News Highlights: Ethiopia signs MoU with Somaliland, Impunity fuelling abuses in the Horn, EU increasingly relying on external solutions

In this week’s News Highlights: Ethiopia signs MoU with Somaliland causing tensions across the Horn and beyond; Al-Burhan rejects ceasefire proposal from Taqadum civilian coalition; Sudan’s Resistance committee members targeted; Humanitarian conditions worsen amidst conflict and cholera outbreak in Sudan; Urgent assistance required for drought-affected areas in Ethiopia; UN helicopter stuck in Al-Shabaab territory in Somalia; Testimonies from Eritrea’s prisons; Pro-democracy Eritreans warn about upcoming festival in Australia; Warrap State in South Sudan approves shoot-to-kill law; Impunity fuelling abuses in the Horn, states HRW; Rights of migrants and refugees being harmed in Tunisia; More legal migration necessary, says European Commission; EU increasingly turning to external solutions to migration; At least three people dead following shipwreck off Greece; Tusk states Poland will not accept relocation of asylum seekers; and Number of deaths on routes to Spain almost tripled, states NGO. 

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia/Somalia: Ethiopia signs MoU with Somaliland
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the President of Somaliland Muse Bihe Abdi have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Addis Ababa on 1 January 2024. The MoU is a framework for cooperation and partnership between Ethiopia and Somaliland. The MoU reportedly includes a pathway for Ethiopian access to the sea and leasing a military base at the Red Sea. In return, Ethiopia will reportedly work towards recognising Somaliland as independent and give Somaliland a stake in Ethiopian Airlines. The sea access would involve 20 km of sea access for Ethiopian naval forces for a period of 50 years, according to a statement by the Somaliland Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Somali government stated that the MoU violated its sovereignty as “Somaliland is part of Somalia under the Somali constitution”. The Somali government withdrew its ambassador to Ethiopia and signed a law on Saturday in order to nullify the MoU. Many international actors, including China, expressed support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia.

Ethiopia/Somalia: Tensions across the Horn in relation to MoU
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki stated Eritrea’s support for sovereignty and unity of Somalia during the bilateral meeting with Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Monday. Isaias also met with Egypt’s foreign minister yesterday. Somaliland minister of defence, Abdiqani Mohamud Ateye, resigned over the signing of the MoU with Ethiopia as he disagreed with the recent development.  Prior to the signing of  the MoU, Ateye expressed his opposition to Ethiopia’s access to the Red Sea to Somaliland president, Muse Bihi Abdi, stating it was “fundamentally inappropriate”. Ateye further added that Ethiopian  PM Abiy Ahmed seeks access to the sea without following a proper negotiation process. A large protest condemning Ethiopia’s access to the Red Sea erupted in Mogadishu on Thursday, as protesters accused Ethiopia of interfering with internal affairs of Somalia. Somali state officials were also present at the demonstration. Chief of the Ethiopian army Field Marshal Birhanu Jula and Somaliland Major General Nuh Ismael Tanimet met for a bilateral meeting in Addis Ababa in order to discuss military cooperation. Djibouti expressed concerns over the rising tensions in the Horn of Africa Region urging for respecting territorial integrity of all IGAD member states. The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), expressed concerns over the security of Ethiopian nationals living in Somalia amid rising tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia. The Joint Council of Ethiopian Political Parties expressed unanimous support for the agreement reached between Ethiopia and Somaliland. IGAD will organise an extraordinary summit next week Thursday to discuss the situation.

Sudan: Al-Burhan rejects ceasefire proposal from Taqadum civilian coalition
Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan rejected a proposal for a ceasefire made by civilian groups. This is because of the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in West Darfur and other areas of Sudan, al-Burhan states. The ceasefire deal proposed by the Taqadum civilian coalition, led by former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, was signed by RSF leader Hemedti in Addis Ababa last week Tuesday, contingent on the SAF signing the deal as well. Hemedti has been on a diplomacy tour; Kenyan President William Ruto met with RSF leader Hemedti on Wednesday last week to discuss the conflict in Sudan. The visit was condemned by Sudan’s acting foreign minister, who responded by recalling Sudan’s envoy to Kenya in protest of the official reception of Hemedti, and failing to acknowledge the abuses committed by RSF. Other stops on Hemedti’s tour included meetings with the Presidents of South Africa and Djibouti, and Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister Demeke Mekonnen. 

