Source: African Arguments

The Tale of Eritrean Withdrawal from Tigray: But Where is the Border?

Debating Ideas is a new section that aims to reflect the values and editorial ethos of the African Arguments book series, publishing engaged, often radical, scholarship, original and activist writing from within the African continent and beyond. It will offer debates and engagements, contexts and controversies, and reviews and responses flowing from the African Arguments books.

Issaias and Abiy














 Credit: All Africa

During a session in parliament on March 23, 2021 Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia publicly acknowledged Eritrean involvement in his country’s ongoing civil war in Tigray but indicated that it would take some time for Eritrea’s forces to withdraw. Three days later, the Prime Minister issued a statement announcing that the government of Eritrea had “agreed to withdraw its forces out of the Ethiopian border” and that the Ethiopian army “will take over guarding the border area effective immediately”. This begrudging admission – after four months of unconvincing denial – that Eritrea was in fact waging war inside Ethiopia was, in large measure, a result of sustained pressure from the European Union and the Biden Administration in the United States. However, the announcement raises several important questions, one of which has been at the heart of the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict all along and could determine its conclusion or continuation.

Selling reorganizing and rotating units as withdrawal

In responding to questions from members of the Ethiopian House of Representatives, Abiy Ahmed explained away Eritrea’s crossing of the border into Ethiopia as a response to TPLF provocations and because the suddenly weakened Ethiopian military could not give security guarantees to Eritrea. He assured the parliamentarians that once Ethiopia rebuilds its pre-war military capacity to guard its own borders, the issue of Eritrean troop presence in Tigray would cease to exist. One is then compelled to ask how it is that in three days Ethiopia regained its pre-war military strength to guard its borders, give Eritrea the needed security guarantees, and execute Eritrean military withdrawal. Ethiopia is in no position to demand withdrawal of Eritrean military; without whose support it could not contain – much less defeat – the TPLF. Nor would President Isaias give in to such demands as he seeks total demise of the TPLF.

The Prime Minister’s announcement of Eritrean withdrawal from Tigray is nothing more than public relations theatrics. Troop movements on the ground show that Isaias’ regime, with the connivance of the Ethiopian government, is merely reorganizing and reinforcing its units and repositioning them for plausible deniability while it continues with its scorched earth campaign against the TPLF/TDF, and indeed the people of Tigray. Before the Prime Minister’s announcement, six brigades had returned from Tigray to Eritrea. These brigades belonged to three infantry divisions that carried out the bulk of fighting and bore the brunt of casualties. Their return to Eritrea had more to do with their need to recuperate and replenish their personnel than an intent to withdraw from Ethiopia.

Since Prime Minister Abiy’s announcement, confidential sources on and near the ground report that there has indeed been large-scale movement of Eritrean troops within Tigray and between Eritrea and Tigray. Accordingly, as of late March 2021, an entire division composed of popular militia has returned to central Eritrea. A unit of the 23rd Division has also reported back and has been sighted in western Eritrea. The fast-changing developments make it hard to conclusively establish final position or deployment destination. But while a few units have returned to Eritrea and a few others have been rotated to the border area, credible reports from the ground indicate that the Eritrean government has in fact reinforced its forces in Tigray rather than drawn them down. On balance, confidential sources from the area are reporting that Isaias Afwerki has as of late March/early April committed some 40 percent of Eritrean military personnel in a last-ditch effort to finish off what remains of the TPLF.

Partially because of that troop build-up, fighting has intensified across many parts of Tigray. The other reason for the intensification of fighting is because Tigrayan forces are ambushing Eritrean government forces on the move and attacking their rear as they are rotated to new positions. Two such rotated brigades of the 16th Division, for example, travelled in a large convoy from areas of active fighting in Tigray’s lowlands and arrived in Biyara and Badme at the end of March 2021. These two villages were once contested between the two countries and Ethiopia held them until the outbreak of the current war because the TPLF refused to relinquish them to Eritrea. Even if one were to assume the remaining Eritrean troops were to be similarly rotated to the border between the two countries, the exact location and legality of that border remains unresolved.

The unresolved border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia

Following the 1998–2000 border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, an international arbitral court ruled on the delineation of the border between the two countries. The TPLF-led government in Ethiopia first rejected the ruling and later demanded to negotiate its implementation, i.e. physical demarcation of the border. President Isaias Afwerki rejected all attempts at negotiations and insisted, instead, that the border ruling is first upheld to the letter and the border demarcated. Eritrea bore hefty consequences of the ensuing sixteen years of no-war no-peace.

