The armed conflict which began late 3 November 2020 in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region, and the subsequent military offensive ordered by the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopian Defense Forces (EDF) against the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), continues unabated. On 7 November, the Ethiopian Parliament voted to dissolve the Government of the Tigray Region. Over the past three weeks, the conflict has also been reported across the region, more recently in the Eastern part of the region and the regional capital, Mekelle, as well as affecting the town of Shire and its environs in Northern Tigray.
On 21 November, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, in his capacity of African Union Chairperson, appointed three Special Envoys to Ethiopia to help mediate between the parties to conflict. Ethiopia, however, rejected the offer, considering it an internal law enforcement mission.
On 23 November, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia, Catherine Sozi, urged safety guarantees for aid workers, Mekelle’s more than half a million inhabitants, and their health, school and water systems. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged the parties to the conflict in Tigray to give clear and unambiguous ordersto their forces to take constant care to spare and protect the civilian population from the effect of the hostilities. The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres also released a statement, which urged the leaders of Ethiopia to do everything possible to protect civilians, uphold human rights and ensure humanitarian access for the provision of much-needed assistance.
On 22 November, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed urged the Tigray forces to surrender within 72 hours, as EDF forces advanced towards Mekelle. A few hours after the ultimatum expired, on 26 November, The Prime Minister announced the Ethiopian military would begin the “final phase” of an offensive into the Tigray Region.
It is feared the number of those internally displaced inside Tigray as well as to other regions of Ethiopia from the fighting is growing daily, with limited comprehensive information on numbers or casualties. At the same time, over 42,000 Ethiopians have sought safety in Eastern Sudan from Ethiopia, with more than 5,000 women, children and men fleeing the ongoing fighting in the Tigray Region the previous weekend alone.
Ethiopia is home to 178,315 Eritrean refugees across the country, equal to 22% of the total refugee population in Ethiopia of 796,437. As of 29 October, UNHCR had registered 96,223 Eritrean refugees in the Tigray Region, sheltered mainly in four refugee camps in the western part of the 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 also 8,424 refugees residing in the Tigray Region benefitting from the Government’s Out of Camp Policy allowing refugees to live in communities. The remaining Eritrean refugees outside Tigray live predominately in the Afar Region (approximately 54,000) and in the capital Addis Ababa (approximately 28,000). Tigray also hosted 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) before the onset of the crisis.
With a Sub-Office in Shire, UNHCR has Field Offices in Embamadre (in proximity to Mai-Aini and Adi-Harush camps) and Mekelle, and satellite offices in Shimelba and Hitsats camps. There is also a UNHCR Registration centre at Endabaguna between Shire and Embamadre.