The armed conflict which began late 3 November 2020 in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, and the subsequent military offensive ordered by the Ethiopian Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopian Defense Forces (EDF) against the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), continues unabated. After the Ethiopian Parliament voted to dissolve the Government of the Tigray region on 7 November, the Prime Minister publicly appointed Dr. Mulu Nega as the Chief Executive of the Provisional Administration of Tigray National Regional State on 13 November.
On the same day, the TPLF Spokesperson, Getachew Reda, indicated in a statement that the TPLF would launch missile attacks into Eritrea. That night, rocket fire hit both Bahir Dar and Gondar airports in Amhara region neighbouring Tigray, for which the TPLF publicly took responsibility. On 14 November, the Eritrean capital Asmara was reportedly hit by rocket fire, for which the TPLF also took responsibility.
The UN Human Rights Commissioner, Michele Bachelet, noted increasing alarm at the Tigray situation in a statement on 13 November, she commented that there was “a risk this situation will spiral totally out of control, leading to heavy casualties and destruction, as well as mass displacement within Ethiopia itself and across borders”. The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock also released a statement on 17 November calling for “full access to reach people in need wherever they are; safe passage for civilians seeking assistance; and the security of aid workers”.
It is feared the number of those internally displaced inside Tigray from the fighting is growing daily, with limited comprehensive information on numbers or casualties. At the same time, over 27,000 Ethiopians have sought safety in Eastern Sudan from Ethiopia, with numbers of refugees expected to rise while the conflict continues.
Ethiopia is home to 178,315 Eritrean refugees across the country, equal to 22% of the total refugee population in Ethiopia of 796,437. There are 96,223 Eritrean refugees in Tigray, sheltered mainly in four refugee camps in the North Eastern part of the Tigray Region. Shimelba (population 8,702), Mai-Aini (21,682), Adi-Harush (32,167) and Hitsats (25,248) camps were established between 2004 and 2013. There are 8,424 refugees residing in the Tigray Region benefitting from the Government’s Out of Camp Policy allowing refugees to live in communities rather than being restricted to camps. Recent reports indicate there are some 2,000 Eritrean asylum seekers currently stranded at the border with Eritrea. The remaining Eritrean refugees outside Tigray, 82,092, live predominately in the next-door region of Afar (approximately 54,000) and in the capital Addis Ababa (approximately 28,000). Before the onset of the conflict, Tigray also counted 100,000 Internally displaced persons among the population. UNHCR has a Sub-Office in Shire and two Field Offices: in Embamadre (in proximity to the two camps of Mai-Aini and Adi-Harush) and Mekelle, and satellite offices in Shimelba and Hitsats camps. There is also a UNHCR Registration centre at Endabaguna, in central Shire. At the time of writing, critical staff are in Shire, Mekelle and Semera in Afar region.