News Highlights: Fighting surges in Sudan, Greek authorities criticised after disastrous shipwreck, Decline in support for refugees

In this week’s News Highlights: Violence erupts in Khartoum while ceasefire still in place; RSF controls most of Khartoum, as situation in West Darfur deteriorates further; Wagner continues to supply arms to the RSF; Incidences of rape by RSF corroborated and verified; People from West Darfur arriving in Chad with gunshot wounds; Violence calming in North Kordofan, Sudan; Humanitarian aid into Sudan severely restricted; RSF threatens to bomb oil fields; Sudanese refugees in Egypt stuck at the border; IDPs dying amidst aid shutdown in Tigray; WFP hopes to resume food aid within a month in Ethiopia; FANO attack in Oromia; Special Rapporteur updates the HRC on situation in Eritrea; Eritrea is among the 10 countries with highest prevalence of modern slavery, report says; Parties agree on ceasefire after fighting in Puntland, Somalia; Yakani on the regional situation of the Horn of Africa; Eritrean refugees asked to pay ransom; Tunisia to tighten its borders; EU to allocate funds for Egypt to host Sudanese refugees; Greek authorities criticised as hundreds disappeared in shipwreck; 2 dead and at least 35 missing in the Atlantic; Italy and NGO Open Arms rescue 220 people in the Mediterranean; Court in Italy rejects appeals from Médecins Sans Frontières on port assignment; UN agencies call for EU action to prevent deaths at sea; EU to invest 15 billion euro in migration policies; EU proposal on digitalisation of visa applications; Lack of protection puts health of child migrants and refugees in the UK at risk; Sudanese mother taking legal action over failed family reunification; Survey reveals decline in support for refugees; and Yemen deadliest route according to IOM report of 2022.

Greater Horn of Africa

Sudan: Violence erupts in Khartoum while ceasefire still in place
Open fighting resumed in and around the capital of Khartoum as a 72-hour ceasefire expired. Clashes erupted in Khartoum between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) while the ceasefire was still in place on the night of 20 June. The RSF targeted the headquarters of the Directorate of the General Intelligence Service in Khartoum on 20 June, resulting in a large fire. Violent clashes between the RSF and the SAF were witnessed earlier in the day around the industrial area. In Omdurman severe artillery fire broke out just minutes after the ceasefire ended. A further area of conflict might emerge in Kadugli, capital of South Kordofan state, as tensions escalated between the SAF and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North. RSF is also involved. Residents of Kadugli began fleeing the city following the beginning of the mobilisation. The security situation in the city of El Debibad in South Kordofan deteriorated after the city experienced a large-scale attack. This caused the interruption of services in the town and the suspension of both private and public businesses. The ceasefire had been agreed by the parties to go into effect on 18 June at 06:00 a.m. local time for 72 hours. A statement by the facilitators of the US and Saudi Arabia warned that “should the parties fail to observe the 72-hour ceasefire, facilitators will be compelled to consider adjourning the Jeddah talks.” Hours before the ceasefire was agreed, an airstrike killed 17 people in Khartoum, including five children, and destroyed at least 25 houses in the Yarmouk district. New talks were adjourned by the US on Wednesday because the format was not successful.

Sudan: RSF controls most of Khartoum, as situation in West Darfur deteriorates further
Witnesses in Khartoum state that the large majority of the city is controlled by the RSF. Houses and organisations continue to be looted; civilians brave enough to go outside to look for food are looted as well. Attacks and looting of foreign embassies in Khartoum are still ongoing. The embassies of Algeria, Zimbabwe and Mauritania were targeted this week. Meanwhile, the violence in West-Darfur is still escalating, as civilians fleeing el Geneina are being shot at as they cross into Chad. The fighting in el Geneina continued throughout the ceasefire, which ended on Wednesday. A senior aid worker from the Sudan Humanitarian Aid Commission was among those killed. A number of rebel groups are supporting the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), including SLA-MM, JEM, GSLF, SNA, SPLM-N, SLA (Tambour). However, there have been reports that some ethnic militias that were previously allied to the SAF have started looting civilians and clashing with the SAF south of Nyala. The Darfur Bar Association reported that the Masalit Sultan’s family and other notables of El Geneina’s civil society have been targeted with arbitrary killings. The governor of Darfur called for an international probe into the Darfur violence. 

Sudan: Wagner continues to supply arms to the RSF
The Wagner mercenary group is continuing to supply arms to the RSF through a Wagner naval base in Syria to Wagner-controlled bases in Libya, a CNN report states. From there, weapons are transported to Bangui, Central African Republic, and from there overland via Birao to Um Dafok in Sudan. 

