Eritrean Refugees Flee Tigray Conflict in Ethiopia
The conflict surrounding the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia, bordering on the south of Eritrea, has forced more than 42,000 refugees to flee west to eastern Sudan since the conflict started in November 2020. The fighting between Ethiopian soldiers and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has resulted in tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees in refugee camps. It erupted violence along Ethiopia’s northern border with targeted killings, abductions, lootings and sexual violence.

Difficulties Due to Conflict

It is still difficult to tell precisely how destructive the conflict in northern Ethiopia is since there are so many access restrictions in place. The conflict gets further complicated with the involvement of the FANO militia group and Eritrean Defence Forces. Even now, as humanitarian workers return to what were sites of violence in the weeks prior, they are finding tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees in dire straits and desperate need of aid. The last and only aid they received was food from the WFP in December 2019.

The camp structures managed to weather most of the violence, and while the TPLF spared some refugees from direct contact with the war, many experienced harassment and threats and underwent forcible recruitment. Roughly 5,000 Eritrean refugees have gone to the town of Shire, Ethiopia, and are living with no shelter, food or water.

Refugees in Sudan

This issue serves as a reminder that violence feeds the cycle of poverty in struggling countries, and conflicts like this hit the vulnerable populations hardest. This includes not only the impoverished but also the displaced. Driven away from an already precarious living situation by the violence, the Eritrean refugees that are fleeing to the impoverished nation of Sudan are malnourished and injured, and have almost none of the means to meet their daily needs.

In addition to poverty, the worst floods have ravaged Sudan in over 100 years, devastating the agricultural sector and leaving many people homeless. The threat of malaria hangs over people’s heads as they struggle to salvage their livelihoods, all while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on. This leaves Sudan ill-equipped to receive and support the refugee population flooding over the eastern border.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Founded on the tenants of the Geneva Convention of 1949, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) focuses on humanitarian aid and protection for those enduring violent conflicts. Working with the Ethiopian Red Cross Society and the Red Crescent Movement, ICRC has concentrated its efforts on the Tigray refugees.

Efforts have gone toward getting the essentials to refugees by using donations for food, cooking items, blankets and soap. ICRC is also intent on ensuring that refugees have a consistent and safe water supply and a medical care center stocked with the appropriate supplies and equipment, particularly to provide specialized care for victims of sexual violence.

While Eritrean refugees are still facing the fallout from the Tigray conflict, organizations like the International Committee of The Red Cross, the Ethiopian Red Cross Society and the Red Crescent Movement are offering support. Areas these refugees have gone to, like Sudan and other parts of Ethiopia, are taking this aid and working to provide a location with food, medical care, clean water and other supplies necessary to assist refugees through this difficult time.

– Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

Eritrea-Ethiopia Relations
In a historic moment in the year 2018, Eritrea-Ethiopia relations were finally reinstated with the opening of the border between the two former rivals. The landmark occurrence finally signaled an end to the nearly two-decade-long conflict and regional destabilization in the Horn of Africa. It also provides equally strong potential for poverty alleviation as 70 percent of the Eritrean population continues to live under poverty.

Eritrea-Ethiopia Relations

To provide historical context, Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a war that resulted in casualties of nearly 80,000 in 1998. Despite the signing of the Algiers Agreement between the two countries in 2000, leaders of the previous administrations refused to reinstate ties till the agreement made between Prime Minister Abiy and President Isaias in July 2018. Ethiopia also began withdrawing its troops from the Eritrean border in December 2018.

Ethiopia continues to condemn Eritrea of backing rebel groups in the Afar region as well as undermines and opposes the government seated in the Eritrea capital of Asmara. Owing to the fact that Ethiopia refused to acknowledge the joint Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), Eritrea began to stir up support among rebel groups like the Ogaden National Liberation Front.

Bridging the Divide

Eritrea has been accused of gross human rights violations and condemned for its suspension of the constitution and ban on press freedom. Ethiopia, in turn, is accused of similar actions and has tried to suppress protest movements that have echoed across the country in recent times.

However, the new open borders between the two countries could bridge shortages and deficiencies that Eritreans previously faced as they will have access to Ethiopian markets, goods and services. Cross border trade between the two countries may begin to flourish as lorries have already started transporting goods like construction cables and cement to and from Ethiopia. Additionally, Ethiopia will also now have access to Eritrea’s ports which will help maximize the benefits of new sea trade.

The newly forged Eritrea-Ethiopia relations is also a good sign for neighboring towns along the border between the two countries as families and communities plagued by conflict can finally unite and celebrate their shared culture, heritage and language.

Reintegration and Renewed Hope

The new budding diplomatic relationship also resulted in Eritrea’s reintegration — particularly with the country’s readmission into the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The possibility of joint-development programs between the two countries could boost economic and financial potential along with the collaboration of financial bodies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF). A report by the Guardian in 2018 remarked that the move was akin to “…the fall of the Berlin Wall. Only amplified 1,000 times.”

Moreover, the move may also hint at a possible solution for the Eritrean refugee crisis as refugees can now cross the borders safely to seek a new home. The UNHCR also reported an increase in the number of refugees arriving at the border since its reopening.

Overall, the renewal in Eritrea-Ethiopia relations will maintain regional stability and provide an impetus to resolve similar border conflicts and proxy wars. The noteworthy historic move may help build a strong foundation for further development and prosperity for Eritrea in the long run and hopefully reinstate its reputation and influence on a global scale.

– Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Google