Aid agencies are warning of a humanitarian crisis as the conflict in Tigray deepens. Back in February, the International Committee of the Red Cross told the BBC, “The people in Tigray… lost the harvest season…” and described serious issues with the delivery of aid to the region. One month later and nothing has changed. 

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There is growing concern about the human rights abuses taking place in Tigray. Just a few days ago, a team from the Medecins sans Frontieres aid agency reported witnessing Ethiopian soldiers shooting civilians. The Biden administration has warned it will not turn a blind eye to abuse of the democratic process and human rights violations. If the situation worsens, the US may have to take a stronger approach. 

A History of Ethnic Violence in Ethiopia

Violence in the region is nothing new. There was much conflict prior to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed coming to power, but it appeared he had brought peace to Ethiopia. Indeed. He was even awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2018 for his efforts. Sadly, the peace wasn’t to last, and he has since been accused of waging war against the People’s Liberation Front, which rules the troubled Tigray region. 

The conflict has caused hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their villages, and many have crossed the border into Eritrea. Unfortunately, some reports suggest Eritrean troops are getting involved in the fighting and have killed many civilians. There have been reports of mass ethnic cleansing. Food insecurity is a huge problem and if the situation deepens, there is a real possibility of a famine in the region. 

Communications Blackout

A lack of communications in the area is making it hard to get a handle on what’s happening. Aid agencies like Alight are on the ground, trying to provide humanitarian relief, but the fate of the six million people living in Tigray is largely unknown right now because of communication blackouts and the Ethiopian Government’s unwillingness to cooperate with foreign aid agencies.  

The Ethiopian government vehemently denies all accusations of ethnic cleansing and other atrocities. The foreign ministry described the claims as “spurious and unfounded”. Instead, they say their activities are part of a law enforcement campaign designed to oust the ruling PLF and restore government control to the region. 

The world is paying close attention to events unfolding in Tigray. If the conflict worsens, there are fears the entire region could be destabilized, which would have an impact on neighboring countries. It could also lead to a rise in Islamist insurgency. With his in mind, US President Joe Biden sent an emissary to the region. 

US Emissary Visit to Addis Ababa

Delaware Senator Chris Coons recently visited Addis Ababa on behalf of the US State Department, which has expressed grave concern and accused Ethiopian Government-backed troops of ‘ethnic cleansing’. Upon his return to the US, Coons described his visit as ‘successful’ and said he was ‘optimistic’ aid agencies would soon have access to the region.

Whether that happens remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the world watches and waits.