In a development that the United Nations called ‘disturbing’, Ethiopia said in recent days that it is returning thousands of refugees who fled camps in its Tigray region as the war raged, loading them on buses to return to the country. border area with Eritrea, the country of origin of the refugees. The news came when the United States said it believed Eritrean troops to be active in Ethiopia, calling it a ‘serious development’.
A State Department spokesman in an e-mail cited credible reports and said “we urge that any such troops be withdrawn immediately.” The rare testimonies tell of horrific violence. The Eritrean dictator, Isaias Afewerki, allegedly asked the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed Ali, for the forced repatriation of the 96,000 refugees present in Tigray. The repatriation operations are carried out jointly by the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies. Most of the refugees are young people who have escaped from compulsory military service. All men and women who have come of age must carry out military service lasting 20 years in Eritrea.
When Isaias became weak after the war with Ethiopia, compulsory military service became an excellent tool for controlling the population and for quelling any kind of political opposition that somehow might one day arise. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said that “in the last month we have received an overwhelming number of worrying reports of Eritrean refugees in Tigray being killed, kidnapped and forcibly returned to Eritrea. If confirmed, these actions would constitute a serious violation of international law ”, adding that his agency met some refugees in the capital, Addis Ababa, and again urged unhindered humanitarian access to Tigray.
Words that reveal the impotence of the United Nations. After suffering an attack on a humanitarian convoy carried out by Ethiopian federal soldiers to avoid leaks (the humanitarians had met Eritrean soldiers), the UN Secretary General, in a desperate attempt to gain access to the population in need of aid, had declared that he did not there was evidence of the presence of Eritrean soldiers in northern Ethiopia. Useless diplomatic somersault, as the presence of the Eritreans (already noticed by the UN convoy) was revealed by the United States, embarrassing the United Nations.
Abiy continues to block access to Tigray for humanitarians. Only the International Red Cross was able to access it, but under close military surveillance. Access to humanitarians is denied as the mass deportation of around 96,000 Eritrean refugees based in Tigray is underway. Confirmation also comes from UNHCR. “We received alarming messages from Eritreans living abroad and when we looked at them, we found that several hundred refugees had been loaded onto buses this morning to be repatriated to the Tigray region,” the UN refugee agency reported.
Prior to the deportation, the 96,000 refugees had no access to food or other supplies for nearly a month. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it was “extremely concerned” about the forced return of refugees and denied its involvement, saying that Ethiopia has taken over one of its transit centers in the capital, Addis Ababa. on December 3. Thousands of Eritrean refugees fled to Addis Ababa and the capital of Tigray, Mekele, to escape deportation. Ethiopia said their “unregulated movement” makes it difficult to ensure their safety. While the government continues to prevent journalists and humanitarians from accessing Tigray, new reports of crimes emerge every day.
The Danish Refugee Council reported that three staff members working as guards at a project site were killed last month. Three other humanitarians serving the International Rescuee Committee were reportedly killed, two were expatriates. Tigray remains largely isolated from the world five weeks after fighting broke out between the governments of Ethiopia and that of Tigray following the months-long power struggle. Governments see each other as illegitimate after months of friction that began when Abiy took office in 2018, marginalizing the once dominant Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Thousands of people are thought to have been killed in the fighting that began on November 4, and have threatened to destabilize the Horn of Africa.
The federal government continues to refuse access to humanitarians for the need to hide the crimes committed, the foreign troops and the fact that the TPLF is far from being defeated and the fighting continues. “Suggestions that humanitarian assistance is hampered due to active military combat in several cities and surrounding areas within the Tigray region is untrue and undermines the critical work undertaken by the national defense forces to stabilize the region,” the Prime Minister’s office said, noting only “sporadic shootings”. “Every day we don’t have access to is a lost day. Every day we don’t have access is a day that increases the suffering of civilians, ”UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
The Addis Ababa government says it is responsible for ensuring the security of aid, although the conflict and related ethnic tensions have left many Tigrayans wary of government forces. Under the pretext of guaranteeing security, the Army will manage the humanitarian intervention with all the risks that the situation entails. Among the risks: transforming humanitarian aid into a weapon of war by giving it only to those who accept the domination of the central government.
While 96,000 Eritrean refugees will disappear (perhaps forever) without a trace, forced to return to their homeland for “just punishment”, the Ethiopian government informs that the Eritrean refugee camps are under the full control of the Army, adding that the delivery of food is in progress.
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