People in Tigray are crying out for the world’s help, as war has left them starving and fearing for their lives
On 4 November 2020 the world was occupied with the results of the US election. For myself and many others with family and friends in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, however, that day marked the beginning of a year-long nightmare. And it’s one which the world has, for the most part, ignored.
When on that day the Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel peace prizewinner, announced a military offensive in Tigray, it was hard to predict the scale of the human suffering that would ensue. But almost instantly Tigray, a region in the far north of the country that is home to more than 7 million people, was cut off from the world: phone lines were shut down, the internet was cut off, banks were closed and journalists were barred from the region.
For many with family in Tigray, including myself, we braced ourselves, waiting to hear what had become of our family and friends. Now, a year on, we have a manmade humanitarian catastrophe that USAID has called “one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world”. UN relief chief Martin Griffiths said last week that “Tigray is probably the worst place to live in the world right now”.
In the first two months of the war, more than 56,000 Tigrayan refugees fled to Sudan – bringing with them harrowing memories of massacres at the hands of armed militia, Ethiopian soldiers, and troops from Eritrea (which lies to the north of Tigray). Ethiopian soldiers subsequently closed the border, reducing the number of refugees who could flee.
From a personal perspective, the war has had a huge impact. Those of us in the Tigrayan disapora live each day not knowing if our family members are alive; news of each massacre, air attack, and mass arrest brings a sense of impending doom, that our family or friends could be among the victims.
Friends in the west have taken to the internet to announce the deaths of mothers, siblings, grandparents and friends. Just three weeks ago there were multiple bombings in Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, which resulted in heavy civilian casualties. There have been reports of concentration camps controlled by Ethiopian forces housing ethnic Tigrayans including infants as young as two years old, as well as pregnant women and children. This week we heard of a wave of mass arrests of Tigrayans across the capital Addis Ababa, their only crime being their ethnicity. While writing this article, I discovered that a family member of mine is one of the many Tigrayans arrested.
The war on Tigray has disturbingly seen girls as young as eight become the victims of sexual violence, with multiple reports of women being abducted and gang-raped at the hands of Ethiopian troops, Eritrean soldiers and armed militia. Earlier this year, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) projected that around 22,500 victims of sexual violence during the conflict will need medical care this year. Due to the government-enforced media blockade, these reports are probably only the tip of the iceberg.
The breadth of the destruction has led to Tigray’s healthcare system all but collapsing. Médecins Sans Frontières reported that 70% of health facilities were looted by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers. The reports coming out of the region also include the destruction of churches and mosques, the murder of humanitarian workers, mass displacement, as well as journalists being assaulted and arrested by government forces.
The war has also brought with it a ghoul of Ethiopia’s past – a manmade famine. Starvation is a word we often hear but what is perhaps not stressed enough is the deeply horrible way it kills its victims: the cells in a malnourished body essentially begin consuming themselves. Within Tigray right now, more than 5 million people are suffering from critical food insecurity. “There is famine in Ethiopia right now,” United Nations aid chief Mark Lowcock said in June this year. With the region still under a “de facto humanitarian blockade” by the Ethiopian government, the crisis is set to get worse.
A year on, the war has now spilled over into other regions in the country, namely Amhara and Afar, where civilians are now facing severe food insecurity and mass displacement.
During the last conversation I had with my family in Mekelle, before the phone lines were cut once more, my aunt asked me to pray for the people of Tigray and for an end to their suffering. My younger cousin, who up until the war started was a university student with dreams of becoming an engineer, made me promise that I would share what the people of Tigray have endured. It has been a while since I have spoken to them, and like many people with family in Tigray, I don’t know when I’ll hear from them again. I can’t even be sure they are still alive.
The scope of suffering in Tigray begs the question: why do so few people know about their plight? For the most part, the print and broadcast media has given the human suffering relatively little prominent coverage.
Frighteningly, due to the blockade in Tigray, the full scope of civilian suffering is still not known. When attempting to comprehend the brutality the civilians of Tigray have been subjected to, it’s hard to imagine how they will be effectively rehabilitated, how many families have been torn apart and how such trauma will impact young people?
What we do know is that the people of Tigray have suffered gravely. They are crying out for help, and they need someone to hear them.
source: the guardian