The United States is asking the international community to join forces and act as tens of thousands of refugees from Ethiopia’s Tigray region and elsewhere face “immeasurable suffering” amid a devastating humanitarian disaster that has turned into a full blown crisis.
“The international community cannot be idle in the face of immeasurable suffering,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement on June 15, referring to refugees fleeing conflict in Ethiopia and elsewhere, ahead of the World Refugee Day on Sunday, June 20. “We urge donor countries to continue to fund humanitarian crisis responses around the world, and we call on other countries to increase opportunities for refugee resettlement and local integration.”
For the United States, Thomas-Greenfield said the Biden administration has stepped up efforts to help refugees around the world amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The administration has raised the U.S. refugee admission program cap while the U.S has been a large donor in humanitarian aid, providing more than US$10.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2020.
Helping refugees, she said, “is part of President Biden’s commitment of more than 580 million doses of vaccine worldwide, and it comes in addition to $2 billion already contributed to COVAX this year to get life-saving vaccines out to healthcare workers and vulnerable populations around the world.”
“This World Refugee Day, let us join together in search of more inclusive solutions to displacement and lasting resolutions to the conflicts that drive it,” added Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield.
The deteriorating situation in Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia, is particularly concerning and has gained a great deal of attention in the United States and elsewhere.
The leaders of the Group of Seven who began meeting in Cornwall, United Kingdom, on Friday, June 11, ended their summit on Sunday, June 13, with a clear message on Ethiopia: The ongoing crises and the unfolding humanitarian disasters there cannot be allowed to continue.
They called for human rights abusers in Tigray to be brought to justice and for Eritrean troops to withdraw from the region, as well as for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and other Ethiopian leaders to “advance a broader inclusive political process”
“We are deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and reports of an unfolding major humanitarian tragedy, including potentially hundreds of thousands in famine conditions,” G7 leaders said in their final communique. “We condemn ongoing atrocities, including widespread sexual violence, and we welcome the ongoing Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) investigations and call for full accountability for reported human rights violations in Tigray and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.”
G7 leaders also called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities, unimpeded humanitarian access to all areas and the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces” and urged all parties to pursue “a credible political process, which is the only solution to the crisis.”
“We further call upon Ethiopia’s leaders to advance a broader inclusive political process to foster national reconciliation and consensus toward a future based on respect for the human and political rights of all Ethiopians,” they said.
The United States, the European Union, the United Nations and others, including several human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have been pleading with Abiy Ahmed Ali for seven months to allow humanitarian assistance in the northern region of Tigray to save lives, but the Ethiopian Prime Minister has remained unmoved and defiant. However, with things worsening by the day, what else can the international community do?
On Friday, June 11, the United Nations warned that tens of thousands of malnourished children were at risk of dying in inaccessible areas in Tigray, a region in the northern part of Ethiopia, which has been ravaged by a conflict since November 2020.
“Without humanitarian access to scale up our response, an estimated 30,000-plus severely malourished children in those highly inaccessible areas are at high risk of death,” UNICEF spokesman James Elder told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland.
Elder’s comments came only a day after the United States of America and the European Union warned in a joint statement Thursday that “human rights atrocities” and the “full-blown humanitarian crisis” are alarming in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, and are currently pushing 400,000 innocent people to “the brink of famine and loss of life.” The United Nations also said that some 350,000 people in Tigray were facing famine, warning that two million of the people in the region were on the brink of extreme conditions.
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said “there is famine now in Tigray,” adding that “every expert you speak to will tell you this is going to get worse.”
His new data showed that the number of people classified as extremely hungry was “higher than anywhere in the world at any moment since a quarter of a million Somalis lost their lives in 2011.”
The United Nations has appealed for more than $200 million to scale up its response in the region, warning that more than 90 percent of the more than five million people in the Tigray region need emergency food assistance.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power announced on Wednesday that the United States will be providing more than $181 million to deliver life-saving food, agricultural supplies, safe drinking water, shelter, health care, and essential services to protect the most vulnerable in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where a worsening humanitarian catastrophe threatens millions of civilians.
“This urgently needed humanitarian aid will address life-threatening hunger and acute malnutrition by providing nearly 100,000 metric tons of food—enough to feed three million people for nearly two months—as well as seeds, tools, and fertilizers for farmers to replant crops intentionally destroyed by armed actors,” USAID said in a statement. “In addition, USAID will help protect the most vulnerable with safe spaces and psychosocial support for women and girls, case management for survivors of gender-based violence, training for social workers and community case workers, and programs to reunite children separated from their families.”
The United States is the world’s largest donor of humanitarian assistance for the Tigray response, contributing nearly $487 million since the crisis began.
The US and the EU in their joint statement on Thursday also accused Ethiopian and Eritrean forces of using starvation as a weapon of war by blocking access to humanitarian assistance to the region, adding that “Using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war is putting at risk the lives of millions.”
In Resolution 2417 (2018), the UN Security Council strongly condemned the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare and urged action against those responsible. The Security Council requested that the Secretary-General report swiftly to the Council when the risk of conflict-induced famine occurs.
The joint statement was signed by USAID Administrator Samantha Power; EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell Fontelles; EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič and EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen.
Recalling the 1980s famine in Ethiopia, which led to an estimated one million deaths, many as a result of food assistance being blocked, US and EU leaders said they feared the seven-month old conflict in Tigray may be moving in the same direction.
“Of the 6 million in Tigray, 5.2 million people are facing hunger and requiring emergency food assistance. With 90 percent of the population in extreme need of humanitarian aid, the stakes could not be higher,” they said. “We have continuously called for an end to the violence and for unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of Tigray, but we are witnessing increasing restrictions.”
According to them, the restrictions on access are “severely impeding the ability of humanitarian workers to assist the most vulnerable, notably in blocked rural areas, where the crisis is worst.”
“Deliberate and repeated hindrances by the military and armed groups, the regular looting of humanitarian assistance, are driving the population towards mass starvation,” they warned.
“In addition, we are seeing wide-scale human suffering that is entirely preventable. Systematic violence is being inflicted upon civilians, including widespread sexual violence, and extra-judicial and ethnically-motivated killings. The population’s essential livelihood assets and health services are being destroyed.
“Such methods of warfare are grave violations of international humanitarian law. The independent investigation of human rights violations is of paramount importance.
“All parties to the conflict, as well as the international community, need to act urgently to avert a large-scale famine in Tigray and the potential for this crisis to destabilize the broader Horn of Africa region.”
They urged “all parties to the conflict to agree to a ceasefire immediately to facilitate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need in Tigray regardless of where they are and to stop violence against civilians.”