News Highlights: Concern over large-scale fighting in El Fasher, 12,500 intercepted by Libyan coast guard, EU criticised over increase in drownings

In this week’s News Highlights: US warns of imminent attack by RSF on El Fasher; RSF captures Balila airport in West Kordofan; Hamdok to lead Sudanese civilian leadership body; One year after the Cessation of Hostilities agreement; Ongoing violence and displacement in Amhara and Oromia; Meta accused of fueling ethnic violence during Tigray war; EU concerned about the situation in Eritrea and Ethiopia; Violence hampers aid delivery, as South Sudan sinks into deep crisis; Emergency level hunger and floods in Somalia; UNSC extends UNSOM mandate; UNHCR reports 12,500 refugees and migrants have been intercepted by Libya; Report shows sharp increase in drownings after EU’s NGO crackdown; European Commission wants to step up surveillance and deportation; Critical report on violations against asylum seekers in Belgium; Austria and UK deal to cooperate on third-country deportation; and MSF warns that violence and pushbacks have become normalised in Greece.

Greater Horn of Africa

Sudan: US warns of imminent attack by RSF on El Fasher
The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warns of an “imminent large-scale attack by Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on El Fasher” in North Darfur. The statement of the US warns that neither the RSF nor the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have taken measures to protect civilians, among whom many internally displaced persons (IDPs). The statement also condemns reports of abuses by RSF and allied forces in their assault on Nyala, which was recently taken over by RSF. Fierce fights between RSF and Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) near El Fasher, North Darfur, on Tuesday caused civilian casualties and destruction of homes. The governor of North Darfur, Nimr Abdel Rahman, called on RSF and SAF to allow for a safe evacuation of civilians to prevent any further deaths and appealed to citizens to avoid places where warring parties are present. 

Sudan: RSF captures Balila airport in West Kordofan
Rapid Support Forces (RSF) captured Balila airport and some parts of the Balila oilfield in West Kordofan after launching an attack on this area on Monday. RSF stated they have taken over the strategic area. Balila airport is of strategic importance to RSF as it provides an opportunity for arms and supply delivery in addition to Nyala airport, which was captured by RSF back in April.  Balila oilfield workers were alerted through warnings circulated on Saturday that an attack of RSF affiliated forces was imminent, and were evacuated to El Fula military base. Efforts are being made to restore the work on the oilfields, confirmed Minister of Energy and Oil, Mohamed Abdullah Mahmoud, before he was released from duties on Wednesday due to a restructuring of the Sudanese cabinet by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Sudan: Hamdok to lead civilian leadership body
The preparatory meeting of civilian, political and other forces taking place in Addis Ababa last week led to the decision to form a leadership body under former Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The meeting formed the “Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces” (CCDF) consisting of 60 representatives of political and civil forces, plus a 30 member executive office. The CCDF will hold a founding conference in eight weeks.

Ethiopia/Tigray/ Eritrea: One year after the Cessation of Hostilities agreement
A year ago, the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) Agreement was signed between the government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which ended the fighting in Tigray. However, there are continuing and evolving challenges, according to critics, including delays of withdrawal of non-Tigrayan troops. “Governments supporting Ethiopia’s fragile truce cannot afford to look away as crises in Ethiopia mount,” said Laetitia Bader, Human Rights Watch deputy Africa director. On the anniversary, various countries issued statements which commend the progress since the agreement, but also note that more progress is needed. The US further called for Eritrean troops to withdraw, and warned that “Ethiopia and Eritrea must refrain from provocation and respect the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of all countries in the region.” An analysis by Makeda Saba warns about rising tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which could lead to another war.

Ethiopia: Ongoing violence and displacement in Amhara and Oromia
Due to ongoing violence in the Amhara region in Ethiopia, at least 200 victims of rape have been registered at different health facilities, and multiple civilian deaths have been documented in the previous month of October 2023, said the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in its new report. The EHRC raised concern over multiple reports of extrajudicial killing of civilians by government security forces between September and October 2023. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Western Oromia are facing a critical humanitarian situation due to lack of aid and ongoing insecurity posed by the conflict between the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and governmental forces. There are an estimated 1.4 million IDPs across the Oromia region, according to an assessment by a humanitarian organisation obtained by Addis Standard. There are many reports of IDPs who have been forcefully returned from IDP camps to their homes without any assistance or assurance for their safety. Furthermore, reports stated that an unknown number of Chinese factory employees were taken by the OLA in fighting between the OLA and Ethiopian forces in Fiche town. 

Ethiopia: Meta accused of fueling ethnic violence
The Facebook social media platform, owned by Meta, has been accused of contributing towards human rights violations carried out during the two-year Tigray war, through their “content-shaping algorithms and data-hungry business model”, according to an Amnesty International report.  A lot of content published through Facebook, which is Ethiopia’s most widely used social media platform, has been instigating hatred, violence and discrimination against the Tigrayan community.  According to the report, the violent content was published by various actors including government officials, government-affiliated activists, and government-aligned media. Despite multiple attempts to raise awareness about the issue, “Meta failed to adequately mitigate the human rights risks of its operations in Ethiopia”, states the report. 

