U.S. offers Americans ‘repatriation loans’ to depart Ethiopia immediately as conflict worsens

"The embassy is keeping a close eye on availability of seats on these commercial flights. Over the past several days, there have been a dozen or more commercial flights with capacity, and we have been working to support the – those Americans who are in Ethiopia who wish to leave," he said.

The United States government confirmed on Tuesday that it is offering Americans ‘repatriation loans’ to depart Ethiopia immediately as the raging conflict between Ethiopian forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters and their allies worsens.

“We are offering repatriation loans for Americans who may wish to leave but don’t have the upfront funds to pay for that. We are able to process U.S. passports and consular reports of birth abroad for those preparing to depart, and the embassy does remain able to provide these services,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters in Washington. “Of course, wherever the security situation is somewhat tenuous, we’re keeping – we keep a close eye on conditions.  Should those conditions change, our – the status of our embassy will – could well change as well. But at this point, we understand that there is calm in and around Addis, and again, the commercial airport remains open with commercial flights available with excess capacity.”

Department Spokesperson Ned Price holds the Daily Press Briefing at the U.S. Department of State in Washington 
Department Spokesperson Ned Price holds the Daily Press Briefing at the U.S. Department of State in Washington

Price described the security situation in Ethiopia as tenuous, adding that “there is a window for Americans to depart via commercial airlines from the international airport in Addis Ababa.”

“The embassy is keeping a close eye on availability of seats on these commercial flights. Over the past several days, there have been a dozen or more commercial flights with capacity, and we have been working to support the – those Americans who are in Ethiopia who wish to leave,” he said.

On the diplomatic front, Price said U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman remains in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, with African Union special envoy for the Horn of Africa Olusegun Obasanjo and both leaders are working together with Ethiopian officials and other actors to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Olusegun Obasanjo 
Olusegun Obasanjo

Price said, “When it comes to Ambassador Feltman, we discussed this yesterday, but he returned to Addis yesterday, November 8th, from Kenya, where he was. He is there. He continued our support of – and he was there to continue our support of AU Special Representative Obasanjo to urgently press the parties to de-escalate the conflict and to enter into negotiations towards a durable cessation of hostilities. He has continued to raise our concern about the risk of inter-communal violence, and this is also something that we spoke about yesterday. It’s of grave and important concern to us. And we do believe, as you’ve heard from the AU special envoy, that there is a window, a small opening, to work with the special envoy to further these efforts, these collective efforts, to peacefully resolve the conflict in Ethiopia.

“In addition to meeting with Mr. Obasanjo yesterday, former President Obasanjo I should say, the special envoy met today with the Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen Hassen. And all the while we are working very closely with international partners on a bilateral and multilateral basis, as well as with action through, as I said before, the AU but also the UN, including with our engagement yesterday. This is something that we have been intensely focused on to try to take advantage of the opportunity that we have now, and we will continue to do so in support of President Obasanjo and his efforts.”

Feltman 
U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman addresses the conflict in Ethiopia at the U.s. Institute of Peace in Washington DC on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.

He said the United States continues to call for a peaceful resolution to the conflict through dialogue and condemns arrests or killings on the basis of ethnicity.

Price said the Biden administration agrees with Obasanjo that there does exist a window of opportunity to resolve the Ethiopian conflict.

“The special envoy, Former President Obasanjo, has spoken to this window of opportunity that he believes, and in turn we believe, does exist and continues to exist. And we are fully in support of his efforts to achieve progress towards the cessation of hostilities and the provision of humanitarian access that is so desperately needed in Tigray and the surrounding regions,” he said.

Obasanjo addressed the United Nations Security Council from Addis Ababa on Monday and said time was running out and that the window of opportunity was still there but closing.

Price’s briefing on Tuesday was dominated by questions on Ethiopia. Below is the interaction he had with reporters on Tuesday, November 9, 2021.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And then just to move slightly to the south, can you update us on Ambassador Feltman’s meetings, travels and meetings?  Do you still see the small window of opportunity for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Ethiopia there?  Will he go on to Sudan?  And anything else you can think of on that.

MR PRICE:  Sure.  Let me offer some context at the top, and then happy to provide an update on Ambassador Feltman’s activities in the region.

So as you have heard us say, we remain fully engaged in efforts to move all sides in the conflict to an immediate cessation of hostilities. All those in need, regardless of ethnicity, should have immediate access to lifesaving humanitarian assistance. That is why we call for an immediate end to the human rights abuses and violations committed against civilians. 

