In Brief: Satellite imagery shows refugee camps in Tigray looted and burned

A view of the Hitsats refugee camp in Tigray region, Ethiopia. Photo by: Tiksa Negeri / Reuters

Newly released satellite imagery shows significant damage to two refugee camps in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region amid ongoing conflict. Buildings owned by the Norwegian Refugee Council, as well as a school and health clinic in the Hitsaats and Shimelba camps were burned and looted.

Since the beginning of November, the Ethiopian government has cut off access to the camps and maintained communication blockades throughout large swaths of the region as its military and allied forces clash with regional forces.

Why it matters: While NRC is concerned about the damage to its infrastructure, its main concern is for the camp residents. The camps were home to over 25,000 Eritrean refugees and as many as 20,000 refugees remain unaccounted for.

“The big issue is what happened to the people,” said Jeremy Taylor, regional advocacy adviser for NRC. “We’ve heard horrific reports. We’ve heard reports about extreme violations that took place in those camps, but we can’t verify them.”

What to watch: It’s unclear when humanitarian actors might regain access to the camps. Without access, NRC is unable to assess the financial and operational implications of the damage to its facilities — it hasn’t been able to operate in the camps since the first weeks of November.

While there have been agreements made around humanitarian access in Tigray, they have only resulted in “piecemeal convoys here and there that have reached certain locations,” but access remains severely restricted, Taylor said. On Monday, the United Nations announced that only 25 members of its international staff were granted approval to provide humanitarian assistance in Tigray.

“A humanitarian response has not started — three months in and the scale of response that we would expect as an industry, given the breadth of the crisis, just hasn’t started quite frankly,” he said.

About the author

  • Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is Devex's East Africa Correspondent based in Nairobi. She is a reporter and producer, whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Nation magazine, among others. Sara holds a master's degree in business and economic reporting from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow.