More Eritrean migrants arrested in Kenya

Between March and June 2019, Kenyan authorities arrested 55 Eritrean migrants for attempting to enter the country irregularly and without any valid documents.

The latest arrest took place on 4 June and involved three Eritrean women who were travelling from Ethiopia to Nairobi. The female migrants told the court that they were on their way to Uganda where their parents live.

Another 44 Eritreans, including 17 women, were  arrested within the first three weeks of May this year.  The migrants were arrested crossing the Moyale area bordering Ethiopia and Kenya. Four Kenyans suspected of being behind the smuggling network were also arrested.

The short lived border re-opening between Eritrea and Ethiopia last September brought tens of thousands of Eritreans to Ethiopia. Now many Eritreans are attempting to cross the Ethiopia-Kenya border in order to reach Uganda and migrate further south. 

The current unrest in Libya and Sudan is pushing many Eritrean migrants in Ethiopia to abandon their plans to reach Europe and instead look for other ways to reach countries like Uganda which they believe are better for refugees. However the Ethiopia-Kenya route is becoming harder to cross for many Eritreans and as a result there has been an increase in people smuggling rings.  For example, in March 2019 Kenyan authorities apprehended three suspected smugglers for illegally entering the country.

Kenya and Ethiopia have been working to strengthen their border management and deter irregular migration.  In April this year, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) opened its first field office on the Ethiopia-Kenya border to enable local governments to work together to boost cross border cooperation and address irregular migration.

There are more than 900,000 and about 235,000 registered refugees in Ethiopia and Kenya respectively, according to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

Detained migrants killed in airstrike in Libya

Nearly 60 migrants were killed and more than 100 were injured in an airstrike on a migrant detention center in Libya on 3 July.

The Tajoura detention centre near the capital Tripoli housed more than 600 refugees and migrants, most of them from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia.

The United Nations has called for an independent inquiry into the attack and said it may constitute a war crime

The UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) issued a joint statement condemning the attack, “Our two organizations strongly condemn this and any attack on civilian life. We also call for an immediate end to the detention of migrants and refugees.”

At least 6,000 refugees and migrants are being held in dire conditions in Libyan detention centres without proper access to healthcare, food and clean water. More than 20 detainees have died from preventable illnesses since September 2018.  Others have been caught up in the conflict and forced to fight on the front lines.

Prince Alfani, the Libya medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders called for the urgent evacuation of refugees and migrants from Libya; “What is needed now is not empty condemnation but the urgent and immediate evacuation of all refugees and migrants held in detentions centers out of Libya.”

From January to May 2019, more than 1, 000 refugees and migrants were evacuated or re-settled out of Libya by UNHCR. However, there are still some 3,300 migrants who are still being held in several detention centres across Libya which are “considered at risk”, according to the IOM.

The ongoing conflict in Libya coupled with the Libyan coast guard efforts to prevent migrants from crossing the sea for Europe, has left thousands of African migrants stranded in the country with no safe way out. Over 3,000 refugees and migrants intercepted at sea have been returned to Libya in 2019. Those migrants that manage to escape Libya on unsafe boats are at risk of capsizing and perishing at sea due to Italy’s refusal to allow migrant ships from Libya to enter Italian ports. On 29 June, the German captain of a migrant rescue ship, carrying 42 migrants from Libya, was arrested and later released after illegally entering Italian waters.

UNHCR is calling for an end to detention for migrants and refugees in Libya.


Eritrean migrants held in dire conditions in Libyan detention centres

More than 650 refugees and migrants, including over 430 Eritreans, are being held in dire conditions in Zintan detention centre in Libya  without adequate access to food and water, according to the UN human rights office, OHCHR.

The conditions at Zintan Detention Centre amount to inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and may also amount to torture,” OHCHR spokesperson, Rupert Colville stated on 7 June during a press briefing in Geneva.

Many of the detainees are severely malnourished and locked in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Since last September, 22 migrants, including a large number of Eritreans, have died from tuberculosis and other preventable illnesses due to the lack of access to medical care, according to OHCHR.
Some Eritreans detained in the centre have spoken to several media outlets and aid organisations about the dire situation in Libya.

