Nearly four weeks ago, a severe conflict broke out between Ethiopian federal government, led by prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed, and Tigray People’s Liberation Front, prominent political party in northern Ethiopia. The conflict followed long-standing tensions between Ethiopian national government and the TPLF which runs Tigray regions of Ethiopia.

The present dispute began after Mr. Ahmed cancelled the Ethiopian national election due to Covid-19. TPLF paid little attention to the election cancelations and held its own regional election in September 2020 anyways. According to Tigray election organizers, TPLF won vast majority of votes and the party’s leader Debretsion Gebremichael became Tigray’s elected president.

In reaction to these developments in Tigray region, Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed declared the election illegitimate and issued arrest warrants against Mr. Gebremichael and other TPLF leaders. Eventually, things reached a boiling point when Mr. Ahmed launched a military campaign against the TPLF after the TPLF attacked federal military camps in Northern Ethiopia.

The conflict has provoked massive exodus of Ethiopians from the Tigray region. In the past month, almost 50,000 Ethiopians have fled to neighboring Sudan. Thousands of these refugees cross the Ethiopia-Sudan border in Kassala and Gedaref states every day. They tend to aggregate in rural Sudani border regions which have limited resources and are vastly unprepared to deal with the influx. The government of Sudan is trying to transport Ethiopian refugees from the South and Eastern Sudan border towards more equipped, central areas of the country, such as Um Raquba, but they are only able to transport a small proportion of refugees per day.

Source: Middle East Monitor

Furthermore, the heavy aerial bombardment in Tigray has taken many civilians victim and it has put enormous strain on Ethiopian healthcare system. Most Tigray’s hospitals have become over-crowded and vastly underprepared to treat incoming patients. According to the International Coalition of Red Cross, the main hospital in Tigray’s capital Mekelle is now “running dangerously low on sutures, antibiotics, anticoagulants, painkillers, and even gloves.” Red Cross also pointed out an insufficient number of healthcare workers. 

Equally worrying is the situation for Eritreans who frequently seek refuge in Ethiopia. These refugees typically escape to avoid political prosecution in Eritrea. According to the BBC (2020), nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees are in Tigray region at the moment, and Tigrayan refugee camps are quickly running out of food and other supplies. BBC stated that “hunger and malnutrition are now becoming the main danger in the region”. 

Source: CNN

Fortunately, there are some positive news. After a month of no humanitarian access, the Ethiopian federal government finally agreed with the UNHCR on December 2, 2020 to open up a humanitarian corridor to the Tigray region. This should elevate the current supply shortages and prevent a larger humanitarian crisis in the region.

 

 

Elbagir, N. (2020). Capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region under control of Ethiopian forces, says PM after intense bombardment. CNN. Retrieved 2 December 2020, from https://edition.cnn.com/2020/11/28/africa/ethiopia-tigray-bombardment intl/index.html. 

Ethiopia and UN ‘reach Tigray aid deal’. BBC News. (2020). Retrieved 2 December 2020, from  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-55158182. 

Hughes, D. (2020). UNHCR chief calls for support for Sudan as it hosts Ethiopia refugees. UNHCR. Retrieved 2 December 2020, from https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2020/11/5fc3dc604/unhcr-chief-calls-support sudan-hosts-ethiopia-refugees.html.