War in Ethiopia’s Tigray wrenches families apart – and what do do about it

Anyone who has lost touch with their family can get in touch with the Red Cross (ICRC) which works to reunite people

  • A hot-line has been setup to support those searching for their family members in Tigray together with the Ethiopia Red Cross. Our teams have received more than 1,000 phone calls in the last week from people in Ethiopia and abroad who are searching for their loved ones. Anyone searching for his or her family should call our hotline at +251 94 312 2207 or email at add_tracing_services@icrc.org, or the Ethiopia Red Cross at +251 11 552 7110.

War in Ethiopia’s Tigray wrenches families apart

When he returned with his younger children from a quick trip to their house to collect supplies, they were gone, lost in the chaos of a conflict in the northern region where government and rebellious Tigray forces have been fighting since Nov 4.

Unable to find them, the 45-year-old walked with his younger daughter and two young sons to the Um Rakuba camp across the border to Sudan, where more than 45,000 have fled the conflict.

Similar tales are told by other refugees. Mothers and wives say they lost their husbands, while old men, women and children have crossed the border not knowing the fate of relatives.

“When we escaped, there were people shouting ‘mom’, ‘dad’, children screaming,” Welderfael said, sitting in a small hut which he built himself where he and his children sleep on rugs.

“People were shouting for help, my children were crying but I calmed them down and told them to run.”

The fighting between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal army and forces loyal to the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is believed to have killed thousands of people.

TPLF leaders, who enjoy strong popular support in Tigray, appear to have fled to surrounding mountains and say they have begun a guerrilla-style resistance.

Welderfael could not provide details of the fighting and said a communication blackout in Tigray meant he had been unable to reach his wife since. The blackout also means Reuters is unable to verify accounts from either side.

The farmer said his children sometimes have nightmares and frequently ask him where their mother has gone. “I keep giving them hope,” he said, “that they’re probably safe.”

An ICRC delegate takes what are called “tracing requests” at Um Rakuba refugee camp. These requests are recorded in the Red Cross and Red Crescent system in an effort to help people find or reconnect with their family members. Hundreds of people lost contact with their loved ones when they fled Ethiopia. As of 29 November, ICRC teams, together with the Sudanese Red Crescent, helped Ethiopians place about 1,000 successful phone calls to family members in parts of Ethiopia and abroad. With phone and internet lines still down in parts of Tigray, many have been completely cut-off from their relatives for weeks.

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