The UN refugee agency is currently in talks with the Ethiopian authorities and hopes to soon be in a position to reach the four refugee camps in Tigray.
The camps held 96,000 Eritrean refugees, but many have fled, as a result of the conflict in Tigray. The UNHCR is unable to confirm where the refugees are now.
“We hope to be able to go North very soon,” said Chris Melzer, a spokesman for UNHCR.
Around 26,000 were in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa before the Tigray conflict broke out. They were joined by several thousand who fled from Tigray. Some have now been forcibly returned, under military escort.
Mr Melzer said: “The position of the refugees is our main concern right now.”
He confirmed that the UN agency had heard reports that some had been forcibly returned to Eritrea, but could not confirm that this had taken place.
“If it happened it would be a grave violation of international law,” Mr Melzer said.
The UNHCR had also received reports that Eritrean refugees – many of whom fled from Eritrea to escape the military – had been forcibly conscripted to fight in the current military operation. Again, this could not be confirmed, Mr Melzer said.
Over 50,000 Ethiopians have fled into neighbouring Sudan. Among them are several hundred Eritreans, but no more.
Some UNHCR staff remain in Tigray, with 45 in the Shire area. “They were able to distribute some supplies like water and blankets to locally displaced people” Mr Melzer said. “But these supplies have now run out and communications is still very difficult.”