The rise of Abiy Ahmed to power in 2018, and his offer of peace with Eritrea that included full acceptance of the International Court of Arbitration’s ruling on the border, presented an opportunity to settle the issue for good. Instead of demanding the demarcation of the border as he had done during the TPLF era, President Isaias dropped his steadfastly held position and altogether bypassed the neighboring Tigray region to make common cause with the young, inexperienced but hugely ambitious new Prime Minister in Addis Ababa. The two leaders travelled regularly to each other’s capitals, scheming the eradication of their common enemy, the TPLF, which took precedence over the permanent settlement of the border issue. The Eritrean leader especially betrayed his country’s best interests in pursuit of vengeance against his enemies now confined in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

One wonders about the usefulness of the conflict even if it is aimed at the existential necessity of eliminating the TPLF. Are we better off today, even if we assume for a moment that the TPLF is gone, which has not yet happened? How much more useful would it have been to find some form of a compromise, some give-and-take, an accommodation with a little loss of face and pride in the interest of avoiding war, than the disaster and generational calamity we find ourselves in today? The tenor of these questions also applies to the TPLF, which is an equal party to the ongoing war.


The border issue between the two countries remains unresolved, and an interstate or irredentist confrontation could keep flaring up unless the boundary is demarcated on the ground and the issue is settled once and for all. It would, therefore, be critically important for the United States, the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations to bring the border issue back to the table and help resolve it permanently. Resolving the contention between the current or future governments and other actors in the two countries is paramount as such a resolution would deny President Isaias (or future leaders in either country) any pretext to cross a mutually accepted and clearly defined international border. In the context of the current conflict, without a mutually agreed upon clear delineation and demarcation of the border, the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s declaration rings hollow. So do the grand ideas about cooperation between the two countries on a wish-list of mutually beneficial initiatives.


First, the current conflict in Tigray must end immediately. Not only is it an unwinnable war but also the issues that led to it can only be resolved through political means. Therefore, the following four things need to happen expeditiously:

  1. The immediate, complete, unconditional and internationally verified withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray and any other parts of Ethiopia.
  2. An internationally monitored ceasefire in Tigray, unfettered humanitarian access and protection of civilians and refugees.
  3. The urgent demarcation of the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
  4. A political dialogue on all aspects of the conflict, including matters related to the Tigray’s relations with Eritrea.
  5. An independent investigation of all the alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Tigray.

I have no illusions about the difficult work this will involve. The nature of the conflict, the current alignment of interests, the level of political and military investments by all (including the scale and size of their deployments), and above all, the obdurate nature of President Isaias, offer little hope, if any, of an Eritrean withdrawal anytime soon. But the alternative is the continuation of this horrendous war with even ghastlier consequences for civilians and for regional stability. The regional impact of the Tigray war is already being felt, and far greater risks loom on the horizon. The international community simply cannot allow this conflict to continue. As an immediate measure, it must put concerted, constant pressure on both Addis Ababa and Asmara to effect an Eritrean withdrawal that is subject to independent verification through the United Nations or another multilateral mechanism. This is positive pressure for peace, not interference. And we know that the two governments are not impervious to such pressure when the message is firm and unambiguous.

United Nations, United States, April 15 – The United Nations Security Council is set to meet Thursday to discuss the crisis in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region following a US request, diplomatic sources said Wednesday.

The 15 Security Council members will hear from UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, who will talk about the continued difficulties in getting aid to refugees, according to the UN.

In early March Lowcock called for Eritrea to withdraw its troops from Tigray, in the first recognition by a UN official of Eritrea’s involvement in the fighting there.

UN officials in Geneva have accused the Eritrean army of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Tigray. Asmara rejects the accusations.

Thursday’s meeting will be a closed-door session similar to the March 4 meeting on Tigray.

At that time China and Russia opposed adopting a unanimous statement calling for an end to violence in the region as both countries consider the matter an internal Ethiopian affair.

Ethiopia is a longstanding US ally, but Washington has been increasingly alarmed since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive in Tigray in November.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spoken of “ethnic cleansing” in Tigray, where Eritrean troops also intervened to fight the local ruling party.

Source=UN Security Council to meet on Tigray crisis » Capital News (capitalfm.co.ke)

APRIL 15, 2021  NEWS

Here is the article in the latest edition of the Mail & Guardian – click link below

Eritrea Free Dawit Mail & Guardian

APRIL 14, 2021  NEWS

Expert Opinion on the Possibilities of Obtaining Documents for Eritrean Refugees in the Context of Family Reunification

For German klick here

Since the beginning of 2020, we have also been supporting family reunification from third countries outside the EU as part of a new project. We have focused on supporting families whose relatives are in East Africa or the Middle East. The project is carried out in close cooperation with our partner International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). Cases are mainly, but not exclusively, referred to us through the UNHCR Central Mediterranean Family Reunification Project. Within the framework of this project, we provide legal assistance, in particular to children and young people at risk who are in third countries outside the EU and wish to be reunited with their family members who have received international protection in Germany.

