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Tigray refugees who fled the conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region, wait to receive aid at Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020.

Nariman El-Mofty/The Associated Press

A group of former politicians, diplomats and academics from around the world is urging the UN Secretary-General to convene a Security Council meeting to address the dangerous situation in Ethiopia.

Fighting erupted in the Tigray region between the Ethiopian government and regional forces in early November, cutting off access to supplies to the people who live there. On Monday, the United Nations said food ran out for the nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea who live in camps in Tigray, and that communications and transport to the region have been severed.

The World Refugee & Migration Council sent a letter endorsed by a lengthy list of notable individuals to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Dec. 1, saying the situation in Ethiopia poses a humanitarian challenge and could become a serious threat to international peace and security with the possibility of neighbouring countries being pulled into the conflict.

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It is endorsed by Madeleine Albright, former U.S. secretary of state; Chester A. Crocker, professor and former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs; Jakaya Kikwete, former president of Tanzania; George Papandreou, former prime minister of Greece; Susan Rice, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs and U.S. permanent representative to the UN, among many others.

“We look to you to report to the Security Council on the deteriorating humanitarian and refugee situation, which is affecting thousands of innocent civilians and underscores the importance that all sides respect the fundamental principles of humanitarian law,” the letter said.

It also calls on Mr. Guterres and the Security Council to use diplomatic channels to strengthen international support for the African Union’s (AU) mediation efforts, as well as other regional efforts to bring conflict to an end and “avoid a bloodbath in major urban centres.”

Those efforts, it continued, should focus on “an immediate cessation of hostilities,” respect for humanitarian law and ensuring there is unimpeded access to those in need of humanitarian assistance. It calls for an end to the communications blackout and a restoration of access by news media.

The letter was shared with members of the Security Council and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. It includes comments from Mr. Grandi, who said concerns are growing for civilians in Tigray – particularly near the capital Mekelle, home to 500,000 people – that there are reports of basic services coming to a halt as security deteriorates, and the number of those internally displaced is growing.

Fen Osler Hampson, president of the World Refugee & Migration Council and professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, said he hopes the letter puts pressure on the Secretary-General and members of the Security Council.

“There is an acute sense among those who are observing this crisis that we need concerted international diplomatic action and engagement because it’s no longer just an internal Ethiopia matter. It’s a threat to international peace and security and that’s reflected in the fact that you have refugees crossing the border into Sudan,” Mr. Hampson said.

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He said the intention of the letter is to show strong support for the AU’s efforts to mediate the conflict, which have been stonewalled by the Ethiopian government, to send a message to the parties in the conflict that they need to allow aid agencies to provide support and to increase pressure for a diplomatic solution.

Last week, the UN Security Council met privately to discuss the situation in Ethiopia for the first time. The current AU chair, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, supported three high-level envoys, which the UN chief commended. However, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed refused to enter into talks involving the Tigray leaders. He met the envoys on Friday and told them his government will protect civilians in Tigray.

Mr. Hampson said Mr. Guterres has a number of tools at his disposal, including calling the Security Council members together, and creating a fact-finding commission so the international community can better understand what is happening on the ground. He said the letter urges Mr. Guterres to deploy those tools, and urges the international community to support the AU initiative.

With reports from The Associated Press.

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