Aid group condemns damage at refugee camps in Ethiopia’s Tigray hit by conflict

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An international aid group on Monday denounced the destruction of its facilities at refugee camps caught up in the brutal conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.

The damage was confirmed using satellite imagery depicting the two camps for Eritrean refugees, known as Hitsats and Shimelba, the Norwegian Refugee Council said in a statement.

“We condemn the criminal destruction of our buildings and facilities that we set up to serve refugees in great need,” Jan Egeland, NRC’s secretary-general, said in a statement.

“This rampage of burning and looting by armed men deepens an already dire crisis for millions of people.”

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Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, announced military operations against leaders of Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in early November.

He said they were prompted by TPLF-orchestrated attacks on federal army camps in the region.

Within weeks, Hitsats and Shimelba saw fighting including intense gun battles, according to residents, and the two camps remain inaccessible to the UN refugee agency and its Ethiopian counterpart.

Former residents of Hitsats have told AFP that pro-TPLF forces and Eritrean forces fighting for Abiy committed abuses there including killings and abductions.

Ethiopian Army soldiers stand as a pick-up truck with militia men passes by at Mai Aini Refugee camp, in Ethiopia, on January 30, 2021. (Eduardo Soteras/AFP)
Ethiopian Army soldiers stand as a pick-up truck with militia men passes by at Mai Aini Refugee camp, in Ethiopia, on January 30, 2021. (Eduardo Soteras/AFP)

Some refugees, who have since fled to other another camp in southern Tigray, said Eritrean soldiers were in control of Hitsats by early January and forced everyone to leave.

Last week DX Open Network, a British investigations firm, released satellite imagery showing widespread damage to both Hitsats and Shimelba.

“There are clear and consistent patterns across both camps over a two-month period demonstrating that these refugee camps were systematically targeted despite their protected humanitarian status,” it said in a statement.

Eritrea and Ethiopia deny that Eritrean soldiers are involved in the Tigray conflict.

But their presence has been described by residents, aid workers and even some civilian and military officials in Tigray.

The European Union on Monday called for Eritrean forces to withdraw from the region, saying they were “fueling the conflict in Tigray, reportedly committing atrocities, and exacerbating ethnic violence.”

The US has issued a similar call, drawing a rebuke last week from Eritrea, which accused Washington of floating “false and presumptive allegations.”

Read more:

Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict destabilizing east Africa, warns EU

Images show latest ‘attack’ on Ethiopia refugee camp: Report

UNHCR: ‘Disturbing reports’ from Eritrean refugee camps in Ethiopia’s Tigray region

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