News Highlights: Massacres reported from Darfur as RSF gains ground, ICC reports progress in Libya investigation, Asylum offshoring not allowed, EU states

In this week’s News Highlights: RSF takes over El-Geneina, nearing take-over of Darfur; Massacres reported in Darfur; Escalation of fighting in Sudan kills civilians and IDPs; First round of Jeddah talks yields no ceasefire; Refugee flows from Darfur sharply increase; Ethiopian government plans to resolve western Tigray dispute through referendum; Clashes in Amhara, Ethiopia; Peace talks between Ethiopia and OLA; Ethiopia’s risk of defaulting increases; Worst flooding in decades kills dozens in the Horn of Africa; ICC is making progress on investigating crimes against migrants and refugees in Libya; Videos of torture of Eritreans and Tigrayans in Libya posted; Italy wants to open third-country centers in Albania; Offshoring asylum applications not allowed, says EU; UK’s long procedures leave unaccompanied children in limbo; Netherlands called upon to increase fight against human trafficking; and Key hearing in Walid case on Monday 13 November.

Greater Horn of Africa

Sudan: RSF takes over El Geneina, as women in Darfur face abduction
RSF has taken over the SAF headquarters in El Geneina, West Darfur, according to an RSF statement on Saturday. This follows RSF takeover of military bases in Nyala and Zalingei last week.  RSF shared pictures from within the 15th Infantry Division headquarters in El Geneina and images of captured army staff. Meanwhile, women in Darfur are being abducted, held in slave-like conditions, held for ransom and/or forcibly married, according to reports from survivors and witnesses received by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).The UN OHCHR received reports of over 20 women abducted, but fears the real numbers are much higher. The abductions are taking place in RSF-controlled areas. At least 70% of the incidents of sexual violence confirmed by the UN OHCHR are attributed to men in RSF uniforms, and most of the other incidents are linked to men affiliated with the RSF.

Sudan: Ethnic violence continues in Darfur, with massacres reported
Members of African ethnic groups, particularly Masalit, have been reportedly rounded up, attacked and killed in Darfur, by Arab militia and members associated with Rapid Support Forces (RSF), reports CNN based on obtained videos and images. Geolocation shows that some video material appears to have been filmed in Ardamata, the outer district of El Geneina, which has been hosting a camp for internally displaced people. Perpetrators used crude and insulting language, calling their hostages “dogs”. Other videos show physical abuse, whipping, and firing of shots from guns. More than 800 people were killed, reported UNHCR. AlJazeera reports that in a three-day massacre, at least 1,300 Masalit people have died in an attack on a displacement camp, according to monitors.This comes as RSF is close to controlling the entirety of Darfur.

Sudan: Escalation of fighting kills civilians and displaced persons
More than 20 people were killed in Omdurman after shells hit a market amidst heavy fighting between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), states the committee for pro-democracy lawyers. Shelling of houses in Khartoum led to at least 15 deaths on Saturday. Further escalation of fighting between the RSF and SAF has been reported from Omdurman on Wednesday. Bodies in military uniforms are said to be lining the streets. Both aviation and ground combat have been reported from several neighbourhoods. Medics at  Al-Nao Hospital in Omdurman confirmed to have received wounded as well as dead bodies. Meanwhile, Hasahisa camp for internally displaced persons in West Zalingei has been reportedly struck over 20 times by RSF shells and tanks since September, leaving  194 civilians injured and 66 dead, reports the AWAFY Sudanese Organization. IDPs’ access to water points in Hasahisa have also been restricted. There are further reports of killings, looting of IDP houses, kidnapping, and sexual violence since the RSF took over the SAF headquarters in Zalingei at the end of October.  

Sudan: First round of peace talks in Jeddah does not yield ceasefire
The first round of peace talks in Jeddah has not brought any concrete agreement on a ceasefire. Jeddah talks are carried out under the auspices of Saudi Arabia, IGAD, African Union, and the United States. “SAF and RSF have committed to take steps to facilitate increased humanitarian assistance, and to implement confidence-building measures”, said the joint statement on commitments from Jeddah talks. Both sides issued a separate list of humanitarian commitments which include, among others,  participation in a humanitarian forum led by UN OCHA, as well as establishing a safe route for movement of aid trucks from Port Sudan to and through Khartoum. Egypt and South Sudan requested to be included in the Sudan peace talks.