Sudan: Resistance committee members targeted
Members of Sudanese resistance committees are reportedly being targeted and arrested by Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) as political revenge for their past activities, according to the witnesses. Resistance committees played a role in bringing down the regime of former president Omar al-Bashir. SAF reportedly suspects the resistance committees of cooperation with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) which, according to members of committees, is a false pretence for political arrests. Resistance committees, Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) committees as well as administrative committees have been banned in River Nile state by the governor Mohamed El Badawi since Monday. Instead, they will be replaced with newly regulated steering committees. The ban of the current committees has been met with a wave of concerns amid the deteriorating human rights situation and the targeting of the civic space. In many places, committees are one of the few providers of services left in the conflict areas. Meanwhile, fierce fighting between the SAF and the RSF was reported from Khartoum and Omdurman since Monday. According to witnesses, the clashes are characterised as the most intense in a while. 

Sudan: Humanitarian conditions worsen amidst conflict and cholera outbreak
The rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Omdurman is leading to starvation, neighbourhood committees and individuals warn. The residents are suffering from the shutdown of water and electricity and extreme shortage of food, medicine and healthcare due to fighting and siege of certain neighbourhoods by RSF forces. The humanitarian situation is also worsening in other parts of Sudan, including in Darfur and Kordofan.The humanitarian response is hindered by insecurity, looting, bureaucratic hurdles, poor network and phone connectivity, lack of cash, and limited technical and humanitarian staff. Only 40% of the 2023 humanitarian plan was funded. The spread of conflict to essential agricultural areas causes further disruption to harvests. Due to the spread of conflict in Al Jazira state, the operations of the WHO have been halted temporarily. Almost 9000 suspected cases of cholera have been reported across 9 Sudanese states with 245 deaths recorded, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Sudan’s Federal Ministry of Health. The work of the WHO is hindered by “increasing violence, mass displacement, spread of diseases such as cholera, insecurity and looting”, said WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 

Ethiopia/Tigray: Urgent assistance required for drought-affected areas
91% of Tigray inhabitants are exposed to the risk of starvation, according to a statement from President of the Tigray Interim Administration, Getachew Reda. The situation is deteriorating due to the aftermath of the Tigray war, drought and locust infestations. The administration calls on the Ethiopian federal government and the international community to intervene. Urgent food assistance is required for nearly 4 million people across drought-affected areas of Afar, Amhara, Tigray, Oromia, Southern, and Southwest regions, states the Ethiopian Disaster Risk Management Commission and the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. The Ethiopian Disaster Risk Management Commission announced a comprehensive action plan to assist 6.6 million people between January and March 2024 in the areas affected by droughts. The  Tigray Education Bureau (TEB) appealed to the federal government and international community to establish a student feeding program in support of communities affected by severe drought in Tigray, which has a negative effect on the education system in the region. The hunger crisis causes a significant rise in school dropout rates. According to the assessment, 36  districts are severely affected by drought impacting 625 schools and 222,940 enrolled students. Out of 2.4 million students eligible for school enrollment, only 40% have been able to proceed with education. That is caused by starvation, ongoing displacement within the region as well as continuing migration abroad. 

Somalia: UN helicopter stuck in Al-Shabaab territory
A UN helicopter was captured by Al-Shabaab militants in Galgaduud region, Somalia, after landing in Al-Shabaab territory. A UN source states that the helicopter rotor blade may have been hit by an object. At least six out of nine passengers have reportedly been taken hostage. Unverified reports that one passenger may have been shot dead. The other two have reportedly escaped. The Somali government is preparing a rescue plan which is complicated due to the lack of access to the area where the passengers were captured. 

Eritrea: Testimonies from Eritrea’s prisons
The prison population in Eritrea has increased even further in the last three years, according to the Washington Post, due to the imprisonment of those evading the draft for the war in Tigray. Interviews with 42 people imprisoned in Eritrea, some until very recently, revealed that starvation, torture, and inhumane conditions continue to the be the norm. Prisoners are held without charges and are not allowed to see their families.

Eritrea/UK/Australia: Pro-democracy Eritreans warn about upcoming festival
Members of the pro-democracy Eritrean movement in Australia requested authorities to cancel a festival in Melbourne due to potential foreign political interference, as they report the festivals are used for propaganda and intimidation of Eritrean refugees. The event is announced to take place the coming weekend. Australian federal police and government officials met with the Eritrean community to prevent any potential violence. A pro-democracy Eritrean group announced their intent to peacefully protest outside the venue if the authorities will not cancel the event. Clashes with police broke out at a London new year’s event overseen and attended by the Eritrean embassy. Around 50 pro-democracy protesters clashed with police. According to pro-democracy Eritreans, some protesters made it into the hall where speeches were given calling on the Eritrean diaspora to prepare and raise funds for a new war with Ethiopia. The protesters disrupted the proceedings, leading to two of them being injured. The protesters say the police intervened upon them while exiting the venue, and stated the event would be ended; however, this did not happen, they state. Protesters then clashed with the police, who used tasers and tear gas.

