The Plight of the Irob and Kunama – Minorities Within a Minority

Source: Yet Again

 December 13, 2021  

Background into Irob Minority

The Irob people are an indigenous ethnic minority group with an estimated population of 30,000 occupying a predominantly highland, mountainous area bordering Eritrea. Despite a relatively small population, the Irob have been at the forefront of regional and national development being home to Ethiopia’s first modern school established by a Catholic missionary named St. Justine De Jacobis in Alitena, the traditional capital.

The Impact of The Ethio-Eritrea War on the Irob people

Irob was one of the areas devastated by the 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrean war. Hundreds of civilians were killed, women were raped, livestock and other properties were looted and destroyed during the war. Around 97 innocent civilians were also abducted from their homes by Eritrean forces during the two years of Eritrea’s occupation, their fate is yet to be known. Furthermore, almost a third of Irob was awarded to Eritrea by the Ethio-Eritrean Border Arbitration Commission (EEBAC) without regard to the historical background and consent from the Irob community. The Irob people have never been administered under Eritrea and their forefathers have paid dearly to uphold their identity and territorial integrity. Since the decision in 2002, Irobs have continuously and furiously protested the disquieting EEBAC decision, which strips their identity and land against international human rights law. At present, Irob is still under the illegal occupation of Eritrean Defence Forces.

Today, having not yet recovered from the border war, the Irob people are faced with another war and this time are fully occupied by Eritrean forces who are forcing the people to become Eritreans and pay taxes or leave their land. Eritrean Defence Forces are massacring families in their homes in door-to-door raids, raping women, abducting, ruining private and public properties, and looting livestock and other belongings including food and clothes. There is currently no medicine, water, food, telecommunication, or transportation. Further, Irob land was already one of the areas affected by drought. Many residents were dependent on safety-net programs that were suspended by the Ethiopian government a few months prior to the war on Tigray.

Background into The Kunama Minority

The Kunama people are also in great peril as a result of the war on Tigray. The Kunama are one of the indigenous groups inhabiting the areas around Setit and Gash rivers straddling the Ethio-Eritrean border on the western side of Tigray. Most of the population live on the Eritrean side and those in Tigray inhabit the western lowlands around Humera and Adiabo. The Tigrayan Kunama have an estimated population of 10,000. Like the Irob, the Ethio-Eritrean border war subjected the Kunama on both sides of the border to mass livestock looting, abduction, and severe livelihood destruction. However, very little has been reported on the atrocities being committed on the Kunama today.

The Kunama have been targeted by the Eritrean forces, Ethiopian forces as well as the Amhara special forces and militia who reportedly had been committing a comprehensive ethnic cleansing campaign to change the demographics of Western Tigray and annex the area. Kunama settlements in Tigray have been burned down by Eritrean troops. The troops destroyed their property and looted their livestock. Many of the Kunama are now internally displaced after fleeing their homes when the war started. Humanitarian aid is still inaccessible to much of Tigray, especially in remote areas of the region where the Kunama have been displaced. The Kunama people are at serious risk of starvation and extinction.

This war on Tigray in itself aims to destroy the entirety of the region, but the systemic attacks on the Irob and Kunama pose an especially dangerous threat as they seek to erase both groups. Irob Anina Civil Society asks the UK government to condemn the attacks against both minority groups. Additionally, we ask for the immediate and verifiable removal of Eritrean forces from Irob; enforce the right of the Kunama and Irob people to survival, existence, promotion and protection of their identities as per the United Nations Framework for Minority Rights Protection; enforcement of the right of the Kunama and Irob people to freedom, self-determination, self-governance, and other designated rights of indigenous peoples as per the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


  • Jazeera, A., 2021. Tiny ethnic group fears extinction as Tigray war enters 6th month. [online] Available at:<> [Accessed 12 September 2021].
  • Jazeera, A., 2021. Ethiopia or Eritrea? Border community fears split. [online] Available at:<> [Accessed 17 September 2021].
  • Plaut, M., 2021. A British journalist’s unique report from Irob, on the plight of the people of Alitena – Eritrea Hub. [online] Eritrea Hub. Available at: <> [Accessed 17 September 2021].
  • Tommasin, D., 2021. Tigray, Irob and Kunama Ethnic Groups Risk Extinction – Focus On Africa -. [online] Focus On Africa. Available at: <> [Accessed 10 November 2021].
  • Web, R., 2021. Forgotten people: The Kunama of Eritrea and Ethiopia – Eritrea. [online] ReliefWeb. Available at: <> [Accessed 17 September 2021].
  • Featured Image: Al Jazeera.

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