After U.S., Canada tells citizens to avoid Ethiopia due to violence, civil unrest in Tigray, Oromia and elsewhere, says “situation is volatile”

The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has advised Canadians to avoid traveling to the troubled regions of Tigray and Oromia, as well as other areas in Ethiopia due to conflict, insecurity and civil unrest.

“The situation is volatile and unpredictable in several areas throughout the country, due to ethnic tensions raised by a centralized governance,” the Canadian government said in a travel advisory on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. “Violent demonstrations could occur before, during and after the elections.”

The Canadian government urged its citizens already in Ethiopia to monitor local media for information on ongoing demonstrations, avoid areas where demonstrations and large gatherings are taking place and follow the instructions of local authorities before, during and after the legislative elections due to take place on June 21, 2021.

Specifically, the Canadian government noted that military operations, which have been occurring in northern Ethiopia since November 2020, have created an environment that “remains unpredictable.”

“A heightened security presence is still in place. Sporadic clashes between military forces and armed groups continue to occur. Travel by road in and out of this region can be restricted without notice. Flights can also be cancelled or delayed. Access to telecommunications in the area can be intermittent and food insecurity remains a major concern,” the government said.

The Canadian government also advised citizens to avoid border areas that often see higher criminal activity and violence, including in rural areas.

“Confrontations between organized criminal groups, ethnic groups, and Ethiopian authorities pose a risk,” it said.

The government added that the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea “is still a heavily militarized security corridor despite the peace agreement signed in 2018.”

“Armed conflict could erupt without notice. Border crossings could also close with no prior notice,” the government said, adding that “inter-ethnic clashes, clan disputes, and banditry are frequent near the border with Kenya.”

“Security forces regularly carry out military operations, which periodically raises tensions. Cross-border violence also occurs. Armed groups hostile to the Government of Ethiopia operate in several areas near the border. Kidnapping also poses a risk in this area,” the government added.

It also warned Canadian citizens to avoid traveling to Oromia, which is a different region from Tigray.

“Violent clashes between residents and security forces have occurred in recent years across Oromia, especially in West Wollega, East Hararge, and Guji. Civil unrest has escalated to significant violent incidents, resulting in casualties,” the government said. “The security situation could deteriorate without warning. A heightened security presence remains throughout these areas. Local authorities may impose curfews without notice. Internet and cellular data outages could occur.”

In addition, the Canadian government added that “there have been several ethnic attacks in the Benishangul Gumuz region as part of the Mekele conflict since 2019. They resulted in several hundred deaths. Violent clashes can occur without warning.”

Canadian citizens were also advised to avoid the border between Ethiopia and Sudan, where it said, “sporadic clashes occur in the border areas with Sudan, despite both countries’ efforts to improve the security situation in this area.”

“Border skirmishes since December 2020 have concerned disputed farmland in Sudan’s Al-Gedaref state. Within 20 km of the Ethiopia–Sudan border, the northwestern Amhara region is particularly prone to violent incidents and border issues,” the government added.

Travelers were also advised to avoid Amhara, and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples regions because “violent clashes between residents and security forces have occurred sporadically across Amhara and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples regions.”

“These have led to casualties and mass arrests. Residents have also randomly attacked cars and disrupted road travel. Militia attacks have also occurred. The security situation could deteriorate without warning. A heightened security presence remains throughout these areas. Local authorities may impose curfews without notice. Internet and cellular data outages could occur,” the government said. 

United States also has advised citizens not to travel to Ethiopia

The United States has also advised Americans not to travel to Ethiopia “due to civil unrest and communication disruptions” as well as the coronavirus pandemic.

The United States Department of State renewed its travel advisory for Ethiopia on June 7, 2021, replacing the previous travel advisory issued on April 21, 2021. 

“The Department continues to advise travelers not to travel to Ethiopia,” read the advisory. “Ethiopia’s National Electoral Board has announced staggered national elections beginning June 21, 2021. The pre- and post-election period may include increased political activity, demonstrations, and intercommunal tension. Election-related activities could escalate into violence,” the Department said.

