The United States called on all parties of the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia to halt attacks on refugees as the humanitarian crisis worsens.
"We are deeply concerned about credible reports of attacks by military forces affiliated with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Tigrayan militias against Eritrean refugees in the Tigray region," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said, according to Reuters. "We call on all armed actors in Tigray to stop attacks and intimidation against Eritrean refugees and all refugees, asylum seekers and people displaced by the ongoing violence, as well as against the aid workers attempting to respond to the humanitarian disaster."
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Babar Baloch said Tuesday that 24,000 Eritrean refugees living in two separate refugee camps are facing violence and intimidation in an area cut off from humanitarian assistance. These people are in the same situation as an estimated 1.9 million internally displaced Tigrayans, who have been displaced over the current conflict, according to an analysis of the humanitarian situation.
The war in Tigray began in November of last year, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched an invasion of the Tigray region in an effort to overthrow the ruling TPLF, which he had accused of attacking federal army bases in the region, according to Al Jazeera.
The Ethiopian National Defense Force was joined in the assault by former adversary Eritrea, known as the "North Korea of Africa," according to Daniel Haile of National Interest. Despite initial gains, the TPLF turned the tide in June in "Operation Alula," when the Tigrayan rebels routed both armies and retook the majority of Tigray.
Following the defeat, Abiy withdrew his forces from most of the region and declared a unilateral ceasefire on June 28, claiming it was for humanitarian reasons. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield echoed the sentiments of many international observers when she declared that the so-called humanitarian ceasefire was actually a siege. The Ethiopian and Eritrean governments are accused of cutting off all humanitarian aid to Tigray in an attempt to strangle the region into submission.
At the start of the conflict, the Ethiopian government imposed a complete communications blackout in Tigray, cutting off internet access and all other telecommunications, making it difficult for journalists and observers to get a full picture of what is going on, according to Al Jazeera. Despite the blackout, 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy's forces have been accused of a litany of human rights abuses, including massacres, ethnic cleansing, mass rape, the seizing or diversion of humanitarian aid, and more.
A scathing in-depth report examining the humanitarian situation in Tigray, published on July 8 and compiled by researchers from Ghent University, painted a bleak picture. The paper, which was posted to researchgate.com, documented 245 massacres since November, most of them committed by Ethiopian and Eritrean government forces. The number of "fully documented" civilian fatalities is about 3,000, although the total number of deaths is expected to be far higher, despite Abiy's claim that during the height of the fighting in November, "not a single civilian was killed."
A joint press release by Tigrayan opposition parties claimed in February that the true number of deaths was 53,000, according to the Eritrea Hub.
The current siege phase of the conflict has led to a new crisis, as the Tigrayan people are denied food and vital humanitarian aid, the report documenting the humanitarian situation found. A senior Tigrayan activist reported that cutting off aid to Tigray is part of a wider strategy to starve the rebellious region into submission. "The military have a clear intention, sometimes speak it out loudly, to starve the public to punish them and then to make the TDF [rebels] surrender," he said.
On Tuesday, the head of the U.N. World Food Program, David Beasley, declared that the organization's food aid to Tigray will run out this week. Many of its aid trucks are "stuck," as they rely on a single road that serves as the only route into Tigray, which has recently come under attack, according to PBS. Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers routinely confiscate or redirect the humanitarian aid to use for their own purposes. Local humanitarian nongovernmental organizations that are needed to disperse the aid have been largely dismantled by the government, eyewitnesses told researchers.
The U.N.-aligned Integrated Food Security Phase Classification's Famine Review Committee found that 400,000 Tigrayans are currently at a "high risk" of experiencing a famine, while 4 million others face the possibility as well. The disruption of farming due to the fighting and manpower requirements of the rebels means that most Tigrayans are unable to cultivate their fields. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 5.2 million Tigrayans are in dire need of humanitarian aid.
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Original Author: Brady Knox