The UN Refugee Agency – the UNHCR – says that it has been given permission to travel to any part of Tigray, and has begun to assist refugees throughout the region.
Chris Melzer, spokesperson for UNHCR in Ethiopia, said that since last Wednesday the agency is free to visit any part of Tigray as long as it gives three days notice to the authorities.
Some 96,000 Eritrean refugees had been registered by the agency prior to the outbreak of the war on 4th November last year.
The two southern camps, of Mai Aini and Adi Harush, were largely unaffected by the fighting, although the UNHCR was unable to reach them for several weeks.
The two northern camps, closest to the border with Eritrea, were overrun in the conflict.
There are serious fears for the fate of the 25,248 refugees who were living in Hitsats and the 8,702 in Shimelba, with unconfirmed reports that some had been killed and others forcibly returned to Eritrea.
Chris Melzer says the UNHCR currently has several missions in Tigray region, including in the northern town of Shire and the regional capital, Mekelle.
He says the agency does not plan to visit Hitsats and Shimelba this week, since the UNHCR is “almost sure that there are no refugees [there] – and right now our highest priority is to go to the refugees.”
The agency’s plans to move the refugees further south. More than 6,000 have already travelled to the southern camps of Mai Aini and Adi Harush.
The UNHCR says that over 1000 Eritrean refugees are still in the Shire area. They have been registered and are waiting to be transferred to the two southern camps.
The Ethiopian government’s refugee agency (the ARRA) is undertaking this transfer, using two trucks and a bus.
But the UNHCR is running out of shelters and is having to resort to some 600 emergency shelters provided by the Red Cross.