Humanitarian crisis builds in The Horn

Wednesday, November 18th, 2020 00:00 |
Ethiopian refugees who fled fighting in Tigray province lie in a hut at the Um Rakuba camp in Sudan’s eastern Gedaref province. Sudan, one of the world’s poorest countries, now faces massive influx of refugees. Photo/AFP

Geneva, Tuesday

The two-week long conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region is developing into a “full-scale humanitarian crisis”, the UN has said.

At least 27,000 people have so far fled to neighbouring Sudan, and the UN says its teams there are overwhelmed.

Fighting broke out after Ethiopia’s government accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls Tigray, of treason.

The TPLF sees the federal government as illegitimate. The conflict has also reportedly killed hundreds, but getting information from the Tigray is hard as there is a virtual communications blackout.

The UN fears the numbers fleeing Ethiopia may be just a fraction of those forced from their homes by the fighting, but for the moment aid agencies have no access to the Tigray region.

Regional powers Kenya and Uganda have called for negotiations to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The Ethiopian government has however ruled out sitting down for talks with the TPLF who it sees as a “clique” intent on destroying the country’s constitutional order.

On Tuesday Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the military operation in Tigray was entering its “final phase”, adding that a three-day ultimatum given to armed groups in Tigray to surrender had expired.

The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, said that “a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding” and thousands were fleeing the ongoing fighting in Tigray region.

The agency was “on stand-by to provide assistance in Tigray when access and security allow” spokesman Babar Baloch told a Geneva news briefing.

“There may be massive displacement inside Tigray and that is of course a concern and we try to prepare the best way possible,” Jens Laerke, spokesman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told the briefing.

In a Facebook post he thanked TPLF fighters who took advantage of the three-day deadline to switch sides but he did not give the number of those who did.

He said that his government “is ready to receive and reintegrate our fellow Ethiopians fleeing to neighbouring countries”.

Abiy also led Ethiopians in a moment to thank the federal troops who are taking part in the Tigray operation.

His Twitter account shared pictures of the event:

Ethiopia’s leader has warned that “the final and crucial” military operation will soon be launched against the government of the country’s rebellious northern Tigray region.

Abiy Ahmed  on Tuesday a three-day deadline to surrender had expired, paving the way for a final push on Mekelle, the region’s capital. 

“The three-day ultimatum given to Tigray Special Forces and the militia to surrender to the national defence … ended today,” Abiy said in a statement posted on Facebook. “The final critical act of law enforcement will be done in the coming days.” - AFP

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