The United Nations is calling on the Ethiopian government to rescind its decision to expel top U.N. officials from the country, warning the action puts life-saving humanitarian operations at risk. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.
On Thursday, the Ethiopian government told seven senior officials, including the heads of the U.N. Children’s Fund and OCHA, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, that they had 72 hours to leave the country.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet says she deplores the government’s decision to declare the U.N. officials as persona non grata, or as unwelcome persons.
She rejected allegations that one of her staff and four human rights monitors were meddling in the internal affairs of Ethiopia. Her spokesman, Rupert Colville, said no warning of the impending expulsions was received.
“Basically, this was a bombshell that dropped suddenly yesterday afternoon and I think we were all caught completely by surprise. Also, by the scale of it. Seven staff across three agencies is extremely rare if not unprecedented,” Colville said.
OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke said the senior U.N. officials are responsible for overseeing the humanitarian operations of many agencies, including non-governmental organizations. He warned their expulsion will have serious repercussions for millions of destitute, homeless people in northern Ethiopia’s conflict-ridden Tigray region.
“It remains very dire and there is a spillover of the conflict into neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, which rapidly means that the humanitarian needs are increasing and also the number of internally displaced people is increasing.…The food insecurity continues to increase with at least 5.2 million people targeted for emergency food assistance in Tigray,” Laerke said.
However, trucks containing emergency food and other humanitarian supplies are stuck in Afar. They are not moving on to Tigray because of insecurity and other restrictions.
Laerke said only 11% of designated humanitarian trucks have entered Tigray since July.
U.N. agencies are appealing to Ethiopian authorities to reconsider Thursday’s decision and allow the U.N. officials to remain in the country to continue their human rights and humanitarian work.