Our embassy in Addis, as you have heard us say, remains open under the leadership of our ambassador. Special Envoy Feltman, as I alluded to, remains in the region to further our diplomatic efforts. And we urge all parties to exercise restraint, to end hostilities, to respect human rights, to refrain from hostile rhetoric, and to protect civilians.

As you know, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield spoke to the situation in Ethiopia at a UN Security Council briefing on November 8th. We have been fully – working fully in tandem with the AU Special Representative Obasanjo, and we remain supportive – nothing but supportive – of his efforts to facilitate dialogue among the parties towards a cessation of hostilities. 

The special envoy, Former President Obasanjo, has spoken to this window of opportunity that he believes, and in turn we believe, does exist and continues to exist. And we are fully in support of his efforts to achieve progress towards the cessation of hostilities and the provision of humanitarian access that is so desperately needed in Tigray and the surrounding regions.

When it comes to Ambassador Feltman, we discussed this yesterday, but he returned to Addis yesterday, November 8th, from Kenya, where he was. He is there. He continued our support of – and he was there to continue our support of AU Special Representative Obasanjo to urgently press the parties to de-escalate the conflict and to enter into negotiations towards a durable cessation of hostilities. He has continued to raise our concern about the risk of inter-communal violence, and this is also something that we spoke about yesterday. It’s of grave and important concern to us. And we do believe, as you’ve heard from the AU special envoy, that there is a window, a small opening, to work with the special envoy to further these efforts, these collective efforts, to peacefully resolve the conflict in Ethiopia.

In addition to meeting with Mr. Obasanjo yesterday, former President Obasanjo I should say, the special envoy met today with the Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen Hassen.  And all the while we are working very closely with international partners on a bilateral and multilateral basis, as well as with action through, as I said before, the AU but also the UN, including with our engagement yesterday. This is something that we have been intensely focused on to try to take advantage of the opportunity that we have now, and we will continue to do so in support of President Obasanjo and his efforts. 

Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia 

QUESTION:  Okay.  And not to suggest that he doesn’t have enough on his plate already just with Ethiopia, but does he have plans to go to Sudan or even maybe Somalia on this current trip?  Or do you expect him to stay in Addis?

MR PRICE:  I expect he will stay in the region, but in terms of any follow-on travel, I just don’t have an update for you on that. 

QUESTION:  But he’s – okay.  But he’s in —

MR PRICE:  He’s in Ethiopia at the moment.

QUESTION:  And is remaining there through tomorrow?

MR PRICE:  He is remaining there at least through today, and we’ll keep you posted if he —

QUESTION:  Well, today, it’s like – it’s late there.

MR PRICE:  We will update you on subsequent – any subsequent travel.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Humeyra.

QUESTION:  Ned, you guys have seen the reports about UN staff being detained in Ethiopia.  Do you have a response to that?  And have you been able to verify their ethnicity?  That’s been reported that they’re all Tigrayans.

MR PRICE:  Well, we have seen the reports, and they are – we find them concerning.  We clearly condemned the previous expulsion of UN officials from Ethiopia.  And if confirmed, we would similarly condemn arrests of UN staff members based on ethnicity. 

We understand from reports, as you alluded to, that those arrested are Tigrayan. Ethiopian Government security forces – security force harassment and detention on the basis of ethnicity is completely unacceptable. We equally condemn revenge attacks by militants associated with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the TPLF, and we call on all parties to cease such activities and respect human rights and the rule of law.

QUESTION:  And on this window of the opening, can you talk a little bit about what kind of proposals are on the table, at least like give an approximate idea? You said that you’re fully – U.S. is fully in support of AU’s efforts.  What exactly are those that you’re supporting?  And he also gave a timeline yesterday that he said by the end of the week we should have an idea about, like, where we are with the humanitarian situation.  Does that calendar, that timeline, sound realistic to the United States as well?

MR PRICE:  Well, we think it’s a window of opportunity, and President Obasanjo has said as much as well. We know that these windows can be fleeting. That is why the United States and the AU as well are working as quickly as possible, in our case, to facilitate discussions, to lend our good offices, and to lend our support where we can. 

As you mentioned, President Obasanjo and the AU is in many ways leading this effort. It is not for us to detail any proposals that President Obasanjo or the AU more broadly may have. We also know that – well, let me back up. We want these efforts to have the best prospects for success, and we know that oftentimes success is directly correlated to the lack of profile, of prominence of these efforts. And so we want to continue this quiet dialogue.  We’ve been engaged in dialogue with Ethiopian Government officials, with the TPLF, with, of course, the AU, with other regional partners and regional bodies as well.  So it’s not something we’re prepared to detail publicly at this moment, but it is something that we’re working on very concertedly with our partners. 

