Migrant crisis: Hundreds rescued from boat off Crete

Thursday, 09 March 2017 12:20 Written by

About 340 migrants have been rescued and nine bodies have been pulled from the sea after a boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, Greek officials say.

Others are thought to be missing from the boat which was found in international waters, 75 nautical miles (140km) south of Greece's Crete island.

Ships, helicopters and planes are engaged in the rescue operation.

In a separate incident, "more than 100 bodies" were recovered off the coast of Libya, the AP news agency said.

Officials have said they believe the vessel that capsized off the coast of Crete "left from Africa" though it is still not clear from where.

The local head of the International Organisation for Migration Daniel Esdras told the BBC that it was a 25-metre (82ft) boat that can typically carry at least 700 people.

Clipper Hebe ship with name visibleImage copyright Solvanger Image caption A Norwegian vessel, the Clipper Hebe has taken more than 200 of the recued migrants onboard

"With the number you can never be sure because most of the times the minors are not even counted when the captain is counting the passengers. So, God knows how many people are really on the ship. We believe around 700," he said.

More than 200 of the survivors were rescued by a Norwegian tanker ship. The Clipper Hebe has a crew of 21, and is now on its way to Italy. The CEO of the company that owns the ship, Edvin Andreason, told the BBC the Italian coastguard had not yet instructed the captain where to take the migrants.

A British container vessel, Julie C, later became involved in the rescue. It is carrying 17 rescued migrants who will later be transferred to an Egyptian patrol vessel.

Military hospitals in the north and west of Egypt have been put on standby for the migrants' arrival.

Meanwhile, the number of dead from the boat that sank off Libya's coastline has reached 107, Libyan Red Crescent spokesman Mohammed al-Mosrati said, quoted by AP.

They included 40 women and five children and are thought to have died in the past 48 hours, Mr al-Mosrati said.

They were washed up on a beach near the city of Zuwara, from which many unseaworthy boats are believed to have set out for Italy packed with migrants.

New route?

The UN said this week that more than 2,500 people had died in 2016 trying to make the journey towards Western Europe.

A recent improvement in weather conditions has led to an upsurge in the numbers of boats crossing the Mediterranean.

Migrant arrivals to Greece


arrivals by sea in 2016, up to 1 June

  • 376 died on Turkey-Greece route

  • 52,871 persons of concern in Greece

  • 856,723 arrivals in 2015

Getty Images

This marks the second time this week that migrants have had to be rescued in waters off the Greek coast. Up until now few migrants have landed on Crete, which lies north of Libya and Egypt.

Friday's incident is likely to deepen concerns about a new smuggling route, one that could bring more tragedies at sea, following the closure of the Balkan route from Greece to Turkey in March.

Until the border closure, hundreds of thousands of migrants - many of them refugees from the Syrian civil war - streamed north through Greece, heading for Germany via the Balkans.

But border controls have since been tightened, leaving many asylum seekers stranded in Greece.

The EU has also struck a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of people risking their lives on flimsy boats crossing to Greece's Aegean islands.

In the past week the focus has switched to the central Mediterranean, because of a surge in the numbers of migrants making the long, perilous voyage from Libya to Lampedusa and Sicily. Italy and its EU partners are struggling to shut down the route.

Migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, by month

Turkey launches aid campaign for drought-hit Horn of Africa and Yemen


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday confirmed that his country had launched an aid campaign to help four East African countries currently hit by an acute drought.

According to Erdogan, Turkey’s effort was aimed at helping Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, all of who are ‘‘at risk of suffering a major humanitarian crisis.’‘

‘‘We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to requests for help from those countries where the drought-related hunger has reached critical levels,’‘ he said in a tweet.

We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to requests for help from those countries where the drought-related hunger has reached critical levels.

The President urged donors to send their contributions online via the website of the Turkish Red Crescent.

All the four African countries have each admitted that the impact of the drought is weighing down on their people. Kenya’s President weeks ago declared the drought a national disaster and called for aid to help avert a crisis.

It was followed by South Sudan where a blend of political crisis and insecurity has worsened the plight of nationals fleeing fighting in parts of the country. The government declared a famine last two weeks.

