News Highlights: RSF seize Wad Madani, EU agreement on Migration and Asylum Pact, 61 die off Libyan coast as boat sinks

In this week’s News Highlights: RSF seize capital of Al-Jazira state, Wad Madani; UN appoints Independent International Fact-Finding Mission to Sudan; Chad expels 4 Sudanese diplomats over RSF support allegations; Ethiopia’s credit rating falls further, as African Development Bank withdraws international staff; IDPs from Oromia ordered to leave Amhara IDP centre; Turkish BAYKAR drone CEO gets medal of honour from Ethiopia; European Parliament delegation visits Tigray; 4th round of GERD Dam talks fails; 10 years since outbreak civil violence in South Sudan; Senior al-Shabaab commander killed in Somalia; Boat sinks off the Libyan coast, 61 drown; EU negotiators agree on key regulations for migration pact; NGOs warn of dangerous principles that new migration pact will bring; EU systematically shares information with Libyan militia linked to human trafficking; Refugees and migrants without shelter and resources as the winter starts in EU; Central Mediterranean Route the most frequented migration route to Europe in 2023; Stricter immigration bill adopted by French parliament; and UK Government states need for credible Transitional Justice policy in Ethiopia. 

This is the last News Highlights of this calendar year. Publishing will return to the regular schedule in the week of 8 January 2024. Best wishes for the holiday season.

Greater Horn of Africa

Sudan: RSF seize capital of Al-Jazira state
Rapid Support Forces (RSF) attacked Wad Madani on 15 December and seized control over the capital of the Al-Jazira state after three days of fierce fighting. Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) have withdrawn. Armed groups and citizens reportedly looted markets and banks and aid organisations were forced to suspend their operations as the RSF advanced on the city. RSF reportedly looted civilian properties and threatened civilians with sexual abuse against those who do not cooperate with RSF. The Red Cross is calling the formerly safe city a ‘death trap’. It is estimated that between 250,000 and 300,000 people fled since advancement on Wad Madani started, according to IOM. Many people were forced to flee for the second time as Wad Madani had previously hosted large numbers of internally displaced people fleeing other conflict zones in Sudan. Transportation to bring people out of the conflict zone is limited, forcing many to flee on foot. Fuel and transportation costs have soared amid this crisis. In addition, fighting rekindled in El Fasher, North Darfur, and an aerial attack resulting in deaths was reported in Nyala, South Darfur. 

Sudan: UN appoints Independent International Fact-Finding Mission
The President of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), Václav Bálek, appointed the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission for Sudan which will be represented by three independent members. The Fact-Finding Mission will investigate all human rights abuses and violations of international law. The first oral update by the Mission will be presented during the 56th session of the HRC in June-July 2024. The UN Security Council also discussed Sudan under ‘any other business’ on 21 December.

Sudan: Chad expels 4 Sudanese diplomats over RSF support allegations
Chadian authorities expelled 4 Sudanese diplomats on Saturday with an order to leave the country within 72 hours. The decision comes after the Sudanese deputy commander of SAF, Lt Gen Yasir El Atta, accused Chad of allowing UAE to supply weapons for RSF through their territory. 

Ethiopia: Credit rating further declines, as African Development Bank withdraws international staff
Ethiopia’s credit rating was downgraded to ‘junk territory’ (C) by Fitch Ratings due to an increasing likelihood of defaulting, after Ethiopia failed to pay the outstanding interest on its $1 billion Eurobond. Ethiopia is set to default on Christmas day. Sources have told Reuters that Ethiopia aims to get a $3.5 billion IMF loan under a reform programme, which it hopes to reach an agreement on in the first quarter of 2024. Furthermore, the African Development Bank (AfDB) will immediately withdraw all international staff members from Ethiopia over assault on two staff members by government security forces. This decision comes after an official complaint submitted to Ethiopian authorities in November was not resolved.

Ethiopia: IDPs from Oromia ordered to leave Amhara IDP centre
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Oromia currently hosted in a centre in Northern Wollo Zone in the Amhara region were ordered by the local authorities to leave the premises of IDP centre. The decision is based on an agreement between Oromia and Amhara regions to assist IDPs to return. The IDPs are concerned about their safety and oppose the process of relocation.

Ethiopia: Turkish BAYKAR drone CEO gets medal of honour
The CEO of the Turkish drone manufacturer BAYKAR received a medal of honour from Ethiopia, as the first foreigner to receive such a recognition. The medal was given over the role of the drones in the Tigray war. During the Tigray war and other Ethiopian wars, civilians were killed in large numbers by drone attacks.

Ethiopia: European Parliament delegation visits Tigray
A European Parliament delegation urged for withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray during their visit to the region. The delegation from the Human Rights Committee led by  Isabel Wiseler met with the president of the Tigray Interim Administration, Getachew Reda, on Tuesday. The Members of the European Parliament visited Ethiopia between 17-20 December. The delegation met with victims of human rights abuses.

Sudan/Ethiopia/Egypt: 4th round of GERD Dam talks fails
Ethiopia accuses Egypt of maintaining “colonial era mentality” and erecting “roadblocks against efforts toward convergence” after the 4th round of trilateral negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) failed. Egypt, in a reaction to the failed talks, held in Addis Ababa between 17-19 December 2023, said that Ethiopia refuses “to accept any of the technical or legal compromise solutions”. Furthermore, Egypt stated it said it reserved the right to defend its water supplies and national security. Ethiopia is also facing domestic struggles in relation to the GERD, as it is short on cash to pay the contractors, reports Africa Intelligence. 

