News Highlights: Peace talks between Ethiopia and OLA fail, Mediterranean deaths at highest level since 2017, Russia weaponising migration

In this week’s news highlights: RSF takes over military bases in El Daein and Jebel Aulia; Humanitarian situation worsens amidst funding gap for refugees from Sudan; More details emerging about Ardamata massacre in Sudan; Negotiations between Ethiopian federal government and OLA failed; Medical supplies running out in Amhara; Advanced Turkish drones procured by Ethiopia; Floods continue to claim lives in the Horn, as northern Ethiopia faces drought; Dangerous migration routes to Arabian peninsula and South Africa; Red Sea access tensions continue; Families of migrants facing lack of news after Libya floods; Deaths at sea at highest level since 2017 due to ‘deliberate inaction’ by EU states; Far-right anti-immigration Wilders wins elections in The Netherlands; EU sends border guards to the Finnish border as Russia ‘weaponises’ migration; EU/Turkey High level dialogue on migration and security; French companies provide ships and training to the Egyptian coast guard; and Digital rights for refugees and migrants in EU not upheld.

Greater Horn of Africa

Sudan: RSF takes over military bases in El Daein and Jebel Aulia
Rapid Support Forces (RSF) took control over the military base in El Daein, the capital city of East Darfur region, on Monday. Witnesses state that dozens of people were killed or injured by bombs during the process of capturing the division headquarters. Taking control over El Daein is part of RSF’s efforts to expand its territorial control, in which it previously claimed control of 3 other regional capital cities in Darfur namely Nyala, Zalingei and El Geneina. The situation caused a wave of displacement as El Daein residents fear for their life, safety and property. The shops remain closed. Five armed groups known as the Joint Protection Forces deployed hundreds of fighters to protect the population against the RSF in North Darfur and its capital El Fasher, reports AlJazeera. Most of the deployed forces are from non-Arab groups while the RSF affiliated soldiers and militia groups are predominantly from Arab tribes. Experts are concerned “that [the fight for North Darfur] will most likely turn into an all-out, ethnic-based conflict,” said Nic Pyat, head of mission for the NGO Nonviolent Peaceforce. Meanwhile, RSF captured a military base in Jebel Aulia, south of Khartoum, which was previously under Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) control. RSF stated that they are in full control of the base as well as the bridge connecting Khartoum and Omdurman. On Thursday, several areas of Khartoum saw increased clashes between RSF and SAF. The US is reportedly preparing a next round of sanctions towards the RSF and Islamists close to the SAF. In addition, 32 people, including civilians and a UN Peacekeeper, died in attacks in the disputed region of Abyei. The attacks were reportedly perpetrated by armed militia wearing South Sudanese army uniforms.

Sudan: Humanitarian situation worsens amidst funding gap for refugees
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned that lack of funding may stop food and nutrition assistance to 1.4 million people in Chad including refugees arriving from Sudan. WPF will suspend assistance to refugees and internally displaced people, including new arrivals from Sudan, in January 2024, while already in December, WFP is forced to stop assistance to refugees from  Nigeria, Central African Republic, and Cameroon. The UN Refugee Agency also raised the alarm over its funding gap for refugees from Sudan, stating it received only 33% of the necessary funds. “With the resources at hand, it is simply impossible to cover even the most basic needs – when in fact there is an urgency to scale up operations to respond to new arrivals,” UNHCR stated.

Sudan: More details emerging about Ardamata massacre
SAF soldiers who fled from the Ardamata neighbourhood in West Darfur after an attack by the RSF said that they were abandoned without support and supplies by SAF. The soldiers state they ran out of weapons and supplies, leaving them ill equipped to hold off the RSF assault, who attacked with artillery and drones. The forces withdrew to Chad, while RSF massacred at least 1,300 people in Ardamata. More details are coming out in relation to the Ardamata massacre at the beginning of November, including of civilians summarily executed, burned alive, and subjected to sexual violence. In the IDP camps Ardamata and Dorti, inhabited mostly by the Masalit, RSF and allied militia tortured people, executed many, and left their bodies on the streets. They also looted property. Hundreds of civilians were taken to RSF-run detention camps and their fates are unknown.

