An air raid has struck a refugee camp in Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray region, killing three Eritreans, including two children, the United Nations said.
Wednesday’s attack on Mai Aini refugee camp, near the southern Tigrayan town of Mai Tsebri, wounded four other refugees but their lives were not at risk, the UN said in a statement late on Thursday.
“I am deeply saddened to learn that three Eritrean refugees, two of them children, were killed,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement, stressing that refugees “should never be a target”.
“While UNHCR continues to gather and corroborate details on the events, I reiterate UNHCR’s call on all parties to the conflict to respect the rights of all civilians, including refugees,” Grandi added, referring to the UN refugee agency.
There was no immediate comment by Ethiopia’s government or military. The government has previously denied targeting civilians.
On December 30, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said dozens of civilians had been reported killed in southern Tigray in air raids that week in what it described as “the most intense attacks and highest casualties reported since October”.
The war that broke out in early November 2020 between federal government troops and fighters from the northern region of Tigray has killed an estimated tens of thousands of people, forced millions from their homes and left an immense humanitarian crisis in its wake.
Before fighting began, Ethiopia hosted about 150,000 refugees from neighbouring Eritrea, fleeing poverty and an authoritarian government.
In September, Human Rights Watch said Eritrean soldiers – who joined the war on the side of Abiy’s forces – and Tigrayan fighters raped, detained and killed Eritrean refugees in Tigray, in attacks that amounted to “clear war crimes”. Much of its report focused on two camps – Shimelba and Hitsats – which were destroyed during the fighting, forcing many Eritrean refugees to flee to the two remaining camps in Mai Aini and Adi Harush.
‘We need 100 trucks every day’
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory in late November after government forces seized the regional capital, Mekelle. But fighting dragged on, and Tigrayan forces had recaptured most of Tigray by June before pushing into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.
They reportedly reached some 200 kilometres (125 miles) outside the capital, Addis Ababa, by road, but at the end of December, they announced they would withdraw to Tigray after government forces retook a string of towns and cities, marking a turning point in the war.
Air raids on Tigray have continued, while the region is also under a communications blackout and what the UN has described as a de facto aid blockade, preventing sufficient food and medicine from reaching the northern region of six million people.
No trucks with aid cargo have reached Tigray since December 14 and others waiting to enter the region had been plundered, OCHA said in its latest report.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday that since July 12, only 1,338 trucks have been able to enter Tigray, “which is less than 12 percent of the trucks we need to get in”.
“As we’ve been telling you many times, we need about 100 trucks every day to meet the humanitarian need of people in Tigray,” he told a daily media briefing.
Health outreach has been halted in parts of Tigray because of a shortage of essential drugs, according to OCHA.
World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, himself a Tigrayan, said on Thursday the UN’s health agency “has not been permitted to deliver medical supplies” to Tigray since mid-July 2020.
“This is despite repeated requests from WHO to provide medical supplies to the Tigray region,” he told a COVID-19 news conference.
“Even in the toughest periods of conflict in Syria, South Sudan, Yemen and others, WHO and partners have had access to save lives.
“However, in Tigray the de facto blockade is preventing access to humanitarian supplies, which is killing people.”