Emergency Update: Sending hope to refugee women and girls in Ethiopia

26 July 2021

Topics: Ethiopia refugees "women and girls"

An Eritrean refugee woman looks on during distribution of items organised the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at Mai Aini Refugee camp, in Ethiopia, on January 30, 2021.

As alarming reports of violence inflicted on civilians, particularly Eritrean refugees, emerged, generous supporters like you stepped up to support those living through this horror.

In November 2020, conflict broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. A rapid escalation of violence followed between the Ethiopian central government and the forces of the Tigray regional government, led by the Tigray People's Liberation Front.  Since then, thousands of people have lost their lives, families caught in the crossfire have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety, and two refugee camps in Tigray were destroyed and are now permanently closed; leaving already struggling refugees homeless and without access to aid or safety.

A news blackout denied the world access to the true scale of the crisis as it unfolded. But alarming reports emerged that the federal government was blocking most humanitarian aid from reaching civilians and refugees caught up in the fighting in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray province.

Exhausted, traumatised, and wasted from starvation, many who had escaped the shooting and bombing fled to South Sudan, while others sought refuge within Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa; including women and girls who had defied the odds by surviving sexual violence, rape, and attempted killings.

As Ethiopia and Tigray’s forces clashed, disturbing reports emerged that civilians were being targeted by soldiers on both sides. Baz Ratner / Reuters

Caring for refugees with urgent needs

At a time when refugees in Ethiopia needed safety and basic necessities, our local partner was on the ground supporting refugees with urgent needs. Our partner works with some of Ethiopia’s most vulnerable refugees, providing vital medical services to the injured and chronically ill; psycho-social support to those who have lived through unimaginable trauma; and vocational training to survivors who need to build their confidence.

In March, supporters like you responded generously to our “Parcels of Hope” crowdfunder and raised more than $56,000; ensuring that our partner was able to provide refugees with the locally-sourced basic items needed to be safe and preserve a sense of dignity - soap, sanitary pads, face masks, hand sanitiser and clean water.

These vital items not only helped girls and women manage their periods in dignity and privacy, protect themselves from the pandemic, and simply wash their clothes; they also offered much needed emotional support by showing there are people on the other side of the world who care. 

Generous gifts from supporters like you ensured that war-ravaged survivors have access to sanitary pads, face masks, soap and hand sanitiser; meaning girls and women can manage their periods, protect themselves from the pandemic, and wash their clothes. Ben Littlejohn / Act for Peace

Standing up for families fleeing conflict

Currently home to more than 800,000 refugees from neighbouring countries, Ethiopia has a proud history of providing asylum to people fleeing conflict and persecution. Yet as the fighting and shooting escalated, disturbing reports emerged. Refugees who had found their way to relative safety in Addis Ababa were at risk of being returned back to the conflict zone in Tigray against their will.

To protect families fleeing the fighting and insecurity in Tigray, caring Australians stood with refugees in Ethiopia by signing our petition to call on the Ethiopian Government to continue its long-standing commitment to protecting Eritrean refugees sheltering in Ethiopia.Almost 500 people asked the Ethiopian Government to allow Eritrean refugees to stay in Addis Ababa, rather than being returned to Tigray, and also to authorise UNHCR and other NGOs to provide assistance to refugees in Addis Ababa.

Even though supporters like you stepped up to help refugees during this crisis, the conflict in Ethiopia is complicated and ongoing, with no easy solutions in sight. That's why our partner in Addis Ababa needs ongoing support. Together we must continue supporting the safety, justice and dignity of refugees with urgent needs.