The Ethiopian Catholic Eparchy of Adigrat in northern Ethiopia has reiterated its urgent calls for dialogue and unhindered humanitarian access in Tigray, as the U.N. highlighted an opportunity for a peaceful settlement of the conflicts in the region.
Father Abraha Hagos, director of the Adigrat Catholic Secretariat, said since December, the church has been unable to deliver emergency aid to people because of war. He said Adigrat, which covers the entire Tigray region, needs an urgent response to end the humanitarian crisis.
“We would like to call upon all our partners and other humanitarian aid organizations to continue urging and lobbying the international community, the United Nations, faith and rights organizations … and diplomatic societies to push for political dialogue for peace and for unlimited access to humanitarian aid,” Father Hagos said in a statement Jan.17. “We are asking from our partners … possible humanitarian aid” as well as asking them to be the “voice of the war-affected people.”
His call came amid mounting international pressure — including that of global church and faith groups — for all parties to “silence the guns.” For more than a year, the government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front have fought in a conflict that Catholic bishops and other religious leaders criticize as needless.
The war started in November 2020, after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, a Nobel Peace laureate, ordered a military strike against the rebels over allegations that the region’s rulers had attacked a national army base. Since then, thousands have died and millions of people have been displaced. Agencies are warning that millions are starving in Tigray.
On 19 January, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said the parties were moving toward a resolution of the violent conflict. He said there was a “real opportunity for a political and diplomatic solution.”
“I am delighted that after over a year of armed conflict which has affected millions of people across Ethiopia, there is now a demonstrable effort to make peace,” Guterres said in a statement.
He also warned that ongoing military operations in some areas remained a challenge to the peace process and hurt confidence-building measures.
Church sources said government forces conducted drone strikes on 7 January on a camp for internally displaced people in Dedebit, a small town in northwestern Tigray, killing at least 58 people.
“The attack on the camp came as shock to us. It left us feeling that Abiy is not keen on peace,” a church source who could not be named for safety reasons told Catholic News Service. “We are also seeing massive recruitment and training of militia in all regions. We suspect Abiy may be preparing for a final military push on Tigray.”
Military operations and fighting have frustrated agencies’ efforts to deliver aid. Father Hagos said the diocese and religious congregations had moved emergency aid until June 2021.
However, insecurity, restriction of movement and access, cash withdrawal limits and shortage of supplies in local markets had hindered the church from reaching people in isolated areas. The continued political containment and the Ethiopian government blocking of all basic services — including banking, telecommunications, electricity and the aid corridor — were worsening the situation for the people, Father Hagos said.
He warned that millions of people — many of whom were displaced within the region — faced starvation, while millions of others were exposed to severe malnutrition, especially children. Many more had died of diseases, including COVID-19.
“It is a day-to-day reality to see people dying of starvation and lack of medicines to [treat] preventable diseases,” said Father Hagos. “This shows any delay will definitely end with irreparable disaster on human lives.”
Fredrick Nzwili reports for Catholic News Service from Nairobi.