Eritrean Refugees Left to Starve for 5 weeks in Tigray Camp

Source: Human Rights Concern – Eritrea

 30 December 2020

Eritrean Refugees in Hitsats Camp in Tigray have not received any food at all since the end of November 2020, because of the war in Tigray.  Many were forcibly returned to Eritrea by Eritrean military forces. The remaining refugees are desperate for food, and there is a severe shortage of water. 

On 4th November 2020, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, ordered Federal forces to move into the Northern Tigray Regional State and impose a state of emergency by force, and heavy fighting with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has continued for many weeks. Since road transportation is in total lockdown in the Tigray region and security concerns, the UNHCR and other aid groups are unable to provide food or health care to refugees in Hitsats and Shimelba camps in Tigray.

At the start of the conflict, there were about 96,000 refugees in Tigray, almost all Eritrean, living largely in four United Nations-sponsored refugee camps: Hitsats, Mai-Aini, Adi-Harush and Shimelba. Although food ration was distributed to the Eritrean refugees in Adi-Harush and May-Aini in mid-December, the refugees in Hitsats and Shimelba are totally without any food. There is a military-imposed famine of huge proportions, involving tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees who are literally starving.

UNHCR staff, who should be supervising the camp, have not been allowed back to the camps by the Ethiopian militaryUrgent requests for the establishment of secure “safe corridors” to Hitsats and Shimelba camps, in order to bring in food and medical supplies, have fallen on deaf ears when addressed to the Ethiopian government and military.  Eritrean refugees are not allowed to leave the camp, so cannot forage for food or find their way to places where food might be available, if they had the funds to buy it.

There are eye-witness reports that, towards the end of November, armed militia came into Hitsats and Shimelba camps and started shooting at random. Many people were injured, some seriously, and some died. The injured were loaded into trucks and forcibly returned to Eritrea. 32 forced returnees who were shot and sustained serious injuries were taken to Barentu hospital in Eritrea, where 2 died from their injuries, and 11 were taken to Glass Military hospital in Keren. More than 6,000 refugees were forcibly returned to Eritrea when the federal and Eritrean forces took control of the camps. On Thursday, 10th December, five large “dumper” or “tipper” trucks full of refugees from Hitsats and Shimelba camps were brought back to Eritrea, escorted by Eritrean soldiers.

The Ethiopian Government has not provided the refugees with any protection and they are therefore “sitting targets” for attacks by lawless militia, or Eritrean soldiers, while the Ethiopian military appear to be making no attempts to control the militia, or to stop the Eritrean forces from abducting and shooting the refugees.

The situation of Eritrean refugees is very alarming, and the Hitsats and Shimelba refugee camps in Tigray are already suffering from a full-scale famine. Unless the UNHCR in Ethiopia and other aid organisations are allowed to provide aid, possibly the Eritrean refugees in the four camps in Tigray could be facing immediate starvation, with food and water supplies exhausted. This is an international emergency. The desperate seriousness of this crisis cannot be overstated.

UNHCR must immediately be given full access to the camps and provided at once with safe corridors to provide all necessary food, water, and medical services for these refugees as speedily as possible.

The very lives and survival of all of the Eritreans in the refugee camps are now hugely endangered. It is vital that the Ethiopian government takes action, protects the camps, and prevents all militias and Eritrean army personnel from having any access to the camps and those dwelling in them.

The practice of restricting refugees to the camps by refusing them permission to leave must end. Refugees must not be coerced by the military into living in what can only be termed “prison” camps.

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE) is appealing most urgently to all member states of the UN and to UNHCR to intervene and put pressure on the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea to heed these warnings, and to give immediate priority to the provision of food, water and medical care to the refugees in Hitsats and Shimelba, who need it desperately, and to continue providing similar services to Adi- Harush and Mai-Aini camps, with proper protection for all Eritrean refugees in Tigray.

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)

+44 7958 005 637

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