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Ethiopia

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 24 November 2020

We are very concerned about the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, in terms of both the humanitarian impact and the risk of spill-over and spread through the region.

Having chaired the all-party parliamentary group for Ethiopia and Djibouti for a long while, I have seen the relative peace that Ethiopia has lived in since 1987, and the last thing it needs at the moment, following the locust problem and covid, is this situation. Does the Foreign Secretary therefore agree that the best way forward, and the only realistic way forward, is to find a peaceful solution to the problems? Will he also do everything he can to ensure that aid continues to get to the Tigray people who need it?

I thank my hon. Friend and pay tribute to the work that he has done in this regard. I share his concern. I spoke to Prime Minister Abiy on 10 November. We have made it clear that there needs to be a de-escalation of violence, humanitarian access and protection of civilians. Of course, there are also all sorts of regional implications, which is why I have also spoken to the Prime Minister of Sudan and the Foreign Ministers of Egypt and South Africa. This will require not only regional but international efforts to secure peace and protect the humanitarian plight there.

As the Foreign Secretary said, this conflict has implications for the whole region, including Somalia, with Ethiopian troops being pulled out of that country to be re-deployed to Tigray. Given reports that President Trump also intends to move troops out of Somalia, and given the threatening presence there of al-Shabaab and Islamic State, what discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with international partners about ensuring that Tigray does not end up helping to destabilise Somalia, too?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) made clear, Ethiopia has been a relative success story lately, but there is a real danger for the people of Ethiopia and he has highlighted the risks of spillover to Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, which will be very damaging not only for people in the region, but for wider equities. As I say, I have spoken to regional leaders. I will speak to the Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia soon. Of course, we will be engaging with the Americans. I was in Berlin talking with the E3 and our European colleagues. We have expressed our concern, and we are doing everything we can to bring peace and a de-escalation of the conflict.

The war and famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s are seared into the memories of the British people and the world, and yet again we are on the brink of another tragedy for the people of that wonderful country: hundreds of civilians hacked to death, tens of thousands of refugees, hundreds of thousands cut off from assistance, women and children caught in the violence between rebels and a Government now threatening to shell a city. So can the Foreign Secretary say why it has taken until today for the United Nations Security Council to meet on this? What more are we doing to secure humanitarian corridors and access for independent human rights monitors? Does he not agree that this is another reason why it would be the wrong time to cut our 0.7% commitment to humanitarian assistance?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s horror at some of the reports of the civilian casualties. We take this incredibly seriously, energetically and actively at the United Nations. Let me reassure him that UK funding is already helping those in urgent need of assistance. In Ethiopia specifically, the UK funds the World Food Programme, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF and the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.