It is a pleasure to be back under your chairship, Mr. Davies, and to be back in the real Westminster Hall. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on securing this important and timely debate. I agree with many Members that the eyes of the world are not on Tigray as they should be, so this is an important time to put on the record what is happening there right now and to hear from the Minister about our response.
I share the distress and sadness displayed by so many colleagues this morning about what we are still witnessing in Tigray. It is a truly heartbreaking situation. At the time of Live Aid, we were so proud that as a country we stood up together to support the people of Ethiopia in their time of crisis. We want to do the same again. We want to know what is happening in that region. We feel a great bond, as well as having constituents—as I do—who have family members in the region.
The UN Secretary-General has said that “a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding before our eyes”.
The Foreign Secretary took his eye off Afghanistan, but I hope to hear from the Minister that that is not the case with Tigray. I was heartened that the Foreign Secretary mentioned Tigray in briefings held during the recess, so I am glad of this opportunity for a Minister to lay out what is happening in the British Government. I also have some questions.
On 4 November 2020, armed conflict broke out in northern Ethiopia between the regional and federal Governments in the country’s Tigray region. That conflict has since spilled over into the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions. Reports indicate that clashes continue in northern Ethiopia, involving Ethiopian, Amharan and Tigrayan forces. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in Afar and Amhara, and more than 2.2 million people are now thought to be displaced in Tigray, many to neighbouring countries, as has been mentioned in the debate, including Sudan. It is estimated that more than 6 million people across those areas are affected by the crisis and in need of assistance. The scale of the humanitarian crisis is staggering.
More than 5 million people in Tigray require immediate humanitarian assistance. At least 54 organisations are providing aid and services. I join with other Members in paying tribute to the brave humanitarian workers on the ground right now. However, there are significant gaps in assistance, which disproportionately affect Ethiopian women and girls, who have virtually no access to livelihoods and often live in insecure environments. The harvests are failing right now, and the harvests of November and December are likely to fail as well—there has been no ability to plant—so the crisis is getting worse. Verification on the ground is needed.
For months, Ethiopian troops, aided by Eritrean soldiers, have tortured, sexually assaulted, killed, and displaced Tigrayan civilians. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front has also perpetrated human rights abuses and has looted a United States Agency for International Development warehouse. The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported on 19 August that, while access in large areas inside Tigray is now feasible and secure, other areas remain inaccessible. The extended delays in the clearance of humanitarian supplies, with lorries going in but not coming out again to replenish their stocks, is a major issue right now. OCHA says that it is 50% short of the funding needed to respond now.
When did the Foreign Secretary last speak to the Ethiopian Government to make these points? Has the Prime Minister spoken to his Ethiopian counterpart? What steps are the UK Government taking to ensure the protection of civilians, including women and girls, from sexual and gender-based violence in particular? Will the Minister ensure that aid is prioritised for this crisis and do everything in his power to press the Ethiopian Government for an increase in funding, the cessation of fighting and unfettered humanitarian access? The road through the Amhara region is now closed. What is happening with that? What about the resumption of essential services—water and sanitation, power, banking and communications? We need to challenge the Ethiopian Government on the rhetoric being used against the humanitarian community, which is endangering aid works in the region—many of them British. The targeting and arresting of Tigrayans in Addis Ababa must cease. The eyes of the world must be on Tigray and urgent action must be taken.