South Sudan: 10 years since outbreak civil violence
South Sudan marked the 10th anniversary of the outbreak of civil violence on 15 December. On the anniversary, the Embassies of Canada, Norway, the UK, and the US called for South Sudan’s leaders to “the steps necessary to hold free, fair, and peaceful elections in December 2024”. Despite peace pacts which included commitments to hold perpetrators to account, there is still “a near total impunity” for documented violations committed during the conflict, states Amnesty International. Furthermore, international organisations are concerned about the safety for refugees following serious incidents. Two refugees were killed in an attack against a convoy organised by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to transport refugees from Abyei to the Wedweil refugee settlement.  The refugees were abducted by armed youth and were later found dead. Refugees aboard a boat transporting people via the river to Malakal, organised by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), had to be rescued after the boat began taking on water. The incidents highlight the security issues for refugees in South Sudan, state IOM and UNHCR.

Somalia: Senior al-Shabaab commander killed
The Somali government states that a senior al-Shabaab commander, Maalim Ayman, allegedly involved in attacks in Somalia and Kenya was killed during a Somali-US operation.  US military command in Africa, AFRICOM, confirmed that one al-Shabaab militant was killed and stated no civilians were harmed. The operation is reported to have taken place on 17 December. 

North Africa

Libya/Mediterranean: Boat sinks off the Libyan coast, 61 drown 
At least 61 refugees and migrants, including women and children, went missing and are presumed dead after their boat sank off Libya’s coast, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The vessel carrying 86 people in total left from Zuwara, north-west coast of Libya, on the night between 13 and 14 December. The boat capsized due to high waves. 24 people were rescued and transported to a Libyan detention centre. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said that the incident was a preventable one demonstrating “Europe’s murderous policies of non-assistance and disgraceful outsourcing of border management”. 


EU: Negotiators agree on key regulations for migration pact
The negotiations on the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum between the Spanish Presidency of the Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission reached a deal on key components of the pact on Wednesday. Agreed regulations concern a spectrum of processes including screening of ‘irregular migrants’ upon arrival in the EU, collecting biometric data, stricter border procedures, new solidarity mechanisms, and applying the concept of safe third countries. The EU authorities and representatives praised the newly reached agreement stating it “will make the European asylum system more effective and will increase the solidarity between member states”. This agreement still needs to be formally ratified and after that the EU member states have to transpose the regulations into their national legislation in order for the migration pact to be implemented. 

EU: NGOs warn of dangerous principles that new migration pact will bring
Over 50 human rights NGOs and defenders expressed deep concern over the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum stating the pact may replicate past failures, leading to a costly and inhumane system. The policies raise alarms about arbitrary immigration detention, increased racial profiling, and enabling pushbacks, and jeopardising the safety of individuals. NGOs argue that the pact contradicts existing EU initiatives on integration and action plan against racism, which would risk discriminatory practices. The open letter before the agreement urged negotiators to adopt a “dignified response rather than leading Europe in the opposite direction”. Similarly Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticised the new developments stating that the new pact will potentially curtail the rights of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. “Combined with the EU’s efforts to shift responsibility to neighboring countries like Libya, Tunisia, Turkey, and Egypt, the Migration Pact signals the bloc’s total disregard for the rights of people on the move “, writes Judith Sunderland, HRW Associate Director for Europe and Central Asia Division.

EU/Libya: EU systematically shares information with Libyan militia linked to human trafficking
An investigative report by Lighthouse reveals that EU’s border agency Frontex as well as Malta’s government are systematically sharing the coordinates of refugee boats with a Libyan militia linked to human trafficking. The militia Tareq Bin Zeyad (TBZ) is run by the son of Khalifa Haftar, who controls East Libya. The boat operated by TBZ has been involved in pullbacks of refugee boats since May 2023 and is said to have already returned more than 1,000 people to Libyan detention centres. In all analysed cases, the journalists found safer options such as merchant ships which were closer than the TBZ boat available to rescue boats in trouble. TBZ has been linked to the Russian Wagner militia. 

Europe: Refugees and migrants without shelter and resources as the winter starts
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) warns of critical humanitarian conditions for refugees and migrants entering Europe via the Balkan route who are exposed to cold winter conditions without adequate resources. Hundreds of asylum seekers that arrived in Trieste, Italy, face severe challenges due to the lack of sufficient accommodations amid a shortage of official reception facilities. In Serbia, people are residing in forests without any resources for winter survival. IRC further observed dire situations in Lesvos, Greece, highlighting limited heating and electricity access. 

Europe/ Mediterranean: The most frequented migration route to Europe in 2023
The central Mediterranean route has been the busiest migration route to Europe with 153,651 migrants and refugees arriving to Italy by 21 December since the start of the year. Arrivals peaked in August closely followed by July with 25,673 and 23,480 people reaching shores of Europe respectively. More than 2,100 deaths and disappearances were recorded out of 188,510 attempted crossings, according to the Missing Migrants Project. 

France: Stricter immigration bill adopted by French parliament
The French parliament approved a stricter immigration bill on Tuesday reducing the possibility for access to citizenship for refugees and migrants, reducing rights to social benefits as well as restrictions to the family reunification processes. The vote on the bill raised a wave of controversy as it was backed by President Macron’s centrist Renaissance party as well as far-right National Rally of Marine Le Pen. 349 members of the parliament voted in favour with 186, including a large number from Macron’s Renaissance party, voted against. 

UK: Government states need for credible Transitional Justice policy in Ethiopia
In an answer to a parliamentary question by Lord David Alton, the UK government stated that it is “appalled by the reports of gender-based violence” during the war in Tigray, following reports that between 40-50 percent of women in Tigray experienced gender-based violence. The UK calls for the “Government of Ethiopia to develop and implement an inclusive and credible Transitional Justice policy, to ensure accountability for atrocities and human rights violations including gender-based violence”. The answer specifies that the UK is helping to build up the investigative capacity of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission to “deliver justice and accountability for victims”.