The situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region is worsening as fighting between Tigray’s People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and government troops continues, with no end in sight. Aid agencies on the ground say thousands of people have been killed in the fighting, and many more have been displaced. The International Red Cross is warning that international aid must be scaled up urgently if a major humanitarian crisis is to be averted.
Dominik Stillhart, director of the International Committee of the Red Cross told the BBC the people in Tigray were in dire straits, having lost their harvest. He said there were also huge problems with access to much-needed healthcare after the central government restricted access to Tigray by international aid agencies and members of the media.
The Background to the Conflict
Tigray lies to the north of Ethiopia, bordering Eritrea and Sudan. There has been heavy fighting in the region since the end of last year after the federal government seized power from the ruling TPLF, which had been in power in the Tigray region for 30 years.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner – accused the TPLF of threatening the territorial stability of Ethiopia and trying to destabilize his government. He sent troops into Tigray in November, to take back control of the region’s capital, Mekele, from the TPLF. The TPLF retaliated by seizing government-run military bases in the region. As far as the TPLF is concerned, Prime Minister Ahmed’s government is “illegitimate” and has no mandate to govern in Ethiopia.
A Humanitarian Crisis
Not surprisingly, as tensions deepen between the two entrenched parties, the crisis is escalating fast.
“The situation is uncontrollable militarily, humanely and on a humanitarian level,” Finnish Prime Minister Pekka Haavisto told the European Union following a visit to the region this month.
It has also been reported by aid agencies such as the International Red Cross and Alight and civilians that Eritrean troops forces are involved in the conflict, which is a clear sign the fighting is escalating.
Genocide and Human Rights Abuse
Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the TPLF, is urging the international community to investigate reports of genocide in the region. Mr Debretsion said there had been widespread incidents of rape, torture, mutilation, and murder; he also accused Eritrean and government troops of murdering other TPLF leaders.
Government officials from Ethiopia and Eritrea have vehemently denied Eritrean troops are involved, but there have been numerous credible reports of Eritrean troops participating in human rights abuses. Debretsion Gebremichael has also accused the UAE of sending drones for use against his fighters, but this has also been denied by the Ethiopian government.
The EU and US have called on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the federal government to allow humanitarian aid into the disputed region. Neighbouring Sudan is struggling to cope with an influx of refugees fleeing the fighting in Tigray, and as EU members have been warned, many of these refugees will try and make their way to Europe in search of a better life. There is a deepening concern that a wider conflict in Tigray could spark another mass migration crisis, as seen in 2015/16.