Ethiopia: Negotiations between federal government and OLA failed
The second round of peace talks between Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and Ethiopian federal government ended without adopting any agreement. Negotiations had been taking place since 7 November in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The federal government reportedly did not want to enter into negotiations about shifts in governance and inclusivity of political parties in Oromia, and wanted to negotiate only points concerning OLA. Redwan Hussein, national security adviser to PM Abiy Ahmed, called the approach of the opposing side inflexible and said that  “unrealistic demands” were voiced, precluding adoption of an agreement. In response, OLA pushed the responsibility to the government’s side stating it “was only interested in co-optation of the leadership of the OLA” rather than addressing underlying problems. Observers note that the Oromia regional government and the Oromia PP played a role in sabotaging the talks, in order to prevent other parties from gaining ground in Oromia. Clashes between federal government forces and OLA caused deaths of 4 civilians Horroo Guduruu Wallagga Zone in Oromia on Monday. 

Ethiopia: Medical supplies running out in Amhara
Disruption of supplies severely affects the healthcare sector in the Amhara region as medical supplies for chronic illnesses such as diabetes are running out. Women and children dependent on supplementary feeding programs are also in danger as the supplies are not being delivered due to road closures. The Ethiopian Pharmaceutical Supply Service Agency confirmed that overland distribution of medical supplies is not possible due to security issues across the region. 

Ethiopia: Advanced Turkish drones procured by Ethiopia
Ethiopia has reportedly ordered several new Bayraktar AKINCI, a highly advanced unmanned combat drone, from Turkey, states Defence Turk. Turkish drone manufacturer Baykar released footage of the 6th test flight of the Bayraktar TB3, and one shot in the video shows the Ethiopian flag on a Bayraktar AKINCI with the serial tail number S40. Deals have been made with eight countries, including Ethiopia, for the sale of this drone. Sources state it cost the Ethiopian government 100 million USD per piece. The drone is said to have a high payload capacity and advanced systems, and is said to be able to  launch an air-launched cruise missile. A UN Human Rights Office spokesperson expressed concern over the “devastating impact of drone strikes” in the Amhara region, where strikes have killed civilians. Furthermore, the Ethiopian government has started using Pegasus spyware for surveillance purposes, sources state. The spyware is designed by Israeli cyber-arms company NSO Group to secretly run on mobile phones.

Horn of Africa: Floods continue to claim lives, as northern Ethiopia faces drought
Floods caused by heavy rains in Somalia have led to  687,235 people to be displaced and 50 deaths. Another round of heavy rains is expected between 21 and 24 November. Experts fear that it will cause a new wave of flooding. The whole Horn of Africa region is experiencing extreme downpours resulting in floods. The change of weather patterns is linked to the El Niño weather phenomenon. Meanwhile, officials in Tigray and Amhara reported 50 deaths of starvation linked to drought in northern Ethiopia. 4,000 cattle have also died.

Ethiopia: Dangerous migration routes to Arabian peninsula and South Africa
Tigray authorities are receiving increasing reports of Tigrayan youth fleeing to the Arabian peninsula to escape food insecurity and lack of jobs. The youth flee via the route through the Afar region and Djibouti, where they make the extremely dangerous sea crossing to Yemen. Families of youth are receiving ransom demands of up to 1 million birr [approx. €16.000,-] from human traffickers who operate particularly in Yemen. In addition, The New Humanitarian published a report about the route from the Horn of Africa to South Africa, which is much less known, but also incredibly dangerous. Persons on the route are treated as goods and with disregard for their lives; causing many on the way to be abandoned or die. 

Horn of Africa: Red Sea access tensions continue
Eritrean media Tesfanews published a piece accusing the United Arab Emirates of trying to get access to the Red Sea region through stoking conflict in Sudan and Ethiopia. This is connected to the statements by Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed on Ethiopia’s right to access the Red Sea, which could potentially cause a bloody conflict in which Eritrea is “fully supported by Saudi, and Egypt”. Russia is looking to mediate in relation to the tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia, sources state. Meanwhile, Ethiopia has reportedly engaged in talks with the un-recognized self proclaimed state of Somaliland over access to Red Sea port located in Berbera town. The talks were reportedly progressing well, according to the Ethiopian Press Agency. 

