Friday

3rd Feb 2023

Ethiopia's humanitarian crisis risks getting worse, warns UN

The UN refugee chief has warned that a humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia is at risk of spiralling if nothing is done.

Speaking to reporters on Monday (1 February), the UN high commissioner for refugees Flippo Grandi said the humanitarian situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia is "extremely grave".

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"The situation as I said is very grave, it is very urgent. Without further action it will get worse," he warned.

Grandi made the comments after visiting some of the refugee camps in Ethiopia over the weekend.

He also said a number of assurances to help those on the ground had been made by Ethiopia's prime minister, deputy prime minister, and other senior officials.

Grandi said some progress on security had been made but that isolated or scattered incidents continued to happen.

"We still have time and I guess in spite of all the suffering that has already happened to intervene now," he said.

Grandi said a big priority was gaining access to the regions affected by the conflict.

Some 16 UN agencies and 25 NGOs have applied. But so far only provisions are being allowed through and are being stored in warehouses in Tigray's capital city Mekelle.

"The aid is stored. The priority now is to get enough personnel on the ground to distribute it with sufficient control, jointly by the government and the UN," he said.

He said Ethiopia's deputy prime minister had discussed the need to create a "more efficient clearance system" to ensure distribution.

Grandi had also spoken to Eritrean refugees, many caught up in the cross fire of a conflict that kicked off last November. The Eritreans are found in four refugee camps in Ethiopia.

Hitsats and Shimelba camps were among the worst affected, he said, noting refugees had been traumatised with many fleeing the fighting. Similar fears of more violence were made by those in Mai- Ayni and Adi Harush, he said.

He said other Ethiopian refugees had been cut off from support and assistance for several weeks and had resorted to eating leaves.

"They also spoke of infiltration of armed actors in the camp, of killings, abductions and also some forced return to Eritrea at the hands of Eritrean forces present in the area," he said.

He said up to 20,000 Eritrean refugees had dispersed from the Hitsats and Shimelba camps. The plan is to get them back.

"The prime minister told me he understood very well this important priority that we he would personally follow up to ensure that this would happen," noted Grandi.

The other plan is to scale up Mai- Ayni and Adi Harush camps so that they can accommodate more people. Some 96,000 Eritrean refugees are in the Tigray region.

Grandi said a deep fear and anxiety had settled in among all Eritrean refugees throughout the country.

"The prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the minster of peace told me that the commitment of Ethiopia to protect Eritrean refugees continues to be undiminished," he said.

Grandi noted that the number of Ethiopian refugees in Sudan is also increasing.

"That number by the way has now exceed 60,000 refugees," he said.

"Most of them, I have to tell you, most of them told me they wanted to return to Ethiopia fairly quickly," he said.

Aside from the logistics, Grandi said the Ethiopian government needs to conduct an investigation in full transparency into the abuses reported during the conflict.

"This investigation needs to be as impartial and credible as possible," he said.

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