Somalia’s new President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo, also recently declared the drought a ‘national disaster,’ after meeting with stakeholders. He called for international aid and asked citizens in the diaspora to also assist the government in mitigation efforts.

The Ethiopian government for its part has been distributing aid to areas hit by the drought. Addis Ababa has gone as far as send food aid to Somaliland weeks back.

Most United Nations agencies like (UNICEF, WHO, WFP etc.) and partners continue efforts to support governments in the Horn of Africa region with aid and other interventions to save the lives of children, their families and their livestock and contribute to a better future for all.


870 more migrants rescued from the Mediterranean

Saturday, 04 March 2017 12:14 Written by

870 more migrants rescued from the Mediterranean

870 more migrants were rescued on Friday from the coast of Italy by the Coast Guard and taken to port Augusta in southeastern Sicily.

These mostly African migrants especially from Somalia and Eritrea were rescued after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean.

A Somali man, who had been among those rescued, died overnight on the ship according to the Coast Guard spokesman. Several minors were also rescued during the operation.

“These people had a very difficult journey. Many of the minors are unaccompanied, including small children. Some of them are very small indeed,” Save the Children spokeswoman Giovanna Di Benedetto said at Augusta.

The rescue ship Aquarius traveled on Friday evening to Sicily according toSOSMediterranean.

Before this operation, the Italian authorities had recorded the arrival of more than 14’300 people since the beginning of January, an increase of 55% compared to 2016 and 80% compared to 2015.



GENEVA, 3 March 2017

Every week, IRIN’s team of editors takes a look at what lies ahead on our humanitarian agenda and curates a selection of some of the best reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed:

What’s coming up?

Mosul’s back (it never went away)

In case you turned away for a minute, here’s a reminder that the battle of Mosul is ongoing and that for civilians it appears to be getting much worse. The UN says an average of 4,000 people are streaming out of western districts each day – plus it estimates there are up to 750,000 more trapped inside. Supplies of food and water are said to be running low, and many people live in the tightly packed old city, where civilians Thursday werefeared dead after a mosque was hit in what witnesses say was a strike from the air. Fleeing the city is a risk too, but conditions inside are so horrific that for some it’s worth the journey. Will aid agencies be ready to meet the needs of this new wave? They have been preparing forat least six months, but we all know that's no guarantee. Next week we’ll take you there, with testimony from civilians who have walked across the desert under fire, desperately seeking safety and help.

One day the war will end

Boko Haram attacked the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri early on Friday in a triple suicide bombing. The attack comes ahead of a visit by the UN Security Council to the city, part of a tour of the four-country Lake Chad region by diplomats to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis affecting 21 million people in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

The international community had its chance to act at the Oslo humanitarian conference last month. Analysts had called for a significant donor response –see our op-ed. What got pledged was$672 millionin new money spread over three years, against an appeal target of $1.5 billion for 2017. Neither the US or British governments made even a show of opening their wallets in Oslo. In these straitened times we must be glad for any mercy, but also mindful that the 2016 appeal was for a good deal less, $739 million, and wound up being only 53 percent funded.

Behind the humanitarian crisis looms Boko Haram. Nigeria repeatedly promises the jihadists are under control. Today’s bombing in Maiduguri proves otherwise. What to do? ResearcherAtta Barkindocalls for the opening of channels of dialogue. Someday, the war will be over, and the local vigilantes that have sprung up to defend their communities will be disbanded. The International Crisis Group issounding an alarmnow, of new dangers unless care is taken over how these young men are demobilised.

