Call for refugee visas as Ethiopia suffers

·3-min read

As war again rages in Ethiopia, people who have fled previous conflicts for a new life in Australia hope more can be done to help those who remain.

But four decades after leaving fighting and famine in the African nation behind, Melbourne resident Ipido Akalo echoes a sense of hopelessness felt among many in refugee communities.

Ethiopia's history of civil war stretches back to the 1970s, however conflict most recently emerged in the Tigray region of the country in late 2020.

Fighting between government forces and those loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front resumed in late August after a three-month ceasefire.

The UN has described the region as being in the grip of a full-scale humanitarian crisis, with millions displaced and the vast majority of the region's population in need of food aid.

Mr Akalo, 59, said he felt helpless thinking of friends and relatives affected by the war.

He and his family are unable to contact their loved-ones and are instead reliant on YouTube videos and limited news coverage for updates from the country.

"We are very scared and frightened for them," Mr Akalo told AAP.

"We are upset that the international community does not seem concerned, we want there to be more pressure to stop the war."

The conflict involves forces led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018, and the Tigray People's Liberation Front, which ruled Ethiopia for almost 30 years.

World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently described the plight of civilians in the Tigray region as the "worst humanitarian crisis in the world", suggesting the lack of international attention could be driven by racism.

Mr Akalo said the WHO chief's comments might be true and he called on the Australian government to include more people from Ethiopia in the annual humanitarian intake, similar to the additional visas granted to those fleeing conflict in Ukraine.

A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said Ethiopians had been among the top-five recipients of offshore humanitarian visas in the African region for the past 10 years.

The world was experiencing its greatest humanitarian need since World War II and priority was given to the most vulnerable applicants, the spokesperson said.

Valerie Browning, an Australian nurse based in the Afar region, which neighbours Tigray, said more needed to be done to help people on the ground in Ethiopia regardless of any changes to refugee programs.

She said the war had brought not only mass killings but also widespread rape, hunger and sickness.

"In war nobody has clean hands, there is no winner - there is only devastation," Ms Browning told AAP.

"The worst of humanity comes out and we see that pain daily here."

She said northern Afar had no working telecommunications and around 80 per cent of the population there were living at the mercy of emergency food relief.

Melbourne woman Sharon Elliott, who runs Ethiopiaid Australia, said the best way to help people in Ethiopia was to raise awareness about the war and the plight of civilians, and for those who could afford it to donate money.