For months, Ethiopians in Australia have been living in fear for the country as a humanitarian crisis driven by continuing armed conflict continues to ravage the Tigray region.
- The UN describes the humanitarian crisis in Tigray as “dire”
- There have been reports of bombings and mass killings
- Australian Ethiopians are trying to raise awareness of the issue
And those fears are widely supported by reports of mass killings, bombings and widespread communication blackouts.
Now many are taking matters into their own hands, raising awareness about the issue and calling for urgent action.
Protests across Australia and the world kicked off on Friday as people pledged solidarity with victims of the ethnic-based violence.
Fanna Tedla’s parents fled Ethiopia before she was born, and while the 27-year-old may be living about 10,000 kilometres from their home country, she feels devastated by the crisis affecting the lives of millions of people.
“I just don’t feel Ethiopian anymore with what’s happening to my people in Tigray [which is both a state and ethnic group in Ethiopia] at the moment,” she said.
“It’s just really hard to identify with being Ethiopian when my people are essentially going through a genocide right now and being silenced.”
The conflict was sparked when the Ethiopian government, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, began military operations in Tigray in what he said was a response to an attack on a federal military base by the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The TPLF led a coalition which formerly ruled Ethiopia for three decades before Mr Abiy came into power in 2018.
The crisis has raised questions about the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister’s ability to hold the country’s divided ethnic groups together.
Refugees forced to flee
The United Nations has described the crisis in Tigray as “a dire humanitarian situation”.
The UN has highlighted the lack of access people have to essential services, as well as the urgent need for shelter, food, water, sanitation and hygiene.
Estimates on the number of people who have been displaced vary greatly, with the numbers ranging from 222,000 to more than 2 million.
The UN says tens of thousands of Ethiopian refugees have fled the country, with many crossing into Sudan.
As Australia’s Ethiopian community anxiously monitors the situation, many have grave fears for their relatives back home.
“We just don’t know if our families are dead or alive, so it’s like we don’t know if we can mourn or just continue our days normally,” said Ms Tedla.
She said communication lines had been restored to Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, in recent weeks but contacting family anywhere outside that area had been impossible.
“It’s so disturbing, especially when we’re getting reports of massacres happening in our villages or towns, and not knowing whether or not our families are part of the people that have passed away,” she said.
“It’s hard to go on with your day-to-day life without knowing if your family is alive.”
Ms Tedla said recent events brought back memories of the trauma her parents faced when they fled the region more than 30 years ago during a similar ethnic conflict.
“A lot of us, all we want to do is send money home, give them food, make sure they’re okay, but it’s just something we can’t do right now, all we can do is help from a distance from what we do online and campaigns are running, but it doesn’t feel like enough,” she said.
Perth protest organiser, 33-year-old Araya Abera — who was born in Tigray — said he was more determined than ever to be a voice for the voiceless.
“There’s a genocide that’s happening in Ethiopia, in Tigray at the moment, it shouldn’t be ignored,” he said.
“A lot of lives are lost, this is not a political movement, this is a humanitarian movement,” he said.
Professor Atakelty Haliu, an academic at the University of Western Australia who is originally from Tigray, believes it is vital the issue gains international attention.
“This is happening in the 21st century … if you asked me two years or one year ago if this could happen in Ethiopia I never thought it could happen,” he said.
“Journalists have been reporting what’s happening but the UN needs to go beyond urging, beyond expressing concern and if it has an agreement with the Ethiopian government for access to Tigray, it should have it.
“The world is just watching and talking, but you don’t stop wars by talking … the world has to take concrete steps.”