By MSF Directors of Operations
Half a century since a handful of volunteers from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) took our first steps in 1971 in providing humanitarian medical assistance, over 63,000 people continued this work in 2021, providing care to people across more than 70 countries.
Trauma and tragedy in Tigray, Ethiopia
Few places in 2021 needed the presence of lifesaving medical workers more than Ethiopia. The ongoing conflict in the country’s northern Tigray region has resulted in widespread devastation – hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and are living in terrible conditions, cut off from food, water and medical assistance. In March, we reported that barely one in seven medical facilities in the region we had visited over a three-month period were fully functioning, either due to a lack of staff and supplies or because they had been systematically attacked and looted.
Our teams in Tigray, sadly, have not been spared the violence. In June, our driver Tedros Gebremariam Gebremichael, our assistant coordinator Yohannes Halefom Reda, and our emergency coordinator María Hernández Matas, were brutally murdered. Even today we do not know with certainty by whom or why; we are continuing to work to find the answers for their families. We miss them and mourn their loss.
Between the violence, access constraints and administrative issues, Tigray has proven to be a hostile environment for humanitarian groups to work in. From August, only one MSF team was able to operate in Tigray, and from late November, none at all. This was due to a combination of our decision to withdraw in the wake of our colleagues’ murders and the impossibility to supply and support our teams on the ground. In late July, the Dutch section of MSF was ordered by the authorities to suspend activities in Ethiopia for three months. Deliberately orchestrated media attacks on NGOs in general, and on MSF in particular, combined with the lack of answers on the murder of our colleagues, made our activities in Ethiopia particularly difficult to uphold. During that period, we were only able to continue working in one region in the country and with Ethiopian refugees in neighbouring Sudan.