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UN Finds Destroyed, Deserted Eritrean Refugee Camps in Northern Tigray

By Lisa Schlein March 26, 2021

The U.N. refugee agency says two refugee camps for Eritreans in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region have been destroyed and abandoned.

U.N. agencies have been unable to access Tigray since November, when Ethiopia began its military offensive to wrest control of the region from the Tigray Peoples' Liberation Front. Aid workers finally were allowed to reach two refugee camps, Shimelba and Hitsats, that had been out of bounds for months.

The UNHCR and U.N. office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs conducted a joint mission to the area recently and found both camps had been destroyed.

UNHCR spokesman Boris Cheshirkov says the camps, which formerly housed some 20,000 Eritrean refugees, were deserted and all the humanitarian facilities had been looted and vandalized.

"In Hitsats, most of the shelters in an area known as zone A, as well as UNHCR's offices and staff guest houses, were found burnt to the ground," Cheshirkov said. "The mission confirmed what satellite imagery and accounts from refugees had indicated at the beginning of this year. UNHCR is deeply concerned for the well-being of the Eritrean refugees who had been residing there, all of whom have fled the camps."

Earlier in the crisis, more than 7,000 of the refugees had fled the camps for security reasons and headed for two other Eritrean refugee camps that were not directly affected by the conflict.

Cheshirkov says his agency has been in contact with more than 2,000 other refugees who have fled to various parts of the country for safety.

"We have around seven to 10,000 Eritrean refugees still dispersed in the region and also in places where we have not yet had access, but we are working to identify where they are and to provide them with support working, of course, closely with our partners and the authorities," he said.

Local authorities have reported the presence of some 95,000 Ethiopians, who are internally displaced within Tigray's Shiraro administrative area. Cheshirkov says all the refugees, as well as Ethiopian displaced, are in dire need of urgent life-saving assistance, including food, shelter, health care, water and sanitation.

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