EU plan to detain migrants for up to 18 months

Migration is high on the agenda, once again, at next week’s European Council meeting in Brussels. Ahead of the meeting, the European Commission issued a slew of press releases trumpeting progress on various initiatives. The one that has grabbed the most headlines is an action plan on the return of irregular migrants, including a recommendation that member states detain people awaiting removal for up to 18 months to prevent them from absconding. At a press conference on Thursday, EU home affairs commissioner Dmitris Avramopoulos made it clear children would not be exempt. The Commission also released the latestfiguresfor the EU’s relocation and resettlement scheme, revealing that just 13,546 asylum seekers have been transferred from the overwhelmed frontline states of Italy and Greece. Several countries, including Hungary and Austria, have refused to participate in the scheme, while others have accepted only a handful. Also came a third progress report on thePartnership Framework with third countries, focusing on “results” in Niger, Ethiopia, Mali, Senegal and Nigeria, and on next steps such as finalising a readmission agreement with Nigeria by June. Our reporting last month highlighted how –dodgy statistics aside– the Niger deal has successfully stemmed northward migration, albeit whiledecimating the local economy.

Discover More

Xenophobes, hungry Yemenis, and open data: The cheat sheet

Hotspots to watch

The International Crisis Group has released its annual report on the top 10 conflicts where it believes the EU should look to take action to promote peace. Some are fairly predictable (Somalia, Syria, Yemen), but others you may not even have heard of. Gold star if you can find Nagorno-Karabakh, for example, on a map. The contested region is within the borders of Azerbaijan but has an ethnic Armenian majority and Armenia also claims sovereignty. The two countries went to war from 1992 to 1994 over control of the area, buttensions have been sizzlingmuch more recently. Last April, clashes erupted again and 200 people lost their lives. Other surprises on the list include Myanmar, which has been accused of crimes against humanity in its crackdown on ethnic Rohingya, and Venezuela, which has reached such a low ebb that civil conflict has become a real possibility.

Did you miss it?

Eritrean journeys on hold

Several thousand Eritreans are thought to leave their country every month, fleeing compulsory and open-ended national service, political persecution and a failing economy. Most cross into neighbouring Ethiopia, where they are accommodated in refugee camps, but not many remain there. This new report by the Overseas Development Institute looks at how policy decisions are influencing Eritreans’ decisions to move on, often towards Europe via the irregular route to Libya and across the Mediterranean. The main finding of the report is that livelihood support programmes in Ethiopia and the slim possibility of resettlement to a third country are not enough to offset the fact that refugees there are denied the right to work. Instead, they are forced to scrape out a living that might meet their basic needs but holds no promise for the future. This reality is captured by an excellent accompanying film following the experiences of Teddy Love, an Eritrean man who escaped eight years of military service to become a popular singer in Asmara before being arrested and imprisoned. Since arriving in Ethiopia seven years ago, he has eked out a living singing in nightclubs for tips to support his two children.

Yemenis fight for survival as famine looms

After flagging up last week that Yemen is facing the largest food insecurity emergency in the world, IRIN published a two-part feature this week from rural Taiz, where children and the elderly are already dying of malnutrition. Regular contributor Iona Craig has been writing on this crisis since 2010 and has covered the country’s downward spiral from neglected humanitarian disaster to civil conflict, all-out war and economic meltdown. Her words, aided by photographs from Ahmed al-Basha, now describe the reality of a rural Yemen on the brink of famine. Skin hangs from the scrawny hands of a baby girl who can’t be nourished by her starving mother, women and children collect precious drops of water from a dying spring, a healthcare system on its knees can’t possibly cope. But these are the lucky ones. In heraccompanying story, Craig ventures into the more remote highlands and finds al-Dashin, a displacement camp where death from malnutrition is becoming a regular event. Her conclusion: “Yemenis are renowned for their unwavering resilience. This is a rural-based society, well practised at caring for its own after decades in which there has been a near-total absence of a functioning state. But there has to be a breaking point. In a remote dusty wasteland in rural Taiz, that point of collapse is startlingly tangible.”

(TOP PHOTO: Protests in Aden, Yemen. CREDIT: Iona Craig)



Yemane Mesgen eventually made it to Germany after a treacherous journey as a refugee [Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera]


Multimedia Journalist

Berlin, Germany - The most crucial decision for a person forced to flee their homeland is where to seek asylum. That is the hard lesson learned by Yemane Mesgen on his harrowing journey as arefugee.

Mesgen was born and raised inEritrea, where the government hascommitted crimes against humanity, including indefinite military or police service, according to the United Nations. In 2008, after he was recruited to be a policeman, Mesgen decided to flee his homeland. He considered going toEurope, but was afraid of the dangerous journey acrossLibyaand the Mediterranean Sea.

