Addis Abeba — Parents of Universities students in Tigray echo concerns over the safety of their loved ones attending schools in the war torn region. Parents gathered in front of UN headquarters in Addis Ababa and used slogans such as “Universities are closed; where are our children?” ; “UN keep your promise, it is your responsibility to bring them back” and “Peoples of Tigray our kids are yours,” to demand the safe return of their children.
On the night of June 22, 2021, forces loyal to Tigray People’s Liberation Front controlled the Tigray Regional state capital Mekele, stiminously the Ethiopian government announced a unilateral ceasefire on the same night. Telecommunication services and electricity cuts accompanied, leaving families of students in Tigray universities with no contact with their loved ones. Out of the 45 public universities under the ministry of science and higher education (MoSHE), four (Mekele, Axsum, Adigrat and Raya universities) are found in Tigray region, leaving them by default incommunicado. At the onset of the armed conflict in the region eight months ago, students of Tigray universities were prevented from continuing their education.
Genet Abbahundesa comes from Jimma zone in Oromia regional state, Addis Standard interviewed in Addis Abeba while attending the rally in front of the UN HQ. She said, “My sister was enrolled in Adigrat University,” she added while explaining her inability to reach her sister, “We have been here for almost 14 days since July 08 and we have no answer.” Genet who has no family in Addis Abeba and stays in rental rooms added,.”I urge the federal government to bring back our loved ones. We put our hopes in the government but we are suffering here and others are suffering at home.”
Meaza Asfaw is mother and member of a committee to organize families of students in Tigray universities. She told Addis Standard, “I have a daughter in Mekelle university, Kuwiha campus. It is the United Nation who is mediating between the federal government and the regional authorities there,” she continued giving more details about the nature of the work of the committee, ” On Thursday, we were At MoSHE and they told us that they are facilitating the return of the students but nothing happened.”According to Meaza, it has been 24 days since the committee began campaigning and holding rallies in front of the office of the Prime Minister, Ethiopian Red Cross, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Ministry of Education (MoE), MoSHE and UN Ethiopia.
Meaza wonders if the stallment is political and argues that students are not political operatives. She said, “They are kids, the oldest could be only 23. The UN as international independent organization must interfere and bring them back.” Meaza disclosed to Addis Standard that churches have been hosting families who came from other towns and cities.
Biniyam Asrat, another committee member complimented Meaza but blamed failure on the UN. “The problem is when students reach Abeala ( a border town between Tigray and Afar). Due to security reasons federal government forces are not able enter and bring the students.” Binyam added that claims of mass facilitated return of students from Mekelle University are false, he said.
“Maybe three or four students reached Abeala and crossed safely by their own initiative. That is what the official statement we received from MoSHE.” The committee member whose sister is attending university in Mekelle explained that UN Ethiopia asked for fuel to be covered so they can cross into Tigray and their request was fulfilled by the federal government.
Another family member who asked to remain anonymous told Addis Standard that her daughter was able to make a call via an ICRC line from a location close to Afar border and told her they are returning back to Tigray.
On its part Mekelle University announced that the returning back students process which was facilitated in collaboration with MoSHE and UN Ethiopia was interrupted. It accused MoSHE of negligence and Afar region special forces of blocking safe passage of the students into Afar region. Addis Standard couldn’t independently confirm these claims, as repeated attempts to contact both Afar region communication bureau and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education were unsuccessful.
Families complain of lack of transparency from stakeholders and worry that escalation of the conflict would result in blockage of all access to the region. Addis Standard learned that families residing in Addis Abeba and nearby towns were the first participants in the campaign to return the students but now families from all over the country have started to come to Addis Abeba and Churches and Mosques have become their base as financial constraints of not having family members in the capital weighed on them. Addis Standard also learned that MoSHE promised said families that the extraction of the students will start from Saturday July 24, 2021. AS