Onslaught of Ethiopian, Eritrean forces in Tigray has fuelled fears of deterioration of humanitarian crisis

Onslaught of Ethiopian, Eritrean forces in Tigray has fuelled fears of deterioration of humanitarian crisis


Ethiopian and Eritrean forces have captured Shire, a strategic city in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, in a sharp military escalation that has fuelled fears of a deteriorating humanitarian crisis and sent thousands of panicked civilians racing to escape the city this past weekend.

With Shire, Ethiopian government troops are in a stronger position to take major cities nearby – and are one step closer to the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle. The seizure of the city, which has a population of 100,000 locals and 60,000 displaced people – signals a worrying turn in a brutal, nearly two-year-long war that has killed an estimated half a million people and left millions more facing potential famine.

“We really don’t know what the fate of these hundreds of thousands of people is,” said Cameron Hudson, a senior associate at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. “Are they going to be forcibly displaced? Are they going to be killed? Are they going to be ethnically cleansed from this area?”

Since the war first erupted in November 2020, it has been rife with reports of ethnic cleansing, sexual violence, child soldiers and other massacres. Both the Ethiopian government – which is allied with Eritrea – and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front have reportedly committed atrocities.

“They both have blood on their hands. There’s no question about that,” said Hudson. But there is “a pretty vast disparity in the number of atrocities, the degree of atrocities, committed by one side versus the other.”

Trapped between the warring parties are vulnerable Tigrayan civilians, who have been suffering under a spiralling humanitarian emergency. A government blockade has prevented critical aid and key provisions from reaching Tigray, stripping hospitals of electricity, medical supplies like insulin, and fuel.

Millions are now on the verge of famine, and even kindergartens have been targeted by government airstrikes during the war.

“There’s been no electricity; there’s been no internet; there’s no banking services; there’s no postal services; there’s no healthcare; there’s no food delivery for two years,” said Hudson.

A humanitarian cease-fire collapsed when fighting broke out in August – and recent efforts to negotiate a new one have largely faltered, despite mounting global calls for peace. Eritrea has played a dominant role in the renewal of violence, with tens of thousands of Eritrean troops now participating in hostilities across the region.

“Hostilities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia must end now – including the immediate withdrawal and disengagement of Eritrean armed forces from Ethiopia,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said. “There is no military solution.”

  • A Foreign Policy report
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