Deal will allow UN aid into region of 6 million that has been cut off since fighting broke out a month ago.
The United Nations says it has signed a deal with Ethiopia's government that will allow it “unimpeded” humanitarian access to the embattled Tigray region, at least the parts now under federal government control.
This will allow the first aid into the region of 6 million people that has been cut off during fighting that began a month ago between the federal and Tigray regional governments. Each regards the other as illegal in a power struggle that has been months in the making.
For weeks, the UN and others have pleaded for aid access amid reports of food, medicines and other supplies running out.
Now those needs have exploded, but Abiy has resisted international pressure for dialogue and de-escalation, saying his government will not “negotiate our sovereignty”.
His government regards the Tigray regional government, which dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition for more than a quarter-century, as illegitimate after months of growing friction as he sought to centralise power.
Amid the warring sides’ claims and counter-claims, one thing is clear: civilians have suffered.
Urgent access is needed to reach Eritrean refugees in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) December 2, 2020
UNHCR strongly reiterates its call for safety and security of refugees. https://t.co/pthNiiAkHS pic.twitter.com/KqwQT2ifoh
Region in dire need
The UN says food has run out for the nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea whose camps close to the Tigray border with Eritrea have been in the line of fire as the fighting swept through.
Reports that some refugees have been killed or abducted, if true, “would be major violations of international norms”, the UN refugee chief said over the weekend in an urgent appeal to Abiy.
With infrastructure damaged, the UN has said some people in Tigray are now drinking untreated water, increasing the risk of diseases.
In northern Ethiopia’s largest hospital in the Tigray capital of Mekelle, staff had to suspend other activities to focus on treating the large number of wounded from the conflict, and body bags have run out, the International Committee for the Red Cross says.
The ICRC, the rare organisation to travel inside the Tigray region and its borderlands, has reported coming across abandoned communities and camps of displaced people.
No one knows the true toll of the fighting. Human rights and humanitarian groups have reported several hundred people killed, including civilians, but many more are feared.
READ MORE: Ethiopia's needless war
Inside Tigray, and among the majority ethnic Tigrayan refugees in Sudan, people are exhausted.
“The world hasn’t seen anything like this year. I have never seen anything like this,” said one refugee who gave his name as Danyo, standing on the edge of a river that people on Tuesday were crossing to seek safety.
“When Dr Abiy came, we saw him as a good thing,” he said. “Our hopes were fulfilled, because his talk in the beginning was as sweet as honey, but now the honey has gone sour.”