Since early November, a full-scale humanitarian crisis has been unfolding in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. More than 46,000 people have sought refuge in neighboring Sudan and another 1.7 million have been displaced from their homes but remain inside the region. The vast majority are undertaking perilous journeys to reach safety, carrying just a few of their belongings with them.
When did the crisis in the Tigray region start?
The armed conflict broke out on November 4, 2020 between the federal government and regional forces, driving thousands of people to flee their homes - more than half of them women and children. Most people travelled with nothing, and many are without adequate shelter. More than 5.5 million people are threatened by hunger.
People in the region have endured seven months of conflict with limited basic services and assistance available, leading to a significant escalation in humanitarian needs. The security situation remains volatile especially in rural areas, constraining humanitarian actors on the ground. Basic services have gradually resumed in parts of Tigray, however electricity and banking services remain intermittent.
The Ethiopian government announced a state of emergency in Tigray and called for a unilateral ceasefire in the region, however the ceasefire has not been accepted by all parties.
Who is most affected by the crisis in the Tigray region?
The Tigray region in Northern Ethiopia is home to approximately 6.5 million people, the majority of them farmers who were at the peak of the harvest season when the conflict sparked. Over the past months, they have been forced to cross the border to Sudan to escape violence and another 1.7 million people have been displaced inside the country.
Before the conflict erupted in the Tigray region in November 2020, there were 96,223 Eritrean refugees being sheltered in four refugee camps in the Tigray region (Mai Aini, Adi Harush, Shimelba and Hitsats). As of May 2021, a total of 8,359 at-risk Eritrean refugees have been relocated to Mai Aini and Adi Harush, safer camps in the southern region where they are been provided with emergency shelter, core relief items and food upon arrival.
Where are Ethiopian refugees fleeing to?
At the onset of the crisis, hundreds of Ethiopians were crossing the Sudanese border on a daily basis—mainly through Hamdayet border point in Kassala state—with new arrivals far outpacing infrastructure needs. For example, the transit center at Hamdayet had the capacity to host just 300 refugees and received more than 20,000 people.
In support of the Government of Sudan’s response to the ongoing influx of refugees from Ethiopia’s Tigray region to eastern Sudan, UNHCR, partners, and other UN agencies set up a new refugee settlement in Tunaydbah-Gedaref State in January 2021. More than 18,000 Ethiopians are now being sheltered in Tunaydbah settlement, nearly 1,200 of whom are separated or unaccompanied children.
What are the major challenges refugees face?
Lack of access to basic services and humanitarian aid deliveries are some of the top priorities in the Tigray region, with many of the rural areas inaccessible and several urban locations not reachable for several weeks at a time. Armed conflict and arbitrary denial of access by armed forces remains the main access impediment.
Additionally, many people in Tigray remain cut-off from communications and electricity, which has impeded their access to health services and water supply.
How is the UN Refugee Agency helping in Ethiopia’s Tigray region?
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is working with government authorities and local partners to provide lifesaving assistance to the thousands of women, children and men from Tigray arriving in other regions of Ethiopia and neighboring countries in search of safety. Shelter, food and water as well as other relief items - including blankets, sleeping mats, solar lamps, mosquito nets and plastic sheeting are being distributed.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, information campaigns on COVID-19 prevention, health screening of new arrivals as well as the distribution of soap and face masks have taken place.
UNHCR and partners, together with refugee representatives and leaders from the Kunama ethnic group, are exploring solutions to address the learning needs of children from the Tigray region. UNHCR is working with partners to advocate for a system that allows for the children to attend school, removing barriers related to differences in languages and curriculum.
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