The UN Secretary-General on Thursday expressed “shock” after the Ethiopian government announced the expulsion of seven senior UN humanitarian officials working in the country.
“In Ethiopia, the United Nations is providing life-saving assistance – including food, medicine, water and sanitation supplies – to people in dire need,” Antonio Guterres said in a statement. “I have full confidence in the UN staff who are doing this work in Ethiopia.”
He said the organization is engaging with Ethiopian officials “in the hope that relevant UN staff will be allowed to continue their important work.”
Seven officers have been given 72 hours to leave Ethiopia. These include the UN Deputy Humanitarian Chief, Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator and representatives of the United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF).
The foreign ministry said in a tweet that the seven were “interfering in the country’s internal affairs.”
Ethiopia’s federal government has been engaged in armed conflict with rebels in the northern Tigre region for nearly a year. The government declared a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew its forces in June, but the conflict continued to spread to the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar.
Of the 6 million people living in the Tigre, the United Nations says 5.2 million are in need of some level of food aid. More than 400,000 people are already living in famine-like conditions, and another 1.8 million are on the verge of famine.
On Wednesday, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said that after 11 months of conflict and three months of de facto government blockade, the humanitarian crisis in Tigre is spiraling out of control.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Griffiths said the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia is “a stain on our conscience”, as civilians starve because aid workers are being prevented from getting enough supplies to them.
A UN spokeswoman said the region needed one hundred aid trucks a day, but only 79 were allowed in the past week.
“Trucks carrying fuel and medical supplies still cannot enter the Tigre,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday. “Trucks are waiting in Semera, in Afar, to travel to Mekel.”
The federal government, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, blames the rebels for blocking aid delivery.
White House condemnation
“The US government strongly condemns the unprecedented action by the Ethiopian government to expel the leadership of all UN organizations involved in ongoing humanitarian operations,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday.
Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order that allows the government to impose financial sanctions on those prolonging the conflict.
“We will not hesitate to use this or any other tool to respond promptly and decisively to those hindering humanitarian aid to the people of Ethiopia,” Saki said.
Patsi Vidakuswara contributed to this report.