Gross violations and abuses against civilians, such as forced displacement and returns, killings, abductions, sexual violence including against children, allegedly perpetrated by various parties to the conflict, and reported since the beginning of the conflict, continue to reach partners.
Extremely concerning reports about the alarming prevalence of GBV during the conflict, in flight, and in places of displacement continue. The level of violence and the age of many victims calls for a robust mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) response, in addition to immediate access to medical services. The ECC noted on 12 March that there have been at least 516 self-reported cases of GBV. Given the stigma and shame surrounding GBV, survivors in rural and remote areas are less likely to access local or mobile clinics as they are less confidential. Further, since many areas in Tigray remain inaccessible, it is difficult for GBV survivors to receive urgent and life-saving medical care, GBV case management or MHPSS.
Recent assessments in collective centres for displaced people in Mekelle, Adigrat and Shire towns showed that the severe lack of infrastructure leaves women and children exposed to a range of abuse, including GBV. Many are sheltering in unfinished or damaged building and most centres do not include separate spaces or latrines for women and men, doors or even windows. Another 90 unaccompanied and separated children were identified in these assessments.
Many people report feeling unsafe in IDP sites, which do not have any form of access control. Protection partners and Food Security Cluster members report that many displaced people are hiding assistance received for fear of it being looted or stolen, while there is reportedly mounting tension between displaced people already in the sites and newly arriving people, who are seen as competing for already extremely scarce assistance. According to the Cluster, many displaced people, as a result, feel safer staying outside the sites in more rural areas or among host communities, which, however, create additional challenges to access assistance. Meanwhile, the Cluster also received reports of displaced people in host communities engaging in survival sex because they are unable to pay rent. • Given these concerns, the Cluster expects that some displaced families may opt to find their own accommodation rather than relocate to the new sites, a situation which may further strain the capacity of hosting communities. At the same time, movements from host communities to the new sites may also occur, as hosting capacity is exhausted or as a result of the perception that more assistance may be provided at these sites. This underscores the importance of needs-based targeting that includes IDPs living in communities and vulnerable host community members.
As of 18 February, 724 unaccompanied and separated children were registered by the Bureau of Labour and Social Affairs (BoLSA) and Protection partners in Mekelle, Adigrat and Axum Towns. These children are at increased risk of violence and abuse, including GBV, child labour, trafficking and exploitation. With government officials and social workers impacted by the conflict, as well as very limited access to internet, pre-existing mechanisms for restoring family links have been and remain severely weakened.
The Cluster is receiving reports that many who have been displaced in Western Tigray Zone, including Adi Goshu, Humera and other locations near the Sudanese border, are now struggling to reach Shire. These groups are in urgent need of unimpeded access to safe areas, as well as related assistance and protection. Most of the 45,000 people who have reached Shire in recent days are living in the open air, and there is a pressing need to immediately scale up the support for shelter and non-food items. Partners on the ground report that the pace and circumstances of displacement, together with humanitarian assistance, place these people at heightened protection risks.
Reports of exclusion from food assistance are increasing. The Protection Cluster is receiving reports on alleged exclusion of female-headed households from food assistance unless accompanied by a male family member.
Forced relocation of displaced people is also reported by protection actors on the ground. While advocacy by protection actors successfully halted the relocation of more than 30,000 people from Axum University to an unused prison in Shire, it is critical that these advocacy efforts continue in order to ensure that a suitable location is identified, that the displaced people are engaged and informed, and that the conditions for safe and dignified relocation are met.
There have been alarming reports of death-threats to teachers and kidnappings of several students by parties to the conflict to deter school re-opening. Focus group discussions and assessments in Mekelle suggested the instrumentalization of education by different parties of the conflict, giving rise to an urgent need to balance the right to education and the non-derogative right to life, as outlined in the section on Education reporting.
Overall, many people affected by the conflict in Tigray are traumatized, still face high protection risks and need urgent assistance, including mental health and psychological support. There is an immediate need for the Government to fulfil its responsibility to protect civilians, restore law and order, and bring perpetrators to account. Access to justice and protection of survivors and witnesses of violence are essential to ensure a favourable protection environment.
Protection partners in Shire have undertaken significant outreach in the past week. This includes registering more than 900 UASC, referring 135 unaccompanied children for family tracing, identification more than 1,250 people with specific needs, and provision of psychological first aid, psychosocial support, and sensitization regarding mental health to more than 500 people
In total 3,536 women and children received psychosocial support and Child Protection (CP) and GBV case management services from government, INGO and national NGO partners and 12,251 women and girls were supported with dignity kits
Protection Cluster partners distributed 2,000 child-protection focused NFI kits in Mai Tsebri for children living in vulnerable circumstances
According to the Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) in Mekelle, 20 Health Extension workers were trained on case identification and registration, 30 incentive workers were hired, 36 separated and unaccompanied children were registered for a care plan, and 35 separated and unaccompanied children were referred to the Ethiopia Red Cross Society for family tracing and reunification (FTR). 30 community leaders including 9 women were trained on community-based psychosocial support. 75 GBV survivors were identified and received support from Ayder Hospital One Stop Centre, 75 GBV survivors received cash support and 79 Child Protection and GBV experts were hired.
Access to health services and case management for GBV survivors remains challenging, with only one One-Stop Centre currently functional in the region (in Mekelle). Four additional One-Stop Centres are being prepared and will hopefully be functional soon.
Many reports of family separation and high numbers of unaccompanied children received. With government offices and social workers also impacted by the conflict, as well as very limited access to internet, pre-existing mechanisms for restoring family links have been severely weakened, but partners are actively identifying and referring cases to the Ethiopian Red Cross/ICRC.
Tensions between those who have been living in displacement sites for the past several weeks or months and those who have been recently displaced have been observed in some locations, making it imperative for all actors to implement inclusive needs assessments, ensuring that assistance reaches the most vulnerable.