Addis Ababa – Fighting in northern Ethiopia’s Afar region has “engulfed” a camp housing refugees from neighbouring Eritrea, killing five and forcing thousands to flee, the UN said on Friday.
The assault earlier this month is the latest blow to the more than 100 000 Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopia, whose camps have been repeatedly caught up in a grinding 15-month war.
It also underscores the growing toll of fighting in Afar, which has emerged in recent weeks as the most active front in the conflict pitting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group.
Survivors of the attack on the Bahrale camp in Afar reported that “at least five refugees were killed and several women were kidnapped” after armed men entered the facility on February 3, the UN refugee agency said in a statement.
“Family members lost one another in the chaos of fleeing the camp,” the statement said.
The Barahle camp is situated near the border between Afar and Tigray.
The TPLF controls most of Tigray and in January announced it had expanded operations into Afar, claiming it had been provoked by attacks on its positions by pro-government forces.
Friday’s UN statement did not specify which forces survivors accused of targeting the camp.
However AFP interviewed several survivors this week in the Afar capital Semera who said they believed the TPLF was responsible.
Afar regional government officials as well as the national Refugees and Returnees Service also said the TPLF was to blame.
The camp remains inaccessible and these claims could not be independently verified.
TPLF leaders could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.
“We condemn the attack on the refugee camp and reiterate the call for cessation of hostilities to avoid further destruction and potential loss of life for refugees and Ethiopians alike, and so that much needed humanitarian assistance can reach them,” the UN statement said.