Instead, he choseIsraelas his destination for asylum.

The Israeli government "does not like refugees", the 28-year old Mesgen recently told Al Jazeera in the German capital. He spoke nearly fluent Hebrew, which he picked up during the seven years he lived in Israel.

Mesgen managed to safely crossSudanthrough the Sinai desert - where many Eritreans have beencaptured and tortured- and entered Israel in 2008.

Unfortunately for Mesgen, however, the Israeli government has been unwelcoming to Eritrean nationals, granting refugee status to less than one percent of arrivals.

Israel does not deport Eritreans back to their dangerous homeland because that would violate theUnited Nations Refugee Convention. Instead, Eritreans get short-term visas that must be continuously renewed, but they have no right to work or access to welfare services.

READ MORE: Meet the Eritrean refugee turned rescue volunteer

Mesgen lived in this legal limbo for seven years, getting by by working illegally in restaurants and sharing a tinyJerusalemflat with other Eritreans. Then, in 2015, Israeli authorities ordered him to reside in Holot, adetention centre for "illegal immigrants",which has the capacity to accommodate 3,000 people, without freedom of movement or the right to work.

The only other alternatives offered to Mesgen - andother Eritreans- were to return home voluntarily or leave Israel for another African nation. "I didn't want to go to Holot," Mesgen recalled. "I told them I cannot go back to my country, but I will go back toAfrica."

In July 2015, an Israeli immigration officer escorted Mesgen to Ben-Gurion international airport, handed him a one-way ticket toRwandawith a travel document for Rwandan immigration officials, and $3,500 in cash - the reward for those who exit Israel voluntarily.

The initiative was launched by the Israeli Immigration Authority in 2013 to persuade asylum seekers to leave the country. Mesgen is one of more than 14,000 asylum seekers, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, who have left Israel through the voluntary departure programme over the past three years.

Israel - a signee of the UN Refugee Convention - sends people who need protection to countries that do not protect them, in the process, forcing asylum seekers to go on dangerous smuggling routes, according to reports by international and IsraeliNGOsand interviews that Al Jazeera conducted with Eritreans who made it to Europe.

False promises

Before leaving Israel, Mesgen received a letter that the Population and Immigration Authority distributed to Eritreans in the country. The letter promised those who leave voluntarily will be granted a residence permit and the right to work in the African country where they land. But when Mesgen arrived in Rwanda, he realised those promises were empty.

He said a man who introduced himself as "John from immigration" picked him up from a restricted area in Rwanda's international airport, took away the Israeli travel document, escorted him to a villa in the capital Kigali where other Eritreans stayed, and told him not leave the premise. After two days, John told the Eritreans he would smuggle them toUgandain exchange for $250 a person.

A letter presented to refugees on arrival in Rwanda [Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera]

Mesgen's story about what happened to him in Rwanda is similar to testimonies from other Eritreans who exited Israel via the voluntary departure procedure.

Research by theInternational Refugee Rights Initiative - a non-profit organisation focusing primarily on Africa - found Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who left Israel voluntarily were sent to Rwanda and Uganda. Upon arrival, they were either encouraged to leave these countries, or live under the radar without legal status.

In the reportDeported to the Unknownby theHotline for Refugees and Migrants - a Tel-Aviv based NGO -Eritreans who left Israel voluntarily testified they were denied residence permits in Rwanda, heldcaptive fordays at a villa in Kigali, and eventually were smuggled to Uganda.

Secret agreements

The legality of Israel's voluntary departure procedure was challenged in an Israeli court in 2014. The state declared it has secret agreements with two unidentified African countries to take in Eritreans and Sudanese who leave Israel. Revealing the identity of the two African countries and details of the agreements "may harm Israel's foreign relations", according to aletterthat Israel's Prime MinisterBenjamin Nethanyausent to the court.

Al Jazeera asked Israel's Population and Immigration Authority what it does to ensure the safety of those who voluntarily exit. Spokeswoman Sabin Hadad said in an email she could not provide details because the agreements Israel has with the two unnamed African countries are confidential.

