Compiled by Santo D. Banerjee
NEW YORK (IDN) – For the first time since mid-October, some 25,000 Eritrean refugees, sheltering in two camps in the unsettled Tigray region of Ethiopia, have received desperately needed food aid, reports UN News.
“Families, women, men, children — even new-borns — have been cut off from supplies and essential services for many weeks, so this distribution was urgently needed,” said Ann Encontre, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Representative in Ethiopia.
In coordination with federal Ethiopian authorities, a convoy of 18 trucks delivered nearly 250 metric tons of corn soya blend, grains, pulses and vegetable oil to local humanitarian partners for distribution to 13,000 Eritrean refugees in Mai Ayni camp.
Another nearly 240 metric tons of food were delivered to Adi Harush refugee camp to support 12,170 refugees there. The supplies were distributed by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), UNHCR, and Ethiopia’s Agency for Refugees and Returnee Affairs (ARRA).
Some 96,000 Eritrean refugees registered in four camps in the Tigray region, are dependent on WFP food assistance for survival, reports UN News. “The UN agencies are now working to ensure that sufficient food aid is supplied to the other camps in the region, as well as critical protection services and basic needs such as shelter.”
Against the backdrop of the armed conflict, and reports of mass killings in Tigray, concern has grown for the safety of the refugees. Since middle of November, there has been fighting between central Government soldiers and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces, and tens of thousands of people have been displaced as a result.
On December 22, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, announced that her office had received allegations of international humanitarian law and human rights law violations, including artillery strikes on populated areas, the deliberate targeting of civilians, extrajudicial killings and widespread looting.
Earlier on December 1, the UN announced that agreement has been reached with the Ethiopian Government to allow “unimpeded, sustained and secure access” for humanitarian supplies to reach those in need across areas now under its control in Tigray.
Confirming details of the deal at UN Headquarters in New York, Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said that the safe passage of aid supplies and staff also extends to the Ethiopian regions of Amhara and Afar, bordering Tigray, where fighting between federal and regional forces, has impacted hundreds of thousands amidst an overall population of six million in Tigray, during the past month of hostilities.
Until December 1, no supplies had been allowed into the conflict zone, which has displaced thousands, many across the border into Sudan.
UN humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) spokesperson based in Nairobi, Saviano Abreu, told local reporters earlier that the first mission to carry out a needs assessment would begin on December 2.
He added that the UN was committed to engaging with “all parties to the conflict” and ensuring that aid was distributed “strictly based on needs”.
Mr. Dujarric said that all aid distribution would be carried out “in compliance with the globally-agreed principles of humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality. This includes working to ensure that people impacted by the conflict are assisted without distinction of any kind other than the urgency of their needs.”
Many Ethiopians have also been internally displaced from Tigray, seeking refuge in Afar and Amhara, and the UN needs assessment would aim to reach those affected by the conflict, added Mr. Dujarric.
On November 30, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) appealed to Ethiopia for urgent access to assist around 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray camps, who it was estimated had essentially run out of food.
Spokesperson in Geneva, Babar Baloch, said concerns were growing “by the hour, with “hunger and malnutrition a real danger”.
UN News reported on December 1 that communications to the Tigray region continue to be severed, along with transportation routes, and the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has reportedly rejected dialogue with Tigray’s regional leaders who are said to be on the run, after federal forces entered the regional capital.
The UN estimated that some two million were in need of assistance in and around Tigray and some one million have been displaced by the fighting, including more than 45,000 who have fled across the border into Sudan. [IDN-InDepthNews – 31 December 2020]
Photo: The Tigray region faces some of the toughest development challenges in Ethiopia. (file photo). Credit: UNICEF/Zerihun Sewunet
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