Speech by Commissioner Urpilainen at the European Parliament plenary debate on on the Humanitarian Situation in Tigray, Ethiopia - 05/10/2021

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Dear President,

Honourable Members,

It is since the beginning of the crisis last November that we have repeatedly raised our voice about the situation in Tigray.

The EU has been at the forefront of the diplomatic action and engaged with its Member States, likeminded-partners as well as Bretton-Wood Institutions to advocate for a concerted response. The EU has postponed budget support disbursements already last December.

Despite our and some other international actors’ efforts almost a year into the conflict, the situation does not improve. On the contrary, the tragic humanitarian crisis unfolding in Tigray is reaching dramatic levels and is increasingly posing considerable implications to the wider Horn of Africa.

Close to one year into the conflict, over 5 million people are in need of urgent assistance and 2.1 million people are displaced. The Famine Review Committee (FRC) predicted in June that there were 400,000 people at risk of famine. We believe this number is probably closer to 1 million people and we have now evidence that the number of malnourished children has dramatically increased.


No meaningful humanitarian aid in Tigray has reached the region since mid-July. While seventy-five percent of the Tigray territory is now accessible for the humanitarian staff and supplies that are already inside Tigray, the Ethiopian government has sealed off the region.

Humanitarian aid entering Tigray is anecdotal compared to the needs, while on another scale, needs are increasing in Amhara and Afar as the Tigray conflict spills over into these regions.

The operating conditions for humanitarians have deteriorated sharply in the past two months, with organisations running out of supplies, fuel and cash and suffering from severe administrative access impediments.

Furthermore, the narrative of the Ethiopian Government towards relief organisations is becoming increasingly negative and dangerous.

In a shocking move, seven senior UN officials were declared “Persona Non Grata” last week, having to leave Ethiopia within 72 hours. One of them is involved in the investigation on possible war crimes and human rights violations. Two major humanitarian organisations were suspended this summer.

The gap left behind is unbridgeable. This results in a climate of fear and self-censure of relief actors.

Faced with this situation, the EU continues supporting civilians affected by the conflict through our humanitarian response efforts. Our absolute priority now is pushing for access to ensure that significant humanitarian aid reaches all those in need.

Enhanced action and collective pressure for immediate and unhindered humanitarian access and for respect of international humanitarian law are needed towards the Ethiopian authorities and all parties to the conflict. Our discussions next week during the high-level geopolitical dialogue with the EP on future cooperation under NDICI are also part of these efforts.

I look forward to hearing your views.

Thank you.