The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR has urged Ethiopian officials to allow them access to an estimated 96,000 Eritrean refugees in the country’s northern Tigray region amid reports that people have run out of food.
Tens of thousands of refugees have previously fled neighbouring Eritrea, only to find themselves caught in the conflict between local leaders and the federal government of Ethiopia.
Over the weekend Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory and an end to the military offensive in Tigray after federal forces took control of the regional capital of Mekelle.
Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) leader Debretsion Gebremichael meanwhile said, his forces were still fighting on.
“For almost two decades Ethiopia has been a hospitable country for Eritrean refugees but now we fear they are caught in the conflict”, said the UN agency’s spokesman Babar Baloch.
“UNHCR appeals to the government of Ethiopia to continue to fulfil its responsibility in hosting and protecting Eritrean refugees and allow humanitarians to access people who are now desperately in need.”
The refugees are believed to be running low on food supplies following the month-long conflict – with some reports claiming those who had been forced to flee Eritrea are being attacked and abducted from the camps.
Baloch added: “Our extreme worry is that we hear about attacks, the fighting near the camps. We hear about abductions and forced removals, so this is very important for us to have that access to go and see what has happened over there.”
It comes as experts warn the Ethiopia’s nearly month-long war against rebellious northern forces may be transforming into a guerrilla conflict despite Addis Ababa’s declaration of victory.
Communications and transport links into the Tigray region of six million people have been severed during the conflict, while Mr. Abiy, who last year won the Nobel Peace Prize, has rejected the idea of dialogue with the Tigray regional leaders.
“There are skirmishes continuing in many parts of Tigray and we are seeing the hallmarks of the beginning of an insurgency,” said analyst Rashid Abdi.
“The terrain, geography and history suggest this will be a long, drawn-out insurgency.” (Source: Independent UK)