Repercussions for humanitarian aid follow the deaths of three Médecins Sans Frontières team members in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
After three Médecins Sans Frontières team members were killed in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the humanitarian organization has suspended activities in certain areas, and other aid organizations might follow suit.
MSF and others are now calling for assurances that aid workers can do their jobs in safety.
María Hernández, Tedros Gebremariam, and Yohannes Halefom — who had been engaged with MSF in Tigray since February 2021 — were killed on June 24. Details surrounding their deaths are so far unknown, but MSF says their clothing clearly identified them as MSF team members, as did the MSF vehicle they were traveling in. Their bodies were found not far from the car.
“Almost two weeks since the murders of our colleagues, no one has claimed responsibility and the circumstances around their deaths remain unclear,” Teresa Sancristoval, MSF’s operations director, said in a statement.
MSF wants an immediate investigation to clarify what happened and who is to blame. In the meantime, it has suspended activities in Abi Adi, Adigrat, and Axum in central and eastern Tigray.
“[T]he security situation remains extremely volatile, complicating a humanitarian response that faces growing and urgent needs.”
— Alyona Synenko, Africa regional spokesperson, International Committee of the Red Cross
“Parties to the conflict must take responsibility for ensuring that an incident like the murder of our colleagues never happens again,” Sancristoval said.
If ensuring safe access for staff isn’t possible, Hajir Maalim, Action Against Hunger’s regional director for the Horn and East Africa, told Devex that the organization too might have to “curtail [its] programs in Tigray temporarily or scale-back less critical work.”
Since the start of the conflict between the federal government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the ruling party of the region, in November 2020 — following the government’s postponement of regional parliamentary elections — at least 12 aid workers are thought to have been killed.
“[T]he security situation remains extremely volatile, complicating a humanitarian response that faces growing and urgent needs,” Alyona Synenko, the International Committee of the Red Cross’s regional spokesperson in Africa, said.
“Every night, I stay awake thinking about how we can get assistance to those families so that more people do not needlessly die or suffer when we have the means to save their lives or ease their suffering,” Maalim said.
Suspending activities will “leave a gap in lifesaving assistance,” Sancristoval said.
But if MSF and other aid organizations are to continue working in Tigray and the rest of Ethiopia, safety assurances must be given, she added. According to MSF, its staff have been targeted, threatened, and beaten in some instances since the start of the conflict, while aid work has been “undermined by public statements casting unwarranted suspicion” of their activities.