Through piecing together information from a number of reliable sources the following picture has emerged. It concentrates on the fighting and the fate of nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees who had fled to Tigray and are being cared for by the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.
It should be read in the context of the background article, which was published yesterday.
- Eritrean military abuses.
- There have been several reports that Eritrean officers have been ordered to shoot their own wounded troops rather than move them back to Eritrea and treat them in hospitals. This is apparently being done to prevent information about the Eritrean role in the war reaching the wider public. This information comes from different sources.
- Refugees from Hitsats camp have been forcibly removed from Tigray and have been seen in the Eritrean town of Adi Quala, where they have been jailed. Many of the senior officers have been removed from the rest of the group. No-one knows whether they are dead or alive.
- When Shire was first occupied by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, the Eritrean military was asking Eritrean refugees living there whether they had received training at Sawa. The implication was that those who had been trained might be immediately placed in uniform and armed, to fight at the front.
- The Eritrean military is engaged in the looting of Tigrayan assets. This includes cleaning banks of money, and is taking truckloads of goods to Eritrea daily. Yesterday there was a large battle in Faitsi — a village between Zalambesa and Adigrat, on the northern border of Tigray, in the east. The purpose was apparently to clear the main north-south road from Eritrea to Mekelle. This has an obvious military objective, but also facilitates the plundering of Tigrayan goods.
- The Tigrayan bakeries in Zalembessa are being ordered to bake bread for Eritrean troops.
- Eritrean refugee camps.
- As a consequence of abuses such as items A.4 and A.5 above, the Tigrayans may be even angrier at Eritreans than they are at the Ethiopian Federal Forces. In the past Eritrean refugees in UNHCR refugee camps have relied on the goodwill and support of their Tigrayan neighbours. This may have evaporated, leaving the Eritrean refugees who have not been forcibly returned to Eritrea, and Eritreans living in the wider community, at increased risk of retribution from Tigrayans.
- Mai Aini may be the camp that is currently greatest risk. Example: Tigrayan forces aligned with the TPLF are reported to have confiscated two private truckloads of produce that were destined for the camp at Mai Aini. Example:A Tigrayan guard shot and killed a young Eritrean man in Mai Aini yesterday (circumstances are unknown).
- Military activity is concentrated just outside of Mai Aini. Tigrayan soldiers are trying to reinforce their positions, while Federal forces are converging on them. This could lead to fierce fighting, endangering camp residents. The Mai Aini refugees had been able to buy some supplies from stores in the nearby town of Mai Tsebri, but now they are cut off from that.
- Fearing Tigrayan vengeance, many or most of the able-bodied refugees are escaping from at least some of the camps on foot, leaving behind mothers with young children, the elderly, and the disabled. Those on the run are going to Gondar, or seeking security in other villages or towns.
- Looting is occurring in some of the camps, including for food. It’s unclear who is doing the looting.
- Independent agencies that have worked with the refugees now warn that the status of the camps in Tigray may have to be re-assessed. Given the danger of being engulfed by the fighting and the rising hostility towards Eritreans (possibly including the Eritrean refugees) it’s possibly that the UN should evacuate the refugees from one or more of the camps, rather than trying to protect them there.