The Guardian, a UK-based media featured yesterday an investigative article titled “‘It’s death either way’: desperate Tigrayans flee starvation and forced conscription” written by Lucy Kassa who is also a Tigrayan. The government of Tigray responded furiously and immediately to what it says ”allegations in the article” as ”baseless”. Here below is the full statement from the External Affairs Office of the Government of Tigray.

Response to The Guardian’s It’s death either way’: desperate Tigrayans flee starvation and forced conscription.”

On June 20, 2022, The Guardian published an article by Lucy Kassa, entitled “’ It’s death either way’: desperate Tigrayans flee starvation and forced conscription.” The newspaper makes three allegations. First, people are fleeing Tigray to escape forced recruitment. Second, the Government of Tigray is embezzling food aid, and refusing to distribute food aid to those in need. Finally, the article alleges that the Government of Tigray forces people to make contributions—money and food—to Tigray forces. These allegations are baseless. What is more, such meritless allegations do real damage to the people of Tigray by distracting attention from their suffering and the campaign to hold their tormentors accountable. However, because we take such allegations seriously, we feel compelled to address them head-on and set the record straight.

First, the Government of Tigray and Tigray’s Army are of the firm belief that forcible recruitment is inimical to the ability of military organizations to fulfil their mission effectively. For that reason, Tigray forces are composed of volunteers who appreciate the existential peril posed by the genocidal campaign against Tigray. It was volunteers motivated and embittered by unimaginable brutalities visited upon the people of Tigray that drove the invaders out of most parts of Tigray, decimating their vaunted divisions, capturing thousands of their fighters and taking control of their modern weaponry. In that regard, the invaders’ genocidal intent and acts have been essential recruitment posters for Tigray forces.

The second allegation of aid embezzlement is also baseless. To begin with, the Government of Tigray does not have a substantial role in the distribution of aid to the needy other than facilitating the works of aid agencies. But unfortunately, such a baseless allegation, repeated ad nauseam by the Abiy regime and echoed by its countless propaganda outlets, has taken a life of its own. After all, such baseless allegations help redirect the international community’s gaze away from the devastating consequences of the Abiy regime’s cruel policies towards Tigray.

Furthermore, the idea that there is abundant aid in Tigray and that the Government of Tigray is refusing to distribute it to the needy has no merit. From July to mid-December, only about 5 per cent of the aid required was allowed into Tigray. No aid was delivered to Tigray from mid-December through the end of March overland. Even after the so-called humanitarian truce, the aid trickling into Tigray is far from sufficient to meet the staggering needs on the ground. In fact, from March 25 through June 17, only about 25 per cent of the required aid has arrived in Tigray. Even when limited aid arrives, aid agencies are struggling to distribute it on account of the severe shortage of fuel in Tigray, as the Abiy regime has imposed a near-total ban on the entry of fuel into Tigray. Consequently, 45-50 per cent of food and non-food items delivered thus far are sitting idle in warehouses in Mekelle.

Sadly, the article provides no evidence commensurate with the gravity of the allegation. The reporter could, for instance, have reached out to aid agencies to learn the facts surrounding aid distribution, including how many people have already been assisted, how many people remain unassisted and what the bottlenecks to aid distribution are. In the rush to condemn the Government of Tigray, the report fails to grapple with the serious consequences of the Abiy regime’s continual strangulation of Tigray. Or quite simply, the reporter could have consulted the weekly UN situation reports prepared by the United Nations to learn more about humanitarian operations in Tigray.

The third allegation is that the Government of Tigray forces Tigrayans to make contributions—money, food, and other materials—to Tigray’s Army. To begin with, Tigray’s Army is composed of ordinary Tigrayans who joined it of their own volition to defend Tigray against a marauding gang of genocidal invaders that have committed and continue to commit heinous atrocities against the people of Tigray. Tigrayans see Tigray’s Army as the guarantor of their safety and security. For that reason, there is no need for the Government to compel Tigrayans to support the very entity whose existence they regard as critical to their safety and security. Every Tigrayan makes contributions to Tigray forces based on their ability and willingness, not government dictates.

Unfortunately, this rather thinly-sourced article relies on the accounts of Tigrayans, who are, according to the report, languishing in detention camps in the Amhara region, raising ethical questions about relying on sources who lack the freedom to speak what really is on their minds. Indeed, the story of Tigrayans escaping hellish conditions in Tigray created by the genocidal invaders only to be tormented by our enemies on their home turf should have been the theme of the article.

The fact of the matter is that the invaders have reduced Tigray’s economy to rubble; they have suspended all essential services, including banking, making it impossible for people to access their savings. Tigray’s major cities, once bustling with commerce and vibrant day-to-day life, have become ghost towns. Given the extreme hardship and the resulting existential insecurity that our enemies have engineered across Tigray, it is no surprise that Tigrayans are looking for alternative means to survive, including by making an arduous and dangerous journey to Addis Ababa or elsewhere in Ethiopia. Presenting their departure from Tigray as evidence of something other than the quest for survival is wrong.

On a final note, independent reporters and media institutions as well as human rights organizations that wish to examine the realities on the ground are welcome to visit Tigray and see things for themselves. Sadly, the Abiy regime’s airtight siege of Tigray has made it impossible for journalists, aid agencies and advocacy organizations to do their job properly. We urge the international community to press the Abiy regime to lift this devastating blockade and provide journalists, human rights organizations and aid agencies, among others, unfettered access to Tigray.”

Tigray External Affairs Office, Government of Tigray, Ref: TEAO/PR 48/2022, Date 20 June 2022

By Lilay

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