READ MORE: Eritrean refugees in Israel sent to Uganda and Rwanda

For Mesgen, the journey from Rwanda toGermanywas both dangerous and costly. He travelled on smuggling routes across Uganda and intoSouth Sudan, where he was caught and imprisoned for two months.

"The South Sudan authorities told me, 'You don't have a passport so you might be a criminal.' I told them I am not a criminal - I said I was in Israel and now I came here. They said to me you don't have a passport, you don't have any Israeli document, you don't have Eritrea passport, it is dangerous for us. We cannot let you out of the prison," Mesgen recalled.

He bribed his way out of jail and continued his treacherous journey through Sudan and Libya to the coastal city of Benghazi, where he boarded a 10-metre-long fishing boat that would take him toItaly.

"There were 600 people on board, there was no space at all, people on top of each other, very tight. There were a lot of Eritreans and Somalis and other Africans," he said. "It was, of course, very scary to board this boat, but what can I do, I had no other choice."


While the Israeli court legitimised voluntary departure, theUnited Nation High Commission on Refugeeshas been critical of its implementation.

"We are concerned and we have raised the concerns with the government of Israel because we do have information that [refugees] are not necessarily having the necessary protection safeguards," UNHCR's representative in Israel, Walpurga Englbrecht, told Al Jazeera.

Englbrecht said Israel should provide assurances that asylum seekers who leave for the African countries will indeed be granted adequate documentation, residency permits, and the ability to work. UNHCR is not against voluntary departure, but Englbrecht said the procedure is problematic "if it is not really responsibility-sharing, but more burden-shifting".

READ MORE: Calais - Eritrean refugees tell of torture and fear

Israel is not the only one to implement voluntary departure procedures -Australiaand the European Union have similar systems in place. But the fact its agreements with Rwanda and Uganda are confidential raises red-flags, saidReuven Ziegler, aresearch associateat the Refugees Studies Centre at the University of Oxford.

Ziegler said asylum seekers have a "very precarious status, if at all" in Rwanda and Uganda, do not have access toRefugee Status Determination, and find themselves having to continue their journey and seek protection elsewhere.

That is exactly what happened to Mesgen and also to Aman, a 31-year-old Eritrean who spoke to Al Jazeera in Berlin. Aman - who today has refugee status in Germany - asked that his real name not be used because his mother and sister still live in Eritrea and he fears for their safety.

No monitoring

He fled his homeland in 2008 to avoid recruitment into the military. Relying on people smugglers, Aman tried to reach Israel where he thought he would be able to get protection status. On his way, however, he was abducted in Sinai - as wereas many as 30,000 Eritreans - and held captive for 35 days until his family paid ransom for his release. Aman said he was tortured and beaten, and pointed to a broken front tooth as one of the consequences of that horrific experience.

In Israel, he never received refugee status and had to renew his visa every fours months. He managed to find work illegally as a kitchen cleaner, and made enough money to survive - even enough to send to his mother in Eritrea.

"In Israel, I felt stress … I had some work but not freedom," Aman said. "There's no democracy in Israel."

In April 2014, after he was summoned to the Holot Detention Centre for Illegal Immigrants, he agreed to voluntarily leave the country. He said on his flight out of Israel 39 other Eritreans were with him, none ended up staying in Rwanda.

Israel does not monitor what happens to the Eritreans and Sudanese who land in Rwanda and Uganda, according to Sigal Rozen, public policy coordinator at theHotline for Refugees and Migrantsand author of theDeported to the Unknownreport.

"All the 47 interviewees that we managed to locate ... were not asked to provide phone numbers or addresses to the Israeli authorities, and, of course, they had no contact with the Israeli authorities after they left," Rozen said.

The majority of Eritreans plan to smuggle their way intoEthiopiaand try to survive there, while some head on the dangerous route through Sudan and Libya for Italy, with the hope of finding refuge in Europe.

"We receive a lot of calls and emails from worried relatives around the world - and also in Israel - about people who left and disappeared," Rozen said.

