The UN says food has now run out of nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees who have taken refuge in camps in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, which has been cut off from the world for almost a month during fighting.
“Concerns are growing by the hour,” UN refugee spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday. “The camps have now run out of food – making hunger and malnutrition a real danger, a warning we have issued since the conflict began almost a month ago. We are also concerned about unconfirmed reports of attacks, abductions and forced recruitment in the refugee camps. ”
On Wednesday, it is one month since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that fighting had broken out in the Tigray region between federal and regional forces, as each government now considers the other illegal due to a dispute over holding elections during the pandemic.
Communication and transport connections to 6 million people in the Tigray region have been cut off, and the UN and others have appealed for access to food, medicine and other necessities.
Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, has rejected the idea of dialogue with the regional leaders in Tigray, who are on the run but say they will continue to fight even after Abiy declared victory in the deadly conflict over the weekend.
Under growing international pressure, Abiy said on Monday that “my message to the friends of Ethiopia is that we may be poor but we are not a country that will negotiate our sovereignty. Threatening Ethiopia with coins does not work. ”
The Ethiopian government has said it will create and manage a “humanitarian corridor” for aid delivery, but the UN wants access that is neutral, unhindered and immediate.
UN: Two million in Tigray need help
The UN has said that about 2 million people in Tigray now need help – a doubling of the number before the fighting – and about 1 million people have been displaced, including more than 45,000 Ethiopians who have fled to Sudan as refugees.
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The 96,000 Eritrean refugees are in a particularly precarious situation. They are in camps in Ethiopia near the border with their homeland, Eritrea, where they fled, and reports have emerged that some have been attacked or abducted. The UN refugee chief has warned that, if true, such actions would “be major violations of international standards.”
Eritrea has been virtually silent as Tigray’s leaders accuse it of joining the conflict at Ethiopia’s request, which Abiy’s government has denied.
About 1,000 of the Eritrean refugees have arrived in the regional capital of Tigray, Mekele, looking for food and other assistance, the International Committee of the Red Cross said over the weekend.
“For almost two decades, Ethiopia has been a hospitable country for Eritrean refugees, but now we fear they will be caught in the conflict,” Baloch said. “The UNHCR calls on the Ethiopian Government to continue to fulfill its responsibility to receive and protect Eritrean refugees and to allow humanitarian access to people who are now in dire need.
In Mekele, which the Ethiopian military has said is under “complete control” following its offensive last week, “aid workers report that people have been forced to rely on untreated water to survive the damage and destruction of water infrastructure,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. for reporters on Monday: “Our humanitarian colleagues also warn of the importance of the immediate restoration of necessary supplies and services in Mekele and across the Tigray region.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed the need in a telephone conversation with Abiy on Sunday, Dujarric said.