With humanitarian needs rapidly increasing across Tigray, aid organizations continue to report major challenges to access the region and deliver life-saving assistance to more than 5.2 million in desperate need of support. The last humanitarian convoy to enter Tigray reached Mekelle on 12 July, while aid workers estimate that between 500 and 600 trucks with relief items (food, non-food, fuel) are needed every week to meet the needs of people impacted by the conflict.
All the main roads into Tigray from Amhara Region remain closed due to restrictions and insecurity related to ongoing fighting. In addition, the Tekeze Bridge between Shire and May Tsebri towns is currently not operational, as the rising water level destroyed the temporary repairs made on the bridge after its destruction in late June, isolating humanitarian operations in the refugee settlements from the rest of Tigray.
The only possible road into Tigray, through Afar Region, has been inaccessible due to security concerns since 19 July, following an attack against a WFP convoy the day before. The 10-truck humanitarian convoy was moving to Mekelle when it was attacked in the north of Semera, in Afar. At least one truck was partially looted, and one truck driver was robbed of his personal belongings. By 24 July, another WFP-led convoy of over 200 trucks containing food and other essential humanitarian supplies was on standby in Semera and expected to depart for Tigray as soon as security clearances were assured.
Following authorization from the Federal Government, the first United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) passenger flight arrived in Mekelle on 22 July, after passengers were extensively searched in Addis Ababa, and following the removal of multiple items, including personal medicines and work-related equipment such as laptops and USB drives. The 34 aid workers on board, including UN personnel and INGO staff, were allowed by authorities to carry only a minimum amount of cash per passenger (around ETB10,000 or US$225), which will be insufficient to cover their personal expenses in Tigray. Some essential medicines, including anti-malaria, pain killers, heart and diabetes drugs were not allowed on the plane, leading two passengers who depend on them to stay behind. UNHAS is expected to run two flights a week from Addis Ababa to Mekelle, as commercial flights have been halted since 24 June, although no flights have yet received clearance from the Government since the first one on 22 July.
The banking system is still closed, impacting the restoration of other services and resumption to normalcy in Tigray. Salaries of public servants and some aid workers have not been paid for months, and the lack of cash prevents the scaling up of humanitarian operations.
More than 2.1 million people have been forced to flee their homes since the conflict began. Just over 46,500 people have sought international asylum and protection in Sudan, while more than 2.1 million internally displaced people have been registered across more than 380 sites in Tigray and the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara. Recently, armed clashes have also displaced thousands of people in the Afar Region to the east and where an additional 55,000 Eritrean refugees are hosted. There are reports of armed confrontations close to the locations where they live.
Although security inside much of Tigray has relatively improved over the last week—with fighting moving towards the neighbouring regions—humanitarians on the ground have reported increasing concerns on the safety of Eritrean refugees in Tigray and Ethiopian refugees in Sudan, given the proximity to the fighting areas. An estimated 24,000 Eritrean refugees in Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps in Tigray’s Mai Tsebri area are facing intimidation and harassment and living in constant fear, cut off from humanitarian assistance, according to UNHCR. The agency, which lost access to the refugees since mid-July, received disturbing and credible reports in recent days from Mai Aini camp that at least one refugee was killed by armed elements operating inside the camp. This latest death is in addition to the killing of another refugee on 14 July.
Humanitarians in Tigray and other parts of Ethiopia are also facing increasing threats and security risks, due to false accusations of favouring one party to the conflict. This is increasing challenges to humanitarian operations, hampering life-saving assistance and services. The UN and partners in Ethiopia continue to engage with all parties to the conflict to advocate for unfettered access to all regions of Tigray and neighboring areas, while calling on them to honour their obligations to protect civilians and humanitarian workers and assets.