British government: “If Eritrea forced refugees to return to Eritrea it would be a serious violation of International law and must be investigated”
James Duddridge MP Minister for Africa
Carol Monaghan MP House of Commons London SW1A 0AA www.gov.uk/fcdo Our ref: MC2020/26495
Your ref: CM18315 18 January 2021
Dear Carol, Thank you for your correspondence of 16 December to the Foreign Secretary about the conflict in Tigray Province, Ethiopia.
I am replying as the Minister for Africa.
(eritreahub)—We are concerned about the continuing violence in Tigray region and its impact on neighbouring countries, including Eritrea. We are deeply worried about the risks the conflict poses to civilian lives. We are pressing all parties involved to secure immediate humanitarian access and ensure the restoration of basic services. We are also concerned about the risk these events pose to Ethiopia’s overall stability, its democratic transition and the implementation of a democratising political reform programme – of which the UK has been supportive.
The risk that the conflict becomes regionalised, drawing neighbouring countries into the fighting and forcing movements of refugees across borders, is also of grave concern. The Foreign Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Abiy on 10 November and called for the immediate de-escalation of violence, for the protection of civilians and for unfettered humanitarian access. He reiterated these messages when he met Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister Demeke on 25 November.
I also stressed these points when I had a call with Ethiopian Finance Minister, Ahmed Shide on 16 December and when I spoke with the Ethiopian Ambassador in London on 18 November. I have also called publicly for unfettered humanitarian access, in my tweet of 9 December. Our Ambassador in Addis Ababa continues to engage across the Ethiopian leadership in support of these objectives.
The UK continues to liaise closely with a wide range of regional and international partners in support of these objectives.
The Foreign Secretary spoke on 16 November with Foreign Minister Pandor of South Africa, communicating our support of President Ramaphosa’s efforts towards a political solution. He also discussed approaches with his French and German counterparts in Berlin on 23 November, with President Kenyatta of Kenya on 24 November, and with Prime Minister Hamdok of Sudan on 12 November. I also reiterated our concerns about the need for an urgent peaceful settlement in Tigray when I spoke with Foreign Minister Kutesa of Uganda on 26 November, and raised the situation in Ethiopia, and the role Ethiopia plays in regional stability, with the Governments of Somalia and Kenya during my visit to those two countries on 9 and 10 December.
The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, James Cleverly MP, has done similarly with counterparts in the Gulf.
The situation also remains under consideration by the United Nations Security Council.
We are very concerned at reports that Eritrean troops have entered Ethiopian refugee camps in Tigray and forced a number of refugees to return to Eritrea. If proven, this would be a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Alleged violations of IHL must be investigated to secure respect for IHL and prevent future violations, including as necessary through international criminal tribunals.
The British Ambassador in Eritrea raised these questions with the Eritrean Foreign Minister on 2 December, who denied that Eritrea is involved militarily in the conflict and categorically denied that Eritrean forces had forcibly returned Eritrean refugees to Eritrea. He also stated that there are no Ethiopian refugees in Eritrea.
Due to the ongoing restricted access for humanitarian agencies, it has not yet been possible to fully corroborate these reports. The UK has been consistent in calling for free and unfettered humanitarian access.
We welcome news of an ICRC convoy arriving in Mekele over the weekend of 12/13 December. The UK is working closely with humanitarian organisations to make sure aid reaches civilians affected by the fighting. UK-funded aid agencies in Tigray are working hard to deliver support in challenging circumstances, including shelter, water and healthcare Nick Dyer, UK Special Envoy on Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Affairs, visited Ethiopia from 14 – 15 December to push for humanitarian access to Tigray and to highlight deteriorating food insecurity across Ethiopia.
We continue to track the situation and raise the importance of respect for human rights with the Government of Ethiopia and regional leaders on all sides. It is our hope that a resolution is forthcoming, and the UK is engaging with Ethiopian and international partners at the highest level to facilitate this.
James Duddridge MP Minister for Africa
Parliamentary Question from Lord Alton
Lord Alton of Liverpool – To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the World Food programme about the humanitarian requirements of people displaced by conflict in Tigray; and what estimate they have made of the number of people who have been so displaced.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon – It is clear that the conflict in Tigray has had significant consequences for hundreds of thousands of people, displacing them internally and externally, and adversely impacting those that were already in need of humanitarian assistance. We are in close contact with UK-funded humanitarian agencies in Ethiopia, including the UN’s World Food Programme, to understand humanitarian needs and what programme adaptations are required, as well as monitoring the regional situation. Partners highlight priority needs as food security and nutrition, health and water, shelter and protection.
On his visit to Amhara the Foreign Secretary met with staff from the World Food Programme at a logistics centre which serves the response in Tigray. He heard first hand about the challenges of aid delivery in conflict affected areas. In recent days there has been an improvement in delivery of in-kind assistance to Tigray but physical access for humanitarian personnel remains very challenging with some areas effectively out of bounds.
The UN estimates that up to 1.3 million additional people affected by the conflict in Tigray need humanitarian assistance, on top of an existing humanitarian caseload of one million people in the region. We are concerned about the impact of the conflict and displacement on food security and nutrition in Tigray. Displaced persons, including refugees, are amongst the most vulnerable.