“Refugees are not and should never be a target”, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on Thursday, following reports of a deadly airstrike on the Mai Aini refugee camp in Tigray, northern Ethiopia.
While UN refugee agency, UNHCR, continues to gather and corroborate details on yesterday’s attack that left three Eritrean refugees dead – two of them children – and four others injured, Mr. Grandi reiterated UNHCR’s call for all parties to the conflict to “respect the rights of all civilians, including refugees”.
“Refugee settlements must always be protected”, in line with international legal obligations that apply to all who take up arms, he said, offering his thoughts and deepest sympathies to the loved ones of those killed.
Fighting, looting, destruction
Meanwhile, the wider humanitarian crisis that has wracked Ethiopia, since hostilities began between Government forces and fighters of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in November 2020, continues.
Some 5.2 million people currently need help in the northern regions of Tigray, Amhara and Afar.
Amidst allegations of widespread human rights abuses, thousands are feared killed as more than two million have been forced to flee their homes.
And over the past few months, killings, looting and destruction of health centres and farming infrastructure, including irrigation systems that are vital to production, have caused humanitarian needs to surge.
UN humanitarians report that the situation in the northern part of the country remains unpredictable and volatile.
“In Tigray, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate, with tensions restricting the movement of humanitarian supplies along the only available route from Semera to Abala to Mekelle. No trucks carrying humanitarian supplies have been able to enter Tigray since 15 December”, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told journalists on Thursday in New York.
© WFP/Claire NevillA young child is screened for malnutrition at a food distribution site in Tigray, northern Ethiopia.
Deliveries held up
Since 12 July, only 1,338 trucks have entered Tigray, which is less than 12 per cent of those required. Around 100 trucks must be admitted every day to meet the humanitarian need of people in Tigray.
As of 3 January, UN partners who have been distributing food in the region have only around 10,000 litres of fuel left, while at least 60,000 litres are needed to dispatch the limited food supplies that are currently available in Mekelle.
“Several UN and non-Governmental organizations will be forced to cease operations if humanitarian supplies, fuel and cash are not delivered to Tigray very soon”, warned Mr. Dujarric.
People in need
UN humanitarian staff have reported that people continue to be displaced, including from Afar, Amhara, and the Western Zone of Tigray.
“People are also returning, along with those people needing food, water, sanitation and shelter”, said the UN Spokesperson. “Our partners continue to work with authorities to ensure that the returns are well planned, voluntary and dignified and that returnees have adequate support”.
Meanwhile, despite challenges, aid organizations continue to provide critical assistance.
In Amhara, more than 33,000 people received shelter and other aid during the past week, which Mr. Dujarric said brings the total number of people helped to 586,000.
However, while food distribution continues across the north, it remains well below the require levels.
“We urgently call on all parties to allow unimpeded and sustained access to people in Tigray, Amhara and Afar”, concluded the UN official.