Home ETHIOPIA Thousands trapped as UN aid workers wait to access northern Tigray region

Thousands trapped as UN aid workers wait to access northern Tigray region Updated for 2021

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Updated: February 24, 2021

Just six days ago, the United Nations publicly criticized the Ethiopian federal government for not allowing the agreed-upon unimpeded access to deliver humanitarian aid and medical supplies to displaced persons in Tigray. The UNHCR was calling the situation dire and untenable. Stating that Refugees are incredibly vulnerable and unable to provide for their own needs, requiring quick action to save thousands of lives.

UN aid workers providing assistance to residents in southern Tigray region
UN aid workers providing assistance to residents in southern Tigray region

Chris Melzer, a Spokesperson for UNHCR in Ethiopia, part of a response team that rapidly deploys to critical missions worldwide, spoke to Today News Africa exclusively about the difficulties gaining access to the northern parts of the Tigray Region, which are blocked from humanitarian aid.

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The United Nations had an agreement with the Ethiopian government at the end of November 2020 to allow UN agencies and NGOs into the currently blocked-off areas.  However, the government demands many approval steps, which take time, buried in red tape, and reasons for more and more actions to gain access, Melzer explained.

The internally displaced Ethiopians want to go home. However, the UNCHR doesn’t prioritize their return home. They prioritize the Ethiopians’ stabilization because they have critical needs that need to be addressed before thinking about resettlement.

Here residents spend most of the day collecting clean water.
Here residents spend most of the day collecting clean water.

The Ethiopian government has shown great hospitality for refugees all over the region, historically. They have hosted several UNHCR camps around the country, which is different from most countries that tend to have camps near borders. Despite the issues getting into the region, Melzer felt UNHCR has a good relationship with the government as discussions continue. In fact, representatives from the European Union and the Austrian Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz, have traveled to Ethiopia to request access for UNHCR and the World Food Programme.

With so much diplomatic support, international development representatives working in the region still do not know precisely how many people are trapped in the northern area of Tigray. Information is not forthcoming about the region, and it isn’t easy to understand why. They know that in one town, Shire, they are sleeping in open fields, without water, and eating tree bark to survive.

Here residents spend most of the day collecting clean water.
Here residents spend most of the day collecting clean water.

Melzer confirmed the UNHCR’s readiness to move into the region with support and supplies. It’s just a matter of access. His hope is that people worldwide will not take for granted the fortunate conditions they live in, a world where he worries about whether his children brushed their teeth before bed and not whether or not they will go to bed hungry. 

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Kristi Pelzel
Kristi Pelzel
Kristi Pelzel is a Senior International Correspondent at Today News Africa, working across U.S. and African markets, based in Washington, D.C. Her expertise spans broadcast, digital, and social media communication, nested with policy research, analysis, and writing. A member of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Kristi holds a B.A. from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California, and an M.A. from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

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