South Sudan: Warrap State approves shoot-to-kill law
South Sudan’s Warrap State has passed a law allowing the use of lethal force against those involved in cattle raiding, revenge killings, and other crimes. The move aims to address the chronic conflicts and cattle theft that have plagued the state. The approved bill, known as the Green Book, also aims to tackle the root causes of violence, such as land disputes and competition for resources. Under the law, those convicted of cattle raiding or revenge killings will face death by firing squad, while those caught with illegal firearms will face fines and imprisonment. Human rights activists condemn the law as extrajudicial killing.

Horn of Africa: Impunity fuelling abuses, states HRW
Human Rights Watch has released its World Report 2024, highlighting the rampant wartime atrocities and humanitarian crises that have affected the Horn of Africa in 2023. The conflicts in Sudan and Ethiopia have resulted in the loss of life, destruction of property, and displacement of civilians on a massive scale. The report criticises international governments, the United Nations, and regional bodies for prioritising short-term gains over rights-driven solutions. The report emphasises the need for greater global and regional action to protect civilians and end the cycles of abuse and impunity. It also highlights the inadequate international assistance and underfunding of aid appeals in the region. The report calls for greater accountability for the governments and armed groups that have violated international law and committed serious crimes against civilians.

North Africa

Tunisia: Rights of migrants and refugees being harmed, says group
The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) has accused the Tunisian government of prioritising its own interests over the welfare of migrants and refugees, leading to serious humanitarian consequences. The FTDES states that the government is repressing migrants to ensure financial and logistical support from Europe. There have been reports of expulsions towards the Libyan border, resulting in individuals being confined in detention centres. The FTDES also criticises European governments for neglecting human rights and migrant rights in its attempt to make deals with Tunisia.


EU: More legal migration necessary, says European Commission
The European Union’s home affairs chief, Ylva Johansson, stated that legal migration to the EU must increase by 1 million people per year to compensate for the ageing workforce in the bloc. She also called for a crackdown on irregular migration, highlighting the dangerous routes that people fleeing are forced to take. Irregular migrant arrivals to the EU have decreased since the peak in 2015 but have been gradually increasing, with over 260,000 recorded last year, primarily from Africa via countries like Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus, and Malta.

EU: EU increasingly turning to external solutions to migration
In 2023, Europe has increasingly turned to external solutions to manage migration and has further curbed NGO search and rescue operations, despite shaky legal grounds, according to experts and activists. This trend is set to continue in 2024, states Al Jazeera. Deals with third countries to conduct asylum processing have been increasingly pushed as solutions, but they raise concerns about human rights standards and incur high costs without providing solutions, critics state. The EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum, which allows for fast-track processing and tougher rules, has faced criticism from NGOs as eroding international protection standards. Furthermore, the EU has struck a deal with Tunisia to prevent refugees from setting out to sea, following similar agreements with Libya, and there are plans for similar deals with Morocco, Egypt, and Sudan. However, critics argue that these strategies do not effectively deter migration or curb human smuggling. The European Union “persistently failed” to act on its human rights commitments in 2023, Human Rights Watch said Thursday. 

Greece: At least three people dead following shipwreck
At least three people have died after a migrant boat capsized near the Greek island of Lesbos on Wednesday 10 January. The Greek coast guard rescued 18 survivors and the search for any remaining missing individuals is ongoing. Reports state that as many as 16 may be missing, but strong winds are hindering the search. 

Poland: Tusk states Poland will not accept relocation of asylum seekers
Poland’s Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, stated that his country will not accept any asylum seekers relocated under the EU’s new migration pact. Tusk did not specify the practical implications of this decision but made it clear that Poland would not be part of any relocation system. Tusk’s comments came in response to claims from political opponents that he was supportive of the plan. The EU’s migration pact aims to relocate asylum seekers from the countries where most asylum seekers are arriving to other EU member states or provide solidarity payments to affected countries. Tusk referred to the pact as a “forced relocation system” that would lead to a sense of “forced solidarity.”

Spain: Number of deaths almost tripled, states NGO
Last year, 6,618 people died or went missing while trying to reach the shores of Spain, according to a report by NGO Caminando Fronteras. The figure is nearly triple that of the previous year, making 2023 the deadliest year on record since the organisation began tracking in 2007. The report attributes the steep rise in deaths to increased migration controls, which have led people to take more dangerous routes in an attempt to reach Europe. Efforts to tighten border control across the Mediterranean and coasts of countries such as Senegal and Mauritania have caused a surge in people attempting to reach the Canary Islands, one of the deadliest migration routes in the world. The report highlights a lack of resources for rescues and delayed search and rescue operations as further jeopardising people’s safety.