Taking Stock of Tigray: JRS Ethiopia on Response, Relief throughout Conflict

24 May 2021

Members of the JRS Ethiopia team visit internally displaced persons for rationing and assessment.

In November 2020, tensions erupted in the northernmost state of Tigray, Ethiopia, between Tigrayan regional forces and the Ethiopian government. From the 1998 war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, through the shaky peace deal brokered in 2018, the region has been primed for another humanitarian and political crisis — with no clear way out.

Since the conflict broke out, JRS Ethiopia was forced to adapt its approach to serve and accompany existing refugees and newly displaced persons across the region.

Due to heavy fighting, the project activities were closed until the situation in the region started to settle. Internet networks were not working, so communication with refugees and to the country office, was further limited.

A woman in Mai Aini refugee camp rests underneath an umbrella to protect herself from the sun.

Initial Response

“The first response of JRS was to evacuate the staff members from the region to ensure the wellbeing and safety of our staff,” says Ethiopia Country Director, Neway Alemayehu.

“The country office and the field office tried every possible way to do so. However, the roads out of the area were closed. So, the first measure that was taken was to hibernate in the JRS residence to protect the staff members from any possible harm.”

With support from the local administrators, staff members were able to safely escape the conflict area nearly three weeks into the war.

Left to Right: Neway Alemayehu (Country Director) and Solomon Brahane (Program Officer) at Mai Aini’s JRS compound in a meeting with the staff.

Protecting Our Brothers & Sisters

JRS Ethiopia is designing an emergency program that would last for a few months to support the most vulnerable IDPs and refugees in the surrounding of the two camps namely, Adi-Harush and Mai Aini.

More coordination is required to ensure that refugees remain in the camps, feel that they are protected, and ensure that they are not targeted in the conflict.

Prior, the team had provided key activities in both areas, including:

  • Psychosocial Support and Counseling
  • Youth Development Programs, including recreation activities, music education and sports, and
  • Livelihood Activities, such as tailoring children’s clothing

Healing Hands for Our JRS Staff

The JRS Team participates in a Reconciliation and Peace-building workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In these challenging moments, JRS is putting in place information and support systems to care for staff and those serving refugees in conflict zones.

At the global level, JRS has already instituted a counseling support system with the Konterra Group for staff who desire a safe, intimate space. Additionally, there has been close coordination between the country offices, HR departments, and individuals for sharing information, concerns, and seeking support, including evacuation from the area for some time.

To support the JRS Ethiopia mission as they return to full operations in Tigray, please consider a donation.

Neway Alemayehu — JRS Ethiopia Country Director and Million Siraw — JRS Ethiopia Reconciliation and Peacebuilding Coordinator contributed to this update.