In the context of our work, the lack of official documents has quickly emerged as the central problem in family reunification procedures, especially in the East African region. Most of the families do not have the documents that are generally required in family reunification procedures in the European Union. Although other member states are more flexible regarding the submission of alternative proof, the lack of documents often leads to the rejection of family reunification applications, especially in cases concerning Germany. Families from Eritrea and Somalia are particularly affected by this. While it is generally accepted that Somalia does not have a functioning document system and therefore official documents cannot be presented, German authorities believe that Eritrea has a well-functioning document system and that it is therefore possible and reasonable for Eritrean refugees to present Eritrean documents. However, this differs fundamentally from the experiences of Eritrean families, according to which the subsequent procurement of official documents is often not possible and/or tied to unreasonable conditions.

It is therefore necessary to clarify which official documents can be obtained subsequently from Eritrean authorities and which conditions must be met in order to do so. Equal Rights, in cooperation with the international organization International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), has therefore commissioned an expert opinion to clarify these questions in more detail.

The report concludes that Eritrea does not have the well-functioning document system that is attributed to it. Rather, many life events (such as births or marriages) remain officially undocumented. The subsequent procurement of documents is tied to the payment of the so-called diaspora tax and the signing of a so-called declaration of repentance. Although this is already known, the report reveals that the collection of the diaspora tax is arbitrary and thus abusive. For example, contrary to Eritrean law, social welfare recipients are also required to pay the tax.

Another key finding of the report concerns the reports of Eritrean refugees from third countries in East Africa, such as Sudan or Kenya. According to these reports, Eritrean missions abroad in these states generally deny Eritrean refugees consular services if they cannot prove that they fled Eritrea before the peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia in June 2018. Thus, it is simply impossible for these individuals to obtain documents.

In addition, the report sheds light on the special constellation of unaccompanied minors residing in third countries to pursue their family reunification procedures. German authorities assume that unaccompanied minor refugees can easily obtain official documents from Eritrean diplomatic missions abroad. However, the report shows that this is already not provided for in Eritrean law and, according to reports from Eritrean refugees, it is proving to be practically impossible as well.

These findings require urgent consideration in Eritrean family reunification procedures, both by the embassies of the EU member states responsible for these procedures and by the national courts.

The full report can be found here.

A publication of the report in German is already planned.

Understanding the Sudan-Ethiopia confrontation

Wednesday, 14 April 2021 22:21 Written by


There is a complex reality behind the clashes between Ethiopia and Sudan over two key issues: the Nile and the al-Fashaga triangle.

These issues have been bubbling away for years, but they appear to be coming to a head.

Ethiopia now accuses Sudan of acting as a safe haven for the Tigrayan authorities against whom they are fighting a war. [See below] But this might only be a trigger for a wider conflict.

Ethiopia fears that the Tigrayans will manage to link up with Sudan to create a corridor along which essential supplies can pass – as they did during the last long war that Tigray fought from 1975 – 1991. Hence the first, and most ferocious, attacks of the Tigray war were on Humera: the tripoint between Ethiopia-Eritrea-Sudan.

Ethiopia and Eritrea (together with Amhara militia and special forces) were determined to take the western region of Tigray, which they have largely succeeded in doing.

But this does not explain the underlying problems.

The Nile

The Grand Renaissance Dam, that Ethiopia is close to completion on the Blue Nile, is the product of an American survey in the 1950’s and ’60’s. It was begun in 2011 and is a hydroelectric dam, which only uses the water to produce electricity.

Despite this Egypt has objected to it from the start. Cairo is fearful that the quantity of water it receives from the Nile – on which it depends for over 90% of all its water – will decline.

Sudan also objects, fearing that its farmers will lose the rich silt on which they depend and that if the water in the dam is released in an uncontrolled manner, it will wash away their farms.

Egypt and Sudan argue – correctly – that under colonial treaties they are guaranteed exclusive rights to all of the Nile’s waters.

Ethiopia argues – correctly – that the water falls as rain on its mountains, and it is its sovereign right to decide how to use the Blue Nile, as it flows through its territory.

The three countries have engaged in years of negotiations in an attempt to find a middle way between these positions.

Egypt and Sudan call for international mediation to produce a binding agreement. Ethiopia argues that it will rely on the African Union to find a solution. The parties back these positions because they will believe theywill produce the result they want.

The situation is now coming to a head. In July Ethiopia plans the second filling of the dam. Egypt’s President al-Sisi warns he will act if a drop of Nile water is lost to Egypt. “If it happens, there will be inconceivable instability in the region that no one could imagine,” the president said.