Captured by ISIL

Aman said five Eritreans aboard his flight out of Israel tried to make it to Europe but were captured and killed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group in Libya. He pulled out his phone and played an online video byISIL, known as ISIS - showing preparations for beheadings - and identified two people he knew being led to their deaths.

While Aman did not fall into ISIL's hands, he faced significant danger and uncertainty. Similar to Mesgen's story, Aman said when he landed in Kigali he was sent to a nearby hotel and two days later was smuggled out of Rwanda to Uganda.

From there, he tried to reach South Sudan, but was caught by border guards who did not let him leave until he surrendered all the money he had left from the $3,500 that Israeli authorities handed him when he left. They let him keep $50 and told him to go away.

"I didn't have clothes, I didn't have a bag, nothing," Aman said.

WATCH: Identity of 'smuggler' extradited to Italy questioned

His younger brother was in Israel at the time, but now also lives in Germany. He sent Aman some money to Juba, capital of South Sudan. After collecting the cash, Aman travelled to Khartoum, Sudan's capital, where he met his wife who he had not seen in six years.

She is an Eritrean who had been living in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. The couple made their way through Libya - where they again were captured and forced to pay ransom - and then across the Mediterranean Sea on an overcrowded smugglers' boat with hundreds of other people from various countries.

No data is available on how many asylum seekers who left Israel voluntarily made it to Europe. However, it is well documented that more than 10,000 peoplediedin the Mediterranean Sea over the past three years trying to reach its shores.

Since 2008, about 123,000 Eritreans have applied for asylum in the European Union, mostly in Germany andSweden.

The lucky ones

Aman and his wife arrived in Germany in October 2014. He said the journey from Rwanda to Germany cost $11,000, which was spent on official bribes and smuggler payments.

Mesgen - who was aboard a smuggling boat that was lost at sea for 48 hours before being rescued by the Italian navy - managed to reach Germany in September 2015. He said he paid $10,000 for a similar trip.

Both men were eager to tell their stories because they know many Eritreans still in Israel and wanted to raise awareness about the consequences of the voluntary departure programme. Aman and Mesgen emphasised how fortunate they were to survive.

There are 29,367 Eritreans still in Israel, according to the latest data published by the Israeli Immigration and Population Authority. As of last December, there were 1,860 Eritreans and Sudanese living in the Holot Detention Centre for Illegal Immigrants, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

In Germany,Aman's and Mesgen's asylum applications were reviewed within months, and they were granted refugee status with all itssocial and economic rights. Throughout the EU, about 93 percent of Eritrean asylum applicants are granted some form of protection. 

Aman and Mesgen are currently full-time students at a state-funded language school, and both recently became fathers for the first time. Aman and his family live in the centre of Berlin, while Mesgen, his wife - also an Eritrean refugee - and toddler have a two-room flat on the southern outskirts of the German capital.

The rent for both their apartments is covered by Germany's welfare system, and each family gets a monthly allowance of about 1,000 euros ($1,050).

"I am happy to be here," Mesgen said recently outside a Berlin church that serves a community of Eritrean refugees every Sunday morning. "Here it is good, thank God. I'm lucky."


ByTom Gardner

ADDIS ABABA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A ban on Eritrean refugees working in Ethiopia is hampering efforts to reduce illegal “secondary” migration, with tens of thousands risking violence and drowning in pursuit of a better life, the Overseas Development Institute said on Thursday.

"Ethiopia is a vital country of asylum, offering the prospect of freedom and security," said the British think tank, but it added: "Refugees are not allowed to work in Ethiopia, making it hard to build a future in the country."

Hence, it said, most Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopian camps wanted to escape to a third country in the hope of winning work, security and a settled life.

About 5,000 refugees flee Eritrea each month to escape poverty, political persecution and the prospect of potentially indefinite military conscription.

Some 155,207 currently live in neighboring Ethiopia, home to nearly a million refugees - the second largest refugee population in Africa - thanks to its open-door asylum policy.

But in 2014, 84 percent of Eritreans interviewed in Ethiopia said they planned on‘moving to another country’, while around two-thirds pursued so-called secondary migration in 2015, according to Amnesty International.

