Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is gravely concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation of refugees and internally displaced persons in various locations across the country. The Commission’s recent monitoring indicates an exacerbated humanitarian situation and an increasingly concerning shortage of food provision, in particular in refugee camps. The armed conflict in Amhara region which has intensified since August 2023 and the continuing arrivals of refugees from neighbouring countries to Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella and Somali regions, has contributed to a further significant increase of the humanitarian needs.

In Gambella region, which as of end of August 2023 is home to close to 400,000 refugees, the Commission conducted a monitoring of the humanitarian assistance provision in Nguenyiel, Tierkidi, and Kule refugee camps from August 21 to 23, 2023. In Nguenyiel Refugee Camp, which hosts at least 112,000 refugees, food aid was halted since May 2023 and in Tierkidi and Kule Camps, with a refugee population of 72,450 and 52,967 respectively, no new rounds of food assistance has been made since June 2023. Refugees residing in the afore-mentioned camps, as well as other camps in the region, reported struggling to survive due to acute shortage of food and difficulty obtaining food through other means.

The Commission found that the food aid suspension contributed to hunger-related deaths and threatened to destabilize the already fragile refugee and host community relationship in the areas covered by EHRC’s monitoring. The security situation in the Gambella region has further exacerbated the challenges faced by refugees. Refugees’ movement outside the camp in search of food entailed the loss of several lives as refugees have been targeted and attacked along the roads connecting the camps to the surrounding villages and towns. In other instances, some refugees have lost their lives while engaged in negative coping strategies, including scavenging, and stealing, in search of food outside the camps. Furthermore, the halting of food aid combined with lack of nutritionally adequate food for children is creating concern of malnutrition, which is affecting not only those under 5 years old but also children above the age of 10 years. The Refugees and Returnees Services (RRS) and refugee representatives have reported that at least 30 refugees in Gambella region have died because of hunger and malnutrition, and attacks as they leave their camps in search of food.

It is to be recalled that in its Annual Ethiopia Human Rights Situation Report covering the period between June 2022 and June 2023, the Commission indicated the compounded effect of armed conflict and conflict-induced displacement, the resulting suspension of farming and related productive activities and social services, as well as drought in Oromia region and many woredas of the South West and Southern Ethiopia regions had significantly increased the number of people requiring food aid. Underscoring the particularly vulnerable situation of women, children, and the elderly in the report, EHRC called on all actors to exert all efforts to enable the immediate resumption of food aid and humanitarian assistance.

In this regard, the Commission held bilateral discussions with relevant organizations, including the RRS and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which confirmed that suspension of food aid has severely affected refugees’ protection across the country. RRS confirmed reports of hunger and hunger-related deaths, following the food aid suspension in May 2023. RRS has also indicated that it is closely working with the relevant UN agencies and humanitarian partners to address the situation by resuming food distribution for refugees as soon as possible.

While the Commission is cognizant of the various efforts of government and international partners to ensure a resumption of food aid, EHRC underlines the urgency and the need for immediate action sooner than later given the gravity of the problem. While noting that refugee-hosting countries have the responsibility to ensure protection of refugees within their jurisdiction, EHRC reiterates the need to strengthen international solidarity and cooperation in sharing the burden and responsibilities.

The Commission, therefore, urges the Government of Ethiopia and relevant concerned humanitarian actors, in particular the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP) to ensure the swift completion of ongoing efforts of coordination, resources mobilization and related administrative measures to allow for immediate resumption of nutritionally adequate food assistance to all refugee communities.