The Regional Refugee Preparedness and Response Plan addresses the new refugee emergency triggered as a result of the crisis in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.
After several months of growing political tensions, the situation in Tigray escalated on 4 November when the Office of the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of an unprovoked attack on the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) Northern Command. In response the Prime Minister announced a military offensive, termed a Rule of Law Operation, against the TPLF in Tigray. A six months state of emergency was declared, and electricity, telephone and internet services were subsequently shut down in the Tigray region. On 28 November, the Government of Ethiopia declared the military operations in Tigray to be over. However, armed clashes and violence have continued to be reported.
Prior to the crisis, the population in the Tigray region of Ethiopia included some 96,000 registered Eritrean refugees, approximately 100,000 Ethiopian internally displaced persons (IDPs), and some 500,000 people dependent on food relief assistance. In addition, 1 million people received safety net assistance.
The conflict in the Tigray region in Ethiopia has led to immediate and large-scale forced displacement across the border into East Sudan. The refugee influx to East Sudan started on 9 November with 146 Ethiopians arriving through two border entry points. Since then the movement dramatically increased with thousands of refugees crossing into Kassala and Gedaref States. In an effort to prevent further escalation of the conflict, the African Union and several other third parties have offered mediation. There has been continued strong advocacy by the UN system with the highest levels of the Ethiopian Government to seek unhindered and safe humanitarian access to refugees and other populations in need. An agreement was signed at the end of November 2020 between the UN and the Government of Ethiopia on access in government-controlled areas. However, insecurity has continued in the Tigray region and the operalization of the agreement is still ongoing.
Six weeks into the conflict, with fuel and other supplies having run out, the humanitarian situation has become extremely dire and is likely to trigger increased forced displacement within and across borders. The high number of COVID-19 cases and food insecurity before the crisis, as well as the disruption in medical services in Tigray since the start of the conflict, all have implications for the health needs of the refugees arriving in East Sudan. Ertirean refugees who are dependent on humanitarian assistance have faced severe food shortages. Unlike the host population, most of them do not have the right to work and also do not have the option to relocate to other parts of the country. Given the nature of the conflict they are at risk of being further discriminated, and even targeted by armed groups.
A further deterioration of the crisis will also have implications for the wider region of East and Horn of Africa.
In addition to the emergency refugee response in East Sudan, the operations in Djibouti and Eritrea are on high alert and are upscaling contingency planning and prepositioning of supplies. The complexity of the situation within Ethiopia, communication disruptions, the magnitude of the refugee flows, the remoteness of the locations where refugees are arriving or may arrive, and the limited infrastructure in most of the border regions compound the challenges in addressing this growing humanitarian crisis.