"People tend to give life a go in neighboring places – Sudan, Ethiopia – and only turn to options further afield once they realize those situations aren’t tenable in practice," Richard Mallett, one of the report's authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Many are then destined for Europe, undeterred by increasingly restrictive immigration policies, with Eritreans forming the fifth largest group of irregular arrivals on European shores in 2016.

Most crossed from Libya, the most dangerous route over the Mediterranean, exposed to violence, torture by smugglers, and the deadly risk of the sea itself, according to a report by Medicins Sans Frontieres published last month.

According to the ODI report, those who embark on the often perilous onwards journey from the Horn of Africa do so despite the promise of comparative freedom and security in Ethiopia, and the livelihood support policies, such as loan and training programs, offered by NGOs there.

Because Eritreans are prevented from legally accessing the Ethiopian labor market -- in contravention of the right-to-work enshrined in the 1951 Geneva Convention -- any skills and capital they acquire through such programs cannot be put to full use, the report said, causing frustration and hopelessness.

Under Ethiopian law, refugees are prevented from engaging in formal employment, regardless of whether they live in camps or cities, though some find casual labor or bend the rules.

The evidence suggests that many people will be more inclined to stay in Ethiopia if refugee labor rights are enhanced, the report said, since informal work is often insecure, badly paid, and exploitative. For women it can mean prostitution.

The World Bank, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and other international organizations have highlighted the success of nearby countries, such as Uganda, which offer refugees extensive employment rights.

It said Ethiopia’s refugee policies were counterproductive.

“The support that is being provided by such programs is for the most part overshadowed by refugees’ lack of access to decent work – work that is reliable, adequately paid and that draws on their skills,” the report said.

(Reporting by Tom Gardner. Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)





This was revealed in a UN report


Flag of Nigeria

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has raised an alarm that refugees and migrants, many of them Nigerians, are taking more “diversified and dangerous journeys” to cross rough seas.
The UNHCR Director of Europe Bureau, Vincent Cochetel, while releasing a new report: “Desperate Journeys,” on Monday in New York, said the migrants and refugees are relying on people-smugglers or using flimsy boats to cross rough seas to Europe.
Cochetel said increased border restrictions and lack of accessible legal ways to reach Europe have caused more desperation among refugees and migrants.
He said: “About 90 per cent of them travelled by boat from Libya, and the top two nationalities of those arriving were Nigerians (21 per cent) and Eritreans (11 per cent).
“This route is particularly dangerous and in 2016 more deaths were recorded at sea than ever before.
“Furthermore, children making this journey are especially vulnerable, and the number of unaccompanied and separated children arriving is increasing.
“Last year more than 25,000 came, representing 14 per cent of all new arrivals in Italy.
“Their number more than doubled compared to the previous year.”
Cochetel explained that the “closure” of the Western Balkan route and the EU-Turkey decision in March 2016, caused a drastic decrease in the number of people reaching Greece via the Eastern Mediterranean route.
He said: “This report clearly shows that the lack of accessible and safe pathways leads refugees and migrants to take enormous risks while attempting to reach Europe, including those simply trying to join family members.
“However, since then, the Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy becomes the primary entry point to Europe and arrival trends in Italy show that the primary nationalities who crossed to Greece had not switched in significant numbers to the Central Mediterranean route.
“In addition to drowning, migrants and refugees also risk being kidnapped, held against their will for several days, physical and sexual abuse, torture and extortion by smugglers and criminal gangs at several points along key routes.”
The UN refugee agency pointed out that in 2016, some 181,436 arrived in Italy by sea in need of international protection, and also victims of trafficking and migrants seeking better lives.
The report also showed that in the last part of 2016, more people reached the continent through the Western Mediterranean route, either by crossing the sea to Spain from Morocco and Algeria, or by entering the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta.
Similarly, people continued to leave Turkey along the Eastern Mediterranean route from April onwards, but in much smaller numbers, it said.
Cochetel explained that most crossed the sea to Greece or Cyprus, others also crossed via land into the country or into Bulgaria.
He said: “Most who arrived by sea to Greece (87 per cent) came from the top ten refugee producing countries.
“This was also the case for those who continued to move along the Western Balkans route: in Serbia, for instance, 82 per cent of those who arrived came from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and almost half are children – 20 per cent of those unaccompanied.”
Cochetel said these numbers, however, have reduced since April 2016.
He said the study revealed that tens of thousands of people also have been reportedly pushed back by border authorities in Europe, including in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Serbia, Spain and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The UNHCR also regretted that there were many cases of alleged violence and abuses in an apparent efforts to deter further entry attempts.