Sudan: Refugee flows sharply increase as Darfur violence escalates
Intensified fighting and roundups in Darfur caused a new wave of refugees fleeing to Chad, reports Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). About 7000 refugees arrived from Darfur in the first days of November. “We have seen mothers and children who had to leave Sudan with nothing, as their homes were being destroyed”, said Stephanie Hoffmann, MSF outreach coordinator. Refugees are crossing into Chad at a rate of some 700 people per day, said Dominique Hyde, UNHCR Director of External Relations. The food aid for thousands of refugees in Chad is critically low.  The World Food Programme (WFP) urges for further support in order to provide one meal per day to refugees, said Pierre Honnorat, the head of the WFP in Chad.  A sharp increase in refugee arrivals is also seen in Renk, South Sudan. Renk transit centre, originally built for 3,000 people, currently hosts 20,000 refugees, according to Hyde. 

Tigray: Ethiopian government states situation in western Tigray should be resolved through referendum
The future of western Tigray will be settled through a referendum, stated the Ethiopian government on Monday. It is not known when the referendum will take place. The statement was announced today, in relation to the third anniversary of the start of war and the first anniversary of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. The displaced people will be returned to western Tigray and the Ethiopian military will assume responsibility for the security in western Tigray, the government also stated.The Tigray Interim Administration (TIA) lacks a mandate to carry out the referendum in the disputed areas, said Getachew Reda, head of interim administration, in his talk on the first anniversary of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. Recalling the constitution, Reda said that the referendum can take place only in case the regional council would agree to it in accordance with the approval from the House of Federation. Currently,  “there is no regional council to speak of in Tigray”, added Getachew. 

Ethiopia: Clashes in Amhara
Clashes between the Fano militia and residents of Artuma Fursi district in the Oromia Special Zone of the Amhara region left 18 people dead and over 30 wounded, reports Addis Standard. The fighting which occurred on Sunday reportedly started after Fano militia launched an attack in three villages of Artuma Fursi district with residents fighting back. An unknown number of militia men have also been killed amid fighting. In addition, a new wave of fighting between Fano militia and the Ethiopian army in Lalibela raised concern over preservation of the rock-hewn churches. Fighting and heavy weapons were heard over the last weekend. The Ethiopian army has reportedly been stationed close to Lalibera airport. Flight trackers found an increase in cargo flights between the United Arab Emirates and Ethiopia. 24 flights were identified between 27 October and 4 November. Some flights have been tracked to the Harar Meda Military Airport in Oromia. Heavy weapons are being used in continued fighting between the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) and Fano militia in Amhara. The communications blackout in Amhara continues.

Ethiopia: Second round of peace talks in Oromia
A second round of peace talks between Ethiopian government and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) to end conflict in the Oromia region have reportedly commenced in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania on Tuesday. The First round was held in May. The peace talks are supported by representatives of IGAD, the US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer, the government of Kenya and Norway. In the past weeks, OLA representatives and government officials resumed a political dialogue which appeared to have brought a  “positive outcome”, according to Addis Standard. 

Ethiopia: Risk of defaulting increases
Ethiopia’s risk of defaulting on its financial obligations has increased as Ethiopia’s credit rating is downgraded by credit agency Fitch Ratings. Fitch Ratings downgraded Ethiopia from CCC- to CC, the second-lowest on the scale, as foreign currency reserves have declined to $1 billion, which is equivalent to less than a month of external payments.

Horn of Africa: Flash floods kill dozens in worst flooding in decades
At least 29 people in Somalia have been killed by the worst flooding in decades, and thousands are trapped in their houses in the Luuq district. Jubbaland, Hirshabelle, and South West states of Somalia are facing the worst impacts of the flooding. Destroyed infrastructure is making it difficult to reach people. Hundreds of sites for internally displaced persons were affected by flooding mostly in South West state. 113,690 people have been temporarily displaced from their homes, UN OCHA states. There is a high risk of flooding along the Juba and Shabelle rivers, and people all along the Juba river are called to get to higher grounds. Flash floods in Ethiopia’s Somali region have killed at least 20 people and have displaced 12,000 families. Flooding in Kenya killed at least 15 people over the weekend, and destroyed livestock and farmland. 4,000 families fled their homes. The floods were caused by heavy rains, exacerbated by El Niño. 1.6 million children under five in flood-prone areas in South Sudan are expected to face exceptionally high levels and severities of malnutrition in 2024 due to crowded and waterlogged conditions, warns the World Food Programme (WFP). In the county of Rubkona, communities have faced permanent flooding, trapping them on small islands. 