QUESTION:  And so Special Envoy Feltman, is he directly involved in – like, is the U.S. involved in the – to secure the release of these UN staff?  Like, how forward-leaning are you guys in this?

MR PRICE:  We will support in any way we can.  We have made clear – we made clear when UN staff were expelled that we condemn those actions. These reports have just emerged within the past few hours, but the reports do tend to suggest an arrest based on ethnicity, and that is something that, if confirmed, we would strongly condemn.  So whatever we can do to secure the release of these individuals we will be prepared to do.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Staying on Ethiopia, has State enhanced the security at the U.S. embassy in the capital? And also, you mentioned yesterday that the State Department can provide a repatriation loan for U.S. citizens wanting to leave and has encouraged U.S. citizens to leave. Does the department have an idea on the number of U.S. citizens or LPRs in Ethiopia who currently want to leave?

MR PRICE:  In terms of our embassy, as you know, we went to a status that we call ordered departure, a status through which we’re able to draw down some of our embassy personnel. The embassy does, however, remain open. We are prioritizing services to the American citizen community in Ethiopia because, as you alluded to, we have for several days now been urging American citizens in Ethiopia to avail themselves of the commercial options that remain available to leave Ethiopia. 

The security situation is tenuous, and there is a window for Americans to depart via commercial airlines from the international airport in Addis Ababa. The embassy is keeping a close eye on availability of seats on these commercial flights. Over the past several days, there have been a dozen or more commercial flights with capacity, and we have been working to support the – those Americans who are in Ethiopia who wish to leave.

As you said as well, we are offering repatriation loans for Americans who may wish to leave but don’t have the upfront funds to pay for that. We are able to process U.S. passports and consular reports of birth abroad for those preparing to depart, and the embassy does remain able to provide these services.  Of course, wherever the security situation is somewhat tenuous, we’re keeping – we keep a close eye on conditions.  Should those conditions change, our – the status of our embassy will – could well change as well.  But at this point, we understand that there is calm in and around Addis, and again, the commercial airport remains open with commercial flights available with excess capacity.

Barbara.

QUESTION:  Can you say anything about whether there is any more interest in talking about negotiations or a ceasefire from either party in Ethiopia, since neither have publicly mentioned it or moved in that direction?

And I also have a question from one of my colleagues who isn’t here, but if you want to just do that first.

MR PRICE:  Look, in terms of these negotiations, this is not something that we’re going to livecast.  These are discussions that are being had between Ethiopian officials, government, TPLF, and associated forces, and the African Union.  These are discussions that we’ve also had in private as well, not only with various Ethiopian elements but also with regional parties.  But we are not going to speak to the positions of the various parties.  We will leave it to them to characterize their positions. 

Again, we are lending our support.  We are lending our good offices.  We are lending our diplomacy and the catalytic power that that entails to the efforts of the AU, President Obasanjo, and others with whom we’re working around the clock to try to facilitate a cessation of hostilities. 

QUESTION:  All right.  And then I have a question for my colleague, who wasn’t able to be here, about Georgia, about Saakashvili and his transfer from prison cell to prison hospital against his will.  He is alleging inhumane treatment, that he was dragged out, beaten, and humiliated verbally and physically.  So the question is:  What is the State Department response, especially in light of comments by the U.S. embassy and European politicians that Saakashvili’s treatment is a test for the Georgian Government?

MR PRICE:  Well, we are closely following, as we have been since it occurred, the imprisonment and now the treatment of former President Saakashvili, including today’s statement from Georgia’s Public Defender’s Office that raises concerns about the conditions of Mr. Saakashvili’s imprisonment.  In light of that statement today, we urge the Government of Georgia to immediately take steps to ensure that Mr. Saakashvili’s urgent mental health and medical needs are addressed.  We continue to urge the Government of Georgia to treat Mr. Saakashvili fairly and with dignity in accordance with international standards and Georgian law.  As we know, it is the responsibility of the Government of Georgia in this case to protect inmates from abuse, including mental abuse; to provide adequate medical care; and to protect their private health information in accordance with Georgian law.

Kylie.

QUESTION:  Can I just circle back to Ethiopia really quickly?  I’m just wondering – obviously the Biden administration has put resources into trying to get to some optimal solution there, but does the Biden administration view it as the U.S. having a responsibility to broker some sort of a peace agreement there?  How do you view your involvement and the necessity of it here?

