GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency is warning that thousands of Eritrean refugees in northern Ethiopia’s conflict-ridden Tigray province are in desperate need of aid and protection. The agency is renewing its appeal to the government for access to the refugees.
Before the start of Ethiopia’s military offensive in Tigray in early November, the U.N. refugee agency cared for some 96,000 Eritrean refugees in four camps. Since then, the agency has lost control of the camps and of its ability to provide essential aid to the refugees.
Since early January, Ethiopia has granted U.N. and private agencies limited access to two camps in southern Tigray. The World Food Program reports it has been able to provide 26,000 residents of the camp with emergency food rations and nutrition assistance, but it says much more food and nonfood aid is needed.
The situation is particularly grave for refugees in northern Tigray. U.N officials say two camps caught in the crossfire of the conflict have suffered severe destruction to infrastructure and damage. Thousands of Eritrean refugees subsequently fled for safety from the camps.
UNHCR spokesman, Babar Baloch says some 4,000 Eritreans headed for Mai Aini camp in the south of Tigray. He says U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi met some of those refugees on a visit to the camp earlier last week. Baloch says the refugees told the high commissioner about their traumatic experiences and fears for the future.
“Some said they had resorted to eating leaves because there was no other food available. They also spoke about infiltration of armed actors in the camps, of killings, abductions and also some forced return to Eritrea at the hands of Eritreans forces present in the area,” he said.
The UNHCR estimates 15,000 to 20,000 refugees fled the two northern camps and are dispersed in areas where it has no access. The agency says many are in grave danger and need life-saving humanitarian assistance and protection. It says full access must be granted now to aid agencies to prevent an already dire situation from becoming worse.
A recent report from the U.N. office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs warns of a looming humanitarian disaster. It estimates more than 2.3 million people throughout conflict-ridden Tigray need immediate life-saving assistance.