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Analysis: Parents of students in Tigray’s universities fearful for their children’s safety demand transparency from Fed Government

Parents forming a gathering at the entrance of International Committe of the Red Cross (ICRC). Addis Abeba July 08/2021.

By Getahun Tsegaye @GetahunTsegay12 & Mahlet Fasil @MahletFasil

Addis Abeba, July 08/2021 – Following the withdrawal of Ethiopian National Defense Forces out of Tigray, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education (MoSHE) addressed the concerns of parents of university students in the region through its official Facebook page by assuring parents that the teaching and learning process in underway as usual. The ministry further disclosed that it was following the matter with International organizations based in Tigray.

MoSHE also acknowledged the efforts by international media to verify and report on the situation of university students. Mekelle University students who spoke to DW Amharic said “Despite the interruption of banking, electricity, internet and telecommunication services, we are doing fine. We know how much our parents are worried but we are still doing okay.”  The students however, asked for the resumption of services such as banking and telecommunication.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on its part released a statement, insisting on the need for urgent measures to ensure the safety and security of civilians in the Tigray region. The statement read,  “Anxious parents and families of students at various universities/colleges in the region are also still awaiting response from relevant authorities on the current situation of the students.”

Addis Standard reached out to parents whose children are university students in Tigray. One mother who asked for anonymity for personal reasons, disclosed that a committee representing concerned parents held a meeting with President SahleWork Zewde yesterday to discuss measures to ensure the safe return of their children.“The President spoke to the committee and said the government has been working tirelessly with International organizations based in Tigray to ensure the safety of the students,” she said.

When asked if contact was established with her son, she said that she was not able to get hold of her son and explained that cellular and internet access in the region was off. However, she told Addis Standard that she got a phone call from one student who was able to leave safely through the Afar region and in turn the student informed her that her son was doing well and is safe. According to her, Samara University was helping university students stuck in Tigray to reach their home destination.

Another parent spoke to Addis Standard about her worries about the unfolding situation in Tigray and how lack of communication is preventing her from checking on her son and two of her cousins who were attending Mekelle University. She said, “I have not had any contact with them since the interruption of telecommunication services in Tigray which worries me much, but my hope still is great since the government is working on the matter.”

Addis Standard received a tip about a meeting between concerned parents, a committee set up to follow the situation and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and attended the meeting at the ICRC office in Addis Abeba. There Addis Standard learned about a special committee that was established to address the situation of university students in Tigray. 

Simret Dagnew is one of the parents that Addis Standard spoke to whose daughter, Bethelhem, is finishing her last year in an undergraduate program at Axum University. Simret expressed her dismay, saying, “Following withdrawal of the army, I have not had any contact with my child.”  She wondered about the inaction by the government asking, “They seem to have little worry.”

Tesfaye Haile is a father of a student at Mekelle University, Kuwiha branch, seemed optimistic as he explained, “I am very much delighted that my daughter got hold of me over the phone. The red cross helped her to do so.” he continued while in tears, “ She is okay and she asked me to not worry and I will try not to.” 

Hana (asked to be quoted by first name), is member of the special committee whose daughter Lia is a student at Adigrat University. She told Addis Standard, “We’re here at the red cross to hear what they can tell us,” she continued, “The red cross expressed its willingness to help the students but the consent they need to carry on with the mission, did not come from the federal government nor from the authorities in Tigray region.” She went on detailing the response by the red cross, she said, “The red cross told us that it can not offer help unless a government requests it, “ she continued by disclosing response by ICRC, “The only thing that the red cross can do is to let students call their parents from its Mekelle and Shire branches.” 

The committee member explained that the committee met with President Sahlework Zewde, and various federal government officials. She said, “We have been getting information that contradicts every other government institution we go to. She expressed her worry by saying, “We are perplexed by the contradictions that these government organs are telling us.”

She disclosed that the committee met with officials from the Ministry of Peace (MoP) who told them, “An envoy consisting of federal police and army, red cross, and government officials went to Afar region to address the situation.” 

Addis Standard asked Hanna about what would be the next plan of the committee. “We gave our children to the government so they can educate them and we demand their safe return. We are patiently asking the government to secure their passage to the safe zone or allow parents to go to the safe zone to help transport and facilitate their return.”

Access to electricity, telecommunication and internet has been interrupted following the unilateral ceasefire by the federal government on June 28, 2021, which pushed parents to enquire about the  whereabouts of university students in Tigray.  Addis Standard‘s attempts to reach MoSHE as well as Semara University were unsuccessful. AS

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