MR PRICE:  Well, this is a civil war, and this is a conflict that predates this administration, but it is, as I alluded to yesterday, not in the DNA of this administration to stand on the sidelines with the knowledge that an engaged, active, energized United States has extraordinary and perhaps unparalleled catalytic ability to bring together various factions, to push for progress.  This is what we have sought to do since the earliest days of this administration.  We’ve sought to do this knowing that this is a conflict that has roots that go back well before November of last year and decades and much longer, actually, before that.

So we are clear-eyed about what is taking place, but we are also clear-eyed about what the United States and only the United States can bring to the table.  And we have, as I said, brought to bear our good offices, our diplomacy, our personnel, various policy tools that we have put in play and that we have alluded to in an effort to, in the first instance, relieve the humanitarian suffering of the people of Tigray and surrounding regions and now to do all that we can to bring about a cessation of hostilities.

We know what it is that the United States – we know that we are in some ways extraordinary in what we can bring to the table, what we can do, but we also know that this is a conflict that has deep roots.  And so we are quite clear-eyed about the challenge.

QUESTION:  And just to be clear, if diplomacy doesn’t work here, what kinds of conversations are being had internally in the Biden administration about what more the U.S. would do – military, sanctions, and the like?

MR PRICE:  Well, in many ways we know that diplomacy has to work, and we have heard from all sides that there’s a recognition that there needs to be a diplomatic offramp to this conflict.  So there is not, in our minds, in our estimation, another way to end this conflict with any durability in any sustainable way.  And for us, what we are seeking to support is a durable, sustainable, negotiated solution to this conflict that, first off, is predicated on a cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION:  And can we go to Yemen?

QUESTION:  Sorry.  What are the extraordinary —

QUESTION:  Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION:  Well, I just want – what are these extraordinary ways that you bring to the table?  I mean, anyone can send aid.

MR PRICE:  Matt, I think it is —

QUESTION:  Is it a – you’re not seriously considering some kind of military option —

MR PRICE:  No, no, no, I did not mean to suggest that at all.

QUESTION:  Well, what —

MR PRICE:  I’m – I am —

QUESTION:  But, I mean, you said a couple times that, like – that you bring things to the table that nobody else can bring and you said that we are in some ways extraordinary in what we can bring to the table.  So what is so extraordinary about —

MR PRICE:  I think it is the fact that —

QUESTION:  I mean, I know Jeff Feltman is an extraordinary guy, but what are the ways – what are the extraordinary ways —

MR PRICE:  Matt, I think underlying the question that Kylie asked and underlying the question that I believe it was you asked yesterday – there is an assumption that the United States is going to be engaged in this, and I think there is some logic to that assumption, because the world often —

QUESTION:  Okay.  But what’s the —

MR PRICE:  The world often looks to the United States for our leadership, for our energy, for our diplomacy, for our good offices, for the catalytic ability that we can bring to bear, that you don’t see other countries attempting to exercise.

QUESTION:  And yet, when you’re asked about what kind of leadership you’re putting – what you’re putting through, you say, well, it’s all up to President – former President Obasanjo and we’re not going to talk about it, because apparently transparency is not good in this case.  Right?

MR PRICE:  I think —

QUESTION:  I mean, I understand democracy goes – I mean, democracy – diplomacy is like mushrooms, right?  It grows best in the dark.  But still, I don’t understand what the extraordinary ways you are, other than having an envoy there – but other people have envoys there.

MR PRICE:  Matt, I think the – I think there are many elements to many actors here that are looking to the United States that are —

QUESTION:  Who?

MR PRICE:  — that welcome our active diplomacy in this.

QUESTION:  Is Prime Minister Abiy looking to the United States?  Is the TPLF looking to the United States?

MR PRICE:  As you know, Matt, as you know, our special –

QUESTION:  I don’t know.  Are they?

MR PRICE:  As you know, our special envoy has met with the prime minister. 

QUESTION:  Yes.

MR PRICE:  We have engaged with the TPLF.  We are engaged in this —

QUESTION:  And has he?

MR PRICE:  We are engaged in this diplomacy at the invitation and at the request of various actors here.  So —

QUESTION:  Are the Ethiopian Government and the TPLF?

MR PRICE:  The fact that our special envoy has met with the prime minister –

QUESTION:  All right.  Okay.

MR PRICE:  — suggests that that is a welcome engagement.

QUESTION:  Has Ambassador Feltman met with representatives of the TPLF himself?

MR PRICE:  We have engaged with the TPLF.

QUESTION:  No – well, yes or no?  Has Ambassador Feltman met – former President Obasanjo has, and he’s gone up there.  Has Ambassador Feltman gone up there?  Has he met with members of the TPLF?

MR PRICE:  As you know, he’s been based in Addis, but we have engaged with the TPLF.

Yes, Said.

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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