The Ethiopian authorities must allow unfettered international humanitarian aid to reach refugee camps in Tigray state, Amnesty International said today, amid warnings from the United Nations of a potential food shortage in the region.
Since the conflict in northern Ethiopia began on 4 November, access to Tigray has been severely restricted due to ongoing military action, a communications blackout, and the suspension of civilian flights to airports in the region.
Amnesty International is also calling for the protection of tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees in several camps across Tigray, as well as unfettered access for human rights monitors as the security situation continues to deteriorate.
"We are on the brink of a humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia, and the federal authorities there are making the situation worse," said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.
"International humanitarian aid and access for human rights monitors, including into refugee camps, must be allowed to prevent further death and misery. The Ethiopian government must also restore phone and internet communication across the whole region, to allow for the coordination of aid to help people in desperate need."
There are an estimated 96,000 refugees from Eritrea hosted in the Tigray region. Amnesty International has confirmed that thousands of Eritrean refugees have fled those camps, and arrived at the city of Gondar in the Amhara region, as well as in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
According to the UN, there are also an estimated 100,000 internally displaced people in the region since the conflict began, as well as 850,000 people who were already in need of humanitarian assistance before the conflict began. In recent weeks, more than 50,000 people have fled from Tigray into neighbouring Sudan, with many recounting horrific stories of violence to media.
In recent weeks, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned of medical supplies running out at hospitals in the region, and the UN Human Rights Commissioner has described an "exceedingly worrying and volatile situation" that is in danger of escalating.
Risks to humanitarian workers
Amnesty International is also concerned that the lives of humanitarian workers are at risk in the region, following confirmation that four aid workers have been killed since the conflict began. Last month, three Danish Refugee Council security guards were killed, and a member of staff of the International Rescue Committee also died in the Hitsats refugee camp. The circumstances of their death, and who was responsible, remains unknown.
On 7 December, a vehicle carrying UN security staff was shot at by members of the Ethiopian security forces close to the Shimelba refugee camp in Tigray. On 9 December, a government spokesperson said the vehicle was shot at because it was travelling to the area without appropriate clearance from the Ethiopian government, and also claimed the vehicle had failed to stop at two security checkpoints.
"These attacks are abhorrent. Aid workers must be respected and protected by all parties to the conflict, as required by international humanitarian law. Deliberately attacking those providing humanitarian assistance can constitute a war crime. The Ethiopian authorities must order their forces to stop targeting humanitarian workers - and the facilities in which they work - while conducting military action in the region," said Deprose Muchena.
On 4 November 2020, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) - backed by special forces and Militia - to militarily engage with the Tigray Regional Paramilitary Police and militia loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), in what he stated was a response to multiple attacks by the Tigray security forces on the ENDF North Command base in Mekelle and other military camps in Tigray Region.
Last month, Amnesty International called for the protection of civilians during the Mekelle offensive, after documenting the massacre that left hundreds of civilians dead in Mai-Kadra, in western Tigray.