News Highlights: Sudan’s displacement crisis, ICHREE’s final report, EU ministers discuss tougher screening and deportation

In this week’s News Highlights: Villages burnt in Darfur, Sudan; RSF advancing in Al Jazira state; 10,000 children in Sudan may die by the end of the year; Sudan conflict causes world’s largest displacement; Defence of Janjaweed commander starts at ICC; ICHREE publishes final report; Four people killed in Central Ethiopia Regional State violence; Countries reject PM Abiy Ahmed’s Red Sea appeal; El Niño flooding threatens Horn of Africa; UN Security Council discusses Somalia; Impact of Libya floods ‘unimaginable’; EU ministers discuss screening and deportation of asylum seekers; Report finds EU countries redirect aid to themselves; Report criticises Malta authorities over handling of boat in distress; Polish elections bring change, but not on migration; Germany announces increased border checks; Italy calls on EU to enact Tunisia deal; 20 smugglers sentenced in Belgium; European Parliament gives journalism award to Greek boat disaster investigation; and Pope Frances focuses on migration in prayer.

Greater Horn of Africa

Sudan: Villages burnt in Darfur
At least 68 villages were set on fire in Darfur, west Sudan, shows the analysis of the satellite images by the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR). The perpetrators are identified as armed militia groups. Using heat-recognition technology in connection with geolocation of social media pictures, the CIR analysis provides evidence for crimes perpetrated in Sudan. More than 3,900 civilians have been killed and at least 8,400 people injured in Darfur due to ongoing conflict between 15 April and the end of August, reports UNHCR. Most of the attacks were carried out on the basis of ethnic targeting particularly in West Darfur. 139 civilian objects such as markets, administrative buildings, schools, and health and transportation facilities were destroyed, damaged or looted. 

Sudan: RSF advancing in Al Jazira state
The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have reportedly been advancing to the areas south of Khartoum in order to gain stronger control in Al Jazira state,Sudan, and take over important agricultural sites and population centres, reports Reuters. Authorities of the Al Jazira state have launched security forces along the border with Khartoum on Saturday to prevent attacks by the RSF. RSF is already stationed in some locations in Al Jazira, particularly in Al-Masid, Al-Nuba, and Al-Jadid Al-Thawra. Increased shelling of civilians by the RSF in Nyala, South Darfur and Karari, in Omdurman, is raising concerns, said the US State Department. Evidence received by the US State Department shows the RSF blocking access to and attacking the Hasahisa camp for internally displaced persons in Central Darfur. 

Sudan: 10,000 children may die by the end of the year
Over 10,000 young children under age of 5 may die of preventable causes in Sudan by the end of the year 2023, warned UNICEF and the WHO. Currently, about 700,000 children are facing severe acute malnutrition. The main causes of child mortality are expected to be related to food insecurity, malnutrition, birth complications, reduced vaccination, and outbreak of diseases. Armed forces are targeting children, mostly unaccompanied minors and children from poor families, to be recruited to fight in the conflict, states Siobhán Mullally, the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children. Girls are being abducted for sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery, from both Khartoum and Darfur, added Mullally. Meanwhile, a report shows that 93% of surveyed people in Darfur have lost income and are struggling to access food and healthcare, reports New Islamic Relief. 86% are struggling to meet basic needs. Many food stocks have been looted or destroyed. Many families are surviving on just one meal per day, and 33% of people state that there is no food available in local markets. Prices have doubled or tripled, when food is available. 92% of women who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence are not getting any support.

Sudan: The world’s largest displacement crisis
The conflict in Sudan caused the largest displacement crisis worldwide, with limitations in resources and services for refugees and IDPs “creating appalling living conditions for millions”, states IOM.  Over 7.1 million people are displaced of whom more than 1.2 million refugees fled to neighbouring countries and  over 5.8 million are displaced internally in Sudan. It is estimated that about 3 million displaced people are originally from Khartoum. 

Sudan: Defence set to start at trial of former Janjaweed commander starts at the ICC
A trial of Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, former commander of the Sudanese Janjaweed militia, at the International Criminal Court (ICC), is set to hear the opening speeches of the defence team.  Abd-Al-Rahman is accused of 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur between August 2003 and April 2004. The atrocities committed by the militia included murder, pillaging, rape, torture and attacks against civilian population. The accountability of the crimes committed in Sudan in the past is important for the present situation and ending the current conflict in Sudan, say observers. 

