Panafrican News Agency

Ethiopian crisis: Eritrean forces, Tigrayan militants abused Eritrean refugees - says HRW

Nairobi, Kenya (PANA) – Eritrean government forces and Tigrayan militias have committed killings, rape, and other grave abuses against Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia's Tigray region, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.

In a report, the human rights group urged all warring parties  to cease attacks against refugees, stay out of refugee camps, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

HRW said between November 2020 and January 2021, belligerent Eritrean and Tigrayan forces alternatively occupied the Hitsats and Shimelba refugee camps that housed thousands of Eritrean refugees, and committed numerous abuses.

Eritrean forces also targeted Tigrayans living in communities surrounding the camps.

Fighting that broke out in mid-July in Mai Aini and Adi Harush, the two other functioning refugee camps, again left refugees in urgent need of protection and assistance, the report said.

“Eritrean refugees have been attacked both by the very forces they fled back home and by Tigrayan fighters,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at HRW. “The horrific killings, rapes, and looting against Eritrean refugees in Tigray are evident war crimes.”

HRW said since January, it has interviewed 28 Eritrean refugees, a number of aid workers and analysed satellite imagery.

It said it sent letters summarizing the findings and requesting further information to Ethiopia's Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA), the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), Eritrea's permanent mission to the UN and other international organizations in Geneva. While ARRA and UNHCR responded,  Eritrea did not.

The report said on 19 November, Eritrean forces arrived in the town of Hitsats and indiscriminately killed several residents.

"They occupied and pillaged the town and took over the refugee camp. Some refugees took part in the looting, contributing to community tensions."

Then on 23 November, Tigrayan militia entered Hitsats camp and attacked refugees near the camp’s Orthodox church.

Clashes between the militia fighters and Eritrean soldiers ensued in and around the camp, lasting several hours. Nine refugees were killed and 17 badly injured.

“For years, Tigray was a haven for Eritrean refugees fleeing abuse, but many now feel they are no longer safe,” Bader said.

“After months of fear, abuse, and neglect, Ethiopia, with support from its international partners, should ensure that all Eritrean refugees have immediate access to protection and assistance.”

-0- PANA MA 16Sept2021