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Ethiopia’s Tigray region is in heavy conflict, and civilians are caught in the middle

Here's what you can do to help

Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country, has lately been a concern in the international community due to the rising violence in the Tigray region.

The Tigray region, located in the country’s northwest, had long been a dominant force in Ethiopia’s ethnic federalist system. Since 1991, Tigray played a pivotal role in usurping the military regime; the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TLPF) led the efforts, establishing a governing coalition that allowed each region autonomy.

In 2018 following anti-government protests, current prime minister Abiy Ahmed came into power. He dissolved the coalition in a bid to improve democracy; by centralizing the government and unifying the country. While doing so, he outed many Tigray politicians and power players in a move that was deemed ethnically-biased. Elections were scheduled to take place this March. But due to the pandemic, the electoral management committee opted to postpone elections.

Despite this decision, the Tigray region held its own elections in September, taking the rising tension to new heights. Both sides: the Ethiopian government and the Tigray regional leaders, declared each other to be illegitimate. Following the unsanctioned elections, the leaders cut funding to the region. 

On November 4, following an alleged attack by the TPLF on a military base, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military operation against local Tigray forces. In a televised address to the country, he communicated that he was taking action against the Tigray political party. 

On November 22, Abiy released a statement via Twitter, stating that the country’s forces were readying their final phase of action against the Tigray region. Previous phases included strengthening defense forces, removing TPLF militia, and encircling Mekelle, the Tigray regional capital. He expressly requested the cooperation of civilians.

The government has established Mekelle as the rebel stronghold and is currently in the process of sending government forces to capture the city. Most importantly, Ahmed gave the Tigray Special Forces 72 hours to surrender.

Here’s the thing: the Ethiopian military colonel has expressed that there will be “no mercy” for the Tigrayans. At the same time, Tigray forces have expressed that they are unwilling to stand down. These strong and explicit statements are worrying because their finality could lead to a longstanding conflict,  with civilians caught right in the middle of it. Many international bodies have expressed their concern over this fact because it creates the potential for international humanitarian violations.

Following an outpouring of concern by the international community regarding the safety of civilians and the possible perpetration of war crimes, Ahmed released another statement, essentially asking the international community to stand down. In the statement, he said: “While we consider the advice and concerns of our friends, we reject any interference in our internal affairs.”

Rejection of international interference places restrictions on the ability of neutral international humanitarian organizations to help any civilians caught in the conflict. Considering that the ongoing fighting has already displaced thousands of Ethiopians, this needs to change.

Also, the government placed a telecommunications blackout, making it impossible for humanitarian aid to communicate with people in the region. The Tigray region has already faced various natural disasters this year. Coupled with the impact of COVID-19, and the escalating conflict, thousands of civilians are in precarious situations. As of now, over 30,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled the region into Sudan, with the number expected to rise. 

Here’s what you can do to help:

Donate to refugee organizations:

A poster from the Ethiopian Youth Refugee Association, and their logo
[A poster from the Ethiopian Youth Refugee Association, and their logo], via Twitter
Grassroots organizations are working to provide humanitarian aid to those fleeing the war. Donate via Venmo.

The UNHCR also has an emergency relief fund. Donate here.

You can also donate to the UNICEF fund to help Ethiopian refugees in Sudan here.

Learn more about what’s happening, and spread the word:

As the conflict continues, both sides have given contradicting statements regarding the outcome of the conflict; the government says that Mekelle has been captured, but TPLF leaders claim that the struggle is ongoing. But one thing is clear: the civilians and refugees need help. So spread the word, and donate if you can.