North Africa

Libya: ICC making progress on Rome Statute crimes against refugees and migrants in Libya
Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Karim Khan states that the ICC has made significant progress in relation to investigation of alleged Rome Statute crimes against migrants and refugees in Libya. The ICC has, among others, continued to work closely with the Joint Investigative Team that is investigating crimes against migrants on the central Mediterranean route. As part of this collaboration, the ICC has given support in the investigations into key suspects in human trafficking investigations and prosecutions in Italy and in the Netherlands, Khan stated. The ICC has also increased its engagement with victims and victim organisations. 

Libya: Videos posted online show torture of Eritrean and Tigrayan refugees
The NGO Refugees in Libya posted videos online of refugees, including minors, from Eritrea and Tigray being tortured in Libya, most probably in Bani Walid. Ransoms demanded for their release are up to €11,000. The NGO has posted the videos to gain attention for the ongoing abuses of refugees in Libya. The NGO received the videos from the traffickers themselves, because the victims in the videos have no family to pay for their release. 


Italy/Albania: Italy plans to open two external centres for migrants and refugees in Albania
Italy aims to build two reception centres in Albania to process the asylum claims of migrants and refugees that are being rescued by Italian boats in the Mediterranean Sea. The new deal between Italy and Albania was announced during a bilateral meeting of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni with Albanian PM Edi Rama on Monday. According to the announcement, the centres should be running by next spring. The plan of temporary shelter does not include pregnant women, children and vulnerable people. The new decision raised a wave of criticism. Amnesty International (AI) called the deal “illegal, and  unworkable”. “People rescued at sea by Italian authorities,[…], are under Italian jurisdiction and cannot be taken to another country before their asylum request and individual circumstances have been examined”, said Elisa De Pieri, Regional Researcher at AI. The European Commission said that any agreement Italy enters into must comply with EU and international law. The Commission is awaiting more details from Italian authorities before issuing any formal statement. 

Austria/UK/EU: Offshoring asylum applicants to third-countries not allowed under EU law
A new deal signed last week between Austria and the UK on the cooperation on a deportation scheme to third-countries is not eligible under the European Union law, said the European Commission on Monday. “Currently EU asylum law applies only to applications made on the territory of a member state but not outside,” said a commission spokesperson. Germany also expressed an interest in exploring possibilities for expediting the asylum process to third countries based on the deal of the UK with Rwanda. A newly adopted document does not detail the exact plans on third-country deals. A small passage reads: “”The Federal Government will examine whether the protection status of refugees can also be determined in transit or third countries in the future, in compliance with the Geneva Convention on Refugees and the European Convention on Human Rights”. Meanwhile, President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola said that Europe has seen very little progress in addressing irregular migration over the past years.

UK: Procedural delays leave unaccompanied children in limbo
Thousands of unaccompanied refugee children are left in limbo by the UK Home Office while they are waiting for a decision on their asylum claims, reports The Guardian. In the past 3 years, about  7,500 unaccompanied children that have arrived in the UK had to wait for more than a year on the initial decision on their asylum claim. There have been reports of 57 children who waited for the decision for more than 5 years. This practice has been criticised by officials, politicians and human rights defenders saying that delays in procedures have a negative impact on the mental health and wellbeing of children. 

Netherlands: Group of experts calls on Netherlands to fight against human trafficking
Dutch authorities should intensify their efforts in combating human trafficking, said the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) of the Council of Europe. In a new report, GRETA called on Dutch authorities to rump up investigative work and prosecution of human trafficking for labour exploitation crimes as well as develop a National Referral Mechanism for child victims. Special attention should be placed on the asylum seekers who are often more susceptible to fell victim to human trafficking. 

Netherlands: Key hearing in Walid case on Monday 13 November
On Monday 13 November 2023 at 09:30 at the court in Zwolle, The Netherlands, a new hearing will be held on the case of the Eritrean Tewolde G., nicknamed Walid. Walid is accused of leading a criminal human trafficking network which committed grave human rights violations in Libya. The coming hearing will be a key one, according to observers. Eritrean community leaders ask for the victims of Walid to be given more voice in the case, without exposing them to any risks.