The medical humanitarian agency Doctors without Borders (MSF, or Medcins Sans Frontieres) is asking Ethiopia to let urgent medical supplies reach thousands of ethnic Somalis living in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region. Until late July, two MSF medical teams, from the Netherlands and Belgium, had been assisting numerous civilians, who had reported being forcibly displaced from their homes, for beatings and gunshot wounds. MSF Ethiopia operations adviser, Dr. Peter Paul de Groote says that Ethiopian authorities have prevented the physicians from bringing in supplies or conducting assessments of humanitarian needs in the area.
“At the moment, we cannot access them, so we don’t know how bad it is. We are not allowed to go back to our project, so we don’t have any means of getting our supplies back to our project as well,” he said.
The Amsterdam-based physician, who formerly served as MSF country director for numerous medical assistance projects in Ethiopia, explains that at the end of July, the Addis Ababa government had forced MSF to evacuate two of its projects from areas of the Ogaden, where civilians are caught up with armed groups after being forced to flee their homes and villages.
“We left the area for security reasons temporarily, and then we wanted to go back after a few weeks, after we had put all our things in place, and we were told by the Ethiopian government that we couldn’t go back because of security reasons. But unfortunately, they never made it public and they never put it in writing. So we never knew why they didn’t let us go back,” he said.
Dr. de Groote explained that MSF had sought and received Ethiopian government approval to set up some of its humanitarian projects in the region while conducting mobile health clinics and measles vaccination campaigns in the Wardher area of the Ogaden.
“We were just there because we wanted to start up mother and child health care because they have very limited resources available for health care. And that also was approved by the government. We had an official agreement with them, but unfortunately, they didn’t give us any permission to return,” he noted.
Upon evacuating the Ogaden, MSF staff saw villages that were abandoned or burned, and hundreds of displaced people in great need of food and medical attention.
“The people we spoke to made it clear they were told to leave their villages. Otherwise, their villages would be burned as well. What we understand is that there is not a lot of food coming in. People talk about the economic blockade, which is very difficult for us to confirm. But everyone we have been talking to has been pretty clear that for the last few months, they haven’t seen any food coming in. And they don’t have access to health care. People seem to be living in the bush or they’re living off their animals. So their situation will be deteriorating over time,” he noted.
Currently Dr. de Groote is in Washington, meeting with U.S. officials and Ethiopia’s Ambassador to the United States to explain what MSF staff have witnessed and to try to gain unhindered access to the Ogaden to restart MSF project operations.