To back his words, Egypt and Sudan have engaged in joint military exercises. Commando and air forces from Egypt and Sudan concluded a five-day military exercise at Merowe air base in northern Sudan on April 5.

The warning is clear: don’t fill the Grand Renaissance Dam, or face the consequences.

The al-Fashaga triangle

Few outside of the region had heard of this border area before the current crisis. But the demarcation of the land between Ethiopia and Sudan goes back to treaties dating from 1900.

In a nutshell, the well watered, fertile area has been controlled and farmed by Ethiopian farmers for many years, even though the Sudanese maintained it is theirs.

When the war in Tigray broke out, Ethiopia was short of soldiers and withdrew the troops guarding the farms to fight in Tigray. This left the farmer, who were from the Amhara ethnic group, exposed. Sudan seized their chance and pushed in its own troops. The Amhara farmers fled to Ethiopia and the Sudanese swore never to give up the land.

But the Amhara are key allies of Prime Minister Abiy – both politically and militarily. With the Prime Minister facing elections in June, he cannot ignore their views.

Eritrean troops have also been seen entering the disputed territory, in support of the Ethiopians.


These forces are pushing Sudan and Ethiopia towards confrontation.

  1. Ethiopian fears that Sudan will serve as a secure rear base to re-supply the Tigrayan forces against which Addis Ababa is fighting.
  2. Ethiopia is worried that al-Fashaga will remain in Sudanese hands, alienating the Amhara.
  3. Sudan and Egypt are furious that Ethiopia refuses to reach a binding treaty over the Grand Renaissance Dam.

Will the recent armed clashes turn into a full-scale war between Ethiopia and Eritrea (on the one side) and Sudan and Egypt (on the other)? Not if the international community can help it. The African Union, Europeans and the USA are all working with the Saudis and the UAE to try to prevent this.

But wars come about when underlying tensions are misjudged and an unexpected event sparks a conflict which none of the parties can away from. We are close to that point.

Source: Borkena

TPLF remnant forces operating as guerrilla routed, claims Ethiopian Army Officer

Guerrilla Ethiopian Army – Remnants of TPLF leaders with some guerrilla forces attempting to escape to Sudan but will be impossible says a senior army officer 

Guerrilla Ethiopian Army – Borkena

Let. General Bacha Debelle, coordinator of army mobilization within the Ethiopian Defense Force, on Tuesday, said that remnant of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces.

They were obstructing logistic supply to the Ethiopian Defense Force and for humanitarian aid along the Mekelle road, he added.

A social media update from the Defense Force quoted Let. General Bacha Debelle was saying that the TPLF Guerrilla Forces was routed.

He added that the TPLF force is in great desperation as few TPLF leaders now not in a position to wage war as it has lost a significant portion of its guerrilla force.

Furthermore, it was said that some members of the TPLF leadership have been attempting to escape to Sudan – something that General Bacha sees as impossible.

Guerrilla Ethiopian Army TPLF leaders with guerrilla attempting

It is, however, indicated that TPLF was able to open military training facilities in different parts of the region and provide three days of military training, although General claimed that the facilities are now destroyed.

TPLF propaganda wing which is located in Diaspora has not yet remarked about the latest situation.

It is to be recalled that Defense Chief of Staff, General Berhanu Jula, said that the TPLF structure was completely destroyed following the two weeks war in early November. He even claimed that there is no chance for it to wage a guerrilla war.

News of TPLF regrouping and guerrilla war came after Ethiopia opened up the conflict region for “humanitarian accesses” following mounting pressure from the international community.

It is not verified from other sources if TPLF guerrilla forces met with a crushing defeat as claimed by the Ethiopian Defense Force.



Situation ReportLast updated: 13 Apr 2021

Source: UN OCHA


  • The access situation in Tigray is fluid and constantly changing. Despite recent improvements in access, active conflict in various areas this week restricted humanitarian response.
  • In addition to insecurity, humanitarian partners continue to flag challenges with capacity and resources to be able to scale up to the level needed to respond across Tigray.
  • Security permitting, humanitarian partners with the capacity and resources to expand into rural areas are looking at how to reach areas where no assistance has yet been provided.
  • The Government of Ethiopia is working to reach six Woredas that have not received any food assistance, targeting approximately 300,000 people.
  • Women and girls caught in the conflict continue to fall victims of sexual violence and abuse.

Situation Overview

The access situation in Tigray is highly fluid and constantly changing. While there had been improvement in access over the past weeks, this week witnessed widespread insecurity constraining humanitarian partners’ ability to move. Active hostilities have been reported in North-Western, Central, Eastern, South-Eastern and Southern Zones. The Alamata-Mekelle-Adigrat-Shire remains partially accessible. There have been sporadic incidents that have impacted this road in recent weeks, but for only short periods of time. Heavy fighting seems to have largely subsided in areas bordering Eritrea in Eastern and the northern Woredas of North-Western and Central Zones.  In Central Zone, fighting has been moving southwards, which has allowed some partners to move into areas that were previously inaccessible such as Abi Adi and scale up operations. There is however limited business activity and tensions remain high.  There has also been an improvement in access to Hagere Selam and surrounding areas. One partner was able to reach Kola Temben and Keyhe Tekli, while other areas in Central Zone remain inaccessible. Zana, which was partially accessible, is no longer accessible due to high levels of insecurity.

The active conflict, including attacks by unidentified armed groups on clearly marked aid agency vehicles pose a significant security challenge to the ongoing humanitarian operations. The Humanitarian INGOs forum (HINGOs) has, in a statement on 1 April, called on all parties to the conflict to ensure protection of all humanitarian aid workers and civilians to enable assistance to reach all people in need. The UN’s safety and security wing, OCHA and the Logistics Cluster in Mekelle are drafting an Operational Plan. The plan’s overall objective is to mitigate the impact of future disruptions on life-saving humanitarian operations through the provision of consolidated information to inform the best decision making. The plan will highlight key hotspots, the presence of partners (including national NGOs) in Tigray, with recommendations on how to sustain operations during the current crises.

In addition to insecurity, humanitarian partners continue to flag challenges with capacity and resources to be able to scale up to the level needed to respond across Tigray. Many areas across Tigray have only received food assistance, and this assistance has not reached the entire population (assistance figures are reportedly around 50-60 per cent of the total population, and assistance has generally been delivered once, or in some cases twice, during a period of four months. There is a need to ensure monitoring mechanism are instituted and efficiently enable inclusive access based on needs. During a joint mission to Tigray (22 to 26 March), OCHA and ECHO met with humanitarian partners in Mekelle and Shire and with the Shire Zonal Administrator. The team also visited four IDP sites in Mekelle, Axum and Shire. The mission noted that the overall IDP response in terms of food, shelter, protection and WASH remains largely inadequate.

In Western Tigray, tens of thousands of people continue to flee to the rest of the region, crossing the Tekeze River and arriving in Sheraro, Shire, Adwa, Axum, and possibly other locations. People have been found hiding in the bush, waiting to cross, but unable to move further. There are reports of many abandoned villages in Western Tigray. For the population remaining in the West, almost no services are available. There is a large IDP population that have arrived in Sheraro from Western Tigray, with the majority lacking resources to continue the journey to Shire by bus. There are only a few humanitarian actors operating in Sheraro and there is reportedly an urgent need to scale up WASH, health, NFI and food response. The Reporter newspaper, citing the NRC Secretary General, Jan Egeland, informed that the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) warned that emaciated children and pregnant women are among the at least 37,000 IDPs arriving into Sheraro.

Given the highly fluid displacement situation and access constraints, the overall number of people uprooted by the conflict in Tigray is not conclusively known yet, but according to the Regional Bureau of Labor and Social Affairs (BOLSA), there are an estimated 1.7 million displaced people across the region (as of 27 March).

Gross violations and abuses against civilians, including sexual violence, continue to be reported. The level of violence and the age of many victims calls for a robust mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) response, in addition to immediate access to medical services.

Security permitting, humanitarian partners that have the capacity and the resources to expand into more rural areas are looking into ways to expand, especially in areas where no assistance has yet been provided. Meanwhile, the Government of Ethiopia is working to reach six Woredas (Chila, Rama, Ahsea, Egela, Adet and Hahayle) that have not received any food assistance (approximately 300,000 people) since the beginning of the conflict, in Central Zone. Most of the health facilities in these Woredas have been looted and/or destroyed. They lack access to medical professionals, medical supplies and to medicines. The communities in these Woredas also need of WASH, NFIs, food and nutrition assistance.

To further increase humanitarian capacity to respond, the Government must bolster security to protect public structures and increase the confidence of public servants to return to work (including but not limited to salary payments), as well as administration capacity, particularly at the Zone, Woreda and Kebele levels. Deployment of trained and neutral police forces to protect essential services in crucial.  The restoration of the banking, electricity, basic communications and water services will alleviate suffering of displaced people and of vulnerable groups including women, children, people with disabilities and older people, and enable the scale up of response operations.

Humanitarian Preparedness and Response

Humanitarian presence is gradually increasing with improved access procedures in the Tigray Region. There are currently [as of 6 April 2021] 186 UN staff supporting the humanitarian response in the region (33 international and 116 national staff in Mekelle and 3 international and 34 national staff in Shire), and over 1,500 more aid workers with international and national NGOs. Humanitarian organizations continue to deploy additional staff to support the scale up of operations and ensure protection-by-presence amid reports of ongoing violence against civilians. There are 51 partners (Government, UN, NGO) operating across the region.

