Ethiopia: Humanitarian and Political Situation — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:41 pm on 19th January 2022.

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Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 3:41 pm, 19th January 2022

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I honestly do not know the answer, but I assume that, if we are able to, we will be using every conversation that we have to raise those concerns. This is the first opportunity I have had to debate with the right hon. Gentleman. His presentation was salient and sensible; I very much appreciated the points he made in his speech. I know he is very committed to this issue and led a debate on it last November, which I read with great interest. I promise him I have taken all his points very seriously indeed.

As Stephen Doughty mentioned, on 8 January an airstrike near a camp for internally displaced persons in Tigray reportedly killed 56 people. It goes without saying that we believe that all sides of the conflict must respect international human rights and humanitarian law, and prioritise the protection of civilians—a point that we have made repeatedly. I am quite certain that the Minister for Africa will reinforce that point during her visit to the region in the coming days.

We also reiterate our call for Eritrea to withdraw its forces from Ethiopia immediately. They are a source of instability, a threat to Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and a barrier to achieving the lasting peace that everyone here has talked about, which we all want to see, and which I am absolutely sure the people on the ground want to see.

Right now, 7 million people in Tigray and the neighbouring regions need humanitarian assistance. At least 400,000 people are living in famine-like conditions, more than in the rest of the world combined. The risk of widespread loss of life is high, with young children, as many hon. Members have pointed out, likely to bear the brunt.

The response to the humanitarian crisis continues to be hampered by the lack of security. Shockingly, 24 humanitarian workers have been killed in Tigray since the start of the conflict, including staff working on UK-funded programmes. It is right that we take a moment to remember them and honour the sacrifice they made in support of the innocent victims of this conflict. Tragically, humanitarian access to Tigray has been at a standstill since 14 December and hospitals in the region report that they are out of medicine. I repeat the Government’s call to all sides to provide unfettered humanitarian access.

Let me be clear. There is no military solution to the situation in Ethiopia. It is a man-made crisis, caused by human actions and human decisions. The UK Government have been clear from the outset that the fighting must end. All sides must put down their weapons. A political dialogue is the only route to a lasting peace, and with it the return of stability and prosperity to Ethiopia. We have made these points repeatedly to the Ethiopian Government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

The British Ambassador to Ethiopia reiterated those messages during meetings with the Ethiopian President on 12 November last year. He travelled to the capital of the Tigray region on 25 November to urge the TPLF to stop fighting and engage in peace talks. The Minister for Africa will use her visit to the region to discuss the potential path to peace with various counterparts. It is a principle of the African Union—which, let us not forget, is based in Addis Ababa—that African solutions should be found to African problems. It is absolutely right that African partners are taking the lead in ending this conflict.