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UN report on Tigray conflict warns millions need aid and COVID crisis is looming

Jan 10, 2021
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Fighting is still going on in several parts of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region and almost 2.3 million people — nearly half of the population — need aid, according to a UN report.

Many of the hospitals in Tigray have been struck by artillery during the two months of fighting, according to the first humanitarian assessment of the devastation.

Aid and desperately needed supplies have begun arriving in the region, but the UN report warns of a looming coronavirus crisis.

“The interruption of COVID-19 surveillance and control activities for over a month in the region, coupled with mass displacements and overcrowded conditions in displacement settings, is feared to have facilitated massive community transmission of the pandemic,” it said.

Refugees who fled conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region wait to receive aid at a camp in SudanRefugees who fled conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region wait to receive aid at a camp in Sudan
People who have fled Tigray have told of homes being looted and burnt.(AP: Nariman El-Mofty)

It said only five out of 40 hospitals in Tigray were physically accessible, with another four reachable by mobile networks.

Health facilities in the major cities that were partially functioning had “limited to no stock of supplies and [an] absence of health workers”.

The UN and rights groups have long emphasised that intentional attacks on hospitals are war crimes.

The assessment did not say who fired at hospitals.

It said food supplies in Tigray were very limited, looting was widespread and insecurity remained high.

The findings in the humanitarian report stem from two missions conducted at the end of December by the UN and other agencies.

The report said the humanitarian situation was dire and two out of four refugee camps in Tigray remained inaccessible.

European Union calls for unrestricted humanitarian access

Ethiopia’s own estimates of people in need of aid are even higher than the UN’s figures.

The UN said 950,000 people needed aid before the conflict and another 1.3 million would now need help.

The government-run Tigray Emergency Coordination Centre estimated more than 4.5 million people needed emergency food assistance, including 2.2 million people who had been forced to flee their homes in Tigray.

People lie in mock body bags on grass next to St Kilda beach as part of a protestPeople lie in mock body bags on grass next to St Kilda beach as part of a protest
Members of Melbourne’s Tigray community lie in mock body bags to protest against the conflict in Ethiopia.(ABC News: Michael Gleeson)

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

Federal government troops are fighting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a political party that was governing the province.

The Ethiopian Government declared victory in late November though the TPLF vowed to fight on.

Ethiopia’s National Defence Force this week said four senior TPLF members had been killed and nine arrested.

The state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation said Sebhat Nega, a founding member of the TPLF, had also been captured.

The whereabouts of TPFL leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, other members of the party’s central committee and many high-ranking former military officers remain unknown.

The scale of the damage has been largely unknown while Ethiopian forces pursue and clash with those of the now-fugitive Tigray regional leaders, with the involvement of troops from neighbouring Eritrea.

Transportation and communications links were severed.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said he had spoken with Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Demeke Mekonnen, “and conveyed the EU’s alarm over the situation in Tigray”.

“Full and unrestricted humanitarian access must be granted,” Mr Borrell said.

“This is not an EU demand — this is international law.”

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

ABC/wires




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