The Ethiopian government moved to expel seven United Nations officials from the country on Thursday, in a dramatic move that threatens to exacerbate the region’s current humanitarian crisis.
A civil war between the federal government of Ethiopia and the northern region of Tigray, which began late last year, has led to widespread atrocities and created famine conditions in parts of the country. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s decision to expel UN officials from the country comes after they expressed concern about the worsening humanitarian situation.
UN officials have repeatedly warned that the Ethiopian government is blocking the movement of critical supplies, such as medicine, food and fuel, to the Tigray region with only 10 percent of humanitarian supplies needed The head of the UN humanitarian aid arm, as well as a UN report that finds the region on the brink of famine.
Abiy’s announcement Thursday, which gave officials just 72 hours to leave the country, is a rare departure from international norms. While it is not completely unprecedented for a nation to expel UN officials, it is unusual, and according to the New York TimesAbiy’s decision would be among the largest expulsions of UN officials in history, surpassing the removal of three UN officials in Syria in 2015.
However, as of Saturday, it is unclear whether the seven officials have left the country, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has already rejected the initiative, saying in a statement On Friday the UN “is now engaging with the Ethiopian government in the expectation that the UN personnel in question can continue their important work.”
US officials have also condemned Abiy’s push to expel UN officials.
“The expulsion is counterproductive to international efforts to keep civilians safe and provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to the millions of people in need,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Thursday.
At a time of looming and heartbreaking famine, the government in #Ethiopia surprisingly he just expelled a @UNICEF officer and 6 others @TO personal. Millions of people face desperate need in northern Ethiopia, and the government continues to take steps to ensure that aid does not reach them. https://t.co/C84pWfr5Dy
– Samantha Power (@PowerUSAID) September 30, 2021
The Abiy government has justified the expulsion order by accusing UN officials of “meddling” in Ethiopian affairs, but it comes just two days after the head of the United Nations Organization for the Coordination of Foreign Affairs. Humanitarians, or OCHA, expressed concern about the famine in Tigray, home. about 6 million people. The official directive from the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs arrived on Thursday, the same day as OCHA published a report finding that 79 percent of pregnant or breastfeeding women in Tigray are malnourished, and that fuel and drugs have not reached the region since July.
According to the UN, 5.2 million people in Tigray, about 90 percent of its population needs humanitarian assistance to survive, requiring a flow of around 100 trucks loaded with supplies to the region per day. However, only 606 of these vehicles have reached the state since July 12. the New York Times reports.
This is not the first time the government has forced a humanitarian group out of Tigray for opposing the official government narrative about conditions there.
The Dutch arm of Doctors without borders – MSF, or Doctors Without Borders, suspended its activities in the west and northwest of Tigray for three months starting in early September after the Ethiopian Agency for Civil Society Organizations. He told them to do it at the end of July. the Norwegian Refugee Council the same order was issued on July 30 and it suspended its operations in Ethiopia in early August; Ethiopian authorities he had accused the groups of supporting Tigrayan’s political cause, even claiming that aid workers armed members of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF.
Ethiopia ended one war and started another
The expulsion of the UN officials is the latest development in the Ethiopian government’s ongoing war in the Tigray region. During the past 11 months, since Abiy sent the Ethiopian National Defense Forces in Tigray to retaliate against a TPLF attack on a military base there, Tigray has slid further into disaster.
That initial skirmish, like Jen Kirby from Vox explained in April, it was widely seen as a pretext for the national government to invade the Tigray region.
The conflict between the Tigray, the name of an ethnic group and a region of the country, and the Abiy administration seemed inevitable almost since Abiy took power in 2018. Abiy’s rise to power ended almost 30 years of domination by part of the Tigrayan wing of the country. Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, or EPRDF.
Before Abiy, protests against government corruption and human rights abuses were increasing in Ethiopia; in particular, Kirby writes, the Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups were frustrated by the control of Tigray in positions of power in the government and the army, despite the fact that only 6 percent of Ethiopians are Tigray.
In 2018, Abiy, a member of the Oromo group and a relatively newcomer to politics, was elected head of the EPRDF and assumed the role of prime minister. He came to power promising democratic elections and the release of political prisoners, and even negotiated peace with neighboring Eritrea, ending a 20-year war. The following year, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending that conflict, only to precipitate a brutal civil war a year later.
“This is man-made, this can be remedied with an act of government”
Now, as Ethiopia’s civil war approaches the one-year mark, international aid groups say the Tigray region deadly hunger it’s about to get worse.
“We predicted that there were 400,000 people in famine conditions, at risk of famine, and the assumption was that if aid didn’t get to them adequately, they would fall into famine,” said Martin Griffiths, director of OCHA. Reuters this week, citing a June UN assessment. Since June, the Abiy administration has imposed what Griffiths called a “de facto blockade,” with only about 10 percent of urgently needed supplies reaching Tigray.
The crisis has been further aggravated by another factor: in addition to the civil war, a plague of desert locusts disrupted the region’s growing season for the past two years, with Ethiopia and neighboring Somalia and Kenya being the hardest hit by invasion by crop-eating pests. A 2019 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations it specifically notes that Ethiopia’s Tigray, Somali, Oromia and Amhara states suffer the worst of the damage caused by the swarm.
But despite the locust swarms and back-to-back seasons of low rainfall and crop yield, the UN says the main driver of the impending Tigray famine remains the federal government of Ethiopia.
“This is man-made, this can be remedied through government action,” Griffiths said.
However, it is not clear if an end to the conflict is in sight. The war in Tigray has already spread to the neighboring states of Ethiopia and displaced more than 1.7 million people from their homes; As the conflict progresses, those problems can only get worse.
The UN Security Council discussed the situation at a meeting on Friday, and some member countries expressed serious concerns about Ethiopia’s behavior, both now and in the future.
“As a major new military offensive looms, this appears to be Ethiopia’s attempt to test whether the international community is prepared to respond with more than words to a developing famine,” said an anonymous Western official. told Reuters.
“We are concerned that it could be a precursor to other activities,” said Geraldine Byrne Nason, Ireland’s ambassador to the UN. said friday.