UN Concerned Over Dire Situation in War-Torn Tigray Region

Kamilla Sorskar Engen, Head of International Affairs

27 May 2021

Fighting between Government forces and regional groups loyal to the former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, broke out in the region in November 2020. Some areas of the region are still inaccessible, and needs are overtaking the capacity to meet them. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), most rural areas are “cut from communications and electricity.” The most heavily populated area, with around 1.8 million people, is the Central Area, which is mostly inaccessible. If access is not improved immediately, humanitarians believe the risk of severe acute malnutrition will greatly increase in the coming months. According to reports by OCHA, “The main road between Adigrat and Axum was blocked from 10 to 22 April due to hostilities, impacting several humanitarian convoys, including emergency food aid, as well as the provision of medical supplies to Axum and Adwa Hospitals.”

As for gender-based violence, the Executive Director for UNFPA, Natalia Kanem, stated that: “The situation of women and adolescent girls in Tigray and border areas of Amhara and Afar remains dire. We see alarming levels of sexual violence, and thousands of women lack access to health and protection services.”

In addition, hundreds of youths were abducted from camps for displaced people in Tigray earlier in the week – an act that was condemned by the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) agency. On 24 May, there were reported beatings, abuse, and arbitrary arrests conducted by soldiers on over 200 people following night-raids by the military on internal displacement camps. These were condemned by Catherine Sozi, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Ethiopia, who said that the sites affected, Tsehaye and Adi Wonfito in Shire town, host 12,000 internally displaced persons. The UNHCR has reportedly been in contact with Ethiopian authorities regarding the issue. UNHCR spokesperson, Babar Baloch, noted that, “The situation is traumatic and distressing, not only for the relatives of the missing, but for all the displaced communities residing in Shire. It is crucial that all parties to the conflict recognize the civilian and humanitarian character of these sites hosting displaced people”.

Sozi appealed for the release of those arbitrarily arrested from the Shire camps, and called for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law to be investigated and offenders held accountable. On May 27 she stated that, “We, along with our partners, are ready to engage with military commanders to ensure the protection of civilians.”

Read more about the situation in Tigray here: