As fighting continues in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the United Nations is calling for the opening of routes to four refugee camps sheltering Eritreans, who are almost fully reliant on humanitarian aid.
Ann Encontre, the UNHCR representative in Ethiopia, said she was “deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in Tigray, which is compounded by the lack of access and our current inability to bring in food and supplies to those in need, including the 100,000 Eritrean refugees in the region”.
“While it is difficult to assess the situation on the ground – we have not been able to talk to our teams for the past 48 hours – we fear that civilians, including refugees, could get caught up in the crossfire.
“We need urgent access to the four refugee camps to be able to assist,” she said.
Eritrean refugees often leave to escape mandatory, indefinite military service and repression, or search for better opportunities out of what has long been one of the world’s most isolated dictatorships.
By 2018, the UN said approximately 507,000 people – almost one-tenth of Eritrea’s population – had fled.
While Encontre said refugees live “in harmony” with northern Ethiopians – with whom they share a language and similar culture – “any breakdown of normal life puts those in camps at higher risk, particularly in an area where stocks and access to services are dwindling”.