Specifically, the U.S. government advised Americans not to travel to Tigray Region and border with Eritrea “due to armed conflict, civil unrest, and crime,” as well as Amhara region districts (woredas) that border Tigray Region “due to armed conflict and civil unrest.”

It also told them not to travel to the border area with Somalia “due to potential for terrorism, kidnapping, and landmines,” as well as the border areas with Sudan, and South Sudan “due to crime, kidnapping, armed conflict, and civil unrest.

They should not also travel to the border areas with Kenya “due to potential for terrorism and ethnic conflict.

“The Government of Ethiopia has previously restricted or shut down internet, cellular data, and phone services during and after civil unrest. These restrictions impede the U.S. Embassy’s ability to communicate with, and provide consular services to, U.S. citizens in Ethiopia,” the U.S. government said.

It added that the U.S. Embassy has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens outside of Addis Ababa, and as a precaution, U.S. government personnel must request permission for any travel outside of Addis Ababa (personal and official), and are required to carry personnel tracking devices and, in some cases, satellite phones.

The government added that “due to armed conflict, the Tigray Region and the border with Eritrea are currently off-limits for U.S. government personnel, with limited exceptions to support humanitarian capacity efforts.”

“Due to the current situation in Tigray, the border roads with Eritrea are closed. Conditions at the border may change with no warning,” the government said.

“Armed incursions from the Tigray Region into Amhara Region have resulted in injuries and deaths in some municipalities along the shared border. Government security forces have used lethal force in some areas. The involvement of Amhara Special Forces and militia in the Tigray conflict is another risk factor,” said the advisory.

It also urged Americans to reconsider travel to the Somali region due to potential for “terrorism and internal border unrest with Afar Region,” as well as Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR) “due to armed conflict and civil unrest.”

In addition, Americans should also reconsider traveling to the East Harargezone area and the Guji zone of Oromia Region “due to armed conflict and civil unrest,” and the Benishangul Gumuzand the western part of Oromia Region “due to armed conflict and civil unrest.” 

“Civil unrest and armed conflict have resulted in injuries and deaths in the Kamashi Zone, the Metekel Zone, and the border between Benishangul Gumuz and the western part of Oromia Region. Government security forces have used lethal force in some areas,” the U.S. government said.

U.S. on elections in Ethiopia

On Friday, June 11, the Biden administration said it was “gravely concerned” that the June 21 elections in Ethiopia may not be free, fair or credible, and this could lead to violence.

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerkii is welcomed by Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed upon his arrival at Addis Ababa International Airport, Ethiopia, Saturday, July 14, 2018. (AP Photo Mulugeta Ayene) 
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerkii is welcomed by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed upon his arrival at Addis Ababa International Airport, Ethiopia, Saturday, July 14, 2018. (AP Photo Mulugeta Ayene)

“The detention of opposition politicians, harassment of independent media, partisan activities by local and regional governments, and the many interethnic and inter-communal conflicts across Ethiopia are obstacles to a free and fair electoral process and whether Ethiopians would perceive them as credible,” U.S. Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement. 

The administration described the exclusion of large segments of the electorate from the contest due to security issues and internal displacement as “particularly troubling.”

It, however, called on the government of Ethiopia and all Ethiopians to embrace inclusion and dialogue after the elections, adding that they should not be seen as “a singular event” but rather as part of a democratic political process that involves “dialogue, cooperation, and compromise.”

“To that end, we urge the Government of Ethiopia and all Ethiopians to commit to an inclusive, post-election political dialogue to determine a path forward to strengthen the country’s democracy and national unity,” Price said.

The hardening of regional and ethnic divisions in multiple parts of Ethiopia threaten the country’s unity and territorial integrity, the Biden administration added. 

“The period following these elections will be a critical moment for Ethiopians to come together to confront these divisions.  The United States stands ready to help Ethiopia address these challenges and find a path to a brighter future.  We stand with all Ethiopians working toward a peaceful, democratic, and secure future for the country,” Price added.

The elections will be taking place at a time when so many Ethiopians are suffering and dying from violence and acute food insecurity caused by conflict across the country.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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