Ethiopia: ICHREE publishes final report
The International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) published its final report on 13 October, documenting grave human rights violations that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Tigray war. The report reveals that Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, along with Amhara Special Forces, coordinated military actions and air attacks from Eritrean territory. Killings of Tigrayan civilians on a massive scale have been ongoing since November 3, 2020, with 49 incidents investigated and some of the perpetrators identified. Widespread sexual violence and rape of Tigrayan women were committed by various forces, affecting at least 10,000 survivors. The report details the impact of siege, starvation, and looting by ENDF and EDF forces, as well as crimes targeting Eritrean refugees. These crimes demonstrate “war crimes and crimes against humanity” with an “intersectional discriminatory intent based on ethnicity and gender.” The report emphasises the need for continued investigation and prosecution of these crimes in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia: Four people killed in violence in Central Ethiopia Regional State
Four people were killed and several injured due to attacks by armed factions from Kebena Woreda in Wolkite town, part of the newly established Central Ethiopia Regional State. The attackers were reportedly targeting inhabitants of Wolkite town due to disagreements stemming from new administrative arrangements and formation of the new region, reports Addis Standard. Furthermore, Western Oromia has been hit by a malaria outbreak killing at least 45 people. About 57.65% of tested individuals showed a positive result.  

Horn of Africa: Countries reject Ethiopian PM’s Red Sea appeal
Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti rejected an appeal made by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to negotiate access of Ethiopia to the Red Sea. Abiy, in his speech last week, stated that Ethiopia’s access to the sea is an Ethiopian right and necessity. The remarks are featured in an upcoming documentary by state media called “From a Drop of Water to Sea Water”. Eritrea “will not, as ever, be drawn into” discourses on water, access to the sea and other related topics, the Eritrean Ministry of Information stated in a press release on 16 October. Eritreans have responded to the comments with anger. Somali State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Omar, said that access to any port under Somalia’s sovereignty is not open for negotiation or discussion. Somalia is nevertheless committed to support regional stability and peace, assured Omar. Djibouti also stated that it maintained the rights over its sovereign territory.

Horn of Africa: El Niño results in flooding
The weather phenomenon El Niño is expected to cause above-average rainfall in the Horn of Africa, warn DG ECHO, UN OCHA, and FSNWG. Floods are expected, which could cause devastating impacts to infrastructure, crops, and humanitarian access. Flooding risks are predicted to be high between October and December. Flooding has already impacted parts of Somalia, particularly Baidoa. The International Rescue Committee calls for urgent support as many of the flood-prone areas are already overstretched due to prolonged drought and disease outbreaks.

Somalia: UN Security Council meeting warns of increasing insecurity
The situation in Somalia was discussed in the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Thursday. The UN Special Representative on Somalia, Catriona Laing, warned that Somalia is at a critical juncture, and that civilians are increasingly becoming victims to the escalating conflict with Al-Shabaab. She also added that the humanitarian situation is worrying, with around 4 million people facing hunger and 1.2 million currently displaced. The United States mission to the UN further expressed concern over recent setbacks in the military campaign, which highlights that Somali forces are still struggling in terms of capacity amidst the withdrawal of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia. 

North Africa

Libya: Impact of floods ‘unimaginable’
The head of the UN support mission in Libya described the impact of the floods to the UN Security Council on Monday and noted that the disaster had exposed “severe governance deficits”. Thousands of people are still missing, as the exact scale of the disaster is not yet known. The number of health facilities that are non-functional or only partly functional is 85% in the impacted area. 


EU: Ministers discuss screening and deportation of asylum seekers
EU justice and interior ministers met in Luxembourg on 19 October to discuss tougher screening of migrants and asylum seekers, as well as faster deportations of those considered “security risks”. This discussion comes in the wake of recent attacks in France and Belgium, which were carried out by foreign nationals, and heightened security concerns related to the Israel-Hamas conflict. EU Migration Commissioner Ylva Johansson emphasised the importance of “immediately returning” individuals posing a threat to European citizens. The meeting also saw calls for the swift implementation of the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum. Critics argue that the current proposals have insufficient safeguards against unsafe returns and detention of refugees and migrants. Furthermore, on Wednesday, the European Commission proposed stricter regulations on its visa policy framework, to prevent what it labelled “abuse” of visa-free travel to the EU, among others in the context of irregular migration. 

