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Grave humanitarian situation in Tigray

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Over 100 days after the outbreak of the conflict in the Tigray region in Ethiopia, the humanitarian situation remains grave.

‘The civilian population affected by the conflict in Tigray must be given protection and lifesaving humanitarian assistance,’ said Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at least 520 000 people have been internally displaced in Tigray as a result of the conflict. In addition, 61 000 have fled to Sudan. The UN estimates that at least 4.5 million people are in urgent need of protection and humanitarian assistance. The situation for refugees and internally displaced people is critical. UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock has warned that there is a risk of widespread famine in the region if humanitarian aid does not get through to Tigray.

See also: Remarks at the UN Security Council High-Level Open Debate on Conflict-Driven Hunger

‘The Norwegian Government has contributed more than NOK 100 million to the humanitarian response to this crisis so far. The support is being used to provide help to internally displaced people and others who are in need in Tigray, and to refugees who have crossed the border into Sudan,’ said Ms Eriksen Søreide.

Norwegian aid is being channelled through the Norwegian Refugee Council, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Save the Children Norway, Norwegian Church Aid, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). This support comes in addition to Norway’s increased funding to the World Food Programme (WFP) and UNHCR in 2021 to address the enormous global challenges associated with famine and displacement.

Despite the distribution of more emergency humanitarian aid to certain areas over the past weeks, access is still a great problem. Many humanitarian actors report that there are major bureaucratic obstacles, and that it is extremely time-consuming to obtain the necessary permits from the authorities. Permits have primarily been granted for access to areas controlled by the Ethiopian Armed Forces. This has made it extremely difficult to provide emergency supplies, equipment and personnel to the people who need them the most.

‘It is worrying that it is still so difficult to gain safe and unimpeded humanitarian access in Tigray. Norway works actively to promote access for humanitarian organisations to all people in need of humanitarian protection and assistance. I have brought this up directly with the Ethiopian Government, most recently in talks with Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Demeke Mekonnen on 26 February. I have also discussed the gravity of the situation with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the leaders of the ICRC, UNHCR and WFP. In addition, I am in close contact with EU Special Envoy to Sudan and Ethiopia Pekka Haavisto,’ said Ms Eriksen Søreide.

At the start of the conflict, the shutdown of the internet and telecommunications network made it difficult to get an overview of the situation. Access to information has improved somewhat in recent weeks. As more information has emerged, there are increasing reports of violations of international humanitarian law, human rights violations, and violence and abuse. These reports are grounds for serious concern.

‘Norway expects all parties to fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians. This includes ensuring that victims of conflict receive help in accordance with humanitarian principles. This was also our message when the conflict in Tigray was discussed in the UN Security Council for the fourth time on 4 March. In talks with the Ethiopian Government, I have expressed deep concern about reports of human rights violations, including Amnesty International’s report of the massacre in Axum. It is essential that an independent enquiry is carried out and that the perpetrators are brought to justice,’ said Ms Eriksen Søreide.