Food insecurity has worsened in the region, especially since the conflict erupted during the harvest season. Further deterioration is expected should the conflict continue and disrupt the next planting season. Limited food assistance, poor beneficiary targeting and lack of/restricted access to banking services are contributing to the food insecurity.

In a press statement, WFP informed it has begun providing emergency food assistance to vulnerable people in Tigray and has appealed for US$170 million to meet critical food and nutrition needs over the next six months. Partners have however raised concern about the adequacy of assistance as many areas across Tigray have only received food assistance, and this assistance has not reached the entire population (assistance figures are reportedly 50-60 per cent of the total population), and assistance has generally been delivered once, or in some cases twice, during a period of four months.

Shelter Cluster partners have reported logistical and supply capacity constraints, with an estimated response gap of about 64 per cent. While the Shire water supply system has been repaired, the current WASH response relies on water trucking and the water quality water is reportedly not safe. The INGO MSF and partners have expressed concerns the risk of disease outbreaks, in view of the upcoming rainy season. Furthermore, current vaccine distributions cannot accommodate the high number of new arrivals in Shire hence the need to urgently scale up health activities.

Nutrition Cluster partners are yet to launch mass-scale screening activities, while protection partners are advocating for increased budgets and resources to expand their capacity from the nine currently covered sites to all IDP sites.

In Western Zone, one round of food was distributed by the Amhara Regional Government. However, the distribution was reported by the local and zonal officials and beneficiaries to be inadequate, inconsistent and the food basket incomplete. Many people reportedly did not receive food. Since October 2020, water supply systems are not functioning due to power outage and unavailability of fuel. Residents and IDPs use water from unprotected sources for drinking and other purposes. So far, there is no WASH response in the visited areas, the only response mentioned was a one-time supply of 32,000 liters of fuel by CARE Ethiopia to Maykadra and limited WASH NFI supply with support from the Regional Water Bureau and UNICEF. Girls and women walk for nearly 3 hours round trip in search of water amidst security and potential GBV risks.


This map from the UN says it all: the flight of ordinary men and women as they are driven from their homes by Amhara militia in the West and Eritrean forces in the North.

In the West, people are fleeing as Amhara Faro militia and special forces “ethnically cleanse” the areas.

Tens of thousands have sought refuge in Sudan and Sheraro, which are now grossly overcrowded. Others have moved to Mekelle to escape fighting.

Importantly, areas along the border with Eritrea are now classified “hard to reach” because they have been taken by the Eritrean forces. Again, families are fleeing southwards.

UN OCHA Report 30 March 2021

  • The conflict has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people across Tigray, leaving people in urgent need of emergency shelter and basic household items, including kitchen utensils, blankets, mats, among others. While most displaced people are seeking shelter with relatives and friends, thousands are also living in overcrowded collective centres in different parts of Tigray. During the reporting period, partners highlight a marked increase in the number of newly arriving displaced people in Shire, Adwa, Mekelle, and Axum.
  • Cluster-led rapid assessments in Adwa, Axum, Shire and Abi Adi from 11 to 15 March further revealed a dire situation for newly displaced people. Large numbers of displaced people are taking shelter in schools, churches and host communities, though many are forced to stay in open air, exposing women and girls in particular to gender-based violence (GBV), in addition to other health and protection-related concerns. This situation is especially concerning given the upcoming rainy season, which threatens to aggravate the plight of displaced people in inadequate shelters. Partners highlighted that the situation in Abi Adi is particularly alarming, given that people have been displaced multiple times given recurrent episodes of fighting, while receiving very little humanitarian assistance. The response remains sub-optimal in all woredas visited, with sometimes up to 60 people staying in a single classroom. Findings from these recent assessments reflected many of the concerns highlighted by previous assessments in Mekelle, where people are sheltering in over-crowded classrooms, many of which have broken doors and windows and lack adequate lighting and sanitation facilities. In view of imminent plans to re-open schools and universities, which have been used as shelters for displaced people, partners operating in both Mekelle and Shire underscore the urgent need to identify and ensure adequate living conditions in alternative shelters. Meanwhile, authorities also report an increasing number of new arrivals in other major towns.


  • Since the conflict began, the Cluster has reached more than 146,000 displaced people with emergency shelter and core relief items, and distribution is ongoing for a further 59,719 people.


Conflict is impoverishing the region and destroying decades of donor-funded projects

Source: Financial Times

Alex de Waal The writer is executive director of the World Peace Foundation and a professor at Tufts University.

