Ethiopia suspends aid groups for ‘spreading misinformation’

By Kaamil Ahmed

The Ethiopian government has suspended the work of two international aid organisations for three months, including in the conflict-hit Tigray region, accusing them of spreading misinformation.

Ethiopia Current Issues Fact Check, a government-run website focused on Tigray, accused Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) of violating several rules.

Both organisations confirmed the ban and said they were in talks with the government about resuming their work.

An MSF statement said the ban applied to activities by its Dutch section in Ethiopia’s Tigray, Gambella, Amhara and Somali regions.

The UN aid chief, Martin Griffiths (on the screen) briefing the security council.
The UN aid chief, Martin Griffiths (on the screen) briefing the security council. ‘Blanket accusations of humanitarian aid workers need to stop,’ he said. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

“Access to healthcare in these regions is already limited, and the impact of a further reduction in services because of a forced suspension will have dire consequences for the people we are assisting, including Ethiopian citizens and refugee communities hosted by Ethiopia,” MSF said.

MSF was also accused by the Ethiopian government of illegally importing satellite radio equipment and, alongside NRC, of bringing in foreign workers without the correct permits.

Speaking at the end of a trip to Ethiopia this week, the UN’s aid chief, Martin Griffiths, rejected claims by the Ethiopian government that aid groups were biased towards Tigrayan political factions.

“Blanket accusations of humanitarian aid workers need to stop,” he said. “They need to be backed up by evidence if there is any and, frankly, it’s dangerous.”

In June, MSF suspended work in parts of Tigray after three of its employees were killed in the region. Their bodies were found near the car in which they had been travelling a day after they went missing.

Ethiopian forces launched an offensive on Tigray in November, initially pushing out the local ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which the government accused of attacking its army camps.

The Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, had swiftly declared victory, but the TPLF has since retaken most of Tigray and has demanded government forces withdraw from the region and restore electricity and other essential services before a ceasefire is agreed.

Griffiths said the humanitarian situation in Tigray had been made worse by disruption to fuel supplies, communication and banks.

“It was heartbreaking to see the scale of devastation and families who, to this day, do not have a place to live or food to put on their table,” he said. “We need to change the circumstances that have led to the slow movement of aid – we need the conflict to stop.”

In a statement on the suspension of the NRC aid programmes in Ethiopia, it said it had helped 585,000 people across six regions of the country in 2020, while MSF said its healthcare teams provided 220,000 consultations last year.

MSF said it had also been forced to withdraw from the north-west region of Cameroon after its operations there were suspended by the government eight months ago. The suspension followed allegations by the authorities that MSF was supporting separatist armed groups fighting in the region. MSF has categorically rejected the allegations.