Amid the attention on the plight of the Tigrayans, Amhara, Afar and others who were caught up in the war that was launched against Tigray in November 2020, it is easy to overlook what has happened to the Eritrean refugees who had been sheltering in camps in Tigray.
As early as December 2020 the BBC was carrying reports that the 100,000 Eritreans were running desperately short of food.
Thousands of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia’s conflict-hit northern region of Tigray have run out of food, the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has said.
It appealed for urgent access to the region to provide emergency assistance.
Communications and aid access have been blocked since the conflict between the federal army and fighters loyal to Tigray leadership began a month ago. Nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees are in Tigray. They fled political persecution and compulsory military service. A lot of focus has been on the tens of thousands who have fled to Sudan from Tigray during the fighting, but there is also concern about these Eritreans.BBC
Their situation was terrible and deteriorated further. Refugees International carrying this report in March 2022.
Since the destruction of the northern camps of Hitsats and Shimelba that displaced 20,000 Eritrean refugees early in the conflict, and attacks on Eritrean refugees and the civilian population elsewhere in Tigray, thousands more Eritrean refugees have been repeatedly displaced. Some have moved multiple times in Tigray. Others have sought safety in Addis Ababa. In one instance in December 2020, Eritrean refugees who had reached Addis Ababa, were forcibly escorted back to Tigray. To date, aid groups are unclear of what has happened to many of the 20,000 Eritrean refugees who left Hitsats and Shimelba.Refugees International
Those Eritreans who fled from the Tigrayan camps, but were unable to reach Addis, or forced to leave the capital, are now being housed in a “refugee settlement” at Alemwach. It is worth noting that the UNHCR is not calling it a camp.
Below is a summary of the UNHCR report from Alemwach now home to over 22,000 Eritreans.
The Tigrayan crisis led to difficult humanitarian conditions including limited access to basic social and life-saving services for refugees in the Mai Tsebri camps. Coupled with the security breakdown, many refugees opted to move from the Mai Ani and Adi Harush camps to Alemwach, Dabat in the Amhara region.
Prior to spontaneous movements, UNHCR had conducted an intention survey whereby, 90% of refugees concerned about their security situation indicated their willingness to be relocated elsewhere.
Over 15,000 refugees spontaneously relocated from the Tigray camps to Alemwach between February and July 2022, going through difficult transit. Following the cessation of hostilities in November 2022 with improved access to Mai Tseberi, UNHCR, RRS, and IOM relocated 7,080 refugees to Alemwach.
UNHCR’s response strategy in Alemwach is an integrated area-based approach with refugees and the host community sharing services such as WASH, education, and health.
UNHCR plans on strengthening existing facilities instead of building new ones.
It might be that UNHCR is calling it a settlement because it was spontaneously set up by the refugees themselves.
Any role by UNHCR in distributing aid to camps is usually granted by ARRA to UNHCR and it could be the case that the former doesn’t want the latter to get involved.
Mine is just an educated guess, of course this important aspect should be cross checked and it’s paramount that the Eritrean refugees get access to all the aid, support and services they’re entitled to and need.
It seems that the plght of the Eritrean refugees is not getting the attention it deserves. Well done Martin your concern will makes a lot of difference