Eritrean refugees seek protection during the Tigray War

Eritrean refugees seek protection during the Tigray War

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Eritrean refugees staged a protest outside the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) office in the capital Addis Ababa, demanding the transfer of thousands of refugees from camps in the war-torn region of Tigray.
About 300 protesters blocked a road leading to the UNHCR office, holding up signs reading “Stop the abuses against Eritrean refugees” and “Protect the rights of refugees”.

They also demanded basic humanitarian assistance from the United Nations agency and its Ethiopian counterpart – the Agency for Refugees and Returnees (ARRA) – for thousands of refugees who fled the war zone to the Ethiopia.

“We want the world to know that the Eritrean refugees are suffering in Ethiopia,” Miku Digaffe, one of the rally organizers, told Al Jazeera, “We feel neglected and forgotten.”

Many of the protesters are coming from the Hitsats and Shimbella refugee camps, which housed more than 30,000 refugees, but were closed in February after being attacked following an armed rebellion in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

Thousands of Eritrean refugees have been displaced due to the rebellion since January, many have moved to the two surviving camps in Tigray, Mai Aini and Adi Harush, while others have chosen to return to their countries of origin, Eritrea.

About 300 protesters blocked a road leading to UNHCR offices [Tiksa Negeri/Reuters]

During the rally, Al Jazeera protesters said massive atrocities of looting, murder and sexual assault had been committed against refugees in Hitsats and Shimbella camps under rebel control Tigrian Defense Force (TDF) .

“My mother was killed by the Tigray militia as we were fleeing the camp,” Anbesa Wubaselassie, 25, told Al Jazeera through an interpreter.

“There was a day when we buried 10 refugees in one day who were shot,” said another protester, Mitiku, who fled the Hitsats camp.

In total, more than a million people have been displaced in Tigray since November 2020, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government deployed federal forces to the region after accusing the Tigrayan leadership of attacking a military base.

Both sides have been accused of committing atrocities as thousands have been killed in the worst conflict since Abiy became prime minister in 2018.

Weeks after the outbreak of war in November, Prime Minister Ahmed declared victory when government forces captured Tigray’s capital, Mekele.

But last month, TDF forces recaptured the capital and launched a new offensive aimed at regaining control of western and southern Tigray, drawing in other areas including Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest region. .

UNHCR has reported that aid agencies have not been able to access camps currently under TDF control since July 14. [Tiksa Negeri/Reuters]

Concerns are now growing over the safety and well-being of thousands of Eritrean refugees in the two remaining camps of Mai Aini and Adi Harush as new fighting erupted last month.

The UN refugee agency said aid agencies had not been able to gain access to the two camps currently under TDF control since July 14.

UNHCR said this week that conditions for refugees in Tigray have become increasingly difficult, with around 24,000 Eritrean refugees trapped in Tigray’s two camps.

In a statement released last week, ARRA said it was working to establish a new camp in the northern Gondar area of ​​neighboring Amahara region for refugees fleeing conflict areas. However, the situation is deteriorating and continues to be a matter of serious concern, according to the statement.

While the fate of the refugees who remain in Tigray remains unknown, those who fled still struggle to survive.

The UN has said the war will affect around 55,000 Eritrean refugees hosted in the Afar region bordering Tigray.

“We no longer feel safe here. The war and its trauma made Ethiopia a safe place for Eritrean refugees. We want to be transferred to another country, ”Anbesa said.


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