GENEVA (6 August 2021) – Eritrean refugees trapped in the midst of the armed conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are
being targeted by both sides to the conflict, a UN expert warned today, calling on all parties to take measures to
protect refugees in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law.
Ethiopia was home to nearly 100,000 refugees from neighbouring Eritrea before fighting broke out in Tigray in November
2020. Since the onset of the conflict, Dr. Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human
rights in Eritrea, has continued to highlight the plight of Eritrean refugees and call for their protection through
communications to the Ethiopian and Eritrean authorities, and during his interventions at the Human Rights Council in
February and June.
“Since the conflict began, I have received many credible allegations of grave human rights and humanitarian law
violations committed against Eritrean refugees, both by the Federal Government of Ethiopia and government-allied
Eritrean troops, and by forces affiliated with the Tigray People's Liberation Front,” the expert said. “Eritrean
refugees have been singled out, targeted and victimised by both sides for their perceived collaboration with the other
side in the conflict.”
The situation has continued to deteriorate, with fighting spreading to new areas and a recent escalation of violence
against Eritrean refugees. An estimated 80,000 refugees would now be at imminent risk in the Tigray and Afar regions. “I
am extremely alarmed at reports of reprisal attacks and killings, sexual violence, beatings of Eritrean refugees and
looting of camps and property. This violence directed at refugees must stop,” Babiker said.
At the end of July, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, expressed concern about the fate of some 24,000 Eritrean refugees in
Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps, who it said have been cut off from humanitarian assistance and are facing intimidation
Recent armed confrontations have also displaced thousands of people in the Afar region, which hosts an additional 55,000
Eritrean refugees. In January, Hitsats and Shimelba refugee camps were destroyed. Some 20,000 refugees were displaced
and hundreds went missing.
“International humanitarian law has long recognized the need to protect civilians caught in conflict,” Babiker said.
“Today I specifically call on all sides to respect the 1951 Refugee Convention.”
“All armed actors must respect the neutrality of refugee camps, allow humanitarian actors to provide urgently needed
assistance, and facilitate the relocation of refugees to safer areas,” he said. “This horror must stop. All civilians,
including refugees must be protected from hostilities.”
Dr. Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker (Sudan) was appointed as Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in Eritrea
by the UN Human Rights Council in September 2020. Dr. Babiker is an Associate Professor of International Law, Dean of
the School of Law at the University of Khartoum, and founding Director of its Human Rights Centre. He is also a practicing lawyer and has conducted investigations in many countries in the Horn of Africa in the areas of
human rights and international humanitarian law. He has extensive experience working with international human rights
organizations and institutions, including the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU). In December 2017, he was
appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General as Humanitarian Expert with the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group.
In December 2018, he was also appointed as the Humanitarian Expert with the Panel of Experts on Somalia.
The Special Rapporteur raised his concerns regarding the situation of Eritrean refugees in Tigray in his annual report,
which was presented at the 47th session of the Human Rights Council in June 2021. To read the full report: https://undocs.org/A/HRC/47/21