Tigrayan Ethiopians Seek Refuge In Sudan Amidst “Unexpected War”

Military conflict and violence in the Ethiopian region of Tigray have caused a communication blackout, numerous casualties, and the mass displacement of thousands of Tigray citizens. Many individuals are walking, swimming, or taking boats to cross the border to Sudan, and, according to Al Jazeera, one person has drowned while attempting to swim across the border. The Sudanese government has reportedly registered many Ethiopians, but the overwhelming influx has left the government unable to provide aid for many of the estimated 21,000 Ethiopians who have entered eastern Sudan. Al Jazeera states that journalists in Sudan have noted little support from the state, leaving villagers to assist the refugees with what little resources they have available. Many refugees are not settling into camps, and instead are seeking shelter in fields and local communities.

Tension between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray forces has been growing for months. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (T.P.L.F.) controlled the country’s military and government until 2018, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was elected. According to Al Jazeera, the T.P.L.F. began feeling marginalized and objected to Ahmed’s decision to delay the country’s elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tensions further escalated in September when the Tigray region voted in a local election the federal government then called illegal. Funding was then diverted from the T.P.F.L. to local governments which angered the region. This sparked conflict between the armed northern region and the federal government.

Ethiopia’s federal government has declared an “unexpected war” and ordered military operations to respond to alleged attacks by Tigray forces on the military base there, Al Jazeera writes. There are reports that Tigray fighter jets have bombed parts of the regional capital. Both sides of the conflict have reported casualties.

Many people have described intense bombing, artillery attacks, and air force raids. One Ethiopian refugee in Sudan said, “People have been slaughtered with knives and pregnant women have had their bellies opened. The government is bombing civilians and killing us all.”

The European Union has expressed concern over the conflict. “The military escalation in Ethiopia is risking the stability of the whole country and wider region,” Janez Lenarcic, the E.U.’s commissioner for crisis management, said.

Fearing further violence, and that the conflict may spread across the country, the citizens of Tigray have fled to Sudan for refuge. Mass killings and bombings continue in the region, killing civilians and forcing survivors to fear for their lives. This human rights crisis has displaced thousands of Ethiopians, leaving many vulnerable, without hope of ever returning home.

Refugees continue to seek shelter in Sudan. Many fear they will not even make it across the border.

The UN and the international community just watch as tensions and the death tolls rise in Ethiopia. Instead, they should investigate the allegations refugees have made of violence and human rights abuses in Ethiopia. This crisis will continue to escalate until both sides back down.