Eritrea/Ethiopia: EU concerned about the human rights situation in Eritrea
The EU remains highly concerned about the human rights situation in Eritrea, and particularly called on Eritrea to “end the practice of indefinite National Service and of forced recruitment of children”, according to the EU statement at the UN General Assembly’s dialogue on human rights in Eritrea. The EU also called for Eritrea’s complete withdrawal from Ethiopian territory.  The EU, in a separate statement, expressed serious concern over the conflict, human rights violations and civilian casualties in Amhara, Ethiopia, stated High Representative Josep Borrell. The EU is ready to support a process leading to dialogue, reconciliation and peace between the parties fighting in Amhara.

South Sudan: Violence hampers aid delivery, as country sinks into deep crisis
Violence and threats against humanitarian workers hampers the delivery of aid in South Sudan, OCHA South Sudan states. This includes physical threats, intimidation, harassment and looting/theft. One off-duty humanitarian staff member was killed in Mayom County, Unity State. UNICEF warns of the deepening crisis in South Sudan, as severe flooding and soaring food prices impact civilians. As a result, malnutrition and preventable diseases are on the rise. 

Somalia: Emergency level hunger and floods
4.3 million people in Somalia are projected to be facing crisis-level or worse food insecurity between October and December 2023, of whom a million are facing emergency-level hunger, the World Food Programme warns. 1.2 million people in Somalia  living in flood-prone areas are in danger of floods caused by El Niño; half of the settlements for internally displaced persons are in flood-prone areas.

Somalia: UNSC extends UNSOM mandate
The mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) has been extended by unanimous adoption of the resolution at the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Tuesday.  The role of the UNSOM lies in supporting national reconciliation, and providing strategic and policy advice on various aspects of peacebuilding and state-building. Disputed language for the resolution to extend included the parts on the situation in Laascaanood, with some UNSC members in favour of more emphasis on the support to the Somali government’s efforts to handle the situation. The UN calls on all key parties in the conflict in Laascaanood to make progress on exchanging prisoners between Somaliland and SSC-Khatumo, as well as achieving a peaceful resolution of the conflict, including tackling underlying drivers, UN Special Representative Catriona Laing stated last week.

North Africa

Libya: UNHCR reports 12,500 refugees and migrants have been intercepted by Libya
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported that the Libyan coast guard claimed to have intercepted 12,500 individuals in 178 operations so far in 2023. UNHCR and its partner International Rescue Committee have no access to the disembarkation points. International Organisation for Migration reports that 4,600 refugees and migrants have been intercepted by Libyan authorities at the border with Tunisia since June. They are held in transit points in Al-Assah before being sent to other detention centres – UNHCR estimates that 90% is in need of international protection. 


EU: Report shows sharp increase in drownings after NGO crackdown
The EU’s migration response leads to increased deaths at sea, shows a new report by Oxford University seen by European Interest. The researchers showed that following a clampdown on NGO search and rescue missions in June and July of 2023, the number of deaths at sea sharply rose, despite relatively few departures. The report is critical of the EU’s reliance on the Libyan coast guard to stop migration at all costs.

EU: European Commission wants to step up surveillance and deportation
In a letter by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to the European Council, which was obtained by Statewatch, the Commission highlights operational steps to address migration. In the letter, the Commission emphasises that the EU “need[s] to build up the capacity of our partners to conduct effective border surveillance and search and rescue operations” describing the cooperation with the Libyan coast guard as a successful example. It also wants to increase support for strengthening controls at departure points in North Africa and aerial surveillance over the Mediterranean. The EU also states that investments and opportunities for legal migration should be conditional on cooperation on returns. Following the European Council meeting on 27 October, von der Leyen stated there was “strong support” for the letter. Meanwhile, the NGO ship Sea-Eye 4 was seized by Italian authorities on 30 October for failing to comply with Libyan coast guard authorities during a rescue mission where four people died. Sea-Eye 4’s captain states that if they would have complied, more people would have died. 

Belgium: Critical report on violations against asylum seekers
Amnesty International published a critical report on violations of the rights of asylum seekers in Belgium. “Belgium has consistently failed to meet its human rights obligations under international law to provide housing and other essential goods and services to asylum seekers”, stated Amnesty. In particular, Amnesty warns that Belgium has received at least 8,000 court orders since 2021 to provide adequate accommodation, but the authorities have refused to comply, “even if these [orders] were final and immediately executable”. EU Observer notes this is of particular concern, as Belgium is set to take the Presidency of the EU in January 2024, and will likely oversee an EU-wide asylum reform. 

Austria/UK: Deal to cooperate on third-country deportation
Austria and the UK signed a “migration and security agreement” in which the countries agreed to cooperate more closely, which includes cooperation on third-country deportation. Austria is planning to model its plan after the UK’s Rwanda deportation scheme, with the difference that asylum seekers would be allowed to return to Austria if their asylum applications were successful. Austria is also promoting a Europe-wide roll-out of the scheme. In the UK, the Rwanda-scheme is still under review by the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on the legality of it mid-December 2023. 

Greece: MSF warns that violence and pushbacks have become normalised
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warns that violence and pushbacks perpetrated against refugees and migrants have become normalised in Greece. The MSF notes its teams have witnessed how pushbacks have become common practice, and that it has documented testimonies of “violence, physical assault, strip searches and intrusive body searches on children, women and men”. Despite this, “Greek authorities, the EU and its member states have failed to hold to account the perpetrators of these violations”.