Since UNHCR’s original emergency appeal for the humanitarian crisis in Tigray, which has displaced millions inside Ethiopia and abroad into Sudan, two of the four Eritrean refugee camps in the Tigray region have been looted and destroyed, a threat of severe food insecurity has arisen, and a surge in gender-based violence has been reported. Two other Eritrean refugee camps in the neighbouring Afar region have also been affected due to conflict spreading into the region. Amid a challenging and complex situation, UNHCR is appealing to donors to help it bring vital protection and assistance to people displaced by the conflict.
The situation inside Tigray is volatile and fluid. In the last week of June, Tigrayan forces took control of the towns of Mekelle and Shire and are now reported to be in control of large parts of Tigray. Both the federal authorities and the new de facto authorities in Tigray continue to highlight their willingness to work with the humanitarian community, and it is hoped that access to some of the most affected areas may become easier, allowing for activities to scale up in previously hard-toreach areas. However, access into Tigray remains extremely difficult. Meanwhile conflict continues across other parts of Tigray, including a worsening security situation in the areas around Mai Tsebri. This is the location of the two Eritrean refugee camps of Mai Aini and Adi Harush, where access issues are hindering the movement of supplies and staff, and the safe relocation of refugees to alternative locations.
The updated UN Humanitarian Response Plan for northern Ethiopia estimates (as of 9 July) that 5.2 million people may be in significant humanitarian need, but that the challenges to scaling up assistance are formidable. UNHCR and partners will review their operational approach and plans to ensure the flexibility to adapt to potential IDP movements back to areas of return or new displacement in different areas, including further displacement of refugees. Multiple UN inter-agency assessments conducted in June 2021 across central, western and eastern Tigray found there were limited or no health services; partial or non-functioning water systems with limited water trucking services; limited banking services; that insecurity was seriously hampering farming; and that schools have been looted.
UNHCR’s partners are receiving indications of rising hunger, as the conflict exacerbated an already fragile context marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and desert locust invasion. Families are having to cope with severe food insecurity with the harvest season having been missed. With no trade in or out of the region, markets are about to collapse. Malnutrition is likely to have increased significantly. The June 10 Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report highlighted that over 350,000 people are already facing catastrophic conditions of food insecurity (IPC 5) and more than 1.8 million people were or are in emergency level (IPC 4) in Tigray and adjacent locations in Amhara and Afar in May and June.
Serious protection needs persist across the region. The conflict has driven a dramatic rise in reported gender-based violence cases, believed to be a fraction of the actual number of incidents, given the lack of access to medical facilities in many parts of the region and social stigma around reporting.
As of end June 2021, according to a biometric verification exercise, Sudan hosted 54,039 Ethiopian refugees who had arrived since November 2020. There were 46,505 individually registered refugees in eastern Sudan from Tigray, as well as 7,534 in Blue Nile state from Benishangul region who have not yet undergone biometric verification. The majority of the new arrivals are hosted in camps that need improvements to shelter, sanitation, health and road infrastructure—particularly in light of anticipated extreme weather during the rainy season—as well as improvements in protection to better guarantee physical safety and reduce the risks of genderbased violence.
With the developments in Tigray in late June 2021 and shifting conflict dynamics, UNHCR is preparing for the possibility of new refugee influxes from Ethiopia into Sudan, pre-positioning supplies and ensuring preparedness at border reception points while working with the Government to identify additional locations for refugee settlements.
Tigray’s pre-conflict population of 6 million included 96,000 registered Eritrean refugees, of whom approximately 60,000 were actively collecting food assistance in 2020. The population of the camps has fluctuated due to the changing security environment in Tigray. There were 32,000 refugees registered in Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps as of June 2021, with approximately 23,000 actively collecting assistance. Two other camps, Hitsats and Shimelba, were looted and destroyed during the conflict, scattering refugees across Tigray and beyond. UNHCR teams, in collaboration with the Ethiopian Government’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) have been tracing refugees to bring them to safety. More than 11,000 of the 20,000 refugees previously in the two destroyed camps have been accounted for; outreach and tracing continue including in hard-to-reach areas and in the capital Addis Ababa.
A more robust and enhanced multisectoral response is still required for forcibly displaced people across Tigray, encompassing the whole spectrum of basic needs. As the protection lead agency with commitments towards IDPs, returnees and host communities, UNHCR is working with partners on mitigating the effects of armed conflict on the civilian population. UNHCR will endeavour to ensure civilians have access to assistance and services in a safe, equitable, accessible, and dignified manner. Protection mainstreaming measures, including protection from sexual exploitation and abuse and accountability to affected populations, will be critical to ensuring that the needs of vulnerable populations are recognized across the response. UNHCR and partners will review their operational approach and plans to ensure the flexibility to adapt to potential IDP movements back to areas of return or new displacement in different areas, including further displacement of refugees.
Priorities and strategies for the remainder of the year will depend largely on the security situation, logistical challenges, risk management and coordination with UNHCR partners and stakeholders in what is a highly complex humanitarian and operational environment.
To deliver life-saving assistance and protection to up to 120,000 Ethiopian refugees who may seek refuge in Sudan, to an estimated 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray, and to 650,000 IDPs, UNHCR is appealing for $164.5 million to cover the period January-December 2021. This includes $101.3 million of needs in Ethiopia and $63.2 million in Sudan.