Interview with JRS Ethiopia team about the impacts of Tigray War on our programs and its implementation.
With Million Siraw, Reconciliation and Peacebuilding Coordinator at JRS Ethiopia, and Neway Alemayehu, Ethiopia Country Director.
1. Which were the activities carried out by JRS Mai-Aini before the outbreak of the conflict?
Before the conflict started, JRS implemented the following activities in Mai-Aini and Adi Harush refugee camps:
- Psychosocial Support, Counselling
- Youth Development Programs such as recreational activities including short term trainings on music education (instrument, vocal) sport (football, volleyball, basketball,…) theatre and dancing,
- Library service
- Livelihoods Activities (tailoring of hygiene kits e.g sanitary pad making as well as dippers and t-shirts for children)
- Reconciliation and Social Cohesion
2. How were these affected by the outbreak of the conflict?
When the war started on November 4th, 2020 in the region, no humanitarian worker (including our staff) was able to travel to the camps for the security raison.
There has been heavy fighting in some spots of the Shire surroundings, so people had to evacuate those areas. Many refugees also left the camp right after the war had broken out. Roads were closed and there have been reports of looting of properties. The mobile network was not working so our communication with the refugees and to the country office was limited.
So, the project activities were closed until the situation in the region started to settle. The network was not working so our communication with the refugees and to the country office was limited. Therefore, we can say the conflict in the region hugely affected the project activities.
3. What was the first response of JRS when the conflict started?
The first response of JRS was to evacuate the staff members from the region to ensure the wellbeing and safety of our staff. The country office and the field office tried every possible way to do so. However, the roads out of the area were closed. So, the first measure that was taken was to hibernate in the JRS residence to protect the staff members from any possible harm.
Then after about 3 weeks into the conflict, with the support from the local administrator of Embamadre and country office, the staff members were able to walk out and escape from the conflict area. In doing so, there has been a close coordination of the Country Office, Regional Office and the security adviser from International office who has been guiding us on how best to ensure the safety of staff with stories of similar incidents from other countries.
4. Are we planning to resume the activities?
Knowing the security situation in the project area is settling down, now the field office is able to start the project activities.
The project is in full operation despite the fact that there is still tension and feeling of insecurity among staff as well as the refugee community. However, since we restarted the operation, there have not been any incidence of security against our staff and refugees.
Sporadic killings of people in the host community have been reported with no knowledge of why and who killed them. This demonstrates the high security risk in the area we are operating in.
5. If so, why and how?
Now almost all organizations including ARRA and UNHCR have resumed their activities to serve the refugees. The needs for the refugees, host communities and internally displaced in the area are great. And responding to our call to serve where the needs are great, we are compelled by our mission to accompany and serve the most vulnerable and in need.
To do so, security coordination meetings are in place whereby information is exchanged. JRS is putting in place an early warning system that will inform prior decisions in case of growing security concerns for staff. However, provided the distance and unreliable communication system, the uncertainties outweighs, and concerns are high.
6. What measures are being taken to cope with the effects of the conflict on our local staff?
There is a support system in place whereby JRS staff share information and support each other on how to deal with it. The psychosocial department is key in such a support.
JRS, at a Global, has already in a place a counselling support system with the Konterra Group for staff who requires it. And some staff have benefitted already from their service.
In addition to this, there has been a close coordination between the country office HR departments and individuals for sharing information, concern and seeking any support including evacuation from the area for some time.
With this kind of arrangement, the Country Office has been able to facilitate for more than two staff some break for spiritual support.
It is believed that effect of the conflict would have longer time consequences on individuals and the community. However, the overall impact on the local staff will be dealt in the course of time with strong support system that have been mentioned above. It is imperative to also mention that the Project’s Reconciliation and Social Cohesion department will play a great role in this as it has done in the past
7. What measures are thought to reduce the risk or the impact of the conflict in our beneficiaries?
UNHCR and ARRA as leading agencies for the refugees operation and are responsible for their protection. More coordination will need to be in place to ensure that refugees remain in the camps in peace and feel that they are protected very well and are not target in the conflict.
In addition to the protection that refugees need, services that we offer will go a long way to have a positive impact on them. Hence, the need to fully resume our operations and services urgently
8. What are the future expectations for our activities in the Tigray Region?
JRS will continue in the spirit of accompaniment to be with the refugees in this difficult time. JRS-Ethiopia is also designing an emergency program that would last for few months to support most vulnerable IDPs and refugees in the surrounding of the two camps namely, Adi-Harush and Mai Aini. Our existing activities will continue with keen eyes on the security of staff and refugees and participate in the coordination meetings (programmes and security) going on at different levels to ensure staff safety.
Moreover, advocacy as key activity of JRS-Ethiopia, we keep on lobbying on the security concerns of refugees for enhanced protection from the government and UNHCR.
Neway Alemayehu — JRS Ethiopia Country Director
Million Siraw — JRS Ethiopia Reconciliation and Peacebuilding Coordinator