Sudan: Incidences of rape by RSF corroborated and verified
Incidents of rape perpetrated by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have been corroborated and verified, including one incident captured on video involving a girl believed to be 15 years old. Women’s organisations are providing crucial services to victims of sexual violence, including providing shelter, food, water, healthcare, and psychological support. They have also been monitoring violations. The World Health Organization warned that the attacks on healthcare facilities, equipment and workers are putting women and girls at risk, and especially pregnant women are among the hardest hit. Since the start of the war there have been 46 verified attacks on health workers and facilities. 

Sudan/Chad: People from West Darfur arriving in Chad with gunshot wounds
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warns it is facing a catastrophic situation in Adré, Chad, where almost 900 injured refugees from West Darfur have arrived within four days, most with gunshot wounds. At least 430 needed surgical care. Particularly in Khartoum and Darfur, essential services are at a breaking point, warns the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

Sudan: Violence calming in North Kordofan 
The towns of El Obeid and El Rahad in North Kordofan have been experiencing a relative calm thanks to negotiations by civilian leaders with the RSF. An agreement was reached to keep residents safe and secure the roads connecting with El Obeid. A leader of the Badiriya tribe also reached an agreement with the RSF to allow the functioning of power stations, which has resulted in the restoration of electricity in El Obeid. Securing the roads has allowed the movement of goods and people to resume and actions are being undertaken to apprehend criminal gangs that have been involved in armed robberies. Maintenance work on the water station and lines is also on its way. In the capital of South Kordofan there have been clashes between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North and the SAF. 

Sudan: Humanitarian aid into Sudan severely restricted
Port Sudan is currently the only point of entry for humanitarian aid, which is over 2,000 km away from places hardest hit by the conflict, warns the New Humanitarian. Humanitarian aid is solely entering Sudan through a zone controlled by the SAF. Grassroots activists in Sudan are being detained by Military Intelligence and General Intelligence Service. The majority of humanitarian NGOs have not been issued new Sudanese visas since the start of the conflict, impeding humanitarian access. Around 100 visa applications from more than 30 organisations are still pending. Meanwhile, non-humanitarian visas are still being issued.

Sudan/South Sudan: RSF threatens to bomb oil fields
The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) reportedly issued a three-day ultimatum on Monday (19 June) to South Sudan, stating that the oil pipelines in the militia-controlled areas would be shut down, unless South Sudan shares oil revenues or stops the payment of transit fees to the Sudanese military-led government. RSF threatened to bomb the oil fields if this ultimatum is not accepted, according to observers. Furthermore, the recent tensions in South Kordofan also threaten Sudan’s main oil fields.

Sudan/Egypt: Sudanese refugees in Egypt stuck at the border
Thousands of refugees are stuck at the border with Egypt, which has closed its border and expanded visa restrictions, observers warn. Egypt has further refused to accept emergency travel documents for those lacking passports and has openly rejected having refugee camps on its territory. The only two official routes into Egypt have very few facilities for those waiting to get in, including lack of toilets, basic medicine, water, food and shade, warn analysts. While international aid agencies have not been able to assist at the border, local Egyptian and Sudanese-led groups have been offering assistance in Egyptian villages close to the border.

Tigray: IDPs dying amidst aid shutdown
IDPs at the Abiy Addi IDP site in Tigray are dying every day due to lack of food. There is no food aid for the IDPs, an observer states. This comes amidst continued stalling in the full implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities agreement and halting of food aid by the World Food Programme and USAID. Tigray Interim Administration’s Investment Commission sent a letter to Ethiopia’s Investment Commission (EIC) requesting debt cancellation and measures such as compensation for damaged investments in order to stimulate the economy of Tigray. 

Ethiopia: WFP hopes to resume food aid within a month
The World Food Programme (WFP) hopes to resume food aid distribution in Ethiopia within a month, after establishing more control over how their beneficiaries are selected. Part of this is reducing the authority of local and regional governments in deciding who qualifies for food aid. Christian Leaders in Ethiopia stated concern about the suspension of food aid, denouncing it as immoral and unethical. They urge the government to increase the speed of negotiations, and to put appropriate measures in place to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to resume.

Ethiopia: FANO attack in Oromia
An attack by the Fano militia in a village in Western Oromia on 16 June has killed 8 civilians and injured 13. 15 people are missing. Fano fighters have also taken 3,000 cattle from farmers in three villages in the Kiremu district. The District Communication Office of Kiremu stated that the militia men are trying to change the demography of the region by displacing Oromo farmers so that Amhara natives can settle on their land.