This month, Ethiopia, a low-income country facing economic difficulties, is making its case for a financial bailout at the spring meetings of the World Bank and IMF. It is also conducting a war of starvation in the northern Tigray region. Week by week soldiers are destroying everything essential to sustain life — food and farms, clinics and hospitals, water supplies. How should the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development treat a government engaged in widespread and systematic destruction and impoverishment, not to mention killing and rape?

Bank staff don’t like to make political judgments, but in this case the directors — representing the shareholders including the US and UK — cannot shirk their obligation to acknowledge the political realities in Ethiopia. Despite an information blackout, evidence of mass atrocities is coming to light.

A Belgian university group has documented more than 150 massacres. Health workers are treating hundreds of victims of rape.

The aid group Médecins Sans Frontières says that 70 per cent of health facilities have been ransacked and vandalised. The US State Department reports that militia from the Amhara region have ethnically cleansed the western part of Tigray. The huge army of neighbouring Eritrea has rampaged through the region — invited in by Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed.

On April 6, the World Peace Foundation published evidence that a tripartite coalition of the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies plus Amhara militia is using starvation as a weapon of war. Before the outbreak of conflict in November, Tigray was largely free from hunger. Today, three-quarters of its 5.7m people need emergency aid. Just over 1m are receiving support — but it is routinely stolen by soldiers after it is distributed. We can expect death rates from hunger already to be rising.

The scorched earth campaign is undoing decades of development. Fruit orchards have been cut down and industries employing tens of thousands have been looted. Hotels that once hosted tourists visiting Tigray’s historic obelisks and cave churches have been stripped bare. Fertile lands in the western lowlands have been annexed by the Amhara region and Tigrayans expelled. This looks like a concerted plan to reduce Tigray to poverty and leave its people dependent on food handouts. Regardless of who started the war and why, these actions go far beyond legitimate war aims. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has promised to investigate allegations of war crimes.

Alongside the human rights violations, donors will assess the reconstruction needs and compile an inventory of stolen or vandalised assets. On the list will be schools, clinics, water supply systems and university research departments, among other things — many of them paid for by multilateral agencies and governments. Who will foot the bill for rebuilding? At a time of straitened aid budgets, taxpayers in donor countries will balk at paying a second time around. Shouldn’t reconstruction be the responsibility of those who inflicted the damage?

This debate takes the World Bank into the troubled water of political conditionality on economic assistance. Ethiopia will raise objections, arguing that the conflict is a domestic affair and donors have no business interfering. It will also say that there are millions of people elsewhere in the country who need donor-financed assistance, such as through the flagship productive safety net programme, which helps poor farmers. An implicit threat lurking is the potential shockwave across Africa and beyond should a country of 110m people lurch into nationwide crisis.

But the war in Tigray isn’t a regrettable bump on the road to reform. A long war will devour Ethiopia’s resources, harden its authoritarian turn and deter investment. It is not too late to turn the country back from its track towards famine, protracted conflict and impoverishment. It starts with a ceasefire, so that aid can reach the hungry and farmers can plant. The agricultural calendar means this can’t wait.

Next is peace negotiations including the agenda of restitution and reconstruction. Rebuilding will be an expense for the cash-strapped government of Ethiopia, but essential to restore its reputation as a credible partner for investors and donors. The directors of the World Bank and IMF cannot shy away from these hard issues when they consider Ethiopian requests for additional funds over the coming weeks. They should not fund Ethiopia’s self-destruction, but instead use their leverage to insist on an end to war and starvation.


At around 9.00 this morning [Monday] Eritrean forces opened fire in the town of Adwa killing three, and injuring a further sixteen.

Six of the injured have been rushed to hospital in Axum, some 26 kilometres away, for treatment.

Local eyewitnesses say an Eritrean truck was coming down the street when it encountered a tuk-tuk carrying local people. There was no fighting in the area, according to local people.

The truck sounded its horn, but when the vehicle did not move out of its way fast enough the Eritreans opened fire.

Locals say this is often the way the Eritreans behave if they are angry because they have suffered a reversal on the battlefield.

Eyewitnesses say the troops were clearly Eritreans from their uniforms and the markings on their truck.


Prosecutors in Italy secretly recorded hundreds of conversations between human rights lawyers and their clients in cases related to allegations that NGOs operating rescue boats that saved thousands from drowning in the Mediterranean were complicit in people smuggling.

Source: The Guardian

Italian prosecutors secretly recorded human rights lawyers

Exclusive: hundreds of conversations with clients were wiretapped in cases relating to migrant rescue boats

Mussie Zerai










The Eritrean Priest Mussie Zerai Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

The Eritrean priest Mussie Zerai was recorded in August 2017 asking his lawyer to arrange a meeting with a prosecutor. Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

 in Palermo
Fri 9 Apr 2021 20.30 BST
Prosecutors in Italy have secretly recorded hundreds of conversations between human rights lawyers and their clients in cases related to allegations that NGOs operating rescue boats that saved thousands from drowning in the Mediterranean were complicit in people smuggling.

