Eritrean refugees living in camps in Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray region are in “desperate situation” as they struggle to access food and clean water, said the UN humanitarian agency on Friday, expressing deep alarm.
The UNHCR staff, has in recent days, managed to reach the Mai Aini and Adi Harush refugee camps for the first time in three weeks, following air strikes in and near the two sites.
“UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is deeply alarmed at the deteriorating conditions faced by Eritrean refugees in the camps in Tigray,” spokesman Boris Cheshirkov told reporters in Geneva.
“Our team found refugees scared and struggling to get enough to eat, lacking medicine and with little or no access to clean water,” the spokesman said.
“Basic services for Eritrean refugees in the two camps have been severely compromised for many months,” Cheshirkov continued.
The situation was leading to a growing number of preventable deaths, he warned, pointing to accounts from refugees that at least 20 people had died in the past six weeks due to the declining conditions.
He said the clinics in the camps had effectively been closed since early January when they ran out of medicine.
“The lack of fuel means that clean water can neither be pumped nor trucked to the camps, with refugees resorting to collecting water from streams that are rapidly drying up, leading to a severe risk of water-borne diseases,” he said.
The spokesman said extreme hunger was an increasing concern given the inability to move supplies into the region, while refugees reported having to sell their clothes and belongings for food.
“The desperate situation in these camps is a stark example of the impact of the lack of access and supplies affecting millions of displaced persons and other civilians throughout the region.
“If food, medicine, fuel and other supplies cannot be immediately brought in, and if we continue to be unable to relocate refugees out of harm’s way to where we can provide them with life-saving assistance, more refugees will die.”
Northern Ethiopia has been beset by conflict since November 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray after accusing the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, of attacks on federal army camps.
UNHCR called for a cease-fire and guarantee of safe passage that would help them voluntarily relocate the more than 25,000 refugees remaining in the camps to a new site in Dabat in the neighboring Amhara region.
“Refugees must not be held hostage to this conflict,” Cheshirkov said. (Source: Arab News)