North Africa

Libya: Families of migrants facing lack of news after floods
Families of migrants and refugees that were victims of the floods in Libya often struggle to obtain news about what happened to their loved ones. In addition, families of migrants and refugees are receiving no compensation by the Libyan government, unlike Libyans, states a member of the crisis committee at the Palestinian consulate in Derna. Libyan authorities state that they are trying to identify bodies through DNA samples.


EU: Deaths at sea at highest level since 2017 due to ‘deliberate inaction’ by EU states
Deaths in the Mediterranean Sea have reached the highest levels since 2017 due to deliberate inaction of European Union member states, says Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Almost 2,200 people have died so far in 2023. In a new report, MSF has documented numerous cases in which EU member states “knowingly put people’s lives at risk by delaying or failing to effectively coordinate rescues as well as facilitating refoulements to unsafe places”. The increase in deaths at sea is caused by a doubling in departures since the same period last year, coupled with a lack of rescue capacity by the EU, states MSF. An average of 8 people go missing or die at sea every day. In the latest incident, eight people went missing and a two-year old died following a shipwreck close to Lampedusa, Italy, on Monday. 

The Netherlands: Far-right anti-immigration party wins elections
The far-right political party of Geert Wilders won the Dutch general elections, mostly on the agenda of restricting migration into the Netherlands. Wilders linked migration to key issues in the Netherlands, such as the housing crisis and healthcare. However, legal experts state that there is little Wilders can legally do in relation to migration as long as the Netherlands is in the EU. In the past, Wilders has made controversial statements in relation to Muslims in particular. In the runup to the elections, Wilders himself as well as his political rivals have helped to soften the party’s extreme image, says BBC. Wilders’ anti-EU narrative is raising fears of more difficulty for joint EU actions should he become prime minister. His election win is also seen as a boost for other far-right parties in other EU countries.

Finland/Estonia: EU sends border guards to the border as Russia ‘weaponises’ migration
The EU will deploy 50 agents of the EU border agency Frontex, as well as equipment such as patrol cars, to Finland amidst an increase in asylum seekers coming from the border with Russia. Finland and Estonia accuse Russia of weaponising migration, saying that the increase in asylum seekers is fully Russian-state orchestrated. Finland stated it will close all but its northernmost border crossings with Russia. Around 800 asylum seekers from Yemen, Afghanistan, Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria entered Finland in November, compared to only a few crossings in the months before. In Estonia, 75 people attempted to cross in just a few days. Asylum seekers in Finland are now forced to lodge applications in a remote border post 300km north of the Arctic Circle.

EU/Turkey: High level dialogue on migration and security
EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson and the Minister of Interior of the Republic of Türkiye Ali Yerlikaya met in Brussels on Thursday for the second Türkiye-EU High Level Dialogue on Migration and Security. The meeting looked at how to enhance cooperation between the migration and law enforcement agencies of the EU and Turkey. They will also enhance cooperation on counterterrorism and fighting organised crime. In addition, the speed-up of visas for Turkish citizens will be explored.

France/Egypt: Ships and training to the Egyptian coast guard
French companies will supply the Egyptian coast guard with three ships and training as part of the EU-Egypt migration agreement signed in October 2022 to reduce migration to the EU. As part of the agreement, Egypt will intercept migrant boats in Egyptian waters and on land. French companies will also provide thermal cameras to Egypt. “Immigration is used by the dictatorships in the region as a lever to obtain political and financial support from Europe”, warned the Refugees Platform in Egypt (REP).

EU: Digital rights for refugees and migrants not upheld
As the EU’s current legislative negotiations are set to further expand the use of digital technologies in asylum and migration procedures, refugees and migrants do not have the same digital rights as EU citizens, states an essay in the series “Digital Rights are Charter Rights”. Digital rights are enshrined in the EU Charter, but as the EU’s highest court has decided that preventing illegal EU entry is a matter of general interest, such rights can be compromised. Asylum seekers are progressively expected to surrender more of their personal information, while EU member states do not provide such openness in return, for example in their reasoning why someone should be denied entry, the essay states.