The U.N. secretary-general expressed “shock” Thursday after the Ethiopian government announced the expulsion of seven senior U.N. humanitarian officials working in the country.
“In Ethiopia, the U.N. is delivering lifesaving aid — including food, medicine, water, and sanitation supplies — to people in desperate need,” Antonio Guterres said in a statement. “I have full confidence in the U.N. staff who are in Ethiopia doing this work.”
He said the organization is engaging with the Ethiopian authorities “in the expectation that the concerned U.N. staff will be allowed to continue their important work.”
The seven officials have been given 72 hours to leave Ethiopia. They include the U.N.’s deputy humanitarian chief, the deputy humanitarian coordinator, and the U.N. Children's Agency (UNICEF) representative.
In a tweet, the ministry of foreign affairs said the seven were “meddling in the internal affairs of the country.”
The Ethiopian federal government has been engaged in an armed conflict with rebels in the northern Tigray region for nearly one year. The government declared a unilateral cease-fire and withdrew its forces in June, but the conflict has continued to spill into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar.
Of the 6 million people who live in Tigray, the U.N. says 5.2 million need some level of food assistance. Over 400,000 people are already living in famine-like conditions, and another 1.8 million people are on the brink of famine.
On Wednesday, U.N. Humanitarian Chief Martin Griffiths said that after 11 months of conflict and three months of a de facto government blockade, the humanitarian crisis in Tigray 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 blocked from getting enough supplies to them.
One hundred aid trucks are needed daily in the region, but in the past week, only 79 in total were allowed in, a U.N. spokesman said.
“Trucks carrying fuel and medical supplies still cannot enter into Tigray,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday. “Trucks are waiting in Semera, in Afar, to travel to Mekelle.”
The federal government headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, blames the rebels for blocking the aid deliveries.
White House condemnation
“The U.S. government condemns in the strongest possible terms the government of Ethiopia’s unprecedented action to expel the leadership of all of the United Nations organizations involved in ongoing humanitarian operations,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday.
Earlier this month, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order allowing the government to impose financial sanctions on those who prolong the conflict.
“We will not hesitate to use this or any other tool at our disposal to respond quickly and decisively to those who obstruct humanitarian assistance to people of Ethiopia,” Psaki said.
Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.