ByJames Pearson

North Korea is evading international sanctions with a sophisticated network of overseas companies, enabled partly by its continued access to the international banking system, says a forthcoming United Nations report seen by Reuters.

North Korea is under heavy U.N. sanctions and a strict arms embargo designed to impede the development of its banned nuclear and missile programmes. The U.N. panel of experts, which produced the 100-page draft report, was created to investigate reported infringements of those sanctions.

“Designated entities and banks have continued to operate in the sanctioned environment by using agents who are highly experienced and well trained in moving money, people and goods, including arms and related materiel, across borders,” the report says.

U.N. member states should “exercise heightened vigilance” over North Korean diplomats engaged in commercial activities, it says, because some may be providing financial support to illegal networks.

North Korea "is flouting sanctions through trade in prohibited goods, with evasion techniques that are increasing in scale, scope and sophistication," the report says.

It details a previously unknown interdiction of North Korean-made military communications equipment destined for Eritrea in July last year.

The interdiction was the second time North Korean military equipment bound for Eritrea had been intercepted, indicating an ongoing arms trade between the two countries, the report said.

The seized equipment, part of an air shipment, included 45 boxes of battlefield radios and accessories, the report says. 

The radios were manufactured by a Malaysia-based front company called “Glocom”, which is controlled by the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the sanctioned North Korean intelligence agency tasked with overseas operations and weapons procurement, the report says.


The report identifies two North Korean trading companies which, according to an unidentified U.N. member state, are linked to sanctioned entities, including the Reconnaissance General Bureau.

The report also outlines North Korea’s use of the financial system to pay for its sanctioned operations.

“Behind these illicit activities is the continued access of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the international banking system,” the report says, using North Korea’s official title.

“Despite strengthened financial sanctions in 2016, the country’s networks are adapting by using greater ingenuity in accessing formal banking channels,” the report said.

In cases where financial access is more restricted, North Korean agents use bulk cash and gold to circumvent the financial system entirely, and at times use foreign citizens as middlemen and facilitators.

The report says North Korea continues to export banned minerals despite last year's sanctions putting a cap on coal exports, a key source of hard currency for the state’s nuclear and missile programmes. 

China has said it would ban coal imports from North Korea until the end of the year. On Thursday, North Korea issued a rare reproach of China, its main diplomatic backer, over the ban.

The U.N. report says enforcement of sanctions against North Korea "remains insufficient and highly inconsistent" and calls for additional measures to address shortcomings.

(Reporting By James Pearson; Editing by Bill Tarrant)


Eritrean refugees in Sudan – held ransom

Tuesday, 28 February 2017 12:16 Written by

by Martin Plaut

It could have been a tragedy: six Eritreans were arrested by the Sudanese police and threatened with deportation back to Eritrea (or what is termed ‘refoulment’ by the United Nations refugee agency.)

The six were in a dire condition, having only just managed to escape from people traffickers. The two women and four men had walked for three days when they were picked up by police on Saturday in an area 2 - 25 kilometres from Khartoum.

At this point they were told they would be taken to court, which was likely to return them to Eritrea, from which they had just escaped. The group would have faced arrest, indefinite detention and possible torture if they were returned.

Thanks to the rapid intervention of lawyers the six were released after paying a fine of 1,200 Sudanese pounds. This is a great deal of money, nearly $US 200 at the official rate of exchange.

Human rights activists say the Sudanese police regard the Eritreans as a source of income. But for the impoverished Eritrean community the strain of collecting and paying these fines is unbearable. And there are reports of another four Eritreans being held in another prison.