PPeople in the besieged region of Ethiopia Tigris are being selected by dangerous smuggling routes from the area to avoid forced military service on the one hand and from hunger and repression imposed on others.
During the conflict, Tigray was largely closed to the outside world, and Ethiopian authorities blocked access and shut down internet access. Meanwhile, the Tiger People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is forcing people to join its ranks as fighters.
Danai, 30, and five of his friends knew the route through the neighboring Amhara region was dangerous when they decided to flee the capital of Tigre, Mekele, in May. But as the humanitarian crisis worsened and the threat of fighting in their hometown intensified, they paid the smugglers to take them out.
“If you are caught by Amhar Fano’s fighters, you will be killed. You also run the risk of being killed by crowds of residents who own a machete. They all hate tigers and are often ruthless. Even the payment of large sums of money to smugglers cannot be a guarantee. It depends on how lucky you are, ”Danai says. He is now in a detention camp outside Jari, in Amhara, until he pays more money to his smugglers.
“I fled because the TPLF authorities are scaring the already hungry residents to bring in money and food for the military. Sometimes they even force us to feed Ethiopian prisoners of war. They forcibly recruit, arbitrarily detain and decide what they want. In addition, you see people dying of hunger and curable diseases due to the siege imposed by the Ethiopian government. In any case, it is death, ”he says.Map of Ethiopia
Dana is being held with up to 1,000 tigers in overcrowded conditions after escaping from alleged “tyrannical rule”.
Says Ibrahim *, another man in the camp: “I didn’t have much trouble starving – I was better than others. But I don’t want to go to war. It’s not just because I’m a Muslim, I just don’t want to kill people. “
Thousands died after the start of the war in November 2020, between the Ethiopian federal government and the TPFL, the governing forces in Tigris, and millions need food aid. UN and US accuse Ethiopian Prime Minister Abio Ahmed of imposing a de facto blockade on the Tiger and prevent the infiltration of aid.
In March, the Ethiopian government announces “humanitarian truce” after months of international pressure.
All communications with the Tiger are blocked, but the Guardian interviewed residents who managed to escape, as well as refugees at the Jari camp, who accused the TPLF of embezzlement and unfair treatment.
When the first 20 aid trucks arrived in Mekel in April, after the armistice, Tekele * and his family hoped to finally get a respite.
“I saw [World Food Programme] aid trucks. But aid was not distributed. The reason why the authorities report to the media is the lack of fuel. But even private trucks have access to fuel and work, not to mention the government, ”Tekele said. “The help that comes in hardly reaches the hungry. Meanwhile, the TPLF authorities are bothering us every day to contribute from what we have. They have absolute power. They steal and sometimes distribute the small amount of aid that comes on the basis of political affiliation. “
Mehari *, who has two children, said he was ordered to contribute 10,000 bura (157 pounds) in April to the military.
“Seals of state institutions are put on the papers. If you refuse to contribute, they arrest and threaten you to contribute. They arbitrarily decide to whom and how much to pay, ”he says.
Last month, the Tiger government argued that forced recruitment had stopped and was not systematic. But the Tigers, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, insist the situation is deteriorating.
“Recently, an order was passed that people between the ages of 40 and 55 should also join the army. Even families who previously sent five sons and daughters into the army are forced to send more. The orders have the seal of the Tiger government. If you refuse or hide, the authorities arrest your parents. “
Thousands of people pay smugglers up to 40,000 birr (625 pounds) per person to flee the region. The smugglers’ network includes Ethiopian army officers who take them to Jari, where they are held until they pay a ransom. They then cross the Amhara region to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. The men in the camps say people face beatings, starvation, sexual offers in exchange for leaving the camp and threats of forced recruitment by militias fighting Tiger forces.
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“They beat us. The camp is tough. They persecute women, asking them for sex in exchange for leaving the camp. Fleeing on your own is not an option, because Fano’s militia and residents are threatening to kill us, ”Danai said.
Kaleab * went beyond Ethiopia. He says the 80 people who were with him in the camp disappeared after reaching Addis Ababa.The Tigers are being held at Aba Samuel Prison in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Photo: Reuters
“A month ago, they transported me and 80 other people from the Yari camp to Addis. But when we got to Addis, they took us and kept us in the Torhailoch camp. They told us we would be recruited into an army wing fighting the Tiger forces. Everyone refused. We said that everyone fled from the Tiger, hating the war and not wanting to fight with their own brothers. I managed to escape. The others disappeared. I have unverified information that they are being forcibly transported to Humer [in Tigray]».
A spokesman for Tigrian’s government told the Guardian that the allegations were baseless.
“Assistance after the truce is far from meeting the needs of the Tigers,” Kindya Gebrehivot said. “It is not surprising that people are looking for alternative ways to survive, including a dangerous trip to Addis, as the Ethiopian government has suspended all services.”
* The names have been changed
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