Ethiopia conflict: thousands of Eritrean refugees flee new deadly attack on camp

Eritrean refugees in the Afar region of Ethiopia receive emergency assistance.
© UNHCR/Laurence Bron
Eritrean refugees in the Afar region of Ethiopia receive emergency assistance.

Ethiopia conflict: thousands of Eritrean refugees flee new deadly attack on camp

Migrants and Refugees

Thousands of Eritrean refugees sheltering at a camp in the Ethiopian Afar region, have fled following a deadly attack on the facility earlier this month, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday.

At a briefing for journalists in Geneva, a spokesperson the UN agency said that unidentified assailants targeted Barahle camp on 3 February after fighting engulfed the area, according to harrowing accounts provided by refugees.

Chaos and terror

“Refugees who trekked the long distance to the regional capital in Semera told UNHCR staff that armed men entered the camp on 3 February, stole their belongings and occupied their homes,” said Boris Cheshirkov, speaking on behalf of UNHCR. “According to their testimonies, at least five refugees were killed. Family members lost one another in the chaos of fleeing the camp.”

The attack is just the latest instance of Eritrean nationals living in Ethiopia coming under fire, since conflict erupted and spread from the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray in November 2020.

A joint investigation by the UN human rights office (OHCHR), and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in November 2021, highlighted how Tigrayan and national Ethiopian fighters had put the security and lives of thousands at risk in Shimelba camp, between November 2020 and January 2021.

‘Scared and struggling to get enough to eat’

Following the attack in Afar, over 4,000 refugees reached Semera, “where UNHCR together with the Ethiopian Refugees and Returnees Service and other partners are providing immediate support with shelter, relief items, food as well as clean water”, said Mr. Cheshirkov.

Another 10,000 refugees are also reported to be living in Afdera town, some 225 kilometres from Semera, added the UN official. “Others are also believed to have fled towards the towns of Altefa and Dabure, which is further inland.”

Just last month, UNHCR urged the international community to do more to end the fighting in northern Ethiopia after finally reaching Eritrean refugees in Tigray region “scared and struggling to get enough to eat”.

That alert came after air strikes in and near the camps of Mai Aini and Adi Harush, home to more than 25,000 refugees.

“With yet another refugee camp severely impacted, UNHCR remains extremely worried about the safety and wellbeing of thousands of Eritrean refugees caught up in the conflict,” Mr. Cheshirkov warned. “Hostilities must cease and humanitarian access must be provided so that we can be there and help the people who have urgent needs.”