EU: Development aid redirected to countries themselves, report finds
Aid funds from some European Union (EU) member states are being redirected towards themselves by covering so-called in-donor refugee costs, according to a report by Concord, a confederation of non-governmental organisations. This has led to the situation where some EU states are the primary recipients of their own Official Development Aid (ODA). The study found that a few EU states, including Estonia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Ireland, and Poland, used around 50% or more of their reported official development aid for in-donor refugee costs, mostly to support Ukrainian refugees. Malta reported over 80% of its ODA share as in-donor refugee costs. Concord stated ODA should go to support for economic development, welfare, and the reduction of inequalities between and within countries.

Malta: Malta authorities criticised over handling of boat in distress
An investigation by Reuters shows inadequate responses of Malta’s authorities to a boat in distress in Malta’s search and rescue zone. It concerned a rubber boat carrying 14 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea in June 2023. One person had already drowned as the reports came in. The Maltese authorities reportedly declined the distress call and 32 communications from humanitarian organisations about the situation. A boat operated by Médecins Sans Frontières finally managed to rescue the survivors. Critics accuse Malta  of not fulfilling its search and rescue obligations; a 2020 Amnesty International report stated that Malta engaged in pushbacks to Libyan waters on some occasions as well. 

Poland: Elections bring change in government
A change of government is likely in Poland after a high-turnout vote, with the Civic Coalition led by Donald Tusk expected to secure an overall majority in the Polish Parliament. The new government will likely reverse populist and nationalist policies of the Law and Justice party (PiS), particularly in areas concerning the judiciary, media freedom, and minority rights. This change may improve relations with the European Union and neighbouring countries. However, the Polish position on migration may see little change, as observers note that Tusk is not positive in relation to the obligatory relocation scheme in the new migration policy pact. 

Germany: Increased border checks
Germany has notified the European Union of temporary border controls at its borders with Poland, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland. These controls go beyond measures taken last month to strengthen checks on the eastern border. There has been intense pressure in Germany to address the arrival of larger numbers of migrants after the far-right political party Alternative for Germany increased its success in the state elections. Germany also has announced draft legislation to ease deportations of unsuccessful asylum-seekers.

Italy/EU/Tunisia: Italy calls on EU to enact Tunisia deal
Italy’s Interior Minister, Matteo Piantedosi, has called on the European Union (EU) to enact the EU-Tunisia deal and assist Tunisia in preventing migrant boat departures. While the EU and Tunisia signed a partnership in July, Tunisian President Kais Saied rejected an EU aid tranche this month, potentially undermining the agreement. Migrant arrivals in Italy have nearly doubled in 2023, with 91% coming from Tunisia, primarily impacting the island of Lampedusa. Piantedosi emphasised the need for a strong international and European effort to stop departures. 

Belgium: Court sentences individuals linked to smuggling network to the UK
A Belgian court has sentenced 20 individuals involved in migrant smuggling, with jail terms ranging from 30 months to 11 years and fines of up to €80,000. They were arrested in a cross-border operation in 2022, accused of smuggling up to 10,000 refugees and migrants across the English Channel. One of the alleged leaders, Hewa R., was described as a “big player” although he may not have been the boss of the gang. Investigations revealed the gang generated significant revenue by charging up to €6,200 per crossing. 

European Parliament: Investigation into deadly Greek shipwreck wins journalism prize
A Greek, German, and British consortium including Solomon, Forensis, StrgF/ARD and The Guardian received the 2023 Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for their investigation into the Adriana shipwreck, where over 600 migrants died near Greece. The investigation revealed the Greek Coast Guard’s role in the disaster and inconsistencies in official accounts. The prize, awarded by the European Parliament, recognizes journalism that upholds EU values, including human dignity and human rights. The investigation involved interviews with survivors, court documents, and simulations to recreate the tragic events. 


Vatican: Pope leads a migration-themed prayer
Pope Francis led a prayer vigil to commemorate the struggles of migrants and refugees. The vigil, organised by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, featured the participation of refugees from Cameroon, Ukraine, and El Salvador. It took place at the “Angels Unawares” monument in St. Peter’s Square, a sculpture depicting a diverse group of migrants and refugees. The Pope drew parallels between the dangers faced by migrants and refugees on perilous journeys today and the challenges encountered by travellers from ancient times. He highlighted the importance of compassion and solidarity, urging an approach focused on welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating migrants and refugees. Pope Francis also called for efforts to create safer migration routes.