The forgotten victims of the Tigray war – the fate of 100,000 Eritrean refugees

Very little has been said about the Eritreans – some 100,000 of whom were living in refugee camps in Tigray, when the war broke out in November 2020. The UNHCR appealed to be allowed to have access to them in December 2020, saying: “the month-long conflict in Tigray had left them without vital supplies.” Thousands more lived in Ethiopian towns and cities.

We have heard stories of the refugees in the UN camps being attacked, sometimes by Eritrean troops advancing through Tigray; sometimes by Tigrayans. Many thousands fled before the horrors of war. But what happened to them? The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has just provided this update.

It comes as other data, published by the UN, has become available. The figures are not identical, but this may be because they are from slightly different dates.

Both are shown below, but these issues seem the most important:

  • There are now only 10,000 refugees remaining in Tigray, out of the 100,000 housed by the UNHCR two years ago.
  • There have still been no food distributions since late September.
  • It seems that UNHCR is now claiming that it is helping relocate refugees from Tigray to Amhara. There was a vague statement along these lines some weeks ago, but this may be more clear. Information suggests there are presently 14,603 Eritrean refugees in Amhara. UNHCR implies that it has relocated over 3400 of them. 
  • Registrations in Addis were halted, and they remain halted.


1. What has happened to those who were in the camps in Tigray?

The situation for Eritrean refugees in Tigray has been a concern throughout the last two years of the conflict. Over recent months many Eritrean refugees have relocated to Alemwach settlement.

At the end of September 2022, UNHCR and WFP managed to distribute food and other relief items to approximately 10,000 Eritrean refugees remaining in the Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps. Given the dire humanitarian situation in the camps and with the newly granted access, most of the refugees have requested to be relocated to the Alemwach settlement in the Amhara region. Together with the government Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS), UNHCR has started relocating those who wish to move to Alemwach settlement. So far, over 3,400 refugees have been relocated to the settlement where they have received shelter, medical care, cooked meals and core relief items. We hope to relocate all those who wish to move to Alemwach as soon as feasible.

2. What has happened to the refugees registered with UNHCR living in other parts of Ethiopia, including Addis?

In Afar, over 57,000 Eritrean refugees are sheltered in the Aysaita and Serdo camps and surrounding areas, following the attack on the Barahle camp in February 2022. As a result, some 26,000 refugees from the camp and surrounding areas were displaced into Semera, Serdo are other areas in the region. As calm returns to Barahle, UNHCR and other partners are supporting the RRS and regional authorities to relocate these refugees back to Barahle where they had developed livelihoods and lived peacefully within host communities.

In Addis Ababa, there are over 72,000 Eritrean refugees, of whom some 43,000 had self-relocated. Some 22,000 have been provided with documentation, including Refugee ID cards that allow them to reside in the capital for 3 years as well as cash assistance to cover some of their basic needs. More than 14,000 families have also been assisted to open bank accounts. The rest are expected to receive the necessary documentation once registration activities resume.


One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.