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‘Body bags’ line St Kilda beach in protest against alleged ‘genocide’ in Ethiopia

Jan 09, 2021
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Members of Melbourne’s ethnic Tigray community have donned mock body bags during a demonstration at St Kilda Beach to raise awareness over what they say is “genocide” occurring in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

Fighting between the Ethiopian Government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) — a guerrilla movement-turned-political party that dominated the federal government for nearly three decades until 2018 — broke out in Tigray in November.

The United Nations says more than 56,000 Ethiopian refugees have since fled into neighbouring Sudan — about 45 per cent of whom are thought to be children.

“The Tigray community in Melbourne has already started to hear of families that have been lost to this senseless war,” a statement from the Tigray Community Association in Victoria said.

It estimates 80 Australians are still stranded in the region.

A man wears a black facemask with the Tigray flag reading #IStandWithTigrayA man wears a black facemask with the Tigray flag reading #IStandWithTigray
The Australian Government has expressed “deep concern” over the conflict in Tigray.(ABC News: Michael Gleeson)

However the association said it met with Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) officials on November 24 and “they had no idea how many Australians were stranded nor had an evacuation plan”.

“We contacted them on the 9th of December with no further development,” it said.

DFAT told the ABC it had been providing consular assistance to a number of Australians affected by the conflict, “including facilitating their return to Australia where requested”.

“Owing to our privacy obligations we will not comment on the circumstances of individuals,” a spokesperson said.

“Australia has expressed its deep concern to the Ethiopian Government about the conflict in the Tigray region and the humanitarian impact.

Contrary to Tigray Community Association in Victoria’s statement, the chargé d’affaires at the Ethiopian embassy in Canberra, Beryihun Degu Temesgen, recently told ABC all Australian nationals who wanted to be evacuated from Tigray had been.

The Ethiopian Government claimed victory in the conflict in early December, but the UN refugee agency and other humanitarian organisations say it is ongoing.

Dozens of Melbourne residents wear mock body bags as part of a protest at St Kilda beachDozens of Melbourne residents wear mock body bags as part of a protest at St Kilda beach
Tigrayan Australians say that the Government has not done enough to help Australians stranded in Ethiopia.(ABC News: Michael Gleeson)

A 23-year-old Australian woman recently spoke to the ABC about her experience of fleeing Tigray to London.

“We ask the Australian Government to make efforts to evacuate its citizens from the region,” the Tigray Community Association in Victoria added.

“[We] urge the Ethiopian Government for an immediate cessation of hostilities, allow for humanitarian assistance to be delivered to those in need, and to conduct all-inclusive political negotiations between political parties.”

Protests by ethnic Tigrayans took place elsewhere in Australia on Friday, including in Perth.

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Play Video. Duration: 2 minutes 8 secondsPlay Video. Duration: 2 minutes 8 seconds

Tigrayan Australians fear for the safety of family members in Ethiopia.

General says Eritrean forces are in Ethiopia

The protests were held as a senior Ethiopian military official confirmed the presence of troops from neighbouring Eritrea in the Tigray region, contradicting repeated denials from the Ethiopian Government.

Tigray refugees who fled the conflict in Ethiopia wait on a bus transporting themTigray refugees who fled the conflict in Ethiopia wait on a bus transporting them
The UN says almost half of those who have fled Ethiopia into Sudan are children.(AP: Nariman El-Mofty)

“We don’t want it; we personally feel as a defence force, it is our country,” Major General Belay Seyoum, head of the Ethiopian Army’s northern command, was quoted by the Addis Standard newspaper as saying.

“We know the problems that are being raised, it’s painful, but who let them in?” he said in translated remarks.

“My conscience does not allow me to say, ‘Eritrean Army come and help us!’ We can solve our own problems on our own and we do not lack the capacity to solve them.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending a conflict with Eritrea that lasted two decades.

In early November 2020, however, he ordered airstrikes on Ethiopia’s own soil against the TPLF, which the Government considers a rebel junta.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed responds to questions from members of parliamentEthiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed responds to questions from members of parliament
Ethnic violence is a major challenge for Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.(AP: Mulugeta Ayene)

Critics have expressed concern over Mr Abiy’s increasingly oppressive rule, which has included the frequent detention of journalists.

A report from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission recently concluded Ethiopian security forces killed 75 people and injured a further 200 amid protests in June and July last year in the wake of the killing of a popular singer.

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