“A lot of people are dead within a short period. Even we are near death,” one Eritrean detainee told Al Jazeera. “We are the victims, we need a safe life, and we need our rights. For us, it is a black history. We are scared, we are suffering emotionally, psychologically.”

Another Eritrean told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “We have no room to move. We don’t do anything all day long and we talk less too. People simply pray, sleep and stare into space. That’s it. Some people have gone insane from doing nothing. They can’t sleep and start talking to themselves and going berserk. We need to tie their hands and feet,”

OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville also expressed concern over reports of migrants who have disappeared or been sold ‘to smugglers promising transit to Europe’. Colville said there is a huge difference between the number of migrants who have been intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libyan detention centres and the actual numbers in these centres.

‘The Libyan Coast Guard reported it had delivered hundreds to a facility in Al-Khoms, which is under the oversight of the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM). Of this number, more than 200 were delivered there on 23 May, but the Al-Khoms facility reported that it now has only 30 migrants present, despite 203 been taken there just a couple of weeks ago,’ said OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville.

Aid has been hampered due to the ongoing clashes in Libya,  So far, UNHCR has only been able to secure the release of some 96 migrants from Zintan detention centre. However, there are still some 3,400 migrants and refugees detained in Tripoli.


Ethiopia opens new centre to help refugees access vital services

Ethiopia Centre

Ethiopia has opened a new centre to help refugees access vital services such as registering civil events including births and marriages.

The centre, which was officially opened by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) together with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Vital Events Registration Agency (VERA) and the Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA) on 7 June, will be the first centre to serve refugees in the Bambasi refugee camp in western Ethiopia as well as the local communities. Financed by the European Union’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), similar centres will also be established in the remaining 26 refugee camps across the country to help support the integration of refugees.

The centre, also known as a ‘One-Stop-Shop’, will support refugees and the local community to file and document their civil matters and obtain important identity documentation in order to access basic services provided by the government throughout the country. More than 70,000 refugees born in Ethiopia will also have the chance to obtain their birth certificates.

UNHCR Representative in Ethiopia, Clementine Nkweta-Salami said, “The One-Stop-Shop and the services provided in it will facilitate the government’s out-of-camp policy which foresees a significant number of refugees living and working outside of refugee camps.”

In recent years, Ethiopia has granted more rights to refugees to help improve their lives and in turn, help curb migration to Europe. In January 2019, Ethiopia passed a new law giving almost 1 million refugees the right to live and work outside the camps.

UNICEF applauded the initiative. “The opening of this centre is important for refugee children in Ethiopia who will now realise their right to a birth certificate. A birth certificate is an important identity document that can protect a child from violations such as child marriage and child labour,” said Adele Khodr, UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia.

Explaining how such centres would accelerate the integration of refugees within their host communities, the Head of the ARRA Zonal Office in Assosa, Ato Amdework Yehualawork said:  “By providing services to refugees and their host communities in one centre, the One-Stop-Shops represents a good start in the ongoing drive to integrate services used by refugees and their hosts, leading to eventual inclusion of refugees into the host communities in line with the new refugee law.”

Equipped with the up-to-date digital technology, the centre will be able to issue refugee identity documents and other civil registration certificates in a very short period of time. It will also provide refugees and the local community with access to internet services. The centre is part of the vital events registration programme which was launched in October 2017.

Hosting more than 900,000 refugees, Ethiopia is committed to the Global Compact on Refugees which promotes refugee self-reliance and access to services for both refugees and local communities.

Civic Voices on the State of Eritrea

Eritrean professionals and intellectuals in December 2018 convened to discuss the implications of Eritrea and Ethiopia peace rapprochement and developments for peace in the region and specifically for Eritrea from a civil society perspective. Is this yet again just the peace between two leaders? What are the pitfalls of a “rushed peace” devoid of specifics and public participation? And what are the prospects for change in Eritrea?

Over the 6 months which followed the workshop, participants engaged in intense consultations and decided to publish their critical reflections in the paper “The State of the Nation” just a day ahead of Eritrea’s Independence Day on 24 May 2019.