The UN refugee agency warns about 24,000 Eritrean refugees trapped in two camps in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray province are in great danger as fighting among armed groups escalates.
Concerns are growing for the safety and wellbeing of thousands of Eritrean refugees in Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps as fighting intensifies in Tigray’s Mai Tsebri area.
The UN refugee agency reports aid agencies have been unable to access the camps since July 14. It says conditions for the refugees have become increasingly dire and worrisome since then.
UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch says members of armed groups have infiltrated the camps. He says the Eritreans are living in constant fear. He says they are facing intimidation and harassment and are cut off from humanitarian assistance.
"We have received disturbing and credible reports in recent days from Mai Aini camp that at least one refugee was killed by armed elements operating inside the camp," Baloch said. "The latest death is in addition to the killing of another refugee on 14 July."
Baloch says he does not know which of the armed groups is responsible for the killings. However, his agency, he says, has received credible reports that people with guns are operating inside the two refugee camps.
He says the UNHCR has been appealing to the local authorities and the Ethiopian refugee agency to provide safety for the refugees and to grant aid agencies access to the camps. He notes the Eritrean refugees have been without humanitarian assistance for the last two weeks.
"Trapped refugees need urgent life-saving assistance," Baloch said. "Clean drinking water is running out, no healthcare services are available, and hunger is a real danger. The last food distribution to both refugee camps was done in late June, which provided them rations for just one month.
Baloch says recent armed clashes in Afar region to the east of Tigray have displaced thousands of people, among them about 55,000 Eritrean refugees. He says concerns for their safety also are growing as armed confrontations are taking place near where the refugees live.