Survivors of the Bahrale camp attack in Afar said ‘at least five killed, several women kidnapped’ in attack this month.
Fighting in northern Ethiopia’s Afar region “engulfed” a camp housing refugees from neighbouring Eritrea, the United Nations has said, killing five people and forcing thousands to flee.
The attack earlier this month is the latest blow to the more than 100,000 Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopia, whose camps have been repeatedly caught up in a grinding 15-month war.
It also underscores the growing toll of fighting in Afar, which has emerged in recent weeks as the most active front in the conflict pitting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group.
Survivors of the Bahrale camp attack in Afar reported that “at least five refugees were killed and several women were kidnapped” after armed men entered on February 3, the UN refugee agency said in a statement on Friday.
“Family members lost one another in the chaos of fleeing the camp,” the statement said.
The Barahle camp is situated near the border between Afar and Tigray, the home region of the rebels.
The TPLF controls most of Tigray and in January announced it had expanded operations into Afar, claiming it had been provoked by attacks on its positions by pro-government forces.
The UN statement did not specify which forces the survivors accused of targeting the camp.
Ethiopia’s war broke out in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF government, a move he said came in response to the TPLF attacks on army camps.
From the outset, Eritrean refugees were caught in the crossfire. Two camps in northern Tigray, Hitsats and Shimelba, were looted and then destroyed in what one aid group called a “rampage”.
Eritrean forces, which have backed Abiy in the war, as well as Tigrayan militias, were accused of killing and raping refugees there, and thousands of the camps’ inhabitants remain unaccounted for.
Last July, two other camps in Tigray – Mai-Aini and Adi Harush – were caught up in the fighting.
The attack on Bahrale marks the first time a camp outside Tigray has been affected.
Established in 2009, the camp housed nearly 21,000 refugees as of December 2021, according to the UN, with more than 13,000 additional refugees living in surrounding districts.
More than 4,000 refugees from Bahrale have reached Semera, the UN said on Friday.
About 10,000 more refugees are reported to be living in the town of Afdera, about 225km (140 miles) from Semera, the UN said, with others scattered elsewhere.