Eritrea: Special Rapporteur updates the HRC on situation in Eritrea
The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, presented his latest report on Eritrea in the UN Human Rights Council on 20 June. The human rights situation has continued to deteriorate. During the Interactive Dialogue, the US condemned Eritrea’s treatment of citizens, torture, arbitrary detention, and Eritrea’s indefinite national service system and its unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. The US expressed “alarm” by recent reports of forcible repatriation of Eritrean refugees from Sudan by Eritrea. The US urges Eritrea to withdraw troops from Tigray. The US expressed concern over the atrocity crimes committed by Eritrean Defense Forces in Tigray including war crimes and crimes against humanity. At the Human Rights Council in Geneva, UNHCR and the UK urged Eritrea to demonstrate its commitment to upholding human rights. Eritrea rejected the report by the Special Rapporteur. 

Eritrea: Eritrea is among the 10 countries with highest prevalence of modern slavery, report says
Eritrea is among the 10 countries with highest prevalence of modern slavery, according to the Global Slavery Index 2023. The report was published by the human rights group Walk Free and finds that the number of people living in modern slavery since 2018 increased to 50 million. The report draws a link between the increase in modern slavery and the increase of global crises, namely conflicts, environmental degradation, climate-induced migration, rollback of women’s rights, and the COVID-19 pandemic with its economic and social consequences.

Somalia: Parties agree on ceasefire after fighting in Puntland over constitutional changes
Local security forces and armed opposition militiamen agreed on a ceasefire after clashes erupted in Garowe, capital of the Puntland state, during a parliamentary debate on constitutional changes on Tuesday. At least 26 people are dead and 30 wounded. A group of traditional elders helped negotiate a pause in the fighting and soon after fighters left the streets, reports Al Jazeera. Fighting broke out after opposition groups accused Puntland’s outgoing leader, Said Abdullahi Deni, of pushing for changes that would allow an extension of his term in office beyond January 2024. Local elder Farah Osman said that it happened just after the parliament voted for a one-man-one-vote election with multiple political parties. Somali government forces were deployed since 18 June. 

Horn of Africa: Yakani on the regional situation of the Horn of Africa
The regional IGAD-organisation must increase its relevance by engaging a broader range of actors in its leadership for peace-building in the region, says Edmund Yakani, director of the Community Empowerment For Progress Organisation CEPO, in a statement to IGAD. The war in Sudan is causing detrimental instability to the whole Horn of Africa and broader East Africa region, says Yakani in a separate statement to civil society actors in the Horn. The IGAD mediation table is lacking independent representation from within academia and faith based and religious institutions, he said. Countries’ narratives in relation to the situation in the Horn of Africa are centred around economic interests. In Ethiopia, this is the GERD dam, and for South Sudan it is the oil supply, says Yakani. Impartial mediators are finding it difficult to enter the mediation table talks, due to their potential connection to neighbouring countries, thus being accused of having interests. At this time there is no neutral mediator which can play an agentic role in the talks, and hence IGAD, being an intergovernmental forum, is at risk of representing one sided interests. Isaias Afwerki, the president of Eritrea, is one of the epicentres of regional instability and the main destabiliser in the Horn of Africa, observers stated in a meeting discussing the regional situation.  The result of the destabilisation is a monetisation of anything, even including religious services.

Horn of Africa: Eritrean refugees asked to pay ransom, as aid delays cause deaths in South Sudan
Eritrean refugees fleeing Sudan are blocked around the Ethiopian border town of Metema and asked to pay USD 2000 to reach Addis Ababa. Eritrean refugees in Tigray are kidnapped for ransom and forced to pay USD 1500-2000, observers state. Eritreans in Ethiopia who want to exit still have to pay 3 USD for every day that they have ‘overstayed’ their visa (following the event last year where all the Eritreans had to register). The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) appointed Mamadou Dian Balde as Regional Refugee Coordinator for the Sudan situation. The UNHCR calls on countries to keep their borders open to people fleeing Sudan, including undocumented persons. Delays in aid cause malnutrition and unsanitary conditions, causing the spread of diseases which are killing children in South Sudan refugee camps. Sudanese and other refugees trying to continue their studies in Uganda are facing problems, because all the student and university records were either looted or destroyed leaving no evidence that students carried out their studies back in Sudan.

North Africa

Tunisia: Tunisia to tighten its borders
Tunisian President Kais Saied said that his country would tighten its border in order to prevent migrants and refugees from entering. Saied stated that Tunisia would “not accept becoming a country of resettlement” for migrants and refugees rejected in Europe, also reiterating that the country does not want to be a border guard for Europe. The statement came after a meeting held on 19 June with the German and French Interior ministers to discuss security cooperation and irregular immigration, reports AfricaNews. The visit was part of the EU joint effort to make a deal with Tunisia to prevent people from crossing the Mediterranean. Before the meeting, German interior minister, Nancy Faeser, said their objective is to take away the smuggling business by creating legal migration channels. She added that other objectives would be strengthening sea rescue operations and encouraging the voluntary return of migrants and refugees not entitled to stay in the EU. French Interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, announced a bilateral aid package of an unknown amount provided by France and Germany and another aid package of 25.8 million euro provided by France. The latter is meant to provide equipment and training to Tunisian border guards to stop boats carrying migrants and refugees leaving the country.

Egypt/EU: EU to allocate funds for Egypt to host Sudanese refugees
Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, announced the allocation of €20 million to back Egypt to host Sudanese refugees, reports AfricaNews. The announcement came during a meeting with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on 18 June. Borrell and Shoukry discussed strategic historical relations, economic partnership and close cooperation on common challenges between Egypt and the EU, said the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt on Twitter.


Greece: 82 bodies recovered from shipwreck, hundreds more disappeared
The bodies recovered in relation to the shipwreck in Pylos, off the Greek coast, rose to 82 by 21 June. Several survivors reported that the boat was carrying around 750 people, which means that many other people have disappeared and are presumed dead, as only 104 people were rescued. Investigations are ongoing into the responsibility of the Greek authorities for not performing a rescue operation. The Greek coastguard denied the allegations and said that the vessel was not in distress, instead it was proceeding “at a steady course and speed”. The Guardian reported new tracking data showing that the vessel was actually not moving for several hours before capsizing and that two Greek vessels were standing by or circling around it. As the Greek public prosecutor is investigating Greece’s responsibility in the shipwreck, the European Commission will not carry out an independent probe, said the EU’s home affairs spokesperson Anitta Hipper. One of the survivors said that he and others of his family paid $4500 each to the smugglers for the trip and had been told not to bring food or lifejackets as the boat was equipped with them. The nine men arrested for alleged smuggling in relation to the shipwreck appeared before the Kalamata Court, where they pleaded not guilty. They were detained on 21 June pending trial. 

Spain: 2 dead and at least 35 missing in the Atlantic
2 dead bodies were recovered and at least 35 people are missing after a dinghy sank off the Western Sahara coast on 21 June. The dinghy, which was carrying around 60 migrants and refugees, left Agadir and was heading to the Canary Islands. The NGO Alarm Phone received a distress call reporting water in the boat and three deaths and alerted authorities. Later on the Moroccan Navy intercepted the boat and rescued 24 people, while Spain’s maritime rescue service recovered the bodies of two passengers. Spanish and Moroccan authorities have been criticised by Alarm Phone and by the Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras for not intervening promptly, reports The Guardian. Helena Maleno Garzón, from Caminando Fronteras, defined the abandoning of people in need of rescue for more than 12 hours on an unstable inflatable boat as “torture”.  

Italy/Spain: Italy and NGO Open Arms rescue 220 people in the Mediterranean
The Italian coast guard rescued 103 people in distress at sea off the southern coast of Calabria on 17 June. The migrants and refugees were safely brought onto the patrol boat with the help of a Portuguese patrol boat operating for Frontex and then taken to the port of Roccella. The day before the rescue, Italy alerted Greek authorities about the presence of a vessel carrying migrants and refugees close to where the Pylos shipwreck of 14 June happened. A Greek government official told Reuters that the vessel was in Greece’s search and rescue jurisdiction but was very close to Italy’s jurisdiction. According to an AP report published on 17 June, a Greek coastguard spokesperson said he “could not verify it was the same boat that was rescued off Italy Saturday [17 June] but assumed it was”. On 17 June, Spanish charity Open Arms said to have rescued 117 people, mainly from Eritrea, Sudan and Libya, who had left the port of Sabratha. The rescue was carried out in international waters 30 km off the Libyan coast.

Italy: Court rejects appeals from Médecins Sans Frontières on port assignment
The Administrative Court of Lazio rejected two appeals filed by the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières on the new Italian disembarkation rules. The NGO’s appeals concerned the assignment of the northern ports of Ancona and La Spezia to the NGO’s Geo Barents ship for disembarking people after a rescue operation. The Court ruled that the new Italian provisions are legal, as it is “undeniable” that the Ministry of Interior has the authority to assign ports. The Court underlined that there is no accepted definition of a ‘safe port’ tied to the nearest port. As a result, the judges ruled in favour of the Ministry, which “applied the principle of safe port correctly” for the assignment of the disembarking ports to the Geo Barents.

