Ethiopia’s Tigray war has separated thousands of children from their parents, and many now face “dire” and dangerous conditions in displacement camps, the charity Save the Children said Tuesday.
“Many of these children were separated from their parents while fleeing for their lives during the conflict. Others have lost parents to the violence,” the group said in a statement marking six months since fighting began.
Some children are “not in safe care arrangements,” housed “in single rooms where more than 50 people sleep,” it said, pointing to the risk that they could be exposed to physical or sexual violence.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration reported in mid-April that more than one million people were displaced in Tigray, including 4,056 “separated” and 917 “unaccompanied” children.
That data was collected in March, meaning the true figures could be higher now.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray last November to detain and disarm leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the regional ruling party that once dominated national politics.
He said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.
Abiy declared victory after federal forces took the regional capital Mekele, but TPLF leaders remain on the run and fighting continues.
Save the Children is far from the only group sounding the alarm about sexual violence, which has been rampant during the conflict.
The International Rescue Committee said Monday that rape was “being used as a weapon,” and that women and girls faced “widespread abuse including mass rape and exploitation.”
“Women are having to engage in sexually exploitative relationships, receiving small amounts of money, food and/or shelter to survive and feed their children,” said Victor Odero, policy and advocacy adviser for the International Rescue Committee.
The US and EU are clamouring for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops, who have been implicated in some of the worst attacks on civilians documented so far, including brutal gang rapes.
Eritrea denies involvement in atrocities.
World leaders are also ramping up pressure on Abiy’s government to pursue a political resolution to the conflict, but Ethiopian officials say fighting is minimal and normalcy is returning.
Over the weekend Abiy’s Council of Ministers approved a resolution classifying the TPLF as a terrorist group, dealing a blow to the prospect of peace talks.