The Tigray Refugee Crisis: 5 Things You Should Know

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By Gabriel Salter, Sona Circle

A humanitarian crisis has broken out in Ethiopia. Federal government and Eritrean forces have invaded the region of Tigray, causing thousands of refugees to flee to neighbouring Sudan.

Here are 5 things you should know about the crisis.

  1. Over 60,000 Ethiopians have sought refuge in Sudan due to civil war

In November 2020 the Ethiopian government declared war on the regional government of Tigray, accusing them of violating their sovereignty and the rule of law. Neighbouring Eritrea took advantage of this and also invaded Tigray to destroy its rivals in the region.

Thousands have been killed, 60,000 people have fled to Sudan and millions are in need of support.

  1. Refugees are living in awful conditions

Refugees face terrible conditions in Sudan.

The camps are horribly cramped. For example, Hamdayet camp has a capacity of 300 but has received more than 20,000 refugees. This means refugees live in crowded, unsanitary conditions and are vulnerable to diseases, including Covid-19.

Civil war has caused supply chains to break down, meaning clean water, fuel, medical supplies, and food are inaccessible.

The violence in Tigray has also worsened the existing Eritrean refugee crisis. 100,000 Refugees from neighbouring Eritrea have lived in camps in Tigray for some time. The invasion of Tigray therefore also reduced their access to food, fuel and water. Many report being forced to drink dirty water and eat tree bark to survive.

  1. A power struggle sparked the civil war

The immediate cause of this crisis was the political conflict between the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the government of Abiy Ahmed.

The TPLF were the leading group that overthrew Ethiopia’s military dictatorship in 1991 and established democracy in 1994. Since then they ruled the country for roughly 30 years.

However, in 2018, after mass civilian protests at wealth inequality, government land sales and police violence, this changed.

Newly elected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed began to sideline the TPLF, removing its officials from key government posts and reducing the autonomy of regions like Tigray where the TPLF dominated local government.

In response, the TPLF solidified control over Tigray, increasingly refused to obey the central government and attacked government military in the region.

In November 2020 this tension reached breaking point as the central government invaded Tigray to destroy the TPLF. 

  1. The West has some responsibility for this

Western countries have helped cause the instability that generated this civil war and refugee crisis.

In the past 200 years they have massively impoverished the entire African continent through colonialism.

In Ethiopia’s case, Italy colonised its coastal region (modern Eritrea) in the 1880s and the rest in the 1930s. This impoverished the region and created an unstable political and economic landscape for its people.

It also helped create division between Eritrea and Ethiopia which encouraged wars between the two that continue to this day. This has caused countless destabilising refugee crises and impoverished both countries.

More recently, Western governments have further destabilized Ethiopia through the unfair trade deals they have forced them to accept.

Ethiopia is relatively poor – partly due to colonialism – and needs loans from the wealthy West to develop their economy.

However, Western countries will only give Ethiopia loans if it agrees to enact ‘structural adjustment.’ This means cutting public services and selling off publicly owned industries and farmland to foreign companies. This has driven many Ethiopian farmers into poverty and caused rampant inequality.

This inequality and poverty helped generate popular anger which brought down the TPLF, destabilised the country and helped spark the civil war.

  1. You can help

There are many ways you can help with this crisis and others like it.

Donate to the UNCHR to help them provide vital aid to refugees in Sudan and Tigray.

Read Walter Rodney’s book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and watch this video to understand how Western Countries have impoverished and destabilized the continent.

Push your country’s political parties to end the unfair trade deals forced on African countries like Ethiopia that help cause this instability.

Get involved with the Stop the Maangamizi campaign and sign their petition demanding Western governments give reparations for colonialism to African people.

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