EU: UN agencies call for EU action to prevent deaths at sea
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) published a statement where they urged the EU to take action to prevent further deaths at sea. The UN call came after the shipwreck off the Greek coast on 14 June, which killed hundreds of people. In their statement, the UN agencies highlighted that search and rescue operations constitute “a legal and humanitarian imperative”. Federico Soda, IOM Director for the Department of Emergencies, expressed the need of states to cooperate in addressing “the gaps in proactive search and rescue, quick disembarkation and safe regular pathways”, with a focus on the human rights of migrants and refugees. “The EU must put safety and solidarity at the heart of its action in the Mediterranean”, added Gillian Triggs, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. 

EU: EU to invest 15 billion euro in migration policies
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the EU will strengthen the EU budget for internal and external dimensions of migration with 15 billion euro. Of the 15 billion, €2 billion are for migration management, border control and implementation of the New Pact on Migration; €10.5 billion are for the EU response to increased economic and geopolitical instabilities; €2.5 billion are to finance the ´Solidarity and Emergency Aid Reserve´, which supports the EU in reacting to crises and natural disasters. The reinforced budget is also aimed at strengthening international partnerships. The decision to raise the budget was taken in order to comply with the new responsibilities that the EU will have under the New Pact on Migration and Asylum.

EU: Proposal on digitalisation of visa applications
The European Council and Parliament agreed on a proposal introducing new rules to digitalise the Schengen visa procedure. The proposed ruling system introduces a digital visa, to apply for online, which simplifies the process for travellers and the administrative procedure, said Maria Malmer Stenergard, Swedish Minister for Migration. The digital visa, a 2D barcode cryptographically signed, would also reduce the risk of theft and falsification of the visa and implement security within the Schengen area. Once approved by the EU Member States, the proposal will move into the adoption process in the European Council and Parliament.

UK: Lack of protection puts health of child migrants and refugees in the UK at risk
The UK’s top medical bodies expressed their concern over the consequences that the illegal migration bill will bring, if adopted, in terms of lack of protection for refugees. They warn it could have detrimental effects particularly on child migrants and refugees. Several medical institutes called for an emergency meeting with ministers to present them with the health risks that children could face if the illegal migration bill becomes law in the UK. The bill would allow the home secretary to ignore the time limits for the detention of minors, including non accompanied minors, and pregnant women. The medical bodies alerted the ministers that such provisions could cause post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and “unimaginable levels of harm” in children. The Guardian reported of a briefing released by Médecins Sans Frontières which found that refugee children subjected to detention in Greece and Nauru island showed trauma- and fear-induced symptoms (e.g. sleep disturbances and nightmares, behavioural issues and developmental regression, helplessness and detachment, skin conditions and self-harm). 

France/Sudan: Sudanese mother taking legal action over failed family reunification
A Sudanese mother is taking legal action against the French government for destroying the passports of her daughters, who were awaiting a decision for family reunification. The request for family reunification had been pending for a year. The girls tried to flee to Egypt, but were turned back due to their lack of documentation. The mother is asking the court to order the French Ministry of Interior to accept the family reunification claim and issue a laisser-passer for the girls. 


World: Survey reveals decline in support for refugees
A global survey conducted by Ipsos revealed a decline in support for refugees in 2023 compared to 2022. According to the research, which questioned almost 22,000 adults across 29 countries, people’s attitude towards refugees became more favourable in 2022 in most of the countries surveyed, probably as a consequence of the Ukraine crisis. In 2023 the percentage of positive attitude saw a decline in most countries, but it remained higher than the pre-pandemic levels. Great Britain represents an exception as the country recorded an increase in support for refugees in 2023, with 56% of Britons stating that refugees make a “positive contribution” to their country and 54% stating that refugees should be allowed to stay. These figures make the country more supportive of refugees than the global average, as 45% people globally agree with the first statement and 40% agree with the second one. The British outlook towards refugees is reportedly positive despite the government adopting “increasingly toxic” rhetoric on migration, reports The Guardian. The research also reveals that 74% of people globally think that people should be able to take refuge in other countries to escape war or persecution.

IOM: Yemen deadliest route according to IOM report of 2022
The International Organization for Migration report of 2022 was published this week. It reports that the most deaths of refugees on land routes occurred in Yemen, predominantly in Yemen’s Sa’dah governorate at the northern border with Saudi Arabia. The report also found that an increase in deadly incidents has been taking place on sea routes between Lebanon and Greece and Italy. At least 174 deaths were recorded, which is almost half of the total death toll on the Eastern Mediterranean route in 2022. The deaths recorded by IOM are only those confirmed, and it is feared many more die on the migration routes.