The Red Cross of Kenya reports that the number of Ethiopians who have crossed into Kenya for refuge since March 10 has risen to at least 8,500. Many Ethiopians are fleeing to Kenya after the killing of several civilians in what the military said was a botched security operation targeting militants.
Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet said on Thursday that the number may keep increasing. “Reports indicate that more families are on the way to Moyale,” he added. The aid agency says that most of the people crossing into Kenya are women and children, including “pregnant and lactating mothers, chronically ill persons, those abled differently and the elderly”.
Displaced persons are currently concentrated in Sessi (3,080 people) but others are in Sololo (2,300), Somare (1,830), Cifa/Butiye (890), Maeyi (300), Kukub (91), Gatta Korma (51) and Dambala Fachana (50).
Some have integrated with host communities.
The Red Cross says it will distribute food and non-food items and provide integrated medical outreaches, health education and other support to settled families as well as newcomers.
But its resources are stressed and continue to be pressured as some of those fleeing had moved with their livestock.
A state official in the Oromiya region told Reuters on condition of anonymity that tens of thousands of Ethiopians have also been internally displaced.
Ethiopia’s state of emergency imposed in February to quell protests has resulted in the killing of at least nine civilians by the military in the Moyale area of the Oromia region near the Kenyan border over the weekend.
12 others were reportedly injured in last Saturday’s attack which has been described as a mistaken killing by Ethiopian army’s Command Post designated to implement the state of emergency.
Lieutenant General Hassen Ibrahim, representative of Secretariat of the Command Post told local media FANA Broadcasting Corporation that the victims were mistakenly identified as members of the banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
He added that they the battalion was deployed to the area following a wrong tip-off the military received about attempts of OLF forces to infiltrate into Ethiopia.
The command post while expressing its condolences to the families said in a statement that it is investigating the incident and five members of the defence force including the commander have been disarmed and kept in custody for investigation.
Oromo activists say the number of killed civilians is higher than announced. The Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE) condemned the attack which has forced terrified residents to flee to neighbouring Kenya.
“There was no protest or irregular activity at the time of the killing, and eyewitnesses confirmed that most of the victims were shot while walking on the streets, at coffee shops or restaurants,” says Yared Hailemariam, Executive Director of AHRE.
“Persistent lack of accountability is at the centre of the crisis Ethiopia is going through and such attacks risk instigating and triggering more anti-government protests and civil unrest,” he added in a statement.
Since the declaration of the state of emergency, dozens of people have been killed and many more arrested by Ethiopian forces for violating the law which includes the ban on protests and publications that “incite violence”.
Ethiopia’s defence minister announced the state of emergency a day after the resignation of the Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn following days of protests against the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government accused of sanctioning human rights abuses, the arrest of opposition figures and violence perpetrated by the security forces.
International agencies and Western countries have condemned the measure which was passed despite large opposition in parliament. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during a visit to Ethiopia last week that the U.S. believes greater freedom is the answer to the demonstrations.
Ethiopia has faced unrest since 2015 after the arrest of students and opposition figures in the Oromia region who were demonstrating against unfair treatment and abuses by the EPRDF government. Thousands of protesters were jailed and many died in the process.
The attacks and arrests by security forces were condemned by international agencies and partners resulting in measures instituted by the government to address the issues which are still lingering.