Christian charities call for international assistance for Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia

Eritrean refugee students sit outside Mai Tsebri secondary school in Tigray province, Ethiopia in November 2019.  © UNHCR/Elisabeth Arnsdorf Haslund (PHOTO: UNHCR)

Originally published in Premier Christian News

Christian relief charities and other humanitarian organisations have written a joint letter to Secretary General of United Nations (UN), Antonio Guterres, urging international assistance for Eritrean refugees in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

A violent conflict in the northern Ethiopian region has been ongoing since November. Thousands of people have been left without any access to basic necessities as all communications with the region have been cut. Many locals have fled to neighbouring Sudan.

Signatories of the letter want the UN to intervene in the region and have called for the Ethiopian authorities to respect their obligations under the African and UN Refugee Conventions. It is estimated that the situation of 100 000 Eritrean refugees has “deteriorated markedly.”

In the letter, charities are requesting that the Ethiopian government “opens a safe humanitarian corridor to these camps so that the UNHCR and other aid agencies can replenish food stocks, provide medical attention, and evacuate any refugees in need of critical care.” 

It continues: “Ethiopia must be persuaded to fully restore communications and other suspended services to Tigray. The Ethiopian government should also facilitate independent investigation and verification of the wellbeing of refugees and civilians”.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is one of the signatories. They have confirmed that at least one of the four main refugee camps has been attacked and raided. 

CSW founder president Mervyn Thomas said: “As reports emerge of refugees being forcibly returned to Eritrea amid a conflict where there is already credible evidence of a possible atrocity crime, it is essential that the international community takes swift and decisive action to intervene.”

He continued: “We urge Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, to prioritise the protection of refugees within its country’s borders. Their forcible return to a country that is deemed to have committed crimes against humanity is an appalling violation of international law and humanitarian norms.

“Once again, we urge the Prime Minister to take immediate steps to de-escalate the conflict and to enter into meaningful dialogue with regional representatives who are recognised and mandated by the people of Tigray. We also call on the Government of Eritrea to withdraw its forces from Tigray immediately, and to end its egregious violations of the rights of Eritreans, both at home and abroad.”

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