeting, every summit, every international gathering like this, the security of our borders must be top of the agenda.