Fekadu Adugna, Kiya Gezahegne

Population displacement as a result of humanitarian and protection emergencies is a significant challenge in Ethiopia. As of June 2023, an estimated 4.4 million people in the country were internally displaced (UNHCR, 2023). The main drivers of this forced displacement have been, in particular, a combination of the intensification of conflicts and violence in different parts of the country as well as climatic hazards (mainly drought). Around 66% of the displacement is estimated to be conflict-induced, while over 18% is caused by drought (USAID, 2023). Recently, in drought affected regions such as Somali, flooding has also become an important cause of displacement. These dynamics have an impact on the availability of resources and may lead to disease outbreaks (e.g. of measles, cholera and malaria) and high malnutrition rates. While Tigray leads in the severity of conflict-induced displacement, Somali Region hosts the largest number of internally displaced people (IDPs) primarily displaced as a result of climate hazards (IOM, 2024). This separation between conflict-induced and climate-induced displacement, however, is quite simplistic, as the boundary between the two is fluid and often overlaps.

At the same time, as of December 2023, the country was hosting 963,181 refugees, mostly from South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan. This number includes around 100,000 new arrivals, who fled to Ethiopia following the May 2023 clashes and violence in Laascaanood, Somaliland/Somalia (Reliefweb, 2023). In addition, due to the conflict in Sudan, over 90,000 Sudanese refugees and secondarily displaced South Sudanese and Eritrean refugees have recently arrived in Ethiopia (UNHCR, 2024a). On top of that, some 100,000 Eritrean refugees who were hosted in four camps in Tigray at the start of the conflict between the federal government and the Tigray regional administration were facing an uncertain future. Some of these were resettled in a temporary camp established at Alemwach in Amhara region; others spontaneously moved to Addis Ababa (IOM,2022).

Ethnic hostility, territorial claims and counter-claims, compounded by a lack of good governance, has resulted in intense conflicts. In some areas, the conflicts have taken the shape of ‘“people-versus-people wars’”, increasing the involvement and suffering of the civilian population. The signing of a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in November 2022 has resulted in shifting dynamics of mobility, as some populations have been able to return to their areas of origin, while others await a more durable peace to be able to weigh the possibilities of return. Returns, especially across these regional states, have been prevented by people’s fears for their safety. In some areas such as Western Tigray (referred to as Wolkait by many non-Tigrayans), return has been prevented by a lack of agreement over the political future of the area and the continuing military and administrative control by forces hostile to the IDPs and the Tigrayan refugees who had sought asylum in Sudan. The scale of displacement in the three northern regions of Ethiopia has been difficult to assess and there is an overall lack of information and of reliable figures on the different impacts of the conflict.

Food and essential non-food assistance needs are high. As of October 2023, 20 million people were estimated to be in need of food assistance in the country; this is likely to be an underestimate, since the actual scale and severity of needs are unclear thanks to problems of limited access (FEWS Net, 2023). The suspension of food aid by the US Agency for International Development (USAID)between May and November 2023, following a “widespread and coordinated” diversion of aid allegedly by both federal and regional authorities) further worsened the situation. In many areas, public services are currently not operational given the damage to or destruction of numerous infrastructures. In particular, many health and education facilities have been devastated and looted. For instance, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that, by the end of 2022, only 3%of Tigray’s health facilities were fully operational. In rural areas, loss of livelihood resources, including tools, animals and seeds is reducing people’s ability to support themselves after return. In December 2023, the Tigray regional government announced that 91% of the population of the region was exposed to hunger (Reliefweb, 2024). Following a drought that killed millions of livestock in Southern Oromia
and Somali regions in 2022 and 2023, floods displaced hundreds of thousands in Somali Region and the South Omo zone of the South Ethiopian Region.

While the Ethiopian security forces were focused on fighting the conflict in Northern Ethiopia, in September 2022 the Somali insurgent movement Al Shabaab attempted to penetrate deep into Somali Regional State. Other attacks on the Ethiopian border were conducted in mid-2023, contributing to a general environment of insecurity.

At the start of January 2024 Ethiopia and Somaliland signed a controversial memorandum of understanding (MOU), which Ethiopia hopes will give it access to the Gulf of Aden and which the latter expects to fulfil its aspiration for formal international recognition. This has stirred up a bitter reaction from Somalia, which claims that its sovereignty has been violated by Ethiopia’s negotiation with the Somaliland authorities.

In Oromia, violence has intensified following the failure of the peace talks held in November 2023 in Tanzania between the Government of Ethiopia and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). Tens of thousands of people have already been displaced in Eastern Wollega and Horro Guduru Wollega Zones of Oromia, bordering the Amhara Region, since the beginning of 2023. Insecurity has deepened as the crisis has expanded to central parts of Oromia (Western, Eastern, Northern Shewa and Arsi zones). In Amhara Region, a state of emergency has been in effect since August 2023, with
reports of conflict in most areas.

In the Benishangul-Gumuz Region, an alarming increase in violence involving an array of actors – Gumuz militias, the Benishangul People’s Liberation Army (BPLA), OLA, regional and federal forces and Amhara militias – has been affecting many communities since 2020 (Adugna&Wakjira,2022). The situation stabilised in the Metekel zone at the end of 2022, allowing for the return of some IDPs to their places of origin. In the southwestern region of Gambella, inter- communal tension between Anyua and Nuer ethnic groups has escalated in the past few months, affecting relations between refugees and the host community.

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Image source: Image by D Mz from Pixabay

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