Tens of Thousands at Risk of Being Displaced in Ethiopia Refugee Crisis as Nation Inches to Civil War

In Ethiopia, there's a state called the Tigray in the northernmost region of the country. And the federal government and the Tigray government were going back and forth and having quite a few issues.

A refugee crisis has been unfolding in the horn of Africa, as Ethiopia is on the brink of a civil war that could leave tens of thousands of people displaced.

In Ethiopia, there's a state called the Tigray. Located in the northernmost region of the country, the state's government and the federal government's conflicts have come to a boiling point, threatening to wreak a havoc that would be comparable to if a U.S. State and the U.S. federal government were at odds to the point of violence.

The conflict stemmed from the attempt of Nobel Peace Prize-winning Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to distance the country's politics from its old system of ethnic federalism, which is a shared structure of government giving regional influence to individual ethnic groups. The prime minister wanted to merge the ethnic and region-based parties of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, which had governed Ethiopia for 30 years, into a nationwide Prosperity Party.

The Tigray government was opposed to the idea, which caused tensions to escalate, and then on Nov. 4, the Ethiopian federal government decided to take military action. They also declared a six-month state of emergency, and with that came a complete communications blackout.

“We are talking about an emergency,” Dana Hughes of the United Nations Refugee Agency told Inside Edition Digital. According to Hughes, over 40,000 people have fled over the border to Sudan, and more people have been displaced within Ethiopia. Hughes says she hasn’t seen anything of this scale before. “It almost feels like a natural disaster,” she said.

“They were living ordinary lives like you and I. They were teachers, doctors and farmers. They had phones. They had families. And so to save their lives, they suddenly had to leave, and they're missing their lives at home,” she said. “So to see these lives interrupted, to meet these educated, particularly young people, young people starting out their lives. High school, early 20s...To see the shock, and to realize that it could be any of us, really.”

The UN’s refugee agency, along with other groups, is setting up a refugee camp in neighboring Sudan, and is appealing for donations.

“I was just there. We just started having enough to give hot meals. There's not enough shelter. There's not enough water. And then even after you do that, people want to go to school. Kids need a place to play,” Hughes said. “I think it's also really important to remember that this is all happening in a pandemic. So that there's hygiene issues. There's masks that are needed.”

But Hughes knows it can be difficult to keep focus on situations that can feel far away.

“It's really hard right now. There's a lot going on in the world. There a lot going on in America, politically. There's COVID. It's a very crowded news space, but I think it's really important when you can, to be informed about what's happening in other places. And not to just be informed, but pay attention, and you can see what your government is doing to help people,” Hughes said.