In a joint investigation with the Italian public broadcaster Rai News and the newspaper Domani, the Guardian has seen documents from prosecutors in Trapani, Sicily, detailing private conversations between human rights lawyers and their clients, including a priest, and with journalists in which confidential information was discussed regarding ongoing trials, private sources and legal defence strategies in upcoming hearings.

Rescuers from charities including Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières were last month charged by the Trapani prosecutors after a four-year investigation into claims of complicity with people smugglers in Libya, which in 2017 had led to the seizure of the Iuventa, a former fishing vessel run by the German NGO Jugend Rettet (Youth Rescue).

The investigation was heavily criticised by human rights groups but welcomed by Italy’s far-right populists, who raged against NGO rescue boats as “sea taxis”.

The most serious case appears to be that of Father Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean priest in Rome who runs the refugee rights organisation Habeshia and was in November 2016 officially placed under investigation by prosecutors in Trapani for abetting illegal immigration.

Zerai, a Nobel peace prize candidate in 2015, was acquitted of the charges, but during the investigation dozens of conversations with his lawyer discussing the case were recorded. Italian law forbids the interception of conversations under investigation and their lawyers, whose relationship is governed by attorney-client privilege.

The 30,000-page file seen by the Guardian reveals Zerai was recorded in August 2017 asking his lawyer to arrange a meeting with the lead prosecutor in Trapani to explain his innocence and saying he believed some media were attempting to discredit the work of NGOs in the Mediterranean. He was also recorded asking a senator, Luigi Marconi, for assistance in helping hundreds of Eritreans evicted from a building in Rome.

“If I was wiretapped while talking to my lawyer, it means I was also wiretapped talking with bishops, cardinals, employees of the Holy See and ambassadors,” Zerai said. “Where is the rule of law here? And this took place while people continued to drown in the sea.”

Rescue Ships

Rescuers from Save the Children transfer migrants from the Iuventa to their own ship during an operation off the Libyan coast in September 2016
Rescuers from Save the Children transfer migrants from the Iuventa to their own ship during an operation off the Libyan coast in September 2016. Photograph: Reuters/Alamy

The Italian justice ministry this week announced it was to “urgently carry out the necessary preliminary investigations” into the Trapani prosecutors following reports that journalists covering migration in the Mediterranean had been recorded in conversation with rescuers and confidential sources.

Journalist groups described the move as one of the most serious attacks on the press in Italian history.

One of those journalists, Nancy Porsia, was recorded in conversation with her lawyer, Alessandra Ballerini, who also acts for the family of the Cambridge PhD student Giulio Regeni, who was kidnapped and murdered in Cairo in 2016.

Porsia had her telephone bugged for more than five months in 2017 by prosecutors in Trapani. The investigators also tracked her movements using her mobile phone’s geolocation data.

Her conversations with Ballerini that are transcribed in the files seen by the Guardian include the lawyer revealing confidential information about a trip to Cairo in which she feared for her safety, and Porsia telling Ballerini that she was having difficulty securing a visa for Libya due, she believed, to her investigations of the notorious alleged human trafficker and Libyan coastguard commander Abd al-Rahman Milad, known as Bija.

Porsia also expressed her fear of being under investigation after police summoned her to a meeting in Rome, but Ballerini is heard reassuring her, explaining that they would not have summoned her if that was the case. She tells her not to worry because their telephone conversation is covered under client privilege.

Investigators also secretly recorded the journalist’s conversations with two other lawyers, revealing their defence strategies in two other ongoing trials. Michele Calantropo, a lawyer for Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe, a refugee accused in a case of mistaken identity of being one of the world’s most sought-after human traffickers, Medhanie Yehdego Mered, was recorded asking Porsia to provide evidence as an expert witness on the dynamics of people smuggling in north Africa.

Documents dated 16 November 2017 show prosecutors recording a phone call between Porsia and the lawyer Serena Romano. At the time, Romano was working in a trial against alleged drivers of migrant boats, in which Porsia was called to appear as an adviser to describe the smuggling of migrants. Investigators in Trapani were listening in on the planned defence strategy between the lawyer and Porsia and filed the transcription.

“Those wiretaps had to be stopped,” Calantropo told the Guardian. “They have no relevance in their investigation, not to mention that they are totally outlawed and violate the European convention on human rights.”

Trapani’s acting head prosecutor, Maurizio Agnello, said in a statement: “In anticipation of the conclusion of investigations ordered by the general prosecutor’s office in Palermo and by the inspector general of the ministry of justice, to whom I sent a detailed report on this matter, I believe it is most opportune and responsible for me not to participate in any further discussions in this matter.”