The BBC correspondent reports about a relative forced to flee the Tigray region of Ethiopia after the outbreak of conflict between federal and provincial forces.
A businessman and farm owner, my uncle became a refugee in Sudan with tens of thousands of others. He doesn’t even have a pair of shoes, and he lost them while fleeing Tigray on foot and boat.
He did not expect the outbreak of the conflict. So, at the beginning of November, he made the half-day trip from his home near the city of Adwa in the center of Tigray to the agricultural center of Humera in the west, leaving behind his wife and two children.
This is what he usually does at this time of year, going to his farm in Humira to harvest his crops of sesame and sorghum for sale in markets around Tigray and Sudan.
Then his life – like that of many other people in Tigray, which has a population of nearly eight million – was turned upside down.
The investment corridor was damaged by the fighting
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that he had ordered a military operation to expel the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigrayans from power in Tigray, because, according to him, it had crossed the “last red line” by controlling federal military bases in the region. .
Tensions have been running high for some time, as the regional government controlled by the People’s Liberation Front for the Liberation of Tigrayans (PLFLF) organized elections in Tigray in September in defiance of a decision made at the federal level to postpone all elections, which were due to take place in August, due to the Corona virus.
Mr. Abi condemned the regional elections, describing them as illegal, while the Liberation People’s Liberation Front said it no longer believed that he was in office legally because his mandate to govern had expired.
About a week after the conflict began on 4 November, Ethiopian forces – with the support of special forces and militias of the neighboring Amhara regional government – captured Hamira from Tigrayan government forces.
Humira has a population of about 30,000, and it was part of an investment corridor aimed at promoting development. Its crops – mainly sesame and cotton – are exported to the United States and China.
This is unlikely to happen this year. My uncle said he saw some crops on fire in the conflict, but he does not know if he was affected.
“My uncle ran away at night.”
The military operation exacerbated ethnic tensions, with civilians from Tigrayans and Amhara fighting for control of Tigrayans, although rival forces denied targeting civilians.
My uncle is Tigrayan, and he said, There was a lot of looting and murder of Tigrayan property. He said he realized how in danger his life was when he noticed that Amhara workers – who had been working and living in peace with them – were now telling the Amhara Special Forces and militia where to find Tigrayans in Humera.
Learn more about the Tigray crisis:
My uncle said that there was also heavy bombing from the direction of Eritrea, although the governments of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Mr. Abe denied Eritrea’s joining the military operation against the Tigray government.
Fearing for his life, my uncle Humira left surreptitiously at night, with none of his possessions, walking a long way until he reached the River Tikizi. There, he found hundreds of other Tigrayans. They all got on boats to cross into Sudan.
He said he was relieved when he got to the UN refugee center, but told me the tents were so overcrowded that he slept in the open.
He called me from a Sudanese mobile number, saying that he had borrowed someone’s phone because his Ethiopian number did not work at the refugee center.
After one conversation over two weeks ago, I had heard nothing about him, and had no access to it. With telephone lines still cut off in many parts of Tigray, his wife and children do not know that he has become a refugee in Sudan.
“The airstrike got my family moving.”
And I can’t tell if his family fled their home – she was an enemy of a town that had been captured by Ethiopian forces before they captured Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region.
My parents and siblings live in Mikkeli, and – like thousands of others in the diaspora – I have no idea if they survived the violent shooting and bombing that struck the city most Saturdays.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says that the main referral hospital is struggling to treat the wounded, and there is also a shortage of body bags.
The Tigrayan Liberation Front said 19 civilians were killed and more than 30 wounded by the Ethiopian army in Mikkeli alone, but my father said that no civilians were killed during the weeks-long military operation in Tigray.
The last time I heard about my family was through a contact. This was after the Ethiopian army launched an airstrike on November 16 near the Mekele campus.
“The most difficult time of my life”
My parents and siblings lived all over campus, so, the contact told me, they decided to give up their home – which has been in the family for generations – to move in with friends in another part of town.
I am still unable to reach anyone in Mikkeli. This is the most difficult time in my life, and all I can do from the outside is pray for their safety and the safety of others.
In recent years, there has been conflict in many parts of Ethiopia, forcing nearly 2 million people to flee their homes. But there was stability in Tigray.
This has now changed, and although Mr. Abi declared the end of the military operation after Mikkeli was captured, there are still reports that fighting and air strikes are continuing in some parts of Tigray.
We don’t know when the nightmare will end. When wound healing begins; When to reunite families and achieve closure if they lose loved ones; When all schools reopen; When the electricity and water supply returns; When you resume farming and work, when – in short – will life return to normal.
We have not named the people included in this report for safety reasons.