East or west home is best and going back to one’s motherland after many decades elsewhere is what any person would look forward to with great expectation. But sometimes, one may end up regretting the nostalgia.
My friend, Nelly Mesfin, was filled with joy the day she was coming back. You see, Nelly’s mother had relocated to Melbourne from their Tigray home when she was just one year old; so, Mesfin knew almost nothing about her home country apart from what she read in history books and heard from her mother.
In February 2020, before air travel restrictions were imposed due to coronavirus, Mesfin and her mother boarded a flight for Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa. Both were eagerly looking forward to reconnecting with family. Addis would be a short stopover before they headed to Tigray’s capital, Mekele- the origin of their roots.
Little did the 24-year-old know that by November Tigray would be a war zone leaving her friends and other relatives in Melbourne thinking she was dead or displaced to either Eritrea, Sudan, or Somalia; countries where everyone sought refuge despite the daily conflicts they too experienced.
Mesfin had grown up hearing stories from her mum about the war that had fled them to Melbourne and never had she thought she would as well find herself in a similar situation one day.
Circumstances in Tigray grew dire as days went by. Seeing people dying, mothers and children cry helplessly at the sight of their homes and property being destroyed to the extent of getting people displaced was the worst thing Mesfin ever imagined could happen to humanity.
Airstrikes, gunshots, and ambulance siren were the order of the day filling the entire Tigray atmosphere with tension. Mesfin and her mother luckily managed to escape to Addis Ababa for safety as many Tigrayans fled to refugee camps.
The events of the war disturbed Mesfin’s mind after which her curiosity led her to discover the armed conflict between the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and the Tigrayan regional forces, that erupted on the eve of 3rd November was the latest in a long series of confrontations between Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which governs the regional state bordering Eritrea.
The plight of women especially those pregnant is what broke her heart most, as many have thus far experienced a rough time stabilizing in the harsh conditions following displacements. The fact that Tigray has not been accessing humanitarian aid, with starvation being a threat in the area worsens the scenario. Red cross assessment of the situation indicates that 80% of Tigray is cut off from aid and warns of tens of thousands at risk of starvation. Severe cases of malnutrition are being witnessed.
Recently I was in Adis Ababa and while interacting with Ethiopian friends Mesfin inclusive I learnt that Northern Ethiopia is currently engulfed in humanitarian strife because of the conflict compounding pre-war poverty and food insecurity in Tigray. The conflict in the north has disrupted trading routes and supply lines for food and essential supplies as the Sudanese trade routes remain closed, while Eritrea and Djibouti are supporting the operation militarily and morally respectively. Gebremeskel Kassa, the Head of the Interim Tigray administration puts the number of internally displaced people in Tigray at 2.2 million and added that 4.5 million people need emergency aid because of the conflict. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees also stated that over 50,000 Ethiopians have fled to neighbouring Sudan, with the United Nations preparing to handle over 200,000 Ethiopian refugees in the coming days. Social services including medical services remain severely hampered and disrupted.
On the other hand, the conflict has registered alleged war crimes on both sides of the conflict, with scores of civilians being targeted and killed in several Tigrayan towns such as Humera and Maikadra. The involvement of ethnic Amhara forces in the conflict on the side of ENDF has driven an ethnic wedge in the conflict as seen in the places such as Maikadra where Amhara civilians were reportedly massacred. A protracted confrontation is likely to aggravate genocidal clashes and ethnic cleansing in the north, as reprisal attacks remain imminent.
Furthermore, the conflict has been internationalized, involving the direct and active participation of Eritrean armed forces against TPLF. Djibouti and Somalia have expressed moral support for ENDF’s military operation, while Sudan reportedly deployed its military on its border with Tigray, to suffocate TPLF by cutting off its military supply lines and disrupting its logistical Gray zones. The other looming risk is the likely entry of the Gulf and MENA powers into the conflict. On November 18, 2020, the Eritrean Foreign Minister visited Cairo in what appeared to be efforts to dissuade Egypt from getting involved, while Turkey has constantly kept abreast of the goings-on in Ethiopia and has pledged to cater for Ethiopian refugees in Sudan.
Mesfin never spent most of her life in Ethiopia, but she holds on strongly to the fact that it is her home, and it deserves to be peaceful just as other countries are.
Her experience of the war and challenges she saw women go through touched her most and she plans to start a program that advocates and fights for women’s rights especially those in refugee camps once she goes back to Melbourne. The humanitarian aid in Tigray is overwhelming to be left to Mesfin alone. Without the support of the community and the world, her dreams will not be achieved hence it is the duty and responsibility of all of us to alleviate the pain of Tigray people.